Friday, June 25, 2010

SENSE OF PLACE: My Country is Unknown to Me

My dear pilgrim, do you have a “sense of place” where you BELONG in this vast wide world? A place that calls you home both physically and spiritually? My country, my home, my physical place is unknown to me. I do not have one. Born a wanderer, a child to a military man, I have a craving for HOME, but I believe I will never have a material one.

My country, my mother’s country, my father’s country—these phrases are repeated over and over again by Australian Aboriginal artists in the explanations of their paintings. I have repeated these phrases to myself as I work on my paintings, attempting to draw out something from myself, an internal scape—some spiritual place I could call my own.

Currently, I am writing from Australia. This is the third time I have visited this immense and varied continent. Each time I have come here has been the result of my dear Chiboogamoo’s research interests. As a paleontologist, he studies physical spaces. Along the coast of Victoria, he has been specifically looking for fossil traces. For example, he searches for evidence of dinosaur tracks or burrows made more than a million years ago in sandstone, siltstone, and shale.

Before my sweet husband and I went out in the field to look for these fossil traces, we ventured to the heart of Victoria—Melbourne, a city which was celebrating the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, with a Festival of Lights at Federation Square. Chiboogamoo and I were delighted by the street theater, live music, and cool temperatures. We were amused that back in Atlanta, Georgia, our friends were getting ready to acknowledge the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, in sweltering heat.

After enjoying the energetic heckling of improv actors in the square and a seagull suddenly landing on my shoulder and shoving its beak into my vegetable pie, Chiboogamoo and I dove into the National Gallery of Victoria to once again study the excellent collection of Aboriginal artists.

“Painting is very important,” begins a 1987 quote by Wandjuk Marika displayed on the gallery’s wall. “It’s the design or symbol, power of the land. The land is not empty: the land is full of knowledge, full of story, full of goodness, full of energy, full of power.” And along the walls are the paintings expressing these artists’ stories of their land—their country! Their artwork is their country!

Here in this blog, I am presenting portions of different artists’ paintings. Observe how their conceptual portrayals of “country” are abstract and devoid of horizons. The sky and land are collapsed into one plane of existence (This is the language of the art critc). The viewer experiences a kind of powerlessness because these paintings cannot be logically understood. Instead, one must surrender to the intuition and “feel” the way in. And, even then, without “secret” knowledge, it is impossible to enter.

I return to the familiar paintings of Clifford Possum and Emily Kam Kngwarray (shown at the bottom of this blog entry). This time, I am pulled more into Emily’s painting than I have been on previous trips. This painting fills the length of an entire museum wall and exists of one long continuous black line moving in and out of itself on the canvas. The image is mesmerizing. It is her country. It is her stories. It is her ceremony. A critic describes her work as exhibiting “spontaneous assurance.”

I am left with mouth agape. SPONTANEOUS ASSURANCE! What knowledge does she possess? What HOME is hers? Yes, the Aboriginals are acknowledged as the longest continuous living culture, about 40,000 years old. But weren’t the Aboriginals robbed of their homeland and culture? She knows. She paints. Is this possible for all of us? For Hallelujah?

Hallelujah continues to find spiritual affinity with these Aboriginal artists. I adore the spontaneity, the exuberant color, and images. Most of all, I am fed by the deeper knowing expressed in the abstract dancing dots and lines. Although I do not have a SPIRITUAL or PHYSICAL HOME, I do have significant reliable “heart and gut” connection to these artists!

Dear Fellow SOJOURNERS and ARTISTS, Hallelujah wants to connect with you too. What is your deep knowing about YOUR HOME. How is it you have made a connection with a PHYSICAL space? What is your SPIRITUAL space? Soul blog with Hallelujah and share your SOUL.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

SEASONS OF OUR SOULS: Distinguishing between the Physical and Spiritual

Our death is our wedding with eternity.

What is the secret? God is One.

--Rumi, Mystic Odes 833

 Hallelujah for the 4 seasons! As PILGRIMS, our annual journey through fall, winter, spring, and summer echoes the SEASONS of our SOULS. Our BEINGNESS relies on the PHYSICAL world to teach us about change, about transformation….

At the end of winter, when I see purple, yellow, and white crocuses jumping up out of the thawing, ungreen earth, I EXPERIENCE joy! My heart beats faster. The flesh of these vibrant flowers crouch low to the earth but reach out to the vast cold sky--unafraid. When their season of flourishing is completed, they return to the cycle of dormancy and darkness. 


 Don’t the SEASONS of our SOULS travel in similar cycles of retreat (death) and repeat (rebirth)? Even as a child, I felt that the PHYSICAL world was TEMPORARY. Moving from military reservation to military reservation every two or three years only emphasized my sense of IMPERMANENCE. “This too shall pass,” I uttered to myself about my current dwelling place—a metaphor for the body-soul relationship.

 From 1965 to 1967 while I lived at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the Vietnam War was raging and there were quiet livingroom talks among the adults about friends dying. When I was in fourth grade, we moved outside the gates of this military reservation to Fayetteville because my father, a battalion commander had volunteered to go to Vietnam, where he was wounded during the TET Offensives.

(Photo Left) Hallelujah with Dad in 1963. (Photo Right) Dad in Vietnam in 1968 after he had been wounded.

 He did not die there in Vietnam, but his PHYSICAL body had taken several “hits.” Right then, at the age of 9, I EXPERIENCED the concept of the separation of BODY and SOUL. There was a “something other” in my father that exuded EXISTENCE, something that rose above his golden-haired head that housed a piece of a bullet fragment from his earlier engagement in the Korean War when he was only 24.

In these childhood days, I used to sit in my father’s lap and stroke the back of his head where the bullet fragment was lodged and replay the story of his heroism (SPIRIT) in Kumhwa, Korea, which earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor. Then I would linger on the romantic story of how he met my mother, a Red Cross worker, during his lengthy convalescence (BODY) in a military hospital in Texas. Growing up in the PRESENCE of a HERO has impact. A hero’s SPIRIT is different from the spirits of other people, or at least it has been made more visible by his or her significantly brave PHYSICAL action.

It was later as a teenager that I had my own simple but profound experience of SPIRIT being separate from BODY. I was 16 and living at Fort Benning, Georgia, and going to the Catholic high school, Pacelli, where in religion class we were making our way through the New Testament of the Bible. We studied passages like Matthew 6:19: “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.” Religion makes a clear distinction between the MATERIAL and SPIRITUAL world.  And the MATERIAL part is not going to last!

Even though I have continually experienced this sense of the “ephemeral” in MATERIAL things throughout my life, I remember the first time I looked into a school mirror after my body had somehow unbeknownst to me—“blossomed” into a young woman.  I took in a short breath—I did not recognize my outer shell. I saw my blue eyes staring back at me, but the form of my body seemed to be an alien container, a cultural outcome of being in a flesh and blood form. SOMETHING STIRRED WITHIN ME that was not infinitely anchored to this MATERIAL world.

(Photo Right) This is an image of a student from the Global Village School in Decatur. I wanted to take warm, fun photos of the girls and went to the school equipped with hydrangeas and other flowers, as well as quilts to provide the background. 

Today, I am 51 rushing onto 52. It is a hot humid day in Decatur, Georgia. The summer solstice, the longest day of the year, is little more than a week away. And I find that my  SEASONED SOUL is watching my aging body.  I see “untouched” photos of myself taken last week by a terrific Atlanta photographer, Shannon McCollum, and observe my wrinkling face, skin discoloration, gray hair, and weight gain. Overall there is strong evidence of PHYSICAL decline.

 Engaging with “raw” photos of my PHYSICAL self worries me on several levels. At first, my vanity is ruffled! I see that I am old. Old is not beautiful (correct?). Second, what role does my aging BODY have in this world of perpetually emerging youth? Will I be discarded? Finally, I see evidence of my MORTALITY. I, too, shall die.

 Shannon’s photos of me are the result of a favor I did for my friend, Lisa Streib, a talented graphic designer. She is starting a new online business retouching photographs and needed BEFORE and AFTER pictures to demonstrate her considerable skills of tweaking people’s portraits to make their images closer to our media savvy expectations. She is an amazing wizard at that!

 (Above Photo) This is the "after" photo, go to Lisa's website to view the "before" photo of me. You will see additional images of me, as well as other examples of her craftsmanship. I wanted the photo of Hallelujah to "mirror" the portraits of the Global Village School students. (Below Photo, Left) One week after Luis's memorial service at the dojo, the hydrangeas are withering. (Below Image, Right) You see a partially scanned piece of my artwork of two rubber cut prints and drawing. I see Wandjina as a symbol of my "masculine" energy out in the universe on a PILGRIMAGE.

Meanwhile, my participation in her project generated the content for this blog. Because there is MY SPIRIT! This is the SPIRIT of HALLELUJAH! It is this SOUL that is the PILGRIM on the JOURNEY that you are reading about on this blog. I welcome the joys that my BEING in this PHYSICAL world brings. However, I want to detach from the pain and suffering and the inevitable outcome of my DEATH.

Instead, I cultivate myself by observing the SEASONS of my SOUL. I laugh at my vanity. HA HA HA! Summer is here in the Peach State of Georgia. My SOUL is revitalized, recharged, and refreshed after SOUL BLOGGING with YOU! Perhaps, I am a ripe juicy peach ready to be eaten in the heat of summer!

 What SEASON IS YOUR SOUL right now? Blog with Hallelujah and describe your state of being—what does it taste like? Wishing you the FRUIT of SUMMER! HALLELUJAH!

Sunday, June 6, 2010


From where do we PILGRIMS come? To where do we go? We are born. We die. The JOURNEY seems FOREVER. Perhaps LIFE is INFINITE.

When my friend Luis died, his mother Juanita was open to the possibility that he might have become a cardinal—that brilliantly red, black-faced bird that frequents our yards here in Georgia. Why not? She had made connections between a cardinal she saw after learning of her son’s death, and then saw one again as she went inside to view his body at the funeral parlor.

Without questioning the particulars of Juanita’s hypothesis, I dedicated myself meaningfully to the task of envisioning Luis as a cardinal, flying to his next destination. A red-bodied angel emerged on the sheet of white paper in front of me. In addition to wings, Luis was now equipped with a large orange-yellow beak and a bird’s eye view of the world. 

Let me speak of my artistic process in honoring Luis and his mother with this cardinal-Luis image. I drew and painted what was “easy” for me. As a visual artist, I treasure PROCESS before PRODUCT. “To keep your process flowing, to feel the enjoyment of creation, you first need to go where it is easy,” writes Michele Cassou in her 1995 book, “Life, Paint and Passion.” (If you are thinking this approach to visual art is similar to Natalie Goldberg’s towards writing, you are correct. Natalie Goldberg wrote the forward to Cassou’s book.)

Whenever I begin to draw, I start with what is familiar. Michele Cassou uses the following simile, “Your painting is like an apple tree. If you want to eat its fruit, look for a ripe one, one that drops into your hand when you touch it….Do not pick green apples….Remember: Every apple will be ripe in its time; do not rush it.”

So I started with the familiarity of drawing an avian head, crafted a human bird neck with shoulders that extended into arms and wings, finished by human legs and feet—triumphantly creating a blended species. Easy! Because I had been working with similar imagery to express changes in my own life’s journey (see “Trust in the Imaginative Process, April 19, 2010).

As I moved close to completing the image, I stepped outside to my courtyard to show it to my condo neighbor, Kiona. It was a sunny Saturday morning, and it was pleasant to be outside after huddling over my art table. As we leaned towards one another in conversation about DEATH and BIRTH transitions, a cardinal flew close to us and landed in a nearby tree. I addressed the bird, “Hello Luis, I painted this image for your mother. Thank you so much for coming and visiting us.” As long as we chatted, the cardinal lingered. Perhaps, he was waiting to get the birdfeeder for sunflower seeds. We don’t know for certain, do we?

When we emerge from our mother’s wombs, we are STRANGERS to ourselves and to each other. Our lives are JOURNEYS and we are PILGRIMS. Each step moves us towards a GREATER KNOWING of our own SOUL and the physical world that we inhabit.

Does the JOURNEY ever END? Write Hallelujah and tell her about your PILGRIMAGE. Is it INFINITE? Or are we FINITE? Can we become a bird, an apple tree, a firefly?