Inuksuk journey

This piece is about finding myself in a land that doesn’t have any maps.

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There is a map on the left-hand side. It goes from being highly populated at the bottom to being barely populated at the top. There are a lot of place names for cities and villages on the bottom part of the map. But when you go further north, the place names get fewer and farther between, and they get different. The place names further north are the place names from the people who live there, and they are in Inuit.

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They are harder for us to pronounce. Their alphabet looks entirely different from ours. It is full of circles and triangles. The Inuit did not have a written language for many years. The way that they explained to each other how to get from one area to another was with these huge stone sculptures, called inuksuit (plural of inuksuk). They aren’t art sculptures, they are assemblages of stones that are found in that place. The inuksuit are the only way to navigate in a land that is filled with snow and ice. They didn’t have cities and roads like we do, so they couldn’t say “Go 3 miles and then turn left onto Main Street.” There was no Main Street. There were no streets. It is a land of ice and snow.

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It is really rude that this land is called Newfoundland. It isn’t newly found. It never was lost. The people who lived there had found it. To say that it was found by new settlers means that no one was there at the time it was “found”. To call it Newfoundland is insulting to the people who were living there. It is to say that they are not people and that they do not own this land.

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I have used tissue paper to cover up some of the names and settlements of the people who moved in after the Inuit. I have done this to try and reclaim the land. I have also done this because I don’t want to look at those areas. These are scars upon the land. In a way, by putting tissue paper I am putting up a drift of snow. I am reclaiming that area. I am saying that area should not be in the possession of the white people. It should be in possession of the people who lived there before, and who still live there.

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The inuksuk that I have used is a direction finding one. All inuksuit are different. One may indicate where is a good place to hunt, another where is a good place to find caribou or yet another that is a dangerous area.

 
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This particular one shows you where to go. You look through the big inuksuk towards the little inuksuk. It points the way. When the little one is in the center of your view, you know that is the direction to go. You are pointed in the right direction.

But think about the people who were there before you. How did they figure out that was a safe way to go? It was very kind of them to leave the stones for you to tell you that this was the best travel route. But think about it. In order to do that, they had to come back safely. They went to the trouble of figuring out a safe passage to start off with and then they came back to put up a marker.

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It reminds me of a sponsor in AA. They have gone through the difficulty of becoming sober and then they committed to helping you find your way too. It is the same as in Buddhism. Someone who is enlightened, a bodhisattva, renounces going to Nirvana for the sake of everyone else. Instead of leaving this plane of existence, they stay so that they can help others find their way. They show you where it is safe and where it is dangerous, just like these rocks do.

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I like this particular inuksuk not only because it indicates direction but also because it looks like a torii gate. They are part of the Shinto religion in Japan. They are not gates to keep people out. Rather, they are an indicator that you have stepped from the secular into the sacred. They let you know that you are on holy ground.

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This is made with canvas, acrylic paint, a map of Newfoundland, two Canadian stamps, watercolor pencil on water color paper, tissue paper, and matte medium.

Here is a behind-the-scenes illustration of how I created the main Inuksuk.  (which is composed of two Inuksuit)

Here is the reference picture from a book from the library.

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Here is my solution to how to “paint” it.  I drew the stones onto heavy watercolor paper, using watercolor pencils.  Once I was happy with them, I cut them out and glued them together on the canvas.  I essentially created my own stones and stacked them. This meant that I could edit an area without affecting the entire piece.

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Blockhead – the journey of a wanderer.

I was asked by my spiritual director what words God would use to describe me. As usual these days I don’t get words but images when she asks this kind of question. Then I have to translate the images.

It is kind of like dream analysis. It has nothing to do with the images in the dream, and everything to do with your impression of those images. For example, a wolf could be seen as a predator or as a protector. It all depends on your experience with the image.

In this case I saw a wooden block. Simple, unvarnished. No paint. The natural lines of the block were visible.

I didn’t understand this and I started pushing harder. I was asked for words and I’m coming up with images. I need more to work with. And a wooden block? How boring is that?

I got further images, of deep pits going straight down. I’m reminded of Celtic burial pits, that were up to 20 feet deep and had all sorts of offerings in them, including entire trees.

What does this mean? I felt that it was in part about staying in one place, and being OK with it. About accepting that where I am now is where I need to be. About trust, and not struggling so much. About not having to come up with words all the time.

But a block? There’s more to it than that.

A block is finished by another person. It didn’t make itself.

I’m reminded of the Masonic idea of the finished block as a symbol for the completed person. It is called an ashlar.

It is stable. It stays put. It is a good base for other blocks. Blocks are used for cornerstones. Blocks, added together, create buildings. Each block has to be strong and well-cut. There’s something important in this image for me, but I don’t quite have it all yet.

I can see the pattern of the rings on the block in my image. Years and years of growth are required to get it to this point. It isn’t an overnight thing. That’s important too.

Then on Friday at yoga the image that kept coming to me was that of a blue robin’s egg. Simple and strong, this tiny thing has within it a bird seed. It will develop into a bird. In one way, it already is a bird, we just can’t see it yet. Time, plus bird egg equals bird. The bird on the inside doesn’t suffer from the definitions that we give it. It already is a bird even if we wouldn’t call it that.

It is so useful that things in nature are unaware that we have different words for them at different stages of their growth. The inchworm is the butterfly.

So all of this came from this image of a block. Be OK with where I am. Trust the process. Know that years and years of growth are necessary to get where I am. Know that others have shaped me, sometimes painfully. Know that that shaping has resulted in a stability that is useful.

This has been my biggest challenge, to get to this point. I don’t want to relax and slack off. I keep pushing myself because I know what I’m like when I don’t. But this image is telling me that I’m OK as I am, and to grow into it. The process is slow and painful, and I won’t do it all myself.

Somehow this image has helped me, even though it was so strange. It didn’t make any sense, but the more I thought about it and worked on it the more it was exactly the message I needed to hear at the time.

I’m still bummed that regular ministers aren’t like spiritual directors. If they were like spiritual directors, then I’d have stayed in church. Going to a spiritual director is very woo-woo, kinda New-Age meets Old School. It’s one on one and hard work. It uses visualization and it doesn’t make sense sometimes. Often I feel like I’m doing it wrong, but then I find out I’m not doing it wrong, I’m just doing something so new to me that I don’t know what to do. “Wrong” is to not do it at all. Doing anything openly, trustingly, honestly, is doing it right, even if it doesn’t make sense at the time.

So that alone is the best takeaway from having been part of the deacon discernment process. It wasn’t what I wanted, really. I didn’t want to be a deacon. I just wanted to learn how to be helpful to people on their spiritual paths. I wanted to be a soul-friend. I wanted to provide spiritual first aid. I didn’t want to be ordained, because I’m opposed to a hierarchy of lay versus ordained. But I did want the training and the accountability that comes with the training to be a deacon.

If nothing else, the bit of the process I went through was like turning the eye of the stove up to High. It boiled off quite a bit of unnecessary stuff pretty fast. It showed me the meat of the matter and let me know I don’t like meat. It showed me behind the curtain of the Episcopal church, and perhaps of all organized religion. That too was helpful. It showed me the machine has no heart.

So while I’m adrift right now, I keep getting messages from God that it’s OK. Adrift can be safer than stuck going nowhere.

It isn’t here.

It isn’t about the tree that Buddha sat under.
You won’t find enlightenment no matter how long you sit there.
Go find your own tree.
Or a rock.
Or an island
in the middle of a freeway.

The birthplace of Jesus shouldn’t be a pilgrimage site.
It isn’t the place. The place doesn’t matter.
That it happened is what matters.

Don’t charge admission to truth.
Don’t sell tickets to joy.

Where any enlightened person walked or lived or taught should be forgotten.
You can’t learn from ghosts in places.

Follow who they followed, back to the root.
Who is at the beginning?
Who is at the source?

You don’t have to go to the holy land.
Black Elk tells us that
the holy land is everywhere.

Right here, right where you are,
put a plaque. Memorialize it for future generations.

Have it say “I am here”

And then burn it down.

Paths and Stars

Originally posted on FB 2-27-12

I’ve noticed that a lot of the images that appeal to me either involve paths or stars. Generally, they are paths that have nobody in front – it is a clear path, leading on. From the perspective of the photographer or painter, s/he is the only person on the path. There might be folks behind – but there certainly is nobody up ahead.

And then there are stars. Part of why I like stars is because of the three Magi. They followed a star, in the dark, to an unknown land. No map, no idea of where they were going – but they followed. They knew that something special, something never before seen was at the end of that journey.

My life’s journey is like this. I feel called. I know what the end is. I’m just not sure how to get there. And for the longest time, I wasn’t sure that I was the one to be going on that journey. Me? Really? I have a mental health diagnosis. I’m bipolar. Society doesn’t look well on the mentally ill. Folks look at you differently when you tell them such things. I’m running a risk here by writing about it. But – that is the way I’m made. It is a genetic weakness – a chemical imbalance. I take medicine. I’ve been in the hospital twice – but both times were where I noticed that something was wrong and I asked for help. It was over a decade ago that I was last in the hospital. One doctor even said I was the sanest person she knew. But that didn’t mean I was healed – I still got a prescription, and I still took it.

But paths, and stars. I’m not going to say what I’m called to – not here. That is really big, and private. And I’m still concerned about embarrassing God. So many folks say that God has called them to something, and they do it in a very human way and it falls and fails. And yet again, God’s church looks laughable. So many times I remind myself that I follow Christ – not Christians. But I don’t want to be part of the problem. I don’t want to be a bad example. I don’t want to be that person who makes those not of this faith think that Christians are goofballs. There are countless examples for this already.

So I follow, blindly. I follow without a map. I walk, one step in front of the other. I trust in the Star. I trust in the Light that shines. I follow because that is how I’m made. I have come to trust that I was made the way I’m made (bipolar disorder and all) because that is how I’m needed. I have come to trust that force, that pull, that call that tells me to create something new. That force that tells me to create new out of old. The same creative pull that got me to break apart old jewelry from thrift stores and redesign the beads into a new creation is at work here. That was prelude. That was practice. It gave shape to a need to reform, retranslate, rebuild.

I follow God because that is how I’m made. It isn’t an easy path. I don’t even know how I’m going to get there. I’m only vaguely aware of what “there” is. But everything else He has ever told me was going to happen has happened. So I trust, that this, the first thing He ever told me, will too. This call, from so many years ago, has kept me going. Like the Magi, I walk in darkness, seeking the Light. Like the Magi, I walk over unseen territory – unmapped, unknown. Like the Magi, I have faith that I am not being led in vain.