Tag Archives: change

Change and the River

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Drawing Down the Moon_0003

For our new prompt, Michelle and I are changing our focus from the Moon to rivers. I began with the previous post, which still included a big old full moon.  Writing this I began to wonder about the meaning of that Moon in relation to the subject of compassionate acts. I remembered the way Islam divides charitable deeds in several categories – zakah, which is an obligatory giving incumbent on all Muslims and sadaqah, which is private giving over and beyond one’s obligatory tithe. Sadaqah itself has two components -an open-handed kind where one is seen to be doing good works (inspiring other to do the same) and a secret kind, even more meritorious, in which the gift is given anonymously (so secretly that “the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing”). In my previous collage, no one except the Moon is witness to the monk’s act of compassion. I like the idea of anonymous giving because it seems cleaner, somehow.  On the other hand public acts inspire and inform others.  I think its wise to promote both kinds.

Zakah is derived from the verb zaka, “to thrive,” “to be wholesome,” “to be pure.”  Charitable giving is seen as a way to purify oneself from the pollution of greed.  Which brings us back to rivers and flowing waters. Rivers have long been associated with purification.  Partly, I think, because they represent change. Heraclitus said it many centuries ago, “You cannot step twice into the same river.”

Nothing represents change more than a river. They move constantly undulating across the plains and carving furrows through mountains. A river is by definition moving water, unlike a sea, lake, pond or puddle it cannot be defined as a body because it is polymorphous, continually changing shape. It is change that purifies us and redeems us, for the past can never be erased or changed – all we can do is make the present count.   To do that we need to do it differently.  Even if it was good before,  we must accept that we cannot duplicate it.  Attempts to stop change result in stagnation.  We tend to think of dams as good things, ways to control nature (read “change”), but in fact dams kill ecosystems, reduce the fertility of the land and create the possibility for flooding larger by many degrees of magnitude than nature creates on its own.  We are a metaphor of the river.  Our own emotions and psyche reflect the same phenomena; dammed thought and feelings damn us to all sorts of ills, some long-lasting, some so insidious their effects don’t appear for years.

We go down to the river to pray, to wash, cleanse, refresh, renew.  Stepping into the current we become current, we become relevant.

Standing in the river, I am continuously present to what is, instead of what was or will be.

 

 

The Mermaid’s Tail

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The Mermaid's Tail

There was once a mermaid named Verdi, who longed to fly. When waves roiled and bubbled on the surface and the depths turned murky and opaque she longed for sun. On clear days the limpid emerald and turquoise seas drove her mad with their banality. She longed to swoop through a gamut of blues whose cerulean hues held no hint of green. Whenever she could, she rose to the surface and sent her woes spiraling heavenward in a high-pitched aria of sadness and despair.

Sometimes, when huge weather systems marched across the endless expanse of ocean, strong winds preceded them, heralding change with a phalanx of whirlwinds each bearing an armful of spoils torn from fertile lands beyond the horizon. Occasionally, their booty came as petals stripped from the flower pots and gardens of fisher women. Verdi gathered them carefully, transfixed by the faint hint of fragrance still clinging to each scrap of shimmering color.

In the short time before they turned to slime, she laid the petals out on the back of a large sea turtle, summoned from the depths to act as her table.  Arranging and rearranging them, Verdi tried her best to imagine their original configuration. But, she never could and then the sad, heart-breaking song would rise from the sea again, distressing every living thing above and below the surface.

One day an owl happened to be passing while Verdi was mixing and matching the flower petals. As he slowed his flight to see what she was up to, the tip of his wing crossed her peripheral vision. Without knowing what he was, before her head had swung around to follow his flight, she ensnared him in a web of golden trills. The beautiful notes, tough as spider silk bound his wings together and he tumbled out of the air. SPLAT!  Down, down down he fell, onto the turtle’s back.

The owl shook himself and stood up. His huge yellow eyes raked the mermaid’s sullen face and weedy locks.

“Caught me fair and square,” he muttered. “Well! You may have the requisite three wishes. They come with the standard warning and no guarantees. Be careful what you wish for.”

“I want to fly.”

“Easy enough; hop on. I’ll take you for a spin myself.”

“No! I want to do it myself.”

‘You haven’t any wings,” observed the owl craftily.

“Well then I wish for wings!”

“You wish for wings and the ability to use them in flight. Correct?”

“Yes.”

“That’s two,” screeched the owl, but the mermaid did not care.”

Her wings stuck out on either side of her body, just below her arms. She gave them a lazy flap and felt the air beneath her catch and take hold lifting and carrying as if she were a piece of thistledown. The view was all she hoped it would be. There on the very tip of the horizon she caught the glint of a palm leave rustling in the breeze. The owl flew alongside her. Normally he wouldn’t bother with a wisher, except for the actual granting, but something about Verdi made him curious to see what would happen next.

Land was all she had hoped for – the sights, the sounds, the smells and textures. How different everything looked when it was dry! Not quite as rich and shiny as when wet, but the variety more than made up for it. She flew and flew, soaring, diving, gliding and indulging in acrobatics until suddenly, far from the sea, hunger pangs sent tremors through her new wings and she realized how tired she was.

“How do I land?” she demanded.

“Is it your wish to land?” asked the owl casually?

Ye … er no, not just yet. Uh, how do you land?”

“On my feet,” smirked the owl.

The mermaid flapped her tail. They were flying over a thick patch of forest.

“What if I asked for legs? But then what would would I  eat? How long  till I learn to walk?”

Her stomach rumbled, interrupting the string of increasingly panic-stricken thoughts.

“I wish I had…” She clamped her teeth down hard on the tip of her little green tongue and winced.

Your wish is my command,” he murmured sweetly.

Her purple eyes stare fiercely into his yellow ones.  They refused to blink

“Take me home,” she ordered wearily.

In the blink of an eye, she was floating, once again, beside the patient sea turtle. The owl had disappeared, but the wings still hung by her sides so water-logged she was never again able to launch up into the sky, no matter how she practiced.  Nevertheless, Verdi loved her wings; liked the distinction they bestowed.  To her delight she discovered they worked well underwater, propelling her forward more swiftly than she’d ever swum.  She soon became a hunter and explorer of renown, traveling all the seven seas and finding wonders in their depths to equal anything on land.  Occasionally, she thought of the owl and sent a song winging his way.  But nothing ever came of it because, from that day forth, he steered clear of ladies with tails.

 Christine Irving, March 2014

The Frog and The Princess – First Encounter

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First Encounter - Frog Prince

Here we see that a privileged princess with a huge sense of entitlement has carelessly dropped her golden ball down the well. The frog, on hearing her piteous tears, has struck a bargain – bed and board with the Princess for the return of the ball.  The Princess, who has no intention of honoring her promise, is lying through her teeth.

On the one hand, this is a story about how power and privilege, carelessly handled, can corrupt decency and erode compassion.  The princess has forgotten that with power comes responsibility – the ability to respond – to stay fully present in each moment, giving one’s full attention to the person(s) and events at hand.  If she had remembered, she would have thought carefully about the consequences of any promises and lies she might make.  She might have considered alternative ways to retrieve the ball, or perhaps just left it down the well.  Instead her power has bestowed a false sense of superiority, not only towards others, but also to the normal rules of decency, respect, integrity and courtesy governing relationships.

The frog is just as deceitful as the Princess.  He has seen an opportunity to advance his own agenda and seized it.  In a culture supporting a more equitable distribution of wealth and power, the frog might have performed a random act of kindness and simply returned the ball.  But deprivation and the princess’s callous behavior have hardened his heart.  With no other resources to fall back on, desperation has made him manipulative and sly, ready to take advantage of any weakness to exploit another and further his own ends.

Coded in fairy tale form, we find the base cause of social unrest and incipient rebellion.  Because it was dangerous to discuss such matters, people’s concern, fear and rage were folded in to the tales and disguised as simple set-ups for happy endings.  Despite pretty descriptions of beautiful girlish princesses and faithful servants, dark feelings imbue these tales and often include brutal acts of violence on the way to resolution.  Vicious episodes, such as the step-sisters mutilation of their feet in Cinderella, the streak of fish blood in The Fisherman and His Wife or the devouring wolf in Little Red Riding Hood speak to a time as turbulent, chancy and violent as our own.  They warn of the dangers of extreme polarization and hint at the possibility of revolution.

On the other hand there is always another, more personal way to read the story.  Water symbolizes both the emotional life of our surface personas and also the inaccessible depths of the personal and collective unconscious.  The Princess, that young, naïve, immature Queen-to-be, represents the un-individuated self.  She has lost her golden ball.  Gold represents fertility, life, dominion, warmth and generosity, it is pure and incorruptible.  So far, the Princess possesses none of these qualities and thus cannot keep hold of her treasure.

The frog, an amphibian, can live and breathe in two realms.  This makes him a spirit guide, or psychopomp – a being who can travel back and forth between worlds.  The word for frog in Japanese is kaeru which also means “to return”.  Traditional beliefs state that however far you may transport a frog, it will always return to the place of departure.  Another meaning ascribed to frogs by the Japanese is “stand-ins.”  Some people carry lucky frog charms and believe that when something threatens them, the frog may “stand-in” and face danger in their place.  In this story the frog displays all these attributes as he dives into the well to rescue the Princess’s best qualities, which she has shoved into the shadows and neglected.  The story reminds me that we can ignore talent and nobility as deliberately as we deny less desirable attributes.  It asks me to consider how I sometimes denigrate or reject my own abilities.

Like with dream work,  one may read a collage or a fairy tale as if every character and object represents a part of oneself.  Taking this approach I’m working with the idea of deception.    If everything in the story represents myself,  what lies do I tell myself and why? What have I lost and how may I retrieve it?

And a Child Shall Lead Them

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And A Child Shall Lead Them_NEW

Besides motherhood, this story seems (to me) to be about doorways and the insouciance of children.   There’s something about it that keeps me making these very simple compositions with only one or two images.  I keep trying to make it more complex and layered, but when I do it all looks like a muddle to me and again I’m reduced to the child and the universe.

Doorways to me are about choice. Do we pass through them or pass them by? Do we slam them shut or fling them open?  Where do they lead?

Krishna’s mouth offers  infinite possibility.

In fairy tales doorways generally lead one into a different reality, another kingdom, an alternative universe.  Portals challenge us to change – our minds, our attitudes, our perceptions and assumptions.  Change is at the heart of all fairy tales.  And change is the core of the life force.  Someone once told me,”Change or die!”  I took her advice, and the new growth deriving from the changes I made continues to thrive and grow to this day. I think my collage says- “Don’t be afraid.  Look at me.  I’m a child, yet I step out without fear.

I think the name of this piece is, And a Child Shall Lead Them.

Trickster as Creator

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Raven MeetsThe Man Who Sits On The tide

Raven Greets The Man Who Sits On The Tide

Unlike the primary gods who make something out of nothing and get the whole shebang rolling, Tricksters create from prima materia – the primary materials of this Earth.  In this role they are the first artists, fast change artists to be exact, for change is what they create.

This story from the Pacific Northwest is full of fog and the sea.  It tells the tale of how Raven created tides.   The surge and ebb of the sea usually occurs four times a day, though some places experience it only twice.  The Moon’s gravitational pull is the principal mover of tides, but the Sun, deep sea tides, the Coriolis effect and varying depths of water near the shore all contribute to different level s and frequencies.   Yet, even with today’s technology accurate tide depths are not easy to predict.   The sea remains a mysterious fascinating force and so does Raven.  His heavy wing beat and raucous cry never fail to send shivers of awe down my backbone, especially on a foggy beach just as the tide begins to turn.

Fog can be a symbol for doubt and confusion but it can also be a warning that some knowledge is best kept hidden.  It can provide a hiding place or refuge, but it can also facilitate loss or conceal lurking danger.  Fog muffles sound and plays tricks with direction and acoustics.  In films, fog is an ominous harbinger of change for the worse and sometimes symbolizes evil itself.   Fog and Trickster make a very good match.

Personally, I love fog.  I like moving in a magic bubble of air; outside of it, I see nothing, but inside all is revealed.  Fog changes the landscape, alters shapes makes every step a surprise as things emerge and disappear.  For me, fog makes magic almost tangible.  I always greet it with little leap of the heart, excitement and frisson of fear.  Now, anything can happen, “there might be giants.”

And in this story there are.  The Man Who Sits On The Tide is gigantic enough to stopper a hole in the seabed that allows the ocean to empty.  It seems like an important job.  Disturbing him could have grave consequences.  Yet raven attacks this giant with impunity.  He employs two natural resources, fog and pain.  Wielding them with wit and determination he trains the giant like one of Pavlov’s dogs.

This is Trickster at his finest, creating profound change for the benefit of all, including him.

The Serpent

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Adam & Eve The Serpent

Adam & Eve The Serpent

The Serpent

The Serpent is one of the oldest and most widespread mythological symbols. Its meanings are highly complex. The Serpent is a symbol of life and death, it is solar and lunar, light and darkness, good and evil, wisdom and blind passion, healing and poison, spiritual and physical rebirth. The presence of a serpent is often associated with female deities and the great mother.

In some cultures snakes are fertility symbols, and in others they symbolize the umbilical cord, joining all humans to Mother Earth. The snake is assigned many aspects. It is  shown as a Dragon, a snake twining up a trunk or staff, and as a Naga sheltering the Buddha.

In Christian mythology, the snake acts as tempter. It convinces Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. The snake is evil, the devil himself.  In many religions, the devil is a supernatural entity that is the personification of evil and the enemy of God and humankind.

After Eve and Adam have eaten the fruit, God confronts them. Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the snake. God expels the two of them from the Garden and places a Cherubim at the entrance to keep them out. In his anger, God tells Adam that he will live by his labors, Eve will suffer in childbirth and the snake will forever be the lowest of the low.

In Gnosticism, the snake is thanked for bringing knowledge to Adam and Eve.  With knowledge, Eve and Adam are freed from the Demiurge’s control. I want to give credit to the serpent and to the woman who listened to the snake. Eve took a bite of the apple and a) she didn’t die, except to her old naive self and b) she was wiser and more conscious for having done so. By sharing her discovery with Adam he became wiser too. So instead of seeing the snake as the devil and the apple as sin, we need to be thankful for the disobedience, the curiosity to listen to something outside of the box, explore life’s possibilities, grow beyond childhood and listen to the wisdom within.

Curiosity

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The Harbinger

The Harbinger

Seize the moment of excited curiosity on any subject to solve your doubts; for if you let it pass, the desire may never return, and you may remain in ignorance.

~William Wirt (9th Attorney General of the United States 1817– 1829)

Wonderland is rife with stories about the consequences (initially dire or at least unhappy) of opening forbidden boxes.  Sometimes the boxes come as covered baskets woven by Native Americans, sometimes they are locked rooms, sealed jars or stoppered bottles.  Always the person who opens them is driven by insatiable curiosity to take a peep inside.  Most often they’ve been warned to KEEP OUT!

But, like the person who insists on visiting the spooky basement at midnight to investigate a strange noise instead of sneaking out the back door and running like hell while dialing 911, the insatiably curious just can’t help themselves.

Tales about locked boxes are often touted as learning stories intended to make people conform.  But, if we read them carefully, we find by the end justice prevails.  So perhaps the stories are really about the necessity to persevere through trial, error and some suffering, in order to bring about change for the greater good.  These accounts are among our oldest, old enough to be called myths,  with roots that go back into antiquity.  They are often complicated, richly layered tales full of twists and turn, successes and set-backs.  To me, they seem like initiation stories- rites of passage.

One characteristic of initiations is to take everything the student has learned and turn it upside down by teaching a seemingly opposite truth.  This radical paradigm shift knocks the aspiring initiate out her/his previous assumptions into beginner’s mind; open to new ways of inquiry and conjexture.  In Pandora’s Box the story seems to a warning.  On the other hand ,it might offer the neophyte encouragement to continue on the journey.  Or the story might be a koan meant to force the student to think more profoundly and explore alternative explanations.

In my collage, Pandora, who wears still keeps her golden key in the  medicine bag strung around her neck (perhaps she will encounter other boxes) has already unsealed her jar (bottom right corner) letting loose a swarm of noxious insects, many of which fly and/or sting.  The insects have long since dispersed.   Now, months later, something new has appeared on Earth – flowers.  Many of those flying, stinging, creepy-crawlies were pollinators.  Not only is the world awash in beauty, but a new kind of food is growing in abundance – mangos, paw-paws, bananas, apples, pomegranates, peaches pears, watermelon, pecans, walnuts, cashews,  almonds, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, cauliflower, eggplant, squash, beans , chilies – the list is endless.

You can see these flowers in my collage and also the pollinators, without whom much of the world’s population would starve to death.   The closed jars represent the potential for discovery – the potential for emptying that leaves the womb, which all jars represent, ready for new life.  The emptying is essential to creation; be it a baby, a book or a better mousetrap.  The sealed jars are the catalysts of curiosity, harbingers of action.  Pandora is the universal girl who dares act, who uses the gifts she’s been given to initiate change.

Black/White

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Taijitu Entangled

Taijitu Entangled

Black and white, held to be polar opposites, both contain within themselves diametrically opposed meanings. White can be cold, sterile, barren, the color of funerals, grieving and death, Black can represent decay, despair, sin, funerals, grieving and death.  White can be purity, spiritual ecstasy, new; death can be fecund, rich, warm, the source of the divine spark of life.

No wonder the Chinese married these opposites into a timeless symbol of wholeness – the immediately comprehensible Taijitu.  The moment one sets eyes on this figure one knows what it means.  Two opposing, yet complementary flowing black & white figures, each containing a piece of the other, fit together to form a complete circle.  The inextricable oneness of  yin (feminine) and yang (masculine) is obvious, especially to a Jungian who can easily perceive the anima and animus in the contrasting dots within each figure. The two halves of the circle resemble fish  and people have been running with that association almost since it first appeared.  When I considered the black and white prompt for a story about out-of-balance femininity and masculinity involved with a fish, the Taijitu figure was a no-brainer.

Tajitai

I decided to enclose my fisherman and his wife in an entangling net to represent how stuck they were in their marriage, their poverty, their assumptions, etc.  The story of the Fisherman and His Wife disturbs and intrigues.  It affects us.  So, the net also represents the world net of Shiva, which one cannot touch without setting off vibrations that echo through the cosmos.    Just as in the story, though it isn’t mentioned per se, all the changes effected by the wife and fish touch on hundreds of lives.  AHA!  I do believe I’ve just unraveled the meaning of those staggered, stepped maidservants, soldiers and flames, which so puzzled me.

I had great fun making Zen tangles out of the squares of the fish net.  I used a Sharpie marker to draw them and the fish.  The lines are rough and crude without the definition of a fine-tipped pen, because the story is kind of rough and crude itself.

The tangles represent the changing nature of the sea – its many moods and manifestations.  They also stand for the shape-shifting nature of the fish who is also human.  The Taijitu figure is derived from an intricate system of solar measurement used to determine the calendar.  In my collage, along with the other meanings, it refers once again to the unchanging change nature of the natural world. The whole philosophy of Taoism rests on an idea inherent in this symbol – the complementary nature of opposing components.  It is also the basis for the system of divination called the I Ching.  So it is appropriate to use it to represent both the universal nature of storytelling and the divinatory way in which we use collage to reveal hidden meanings in our lives.

I’m very grateful to Leah Piken Kolidas of Creative Every day for sprinkling a bit of magic on this site with prompts that always send us in new directions.

The Fisherman and His Wife

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FishScan_Pic0005The Fisherman and His Wife

(The Brothers Grimm)

Week #1 The Big Picture

In the telling of this story, the Magical Fish is often a Flounder. I looked up Flounder to see what they look like. I also discovered some interesting facts about this type of fish.

Founders grow to about 15 inches and weigh around 2 pounds. They are a group of flatfish species.  They are found at the bottom of the Ocean, Pacific and the Atlantic, and in lagoons and estuaries. It is the left eye flounder that lies on its right side. They are usually brown but vary in shade depending on the color of the substratum. The Flounder in our story is “Special” he is the shade of gold. The blindside of the Founder, the side facing the bottom, usually is white.

Flatfish like Founder are unlike most other fishes in that they begin life as a bilateral animal, swimming similarly to other fishes. However, as they mature they lie on the bottom on one side of their body. At this time a metamorphosis begins and involves complex modification of the skeletal structure of the head, and rearrangement of the nervous system and muscle tissue. Additionally, the eye on the side that faces the bottom migrates to the upper side of the body.

Comparing the transformation of our Magic Founder with the stagnate Fisherman and his Wife is interesting. The Wife is dissatisfied and greedy and the Fisherman is complacent. Neither is interested in real change. The Fisherman is caught between disturbing the talking Founder who is really a prince and his demanding wife.

The Sea portrays the fish’s emotions. As the Fisherman returns over and over again to ask for more and more – he calls the fish singing the same chant and the fish replies by asking the same question. The fish never  expresses his feelings but the Sea tells tells us. Each visit the Fisherman finds a different Ocean. The waters change, the waves change, the sky changes but the Magic Fish remains the same. Whatever is asked of the fish he gives freely and in spades. The granted wish is even more lavish then the request. The Fish is very generous and abundant.

Yet it does not satisfy the greedy Wife. The hole in her life is not filled or satisfied by material “things.” Having more power does not seem to help her either. Since nothing seems to extinguish her neediness, the great fish in his wisdom takes it all back. The two are returned to their former state. The Fisherman is still complacent, he only wants his wife to stop nagging him, and his Wife is as happy with nothing as she was when she had nearly everything. There is no transformation, nothing has changed.