I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Amy Livingstone's reflection on creating beauty in a broken world:
"Finding beauty in a broken world is creating beauty in the world we find." – Terry Tempest Williams
Being present to beauty and the sacredness of the creation is the ground of my contemplative and creative life: a cobalt blue, handmade ceramic teacup; rainbows twinkling on a canvas from the crystal hanging in the window on a sunny day; reading poetry under the Sweet Gum tree; or a tiny spider weaving her web on the fading hydrangeas.
Silence, solitude, and stillness are the holy trinity that nurtures my work as a contemporary sacred artist and spiritual activist. Though I live within the boundaries of an urban landscape, I am surrounded by a bountiful amount of trees, a wild garden, and abundant birdsong, and am deeply aware of how blessed I am to inhabit this sanctuary space where I live and work—gratitude for this "one wild and precious life" to borrow from Mary Oliver.
My morning practice begins with silent sitting, reading of a sacred text or poetry, and contemplating the beauty of the creation, followed by art making which is a process of devotion for me. I begin my time in the studio with a ritual of lighting candles and incense as an offering, and I dedicate my work to the healing of all beings and our beloved planet.
Though my work as an artist invites long solitary hours in the studio, as a monk in the world I am called to bring my message out to a wider audience—through what Andrew Harvey defines as sacred activism. Exhibiting my paintings, creating an ineractive installation, leading nature-based ceremonies, speaking, writing, and offering workshops all contribute this calling to serve the healing of our world.
The larger vision for this soul path has been to raise awareness of the ecological crisis that I believe is born of our separateness from each other and the living body of earth. Drawing inspiration from all our religious traditions and from the earth-based wisdom of our ancestors, the intention for my sacred art is to communicate a new cultural narrative that is grounded in our innate interconnectedness in the web of creation and reverences the earth as holy. The overarching message being that no matter what faith we choose or inherit, including science, we are all born of the earth.
Having long been concerned about the plight of endangered species, some of my paintings address this critical issue including my recent painting, "Prayer for the Birds," that includes some of the North American birds threatened by climate change. This painting is one in a four-part series called "Where I Stand is Holy" and is inspired by illuminated manuscripts.
Like most of us, my life didn't start out this way. It was an underworld journey through grieving after the death of my brother from AIDS followed by the sudden death of my mother when I was 30 that was my initiation into this new consciousness, though it took a decade before I found the courage to answer the call of my soul. To quote Rumi: "The wailing of broken hearts is the doorway to God." Though I had been making art in some form since a child, fifteen years ago at the age of 40, I left behind a high-stress, graphic design career to work professionally as an artist and to pursue this spiritual calling.
Once I stepped through this threshold, new pathways appeared that have contributed to my contemplative life of art, spirit, and service. The most significant of these included a training with environmentalist Joanna Macy, completing graduate work in our world's spiritual traditions, and a pilgrimage to Peru where I learned the ancient ways of the Q'ero who continue to live high in the Andes in deep reciprocity with the natural world, Pachamama (mother earth).
As an introvert, I am most at home in the warm embrace of my sanctuary space and garden, but I am called to step through fear as it emerges and trust that this is what is being asked of me during this lifetime. I believe we each have a gift to offer our world and it is vital to do so during this evolutionary time in our human history. At the heart of all my work is a deep love for the earth and profound grief for all that we are losing with the escalating ecological crisis including climate change. Transmuting my grief by "creating beauty in a broken world" to quote Williams, is my gift and my prayer.
Amy Livingstone, MA, and founder of Sacred Art Studio in Portland, Oregon is an award-winning contemporary sacred artist and spiritual activist. In addition to creating art on commission, her work has been exhibited widely around the Pacific Northwest, resides in many private collections, and has been featured in numerous publications.