pleasure and paradox in paris

At the Musée d’Orsay, pressing my face close to a Monet painting, practically inhaling the brushstrokes, I felt a mixture of profound gratitude and nostalgia. The pale pinks, lavenders, and yellows were indescribably soothing. I wanted to merge with the work. Escape into it.

I was mesmerized by the art of Paris to a degree that surprised even me. I’d studied Art History many moons ago at university, but standing in front of certain works – I could easily touch them, were it not for the ever-present security – left me deeply affected.

Until that point, I’d felt somewhat ambivalent about my impromptu trip to Paris. Though I had the time off work, cash saved in the bank, and a great deal from Air France, I questioned my decision to travel to the City of Lights. Surely there were more responsible things to do with my money.

In my hotel room that first night, I tossed and turned as the jet lag (and in-flight wine, no doubt) sank in. Habitual thoughts about work, relationships, and family pounded in my head. Paris, I thought. Why am I here? What can I learn from you?

Pleasure. Presence. Enjoy life, she answered. Be in your body, not your head. You already know this…but I can help you. In fact, you need me to. That’s why you’re here.

You think you’ve lost your intuition, she continued, but you haven’t. Don’t focus on my image or the tourists or the incessant honking and police sirens, or the camouflaged men with machine guns standing on the corner. There is an essence of me that is much deeper than all these things. Be with it.

I didn't make it to the top, but I had to get the Eiffel shot!

I didn’t make it to the top, but I had to get the Eiffel shot!

I spent a week exploring various neighbourhoods in the city. I walked along the Champs-Élysées and the Seine. Apart from food (and chocolate presents!), my only purchase was a 4-day Museum Pass, which I’d picked up at Charles de Gaulle airport upon my arrival.

Viewing the paintings of Monet, Degas, Manet, Cassatt, Morisot, Seurat, and Renoir (and so many more), I felt deep nostalgia. Nostalgia for the time in my life when I initially studied these works. Nostalgia for historical periods of great art, music, and beauty. Most of all, nostalgia for an era where artists truly sat with their inspirations. Focused and present, devoting hours, days, even years to the execution of their visions.

What must it be like to have that kind of patience? It is hard to imagine. My attention span is much shorter than it used to be, a deterioration I blame on technology. All around me, people flitted about with iPhones, snapping photos and selfies. I tried to take some pics, but they never did the moment justice. And trying to capture that moment would just take me out of it.

Jardin des Tuileries - I couldn't resist including this

Jardin des Tuileries – I couldn’t resist

I wondered what these artists would think of this modern world. Would they be disturbed, fascinated, inspired? Life cannot be as it was in nineteenth-century Paris, of course. And even then, things probably weren’t as idyllic as the dreamy vistas suggest. Still, I long to sit in front of a landscape or sunset, or at a cafe, for hours, just absorbing my surroundings. Not thinking about work or emails or how I should be doing something.

Paris reminded me of India, in that it’s a paradox. The Divine Feminine presence, which surely exists and spoke to me that first night, was accompanied by a rough, almost aggressive energy throughout the city. It was an interesting, and often unsettling, experience.

But visiting Paris was very, very good for my soul. In recent months I’d been feeling some grief for so many lost years where I didn’t trust myself as my own authority, where I sold myself short. This last decade in particular – I don’t know where it went. Paris reminded me to be gentle with myself and look ahead. Not everything in life has to happen at once, and my process won’t look like anyone else’s. Nothing is lost. There is still time.

The art, the red wine, the Autumn sunshine, the walks along the Seine…that’s who I am. Sitting in front of a canvas and feeling where the colours take me…that’s who I am. Doing my best to heal resentments, forgive, and live in divine love…that’s who I am. Willing to learn, be humbled over and over again, and create grand adventures for myself…that’s who I am.

Thank you, Paris, for reminding me who I am.

 

10 life lessons from mandala painting

Last weekend I stepped out of my comfort zone and into one of the most profound experiences of my life: a 3-day mandala painting course.

It’s hard to put such a deeply healing and transformative experience into words; I’m still basking in the afterglow of it all. It’s not an understatement to say it changed my life. Here’s just some of what I’m very thankful to have learned.

This is Shakti

This is Shakti

1. Everything I need is within. I was the last to pick a canvas. I didn’t rush to get my paints. I was feeling anxious, and had made the conscious decision to be patient and kind with myself. Somehow I knew that whatever was within me would come forth, no matter what external resources I had.

2. I can no longer say ‘I’m not an artist’. This process unlocked the artist in everyone who participated. Many of us were beginners, and each person created their own unique masterpiece. Everyone can do this. We just need the support and tools to draw out our inner creative fire.

3. Mandalas are a portal. We can access deep realms of consciousness when creating or contemplating a mandala. I don’t quite know how it works…but that’s the point. Our logical mind is not in control; we’re perceiving and interpreting from the heart. The process is mystical and ineffable.

4. Art opens people like lotus flowers. It was amazing to watch, and experience in myself, the joy that unfolded over the weekend. I was able to bring forth something that had been waiting for the right moment to express. Everyone was discovering this hidden place within themselves. There was a sense of wonder in the air. New life was being birthed.

5. I created it…but I didn’t. My experience flowed more easily when I let go of thinking of ‘my’ painting, ‘my’ possession – when I dropped the ego. Yes, it emerged from within me…but I like to think of it as a co-creation with a greater essence that is both me and not-me. I couldn’t grip it too tightly.

6. This is life. I felt an overwhelming sense that life could be so much more than mass consciousness programming would have us believe. Being in the zone of creativity and stimulating conversation, free from iPhones and Facebook, was such an immense, life-affirming contrast to the 9-5 matrix I’d become so accustomed to in the past.

7. Mandala painting is therapy. I’m convinced that the act of mixing colours, putting brush to canvas, being in a supportive group, and creating a personal, sacred work of beauty would heal in a weekend what might take years in traditional therapy. The mandala gave me a vision into my own soul.

8. Self-expression is a shared process. Self-expression is not a solitary act. It requires a community to receive it. Creating art with others helped me let go and trust in the group. The group’s presence impacted what I created, whether or not anything was verbally expressed. Communication transpired on an unseen level.

9. Surrender. I became anxious when I thought too far down the line, e.g., the next colour I’d choose and whether it would ‘look good’. There was a fear of screwing things up…anticipating what could go wrong instead of trusting that each layer would be reveal itself in the perfect sequence. I relaxed when I surrendered to what was right in front of me.

10. The Divine Feminine is awakening. She is here. At the beginning of the weekend, we each gave ourselves a name – a symbol for our journey at this point in time. I picked ‘Shakti’. I’d been very much feeling the presence of the Feminine, seeing coral-red colours in my recent meditations. These colours materialized in the mandala without forced effort. Magic!

I am looking forward to painting more…the portal has been opened!

you do not understand your features

you do not understand your features

susan seddon boulet, ‘venus’, with my modifications

musings from cinque terre

It is now the end of my second week in Italy, and each of the three cities I’ve visited so far have been very different. Week One was the small, beautiful beach village of Villasimius, Sardinia. Many Italians spend their summer holidays here and so, this being the last week of August, the beach and town center were packed. I think I heard English spoken only twice the entire time I was there!

me chillin' in sardinia

me chillin’ in sardinia

sardinian waters...

sardinian waters…

Then it was off to Rome. Talk about a 180! My friend and I only had three days to explore the city, which we filled with: a bicycle tour of numerous monuments (too many to name here); proper visits to the Colosseum, Forum, Capitoline Museum, Pantheon, Spanish Steps, and Vatican; and, of course, shopping. (Though I didn’t go too crazy with the latter, as I still have four weeks of Italian travel ahead of me!)

While in Rome I sensed that I would feel the ‘real’ power and history of the city only after I was gone, and this is holding to be true. It’s been a few days since I left, and now that I’m not immersed in its frenetic pace, I can feel Rome’s haunting, pulling energy. It was amazing and slightly incomprehensible for my senses to grasp the true magnitude of how ancient the city is. One thing I know – I will be back.

view of corniglia, cinque terre, on my hike

view of corniglia, cinque terre, on my hike

And now I am in stunning, gorgeous, Cinque Terre, staying in beautiful Monterroso al Mare….the perfect balance between the cruisy, slow pace of Sardinia, and the extreme bustle of Rome. Visitors to Cinque Terre can usually hike the coastline between five of its villages (Monterroso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore) but, unfortunately, the last two trails are currently closed! At first I was a little bummed, but I’ve done the first two hikes a couple of times, and it’s been so beautiful (and hot!) here that I really cannot complain.

It’s my last morning here in Cinque Terre, and now begins a new phase of my journey: my friend and I part ways, and I continue on solo for the rest of my time in Italy, soon off to Lucca, Tuscany. While it has been great to discover Italy with a friend, I’m looking forward to this next stage of my journey, experiencing the insights and discoveries that only travelling solo can provide.

To be honest, I haven’t taken many photos so far, which is quite unusual for me. This is partly because my friend has been getting some amazing shots with her SLR camera – much better than my point-and-shoot! But it’s also because I’ve generally been finding the picture-taking a little distracting. I’ve come to Italy to absorb its beauty on many levels…to let Italy imprint my heart. And while of course I want to capture this journey, in a strange way, taking pictures is getting in the way of that. We’ll see, though. Perhaps things will change once I am on my own. Maybe I’m just being lazy!

my typical breakfast - so much for gluten-free!

my typical breakfast – so much for gluten-free!

Of course Italy has been having a deeper impact on me, going way beyond the sights I’ve seen. I can’t quite articulate it just yet; all I can say is that this adventure is exactly what my soul had been asking for – crying for – and I am in so, so much gratitude that I can experience every second of it. My heart is full and words (for now) just won’t do it justice.

Ciao for now. xo.

saturn, i’m listening

Today I am living in the fifth place I’ve stayed at in the last six months.  Tomorrow will begin my last week of work before my Leave.  Next week I depart for my six-week trip to Europe, 4-5 of which will be in Italy.

I’ve barely had time to catch my breath and last week the ‘good’ stress manifested into physical and emotional haywire. Thankfully this weekend has been hugely restorative, as I’m housesitting a friend’s spa-like pad, and caring for her two very sweet and rambunctious kittens.  (These creatures have been very effective at taking me out of my own thoughts as, for example, I watch them fight over a crumpled piece of paper for half an hour.)

technicolor lakshmi, sonja picard. www.sonjapicard.com

technicolor lakshmi, sonja picard. http://www.sonjapicard.com

In Vedic Astrology there’s a phenomenon called ‘Saturn Transit’ (Sade Sati) in which the planet Saturn enters one’s moon sign (and the sign before and after) for a period of approximately 7½ years and, depending on who you ask, either makes your life miserable or inspires great growth and change. I’m exaggerating…but it’s essentially known to be an intense period of shift, and the best thing to do is just go with the changes with an open mind and willingness to learn what Saturn teaches.

Saturn is known to remove all that no longer serves us, whether we want it gone or not. Saturn makes those changes we’ve been dragging our heels on making ourselves. Saturn is a disciplinarian; he can seem cold and harsh, but ultimately the changes are for the better. (This by no means fully explains Sade Sati; you’d have to ask a Vedic Astrologer for the expert analysis.)

I was advised that my Saturn Transit was coming, months before it actually started a couple of years ago.  Whether I believe in Sade Sati or whether it’s the power of suggestion, I cannot deny that since that time there has been enormous change in my life, not only on an external level, but even more so internally.  Remembering the lessons of Saturn has brought me some grounding.

Saturn demands that we pare down, de-clutter, simplify, and organize. He forces us to examine: what is truly important to us?

For most of my life I’ve been on a spiritual search, and I’m sure this will continue throughout…eternity. But this search has often been a bit heavy, wrapped up in analysis and trying to understand things intellectually, or wanting to ‘heal’ things in my life (past, present, and future).  In other words, the spiritual path has often been so serious. And while this has served me perfectly in the ways it’s needed to, I’m ready for more fun.  For more lightheartedness.  For more joy.  For more beauty.

And what better place to experience and integrate the pleasures of life, than Italia?  The food, the scenery, the language, the wine, the art, the people, the…all of it.

This trip represents my intention to enjoy life without figuring out all the why’s. To let beauty absorb my senses.  To, as the kitties do, fully experience and embody what’s right in front of me without figuring out (worrying) where I’m going next.  To accept this beautiful gift from the universe without questioning my worthiness for receiving it.

Saturn is known for his heaviness, for putting pressure on us; but maybe he’s teaching me that I am the one – in fact, the only one – who can diminish the pressure and heaviness in my life, by cleaning up all my own self-imposed ‘stuff’.  I like this, and I gleefully accept Italy’s role in the metamorphosis.

Namaste.

my hair is more important than gaia

i was washing my hair the other day and (not for the first time) noticed how chemical-laden my shampoo is.  i felt the usual nagging guilt.  the same admonishing voice in my head, informing me i’m poisoning the earth with my every lather.  the sense of defeat that, when it comes to my hair, vanity prevails.

then came the justifications: that this is not my ‘regular’ shampoo, the one that’s much more natural and paraben/polysorbate/SLS-free.  all the other body care products i use are similarly natural (at least the labels say so).  i recycle every last scrap of paper possible.  i don’t have a vehicle, so i’m not contributing to any of those nasty fuel emissions, which puts me way ahead of the masses.  (feeling quite virtuous now.)  i use my ceramic coffee mug, whenever i remember it.  oh, and gaia’s my mother, so it’s not like she wants me to be miserable.  if i want to occasionally shampoo my hair with the aid of a few chemicals to preserve my copper-hued tresses, surely she understands.  it’s tough to be a human, and i’m allowed a few concessions now and then.

i still kinda feel like shit.

i know that i’ve lost that essential connection with mother earth.  i’m not sure that my efforts to ‘save’ her are motivated by a deep reverence and bond to her as a sentient being, as much as the niggling internal voice that tells me i ‘should’ be doing more.

***

i was in eighth grade when i was first introduced to the concept of The Environment, and how we humans are to blame for its current state.  since then i’ve been fastidious about my recycling, i’ve written letters, i’ve signed petitions.  but i’m a city girl.  i haven’t gone to protests or participated in blockades. i’ve grown up with concrete and convenience. and nature was not necessarily an inviting place growing up.  it wasn’t that it was perilous; just, after the age of five, it became more…well, boring.   less fun and exciting.

thankfully this has changed in recent years, but i still feel slightly alien in nature.  i’m literally on unfamiliar ground.

can one be truly motivated to ‘save’ something they’re not connected to on a very deep level?  i have good friends who really embody a relationship with gaia. there’s no doubting it; they radiate their reverence and respect, and their actions reflect it.  so when i use my nasty shampoo, i feel like a total imposter.  i question my practice of doing some things, but not others.  is it my appearance that marks the line, and does this make me weak, shallow?

what i feel is deeper than a nagging guilt; it’s sadness and disconnection and frustration.  mixed with an urge to lighten up and stop over-thinking everything.

***

in accordance with what seems to be the general theme of this year, i feel it’s time to step up my game.  move the philosophizing and analyzing into action.   i know that gaia does not want me to be so hard on myself, and that it would be good for me in general to ease up on the self-judgment.  i also know gaia would probably love to have a relationship with me, and is waiting for me to make the first move.

all this begs a related question:  can we truly connect with gaia in the city?  author caroline myss puts it this way:

“[Y]ou are on the ‘Earth’ as much when you are standing in the midst of New York City or London as you are in the middle of a forest. You are still ‘on the Earth’. Standing on concrete or in a building does not make it any less ‘Earth’ except if you hold to the perception that what qualifies for the ‘Earth’ is out of the city in green or desert nature. But that’s an illusion. How can you ever be off or away from the ‘Earth’? It’s precisely that perception – that Nature is in the country but not in the city – that maintains the illusion of separateness. You may prefer to be in the country but you always on the Earth” (http://www.myss.com/news/archive/2011/031311.asp).

***

will all this result in my green endeavours becoming more authentic, more motivated by the heart than the head?  i don’t know if things will be dramatically different as this relationship evolves, but my internal conflict is reason enough to try.  i sense that beneath my urban conditioning, the ‘real’ me is having these conflicts precisely because my city/nature life has become far too imbalanced.

though i do agree with myss’s sentiment above, i’m increasingly having fantasies of a lush green climate with no electronic devices, sirens, and honking cars.   this city girl is more than ready for a change of scenery.  bring it on, mama.