the loveART blog


spirits rising

Elaine's Kuan Yin 05

Item 1: In March 2009, 2,250 people stood in line at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., for half a day awaiting the privilege of paying $22 to see Elizabeth Gilbert speak. Gilbert is the modest and utterly engaging author of the smash-hit spiritual memoir Eat Pray Love, which has been translated into 13 languages and has 7 million copies in print.

Item 2: Oprah’s been inviting guests like Thich Nhat Hanh, Marianne Williamson, Byron Katie, Elizabeth Lesser and Jon Kabat-Zinn onto her tv and radio shows and Soul Series webcasts. When she launched a virtual “study group” (complete with syllabus and workbook) centered on Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, 450,000 people tuned into the first webcast. By the time the ten-week series wrapped, 20 million people had downloaded the programs.

These little things make the wordARTist‘s heart sing. They confirm my observation that the number of folks hungry for connection with Spirit is on the rise. And as we delve into ourselves to find, explore and deepen that connection, all sorts of good stuff becomes possible. Stuff like, oh, a stronger sense of community. An honoring of the mother earth. The eradication of hunger. Global peace. You know.

As my own small contribution to this heartening trend, I am offering two programs this weekend. Wearing my hat as the curator of the 2009 Summer Writers Series for SOMOS (the Society of the Muse of the Southwest), the preeminent literary organization in northern New Mexico, on the evening of August 21 I will host “Women in Praise of the Sacred,” a program featuring readings by award-winning poet and activist Dora E. McQuaid, chants and poems to Spirit by the short story writer, poet and artist Pat McCabe, and a special surprise guest. (A three-word hint: slam poetry champion.) The program starts at 7:30 pm and is at the new Taos Art Plaza, 223 Paseo del Pueblo Sur, downtown Taos.

And on August 22 and 23, Dora McQuaid and I will teach “The Alchemical Heart: Writing into the Sacred,” an intensive workshop we organized under the auspices of the Creativity and Consciousness Institute of Taos, a new University of New Mexico affiliate dedicated to education in the areas of creative expression and human consciousness. (Dora and I are both members of the CCI Board of Directors.)

Dora and I are excited to teaching “The Alchemical Heart: Writing into the Sacred” at the historic Mabel Dodge Luhan House, a fabulous 100-year old complex abutting Taos Pueblo Indian land, backing up into a sacred Penitente morada and dense with the creative spirits of D.H. Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe and other former denizens of Mabel’s infamous salons. Here’s a fun half-hour interview Dora and I did earlier this week with Jim Ball of Taos’ progressive talk radio station, KVOT-FM: Alchemical Heart & Women in Praise of the Sacred. (It starts at 19:48 minutes in.)

While you’re waiting for the (slooowww) audio clip to load, I’ll leave you with a petite writing exercise: What makes your spirit rise? List ten things.

Now go out and do one. Then come back, pour yourself a cup of tea (or something stronger) and enjoy the radio interview.

(Photo credit: Elaine’s Quan Yin, copyright 2006 by Diana Rico.)

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puppet master

This haunting video clip is from Masters, a work-in-progress by Brian Hull, an Emmy Award-winning puppet master, writer, director and singer. Brian was checking out the wordARTist’s Theory of the Power of loveART one day and was moved to respond: 

Building bridges, dissolving obstacles–yes, yes, yes. I do believe that art will save the world; I know for a fact that it heals. When I was in Normandy a little French girl tried to speak to me in English after a show; then a teacher giddily translated for her so she could have a conversation with me. Turns out she was with a class of mentally and emotionally challenged children and had never spoken at home or at school. So what made her want to talk to me after the marionette show?

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What mysterious power indeed? Even more thrilling, it turns out Brian’s experience isn’t unique. “I related this to my friend Philip Huber (puppeteer on Being John Malcovich),” Brian wrote, “and he said a similar thing happened when marionette artist Bil Baird visited a children’s hospital–a boy who had not spoken in years started talking to the puppet, and immediately he was surrounded by doctors and nurses. I think, though, this is not just puppet-specific, but rather has to do with the arts. Without the arts, I don’t know where I would be. It’s such a crime to take it out of schools and such.”

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Brian performs with his puppets in France, Germany and Italy as well as in his home base of Nashville. In the YouTube clip above he brings to life Van Gogh and Michelangelo in mini-puppet operas (he does the singing, too); a longer version with more artist-puppets will be released in 2010, with DVDs and CDs and an illustrated book. If, like me, you’re very visually oriented, check out the high-resolution version of the Masters trailer. It takes several minutes to download, but your patience will be rewarded with great beauty. 

(All images courtesy Brian Hull.)


in other words

Books in Guatemala (copyright 2007 Diana Rico)

As a writer, the wordARTist never fails to be amazed and heartened by the power of story. In today’s New York Times, an article titled “Read a Book, Get Out of Jail” tells of the program Changing Lives Through Literature, “an alternative sentencing program that allows felons and other offenders to choose between going to jail or joining a book club.” This sounds flip, but one study showed that program participants had half the recidivism rate of a control group. It costs $500/year per head, versus $30,000/year for incarceration. And can we even begin to measure the internal impact that reading and studying the written story might have on the incarcerated?

The probation officer begins by telling participants that “this program isn’t a miracle,” but it works in mysterious ways…. Searching for terms to explain the mechanism by which literature “changes” readers, participants come up with “turning points,” “epiphanies,” even “grace.” “When it’s working,” [program founder and English professor Robert] Waxler says, “this discussion has a kind of magic to it.”

Of course it does. Love is magic, and I believe stories, at their best, are a form of love. “Sometimes a person needs stories more than food to stay alive,” says the character Badger in Crow and WeaselBarry Lopez’s fable inspired by the stories of the North American Plains peoples. “That is why we put these stories in each other’s memory. This is how people care for themselves.” And the great Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield, in his book The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace, tells this remarkable story about stories:

In the Babemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and everyone in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused. Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, recalling the good things the person has done in his life. Every experience that can be recalled with detail and accuracy is recounted. All his positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully. This ceremony often lasts for several days. At the end, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe.

The astonishing power of story. How will you use it today?

(Photo: My and Lily’s Beds in Guatemala, copyright 2007 Diana Rico.)