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 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 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

Part 1 – May 3rd is My ReBirth Day!!!

This year is the 14th anniversary of my Near-Death-Experience (NDE), an event that profoundly changed my life on every level. Recently I’ve been contemplating those changes–– the after-effects of leaving a life behind, a fascination with death, years of seeking, of psycho-spiritual healing, and the circuitous path to here and now. All of this unfolding and replaying as I work on my memoir of my lived experience.

Companioning me through these years has been a deep desire to “see” completely/holistically, and to share with others. Whether this quest for Divine Sight comes from deep in my psyche or guided by Spirit, I do not know. But contemplative photography has emerged as my spiritual and healing practice, often times reflecting my attempts to integrate the after-effects of my NDE with my daily life and offering ever deeper contemplation.

The very first images came to me two months after my NDE, as I woke and sat on the edge of my bed. The early morning dappled light danced on the closet door as it filtered through tree leaves. As the sunlight grew stronger, my shadow came alive, solidifying from ethereal into real. I remember being ridiculously gleeful at the reassurance that simple play of light and shadow gave me. I was still here! I pinched myself…

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”  Photographer Dorothea Lange

to be continued…

A Day at the SF Asian Art Museum

I made my first visit to the SF Asian Art Museum and it did not disappoint. The temporary exhibit, “Divine Bodies” runs through July 29. It asks us to consider how the Divine resides within us. There are also thought provoking pieces on impermanence and a collection of paintings illustrating the story of a near death experience. Now that’s my idea of a lively Spirit-filled day!!

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery

Easter – Passover – Full Blue Moon – April Fools Day

These are powerful and blessed energies that have converged this weekend. Easter, Passover, a Full Blue Moon and even April Fools Day offer us the opportunity for renewal and rebirth; an opportunity to expand our vision and maybe shift our way of seeing. Many people these days are spiritual but not religious, or secular and non-religious. Some have wounds or carry baggage around religion. Some feel the Sacred in nature. I heard this comment the other day and it resonated with me, so I thought I would pass it along and invite your consideration…  “If the word G-O-D triggers you or doesn’t fit your belief system, try replacing it with A-W-E.” I am always looking for new ways to see and experience Spirit in our world. Part of my practice is to be on the lookout for moments of A-W-E and to find beauty in the mundane. When we are able to stop, take a breath and give ourselves a moment to pause and ground, we create space for A-W-E. My gift this very special Sunday is a small collection of photos taken these past few days where I work, at Marin General Hospital.

May we receive this first day of April and every day with gratitude and grace.

Blessings, Rev. Lisa