Thursday, September 12, 2013

Slowing down for the Soul

"Slow is the new slogan. Slow food, slow art, slow time. Many artists today are tuning themselves to slow down and pay closer attention to their lives as a source for inspiration."  These are the words of author, Suzi Banks Baum, and they are words that resonate deeply with me.

In the past ten years, I have learnt a great deal about slowing down.  I was forced to start learning when I had chronic fatigue which left me unable to do much but shower and get back into bed for a period of about two months.  I made a commitment to listen to my body, and to give it permission to rest when it was tired, instead of pushing it on.  Learning to be kind to ourselves is not easy. 

I leave this weekend for three weeks in Italy.  And even though I have learned to slow down significantly, I still find myself needing to slow down even more, and more importantly, wanting to feel comfortable in the slowing down, the doing less, and just being more.  I hope to learn much from being surrounded by the Italian culture.  To see how a culture which values the siesta - called the riposa in Italy - can stop in the middle of the day to rest and restore (what about that list of things waiting to be done?)  I believe knowing how to let go to bring oneself back into balance is an art form.

Apart from a week of Slow Photography in Italy: Seeing with Your Senses and Your Soul, I will be spending three days in Chartres, where the well-known labyrinth built in the 13th Century is laid in the floor of the Chartres Cathedral.  So the labyrinth will be teaching me how to slow down as well, one step at a time.

I hope all will understand if I am slow in responding to emails during this time away.  To find a new slow, I think one has to remove oneself from familiar patterns, and for the three weeks in Italy, daily access to the internet will be one of the ways I will be giving myself time to let my soul slow down.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Becoming the Change

I love what the creator of SoulCollage®, Seena Frost, has to say in this video about using the process of SoulCollage® to effect internal and external changes as we "Discover our Wisdom" and "Change our World".  The practice of SoulCollage® is a way to accept and understand ourselves, and our place in the world.  SoulCollage® is a process that invites us to discover and welcome all the parts of oneself, and to see the world in terms of "both/and" not "either/or".  In this way, we open up to creating balance in our world.

For more videos about different aspects of SoulCollage®, visit SoulCollage® on Vimeo.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Mystic Poetry of Gavin Harrison

I was fortunate enough to meet Gavin Harrison at the Buddhist Retreat Center in Ixopo, South Africa in 2008, when I was visiting Woza Moya.  My visit to the area from my home in Charlotte, NC coincided with Gavin's visit to Ixopo for the first time in many years from his home in Hawaii.  Great synchronicity was at work.  

Gavin is the author of the book In the Lap of the Buddha, and he says in the introduction to this book "I hope that this book will in some way encourage all readers to touch the fragility and preciousness of life ...".  I believe that through his mystical poetry in Petals and Blood Gavin again encourages us "to touch the fragility and preciousness of life".

Gavin's journey has been an inspiring one, and out of his experience, he has created a book of poetry and stories,  Petals and Blood, that touches the soul.  One of my favorites from this new book, is his poem Your Spiritual Resume, of which the following lines are an extract:

Leave your spiritual resume outside the door,
no matter how illustrious or eloquent it may be.
I am not interested in your itinerary either,
however holy, exalted and rarefied your destinations may have been.
The illuminated travelers you have come upon along the way?
Don't bother.
Shelve your lineage of books, CDs and retreats you have aced.
Tell me what lives within the slipstream of your high adventuring, right now!
What of the Holy places within yourself, to which you have traveled?

This is a poem I will return again and again to, to remind myself of what is really important.

I wanted to share a little about Gavin and his new book in this blog post, and so asked Gavin a couple of questions to understand what made him decide to create this new book.

Catherine: Gavin, tell me a little about your background and how you ended up in Hawaii after being born in South Africa.

Gavin:  If you were to go through the center of the earth from Hawaii you will end up in South Africa. Today I am as far away from my homeland as I can possibly be, and yet Hawaii feels more like Africa than any other place I have lived. I came to the Big Island in 1998 and I never left. The tropics, the ocean, the gentle climate, all seduced me.

Catherine:   I think Africa always stays in your blood, and the vegetation of Hawaii has a lot of similarities to South Africa.   What has most influenced your poetry writing?

Gavin:  The ecstatic Sufi poets, Rumi and Hafiz, turned my world upside down. Their vision of a life lived fully and joyfully, with depth, profoundly impacted me. As I was struggling to put into words the indescribable blessing of awakening to my essential nature and the truth of existence, I felt their hand at my back. That's when the poems began — my best shot at bringing into language, that which in the end can never be held in words. The poems flower from the evolutionary revelation of the ground of love that was always there, awaiting my arrival!

Catherine:  I find that your poetry opens me up to seeing in a new way.  How do you hope that the poems will touch those that read them?

Gavin:  My hope is that the poems will inspire, encourage and fortify the yearning we all share to be in communion with the depths of who we truly are. Perhaps the poems will raise the bar, opening us to the infinite possibilities we share, in living this very precious and fleeting human life— to live with love, kindness and wakefulness within every corridor of our lives. To take seriously the possibility of liberation within this lifetime — no matter what!

Catherine:  I believe that a portion of the proceeds of the sale of each book will go to support Woza Moya and the Group of Hope in South Africa.  Can you tell us a little about this?

Gavin:  It is my life's work to support the orphaned and vulnerable children in South Africa, and I do this by supporting the above organizations. I have an Indiegogo Fundraising Campaign underway, an endeavor to recover some of the costs of production for the book. Once I have recovered the costs I will continue my active support of both of these organizations —  I will send 5% of the proceeds from the sale of Petals and Blood purchased through our website, to the organizations. Some of the fundraising campaign incentives include a gift of many books into the South African prison system, mentored by The Group of Hope. Another incentive will bring the books into the Ofafa Valley where I lived in South Africa and where  Woza Moya is located. After my death all proceeds will go to the organizations.

Catherine:  How can people support this project?

Gavin:  Oh my goodness, there are a number of different ways. In this socially and electronically interconnected world there are many possibilities for us to support one another.  Certainly by supporting the fund-raising campaign. Also by disseminating information about the campaign. The most immediate way to help us, is to share the Indiegogo link with anyone you think may be interested. This will also increase global visibility for us on the Indiegogo website.   Please share our Facebook page, like us, and become a friend.  Visit our blog and let your friends know about it.

Catherine:  Where can we buy the book, and when will it be available?

Gavin:  Buying the book when it's available in October, 2013 from our website is another way of supporting the project.  Purchases directly from our website maximize our return for each book and therefore also makes it possible for me to begin sending proceeds from the sales to the organizations in South Africa, mentioned above.

Catherine:  Gavin, thank you so much for sharing this with us.  I wish you lots of luck with the campaign! And for those of you who'd like to hear a little more of Gavin's story and his visit in 2008 to Woza Moya, watch the video below.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Every Awesome Woman was Once a Little Girl

At the Art and Activism Symposium I attended recently, I met a wonderful musician called Jana Stanfield. Jana creates music that reminds us we can make a difference, and she kindly gave me permission to use her song "Every Awesome Woman" with my photographs of the beautiful young ladies at Woza Moya.  Music really does have a way of touching our hearts.  Enjoy listening and watching.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Living Our Passion

I've returned from attending and teaching at the Women's Voices Symposium at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY, and have been processing and integrating everything I experienced in the three days of deep exploration.  I attended workshops with wonderful teachers: Suzi Banks Baum, Jana Stanfield, Heather Summerhayes Cariou, Melissa Harris and June Gould.  I taught two workshops "Images, Insights and Illumination: The Transformative Power of Images" and a Photography and Photo App Exploration art class.  There was amazing music made including performances by Joanne Shenandoah and Kathy Sherman.  Every moment was filled with something inspiring, and I've come home ready to create!

I've been wondering how to put into words everything I experienced, and today this quote by Catherine of Siena found me, and expressed perfectly the feeling I have after these three days of connecting with others who are intent on using their art medium to make a difference in the world.  Thank you to Jan Phillips for making this event happen!  If you want a glimpse into what we experienced, the joy, the fun, the learning, watch this video.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Power of Images

I'm collecting together images and insights to share with the audience in a presentation at Women's Voices for (a) Change next weekend.  My presentation will focus on the power of images to connect us to our authentic selves, and I'll be sharing the SoulCollage® process.  I am honored to be teaching along with a list of teachers I admire and respect, which include Jan Phillips, Melissa Harris, Inocente Izucar, Suzi Banks Baum and others.

This promises to be a powerful weekend of connecting the dots between creativity, our potential, and our desire to be a force for good in the world.  I am so looking forward to learning from everyone attending.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Circling within the Archetypal Labyrinth Circle

This past weekend, Cat Caracelo presented a Mythos Journey workshop in my Studio. It was a magical time of myth and personal story, of journeying and connecting, of creating and circling, made even more magical by holding our sharing circle outside in the center of the labyrinth - our smaller circle being held within the larger archetypal circle of the labyrinth

Sitting in the labyrinth, rather than walking the labyrinth was a very different feeling, although I experienced the same feeling of sacred connection that I feel when I walk my labyrinth.  I encouraged everyone to take off their shoes so they could feel the earth beneath their feet.  For me, being connected to the earth, surrounded by trees with a slight breeze touching my skin, made me feel part of a larger story. 

I have a quote by Thich Nhat Hanh on the bench next to my labyrinth which says: "Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet."  I like to walk the labyrinth with this in mind, and sitting with my feet touching the ground during our circle time, felt very much like being blessed by the Earth.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Interview with Christine Valters Paintner, author of "Eyes of the Heart"

I discovered Christine's website, Abbey of the Arts - Transformative Living through Contemplative and Expressive Arts, some years ago.  I loved the ideas Christine offered, and have in my library four of her books, in addition to Eyes of the Heart:

I refer to them often, and am nourished by Christine's words and practices which connect creativity with a deeper spirituality.

So, I was really excited to hear that Christine was publishing a book on using photography as a contemplative practice (and even more excited when I received the book and found that she had recommended my book The Creative Photographer in the resource section!)  There are a wealth of meaningful practices in the book which will deepen your photography practice.  To get a sense of the richness offered by Christine's book, Eyes of the Heart,  click on the "Look inside" tab on the amazon page to the book.

Even more exciting was the opportunity to ask Christine a couple of questions about her book to share on my blog.  Hope you enjoy our discussion!

Catherine:   Christine, I love your idea of seeing with the "eyes of the heart" and the heart being the source of true vision.   In the fast-paced world we live in, it can sometimes be hard to slow down long enough to see fully in this way.  What have you found helps you slow down so that you open to seeing the world through the "eyes of the heart", both when you have a camera in your hand and when you are out in the world?

Christine:  The most important tool I have to slow myself down is my breath.  Breathing slowly and deeply changes my body, so that everything relaxes.  Breath for me, is the anchor of awareness in my contemplative prayer, calling me back to this moment again and again.  I find myself often out in the world returning to my breath as a way of steadying myself and my attention right here and now.

Catherine:   Attention to breath, yes, thank you.  That is something we can all do, we just have to remember.  I also love that the Latin word "spirare" from which our words "inspire" and "inspiration" originate means "to breathe"!  There is a connection between our breath and allowing the world around us to speak to us more deeply.

What is your favorite exercise in the book?  Is there a particular photography practice you engage in when you need a way to see clearly again, perhaps after a period of intense work, or after a painful or difficult experience?

Christine:  My favorite is probably the invitation to take fifty images of one thing (p. 24) as a means of exploring a subject deeply.  I love allowing the camera lens to be an invitation back into intimacy with the world.  After working intensely or experiencing something challenging, that is often the issue for me – feeling at a distance from everything.  Intimacy invites me to remember the sacred presence pulsing through all things, people, and places.

Catherine:  I agree that is a very powerful exercise.  I also love that the camera allows us to remember special places and times.  We can remember the green of summer in the darkness of winter.  It is a way that we can stay connected to something meaningful.  I so enjoyed your chapter on the symbolic significance of color and in particular, your discussion of Hildegard of Bingen's use of the color green to represent life force. In your recent moves from the USA to Vienna and now to Ireland, have you noticed that different colors are dominant in different countries?  What is your favorite color and what is the symbolic significance of this color for you?

Christine:  That is a beautiful way to put it Catherine.  There is a sense of re-membering or making whole again in our memories, bring something present. I love your question.  In Vienna, the color that often called to me most strongly was white.  I am entranced by the hundreds of marble statues scattered throughout the city.  I have often imagined one day telling the story of them – angels and mythical creatures, men and women, all carved out of white stone.  They reveal a freshness of vision to me, even as I view them again and again.

In Ireland, green is definitely the dominant color.  It rains pretty heavily on the west coast where I live, which leaves a wondrous verdancy in its wake and always brings me back to Hildegard’s vision.  But another color I am discovering is the golden hue of light, when the sun emerges after a heavy rain.  It seems to illuminate everything – dancing off the river and bay beyond, shimmering across wet sidewalks.  It speaks to my heart of those ancient monks who created illuminated manuscripts with gold leaf applied as a way of representing this divine light in the world.

Catherine:  I've never thought about illuminated letters in this way - that they were a way to represent divine light.  Thank you for this insight!  

How did you first discover photography as a path of contemplation?  Do you always use photography in this way?

Christine:  I have engaged in photography since I was a child, as my grandparents owned a chain of photographic supply stores across the Northeast United States and so I always had a camera in hand.  However, it wasn’t until my own contemplative life deepened in my twenties, when I discovered the Benedictine tradition, that I began to discover photography as a means to slow down and see more deeply.

Catherine:  What other creative ways of being in the world do you enjoy?  If you had to choose to express yourself in words or images, which medium would you choose, and why?

Christine:  I do consider myself, first and foremost, a writer.  It is the very first medium I can remember falling in love with, and I have always felt called to express myself in words.  I discover new things through writing.  However, one of the great joys of starting a blog several years ago, was discovering how photography helped to illuminate my words in different ways than written language alone.  I remembered those ancient monks again, illuminating their sacred texts with images, because they knew that images and words together could be more powerful than just words alone.  So I love the dance my writing and photography do together, each supporting the other in expression.

Catherine:  I love the idea of words and images "illuminating" each other!  Christine, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us.  I know Eyes of the Heart is a book I will return to again and again for inspiration.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Art & Soul 2013

I've just returned from Virginia Beach where I taught four workshops at Art & Soul, as well as making time to take a workshop myself.  What a fabulous time of inspiration, community and creativity!

The first class I taught was entitled "The Secret Life of Trees".  It was a mixed media class where I shared lots of techniques that can be used in many ways, but the focus in the class was to leave at the end of the day with a completed journal.  Everyone started off with a kit that I had put together.

Kit for Secret Life of Trees class

Even though everyone started off with the same kit, the books they created were all unique and amazingly beautiful.  I was particularly touched by the story told by Brigitte Chavaillaz who told me that it is a custom in her family to plant a tree when a new soul is born into the family.  Brigitte brought photographs of the tree she and her husband had planted for their new grandchild, and incorporated these into her book.  What a beautiful custom, which reminds me of the saying: "One generation plants the trees, and another gets the shade".

"The Secret Life of Trees" Journal

My talented class participants!

I also had fun teaching three other classes where we made books, used our cameras to photograph close-up, made color journals and learned new ways to use the iPad as a photo art studio.  What a great week!

I have to also share with you the project I created in the class I took with Stephanie Rubiano.  I've taken two previous classes with Stephanie, as I love her work and the way she teaches.  I created an Encaustic Light House in the class!

Encaustic Light Houses made in Stephanie Rubiano's class

Stephanie shares some of her student work from one of her classes on her blog if you want to see more of these cute little houses!I also bought one of Stephanie's new iPad covers at Art & Soul Vendor night (the place to be if you want to see wonderful art and antique ephemera together in one place).

Friday, February 15, 2013

Soul Whisperings

I was excited to be a guest on Janet Conner's Soul-Directed Life Radio program on Unity Online Radio yesterday, February 14th.  One of the questions that Janet asks all her guests is what words of wisdom they would like to leave with the listeners on how to can create their own soul-directed life.  My soul-directed life fell into place once I began living my joy, once I began choosing to spend time doing things that had meaning for me. But how to translate this into "words of wisdom"?

Then I remembered my "Soul Whisperings" which I had translated into images and words to remind me of the flow of my creative process. I thought these might help others with their creative process and so this is what I shared as my "words of wisdom".

The first word is BREATHE.  This is to remind me to slow down and become conscious of my body and to thank it for how it supports me in doing the work I love in the world.

The second is LISTEN.  This reminds me to make time to listen for guidance by making time to meditate and to sit quietly and allow a sense of spaciousness to surround me.

Next is TRUST.  This is probably the most important word, as it is a reminder that I am not in the creative process alone.  I don't have to force anything, and I can relax when life takes a detour I wasn't expecting, as TRUST reminds me that all is happening perfectly.

These three words are essentially about how to show up in my studio.  Then when I am creating, I need to remember that I am merely a conduit and I have a partner in the unseen realm, so I do not create on my own, I CO-CREATE.

And finally, I need to SHARE, as creating, whatever form this might take in your life: cooking, bringing up a family or gardening (all life is an opportunity to be creative), is about sharing a part of you, and when you share from the heart you never know when you might be giving someone exactly what they need at that moment in their lives.  So don't judge your creations as not good enough or not big enough.  Everything you create makes a difference.