Standing upright, our figure in white faces lightning as it flashes against the night sky. Rain and winds storm around him – or her. In many ways this picture is a wonderful representation of the Path between Hod and Tiphareth on the Tree of Life. A path sometimes requires a leap of faith to complete, total surrender and belief in the ideal, and total confidence in the outcome. This painting is also a wonderfully good example of the adept, of the Bodhisattvaof Buddhism. When we hear the word bodhicitta, the keynote of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist practices, we often hear that it means compassion, but it is much more than that. It more accurately means “the courageous heart-mind of enlightenment.”
I haven’t posted in a while due to life’s incessant pace as we barrel ahead through Mercury Retrograde, Venus stationing direct, towards Thanksgiving, Advent and the chaos that is Christmas. But this lovely post about one of my favorite images popped up in my blogroll this week and I knew I had to carve out some time to write on it.
I first came across the painting, The Heart Unafraid , during the most tumultuous time in my life. I’ve mentioned my Saturn return here several times on the blog and I’m certain this won’t be the last. But to summarize what I was going through: I was a Christian minister in the process of rejecting Christianity, suffering from a long bout of depression, stuck in a loveless marriage where I suspected that my closeted, gay-in-denial husband was cheating on me, yet I had no way to prove it. I was holding onto a lot of secrets that were slowly suffocating me, afraid that I would be left divorced, homeless, jobless and destitute if I started to bring any of these secrets to light. My closest friend and only confidant had moved far away and had seemingly moved on, so without any outlet for verbal processing I had started keeping a journal to deal with my emotions, and to take notes on the astrological climate. This habit is one that I have continued to this day, tracking my personal alchemy and my esoteric studies.
I had just started learning about the Rosicrucian fraternities when I came across the painting in black and white. It was one of those rare moments where a piece of art hits you like a Mack truck. I felt like I already knew it deep in my soul. I felt like it was speaking to what I was going through as if it were made just for me to stumble upon at that exact point in time and space. I didn’t have a printer, so I grabbed my journal and a pen and started to draw my own copy on the first blank page. I gave the figure long hair, but that was the only thing that I intentionally changed.
The pen was an unforgiving medium to copy an oil painting, but when I had finished I was pretty happy with my replication. Something about the act of copying it seemed to inscribe in into my heart more deeply. It was satisfying, like scratching an itch.
There were many times through the years that would follow that I returned to that painting for strength. In my esoteric studies, I had discovered an inner strength that I had previously not realized was accessible to me. This strength would carry me through the struggles that came next. The truth was soon revealed about my husband’s infidelities and sexuality, and in the resulting divorce, I lost the home I had lived in for 10 years. I was left without a car, with only a quarter of the income that I had become accustomed to living on. My life seemed to unravel, only to be slowly rewoven into something new. But on this journey, I learned that I was much stronger than I had ever imagined I was, and I discovered that I could handle more than anyone (including myself) ever gave me credit for. Many of the deeply rooted fears and phobias that had controlled my life since my childhood began to fade away. You see, Fear tends to lose its power over you when you are surpassing your own expectations (while kicking ass and taking names).
Many years later, my best friend had moved back to town and we reconnected, and I showed him my copy of the painting in my journal. I explained that I had found it right around the time that I had decided to start a new life and deal with all the challenges that would come with that decision to burn the old life to ashes. He looked at my drawing and he told me that it hit him in a similarly intense way. “It reminds me that in order to move forward, you have to go deep inside your own heart to find the light inside.” he said.
“Huh,” I thought.”I hadn’t really thought of it that way.” I told him. “To me, the figure is standing before this impossible valley and impassible mountains and yet she looks up at the divine light from above and it gives her strength.”
“Mountains?” he laughed. “But she’s standing in a cave”
I was stumped by what he meant, but when I looked back at my copy, it suddenly popped out at me. In attempting to copy the painting exactly, I had unwittingly created an optical illusion. Now I could see that she was both standing in front of a mountain range in a storm, yet also inside a dark cave, looking out into an abyss, illuminated from where the light was breaking in through cracks in the rock.
Its amazing how a shift in perspective can change how you something, even a drawing that you made yourself with a very specific intention in mind. There have been many times that someone has given me their personal interpretation of my original artwork and I have been struck by how they were affected in ways that I could never have purposefully designed or planned. But by inviting them into my story, they were confronted with their own. When I stepped into the story of Leopold de Postels’ painting, I also came face to face with my own story.
This image now holds a double meaning for me that has become an important part of my journey. Its both the Fool and the Hermit of the Tarot. It’s Leo and Scorpio intertwined. There are times that the journey takes me out to the mountains in the storm, and there are times that the journey takes me inward to stare deep into the abyss. But in both times, the Light illuminates my face with courage, compassion, strength and wisdom.