prayer

The Aesthetics of Enlightenment

MANUSCRIPT COMPLETED!!
I spent long hours over the holiday weekend working on completing the manuscript for When We Pray. The manuscript and the images have all been formatted and sent to the publisher. I will be publishing through Balboa Press Books with an estimated release date of late February- early March provided everything runs smoothly.
The book will be printed in an 8.5 x 11 softcover version which should run about 80-100 pages. I have decided to complete a special illustration for the cover and need to have it completed for publication by mid-January. I AM SOOOO EXCITED!!! I am literally overflowing with anticipation to see one of my lifelong dreams coming to fruition!!

MY NEW COURSE
I have now begun the initial preparations for the creation of an online course that will expand upon and supplement the material presented in When We Pray. The course should be completed and ready for enrollment by the 2nd week of January (if not sooner). The new year is going to start off with a bang!

ARTICLE PUBLISHED
My article, “Conjuring the Muse: A Theology of Inspiration and Imagination” is now in print (finally). It is available in the November issue of the SEEN Journal – HOPE edition, Vol. XVIII (November 2018) a publication of the group CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts).

EXCERPT ROM CHAPTER 
Below are a few selected excerpts from chapter 2. Remember, my manuscript hasn’t been poured over by the editor yet so things could change.:-)

When We Pray II
The Aesthetics of Enlightenment: The Universal & the Particular
                When the word “aesthetics” is mentioned in contemporary circles, most of us associate it with theories regarding how we perceive and understand beauty, but this is a very limited perception that merely props the door open. If we open the door fully, we are invited to enter a much broader landscape which grounds aesthetics in the realm of sensory experience. Our senses are essential to this discussion because beauty must be perceived in order to be experienced, and perception is impossible without the use of our senses. You see a beautiful work of art, you hear beautiful music, you see and taste a beautiful meal, you physically and emotionally feel the power of nature. Beauty, at its most fundamental level, is a celebration of the sensual which props open the door to a wider range of aesthetic experience. “Aesthetics” is derived from the Greek root aesthesis which can best be defined as “of the senses” or “perceptible by the senses”. When the founder of the discipline, Alexander Baumgarten coined the term “Aesthetics” his original intention was to establish a scientific method for the study of empirical experience.[i] If beauty props the door open so we may glimpse what’s on the other side, Aesthetics opens the door and invites us into an exploration of sensory perception and the nature of human embodiment.
Far too many of us live disembodied lives. We are rarely fully present to our experiences due to living in the past, worrying about the future, over medicating, overindulging, blocking or denying our feelings, ignoring or neglecting our bodies…until we reach the end of our lives without ever having truly lived them. Unfortunately, many of our religious and spiritual traditions do more to re-enforce this tendency toward disconnection than encourage healthy and affirming attitudes toward embodiment. We have been told that the body is bad, sinful, part of the reason we suffer and a host of other negative assertions. However, embodiment is essential because It is through the locus of our bodies that we perceive and experience this reality…

               …Science now re-enforces this claim by proving that every perception we have is accompanied by a corresponding physical sensation that is stored in the body as cellular memory. Whether it is a thought, an experience, a feeling…it is still perceived by the brain and the body as sensory data that is recorded and stored within the cellular memory – whether we are consciously aware of the experience or not. This finding supports psychological theories which discuss trauma, PTSD, post-traumatic slave syndrome, recalling experiences in the womb while under hypnosis, and practices such as the curing of ailments through body awareness practices, improving intuition through muscle testing…etc. This process of cellular encoding ensures that all human experience is sensory, embodied, and aesthetic.
If all experience is aesthetic, then the paths to enlightenment, nirvana, and the road to heaven must all be paved with sensory experience. If we are to walk this path, we must first define what we mean by enlightenment. Enlightenment is not a destination to be reached nor a threshold that one must pass through. Enlightenment is a blossoming, a progressive unfolding of insight and revelation into the nature of universal, divine, consciousness. This perspective moves us away from the misguided notion that Enlightenment is a prize to be obtained or a goal that one accomplishes. Neither is it a destination to be reached. This mindset is much too static. A more nuanced perspective allows us to envision a progressive, ongoing, revelation of consciousness that moves us through the sensual toward the supra-sensual until we eventually become one with pure consciousness. The movement toward enlightenment is one of relative degree and expansion into the vastness of all that is…
                 …We have this treasure in earthen vessels. But in order to find the “treasure”, we must be willing to dig for it. We must be ready and willing to get down on our hands and knees and dirty ourselves in the soil of life. This is the true purpose of living. To dig deep into the ground of existence, to struggle to be present to our particular lives and all the experiences it will present us….(excerpt).

[i] Richard Shusterman, “Aesthetic Experience: From Analysis to Eros” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 64: 2 (Spring 2006), 218.
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When We Pray – Progress

Greetings Family,

I was unable to complete the whole manuscript of my book last month. Although I was quite enthusiastic to get it done, I think I was a little unrealistic about the amount of time I could actually put not the project without going to a retreat location and write from there. However, I did manage to get four chapters completed which places me at the halfway mark! I have four more to go and will be ready to get back into writing mode as we refocus for a new month.

Unfortunately, I was sick with the flu the whole holiday weekend and spent 85% of my time at home in bed! 😦  But I’m almost well now and plan to get back into the swing of things later this week.

Below is a summary of each chapter of the project. As you can see below I don’t necessarily complete the chapters in order because my brain just won’t work that way. I meditate upon which chapter should come next and trust that Spirit will guide me to the write one, as it inspires me with the needed content.  Hope you find them of interest!

WHEN WE PRAY:
8 MEDITATIONS ON THE AESTHETICS OF PRAYER & THE SPIRITUAL LIFE
CHAPTER SUMMARIES
Preface

Since the book is really a series of essays or meditations (or monographs??) I don’t think a formal introduction to the contents/concepts is needed. However, I do think it important to basically set the tone for the reader and provide a few insights about the overall direction of “When We Pray” and my reasons for developing its content.

When We Pray
Making the Connection: Prayer, Aesthetics & the Spiritual Life
This initial essay will paint a picture of the overall conceptual framework that allows the reader to begin to see and understand the connections between prayer, aesthetics and the spiritual life. In this section, I will define some essential terms, provide some historical and contextual grounding, and lay the overall framework for the more specific points of discussion that will comprise the other meditations.

When We Pray
The Aesthetics of Enlightenment: the Universal & the Particular – COMPLETE
It is here that the real work begins. I delve into the most misunderstood paradox in spirituality, how the seemingly particular act of going within through prayer and meditation ultimately leads to an ever more intimate understanding of that which is most common to all – the universal. This essay will delve into this paradox and help us to understand how the aesthetic dimensions of spiritual life help us to better understand the universal and the particular.

When We Pray III
Making Special: Sacred Symbols, Sight & Geometry – COMPLETE
What does it mean to make something special? How does our concept of the sacred relate to our use of symbols and the ways in which symbol is used on the spiritual path? This meditation will examine these ideas and relate them specifically to the process of spiritual growth and discernment – particularly with regard to the ways both humans and Spirit utilize symbols and signs as a means of communication.

When We Pray IV
The Work is all Divine: The Role of Imagination in Prayer & Manifestation – COMPLETE
In this essay, I will explore the ways in which imagination and manifestation play a central role in prayer and the spiritual life. It will present the conceptual framework and context through which manifestation and imagination helps us to see understand the inherent connection between prayer, imagination, and the process of manifestation.

When We Pray V
Awakening: The Art of Prayer & the Art of Life – COMPLETE
We use the term “art” in relation to a wide range of human endeavors that stretch from the actual creative work of the “Arts” to the facility with which we live our lives. This meditation will explore the term “art” by defining it in a manner that allows us to connect it with aesthetic experience, inspiration, and the spiritual life. Particular emphasis will be placed upon the notion that prayer is an “art” and how human beings can harness the aesthetic dimensions of prayer in order to live inspired and artful lives.

When We Pray VI
In Defense of the “Woo-Woo”: The Aesthetics of Mysticism and the Spiritual Life
The contemporary scientific model and its accompanying evidence-based approaches in the softer sciences have given mysticism a bad name. Even many Spirituality and New Age professionals will often shy away from the mystical or qualify any mystical statements by apologizing for becoming to “Woo-Woo”. In this chapter, I will address this phenomena and put forth a perspective that argues for mysticism and spiritualization as key components in prayer and spiritual development. This meditation will explore the ways in which the aesthetic dimensions of mysticism and mystical experience have always been and continue to be integral to prayer and the spiritual life

When We Pray VII
In the World & of the World
This chapter will focus upon the more practical aspects of living the spiritual life by examining how our spirituality should deeply ground and connect us to the world in which we live. How does one think about and frame their response to the world’s problems from a spiritual perspective, and what can the aesthetic dimensions of our spirituality bring to that discussion? There is a real and needed place for social activism, global thinking and reflection upon the ways in which our spiritual life can be brought to bear upon the needs of our current place in human history.

When We Pray VIII
Coda: There is only Love
Ultimately, love is all there is. This final essay will serve as a concluding segment that will weave together the various strands from the previous meditations through an examination of the concept of divine love. It will provide an overarching vision that incorporates the key concepts from the meditations. However, it will not be a summary, but rather an inspirational vision that is both a didactic and beautific discussion on love and the ways aesthetic insights can aid us in the expression of love in our every day lives.

When We Pray copy

Love: The Harmony of Coherence

INSPIRATION

This is the one everyone seems to have been waiting for. Since I began painting the chakras everyone who’s entered my studio eventually asks, “When are you going to create something for the heart chakra?” ” I really love this series. I can’t wait to see the piece you create for the heart chakra, “ or variations thereof.  Most of my patrons appear to go blank when I tell them, ” I am waiting for direction because the process is rather intuitive so I really have no idea which chakra will be next.” 

Hindsight is always 20/20. 2 weeks ago I came to the realization that all of the chakra work I had been doing for the other pieces was in preparation for the internal shifts I needed to make for the creation of this one. When discussing the root chakra last month, I spoke about going deep within and grounding myself as I began a period of deep inward soul-searching. This led me to what I understand now as the next logical step –  cleansing and purification. I needed to clear away and jettison the things which no longer served me. I needed to go into my prayer closet and not come out until I could see with a much clearer vision. I needed to unburden my mind, body, soul, and heart. It was time to let go and release.

For me, this process began with a firm push from my guides to finally invest in the Neurogym program with John Assaraf. I have been following his work for a couple of years now but had been hesitant to make such a heavy investment. But now my guides were pushing me. This was the worst possible time since things were becoming progressively more intense around money. Every time I asked, I was given the go-ahead to get on the payment plan as Spirit said, “trust me!” From the ego’s perspective, everything about this decision was wrong because it appeared as if everything was falling apart around me. But Spirit kept repeating, “trust me.” Shortly after making the initial payment I also began a period of cleansing and preparation which ended up lasting 15 weeks. No drinking, no smoking, no sex, no dating; combined with weekly periods of intermittent fasting, cleaning up my diet, consistent exercise, and the completion of a series of spiritual clearing and discernment exercises that included daily affirmations, intense journaling, and discernment exercises – all while completing the daily requirements of the Neurogym program! It was only about a week ago that I realized I had designed and enrolled myself in my own personalized holistic Bootcamp!!

The Nuerogym program consists of neuro-linguistic programming, guided visualizations, guided self-hypnosis, self-affirmations, and brain training exercises to and more. The inner work I was able to do, combined with my own spiritual practices and exercises would have easily taken me another 1.5-2 years if I hadn’t invested in the program. Having said all of that, I highly recommend it to anyone who is serious about internal transformation and wants to make a real investment in themselves. As with anything in life, you only get out what you’re willing to put in, so spend the money and commit to doing the work.

Love The Harmony of Coherence
Love: The Harmony of Coherence

Coherence is defined as “the quality of forming a unified whole”. Unity and wholeness can only exist when there is equilibrium and harmony. This is the work of the 4th chakra and the reason why it serves as the center-point of the entire chakra system. From this center, it balances and harmonizes the energies of the chakras above and below it thereby creating coherence. In the heart chakra, the externalized, egoistic, desirous energies of the 2nd chakra become internalized and we begin to see the world from the broader lense of relationality and reciprocity. This shift toward the more internal states generates a higher vibrational frequency that opens a channel for inner and outer harmonization. The balancing and harmonizing force resulting from this coherence is love. Love is an inside job!

Love is a unifying force. It creates balance and harmony through the allowance and acceptance of interdependence in order to create a greater whole. All things strive toward harmony and equilibrium. Imbalances can’t and won’t endure. The key to creating this unity is acceptance. Self-acceptance is the key that unlocks the door to greater and deeper levels of self-love. From this perspective, we don’t make or create love we, discover and allow it through our willingness to open, accept and allow. This means allowing things and people to be who and what they are. The greater our capacity to do so, the greater the coherence created which increases our capacity to love.

I needed to learn more deeply about the nature of love. I could go no further until I was cleansed, purged and opened. There were too many blockages, too many aspects of my life that needed to be either accepted, reconciled or jettisoned. They had been holding me back from growth and consequently blocking my expansion to the higher levels. The imbalances had become much too great and much too costly. Every aspect of my life was being affected. I could no longer piece-meal it or wait. I had to do the work!

It was time for me to confront and accept myself. I had to let go, forgive, allow, trust, listen,  purge, cleanse, re-fill, discover, open, appreciate, give thanks, release, admit, fortify, pray, meditate, shift, cry, scream, push, be still…until the end was the end and also the beginning.  Just like Jacob, I wrestled with the angel in the darkness and was determined to not let go until it blessed me. When the morning came, Jacob received his blessing but he was also wounded. When the dawn finally cracked across my horizon, I too received my blessing.  In my case, I was already wounded and am wounded still. But this time the wound is different. I accept it, have peace with it, carry it, nurture it, treasure it, and allow it a special place on the altar of my heart as a reminder of the costs of transformation.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, this creation has also been the one I too have been waiting for. I would never dare to say that I have arrived. But my heart has been opened and what lies there now is vastly different from what occupied the space before it. There is a great deal more acceptance, a deeper level of coherence, greater harmony, and a more open, willing and desirous capacity for love. There were many things I had to confront and let go, but letting go is not same as giving up. Love is the harmony of coherence.

SYMBOLISM

As with every piece within this series, the graphic lotus-like symbol above the figure contains the Sanskrit symbol for that particular chakra and the corresponding number of leaves that indicate the heart or central chakra (12).

The central figure is seated in the yogic full lotus asana with his palms turned upward and his hands loosely cupped. Upturned palms are predominantly a receptive state which matches the yin energies associated with the heart chakra. His eyes are closed with his head slightly bowed as he focuses his awareness within. My initial inclination was to use deep rich browns, blues, and purples for the skin tone in order to make a connection between the dark fertile earth and the deep green of growth and vegetation, but the color sketches I produced all made the figure overpowering among the green. This also kept the viewer’s eyes stuck on the darker shades in the center of the composition – thus making the entire composition too static. The lighter sienna tones provide a much more soothing complement to the greens (red and green are complementary colors) and allow the eyes to move in and around the composition giving it a feeling of spaciousness despite the large figure and lotus.

The lotus beneath the figure is large by design. It partially encompasses the lower portion of the figure while the leaves extending behind the figure give the impression that they are almost supporting him.

The background composition incorporates the all of the shades of green used throughout the painting and gives the background a soothing quality that appears to be both dynamic and static all at once. The activity gives movement without competing with the key elements in the composition.

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Gravity: The Manifestation of Form

INTERPRETATION

The Root Chakra is key to all physical manifestation. Not just the form and shape of our body but the form and shape of the life and life experiences we manifest while within our body. The root chakra brings about existence or the manifestation of being and form into existence. As the first chakra, it is singular, whole, and complete unto itself.  Just like the number one, it is the beginning of all beginnings. This emphasis upon manifestation is one of the reasons why the charkas move from the lower to the higher vibrations. Although the 5th (throat) chakra may inspire creativity and the 6th (skull) chakra opens us to receive the vision, creation always necessitates form. Without form, our inspirations and visions have no hope of being grounded in physical reality. These higher vibrations must slow down, congeal, and condense before they can enter the material realm. That process of grounding and manifestation is the domain of the root chakra.  

In my previous post on the 6th chakra, I spoke about the process of purification and envisioning I was lead to undergo at the beginning of the year. But once you have seen the vision, manifestation is always the next step in the process. Moses went up the mountain to meet with God and receive the vision, but if he hadn’t come back down the mountain to manifest that vision his entire trip would have ultimately meant nothing. The results of my sojourn led to the manifestation of “Gravity.” The shape and feel of our lives is always a result of the manifestation of our consciousness in form. For me, this meant going back to my own singularity. Going back to my own roots psycho-spiritually and re-examining the mental and spiritual thought forms manifested there in order to decide if the events, people, places, and things in my life were accurate manifestations of “who” and “how” I wanted to be in the world. I was not very happy with what I was seeing. 

The root chakra is not only singular and whole but is also about grounding and connection. This grounding and connection occurs as we manifest things into form, and from our ability to maintain the stability needed for further nourishment and growth. This ability to “anchor in” and find stability is the basis for the development of individual growth and personal power. Gravity is a force of attraction. It encourages in-gathering and the marshaling of one’s inner forces. It is from this stable core that we are then able to attract or draw forth the power needed for acts of concrete manifestation. This is why the energies of the root chakra ground us into the earth so that we may develop the stable roots needed to grow and exercise our power through acts of manifestation.

Spirit was reminding me of this and letting me know that it was time to re-ground myself through a re-examination of what I had manifested thus far. I needed to make some long overdue changes. It was time for me to take a deep look at my beliefs and values in order to ascertain if they were still reflective of who I wanted to be. It was now time to ground down, find myself, and make serious efforts to change, jettison, or adjust any values and ways of being that no longer served me, or reflected who I “am” and want to be. In my case, this meant addressing my own issues concerning guilt, shame, and self-worth. Everything in my life, and the life I live is firmly grounded in my ability to: affirm what I do have, to believe that I deserve more, and my willingness to allow myself to have more. As within, so without. And so it is!

Gravity The Manifestation of Form

Gravity: The Manifestation of Form

SYMBOLISM

The graphic symbol above the figure represents the four leaves of the root chakra and the Sanskrit character for that particular chakra. The red hues throughout the composition are all associated with the chakra’s red color. Red, the color of blood, fire, and life. You will notice that some areas of the background are much softer and more diffuse than others. This was an intentional decision to symbolize the idea of form coming into and out of various stages of development and manifestation as it slows, congeals, and hardens into the shapes and sizes of physical matter.

The figure is standing in a form of the yogic prayer pose which is also a variation of the popular mountain pose. This pose is a grounding pose which allows one to stand in firm stability as the feet and root chakra energies ground down into the earth. Her feet are grounded deeply within the heart of the lotus she stands upon, as the minor chakras in her feet and knees transmit sensation from the lotus up into her root chakra. Her head is bowed and her hands are positioned in prayer over her heart. Her concentration is both meditation, prayer, and in-gathering as she places her focus upon the work of manifestation.

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Polarity: The Balancing Of Desire

INSPIRATION

Most people think the second chakra is all about sex and sensuality, but to limit this chakra’s energies to such a narrow bandwidth is literally majoring in the minors. Sex and sensuality are one the many by-products resulting from the actions of the 2nd chakra’s core responsibility: the balancing of polarity. Polarity is the action or power that connects two opposing forces. In this case, the old adage “opposites attract” is right on target. An easy example lies in the action and attraction of yin and yang both intermingling and interpenetrating one another. Polarity is the energy which binds the power of dualistic forces. As beings of Spirit and matter our very existence is an exercise in the balancing of dualistic forces in polarity.

The 2nd chakra is also associated with the moon, water, emotion, and the gift of clairsentience (the ability to receive information through feelings). This emphasis on motion and change compliments the dynamic movement of forces needed to maintain polarity among opposing dualistic forces. Likewise, the age-old association of the moon and water with feeling and emotion matches the mercurial nature of emotions themselves – as we can be happy one moment and sad the next. Humans can experience the depths of emotion and then enter a complete state of shock that renders us incapable of feeling. These are the mysteries of the sacral chakra. Upon close examination, you will find that the binding agent between these forces, the glue which acts as the substance of polarity is human desire. It is my contention that it is this connection to desire which links the sacral chakra so closely with sex and sensuality.

Each and every moment of each and every day we are desirous of any number of things. To be human is to experience desire. Desire itself is decidedly neutral – for without it none of us would be able to accomplish anything. But if left unchecked or untempered, our desires can so easily become an enemy from within. A trojan horse that is capable of undermining and destroying all our hopes and dreams. If we repress our desires we dam the flow and our manifestations become dull and lifeless. However, if we allow our desires and passions to overshadow everything they will eventually consume us. Therefore, we strive to maintain an equilibrium among our various desires through the action of polarity. Just like water, our emotions, energies, needs, and desires must flow. Shifting and re-forming as needed to fit the multi-form contours of our desires as they expand, contract and intermingle according to the demands of daily life. One of the most easily identifiable areas for observing this need for polarity lies within the realm of sex and sensuality.

Polarity- The Balancing of Desire

Polarity: The Balancing of Desire

SYMBOLISM

The predominant color representation for this chakra is orange. For each chakra, I use a minimum of three variations of that particular color ranging from warm to kool. All other variations in tone are created by mixing a particular hue with white. For this image, I used the orange found in the lotus as the primary tone of the entire image. This tone colors the lotus, serves as the base tone for the background and was painted as a lighter layer on the flower beneath the seated figure.

The 2nd, or sacral chakra is symbolized by the six-petalled lotus with its accompanying  Sanskrit character (Savadhisthana). This same decorative flattened Lotus motif is found at the top and a more realistically rendered lotus is found underneath the seated figure.

The seated figure is meditating in the full lotus position with his hands pointing downward in the shape of a triangle. The triangular mudra has its opening in the location of the sacral chakra. I opted not to place a small graphic image of the chakra within the space for two reasons: I wanted to keep the imagery consistent with the remainder of the series, and I felt that a bright graphic image there would draw the viewer’s eye directly to that location where it would remain stuck – thus sapping energy and movement from the overall composition.

In many ways, this particular piece has been the most difficult one to create thus far in the series. The choice of which chakra to work on next has been Spirit-led and intuitive. This exercise has also meant that a major portion of my focus for this series has been an exercise in tuning in for guidance. Not only tuning in but more significantly, exercising the courage and discipline to trust and follow that guidance once it has been received. In “learning to trust my gut” as the old folks used to say. Learning to balance my inner feelings and hunches with the knowledge and skills I have acquired along the way has been a source of tremendous growth for me. I look forward to the coming year with courage and wonder.  I have finally begun to realize that the process is as important as the outcome. Balance is the key. Namaste’

Look out for a discussion of the 6th chakra next month!

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Will: The Power of Integration

INSPIRATION

Believe it or not, I wasn’t planning this. My initial chakra focused image, “The Flowering of Truth” was intended to be a single image. When I completed the work in February, I had no intention of creating another work on the chakras – nor the impetus to create a series. But it would seem that Spirit had other plans.

A large percentage of my inspirational and creative processes are dependent upon intuition and channeling. Most of my inspirations are brought forth through life-experiences and/or insights intuited/channeled/gleaned from my meditation practice. In a very real sense, one could view my creative practice as a spiritual development journal. In hindsight, I see that the process of strengthening my 5th chakra was in preparation for my departure from my day job in order to pursue my vocation full-time. I needed to connect with the expression of my voice and speak forth my truth in authenticity. “Will: The Power of Integration” is about the need for me to marshal my energies and resources towards the achievement of my goals so that I will have the strength to persevere despite all obstacles. It wasn’t until this image’s completion that I realized that this was the start of a series.

The third chakra is found in the vicinity of the navel and solar plexus. Its primary element is fire – thus it is associated with the pancreas and adrenals. It’s color – yellow is the core of the preceding two chakras (red and orange respectively) as the core of any fire is bright yellow-white with the reds and oranges radiating from that burning center. The 3rd chakra is the integrator of the 2 preceding it (1 = earth/matter, 2 = water/creation). Hence the power of the 3rd chakra is based in integration. It’s mantra, “I can” is reflective of human “Will”. Not society’s traditional notion of “will to power, conquer, push through…” but a dynamic force that transforms and shapes through integration. From this perspective, “will” is the integration of our desire and focus for the purposes of transformation and manifestation. Thus transformation and manifestation are based upon one’s power to combine and integrate the various aspects of one’s being in order to direct them towards a purpose. This is the power of “Will”.

Will: The Power of Integration

Will: The Power of Integration. The 2nd creation in my chakra series.

SYMBOLISM

As discussed previously, the color yellow is associated with the 3rd chakra and the core of fire and sun. I chose not to seat the figure because I wanted her to embody the energy associated with this chakra. This woman is standing, floating up and away from the lotus beneath her. She rises unaided, of her volition as she integrates her focus and desire in order to initiate her own ascension. She is the source of her own ascension and transformation due to her own self-integration (we are in truth the truth we seek). Her outstretched arms are symbolic of both praise and the discovery of her own inner power.  It is as if her outstretched arms and slightly lifted head evoke ecstasy and draw in the swirling matter that surrounds her as it becomes an integral part of her being. Her hair is both charged with the light of the chakra’s activation and the power flowing within. 

The graphic lotus symbol above her depicts the third chakra and its accompanying Sanskrit character. The open lotus beneath her figure is also symbolic of the chakras in general. 

Look out for a discussion of the crown chakra next month!

 

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There is only Love

 

WHEN WE PRAY: THERE IS ONLY LOVE

INSPIRATION

There are certain themes in life that continually repeat for each of us.  Lessons we must learn, ideas and concepts that require us to continually expand our understanding of them, seasons of lack and plenty…and these too are an integral part of our soul’s journey.

An ongoing theme for me is Love. In this case, I seem to have come full circle because I thought that the “When We Pray” series was complete last summer. I completed what I thought was the final image of the series (#VII) and began to move on, but the inspiration for this image burst forth in me and has already inspired me to begin another in the series. You may also remember that I was addressing the theme of Love inspired by Rumi in my creation of the “Resurrection of Love” triptych. But it appears that neither Prayer nor Love are through with me yet.

My efforts to strengthen my intuition and maintain a more consistent connection to my guides are steadily convincing me that we are forever and always surrounded by Love. It’s not that I didn’t already know or believe this, but my vision was clouded by my own biases and preconceptions. It is one thing to understand a thing conceptually, but truly knowing it in the depths of one’s spirit is something drastically different.

Most of us believe that God is love, that our souls have come here to give and receive love, that we are loved unconditionally; but very few of us have been able to truly experience the power and depths of divine love – let alone consistently dwell in that state of experience. At best we have epiphinal moments through which we are able to experience glimpses of glory. We know that familiar feeling you get with family or old friends when you feel completely safe, whole, known, accepted and loved. Those moments when all is right with the world and we silently wish that we could suspend time in such a way that would allow us to spend the rest of our lives suspended in that moment.

I am coming to know and rest assured that there is only love. That each of us is loved and cherished with a depth that we will never truly understand on this side of the veil. That our higher selves and guides pray with us, for us, and undergird each of us with an unfathomable love! Find the courage to trust it. Let go of fear and cling to love. What has been holding you back from love – both spiritually and romantically? Be quiet, become still, open your heart to Spirit and in the darkness of that silence, you will come to know that love is all in all.

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SYMBOLISM

I made use of the repeating heart motif because it is easily recognizable within modern cultural iconography. This motif is repeated throughout the composition not only as a symbol of love but as a means of guiding the eye downward through the image. The heart motif with its downward edge helps push the eye downward from the heart of the angelic guide, down through the bottom of the heart shape surrounding the angel, then down through the hands framed in the heart shape, then we dive once more into the heart of the human figure which will also help guide our gaze into the power of love symbol located beneath the figure. A love that is always flowing downward to each of us through various levels of being.

The angelic being who floats in the large heart above the figure is also engaged with the human figure below it in meditation and prayer. This figure also holds and receives divine love with its heart. A love that is echoed in the heart of its human companion. This connection is symbolized in the identical hearts the two figures share. The two figures are communicating heart to heart through the medium of love. Earthly intuition is perceived in the gut, but spiritual intuition is perceived in the heart and transmitted through love. This being holds its hands in the form of a teaching mudra – as it imparts divine wisdom and blessings upon the human figure below.

The halo above this figure is a symbol of divine grace, majesty, and power; while the symbol directly below the figure is an Adinkra glyph indicating divine love.

Since this image is a companion to the When We Pray series it was imperative that the hand motif occupy a prominent role within the composition. As in the other pieces in the series, the hands symbolize the hands of the divine as an ever-present source of comfort, protection, support…etc. In this case, the hands have formed the shape of a heart to symbolize the presence of divine love which surrounds the praying figure within. The hands operate almost like a frame that we gaze into to find the small but significant human being within them. Not only are we surrounded by love, but it serves as the very framework through which all humanity must be viewed.

The figure within the divine hands is deep in prayer and meditation. His closed eyes and traditional meditative posture indicate his turn within- while the halo and biomorphic energy field surrounding him are indicative of the higher spiritual energies he is receiving as a result of his practice. His hands form the mudra associated with blessings and wisdom. His practice brings him both divine blessing and love, but also provides wisdom into the deeper spiritual insights that are only available to those who consistently go within. The symbol below the figure is a West African glyph indicating the power of love. A love which is filling his heart as symbolized by the heart shape within the chest of the figure.

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The Flowering of Truth

INSPIRATION

The impetus for this work has been part of an ongoing struggle. A struggle that has been uniquely mine yet paradoxically experienced by each of us at various points throughout life. From the earliest stages of human development, each of us learns about self through the experience of contrast between us and that which is other. A baby begins to comprehend the difference between self and mother through the contrasts created by the touch. sight, and sound of its mother versus that of its own. Later in life, we often learn to distinguish who we are through the experience of contrast between the ways others (friends, parents, classmates…) are like us or different from us.
 
This process of self-discovery continues throughout the life cycle because each of us is always changing. The person you were at 3 is still present within your DNA and consciousness but is definitely not the same person who is reading this post right now. This process of continual growth and deepening consciousness requires that we not only discover who we are in terms of likes and preferences but also necessitates that we come to know self with depth and profundity. In a sense, one could postulate that we don’t actually learn who we truly are, but rather that we find the courage and strength to discover, and then become who we truly are. That living a conscious life is a continual process of becoming or embodying the spiritual beings whom we truly are.
  
As our eternal being, our essence becomes more fully integrated and embodied within us it shines forth more brightly through us under the guise of personality. In order for this to occur, we must first find the willingness to look within, the strength to face what we find there, and finally the courage to be that person in the world regardless of what others may say or think about us because of it. This kind of courage requires that we commit ourselves to complete truth and authenticity in all of our interactions. That you find the courage and commitment to be and do YOU in every aspect of your life – no matter what the circumstances. No facades, no compromises to get along, no hiding how you really feel or think to fit in, no holding back your truth for another’s sake…etc. I’m talking about having the courage and determination to be who you are in every way you can, under any and all circumstances.
 
Each of us has the right and the responsibility, to be who we are and do what we want as long as we are honest and forthright in our intentions, and do not hurt or harm others in the process. This kind of freedom can only be achieved by operating from a level of truth and authenticity that most of us are not willing to live from.  In my opinion, this is the kind of commitment to truth and authenticity which lies at the core of 5th chakra symbolism.  
The 5th chakra’s core principle is truth. It is the first chakra to move us beyond the boundaries of our physicality and connect us to the higher realms of consciousness by acting as a conduit for the expression of vibration, sound, and speech. Thus it is associated with the throat, neck thyroid, shoulders, arms, and hands. When we deny the truth within ourselves, or continually speak or act in ways which lack integrity or truth this chakra can easily become clogged or choked thereby weakening its’ vibration. When fully opened, this chakra gives one the courage and commitment to express one’s self in truth and authenticity.  
This has been the focus of my struggle. To not only know, “Who I am” but to strive to authentically “be me” in all situations and circumstances. To stop worrying about, “how others view me or my art?” If speaking my truth will cost me friends or prestige? Will people not like me if I show them who I really am or what I’m about? To be true to self is the simplest yet most difficult of endeavors. This year I am determined to open and clear this chakra. To let the real me shine forth and open up like as a flower opens to the receive the rays of the morning sun! To open to my truth, and express that authenticity in all my interactions. This is the Flowering of Truth.

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SYMBOLISM

The symbolism within this work is focused on truth. The large lotus symbol floating above the figure is a reinterpretation of the 5th chakra symbol. The deep cerulean blue is one of the colors associated with the chakra. The symbol found within the inner flower is the Bija symbol (or seed sound) “Ham”. When repeated, this sound is the key used to activate the chakra and unlock its power. The symbol eye-like piece above symbol is my own additive that which is reminiscent of omniscient divine presence. The white outline used to outline the flower is symbolic of the full moon which is also part of the chakra’s symbolism. T

The flower upon which the figure sits is also a lotus. I purposely used the varying shades of blue for this composition since the primary colors associated with the chakra are cerulean blue and turquoise. This flowering lotus is opening because the figure seated upon it is chanting the seed sound “Ham” as a mantra as she meditates upon the qualities associated with the 5th chakra. 

Since the seated figure is meditating upon the 5th chakra and chanting its’ seed sound, I chose the lift her head and expose her neck – the primary body part associated with the 5th chakra. I intentionally placed the tale end of the seed symbol in the lotus above her head near the figure’s throat in order to further accentuate her neckline and the connection between sound/mantra, the symbol, and the chakra’s connection to the throat. 

My intention was to strike a balance between the areas that were more highly rendered (the opening lotus and the figure’s flesh) and the more graphic areas (the lotus above the figure and the figure’s clothing in order to create a visually energetic push-and-pull between the various portions of the composition. This tension helps to create a downward movement which draws the eye from the face down through the opening lotus. I chose to keep the background soft and muted so that it would not distract from the main focal point of the composition – the meditating figure.

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Ascension III: Breaking through the Veil

INSPIRATION

Although the appearance of this image is very different from the two which have preceded it, the impetus for its creation is deeply embedded within the same concept. “Breaking through the Veil” is still very much about ascension. At the most fundamental level, each of us is spirit and exists as such in this dimension and those beyond it. From a quantum perspective, we know that more dense slower moving particles (lower vibration) can not maintain their integrity in the presence of less dense particles (higher vibration). The more dense particles must either be accelerated to the higher frequency or be destroyed by it. From a spiritual viewpoint, Spirit must literally descend to a lower frequency in order to become encased within physical matter. The portion of human consciousness which exists within our bodies had to literally descend and break through into this 4th-dimensional reality. 
Part of our spiritual work is the practice of more fully embodying this higher energy and consciousness within our physical body. At our best, we do this through a process of spiritual formation and an intentional cultivation of the inner life that will help spirit become increasingly more present within every aspect of our being. At our worst, we live unconsciously and are driven by ego, habit, and basic physical impulses. Siddhartha the first Buddha is a shining example of the potential we possess when the spiritual life is cultivated with discipline and intention. As we read his story we are privy to an ongoing process of transformation which culminates in him embodying so much spiritual light that he could phase up and out (ascend) into the higher dimensions of consciousness. He took the small spark which had initially broken through the veil and fanned it into a bright and shining light that brought about his ascension. 
When we review the life of Jesus and the events which led to his resurrection and subsequent ascension we find another point of entry. As a boy, we are told that Jesus was constantly spending time with the spiritual masters of his particular tradition. We also find that a significant portion of this embodiment work was completed during his baptism in the river Jordan under the hand of his cousin John the Baptizer. We are told that when he presents himself to John for baptism, Jesus rose up from the water and the spirit descended upon him like a dove. Whether we view this literally or symbolically, the essential point is that he was transformed in a manner which was easily identifiable by those around him. In this case, he was provided with an inpouring of spiritual power for the performance of his particular mission within the earthly realm. This descension could be interpreted as a greater connection to his higher self, or a greater capacity to access the frequencies within the higher realms. This capacity allowed him to perform various works which seemed to be miraculous by our limited perspective. 
The examples above inspired me to create “Breaking through the Veil”. The images I create are not only birthed from my vocational practice but are the result of spiritual insights that have accompanied my own process of spiritual formation.
 

Breaking the Veil 72.5

SYMBOLISM

“Breaking through the Veil” symbolizes ascension and descension. The piece was created using scratchboard because the stark contrasts between dark and light were an essential part of my vision for the image. We encounter utter darkness on the left and right sides of the image. For me, this blackness is pregnant with symbolism. In Western Euroethnic culture, blackness is associated with that which is base and evil. But in other cultures this isn’t the case. The blackness encountered here is associated with formlessness, the void, a place absent of any “thing” yet pregnant with infinite possibility. Science refers to it as anti-matter that fills the spaces between space and as such it is the blank canvas of the cosmos.   

On the left side of this expanse, we find a single point of light shining forth within the darkness. This light, this single spark from source is filled with infinite knowledge which is symbolized by the all-seeing eye contained within it. This single divine spark is filled with all knowledge and therefore, an infinite capacity to act upon and within the darkness which surrounds it. It uses its very being to pierce through, manipulate, and mold the slower moving anti-matter into a form that a portion of its consciousness can embody. In the process of descension and embodiment so much is of its former brilliance is lost that it, we, so often forget that how truly powerful, brilliant and expansive we are. We forget that there is so much more to us than theses bodies and thoughts could ever contain. We forget that this is not all there is and that the reality we know is simply the tip of a massive iceberg buried deep within.  

The child-like figure finds shape and form as it emerges from the darkness yet it is not fully formed as none of us truly are. Some of us will live a thousand lifetimes and still remain partially unformed. unfulfilled, and never fully mature into the possibilities for which we were intended.  This is why we must work at embodying the spark, bringing forth the light which yearns to become fully actualized within us. Live in the Light!

The rings emanating from the figure are indicative of both spiritual light and the dissolution that accompanies time. The first one is bright white and clear as we grow into our full maturity. The second aura is much denser because it represents the genesis of our physical forms process of decline. Notice that each successive emanation has less form and greater degrees of dissipation.  What is spirit must return to spirit. Eventually, the physical form will return back into the void from which it was birthed, and the spark will once again merge with its own omniscient brillance. As Job reminds us, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The spirit gives and the spirit will take away.” Amen.

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Winds of Hope

Winds of Hope

INSPIRATION

Recent events in my life have led me to the contemplation of hope. It just so happens that life has been moving along at its own steady pace. Sometimes intense and other times slow, but thankfully there have been no major upsets or crashing waves. When things are like this I often find the breathing room needed to catch my breath and connect more deeply to my higher self. It is during the steady rhythm of life that I am more easily able to reflect upon life’s deeper layers and connect with Spirit from a much more grounded place.

These times of recollection and reflection usually start with gratitude. I find myself grateful for the periods of sunshine that burst forth from the heart in the seasons between the storms. When I am quiet, I can observe a kind of in-gathering within my mind and spirit as all the myriad pieces of my identity are gently de-fragmented and reconnected to one another. I review the progress I have made, see things moving forward, and am filled with gratitude. But even more than that – I am filled with hope.

I am able to see the bigger picture and all the small but progressive steps that let me know I am moving forward towards my goals. This acknowledgment fills me with hope. Hope that that I can succeed. Hope that I can achieve my goals. Hope that I have and can make the right choices, and hope for the future. Hope is foundational and inspirational. The bible reminds us that,  “faith is the substance of things we yet hope for, the evidence of things not seen.” Most of us focus upon faith in this passage but the statement clearly places an even weightier emphasis upon hope – as the foundation which makes faith even possible. Without hope, life has no meaning. Without hope, faith is not possible. Without hope, there is no vision for the future. From this perspective, hope could best be defined as an assurance that the things we desire are actually capable of becoming reality. Thus my stepping back to acknowledge my progress. express gratitude for my current place, and celebrate my accomplishments fills me with hope.

Hope is the wind which blows through my spirit filling me with renewed determination and inspiration. My sails are full so, I do a bit more dreaming and make a few more plans. Then I stretch my arms out wide, lift my head towards the heavens and bathe in the hope’s breeze. HOPE

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

I began this blog because people who view my works often inquire about the meaning within my imagery and the symbols I employ. Since a great deal of my work is about spiritual insight and visual metaphor, symbology plays in integral role in my creative process. Lately, visitors to my studio have also begun asking about my medium, techniques, and the ways in which I am able to integrate them into my overall creative process. So I took the time to snap a few photos of this work in various stages of my creative process.

Everything starts with an idea or inspiration. It may be something I see, a spark gleaned from something I’ve been reading, an image or feeling that is impressed upon me within my meditations…but  things keep coming so I just try to remain open. Once I have solid grasp upon the concept, I begin doing sketches and/or looking at various images that may help to translate my inspiration into concrete visual form. This particular image had a rather long germination which began last winter while I spent 2 months viewing a package of subliminal message videos I had purchased. The actual composition came together quickly after I began researching images.

I am an extremely visual person and an artist so I often save random images that speak to me. While watching one of the videos, the image of the young man standing in the field struck me so I saved it. A few months later I was on google images (I just do that sometimes) and the grassy knoll just kind of popped out at me so I saved it as well. A month or so after that, I was at work making myself a cup of tea. I pulled the last tea bag out of the box and I saw the image of a lotus flower on the inside so I ripped the box apart and took the image to my studio so that I could digitize into my image library.  Shortly after that, I was sitting in my studio sketching. I was feeling really good and reflecting upon how well about things had been going and I got this very full, glad, hopeful feeling. I began to try and sketch it – so I pulled up a few images from my image library to see if anything might create a few more sparks and these three spoke to me.

As you can see from my initial thumbnail sketches it didn’t take long for me to come up with a workable composition. There are days and weeks when it doesn’t  come this easily and I may spend weeks researching, or end up producing 20-30 thumbnail sketches until I can find an inspiring and workable composition. Once I have a good composition, I will often produce 2-3 larger ones (4 x 6) to work out some of the light and shade problems.  For this image, I didn’t feel the need to do so. I moved directly to creating some small color roughs. The circled Image with the double stars is the color combination I decided upon using. With an extremely complicated image, I will create 1 or 2 larger-scale color roughs (4 x 6 as well) to alert myself to any potential tonal problems that may arise before I get into the actual process of execution.

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The Work

For me, getting down to the actual work of creation is also an act of worship, and ritual. This aspect of my vocation involves the use of several rituals that I employ to move me toward concrete acts of creation. Creativity necessitates form. An idea or concept is no better than a daydream until you give it form through acts of concrete physical manifestation. Just as “faith without works is dead” inspiration that are not accompanied by acts of manifestation die shortly after conception.

Keeping the above in mind, I often let the work itself determine the medium from which it will be manifested. At some point during the sketching stage, the imagery begins to inform me about which medium would be the best vehicle for this particular expression. In this case I knew the colors needed to be bright and vibrant so scratchboard was not a consideration. Once the color roughs were completed, it became clear to me that watercolor would be a better medium since the white paper beneath would produce a much brighter, ephemeral, and luminous quality than I could achieve with acrylics.

I begin by engaging in prayer, and then slowly and mindfully laying out my materials so that they are easily accessible and functionally placed within and around my work area. I then choose my material (in this case watercolor paper), and outline the image upon the surface. I often us a projector for larger layouts rather than drawing everything out by freehand. In this case, I used a thinner sheet of paper than I normally prefer to work with (I prefer 300lb Arches watercolor paper), so I had to size the paper before I could begin any actual painting (many artists don’t lay out their imagery until after sizing, but I prefer to do it beforehand).

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Before I begin to do any creative work I spend at least 10-15 minutes in prayer and meditation just before I begin. I created a small altar in my studio that contains candles, incense, crystals, a bell, and other items of significant personal value. After completing my meditation, I spend about 2-3 minutes with my Ipod selecting what (if any) music will be playing for that particular creative session.  With Winds of Hope I began by painting the first layer of washes upon the largest areas of the image. Although it is not depicted here, each area of color has anywhere from 5-8 thin layers of color upon it. This technique allows for the vibrancy of the colors to reflect up through the paper as each successive layer builds upon the next.

As you can see from the images below, the vibrancy of the colors slowly builds intensity with the application of each successive layer. The more subtle details and shading are added in as each layer of color is applied. For me, this process is more like sculpting than painting. I often imagine myself pushing, pulling and molding the various surfaces and contours of the image rather than drawing or rendering them with the paint brush.

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Finishing Touches

As you can observe from these photos, I save the more precisely detailed portions of the image for last. In this instance, it was the waving grass and the figure’s skin tones. These final details were part of my work activities on days 5-6.  Sometimes, I will initiate changes to the image based upon insights or promptings that come to me during my preparation meditations. For this particular piece, there were no promptings over the course of the process, but once the work was completed several people pointed out that the figure resembled me. This was not a conscious decision on my part and I honestly hadn’t noticed (oftentimes, we do more than we can know or say).

The piece was unveiled in my studio for the First Fridays Art Murmur without the facial mustache and goatee, but after the 7th or 8th comment about the figure resembling me, the following day I removed it from the frame and added the mustache and goatee so that the figure would resemble me more closely.

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SYMBOLISM

There are only two actual symbols in this image: the lotus flower depicted behind the central figure, and the West African Adinkra symbol floating above them both. The work’s title, “Winds of Hope” embodies the notion of Hope being the wind which blows through mind, body and spirit, filling us with renewed determination, enthusiasm,  courage, and willingness to sacrifice for the creation of our dreams. Hope is the literal wind beneath our spiritual wings. The figure lifts his head toward the heavens and opens his arms wide to be caressed by the spiritual winds of Hope in a display of gratitude for blessings already received. The lotus behind the figure is also indicative of hope as it springs up from the muck and mire of muddy riverbeds to show forth its splendor. The Adinkra symbol floating above the main portion of the composition literally symbolizes Hope in West African symbology. I thought it very apt and appropriate that hope is connected to the heart’s symbol. For hope too is about the heart –  it’s dreams, passions, and desires. Purple is indicative of spiritual power and love, red passion, and yellow symbolizes wisdom, happiness, and divine benevolence.

Winds of Hope

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Damon Powell – Artist & Theologian

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