Leah, my next-door neighbor killed my dog. Ketchup was a sweet soul and she just ran him over not even bothering to get out of the car. She just stopped her vehicle midway out of her driveway. Then after my husband and I dragged Ketchup from under her vehicle, she just drove off.
A couple of hours later, Leah came to my door to check on Ketchup. I told her matter-of-factly that he was dead. Leah, who was moving out of the house next door, did not seem sorry. I felt numb inside. I never saw her again but the darkness of her deed flooded me and I wondered how I could forgive her callousness and move on. A month went by and still I wondered, “How could I forgive her?” Moreover, how could I remember Ketchup and all the love he had given? These two questions haunted me. One about love and the other forgiveness.
Watercolor + Buddha = Forgiveness To answer these questions, I decided to meditate on love and forgiveness while painting a Buddha. Not just one Buddha but many, one each day for 30 days. Reflecting on loving kindness while painting a small watercolor of Buddha seemed simple enough and would get me back to creating again, something that had vanished due to my grief.
As I painted Buddha repeatedly, I became absorbed. Line and color instructed me. I saw Leah in my mind’s eye and sent her loving kindness. I thought of Ketchup and felt his love. Worldly concerns vanished. My simple outlines of Buddha gently transformed into delicate elaborate designs. The folds of Buddha’s robes were more pronounced and vibrant. Details of his face now noticeable with knowing smiles.
This gradual change in Buddha’s image reflected my own internal shift away from my anger and grief toward acceptance and equanimity. Karla McLaren in her book called The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings are trying to Tell You,writes extensively about grief and other strong emotions. She claims that the essential questions that surround coming to terms with a loss are, “What must be mourned?" and What must be released?” She talks about grief and the power of ritual. Taking time to be present to one’s grief rather than distracting or distancing oneself is important for feeling the depth of the loss and integrating the memories; something our modern society tends to disregard.
Painting Buddha for thirty days was my own self-designed ritual. A container in which I could mourn and grieve as well as love and forgive. This simple repetitive act allowed me to recapture the loving memories of Ketchup and release my anger towards Leah. Art does indeed heal.
* What symbol might you paint or sketch for 30 days as a form of meditation to forgive someone who has caused you pain?
* What kind of a ritual might you design to grieve a loss?
* Where can you place a quote or image so you will see it every day to remind you to embody loving kindness?
It is that time of year again. Time to set big vision and measurable goals. There are all kinds of systems and approaches for writing goals and mapping out next steps. But I like something creative and dreamy. I like creating my own Compass Rose.
What is a Compass Rose? A compass rose is a navigational device used on a compass and on maps. It helps you stay on course. I like the idea of creating a personalized compass rose with words and images that suggests how I will move through the year. I can use it as a sort of medicine wheel as I move from new beginnings of the North moving clockwise around to the East, to the herald of the Spring towards the waning light of South autumn arriving at the West of winter's solstice.
Writing + Questions = New Beginnings I create my compass rose by answering two questions.
What do I really want?
What do I want to learn create, and experience this coming year?
Then I start free writing. Free writing is what the name implies. You start writing without a care for grammar or order. The idea is to write whatever comes to mind in a stream of consciousness. I like to do my free write over the course of a couple of days. I like to re-read what I have written and invite myself to go deeper.
What's Coffee, the Unconsciousness & Pinterest got to do with it?
Free writing gives you words but I also like images. Images communicate with the unconscious mind so why not add that to the mix. I like to design my compass rose by gathering all of my source images, free writes and assorted supplies. I use images from magazines, Pinterest and photographs of my art work. I gather all of these into a nice big pile. Next, I get all my supplies and lay them out. I use glue, matte medium, scissors and a variety of mark making materials (e.g., oil pastels, pens, etc.). Then, I get myself a nice cup of coffee, put on some smoothing music and start.
Art Practice: Making a Compass Rose
Step 1: I begin by reading what I have written during my free write. I circle key words and sometimes I cut them out.
Step 2: I look at the images I've collected and pull out the ones that speak to me. I cut out sections or pieces of the images that I like. I move them around on my template until I am satisfied. I don't worry about perfection. I just go with my initial reaction.
Step 3: I start to glue images down on the paper. I add key words that remind me of my goals.
Step 4: I start to embellish my Compass Rose. I write words using a jelly roll pen in write I circle and outline different features. I doodle and dapple in various places on my Compass Rose until I am happy with the result.
Step 5: I finish my Compass Rose off with a layer of matt medium and wait for it to dry.
Step 6: I hang my Compass Rose up in my studio where I can see it every day as a reminder of where I am going.
Fear is an emotion of readiness. Fear and the art of being prepared link together like a nut and bolt. Fear is a warning system, a guide. The emotion of fear is a flickering whisper in your ear, a message to prepare for action in response to unfolding events. I encountered just such a messenger of fear while out on my daily walk. I routinely walk along the salt marshes near my art studio. This nature preserve is home to a variety of animals. On any given day, I might enjoy the company of a variety of marsh birds, ground squirrels or if I am lucky, a jack rabbit.
On this particular walk, I enjoyed the company of a small light brown jackrabbit. As I scanned the salt marshes along my walk, I spotted her – lovely brown fur and big round ears. She stood still and erect scanning the horizon for predators. I felt a ripple of awe and fear as I saw her out in the open field, vulnerable and pensive. I continued my walk and saw her again this time further out in the distance. Her ears bobbed up and down through the tall dry brush as she made her way forward. I felt her rapid breathing and quivering nose. I guessed that she could smell me coming down the path as the wind blew my scent in her direction. She did a quick dance of bob and sweep, followed by a full stop. Again she would start, stop, and wait. Was this jack rabbit a signal for me about the recent changes I was going through? Was it time to stop and focus with clarity? Or was it time to act and move consciously to a new chapter in my life?
I stopped and came out of my reverie and came back to the present. That is when I noticed I had lost sight of her. But then, just as I rounded the corner where the dirt path meets up with the asphalt bike path, I caught sight of her again. She was half hidden in the deep shadows and stiff tall grasses that encircled the marshland gate. Her big black unblinking iris gave her hiding place away. I held my breath and made a sideway glance catching a glimpse of her while I kept a slow steady pace past her hideaway. She stood facing sideways, her sweet face in silent profile. I sent her my loving kindness and gratitude for her wild beauty and message of attentiveness and focus, the gift of fear.
Post Script; The image of "Marshland" above is an original watercolor on Claybord by Donna M. Wocher copyright 2018.