Self-Portrait 2019

The image I spent the most hours painting throughout 2019 was this one. As layer covered layer, I could see my inner-journey evolving. A picture is worth a thousand words; this painting conveys stories within stories.

The central figure is the little-known Hindu goddess Akhilandeshvari, which in Sanskrit means She who is “never not broken. For many years she has been, for me, an affirming symbol of humanity’s enduring perseverance.

Akhilandeshvari is riding on the back of a mystical crocodile with a dolphin-like tail, a Makura. Why a crocodile? To understand the Makura, I took up a study of the crocodile as archetype and myth, learning a range of meanings in ancient Egypt and India, including being a symbol of the primal instincts of the primordial Mother. A crocodile’s lineage goes back 80 million years. The nature of this predatory beast is patient, watchful, and although she appears slow, she moves swiftly to grab and clench her prey in her jaws. If a croc gets you in her jaws, absolutely nothing will save you because she will be clamping down with 3,600 pounds per square inch, the strongest, most formidable bite of any animal on earth. After the croc spins and rolls to disorient, subdue, and drown its prey, she thrashes it against rocks to dismember it.

One way of working with dreams and imagery is to acknowledge that “I am each symbol.” Throughout 2019 I was aware I was holding on like a croc to something I had loved and lost, and would not accept the present What Is.

We can read plenty into the symbolism of a croc hidden, submerged in muddy, dark water. Many a trusting soul walking through seemingly safe shallow water or standing on the river bank have met their fate from the speedy, unseen predator. I mused about the vain strategy of standing on the banks of the River of Life, reluctant to flow with life and trying to avoid hidden crocs, a futile plan because a crocodile can move 11 mph in water or land and can pluck its prey from the illusion of safety.

In an earlier version of this painting, the goddess looked way more poised than I felt. I asked her, “How can you look so together when you are supposed to be ‘always broken’?” I began painting the truth of how broken I felt. Layer upon layer, I felt myself riding the Makura in various off-balance positions; you can still see the memory of the dismembered leg and foot off to the right painted so when, for a while, I felt I lost my footing life. As winter approached and I felt more balanced in my mind and Life, I painted my leg put together again and the¬¬ foot standing on the back of the Makura.

I am, we are always broken and always mending. We live in the flux of duality of birth and death; one part comes together, and another falls apart. For most of the year, I was of two minds, two stories—one by my Victim-Orphan and the other by my inner-philosopher. The painting mirrored my inner-work; I repaired some cracks in the figure with gold paint, then new ones appeared. I felt and painted the aching hole in my heart and solar plexus, and by the end of the year, the figure literally split in two.

On new year’s eve, I stood in front of this painting and said, “Enough!” I read the quote from Adyashanti, “You are whole and complete even when you are falling apart.” “I am whole and complete,” I told myself. Then I took a palette knife loaded with yellow oil paint and closed up the split, and it felt right. In that moment, I made an intention to close this chapter in my life and to make appointments with two people I trusted. One was Lewis Mehl Madrona. In a brief meeting, he interpreted my “dreaming” and spoke words of wisdom. Instantly I felt my croc-jaw let go. Lewis talked to me about taking up the practice of Radical Acceptance.

What Is–whether it is appears to be personal or in the world–arises from a web of creation so complex, the human mind is incapable of sorting it out, of knowing the unknowable. Carl Rogers said that “It wasn’t until I accepted myself just as I was that I was free to change.” The practice of Radical Acceptance means accepting all parts of myself just as I am–and this is allowing me let go of the past and ride the Makura down the muddy river of life.

In gratitude to the Medicine of Painting, and to my long time friend and mentor, Lewis Mehl Madronna.


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