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Heart Sutra

40 X 60 watercolor, 1985

spiritual trailblazers

the story of this painting



Come nearer and feel a oneness with the tree.

Slip into its limbs and feel the same unity that the tree spirit feels with it.

Feel how the spirit loves the tree, how it is the tree.

We are one.

Dorothy Maclean(1)

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The Story of this Painting

I remember standing in the shower and feeling a primal scream, NO, pour out into the universe when I found out.

Four months, autumn and winter months of darkness, I watched my late husband die of brain cancer. I approached his moment of death with a fear that engulfed me totally for I had never seen anyone die. Every cell of my body waited on edge wondering if I could handle it. The moment arrived and I stood in the archetype of paradox. Death was so beautiful and natural, like the sun setting into the ocean, and death was devastating, a hammer of immense proportion. For me, to go on living meant finding a way to embrace this paradox.

A frail gray haired lady who could see where others could not, whose name was Zonette, told me to go sit under the trees in the hills of Inverness to heal and a vision for my next painting would arise. I did as she requested. Nature gathered round and my life's story began to unfold . . ..

My arms embrace grandmother oak tree up on the hill. Darkness embraces us both. Sobs rend open my grief filled chest and together we plummet down, down, down through indigo swirling space. Slowly warmth caresses and fills my skin, the ancient dance and reunion of beloved ancestress and her precious daughter. Soft iridescent colors tickle the lids of my eyes and I look with wonder at the sparkling fabric of life that surrounds me. An air of jubilant expectancy and openness communes to me from all those that gather round. How on earth to respond?

"Just tune into nature until you feel the love flow. That is your arrow into the deva world. It does not matter if there is a message or not, it is the state which counts. Always it is your state that the nature world responds to, not what you say, not what you do, but what you are."(2)

Wise words flutter through my body like a soft breeze. The message continues, `We are here to help you.' You . . . me . . . suddenly I'm self conscious of the gaping hole in my chest, and a glimmer of a memory of pain filled events surface. No, only the moment survives here. This was a world "that could have been born of the Atharva Veda hymns, of the glory of virgin forests and the sacral spirit of tree divinities, the homes of Apsaras and the dancing crested Gandharvas. There was a primeval tree, knowing each tree was alive, creating a luminous light filled world of splendid trees, hundred branched with outstretched leaves, fortunate, God-quickened powerful."(3)

Fairy dust sprinkles down from a tiny shimmering source, spurring on a doctor of spirit to counsel me with lights, colors, flowers and music. His voice, the sound of a conch beckons me to note with great care that I am surrounded with plants, flowers and tree spirits that have great power and potency for healing my wound. At my feet sitting within a mountain altar to the Goddess, is a Zen Buddhist priest, his body aligned with the earth and heaven. Resonating from these mountains are the words of the Heart Sutra, awakening every cell in my body to `Who I am!' His robes, the armor of a warrior who ventures into the "realm of primordial female power, Sige (silence)."(4) A land of silent paradox proclaiming unceasingly the haunting chant of the Heart Sutra, "Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva when practicing deeply the Prajna paramita perceived that all five skandhas in their own being are empty . . ."(5) His zafu is his special power spot in the universe and he offers me the gifts of his perfection of Wisdom.

The sun blazes behind these mountains and from it arises a being from my childhood of incomparable sweetness, beauty and innocence. She sat long ago on my grandmother's shelf, an incredible doorway for my imagination. We took long journeys together then, it's not surprising to find her here now so far from home. Slowly she opened her hands to reveal a tiny mustard seed that had been a gift from my grandfather in a golden locket. Alas I know her name, though her abode is amorphous. Her gift was faith to move mountains.

What seemed to be a smiling turquoise blue topaz jewel turned and became the ocean. Sunlight penetrated the mysterious depths and a feather plumed goddess emerged. Ah, she too I recognized, my dream guide, the shamaness of the night who weaves my conscious and unconscious into vehicles of insight and change. Her magnetic eyes reflected the ocean. Gracefully she began a salute to the sun, clasping her palms together she donned the weaving of my dreams, the night sky cloak of Nuit. She filled the sky arching her back like a cat, to bow to the earth. Reaching out her milky way white hand she gently touched the center of my forehead and placed on my head a crown of peacock feathers. Her gift was the ability to remember and understand my dreams and visions.

A doorway opened in space into a luminous snow covered world. At the center of this icy place of magenta skies and blue mirror water appeared a red gold flame. Heat radiated into the whole environment and I felt myself upon a throne of fire. A movie of images appeared in the flame and there emerged a muse of inspiration. She stood in strength promising to be there always, I must only have the courage to search for her magic doorway which exists at the center of a garden maze. "The flowers that line the pathway will whisper their sweet secrets to you." Her words filled me with gratitude. Have patience with your guide. Delphinium the sky clad ladder will transport you to an aerial view. Lotus dahlia with honey morning dew on her petals will gently unfold and reveal the map. Jasmine will envelope you with her scent and protect you. Murmurings from all manner of plants will find you, if you can listen deeply. Her great goddess gift my work, my hands in the earth.

All beings bore witness to these gifts and together we looked into the future. In my right hand born from the grief in my heart was a child clothed in radiant truth. My left hand cradled death.

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Poles apart, I'm the color of dying, you're the color of being born.

Unless we breathe in each other, there can be no garden . . .

So that's why plants grow and laugh at our eyes which focus on distance.


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1. Findhorn Community, The Finhorn Garden, p.80.

2. Ibid., p.79

3. Jayuker, The Earthen Drum, p.174

4. Walker, The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, p.951

5. Zen Center, "Heart Sutra", Windbell, pp.18 & 19

Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva when practicing deeply the Prajna Paramita perceived that all five skandhas in their own being are empty and was saved from all suffering. "O Shariputra, form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form, that which is form is emptiness, that which is emptiness is form. The same is true for feelings, perceptions, impulses, consciousness. O Shariputra, all dharmas are marked with emptiness; they do not appear nor disappear, are not tainted nor pure, do not increase nor decrease. Therefore in emptiness, no form, no feelings, no perceptions, no impulses, no consciousness; no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no realm of eyes until no realm of mind consciousness; no ignorance and also no extinction of it until no old-age-and-death and also no extinction of it; no suffering, no origination, no stopping, no path; no cognition, also no attainment. With nothing to attain the Bodhisattva depends on Prajna Paramita and the mind is no hindrance. Without any hindrance no fears exist; far apart from every perverted view one dwells in Nirvana. In the three worlds all Buddhas depend on Prajna Paramita and attain unsurpassed complete perfect Enlightenment. Therefore know the Prajna Paramita is the great transcendent mantra, is the great bright mantra, is the utmost mantra, is the supreme mantra, which is able to relieve all suffering and is true, not false. So proclaim the mantra that says: Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!

6. Rumi, Open Secret, Quatrain #921

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