Troubles in sanctuary

Back in April, in the most lockedness of lockdown, I still had a roommate – a woman from Vancouver, stranded in Toronto – and she would stay in the apartment all day every day, while I would venture out to the grocery stores and on over to my studio, my sanctuary.

But in those still more wintery than spring days of April, I would arrive to this room full of giant 5 and 6 foot paintings of animals, look around and just burst into tears.

Something about the scale, the sense of power, the confidence and apex predatorness… I just could not relate to any of it. Who was the person who had begun painting these? There was so much still to do to finish each of them, but I could not summon or even fathom any of that kind of big energy.

After several afternoons of just sitting on the couch looking around, I realized I would have to try something different, for the moment at least. I remembered a suggestion from Eric Maisel (I think it’s in his Fearless Creating book) to just go to the studio and squeeze some paints onto the palette. Just that.

So I started there.

And then the next thing I did was put some colours on some cheap sheets of canvas paper and moved them around. No image. Nothing representational. Just moving the paint around.

The following week I started to bring fruit. Stopping in at the No Frills on my way over, I’d pick up a few shapes, a few colours. I set up a little spot with a light, and put out the fruit.

From years ago when I did still lives all the time, I still have the tiny little masonite boards ready to go, so I did a series of pretty terrible paintings of fruit. But it was something, it was still moving the paint around.

And in between there were days when even dealing with paint seemed like a lot, so I would just draw. Pull out a sketchpad, some charcoal, and just exercise that hand eye communication – the pleasure of close observation.

But the drawings on their own felt a little bald, so on the iPad I started adding a bit of colour after the fact.

By now weeks had passed, the roommate had gone home to Vancouver, and spring had fully sprung and the trees were leafy and green and full, and I would pass them as I did my rounds – my extended route along the lake front, then circling back along the wide park boulevard of Esplanade and over towards the studio – and I started to pluck a leaf here and there, relishing their smell, their aliveness.

Being a city kid through and through I can’t tell one kind of tree from the next, so I downloaded an app to find out what each one was. At night I listened to audiobooks of The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, and The Overstory by Richard Powers – both magical, wonderful books.

And then I started to draw the leaves I was picking on the iPad.

These, I like.

Here, finally, was something new emerging that felt like it might go somewhere.

My huge animal paintings are still waiting patiently to be finished, to have the final layers and touches completed, but in the meantime, there is a new seed of something beginning…

Lens Artist Challenge: Sanctuary

Summer skies

Welcome to my balcony.

I’m pretty tickled to tell you that the chairs are from M in #304, the chest from K in #405, the plant on the left from V in #605, but then… that’s just the way things roll in this building.

For a while I was fretting about how many chairs and where to keep them and allowing enough space for people, and then I realized… I have no idea when I’ll be able to have people over again.

However, it’s a great place to sit and watch the skies. I’m not sure I even realized Toronto skies were so interesting before living here.

Like any July, the heat and humidity are offset only by the drama of the thunderstorms…

They linger, flashing for hours, or sweep in with tornado force winds, blowing umbrellas inside out, forcing the cyclists to push hard against the current.

It has just been announced that development of the empty space in front of us is now about to begin. Office buildings, they say – innovative, exciting, timber build office buildings are on their way. In fact, the ground-breaking ceremony was slated for yesterday morning, involving federal, provincial, and municipal layers of government – speeches and ribbons and all that brouha.

However, some protestors showed up – something to do with evictions, housing, the pandemic… was hard to tell, as the mic was immediately cut. Ceremony disrupted, the officials fled.

Here we watched the chaos from our balconies, thinking : yes, we are all plenty worried about pandemic economics, lost jobs, how to pay rent, but…

We are also worried about losing those skies –

Distant spring

Two swans appeared at the lakefront this week, giving the ducks some company. The ducks mainly seemed to have spring on their minds… or at least one fellow did, who kept trying to jump any and all females in his orbit.

Oh to be a bird …

Like most everybody else out there, we are in a state of emergency and movement is limited, but there is no fierce regulation keeping people in their homes (yet), so I still have my little circuit which happily involves not only the grocery store, but also the lakefront.

And it’s interesting to see what continues to move – the tankers that still come in from distant lands to deliver sugar at the Redpath dock –

The construction sites all around us that continue to pound and hum through days and nights –

And there, at the top of those metal structures, the tiny little dot in the middle, just a few feet away from the highway, a bird sings.

Spring continues to approach, indifferent to, regardless of human troubles.

From the balcony the skies are expansive, the weather ever-shifting. We are at the very bottom of the city looking north into it, watching….

Distance – Lens Artists Challenge

New Teach

Truth is, though I continue to add new teachers, I’m never finished with the old ones – just always growing a bigger roster.

* * *

Back in May I went to a workshop with a teacher I’d had my eye on. She’s based in the UK, and there was no fast and easy way I was going to make it to one of her weekend workshops there, so when she announced a workshop in the States, I jumped on the bus heading south with bells on.

The trip was through a part of the States I love – the Mohawk Valley, and the beautiful little historical towns of upstate New York, on into Massachusetts.

There was a rather hilarious moment with a ride-share, where Sharon had agreed to pick me up at the Albany bus station to drive together along highway 2 into rural Massachusetts. She opened her arms to me at the bus station with a big hug, and we clambered happily into her car, where she started with: “So, how do you know Rabbi Jill?”

Well, I knew nothing about Rabbi Jill, and she knew nothing about shamanic teacher Manda Scott, but as we soon found out over the weekend at the conference centre in the woods, there was plenty of overlap and love between the various groups sharing the space.

There are stories I could tell about the weekend itself – about details and insights and the way one weekend in the woods can seem more important than several months on either side of it, but…

… at this point I will focus on the fact that there were so many things about Manda that were very appealing to me – her fierce intelligence, her life as a creative (she’s an author – more known in Britain than over here), the way she had navigated learning shamanic practice and then building her own way with it, the excitement she brought with her about Extinction Rebellion (a much bigger movement in the UK than here), and the seriousness with which she took her role as teacher and guide to more novice travellers.

So when she and her partner, Faith, launched a new venture in December – around the time of the equinox, moving into the new year – I signed up right away, without even really knowing what it was.

Turns out, it’s a series of offerings, and you can follow the podcast for free, or you can sign up for the paid membership version of the whole thing. Aside from the (fascinating, brilliant) podcast (where Rabbi Jill makes an appearance!), there’s an online discussion board, and my favourite part – a series of guided meditations and visualizations connecting with the elements (water, fire, air, earth, and so on).

The project it proposes – of believing in a new world, of imagining a new world, rather than being locked into the narrow vision of modern life as it is currently known – has been an anchor of optimism for me. It was an anchor of optimism even before the mammoth towering shadow of a global pandemic, so I mention it to you, just in case.

Just in case it is of interest to even one someone…

Dream of Death

I am already dead. I am a corpse.

It’s already a fact, and yet, in spite of being dead, I am rushing and scrambling to organize everything – things have to be put in place for my son after I’m gone, there are things I still haven’t taken care of, I cannot go until I’ve done all the things….

And I’m beginning to smell. Bad.

Time has run out.

Was it December when I dreamt this? Maybe even November? Long before the pandemic was upon us. It was deeply disturbing, yet had no obvious outside reference. At the time I wondered – was it psychological? Was “the old me dying”, and was I “moving into a new phase”?

Now I find myself scrambling to pull together all the info to have a will in place for my son just in case, just in case… and it’s as if the dream echoes around me, the dancing calavera mocking, following me as I, already a stinking corpse, rush to get everything organized before I get tripped up by the virus.

* * *

Some traditions have an approach of “canceling dreams” (Toltec teacher, Sergio Magaña), or acting out a bad dream so that the dream is realized in a controlled way while the worst of its implications are avoided (Haudenosaunee / Iroquois).

Glimpsing this spooky dream in my peripheral vision again and again – while practicing pretty strict hand washing – I am pulling out the notebooks on techniques to do these things – the canceling and the acting out – and working on some homemade witchy magic to make it all “just a dream”…

* * *

And you, Dear Reader? Any pandemic dreams following you through your days?

Scrambling home, sheltering in place

Each family, each group of friends suddenly scrambling to be in a particular place, their country, their home.

On facebook I watched over several days as a friend’s beautiful haunting photos of Italian countryside turned to desperation as there are no masks, there are no flights, and the government help line is forever busy.

Photo by: EF

My dad, a snowbird lounging by the pool in Palms Springs, brushed off with insouciance the increasingly frantic pleas from us, his adult children, to come home, while simultaneously trying to convince me that a trip I had planned to the Laurentians in Québec was “too dangerous”.

At my end there were still so few cases in Canada, was still no mandate from government to avoid travel between the provinces, and I knew the visit with trees and birds and snow, devoid of humans except for my Montreal buddy, would be about as safe as you could get…

Back home after traveling the newly-sanitized trains, I returned to a roommate who had joined me in mid-February to be close to her pregnant daughter, due to give birth – a first grandchild. The plan had been a month or two to help the new parents in the early days. She is frail, older, but can still cook and consult and be of comfort.

But as the emergency decrees descended, she too got imploring calls from sisters and the other daughters back in Vancouver – “come home now, while you still can!”

One look at the state of the airports on late night television made her decision for her –

People travelling from all over the world jammed in with no masks, no gloves… the WORST possible scenario. For now she is “sheltering in place”, which is my place.

Since I had been on trains, exposed to travellers, and since I continue to go to the grocery store and my studio, we decided to be cautious. We are maintaining (mostly) 6 feet apart in the home, and wipe down all faucets, door handles, counters, and light switches just in case.

The invisible enemy…

All work that was potentially on the horizon has vanished. No travel, no shoot. No shoot, no edit. But I have the great good fortune of being in an artists’ co-op of sorts, full of community-minded folks, in the great, safe country of Canada where we have this thing called universal health care.

And you, Nose Followers? Any recent travel and scrapes along the way? Are you happily sheltering in place, or stir crazy already? What news of this strange new reality we are living?

Room to write

In the city. Benjamin has moved out. I see him from a distance – we wave.

I’m in the new place, yes, and I have the studio where I paint, yes, but there is also a writing room I have not been to in some time….

It’s a bit of a grody place, kind of like a rundown motel room, no real neighbourhood around, and dodgy things going down in the nearby rooms…

But it is a place to write.

* * *

In waking life, space is not such a problem – heck, you can write just about anywhere (if you can still go anywhere, given the day by day increasing restrictions on movement) but it is more about the time – time to write.

But well, hey. Looks like there’s gonna be a lot of free time ahead!

There’s so many things I’ve been meaning to write about – rambling thoughts in my mind, rough drafts sitting in the draft folder here… Not sure I’m ready to make a big public commitment to a daily practice or anything just yet, but it does seem like an awfully good time to a) be as creative as we can be, and b) enjoy the beauty of widespread connection the internet gives us and not just the obsessive paranoia.

Speaking of which – this was happening in the building across the street yesterday –

Scary dystopian scene, right?

So this is the challenge – to find the focus, to shut out the tremendous corona-noise for a chunk of time each day, and to find the joy that is always there, waiting, in creativity.

And so many people, across the globe, are stepping up, shouting out, in the most amazing ways already. For example, my hugely talented neighbour –

Teiya

And you, Nose Followers? What are you up to in this strangest of times???

Cold ‘hood, warm hearts

There’s a thing that they say about Toronto, that it’s a hotel city – cold, soulless, people from all over the world with nothing in common and no desire to know each other. No naturally occurring culture.

In my new construction zone of a neighbourhood that reputation seems personified in the architecture, the condo towers, glass shoeboxes in the sky, holding lives of tiny isolations.


And yet, and yet… on my way to work last week, I noticed some new ducks in the water.
Usually we have the mallards, currently fattening themselves in the waters by the sugar dock…


But these ducks were different, with white stripes on their heads.
A google search suggests they are long-tailed ducks, who summer and breed up in the arctic and are currently migrating to the eastern U.S. where they winter – just stopping in, a layover on their journey.


I was talking about the ducks with my old friend Sabrina, visiting from Ottawa.
She was in town wanting to see some of the exhibits at the inaugural Toronto Biennale – one of the larger exhibit spaces being just across the street from me, gathered around the theme of Shoreline.

We climbed around on the big wooden structure by Adrian Blackwell resembling the shape of the lakefront I look at every day –


Until I noticed my old friend Andrew across the room, just sitting down at a table with a coffee, and went over, startling him into a hug.

It had been so very long since I’d seen him, so many years had passed that there was a divorce I’d guessed at but didn’t want to believe between two beloved souls, both of them so creative and wonderful in different ways – too different, they’d finally concluded, and off they went in their own directions, a warm beautiful home on a tree-lined street in a friendly neighbourhood torn assunder, hearts broken.

In fact, there was a new book he said coyly, a sly crooked smile of pleasure in accomplishment.


And later in the day, sitting on the Sherbourne bus heading south after a browse in an overflowing Book City on the Danforth, full to the brim with the beginnings of the Christmas season on a Saturday afternoon, I cracked open his latest Ticking Heart and was reminded of how much local flavour he imbues in his books – the corner of Barton and Euclid evoked in the opening paragraph, a corner I know by heart from the years when my boy went to school at Palmerston, and a place I still see on the days I visit my friend Nicky…

The richness of place, I was thinking, even in its younger moments, its birthing moments, even as it is being built, even if it is cold.


The strange melancholy even of a construction site where bunnies can be seen in the early mornings and the Santa Claus parade parks at the end of its run in a moment of fun park absurdity.


Sunday, the final day in a weekend packed with lovely human encounters, was brunch with Sabrina and Louise, another old friend from back in the day in Montreal, in town to visit family.

We stood around the kitchen table in my tiny new home and laid out food and found plates and cutlery in the cupboards and talked about time and failing memory and the decline of bodies and accidents slow to heal the way only women who have known each other for decades can do, talking over top of each other finishing each others sentences, laughing at jokes that have been running between us forever…until a moment where Sabrina – or maybe it is Louise? – is telling a story, making a point, building the narrative towards a natural culmination point, saying:
“… Because in the end, we are all…”  and completing the sentence, Louise and Sabrina both speak at once:
Louise saying: “goddesses”
Sabrina saying: “bags of flesh”
There is a split second pause before we are all bent over, helplessly howling with laughter at the perfection of the opposition, the absurd juxtaposition of such wildly diverging endings to a sentence.
Ahhhhhhh… old friends.

And there you have it – a dispatch from the life of a goddess/bag of flesh in a tiny glass box in a cold and soulless city.

* * *

Lens-Artists Challenge – Cold

Filling the frame

Mornings are very different in our new place.
Here there are no early morning blackbirds, cardinals, or blue jays, no turtle doves, no squirrels…
Here there are gulls and monarch butterflies heading south by the dozens, and the occasional gatherings and murmurations –

Here we have boundless skies over the outstretched cityscape –

Here we are by the lake, colours changing every day, different skies, different temperatures –

And here there is … CONSTRUCTION!

The whole neighbourhood is under construction.
Even just outside our balcony, there is construction – the site itself is due for a building soon, but in the meantime the large lot seems to be a drop-off point / work site for other nascent buildings nearby.

I’ve noticed the gates to the site open before 6 a.m. on weekdays, with workers arriving in their SUV’s, big long trucks backing in, delivering building materials, forklifts unloading materials, headlights lighting everything eerily.
In the background the 72 bus already trundles eastward towards Commissioners and the Gardiner roars quietly, the commuter day already in motion.

This new context has been an interesting place to be as so much more attention has started to shift to the climate change issue.
Every day in the media has more studies, more discussion, more pressure on politicians… it is moving fast.


And to be with this new ultra-urban vista, with the cranes in the sky, the trucks backing in before dawn, the constant motion of the highway,
there is a sense of the powerful relentless motion of our society, forever building, forever moving, forever growing.
The effort it would take to change, to turn it around, to make the giant shifts necessary…
Heck, that is gonna take some willfulness from all of us.

Lens Artist Photo Challenge – Filling the Frame

Ba bye

I think it was in June 5 years ago that we moved here.

An abrupt downsize and shift to the east end that I thought would be a short transition, ended up being a rather long 5 years as the city moved into full on housing crisis.

But our time here has had its moments. The neighbourhood is rough, but also felt fresh and new and needed to be explored.

The local park / ravine became my favourite haunt …

There was happiness in the spring mornings when the robins start at about 4:45 am, the delightful sweet neighbours in the building, the visitors that come by regularly …

It was from here that I seriously got back to working in the visual arts, in photography AND collage AND painting – and I got my first tiny little studio close by at the now defunct Artisans at Work.

And it has been the place from which baby bird has begun to stretch his wings – moving out for a stretch, coming back home for a stretch…

But, since April of this year, since I put in an application to a new living situation, I’ve been saying goodbye – hoping, wishing, willing, while not knowing for sure…

Goodbye to the hood, goodbye to its good, bad and uglies, including some architectural and social disasters zones –

These monstrosities have been the centrifugal point of my goodbyes, determined it was time to stop having to look at them.

And then this week I found out we have indeed been accepted to the new place!

Hallelujah !!!

A couple of days before the news came through I was out on the patio drinking my coffee. A cardinal hopped onto the nearby branch of the tree into a ray of sunshine. A butterfly fluttered and landed on the cat.

This I will miss, I thought.

Where we are going there is no patio, no courtyard, just a wee balcony, a little too close to the highway.

Late to work, I got an Uber pool, and we drove down the DVP alongside the Don River. We passed an egret, startling white against the green of the shores of the Don. A small family of ducks paddled a little further down. Cormorants stretched their wings in the sun.

Hmmmm… maybe connecting with a new set of birds is a thing to think about…   Maybe there is a way to volunteer in the parks… maybe that is part of what the next home will bring….

Sun’s up

Sun’s up, uuh huh, looks okay
The world survives into another day
And I’m thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

It came on the radio a couple of days ago as I was puttering around the studio,
an old favourite from way way back in the day –

I had another dream about lions at the door
They weren’t half as frightening as they were before
But I’m thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

I looked around and chuckled –

I’m surrounded by them these days, the lions.
And yes, they were there at the door, in a dream,
and not half as frightening…
In fact they were lolling on the landing,
rolling on their backs, showing their tummies,
as if asking for a belly rub.

The big cats have been frequent dream visitors for some years now, so I pay attention, I work with them.
Not in any fancy complicated way,
more just in a way of being with them, of staying with them,
hangin’ with them, feeling them, and drawing them…

Recently The Shift Network had a “Dreamwork Summit” and gathered a bunch of interesting contemporary thinkers on dreaming to each give a talk and present their methods.
A few of my faves who I’ve worked with were there – Robert Moss and Toko-pa Turner, Sandra Ingerman and Sergio Magaña and Charlie Morley –
but I found I was especially drawn to a couple of guys whose work I’ve only read in books –
Robert Bosnak and Rodger Kamenetz.
Both of them talked about the phenomenology of dreaming.

Bosnak elaborates in Tracks in the Wilderness of Dreaming,

The dream story is not the dream itself.
The dream itself is a texture woven of space and time inside which we find ourselves.
During the dream we believe we are awake, in the same way that we believe we are awake when we truly are…
This is one of the few laws of human experience that hold true the world over.
The ‘I’ in the dream lives inside the dreamworld with the unshakable conviction that the surrounding reality is, indeed, utterly real.
Each dream arouses within us the conviction that we are in our waking lives.
~Robert Bosnak

With this unshakable conviction,
believing utterly and truly that it was happening as it happened,
I had a dream a couple of months ago – a nightmare, really.
In the dream, I (an I that was not entirely me, but somewhat somehow)
had been designated contaminated, or contagious, or faulty in some way,
and was given a bomb to hold against my soft belly.
And I lay there waiting for it to explode,
praying only that death would be fast.

Not a fun dream to take to the studio.
Not a fun dream in any way.
But as I let myself live with it,
as I looked long and hard at my day-to-day life,
it proved very instructive.

Kamenetz writes in The History of Last Night’s Dream

The dream wants to show us inner space.
It shows our predicament, how we really live.
But you have to be willing to feel something about your predicament, because there’s no other way in…
The special language of dreams is forceful, poetic, metaphorical…
You have to learn what causes your predicament and overcome it.
~ Rodger Kamenetz

And so I began to make a few changes.
Obvious things – started removing some unhealthy habits and initiating healthier ones.
But with these subtle changes came a surprisingly enormous emotional shift,
an energy and optimism and buoyancy I thought had fled forever with the onset of middle age.
And then I came across a quote from Sergio

Often when we die in a dream
it denotes favourable changes in our life,
even if the death occurs in a violent manner
and our conditioning leads us to interpret the dream in a negative way.
~Sergio Magaña

This reminded me of the interpretations of the Death card in tarot decks,
a frightening card to see in a reading,
that is usually not entirely what it seems –

Death is necessary for new life.
Without the old growth dying and decomposing into the soil through fall and winter, the new buds could not sprout in the spring.
Without death, nothing could change.
~Rachel Pollack

Or even more radically –

Initiation rites always led up to a simulated death and rebirth.
The initiate is led to believe that he or she is actually about to die.
Everything is done to make this death as real as possible so that the ego will be tricked and in fact experience that dreaded dissolution.
Then, when the initiate is ‘reborn’ he or she experiences a new maturity and a new freedom of energy.
~Rachel Pollack

Now this thought I love –
That the dreams contain their own processes of rites of initiation,
their own shamanic rituals,
their own journeys to power animals.

And to leave you with some of that buoyancy and optimism I’ve been feelin’,
do yourself a favour and have a listen –

And in case you’re wanting some more of that – 

Happy 2019!!!

Magicians

I am staying at Rh’s house. Or not in the house proper, but in a kind of separate guest house / basement suite that she uses, leaving the main house empty.

A man comes in. He wears a balaclava over his face and chases me around, trying to rape me. I am terrified, I do NOT want this to happen. Rh chuckles, watching the action. She has planned this.

There is a pause, and the man pulls off the ski mask. He is, in fact, a kind of goofy guy, and a magician. There is no threat after all.

* * *

This dream stayed with me for a while – as the frightening part was heart-stoppingly terrifying, and the idea of a goofy magician underneath the mask totally piqued my curiosity.

A few days later I found myself at a workshop in Owen Sound with the Toltec teacher, Sergio Magaña –

We learned a “manifesting technique” that, in its series of movements, reminded me for all the world of the Magician card in the tarot deck – reaching up to the sky above, and down below to the earth in the process of creation…

What a way to begin the summer…

We stayed just outside of Owen Sound on my friends’ farm where they had some new horses, and Sauble beach is just a hop skip and jump away –

And there is a sense of buoyant optimism in the sensation of creation from this practice… It’s a technique that is done for a number of days in a row, the repetition reinforcing the sense of creative magician… even my dream world has been increasingly busy (and occasionally magical) with this practice.

* * *

On Facebook I belong to various dream groups, and recently someone posted some collages she was doing from her dreams.

They had the structure of a series of comic book frames, allowing for the shifts in the narrative from scene to scene – a technique she said she learned from a workshop with Jeremy Taylor.

We got into a bit of a conversation about working from a dream, and how sometimes later, when you look back at the original entry in your dream journal, the details can appear to be quite different from what you’ve been accentuating or extrapolating as you make art, or even have conversations about the dream.

For example, from the dream above at Rh’s house, I’d been remembering the most vivid bits of the fear and of the unexpected revelation of a magician.

Yet when I looked back to my dream journal I found that I’d had several other forgotten magician dreams before this, and within the original entry on this dream, there was a detail that “this is a game or a challenge Rh and I have”. So the chuckling Rh seems less evil in this context, and my character is then also not so much a victim as a co-creator.

Interesting.

* * *

There was a dream I had maybe 2 years ago of 6 dead bulls in a parking lot.

It was a terrible dream, with the stench of death in it, and the sense of tragedy of these 6 massive powerful creatures dying a lonely unceremonious death in a parking lot at night.

At the time I had no place to talk about dreams, but I can always make art, so I did painting after painting of bulls, dead or dying, wondering what the heck the dream was about.

At some point I happened on a free webinar given by some people in Vermont, and I told them the dream of the 6 bulls. They were so lovely, they listened so well, and at some point Sue said, “how do you know they were dead?”.

The possibility of seeing the dream story as a more fluid entity, of not taking the narrative as a finished, absolute, unchangeable reality ROCKED my world.

Since then there has been a large painting in the works of some very alive bulls, and even a small sculpture is in the works.

And you, Dear Reader…?

Have you found your relationship or understanding of certain dreams changes over time?

Female Fates

(This voyage happened a little while ago –
Got a bit too busy to complete and post it at the time, but here it is now…)

Montreal again.

Time for the Foire papier and I’ve signed up for a hooked-up tour to see all kinds of hot shows and behind-the-scenes tours with curators and fun stuff.

In the morning on my way to the train station, rushing late onto the commuter train platform, I see a familiar face amongst the crowd – my sister!

Such a treat, such a surprise, and a chance to chat about travel plans, kids, family this and that, our 2 bashful waspy selves happily delighted at the unexpected intimacy.

Some hours later, early evening in a crowded vernissage in Old Montreal, mind blown already by the totally rad exhibit by Bharti Kher, hinting at things deeply feminine, reproductive, migratory, a cross between exquisite sensuality and mass production…

We are milling around by the bar, people-watching the funked-out Montreal artists in psychedelic shades and storm trooper boots, when across the room again I see a familiar face…
My sister-out-of-law! Another most adored human!

Not quite officially related (she is my son’s aunt, but my ex and I never married), it is wonderful to see her after some years of missing each other in passing, and there is news of new cousins in the mix, and tell me, tell me, how are all the kids?

It feels awfully apropos to be surrounded by spermatazoid specks and female shapes on this day of family, tribe, migrations and reconnections.

* * *

Next day, another 12 or 14 exhibits, but my favourite is this one, yet another amazing female artist, Elly Strik – new to me, very drawing based –

This entire room is called the “dream room”, with a huge drawing on one wall of Freud’s couch, and many smaller drawings of more intimate details on the surrounding walls.

The major portion of the show is comprised of these massive mysterious female almost-portraits… beautiful yet unknowable, huge and yet tender.

And you, Gentle Reader?

Seen any good Art lately?

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

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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.

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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.

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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 –

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

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