Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Water Wars

I painting this large painting called “Water Wars” in two days. Two very long and exhausting days. I fought with myself continuously through those two days, making it all the more exhausting. I wanted to check out, I wanted to eat to the point of sedation, drink to the point of delusion or just sleep. (I haven’t turned to any of those escape routes for so long, and their return, even as mere temptations, was very upsetting to me)
But I knew I had to stick it out. It helped that I had a deadline. The morning after I finished this painting I was literally dragging myself. I went online and recorded my thoughts live and I heard myself as a zombie. I felt lost still, in the conflict I had experienced while painting water. The Water Wars are the battles being fought on the front lines between Indigenous Peoples and Big Business, namely energy companies that feed on the resources of the earth. This is the battle and now we are all being pulled into it. We have grown dependent on the energy they provide, yet many of us know it is a famished road we are on. Look at Flint Michigan, or the polluted wells in our neighboring Kewaunee Wisconsin county. This is our future. The Indigenous people, in India, Australia, New Zealand, The Amazon, Standing Rock, and all over the world, those who have somehow miraculously survived to this point, they speak the wisdom of all of our ancestors, calling to us. I have been hearing it for my entire life, and now I finally understand what they are saying, in more than just pictures. I still need the pictures to help me translate what I am hearing. But, I am understanding with my entire being. That leap in understanding took me through an emotional and physical space in the last week that frightened me, I felt like I was losing myself or breaking, and those experiences are always frightening because they lead to something new and unknown. 
So I made this list, just pulling names from my memory. 
Thich Nhat Hahn
Dallas Goldtooth
Dr. Reverend William Barber
Winona LaDuke
Cesar Chavez
Harry Belafonte
Opal Tometi
The Dalai Lama
Patrisse Cullers
Nelson Mandela
Judith LeBlance
John Lennon
Daniel Berrigan
Dr. Martin Luther King
Mohandas Gandhi
Sojourner Truth
The Peace Pilgrim
Henry David Thoureau
Saint Francis
Saint Valentine
And the list goes on and on. We have leaders and teachers, those who are here with us and those who have gone before us. I started this list in my head today from a place of grief. I woke up full of sadness, focused on the crimes of Big Oil in the past few weeks and how through violence and lies they have seemingly “won.” I could feel the weight of that sadness as the thing that had been pulling me into exhaustion and despair for days now. And the conflicts around me only added to the despair, as I watched my friends and neighbors name call and fight over the daily dose of frightening news stories. I felt like giving up. But the names on my list remind me that grieving for the brokenness of the world does not heal the world. This is a list full of names from a history of slavery, exploitation, genocide, suffering, sacrifice, murder and war. It is a list that proves this: The strength to heal our own hearts from despair and return to the world is what heals the world. It is not a love for the struggle or an addiction to the fight that brings one back to the world from a place of deep grieving. It is nothing short of love and compassion, which takes much more strength and courage. The addiction to the fight is a relationship between fear and ego. Grief releases that, but, as Kimberle Crenshaw says in her remarkable Ted Talk (link below) “We have to get past grief.” Grief is not a choice, alone it is a course of inaction. Getting past grief is returning to the world after the transformational experience of being broken open by grief. It has to happen as often as it has to happen for each of us, I think it is a lifelong process. Eventually we lose our taste for the ego, for money, for ownership, for personal gain, for being right, for appearing intelligent, for outdoing our opponent. For winning the battle but losing sight of the truth. 
I have learned this lesson in my own life, after years of struggling to forgive. What I had to forgive was big. At the age of 21 I was subject to many beatings, leading to the stillbirth of a son. It took 30 years to understand forgiveness and what it really is. It is not saying something is ok, it is not excusing it. It comes from a very deep place, and if you get there you understand. It ends with forgiving yourself. Everyone has their own path to this. I can take this wisdom into my life now, and enter the world with compassion, opening up a possibility that never before existed. This new place is not without grief, it is grief transformed, standing up to injustice and ignorance and fear. Forgiveness, it turns out, is an unfathomable act of courage and that courage leads to an even greater one. The courage to face the truth in the world, but first in yourself. I look at my list of names and I know their strength comes from a very deep and hard earned place.
Back to the painting. In the center of the painting is a struggle, but it is not caught up in the swirling conflict surrounding it. It is a heart center and I have been calling it the eye of the hurricane in the Water Wars. Of course the Water Wars is symbolic for a struggle that can only be calmed, not won with force. The calm from the center comes from not having to win, but from remaining centered and calm and with peace. The world we are all living in is in a state of turmoil, as are we. It is only in finding forgiveness within that we calm the waters around us, and then, working from our heart centers, we can calm the world. 
I’m choosing not to say we fight or we win, because this is not a Hollywood movie. The ending is unknown. The world we live in may have already chosen its path. That is all unknown as far as I can see. What I do see is a choice of how to accept and then live in that space. I have learned, through the exhausting process of painting “Water Wars” that I plan to show up. I believe I may have discovered the peaceful but strong place in my center that has been broken open with grief. I may have to return to that place over and over again, but once you have seen it, there is no turning back.

Links: Kimberle Crenshaw's Ted Talk

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