I just returned to Tucson from a 32-day West Coast book tour. The reception for the ideas in Deep Creativity was overwhelmingly positive! Many thanks to those who came to these events. I met some extraordinary folks with inquisitive minds, open hearts, and creative spirits. Here are a few of the highlights of my journey.
Fort Bragg, CA. Here, I had the pleasure to meet Rev. Tanya Wyldflower and her open, adventurous congregation at the Mendocino Center for Spiritual Living. What a wonderful spiritual community this is! I want to single out my hosts, Jim and Shelley, who were so kind and welcoming; musician extraordinaire Marcus McCallen; Lorenzo and Harmony Wells for all they are doing to help build this community; and artist Sue Ellen Parkinson, featured in last week's blog, whose inspired art I discovered at her opening in The Northcoast Artist's Gallery.
Seattle, WA. In my old hometown, I had the pleasure of speaking to the International Association of Near-Death Studies group at its 36th Anniversary meeting. Then, I had an author event at Third Place Books, which is located less than a mile from the house where I grew up. In attendance that night were my parents, my beloved Maria, and several other friends and family members, as well as a number of new friends who were drawn by the topic of Deep Creativity. Among them was photographer, author, musician, and creativity teacher Jeff Leisawitz, who took a number of great shots of my talk, including the one you see here.
Port Townsend, WA. Two weeks ago on this blog, I wrote about the extraordinary Unity congregation in this charming port town. Under the wise and loving leadership of Rev. Pam Douglas-Smith, this congregation is an exciting and super active hub for the local spiritual community. On this visit, I had a wonderful connection with the musical minister, Simon Ruth de Voil, who introduced me to one of the most beautiful chants I have heard in years. Based on the Bible verse, "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalms 46:10), this chant turns the verse into a profound meditation. I look forward to sharing my rendition of it with you in the days to come. Besides giving the message at the morning service, I led an afternoon play circle that was lively and fun. Afterwards, two congregation members, Don and Diane DiPrete, invited me to stay in their hideaway in the woods on the edge of town. I had the pleasure of sleeping in the tiny Boler trailer pictured here. It was a memorably enjoyable stay. That evening, I met Diane's daughter, Drea DiPrete--an extremely talented local artist whose work I hope to feature here very soon.
Boise, ID. Here, I spoke to the local Institute of Noetic Sciences group, led my Michelle Woods and Judith Allen (aka Lady J). Plus, I had a chance to explore this quaint city and discover its charms. Among the local attractions is Merritt's Family Restaurant, an old-time diner where I had a four-hour lunch conversation with Mike Dunlap (pictured here). Mike is a true renaissance man who holds two Ph.D. degrees (in physics and education), has written a number of fantasy books, and has had one of the most impressively eclectic careers of anyone I have yet to meet. Having the chance to talk with this remarkable man was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the trip for me.
I am delighted and grateful to have had this terrific adventure. Now that I am back home, it's time to start on the next book. More about that later!
Once a month, I plan to feature inspired artists who embody the Ten Tenets of Deep Creativity. Today's featured artist, Sue Ellen Parkinson, creates sacred art that plays with traditional spiritual themes in unique and exciting new ways. I had the pleasure of meeting Sue Ellen at the opening of her "Strength in Tenderness" exhibit in Fort Bragg, California. We then had the opportunity to sit down for this interview about her creative experience:
How would you describe your art? What are some of the recurring themes?
I would describe my art as non-traditional icon painting. I’ve been exploring my personal connection to the Christian mystics through creative means. I’m particularly drawn to depicting Mary Magdalene and the Sacred Feminine. I’m not a Christian or religious scholar. I've come to this from a purely intuitive place and I’ve found Magdalene to be an incredibly compelling archetype to work with. My sense is that her energy is deeply needed at this time—not just for myself but for the entire planet. This experience of painting Christian mystics was unexpected for me. However, I’m learning so much, and my imagination is absolutely on fire, so I doubt I’ll ever stop.
How did you get started on this path?
My mother was an incredible creative. She turned everything she did into a creative act. Growing up with her made my entry into the world of creativity feel very natural. I was fortunate to have had that. And being that I’m a quiet person by nature, the contemplative process of drawing and painting was very appealing to me. I’ve been drawing since I could first pick up and manipulate a pencil.
Painting was a natural progression and such a pleasure! Creating a painting is like an inner vision quest. It’s my favorite way to explore. Just relaxing into my intuition and observing. I feel an intimacy in observing things that’s more satisfying than words. I often discover a deeper understanding of myself. My painting the mystics evolved out of many things but primarily out of my love of painting portraits. I love to look at the way the shadows and light move across a persons face, the hands, the human form. It’s so beautiful. Painting brings me such peace. When I’m painting, it feels like a blessed unfolding—like when a flower opens up, or like when a babies fingers uncurl for the first time.
Were there specific moments or experiences that pointed you in a specific direction? If so, can you share any of them?
So many significant experiences…One very important turning point was about 12 years ago. I received a divination from the shaman, Malidoma Somé. He told me that I was a different sort of an artist, that I was a “healer artist.” I had never had anyone articulate that concept to me. He comes from a culture that understands such things—I don’t. So when he said that I was a “healer artist,” it was like having a missing piece of the puzzle fall into place. I knew in my bones it was true. That distinction helped me to make some important decisions and to go in the right direction.
You have described your creative experience as a form of prayer. What do you mean by that?
I've always felt that creativity was a form of meditation and my most direct connection to the Divine. That understanding went even deeper about 30 years ago when I had a cancer scare. I was looking for philosophical advice and was fortunate to find a teacher named, Mukusen Miyuki. He was a Jungian analyst and Buddhist priest from Japan. He became a dear friend and trusted advisor. He let me trade drawings of my dreams for counseling sessions. Working with him woke up my awareness that art was my spiritual path. Early on he suggested that I offer my creative work as, “spirit food,” to my ancestors. I started making offerings to my mother who had died when I was 13. To this day I begin any creative work with the intention of giving thanks. Creating is a way of giving my deepest self to the world. It’s a very grounded expression of my gratitude. That’s what a prayer is, isn’t it? An expression of gratitude.
It seems that dreams and visions shape your work to a certain degree. How do those images tend to come to you?
They come through actual sleeping dreams—and when I’m awake through intuitive visual flashes.
When I paint a dream I uncover much more detail about the dream. For example, I discovered the guidance of spirits through painting. That was something that I hadn’t been consciously aware of but I saw it clearly in a painting and knew it was true.
Dreams are another language—a visual language—different than words, but just as valuable. Working with my dreams has helped me to trust my intuition. When I get a visual flash, or idea of what needs to go into an image, I’ve learned to just go with it. Often those impulses turn out to be perfectly inline with what’s needed.
I recently received a strong message from my female ancestors through a painting that they wanted me to speak to the public. So even though I’m an introvert, I’ve been doing that. This interview with you, stems from their request.
Some of your art is a reinvention of the traditional Mexican retablo. How has this type of folk art influenced your work? And in what ways have you modified it?
Many years ago, I fell in love with Mexico, and Mexican Folk Art. Traditionally a retablo depicts a miracle that has occurred in a person’s life and it gives thanks to a particular saint. These are little paintings that are put up on alters in homes and also in churches. I was so charmed by them, I started painting retablos myself—just for family members and friends. I didn’t emphasize saints though, because at that time, I had no personal relationship to them. In my retablos I focused more on the divine qualities in the person being depicted. People would often cry when they first saw them, because folks feel so unseen in this culture. So these retablos could be very healing. This work was of course, inline with what Malidoma had perceived in me.
A traditional retablo painter is called a santero, or santera, because they paint saints. It was the tradition of retablo painting that led me to painting saints. I felt so much respect for these little paintings, and the santeras who painted them, I wanted to explore the saints for myself.
What role does intuition play in your creative process, specifically, and your life in general?
At this point I live by my intuition. It’s an inner barometer, that I stay tuned to in order to keep centered. My life wasn’t always like that. But now, my painting is my livelihood, and it’s also my spiritual path, and it reflects my emotional and intellectual life as well. Nothing is separated. It’s all of one cloth. In this modern world, that’s a precarious way to live. It requires a certain level of faith. I’m in my late 60’s and making a living as an artist is quite a roller coaster ride. But I trust that I’ll be OK—and so far, I am.
You have said that your creative process connects you to the mystery. Can you elaborate on that at all?
Yes. When I’m creating my sense of separateness dissolves. Fear and anxiety dissolves. I feel very connected, and strengthened by the world. I feel at one with the world. So I’m open and inquisitive and am able to solve problems with clarity. I experience a strong sense of possibility. The state of “awe,” is a good way to describe this experience.
How is your art evolving? In what directions do you see yourself going?
I had a dream that I was walking along the west coast when I noticed a huge tsunami was forming out at sea. Then I turned and looked in the opposite direction. I was stunned to see another huge body of water rolling across the land towards me. Both of these enormous bodies of water were dazzlingly beautiful. They were going to converge, and there I was in the center. No where to go.
I think that was a teaching dream and the lesson was: Be present to this exquisite Beauty.
I’m just a dot of dust. So my plan is to make some Beauty for the Sacred before I disappear. That’s my big plan for the future: Create some Beauty before the waters converge, and I’ll continue with the mystics and see where life takes me.
Thanks to Sue Ellen Parkinson for this beautiful, insightful interview. To learn more about Sue Ellen, her sacred imagery, and upcoming exhibits and workshops, please visit her website: http://www.miracleofyourlife.com.
I just had the honor and pleasure to visit the Unity Church of Port Townsend, Washington, where I was a guest speaker at the Sunday service and then facilitated a Deep Creativity play circle in the afternoon.
Rev. Pam Douglas-Smith sets the tone for this remarkable, thriving spiritual community with her light touch and openness to new ideas and possibilities. I feel very strongly that leaders like Rev. Pam represent the future of spirituality.
In this century, spiritual life will undergo a radical transformation. The change is already happening. There is no longer room for religious differences and sectarianism. We cannot afford any more "holy" wars.
In place of existing religious institutions, which are rapidly losing momentum, we will see an unfolding of a universal spirituality--one that focuses on unity as opposed to divisiveness. It's hard to imagine that humanity can find this type of common ground, but make no mistake about it: We can and will do it. There is no other choice.
But what exactly will that spirituality look like? In The Chanter's Guide, I describe the Seven Keys, a set of basic human qualities that we can all embrace, regardless of our spiritual beliefs or cultural background. These are: serenity. humility, forgiveness, detachment, compassion, unconditional love, and selfless service. The idea is simply that spirituality begins with behavior. What we believe matters far less than how we act, especially in a rapidly-shrinking world.
In The Pledge, we have a simple creed built around the Seven Keys. These nine statements comprise a new way of living in the world--one that promotes, peace, sustainability, and balance.
Then there is the question of a universal spiritual icon. For me, the Mandelbrot set is a logical first choice. It reminds us of the core wisdom underlying all genuine spirituality, which has to do with the unitary nature of consciousness. A single essence or I AM permeates all of creation. The same consciousness that is experiencing the universe through your eyes is doing the same through mine. And that consciousness can be found at every layer of this fractal universe, from the microscopic to the expansive.
To learn more about the significance of the Mandelbrot set, please watch this video:
I am so grateful to Rev. Pam and her entire congregation for welcoming me with open arms and open hearts. As I travel the United States talking about the basic spiritual truths that link Deep Creativity with the great wisdom traditions of the world, I have the great joy of discovering the places where true wisdom is being nurtured and developed. There is no doubt in my mind that Port Townsend is one of those places, thanks in large part to the work of Rev. Pam and others like her.
This week, I am in Seattle, my childhood home, to speak about Deep Creativity to the local International Association of Near-Death Studies (IANDS) group. My message is that all profound experiences, including near-death experiences (NDEs), kundalini awakening, and creative inspiration, connect us to the same source.
The notion of one source simplifies everything. From the standpoint of creativity, a single-source model is in keeping with the law of parsimony, which is "that simpler is better." Whether you are trying to understand natural processes "out there" or psychological ones "in here," the simpler model or theory tends to be more effective in capturing the underlying mechanism.
Why is that? Any good designer knows that the simplest and most economical connections are most effective. There is no reason to build more complexity into a system than it needs in order to operate effectively. When it comes to creativity, it makes no sense to have seven billion or more different sources of creation when one will do just fine!
This single-source model of creativity has the potential to change the way we see the world. When we really grasp that a unitary consciousness is giving rise to the ideas in your mind as well as mine, we come into direct contact with a spiritual truth that mystics throughout history have been seeking to convey to the rest of humanity, which is that there is only one consciousness, and there has only ever been one.
This truth leads us down a rabbit hole to a core reality that many of us have grappled with but few really comprehend: One consciousness abides in all of us. This is not an idea like any other. It is a reality that has to be felt, tasted, and touched. That is why we celebrate profound experiences such as NDEs or creative inspiration. These experiences allow us to come into the most intimate contact possible with a truth that transcends all thought. This truth is too simple for our minds to grasp. We have to experience it first-hand!
I want to hear from you! Please share your questions and comments. And sign up for my newsletter, where I will pass along the insights, ideas, and inspiration that come my way.