Meinrad Craighead and The Magic of Synchronicity

“I do believe in an everyday sort of magic — the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of synchronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think we’re alone.”   — Charles De Lint

“Memory”, Meinrad Craighead

I read a statement by a cyclist somewhere, recently, that claimed one of the best reasons for riding was that while doing so the mind has free range to wander where it will. And sometimes, in that wandering, it takes one someplace wholly unexpected. One beautiful afternoon last week, as I rode along the bike lane on Portland Avenue, just as I crossed the heavily trafficked Lake Street, I became aware of my own wandering thoughts. Aware that I had been in an almost meditative state, allowing thoughts and images to float into and back out of my mind without comment, without judgement.

Oftentimes, once you become aware of that semi-meditative or flow state, it’s over. Your very attention to it brings you out of that moment, carries you back into self-consciousness. Occasionally, though, something different happens and you, instead, find yourself in a state of heightened awareness. I felt myself entering that state of hyper-awareness – I felt my tires connecting with the road, the warmth of sun on shoulders, the scent of freshly mown grass in my nostrils. The traffic noises receded, and I could hear only the blood in my veins and my own breath.

That’s when Meinrad Craighead popped into my thoughts.

At a time in my life when I was open to new ways of thinking, I happened to pick up a book called “Seekers of Wisdom: Women Mystics of the 20th Century” by Anne Bancroft. The book profiled a number of spiritual seekers; their lives and words had a profound effect on my own thinking and worldview. The chapter about Meinrad Craighead struck me as particularly powerful. In it, Craighead shared a story about experiencing (as a child) something very like what I felt that afternoon on my bike. ” I held the dog’s head, stroking her into sleep. But she held my gaze. As I looked into her eyes I realized that I would never travel further than into this animal’s eyes. At this particular moment I was allowed to see infinity through my dog’s eyes, and I was old enough to know that.”

As I read Craighead’s story, punctuated with long quotations from her own writings, I found myself drawn to her discussion of the feminine face of God, to her view of our lives. “Life,” she said, “is radically more than the experiences of a lifetime, it is an invitation to a journey back to our origin in God, and our own personal memories form the unique stuff of that quest.” An artist, Craighead became known for her dreamlike imagery and mystical themes of the Divine Feminine. At one point in the chapter, it was mentioned that she had attended an all-women’s Catholic college. I had attended a previously all-women’s Catholic college and remember having the passing thought that it would be cool if we shared an alma mater. It was a fleeting thought, and it soon passed out of my consciousness, though Craighead’s words remained with me.

A few weeks later, I received an invitation to a special series of events on my college’s campus celebrating the anniversary of its founding. Headline billing was given to world-renown artist and alumna, Meinrad Craighead. I was stunned – I’d never even heard of this woman until that spring. And once I had, I certainly did not expect the possibility of meeting her to arise. I was beyond excited, and I made plans to attend her guest lecture and the opening of her retrospective art exhibit on the campus in my hometown. I had never seen any of her paintings – this all took place early in the development of the internet, and a great deal of information was simply not yet available to the world. Meinrad Craighead’s lecture – part explication of her theological and mystical beliefs and part treatise on how these informed her work as an artist, was truly mind-blowing. Slides of her work appeared on huge screens as she discussed each piece. Each one was beautiful, deeply symbolic, and epic in scale.

My head swimming with the ideas she presented, I left the lecture hall and went immediately to the gallery where her work was on display. There I discovered, much to my surprise, that most of Craighead’s paintings were quite small. Their amazing use of color and the degree of detail took on new significance as I realized the discipline exercised in working on such a diminutive scale when the subject matter was infinity itself.

That there was more than mere chance involved in the timing of these events I have never doubted. The encounter with Craighead, through her words, her work and her presence, has continued to inform my own beliefs and perspectives. This was synchronicity in its truest sense – meaningful coincidence, rather than random happenstance.

As I rode my bike, I looked in front of my tire and saw the white painted lines which delineated the bike lane stretching straight ahead of me to the horizon. And in that moment, I realized that I was riding not only toward the Minnehaha Creek path but also into my own future. Every experience I’ve had has propelled me toward this moment – just as this moment adds strength to the forward momentum of my life. I haven’t yet become the person I am meant to be precisely because that person is the culmination of a life’s activities and experiences. As surely as Craighead saw infinity in the eyes of her dog, I saw it stretching before me in the bike lane.

“At the source of our deepest self is a mysterious unknown ever eluding our grasp. We can never possess it except as that mystery which keeps at a distance. The heart’s quest is toward this unknown. There is no respite in the task of getting beyond the point we have already reached because the Spirit stands further on. She stands at the end of every road we may wish to travel by…We never ‘catch up with’ who we fundamentally are.” — Meinrad Craighead

 

NOTE: Please check out Craighead’s website http://www.meinradcraighead.com so you can see her work. Adding to the touch points between us, I learned that Craighead is a resident of the bosque in Albuquerque, New Mexico – one of my favorite places and certainly influential to her work and both our lives!

 

 

 

Dark Birds

Artist: Kelly Moore

a full blown dark bird 
has flown well past being
an outsider or a misfit
and no longer needs to be
part of a group or wear
a label or needs to be
understood
i am
we are
our own person
born in the clean space
of the desert powerful beings in our truth
choosing our own path
living our own lives
often loving
places and people
others dont care for or understand
we are simply
dark birds

(poem by artist, Kelly Moore)

4:00 a.m. I am lying awake in the dark of my room, listening to the wind outside howl. Its mournful sounds are anemically echoed in the high whine and hiss issuing from the radiator at the head of my bed. The alarm will go off in twenty minutes, and I face a choice: spend the next few minutes mostly asleep or mostly worrying about things I can’t change at 4:00 a.m. I choose sleep.

It seems like a small choice. But our days are filled with these small choices. Added together their sum equals this thing we call “my life”.

One spring a few years back, I visited Pecos National Historic Park in New Mexico with my parents. I felt some sort of magic there, emanating perhaps from the confluence of history and landscape. I wanted a moment to just soak it in, so I let my parents walk on ahead. The wind was strong, and as I stood still on the trail, I felt it blowing against me with force. I watched as a raven flew toward me. It drew even with my eyes, just a foot or so in front of me, and hovered there, riding the air current and making eye contact with me. After a minute, the raven opened its wings and flew off in a graceful arc. The momentary spell was broken. As I rejoined my parents, my dad asked, “What did that blackbird have to say? It looked like he was giving you a message.”

Perhaps it was more a lesson than a message, one that I needed the distance of time to learn. As it hovered in front of me, the raven’s wings were not moving. They were simply holding steady, allowing the wind to do the work. It wasn’t that the bird did nothing. Rather, the bird did the very thing we struggle against so often in our lives: it trusted the flow.

How simple, yet how incredibly difficult, is that? Still, the lesson is clear and can be found in many spiritual traditions as well as in self-help and pop psychology books. The language varies, of course, but the message is the same: stop worrying and learn to trust.

Matthew 6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Buddha: Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.

Lao Tzu: Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

The wind has, if anything, picked up force in the hours since I first heard it blustering. I can hear bits of detritus being blown against the windows: broken twigs, a few dead leaves that somehow escaped being buried in the snow. As I think about these forlorn items, I realize that there is a difference between being a twig buffeted willy-nilly by the wind and the raven. The twig exerts no will, while the raven wills itself into the flow.

In a little while, I will venture out of the protection of my apartment and into the gale-force winds. I will gird myself for the experience in a huge down parka. As I face the day ahead, I will attempt to will myself into the flow and then relax there, rather than be thrown about without volition like the twig. Another small choice, adding to the sum of “my life”.

Word Girl Meets Visual World – Finale

A person who forgoes the use of his symbolic skills is never really free.
Mihaly CsikszentmihalyiFlow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, 1990

For my final attempt to fulfill the “Winter Silence” challenge, I decided to return to a medium and technique with which I was already familiar – bead applique.  Now, if you have difficulty imagining me sitting, quietly, for hours on end wielding a needle and thread, you’re probably not alone.  But you’ve probably never seen me around beads.  “Winter Silence” took many hours, and in the week leading up to Art Day I beaded until my fingers bled (from sticking myself with the beading needle when I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open).

Winter Silence: Third and final piece

While the photos don’t fully capture the final piece (which is framed, making it difficult for a novice like me to photograph), I loved the final product.  Why?  First, because it conveyed the theme without words.  Second, because it does so without being directly representational.  Third, because I envisioned this scene in my mind and the end result is not too different from the original conception.

Imagine show and tell on the second Art Day…each person unveiling their attempt(s) to create something within specific parameters, using a specific set of objects.  Each person brought completely different projects to the table. Stephanie’s son commented that hers looked less like “Winter Silence” than like “Winter Slaps You in the Face”, but I loved seeing them all individually, and their diversity as a set.

We have now had five Art Days.  Each day, each project, has been different.  Each of us is developing a small collection of challenge pieces.  One Art Day was devoted entirely to stained glass projects, Paula’s forte.  The most recent saw us all arrive with so many supplies that they took multiple trips from car to house to get everything into the work room.  We still laugh a lot, and talk, but there is a lot more actual work getting done, too.

So, why have I taken three posts to share the story of Art Day and my recent efforts to explore a more visual form of expression?  On one level, it is a way of honoring the experience and the wonderful women with whom I have shared it.  On another level, though, I want to share an experience I am growing from.  Like many people, I suspect, I am reluctant to try new things unless there is a certain level of success guaranteed. I avoid situations in which I feel or look foolish.  Which, for most of us, is what happens when we try something we’ve never really done before.

Art Day has helped me keep at it, learn how to play without undue emphasis on the end result, to compare and contrast my work with someone else’s without a need for ranking the results. I am learning to communicate in actual images rather than verbal imagery. And the sheer fun and concentrated effort required to create is truly a joyful discovery.  Art, and as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, a joyful life “is an individual creation that cannot be copied from a recipe.”  In other words, living life is an art: our time, energy, activity and emotion are the media we have to work with. And in order to live fully, we have to stop waiting for only those things we can do perfectly from the start.  Risking being an amateur or a failure or a fool…that’s how we work our way through to the joy.