The spider spirit animal awakens creative sensibilities and reminds us that the past is always interwoven with the future.
©Lisa Levart 2016
photo by:Lisa Levart
The spider spirit animal awakens creative sensibilities and reminds us that the past is always interwoven with the future.
©Lisa Levart 2016
It is the day after #IndependenceDay and my thoughts are about #Freedom ……
The Wolf Power Animal symbolizes sharp intelligence, keen intuition and the ability to find the resources we need and use them wisely. When a lone wolf is spotted in the wilderness it embodies freedom. When seen in a pack it embodies a feel of community.
Many thanks to ATKA-the oldest ambassador wolf at the Wolf Conservation Center in Salem, NY
©Lisa Levart 2016
Power Animals:Part of the new MYTHICA Series
The Owl spirit animal represents wisdom and intuitive knowledge; they offer us the inspiration and guidance necessary to deeply explore the unknown.
In his 1991 pre-TED Talk “talk”, John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, delivers countless “light bulb” jokes, all while detailing ways to foster creativity. The main take-away for me is that creativity is not a talent or ability. Creativity flows, Cleese believes, when you are in an open, expansive and relaxed state. And the more playful you are, the longer you can maintain this state.
To get into this “Open Mode” Cleese recommends these conditions:
Space: a secluded oasis of quiet where you are sealed off from the pressures of daily life
Time: limit the time in your space to a pre determined beginning and end
Time: allow yourself enough time to ponder before accepting your creative choice
Confidence: while you are experimenting, nothing is wrong.
Humor: humor is an essential part of spontaneity and helps get you into the Open Mode
On a recent trip to Los Angeles, Karen and I mused about making another Goddess portrait. The result of our play time together is “Lila.” In the Hindu tradition, Lila is a way of describing our human reality and the result of spontaneous, divine play.
“When I look at the wildly innovative creativity that is in nature, I see how much this divine universe loves to play in new and fresh ways! Being playful allows me to be an open conduit for this unbounded, novel, ingenious divine, and feels fun, effortless, exciting, and full of laughter and wisdom! Being playful makes everything easy. Being playful brings out the best in me and in everyone I encounter. I love embodying the essence of Lila! I love you! ”
During the process of creating Karen’s Lila portrait, were John Cleese’s conditions present? Indeed they were. Our creative space was nestled in the magical Hollywood Hills, perched high above the din of Sunset Boulevard. The end time was pre-determined; we were going to a dinner party together AND the sun was setting! We gave ourselves extra time the next day once we had a clearer concept of the Lila image. Karen’s unconditional love and support gave me the confidence to try anything. And humor? Adorned with a tutu around her neck and a Mad Hatter’s hat floating on her head, our sense of humor was in full throttle.
Which reminds me; how many Goddesses does it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer: None….. they are already enlightened!
Images from my new Goddess series were selected as finalists in THE 8th EDITION OF THE Julia Margaret Cameron AWARDS FOR WOMEN PHOTOGRAPHERS. Over 12,000 images were submitted to this JMCA edition from 57 countries so this is a BIG honor!
Here are two the images;
Millennia’s have a bad reputation. The media tells us they are entitled, spoiled and in constant need of approval. But I agree with James Wolcott who wrote in this month’s Vanity Fair; “We may need millennials to remind us what we should have remembered from the 60s, that social change comes only once you stop playing charades.”
Many of the young women I have met are passionate to make this turbulent world a better place. I admit, as a photographer working at the intersection of the women’s movement and goddess spirituality I have both a skewed and limited perspective. And yet, those I do meet are fiercely committed to a wide range of issues; the environment, animal rights, social justice, water quality, women’s spirituality, gender equality and more. Smart and entrepreneurial, these young women are using a new set of skills – social media savvy and technical acumen – to trumpet their demand for change.
Meet one such woman, Kiri Laurelle Davis; a filmmaker and social activist; a change maker; an artist with a mission.
In 2005, 16-year-old Kiri directed a short documentary film entitled “A Girl Like Me“. Kiri used her film to explore the standards of beauty being imposed on today’s black girls. This powerful, award winning film underscored the negative toll Eurocentric standards were having on African American young women, harming their self esteem, self-image and fundamental self worth. Not content to stop there, Kiri continued to fuse her passion for art and activism by creating the Just Us Project, a multi-media platform to actively address social justice issues through media, art and community outreach. Kiri’s first media piece under this new platform is Our Lives Matter, a public service announcement that poignantly focuses on the racial profiling of young black and Latino boys.
In Goddess on Earth, each portrait begins with the subject’s choice of a goddess archetype to embody, and emerges from a place to personal reflection. Prior to getting together in person, I had a pre-conceived idea of what Goddess Kiri would want to portray. She would be a fierce lioness; a warrior, a fiery spirit forging a new trail with her sword/ camera. In fact, during our early phone conversations, I misconstrued her words. Oya, a Yoruba Goddess of wind and destruction was the sacred myth I thought she said she related to.
Only hours before we were to meet, did she gently correct me. Oshun, the Yoruba Goddess of sweet waters and beauty was the archetype she wanted to portray for Goddess on Earth. Oshun, Kiri said, was a Goddess of love, a sensuous woman, flowing with joy and feminine sexuality. Oshun resonated with her.
“Oshun is noted for her beauty, which I feel goes beyond skin deep. I know the beauty in my reflection represents a rich culture of strength, creativity and brilliance. My blackness is beautiful to me because it symbolizes a fierce determination and perseverance. It depicts my own style, grace and a regal beauty that stem from my own distinctive and unique roots. I come from a people who have been exploited, enslaved, dehumanized, stereotyped and continue to rise in spite of tremendous obstacles.
Creating “A Girl Like Me” helped me develop a newfound courage and understanding when it comes to beauty and self love. Like Oshun, who represents beauty, love and art, I have found a loving strength and confidence in myself.
“I no longer look for others to affirm me. I affirm myself. I define myself. And with my art, I want to help women and girls celebrate themselves — even when others don’t. ” wrote Kiri.
YES! YES! YES! How fabulous! How empowered! How inspired! Here is a young woman, confidently embracing her own magnificence and using art to help shift all of our standards of beauty. Here is a young woman, while celebrating the 10th anniversary of her formidable first film, is creating new work teeming with grace, love and beauty, that tackles one of the profound problems of our time – racial injustice and police violence. I am in a state of wonder. Let us pay attention. We have things to learn from this generation.
Hard to believe, but facebook has censored this new Kali image! Pretty outrageous.
Here it is for those that didn’t have a chance to view it during the seven or eight hours it was live.
“All women are the embodiment of Kali, the Supreme Goddess, for she is the Ultimate Feminine – both Creator and Destroyer. “Kali” means “time” in Sanskrit, as she is beyond any notion of time and free from “Maya” or illusions of consciousness. Her nudity is a testament to Her transparency and Liberation from the bonds off Maya. Her three eyes symbolize what was, what is and what will be. With Her mouth wide open, she catches the blood spill of slain sinners on her protruding tongue. Her mala of decapitated heads and belt of severed hands of sinners bear witness to her power to Destroy. Of Kali’s four hands, one holds a sword, the second a demon head, while with the remaining two she encourages her “children”. Her skin is black as all colors combine and she is ALL. As a fiercely protective and nurturing mother, I channel Kali. As a Truth Sayer and activist, I channel Kali. As an artist and authentic person, I channel Kali. I can think of no other Goddess I would wish to portray, as Kali is the Ultimate. I can only hope that my attempt to do so pleases Her…my humble obeisance to the Glory of Kali!” – Chrisoula Shanti Quinn, Fiber/ Found Objects Artist
Dianne Gray, the President of the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation and founder of Hospice and Healthcare Communications has known grief. When Dianne was only nine years old, her father died of a sudden heart attack at age 39. Years later, following several miscarriages, she gave birth to a son only to have him diagnosed at age four with a rare neurological disorder, NBIA Disorders. Her son Austin suffered profoundly throughout his life and died at age 14, leading Dianne back to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ teachings.
The renown psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, wrote her seminal book on grieving “On Death and Dying” in 1969. She believed we process grief in five stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Her theory was meant to apply to those dying, but I believe (and others concur) these universal stages can refer to any loss: a loved one, a marriage, one’s health, a home, a pet.
I met Dianne two years ago during a photo session with her good friend, writer and activist, Kathy Eldon. Serendipitously, we reconnected in Florida two months ago.
Compassion and generosity flow through Dianne like a gentle river. Over the course of a two-hour breakfast, she imparted several important lessons: the first of which was how to let go of feelings of guilt.
Let me explain. In January, my family had come to realize we could no longer care at home for my mother, who has advanced Alzheimer’s disease. This is a painful decision many loving families may have to make, but it also comes with a healthy dose of guilt.
Dianne saw it from a different perspective. With my mother’s day-to-day needs now being taken care of by the nursing home staff, she counseled, I could give her what no was else could – a daughter’s love. I could hold her hand, stroke her hair, caress her face, gaze into her eyes with love. This, I could do whole-heartedly.
Dianne further asked what I was getting by holding onto the guilt, suggesting that it was a barrier to being fully present with my mother while she was still alive. Guilt, she said, can be an emotional placeholder, beckoning us to live in the past, not the present. About my decision to place my mother in a care facility, she asked “Did you do everything you could, at that time, with the information you had?”
I thought about it for a minute, while taking a large sip of orange juice. She was right, there was no reason to carry around the heavy burden of guilt because I truly love my mother to the best of my ability — and continue to make the best care decisions I can each and every time we cross a new bridge together.
The guilt began to recede.
Dianne also shared the philosophy she lives by: live life to the fullest. While I couldn’t change my mother’s condition, I could still experience life with exuberance. One thing led to another and the next day we were creating a White Tara portrait for Goddess on Earth at Lover’s Key State Park, a barrier island near Fort Myers. I was in ecstasy.
White Tara, the Tibetan Goddess of Compassion was a natural choice for Dianne to embody. This Goddess is often depicted with seven eyes, one on each hand and foot, and three on the face (the third eye being on the forehead). With her extraordinary vision, White Tara perceives human’s suffering and her compassion encompasses all.
We photographed during a lull in a deluge of fierce thunderstorms. Two dolphins, a manatee, a double rainbow and a flying pelican visited us. Without a doubt, we were in the midst of a magical day.
To accompany her White Tara portrait, Dianne wrote;
Being in the presence of profound suffering for a protracted period of time, such as that endured by both my son and in a different way, my healthy daughter, has gifted me with an additional “eye for seeing, heart for feeling and a soul for loving unconditionally” the unspoken pain of others. We all have this ability — and hopefully as we observe suffering both seen and unseen, we will remember the essence of White Tara, the beautiful gift of shared compassion. On a lighter note— it’s no surprise that my favorite color is white. It is to me, all things Light with infinite possibilities for shared Love.
After I left Florida’s warm waters behind, I made a promise to myself. While I will still mourn for my mother, I will also ask myself often, “Am I loving her enough? Am I living my life with joy? Am I seeing the beauty and magic that surrounds me?” If my answer is yes – and I hope it will be more often than not -my guilt will be lessened, my depression less pronounced. My heart will remain open and I will look forward to tomorrow, even while I grieve.
I haven’t seen the film “Still Alice” because my mother has Alzheimer’s disease.
While she slips away into the advanced stages of this ferocious illness, I can’t watch anything that illustrates the journey my family is on. Nonetheless, I applaud one outcome from the film; it is illuminating this “neglected epidemic”.
Maria Shriver in her recent piece “Help Me Wipe Out Alzhemer’s Now” shared these terrifying statistics:
“Every 67 seconds, another one of us develops Alzheimer’s. Women in their 60’s are about twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as breast cancer. With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, there will be 13.5 million of us with Alzheimer’s by 2050.”
And there is more: Alzheimer’s is “the most expensive disease in the nation and the only leading cause of death in the U.S. with no way to prevent, stop or even slow its progression” according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Now, add the enormous repercussions it has on the loved one’s families. If you really wrap your mind around this, it can take your breath away. That I can attest to.
First let me share a few of my tangible moments of beauty and grace while navigating this barbed path. I felt great joy watching my mother dance along the Hudson River as I photographed her as a Goddess; shared laughs when she emerged from her bedroom in an especially creative combination of clothes; experienced true love when her face lit up as I entered a room; let tears run down my cheeks as her kisses caressed the back of my hand; and believed my heart grew when I murmured “I love you” in her ear, moments before she fell asleep in her nursing home bed.
Alzheimer’s is having a crushing impact on my family as well. We see savings dwindle from paying for her constant care; careers put on hold to manage her daily medications, physical demands, and energetic wanderings (that often led to a visit with the local police); grandchildren no longer remembering her as the determined, fiercely positive woman she once was; and perhaps worst of all, her beloved husband of sixty-seven years, now guilt ridden and lonely because he can no longer care for her at their home for over half a century.
Five years ago, I photographed my mother (and father) for Goddess on Earth as Meng Po, the Chinese Goddess of Forgetfulness. This sacred myth tells us that as a soul prepares to be reborn, the Goddess Meng Po serves her tea of forgetfulness. Instantly cleared of the knowledge of past lives, Meng Po allows the soul to be made anew and the cycle of life continues.
My mother’s memory wasn’t purged in an instant but in a slow, relentless march toward oblivion. To accompany her Meng Po portrait she had written;
“My memory is not what it used to be. I do forget and I do not remember everything. But my life is rich with daily, weekly, yearly experiences with my husband, my children, my grandchildren and my friends.”
Today, she would not even be able to write her own name. But she is still Greta.