a painting that refused to say within the lines

Dear Friends,

With all of the conflict in ourselves, our relationships, and our world, the war in the Ukraine is another example of the horror that humans can perpetrate on other humans, animals, and the earth itself. I’m so sad that the people in the Ukraine have to deal with this, in the midst of a cold and grey winter, far from the sunflowers that are its national symbol.

For those of us not in the middle of that particular conflict, or directly impacted by it, it is far too easy to give in to feelings enflamed by all of the news, the photos, the social media, and the commentators. Many of us are feeling horrified, and/or angry, and so many of us are feeling the panic that comes from not knowing what we can DO to help the situation.

May I suggest that that you create an oasis of calm within yourself, for at least a few moments? These moments of calm will help you to discern what immediate actions you can take that might be of help. You may want to contribute to various organizations that will help the Ukrainian people, and/or write letters or meet with your representatives to pressure our governments to help resolve the situation. You may reach out to friends who are Ukrainian and Russian, asking how they are affected and how you might be of help. You might sit with your children to locate where the Ukraine is on a map and together study a bit of the long history of that part of the world. Humans have lived there for more than 50,000 years, and the Ukrainians have especially suffered through the 20th Century.

One of the best things you can do is to be a calm, grounded, and loving presence in this world, both to discern how you can truly be of help and to bring calm and understanding to all those within your reach. Beyond checking in with the news once a day (if that), I’m not sure that further news consumption will accomplish anything good for the most of us. Remember that there are not just “two sides” in every conflict; there are multiple sides, multiple opinions, multiple points of view, and different information that is available to different people.

We often say “I’m just trying to be a responsible citizen by figuring out what’s really happening!” but how do we truly do that —- find out what’s really happening? We can barely figure out what’s really happening in our own families, much less halfway across the world in countries with a very long history of injustices and tragedies. That is not at all to say we should bury our heads in the sand, though. Let us just recognize the impossibility of knowing with certainty what is going on, and the futility of trying to know the exact motivations of and consequences to every person who is affected by this conflict. We’re not used to the feeling of not-knowing, or of helplessness, and they feel pretty awful. But it’s closer to the “TRUTH” than pretending that the one or ten news sources that you listen to will give you a complete understanding. Even if you were to study the history of any particular region of conflict, you’d need to remember that almost all history is written by the victors and your job of understanding needs the viewpoints of so many ethnic groups, political groups, families, mommies and daddies who are no longer alive to tell us their stories. Don’t give up studying history, just know that it is all a lot more complicated than what you can learn in a few books.

You can, though, be a person who promotes peace and respect, and possibly be one of the people who will have prevented a war in the future. Within your own reach, you can listen first before you talk, whether with your child or with that “foreign” neighbor. When someone starts to express their opinion, really listen, instead of just formulating your response that will “straighten them out”. Ask the other person to tell you more of how they think about a situation, and then ask “Where have you learned what it is that you know about such and such?” and “And how did THEY hear about what’s going on?” and “Might other people of good will think differently about this situation?” “Have you heard from them?” Et cetera.

But it takes a lot of patience and energy to be able to do that —- to listen, and to speak, without enflaming conflict. One way to have that patience and energy is to create regular oases of time in order to check in with ourselves and work through our own inner conflicts.

Here are some of the things I’ve done in the past few days. Besides writing in my journal about my feelings and fears, I’ve sat with some markers and watercolors to express what I don’t have words for. The above watercolor circle started as something just to calm my senses with pretty color. I was amused to find out that even my own watercolors won’t stay where they’re supposed to! They took off beyond the circle, outside of my control. Life lesson, eh?

These next three images were made with markers using a circle template and a square template. After drawing the shape, I just let the pen “do what it wanted to do”. As I drew and colored in, I felt mostly quiet inside, yet some ideas did come up. I wrote the word “Remember” to remind me to remember how so many things and people are connected, also to bring healing when possible, as in to “re-member” what has been broken.

The spiral started out as a way to bring myself calm, to bring the marker round and round a center point, which I had colored pink/violet to represent Love. But as I continued the spiral, it was hard for it to stay regular, in line, and I let go into the waves and swirls I felt more represented my inner state. I felt surrounded by darkness, conflict everywhere, but then remembered that we all are surrounded (if we allow ourselves to be) by immeasurable Love.

In the third image, I made shapes by starting with my pen on the circle, then just making shapes and crisscrossing them. I picked colors I like, and colored it in to represent how I WANT life to be —- interesting, with variety and balance, but not toooo regular!

The final two blocks started with thought rather than simply with color or shape. I thought about the people and groups that are in conflict, divided by jagged borders. Even the people within groups are often divided from each other. I drew in little black shapes to represent the real people who are suffering because of this:

All the little dots are prayers, or intentions of peace and well-being. I noticed that many of the figures looked more like keyholes than the people they are meant to represent. And that started a train of thought wondering what the key is that we need right now. What’s key to all of this?

This final image I’ve included is a representation of what I hope can happen next — that there will be some breaks in the major walls that divide us, and that many boundaries are not able to be seen anymore, that groups will be less separate from each other, and that members will move between and among groups so that the groups take on a different tone, where the ideals and hopes overlap more and people are willing to find out how other people live and what is important to them. This image is rather chaotic compared to the rigidness of conflict situations, but it’s also true that real diversity is much more complex than we expect at first glance.

Try making some images like this. It doesn’t take talent or skill, nor does it take “art” supplies. Use your children’s Crayola markers, make circles by drawing around an old cd. Eyeball a square shape, and give it a try. Just make some shapes and add some color. For me, this kind of activity allows me to express what I don’t have words for, yet the activity itself gives me new words and new ideas. I go back to my family, my friends, my community a little less frantic and frightened, a little more resourced to be the calm, grounded, and loving presence who can help rather than enflame.

With much love and many blessings on this New Moon,

Cat