Awakenings

I’m always engaged in some kind of awakening process…

Except when I’m not.
Except when I’m hiding, hibernating, buried down in the numbing comforts of familiarity, habits, denial, avoidance and layers and layers of shadowy elusive fear…

* * *


The jaguar’s breath is warm on my face.
Whiskers twitch.
The pink wet of it’s mouth shows behind the enormous teeth.
There is a nibble at my neck.
But its proximity becomes a merge and we are two as one, fused together as we tumble down down through epic layers of earth and rock hurtling towards the very center of the earth…

The jaguar is considered the sun of the underworld, is the one in charge of destroying all our negative unconscious patterns… it gets rid of fear and obstacles.

~ Sergio Magaña

* * *
Sergio is one of the teachers I started following, hoping to develop my capacity for lucid dreaming, for awakening while dreaming.
Once in a while I manage it, once in a while there’s a glimmering of consciousness while sleeping, but mostly I am unawake, unaware, and remain utterly convinced by the nightly procession of illusions.

* * *

Recently we’ve had workmen in and out with drills and hammers and sanders and plaster and paint. We’ve had to prep the apartments and then evacuate while they do some work, then we come back in and clean and reassemble, live for a few days before they announce they’re coming back for the next step of unfinished business, the cycle beginning all over again.

They are not masters of efficiency, it is annoying, and yet it has put me into a deep clean, a radical de-cluttering of the space – there have been days and days of moving furniture and vacuuming, emptying out boxes and wiping down the dust covered contents, filling up the recycling bin with reams of irrelevant papers.

Sifting through one file folder I discover print outs of the massive communication I had over many years with my friend Mike who passed a month ago. Sometimes I think I started this blog really to replace our correspondence when it dwindled some years ago after thousands and thousands of words back and forth between me in Toronto and he in St John’s.

But in this recent excavation, there was one letter in particular that jumped out, demanding attention – it was the description I gave him of a first visit to a woman – a seer, a clairvoyant, a psychic in Montreal, recommended to me by Brenda, beloved friend of several decades now.

This woman shook me to my foundations that first time I went to see her, such was her insight.

Every few years or so I go back, and while each time is bouleversant, a profound reckoning with myself, over the years the shock of her capacity to see so keenly has lessened a tiny bit, even though I am cautious to prepare myself each time for what may turn out to be a life-changing session.

In that letter to Mike, many years ago, I described this woman, my most searingly awakening catalyst person –

She sat me at a table in front of a large window that looked out across St Laurent and the mountain beyond.
She explained her way of working – that she functioned essentially as a mirror, reflecting back what she saw inside one’s self.
She said she essentially entered a kind of trance state and would likely not recognize me in the street afterwards.
She handed me a stone with an animal carving on it, asked me to hold it a moment, then hand it back to her.

After having the stone back in her hand for just a moment, she got very animated, pulled her paper and pens toward her with excitement and began to draw and speak…
Her eyes were essentially closed, but her eyelids flickered as she spoke, as if she was seeing images inside her eyelids, not looking at me.
She said:

You have spent so much energy trying to hide your vibrancy.
It is like an inner pressure, all the fire energy you have inside of you.
If you don’t let it out, it will begin to effect your health.
You have treated yourself very harshly.
Now you must learn to cultivate tenderness and gentleness towards your self.
Now there must be no more violence.
It is finished.

The way she spoke was so clear and direct and definitive and her images so frighteningly insightful, the tears rolled silently down my cheeks as I made note of her words –

This woman inside of you is like a lion.
She takes her time.
She belongs to herself as a matter of course.

I continued scribbling my notes on a page, watching her flickering face with a kind of awed fear.
Clearly, she was a witch. 400 years ago she would have been burnt at the stake.

You do not see yet fully where you are going.
But this is not based on effort, it is based on COURAGE.
You must practice taking risks, you must practice pushing the boundaries.
Train yourself not to hide, not to contract.
DO NOT HIDE BEHIND ANYTHING.
When fear comes, look at it, look into the heart of it…

The hour was up.
She helped me into my coat and kissed me on each cheek.
I found my way back down in the elevator and came outside into the beginnings of a snowstorm.
The blowing snow stung my face as I walked for several hours, unseeing, caught up in my own thoughts.
I didn’t sleep for days.

* * *

Of the many splendid teachers and resources I’ve discovered on the path in the years since, two of my favourite “awakening” people, are in fact the “awakening couple” – Chameli & Arjuna Ardagh are both teachers in their own spheres. He does something called Awakening Coaching, while she is the epicenter of Awakening Women, a yogini circle.
Arjuna says of the experience of awakening –

…I find that what is really meeting this moment, hearing sounds, seeing movement, and feeling currents of sensation is formless empty space, pregnant with infinite possibility. There is a mysterious presence, indefinable, with the capacity to embrace everything, just exactly as it is, but which in itself is nothing, just pure context, with no content. This presence contains the body but still exists, with or without the body. In this recognition, just here, just now, there are no problems and never have been. Disorienting and confusing as it may be, this realization brings a sense of peace, wonder, tremendous energy, and a feeling of love with no specific object…
~ Arjuna Ardagh

Here is Chameli –

* * *

And you, Gentle Reader?
Do you have favourite awakening agents in your life?

Weekly Photo Challenge – Awakening

Spring Smile


Out beyond the place where we lived – a restaurant, a home, a gathering place – there was a stretch of landscape, deep ice and snow, a river and pathways still in the clutch of winter’s deep freeze.
There I found Gerald’s body.
As I stood there, feeling the violence inflicted on First Nations people again and again, he began to rise up – an ascension, a resurrection.
His back was towards me as he floated up into clouds and sky.

* * *

I turned over in bed, the disoriented waking of the morning, all identity and story still clinging to the whispers of strange images, oblique narratives, and there amongst the sheets I found a small slip of paper, the size of the paper fortune from a Chinese fortune cookie.

How sweet!
Where could it have come from?
Perhaps the library book disheveled in one corner of the bed?
Which would mean some sweet inspired soul had written it on a piece of paper and slid it in the book to be found by strangers…

* * *

It seems I’ve been in a deeper hibernation than usual this past winter – a number of people have been in touch asking: Where the heck are you? Are you still there???

On the one hand I’ve been intensely quiet, burrowed down inside like a bear in winter, reluctant to venture outside now that I’ve set up my studio at home…

And with a bit of a breather on the work front, just one slow-moving independent film job on my plate for the moment has meant there are not too many obligations around town…

Yet on the other hand there have been a number of planes, trains, and automobiles – a few wee winter adventures, opening up horizons and yielding the nurturing influx of friendship and art –

One, a retreat with my beloved dream teachers in Vermont

Another, a week puttering around NYC with a friend, a place I haven’t been in far too long, exploring the great city in all its glory and looking at as much art as we could…

Louise Bourgeouis @ the MOMA

And then a packed full long weekend in Montreal with dinner parties, vernissages, and the unfortunate news of the loss of an old dear friend made bearable in the bosom of so much love and creativity…

I’m hoping this very quiet stretch is almost over, and like a caterpillar that has been naught but a gooey cocoon for months, I’ll emerge resplendent and colourful with the coming spring, posting up a storm about dreams and painting and, with any luck, a little more travel…

We will see 🙂

Chestnut – Work In Progress

Weekly Photo Challenge – Smile

Waiting for …

There has been a lot of topsy-turvy here in our tiny household. Much transition.
The cat has been a bit stressed out at all the activity, Nervous Nellie forever waiting for the worst. It’s become a bit of a sport to tease her about her Chicken Little tendencies, while the humans stumble through Harvey, Irma, and the sabre rattling of North Korea as if everything were hunky dory.
Ah well. Who knows really.
Meanwhile, summer was…

…as summer should be.
Road trips and friends and lakes and chili hot dogs on Sauble Beach and misty river mornings and dragonflies buzzing and the sudden swarms of mosquitos on the Bruce Trail and an impromptu dinner party crammed around the tiny table of an RV.
Through it all the strange part for me was a health issue – I’m not usually a person with health issues, but 2017 has presented health issues as a distinct new concept, so there’s a new sense of the body as something potentially treacherous, fickle and demanding – an ally to be carefully courted – not the effortless ease of yesteryear.
Ah well. So be it.

Then beginning of September my boy moved out – after 23 and a half years, with the hope of a job on the horizon, he packed up his things and went to live with some friends in a hipster part of town.
Ah well. Very very happy for him.

And so with a bit of extra space at home, slowly I’m packing up my studio.
A few things are in progress on the walls, and I go over after work and look at them and feel unsure of what to do, where to begin, when to end.
I sit and look, waiting.
Waiting for some kind of sign, some kind of indication of what’s the next move…

Weekly Photo Challenge – Waiting

Summer Textures

Summertime lake.
The endless blue of the sky.

Approaching the island across the lake, I think of the book I’ve been reading: The Zen of Creativity : Cultivating Your Artistic Life by John Daido Loori.
He has a series of exercises on “Direct Experience” or “Experiencing without Identifying” – exercises closely related to the practice of mindful meditation, with the intention of quieting the mind and seeking to simply feel or experience things before the thoughts come in.

Most of us – seasoned meditators included – will find that it is very difficult simply to listen. We hear sounds and immediately name them, or we associate them with something else, we compare them, analyze them, or try to find their source. It soon gets boring just to listen and our minds wander. It’s not easy to let things simply be and let go of our running commentary.

As we approached the island I practiced with these trees –

Trying to just feel the trees without thinking about what KIND of trees, or about their size or colour or all the things one could think about trees.
Even so, even as I sensed them as a group, as a collective presence, an alive beingness in front of us, I found myself searching for the words to describe the sensations.

And again, trying to just allow the experience of the pebbles… much subtler, so small and ubiquitous, almost imperceptible yet hinting at eternity…
And from this place one might take a photograph.

One way that our spiritual power begins to manifest is through the emergence of the intuitive aspect of our consciousness. This is one of the reasons why Zen and creativity are so intimately linked. Creativity is also an expression of our intuitive aspect. Getting in touch with our intuition helps us to enter the flow of life, of a universe that is in a constant state of becoming. When we tap into our intuition, whether in our art or simply in the day-to-day activities of our lives, we feel a part of this creative continuum.

How can any of us gain entry into this unique way of perceiving the universe, where every breath is the first breath, every sight and sound is fresh penetrating the universe, reaching everywhere? 

At one time or another, each of us has experienced this way of perceiving. It comes upon us unexpectedly. Suddenly the music moves into our being and our body responds. There is no thought, judgment, or conscious effort. The music freely passes through us. We pick up a brush and the painting flows from its tip. the poem creates itself, almost without effort

A photo here and there, I also pick up strange things from the ground and bring them inside.
I’m teaching myself to draw on the iPad – it does not yet feel very Zen at all, it is still a lot about thinking through how the mechanics work, but there is a certain amount of non-thinking possible in the presence of strange things, just looking at them and trying to sense and feel the way into a drawing rather than think.

Weekly Photo Challenge – Texture

Natural Friends

Work has been more than a little intense lately – a good thing, of course – but the rare free moments are spent with friends or scribbling at the studio or, as spring springs and the weather gets nice, seeking to carve out wee moments that allow a few breaths of connection with nature.
In the mornings, if I hover at home for long enough, I can hear the coo of the turtle doves – maybe my most favourite sound ever – their gentle melancholy coos so delicious I just can’t rush myself out to the bus and begin the descent into the city, moving through the increasing urbanization into downtown, the sea of condo-building cranes and growing gridlock, to sit perched alone in a room with a computer.
If I opt to bike or walk a ways before hitching up with some form of public transit, there’s the kind of long short cut through the park.
And well, look who’s here – the rough croaks from the ponds and puddles all along the flooded walkway freeze time and I squat to take a closer look. Who cares if I’m late? I mean really – let’s talk priorities. There is a rarely seen friend here, the moment suddently so exquisite, it’s impossible to rush.

All the times with frogs come back to me – the streams filled with tadpoles when we were kids, the rims of ponds and lakes, long slippery legs swimming amongst the lilypads…

One of the jobs that’s had me busy is with one of my most beloved friends, Nicky – making a film of the play she did – a kind of hybrid of documentary meets play on film. Oh, her breathtaking performance – gives me goosebumps still after so many viewings. But the lines also follow me through the city, their poetry –

Love is love, and hard enough to find.

Oh indeed. It comes how it comes.
So when the cat, the center of our little home universe, gets diagnosed with something that will cost an extra $60 / month in medication for the rest of her life and griping about it to Nicky in the afternoon at her kitchen table she shrugs in a way to suggest maybe it’s time to rethink…
Oh but no.

Love is love, and hard enough to find.

Heading home at the end of the day, I’ve a bit of a long, elaborate route involving 3 buses, all to be able to watch the evening skies and shifting neighbourhoods and avoid the bad air and dank dark underground of the subways.
The streetcars on Queen have been replaced with buses and by about Carlaw at 8:30 or 9 on a Friday, heading east from the studio after work it occurs to me, Hey, I wonder if I should text Tom & Bea…? Cause they live somewhere along the route here in the east end and it’s Friday…
Tom & Bea arrived in my life in the strangest way – when my husband arrived from Cuba, the 2nd day he was in the country we went down to Harbourfront to catch a free concert with Femi Kuti.
Like, just soak that in for a moment – a free concert with Femi Kuti –

Sometimes Canada just rocks.
Anyways there we were, milling around in the crowds in the beer tent, my husband fresh off the plane from Cuba, and a woman stops and says to him: Hey! I know you!
That was Bea. With her husband Tom. They’d been tourists in Cuba, and well, whadyaknow, small world.
Right away there was something so familiar about them – Tom lanky with a sideways smile and a glass of beer, Bea vibrant and beautiful and laughing and always moving – there was almost a kind of deja vu, like I KNOW these people.
Several years and a divorce later here I am on the Queen St bus wondering if I should drop Tom & Bea a line.
Even just saying their names makes me happy, makes me think of the kids books, Ant & Bee –

But no, no, it’s late already, too late to be starting evening plans.
Until the bus passes the patio of that Cottage joint on the south side just after Leslie, and I glance over and could swear that’s Tom stretching to make a point to the fellow beside him at a table right there in the middle in the thick of things.
Without thinking, I scramble to jump off the bus.
What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe it’s not them?
I can always catch the next bus.
Totally worth the risk…

Love is love and hard enough to find.

Weekly Photo Challenge – Friend

March wishes

Oh I wish, how I wish I were a flying fish.

Oh I wish I wish I were the spray from an ocean wave
the wind in the trees
the stretch of a cat
the sparkle of a star in the night sky
a floating colourful anemone in the warm Caribbean sea
a coasting bird, soaring, casual as I move through the clouds…

* * *

We are in my dad’s house in Philadelphia – he has recently inherited it from his parents.
It still has old lady wall paper and old fashioned furniture and such, but some areas, by the staircase for example, there are some bare brick walls and boards.
I know I’m going to inherit this house soon, very soon, and so I look around with eyes to renovation – imagine it with the old lady wallpaper gone, and clean modern lines…Oh, it is exciting, the possibilities ahead!
And I start to pull away more of the old boards at the bottom of the staircase thinking of opening up more space, but I discover curled under the stairs in the crawl space the corpse of a fox terrier.
This is rather disturbing.
Creepy, and there’s going to be a smell problem.
It’ll have to be cleaned up.
But suddenly it gets up, now it’s glowing a rich blue colour, and is a real fox fox, a wild fox.
Away it trots, glowing blue.
I am relieved that this corner of the house is now clean and clear, blessed by this magic glowing ghost-fox.
Outside I am driving, and I realize this is going to be whole new phase of my life – I will move back to the States, to this house in Philly, and I will finally be driving again!
My sister and I are by a kind of river, streaming over rocks, with many many people. But there is a bad man who is a problem.
We drown him, the two of us, holding him down in the river in the midst of the rush of people – visceral, his red throat, bulging veins and tongue – and then finally, the bad man is dead.

* * *

Last night I sat down in the studio for a wee break from painting the latest fox – lots of foxes these days – and the angle from the chair to the patiently waiting half-finished or half-started crow on the wall with the Dollarama flowers on the table in front made it look as though the wing of the crow was decorated, almost tattooed with a gorgeous string of pink flowers…

And I wished, how I wished I was THAT kind of artist.
An artist who makes pretty pink decorative things or beautiful tattoos or things you might want to use as wallpaper in your kid’s room…

Moments, just fleeting moments where the desire to be other, to be more, to be different, to be something else, to be someone else bubbles up.

It’s not so terrible in a way, as it’s all clustered into what has become a fairly conscious process of change I’ve been working on for some time now, deep thinking about the things that are not working, the things that need to be better, the places I need to step up, become a better human being…
But here’s the thing… change is HARD!!!!

Maybe you already knew that.

So one thing I always find myself doing in these moments, is reading.

Have a seat by the fireside and enjoy some Joseph Campbell:

The basic story of the hero journey involves giving up where you are, going into the realm of adventure, coming to some kind of symbolically rendered realization…
If the call is heeded…the individual is invoked to engage in a dangerous adventure. It’s always a dangerous adventure because you’re moving out of the familiar sphere of your community. In myths, this is represented as moving out of the known sphere altogether into the great beyond. I call this crossing the threshold. This is the crossing from the conscious into the unconscious world, but the unconscious world is represented in many many many different images, depending on the cultural surrounds of the mythos. It may be a getting lost in a dark forest, it may be finding yourself in a strange city. It maybe be depicted as an ascent or as a descent or a going beyond the horizon, but this is the adventure – it’s always the path into the unknown, through the gateway or the cave or the clashing rocks…

Weekly Photo Challenge – Wish

Relax into colour

The desk is piled high with homework and projects past due.
Lists of Christmas gifts are scribbled on post-it notes around the computer.
The vacuum cleaner is plugged in and ready to go.
Recycling sits by the door ready to be taken out.
The chicken bubbles on the back burner. The rice is poured but unrinsed.
And yet, and yet…
The faint bling and winks of brilliant colour call…
abalone-hillscape

abalone-moonscape

abalone-rivuletAn abalone shell, sitting hidden for weeks in a scrunched up paper bag on a shelf, was rediscovered this morning.
And, oh, but what worlds it holds within…
abalone-nebula

abalone-kali

abalone-snout-and-hoofs

abalone-tunnel

Weekly Photo Challenge – Relax