Thursday, April 1, 2010

Shapes & Forms

My mind has been turned to shapes lately.  My kinder is almost six, so, naturally, she's known the basics for a while now.  Still, knowing the answers and understanding the essence are two different things.

Shapes conjure up feelings and inform both abstract and specific states of consciousness.  For example, circles appear in many cultures with an archetypal symbolism of oneness.  They are round and endless, seamless, infinite, and whole... an expression of perfection, of equality in all directions.  For subtle reasons, circles represent the feminine... they also represent unity and eternity.  

The Ouroboros, a snake or dragon forming a circle with its tail in its mouth continually devouring itself and being reborn from itself, is a symbol of eternity and of the cyclic nature of the universe.  It expresses the unity of all things, which never disappear but change form in a cycle of destruction and re-creation. 

In Zen Buddhism, the circle represents the entire universe in a single, perfect stroke.

The Wheel of the Year is a Neopagan and Wiccan symbol for the Earth's cyclical seasons.  Buddhism's eight spoked wheel, the Dharmachakra, represents the teachings of the Buddha and the cycle of birth and rebirth.  

The square is a symbol of mathematical perfection... it depicts the four earthly elements, the four cardinal directions of physical space and time.  It represents concrete reality, stability, and logic.  Squares are sound, sturdy, pragmatic, and full of right angles.  They represent building blocks, integrity, and dependability.

Triangles represent balance, equanimity, harmony, enlightenment, Ascension, the Holy Trinity, the Triple Goddess, and the three realms of sleeping, dreaming, and dying... of underworld, this world, and the heavens... past, present, future... mother, father, child... love, truth, wisdom... maiden, mother, crone... creator, destroyer, sustainer.

Hearts are love...
Stars are the goddess... but it's not just geometric shapes that conjure up archetypes.  The word, "swastika" comes from the Sanskrit, svástika, and and dates from the Neolithic period as a religious symbol.  "Once commonly used all over much of the world without stigma, because of its iconic usage in Nazi Germany the symbol has become stigmatized in the Western world, notably even outlawed in Germany."(

One might argue that this tells us symbols hold inherent meaning AND can evolve to take on drastically different socio-political meanings.  

Think about this...
 The Goddess of Willendorf...

With an estimated origin at 30,000 - 25,000 BCE, she's quite possibly the earliest depiction of the human form and "the first known religious image of the Mother Goddess in all her raw and fertile splendor." (   She's probably not the image of yourself you've been taught to honor.  At the same time, she's an exquisite image of the roaring, whole, round, mama, goddess most of us are...  not a stick figurine resembling an augmented, emaciated, pre-pubescent girl.  Our conditioned response to the female form has certainly evolved.

Both our nature, what is born in us, and our nurture, how we are conditioned, define who we are and what we believe.  What we allow into our consciousness, therefore, weighs heavily on what we will become.

Today for Om School we're getting outside and looking for shapes in nature.  Instead of telling A. what I think the shapes we discover mean, I'll ask her to express what they mean to her.  Maybe Jung and Campbell were right... maybe universal archetypes exist in the depths of our consciousness.  Maybe the Buddha was right... maybe all things are empty of inherent meaning and definitions only arise in relation to everything else.  Then again, maybe the only meaning things have is what we give them.  Whatever the case may be, I'm hoping that discovering hidden shapes in nature proves to be an awe inspiring adventure.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Healing Garden, Sacred Space

I'm working to create a healing garden... a little sacred space... a quiet area for peace and introspection... a place for sitting and breathing and imagining.  We've planted both medicinal and culinary herbs and started a fairy garden full of butterfly attracting blooms.  Today I bundled bushels of lavender and hung it all around the patio.

I'm a big fan of sacred space and have tiny little alters all about my house.  Last year I cleared out the bay window in our bedroom and created a mini-shrine room for meditating each morning.  We use our fireplace hearth for a nature table where we bring symbols of the seasons indoors to celebrate our interconnection with the earth.  A picture of the Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, music and the arts, presides over my kitchen (next to some Jade which is for good fortune) and we bring her fresh rosemary or lavender each morning as an expression of gratitude.  

I have an alter-in-a-jar that I take with me to teach yoga to help us unite body, mind, and spirit and to sense the cosmos within.  It's just a silver candle plate with a white tea light but in each of the four directions I place a symbol for each of the elements.  For earth - a small stone, for water - a shell or a river rock, for air - a feather or an acorn top, for fire - well, the candle! ... and for spirit I keep a dried flower because to me it represents kindness and that comes from within.

I think it's important for kids to have sacred space too... quiet places for them to imagine and create... hallowed ground where they're able to recognize that they are of this earth and not separate from it... commercial-free zones where they can touch the elements and connect with themselves and the world around them.

We're a fast-paced world and it's up to us to create space that encourages us to slow down, to step back, to let the laundry wait and instead just... sit... and breathe.  It's not just adults that are effected by the stress of our busy lives.  Kids not only feel our stress but have stress of their own.  Taking time to nurture their spirit and their creativity creates happy kids.  It's a pretty simple equation.

What you put in your sacred space depends, obviously, on what is sacred to you and your kids.  We're working on a fairy garden.  To us, fairies capture the spirit of childhood.  My daughter loves playing like this, making up stories, and acting out their little voices.  So far we've converted a bird house into a fairy house by opening up the little round door into an arched doorway, we built a fairy swing with found wood and garden twine, we put together a fairy picnic table with stones and a glue gun, and made a little fairy bed with tree bark and reclaimed prayer flag. We've been making stick stars and decorated a new one for the fairy garden yesterday.  Our inspiration came from an AMAZING mama's blog, Ordinary Life Magic (here's the tutorial:
Stars have long been a symbol of magic and mysticism  and, for many reasons, they feel magical to me.  Venus, the planet named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty, creates a five pointed star with her orbit around earth every eight years.  From ancient Greece and Babylonia to Egypt and beyond, the star has been used as a symbol of a Goddess for centuries.  Pythagoras used the star as a symbol for his school which pursued knowledge in mathematics, music, religion, and more.  During the times of the Hebrew Scriptures, the star was also an important symbol representing a secret name of God.

Lavender is a symbol of devotion and is said to have been the color of the Buddha's aura.  The name lavender comes from the Latin lavare, "to wash," since it was often used in bath and laundry waters.  It's been used for centuries as a medicinal herb and is said to relieve  stress, anxiety, exhaustion, irritability, headaches, migraines, insomnia, depression, colds, digestion, flatulence, upset stomach, liver and gallbladder problems, nervousness, and loss of appetite.  It's smell is calming and breathes a soothing scent into the air where I've tied it in bushels around the patio. 

Sacred space can be as small as the space between breaths or as big as the Temple of Artemis.  Regardless of size or location, what matters is that we create them... and the most important thing we can bring to our sacred space is ourselves.  I'm so grateful for this little healing garden that we're creating.  Hopefully, I'll have more luck with herbs than I had with veggies last year... but regardless if my organic healing herbs grow or medicinal recipes work, the space itself has already brought a little more Om into our home.
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