Sunday, December 21, 2014

Winter Solstice: Looking into the Light

Gathering Light 28A   60x60"   Oil on canvas  ©2014 Janice Mason Steeves

In my work this past year, I have been focusing on light, preparing for my exhibition in January at Gallery Stratford, in Stratford, Ontario.  I write this on the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year.  

Ancient people knew about light.  They spent hundreds of years building stone circles and passage graves, orienting them to the sunlight or moonlight at solstices and equinoxes. Light was sacred to them.  

Inner light and the oneness of the world were ideas sacred to the monks on Iona.  Besides spending time this past fall visiting a passage grave in Ireland, and walking the ancient stone circle of Callanish on the Isle of Lewis, I attended a retreat on the island of Iona in Scotland. It was here that Celtic Christianity was brought into Europe.  I decided to metaphorically gather some of that light--from Iona and from the passage graves and stone circles-- and bring it home to translate into paintings.  I call my exhibition, Gathering Light.

The idea of mystery and creativity surrounds the darkest months of the year,  Winter Solstice has long been thought of as a time of death and rebirth when Nature’s innate powers and our own souls are renewed. There is a sense of longing and turning inward as the cycle of the year ends and the earth slowly begins to turn back toward the sun.  It's a good time to focus on gratitude.  

In my own life, I am grateful for  many things: my beautiful family, my friends, good health, my dog, a comfortable home and the opportunity to travel. This year, I am especially grateful for the gift of creativity.  It has been a very exciting year for me as I moved into a cycle of paintings that seemed to appear as if by magic.  We learned to work together the paintings and I, with me sometimes feeling like the assistant (to paraphrase a quotation of Richard Diebenkorn's.)  Of course, magic has taken over thirty years of diligent work to finally land at my doorstep.  But it has at last arrived. And I am grateful.

I pass along this beautiful Winter Solstice blessing, written by theologian and poet, Jan Richardson.

Blessing for the Longest Night

All throughout these months
as the shadows
have lengthened,
this blessing has been
gathering itself,
making ready,
preparing for
this night.

It has practiced
walking in the dark,
traveling with
its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by memory
by touch
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.

So believe me
when I tell you
this blessing will
reach you
even if you
have not light enough
to read it;
it will find you
even though you cannot
see it coming.

You will know
the moment of its
by your release
of the breath
you have held
so long;
a loosening
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
a thinning
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
around you.

This blessing
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
to travel
in the company
of a friend.

So when
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.

This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Importance of Creating a Sacred Space

Gathering Light 27   60x60"  Oil on canvas ©2014 Janice Mason Steeves

"To have a sacred place is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room or a certain hour of the day or so, where you do not know who your friends are, you don't know what you owe anybody or what they owe you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be." Joseph Campbell

In an earlier post, I wrote about my own process of lighting a candle as I begin my day in the studio .  And in my workshops, I have a little ritual of beginning.  I start each day with a meditation or a poem. I read poems by Mary Oliver or David Whyte or John O'Donohue among others.

At home, I like to start each day slowly and quietly.  When my children were little, I would wake up before them to have a few quiet moments before the hectic day began.  And in the same way, I like to approach my day of work in the studio in a quiet, thoughtful manner: lighting a candle, meditating sometimes and/or writing in my journal. It's a way of leaving worries for a while outside the door, so that the space becomes a place of freedom and my painting practice, a meditation.

That's not to say that the process always flows smoothly.  I have times where nothing is going right, and I become really frustrated.  When that happens, I make some tea, sit down in my studio chair for a moment and take a break.  To put myself back in that calm space, I close my eyes, take a couple of deep breaths, and let go of what I wanted the painting to be. It is easier to do the longer I have practised it.  I can tell when I am in the space.  And from that place, I begin again.

In the romp of a book called, "Outrageous Openness" by Tosha Silver, there is a quote by the writer, Joyce Carol Oates.  She says, "I never understand when people make a fuss over me as a writer.  I'm just the garden hose that the water sprays through."

To be the garden hose, it's important to give yourself a few moments to set your space for the day, to be clear for a time. No water can flow through a hose that has knots in it.