Put Love First

My last post was in August, about the time I officiated my nephew’s wedding to his beloved. Shortly after that blessed family event, I attended the International Association for Near Death Studies conference on the east coast and while there, had the opportunity to visit with, and offer comfort, for three life-long dear friends who had all lost loved ones this past year to untimely deaths. Without knowing it at the time, I was living the answer to the question I would soon ask Spirit. Sometimes what we need to see is right in front of us.

A couple of weeks after my east coast trip, I was off to Hawaii to plan a group retreat. In my experience, the energy of the Big Island has a way of burning off any obscuration that may cloud one’s heart. While there, I walked a labyrinth and, as is customary for me, I asked a question upon entering. “What is blocking my path to right livelihood? What am I not seeing?” Before I reached the center I heard, “Put Love First.” This stopped me in my tracks and prompted the following internal dialogue with my higher Self or Spirit, however one wishes to see it.

“Really,” I said, “That’s it?” That’s all you’re giving me, another koan?” Spirit has a tendency to speak to me in short koans with no explanations. (Read my previous blog posts about my NDE.)
“Yep.”
“Put love first. “Love of self, love of other, love of the world, what?” I asked.
“Yep, all of that.”
“Uh Huh, thanks,” I said. I kept walking in toward the center of the labyrinth, where I stood for a while bowing in all directions and giving thanks for the opportunity to inquire and listen.

As I took my time walking back out of the labyrinth, I let Put Love First percolate, repeating it in rhythm with my steps, letting it sink into my body as well as my psyche. Simple, yet profound, these three words have become my mantra, and the question I ask when discerning what direction or action to take, even what words to say to another.

Over the next several days in Hawaii, meditating on Put Love First shifted my energy from fear and lack, striving and resistance, to a relaxed state of gratitude and abundance. By putting love first for myself and another, I released a commitment that was no longer in alignment with either of us and kept a friendship intact. I recalibrated my intentions to complete my memoir, launch my private practice, and stay close to heart and home.

Put Love First became a theme to work with in my own spiritual direction sessions. It manifested in a healing collage, and ideas began to sprout for how to grow it into something to benefit others. It’s certainly not a new message, nor is it unique. It’s a basic tenant of many faith traditions, said in slightly different ways. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love one another as I have loved you. – Christianity   Lovingkindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity are the four qualities of the heart that reside within everyone. – Buddhism

So as we enter this super-sized, consumerized holiday season full of glitz and gluttony, I share with you this gift from Spirit, Put Love First, and invite you to give the gift of your heart. It doesn’t cost anything to offer a kind word, a smile, a hug, or a slight bow to someone, acknowledging that the light in you sees the light in them.
Namasté, Peace, Salam, Shalom

Put Love First Healing Collage – features Rev Lisa’s original mandala artwork and photographs along with clippings from magazines.
©LjWinston November 27, 2019

Part 8 – From Spirit to Matter

Grace and Divine Presence

Coming Home

What a surprise it was to end my year of ashram life and enter into a year of residency as a hospital chaplain. Resistance is futile when you’re lead by Grace. I came full circle in my material and spiritual worlds; from almost dying while a hospital patient, to being a hospital chaplain ministering to those suffering various stages of trauma, illness, grief and the dying process. Divine Grace was asking, “You glimpsed the threshold of death, can you be fully present with others as they approach their own mortality?”  The answer was yes, and… as a hospital chaplain I found my experience to be some of the most holy, life-affirming, bittersweet and exhausting work one can do. It required stillness in the midst of chaos, both internally and externally, and mountains of self-care.

Zen seeing too requires stillness and a deep appreciation of every breath. My contemplative spiritual practices offered regenerative energy during that time and kept me grounded. I practiced walking meditation and mantras between patient visits, and I spent my days off in my photoshop/darkroom creating books to help teach others “how to see.” It was during that time that I gave birth to two more photo books, 108 Explorations of Zen Seeing and a collection of B&W Zen Contemplative images.

My spiritual and creative evolution, and the integration of my NDE has felt like an upward spiral, both my heart and mind opening wider as I come home to more of who I am.  Discerning that my path lay beyond the confines of hospital chaplaincy, I now weave spiritual direction into my creative, sacred, healing arts experience, offering individual and group companioning for those seeking deeper connection with their inner and outer worlds during challenging times.

I continue to show up with beginner’s mind, curious and in awe of the possibilities that can unfold. That’s not to say that I don’t experience fear, doubt, anxiety and worry. I absolutely do, and when they require attention, I practice  maintaining stillness amidst chaos, allowing me to return to trusting my Self and the Grace of Divine Presence.

Thank you for reading and witnessing these glimpses into my story. I end this blog series with the following questions for you to contemplate:  “One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, “What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?” ― Rachel Carson

Part 7 – From Spirit to Matter

Wabi-Sabi – Nature’s Imperfection

Seeing What Is 

Two years into California life I still felt unsettled, ungrounded. I had studied with amazing spiritual teachers, taken a trip around the world and photographed to my heart’s content. I was still living off of savings, not working. I sought advice from one of my teachers, guru Babaji, and decided to go back to school, to enter seminary. This provided routine, structure, and a community of like-hearted souls taking action in the world. It also created a great deal of angst as I vacillated between the idea of being a chaplain, or an artist, and worrying about how I would ever use any or all of my talents to create right livelihood. I had entered into another phase of integrating my NDE… the either/or mode, not this/not that, and couldn’t see the both/and  opportunities of being rather than doing. The more I struggled to understand the more resistant I became. One day my academic advisor suggested that I just step back and allow things to unfold.

Stepping back and allowing lead to a year in residence at Sonoma Ashram. There I learned how to breathe into a simple, albeit very structured, contemplative life. A life of seeing what is, no more – no less. I let go of more belongings, of inhibiting thoughts and negative beliefs. Baba would say, “Nothing is worth losing your peace.” And when I lost my peace, his reminder was, “Stop, take a step back…”  The daily practices opened my heart, I became more compassionate, and I learned to be still amidst the swirling Shakti energy that created daily paradox within our community of residents and guests.

Then the 2016 election happened. It felt like the earth shifted on its axis and she entered into a dark night of the planetary soul. I was ordained a couple of weeks later and it became apparent that my time at the ashram was ending. I needed to be out in the world, although I still didn’t know what I was to do. While I hunted for work, I sought refuge in my photography as a spiritual practice, walking every day, going to the ocean, or meandering around the ashram grounds. I found peace in nature and in seeing the Divine everywhere. Wabi-sabi – the imperfection of what is, nothing more – nothing less.  By summer I was on to my next adventure.

Visit more of my Wabi-Sabi collection HERE.

 

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”   –  Confucious

Part 6 – From Spirit to Matter

Divine • Light • Mandalas  – Cosmic Consciousness Through the Chakras

Portals of Ascension

Seven years after my near-death-experience (NDE) I moved from Colorado to California to study more deeply with the spiritual teachers I had met through Mystery School. Seeking that Divine connection, that feeling of oneness, I continued my training in world wisdom traditions, spiritual psychology, Reiki crystal healing, and our Chakra system, becoming a skilled healer.

As often happens with near-death-experiencers (NDERs), in spite of the fact that I had a spiritual community, I didn’t feel like I truly belonged. Solitary, contemplative time exploring with my camera was my preferred way to ground into a sense of belonging with myself and my environment. To avoid increasing isolation, I sought connection with other photographers. During a short-lived stint with a photo club, I met someone who, like me, found photography both grounding and uplifting, and a way to create a deeper connection with self and others.

She also loved to photograph holiday lights, so we played with what I call “Camera Dancing™” ––moving the camera liberally, while using a slow shutter speed. It was so much fun! When I looked at the original images in photoshop, I thought kaleidoscope!  I mirrored each photo once, then twice. Amazing portals appeared! Spirit took over the process and the images came to life. I experimented meditating with them and found that I could unblock and re-energize stuck energy in my chakras, from root to crown. This collection has become one of my many creative, sacred, healing art tools I share with others.

Movement and mirror imaging come together to create Divine • Light • Mandalas

See slide show HERE

 

Transformative art must express something beyond where you are, it demands that you grow beyond your current self. This is where an artist’s angst and the pain of transformation coincide. You reach toward the true, the good and the beautiful and become a better person through the struggle.
—Alex Grey, artist

Part 5 – From Spirit to Matter

Seeking Wholeness  – Divine Reflections in Nature

PHOTOGRAPHY AS A SPIRITUAL/HEALING PRACTICE POST NDE

The surgery, during which I had my near-death-experience (NDE), saved my life by gutting me from stem to stern, leaving me with an everlasting Buddha belly, a scar that I once considered having a tattoo created around, and my belly button off center. Processing and integrating my surgery and NDE involved recalibrating my negative body image, now distorted more than ever. The thought of being naked and vulnerable with anyone was terrifying. I needed to reclaim my divine feminine wholeness on all levels; emotional, spiritual, and physical. Communing with the beauty of nature allowed me to befriend my broken bits, and begin to put myself back together.

Vest Unveiled – Mantra: Home is where my heart takes a stand.

 

Vesta Unveiled was my first mirror image­­––sensuous, fiery, revealing. Lilith Lingering and Pele’s Hula came to me during my first trip to Hawaii. Their movement reflects the power and grace I sought to regain, as my NDE’s life review had opened old wounds and shredded my self-confidence. The perfect symmetry of the mirror images metaphorically expressed my desire to feel whole again.

Their goddess names and mantras arose through deep listening, feeling, and meditating with each image, asking them, “what do you have to teach me about my Self, my true nature?” I would then free-write; words of compassion, forgiveness and self-love tumbling onto the page. These images have become healing allies and friends, teaching me and others each time they are shared. I’ve been lead to create over thirty Divine Reflections in Nature, and am constantly in awe of the beauty revealed whenever and where ever we take the time to be truly present, and to see with our hearts.

Goddesses: Vesta is the Roman virgin goddess of hearth and home.  Lilith in Jewish legend is the first wife of Adam. Pele is the Hawaiian goddess of fire. 

Part 4 – From Spirit to Matter

COMING ALIVE – A Photographic Journey – 50th Birthday 2006

PHOTOGRAPHY AS A SPIRITUAL/HEALING PRACTICE POST NDE

These are a few photographs from my one-woman show that reveal my initial sense of… “Seeing What Else There Is,” illustrating my state of mind before, during and after my NDE, and celebrating my evolution. It’s about coming alive, and making the journey from harsh self-criticism to self-love and compassion. It’s about re-engaging and embracing my creative spirit. These images and the timeless universal wisdom in the  poetry, guide you through the process, as my heartfelt message becomes clear. “Don’t sleepwalk through life and wait for a crisis to make a change. Live each day to the fullest, be at Peace with your Self.”

MYSTERY • Pathways

At first the questioning, the seeking, trying to discover me “out there.”  The linen curtain shields the Great Mystery, the empty pathways metaphors for the search. There’s comfort in the aloneness that envelopes me as I wander mystical places. The path, not always obvious offers unexpected gifts when I pay attention.

DISCOVERY • Openings

If eyes are the windows of the soul, what are windows? They are symbols of my inward search regaining pieces of Self hidden or lost through time and disconnectedness. What part of me is in those rooms? What fears…what hopes? To dwell in this inner landscape is to acknowledge uncharted or previously unaccepted territory.

INTIMACY • Soft Light

Flowers, soft light, bright colors all nurture the soul.Accepting and embracing the abundance and beauty around us helps us to realize that the beauty resides within, radiating outward. This awakening ignites a renewed intimacy with life. Universal love exists in the center of a flower, the symmetry of a leaf and the reflection of a dewdrop. I am reconnected once again.

COMING ALIVE • Energy/Movement

Abstract explosions of light celebrate joy, transformation and wholeness at having reached 50. Captured while dancing along the path of the Botanic Garden’s “Blossoms of Light” exhibit, these images begin to express my renewed energy and essence. I am grateful to be alive. I have much to offer.

The wisdom in the poetry written within a year after my NDE, still holds true all these years later; like a guiding light through the times when I have been distracted from my vision, or temporarily lost in fear of not having, or not being enough. Integrating a near-death-experience into day-to-day life is not easy. There really is no end. You are changed forever because it lives on within, teaching you, informing you, transforming you.

Spirit always stands still long enough for the photographer It has chosen.” – Minor White

Part 3 – From Spirit to Matter

SEEING THE BOUNDLESSNESS of Time and Space

Photography as a Spiritual/Healing Practice Post NDE

During my NDE I took a fantastic ride, leaving my body, literally becoming a spark of light––first traveling along a circuit board, then flung out into the universe and through a life review––all in Imax 3D, 360 degree vision. Time and space know no bounds in an altered state, and words don’t really describe all the sensations. I didn’t know how to process what I’d experienced internally, so it began to appear outwardly through my photographs.

I discovered the holiday light show at a local botanic garden and began experimenting with a slow shutter speed and camera movement. It was thrilling to see the results! Each image was completely different, depending upon whether I swooshed, wiggled, twisted, zoomed, or whirled. It was awesome, I felt like a kid discovering something new and wonderful. It made me happy! It became an annual holiday event, taking friends and family to the botanic gardens light show for what I call, Camera Dancing.™  

My desire for seeing and sensing movement while being stationary and still stayed with me, and I experimented beyond the light show, taking my camera dancing into nature. There’s a feeling of having a foot in two worlds or of walking between the worlds, peeking through the veil into the unseen. Objects are no longer identifiable by the mind. We no longer attach labels–– tree, leaf, rock, water––allowing us the opportunity to connect more deeply with the energy of our seeing, and to ask ourselves, where do I feel this in my body? What emotion does this image evoke in me?

I invite you to slow down, take a deep breath and focus for a minute or two on these photographs. Ask yourself those questions as you look into them.  Practice with your own photos or artwork.

Hawaiian Tapestries ©LjW 2006

“When our eyes are graced with wonder, the world reveals its wonders to us. So much depends on how we look at things. The quality of our looking determines what we come to see.” ––John O’Donohue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace