Nothing Is Holier than a Beautiful, Strong Tree


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Recently a woman sent me a message on Facebook, commenting on my cover photo of the “glorious” tree roots intricately woven around rocks. She wondered where I found the photo. I told her I came upon the tree when hiking along a river in the mountains above Big Sur. Something about the tree and its rootedness arrested me, and inspired me so much I use it on several of my online sites. It’s gratifying that others are inspired by it as I have been. But trees have been an inspiration for artists and philosophers throughout the ages.

Recently I came across this quote from Hermann Hesse, the author of Siddhartha, on Zen Flash.

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone.

They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche.

In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree…

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”

~Hermann Hesse

The line I love most is how “they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves.” And that is “exemplary” as Hesse notes and denotes a kind of holiness, to  remind us all of the need to be true to ourselves, to find our singular purpose in being and struggle with all the force of our lives to fulfill it, regardless of whether anyone takes note of it or us at all.

That tree found growing along the bank of that creek may have gone unseen, unappreciated by human eyes, its entire lifespan, and yet it would have fulfilled its purpose nonetheless. That is its great strength, the thing that makes it exemplary, and holy. Simply being what one was meant to be suffices. Nothing else is needed.

Having said that, here’s a paradox: The tree cannot fulfill itself alone. It is dependent upon its entire environment to fulfill its purpose. Those stones that probably felt like such an obstacle when it was striving to grow from a sapling to a mighty oak is what helped shape it and distinguish it and perhaps even strengthen it. It is what drew me to the tree.

I found in it something almost indescribably beautiful and inspiring, how it used the very stones that blocked its roots to build a firm foundations, and how it in turn become the foundation of new growth, creating a home for the ivy and moss and lichens that grow upon it, giving shelter to the small animals and insects that burrow beneath. It exemplifies that interdependence by which we all live and shows how strength and vulnerability grow hand in hand to create beautiful lives. 

Here are a few more faces of this lovely tree.





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Other posts on trees you might like:

Walking in a Green Wonderland

My Roman Oaks

Endless Emerging Forms — Fog, Mist, and Trees

Learning What’s Needed to Be Healed


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Wikipedia Commons Mother_and_Child_-_Mary_Cassatt

I found this quotation at Zen Flash, and realized it’s just what I needed to hear.

Nothing ever really attacks us except our own confusion. Perhaps there is no solid obstacle except our own need to protect ourselves from being touched. Maybe the only enemy is that we don’t like the way reality is now, and therefore wish it would go away fast. But what we find as practitioners is that nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. If we run a hundred miles an hour to the other end of the continent in order to get away from the obstacle, we find the very same problem waiting for us when we arrive. It just keeps returning with new names, forms, manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us about where we are separating ourselves from reality, how we are pulling back instead of opening up, closing down instead of allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we encounter, without hesitating or retreating into ourselves.

~ Pema Chodron ~

Maybe it’s what all of us need to hear when troubling things keep popping up over and over again in our lives. They come for a reason, because we have something yet to learn.

I wrote in my blog post about major life changes how I put writing on hold to raise my children without the frustration that comes with constant interruptions. It seemed like the wise and selfless thing to do at the time, to wait until they were grown to write. Now I wonder. Especially since confronted with the same dilemma so many years later as I help raise my granddaughter.

Maybe what I need to learn is not to be “selfless” in putting aside the writing, but to examine why I feel such frustration at being interrupted, or why I feel I need uninterrupted time to write, or why I am so easily distracted? Or, contrarywise, why I feel writing is so important–some “sacred” task I must nurture in peaceful silence?

I don’t know the answer yet–what I have still to learn from this experience. But I want to examine it more closely, as Chodron advises:

Where am I separating myself from reality?

How am I pulling back instead of opening up?

How am I closing down rather than allowing myself to experience fully what I am encountering, without hesitation or retreating into myself?

What’s more, I find myself revisiting my relationship with my own children when they were young as I wrote about in my last blog post, looking at it through this new lens of raising a grandchild, as if there is something that needs re-examining? What is it I need to learn and set right? Or learn and let go?

Just yesterday a new hurt arose that echoed an old one from a year ago. This time I recognized immediately how here again was something repeating itself and challenging me to ask what I need to learn. And so I did ask, and learn. And the hurt melted away.

Why do we allow ourselves to be blindsided by these troubling repetitions, to think, oh no, here it is again, and suffer needlessly? Instead of seeing how they come to help us learn what’s needed, and be healed.

Grandparenting, Dark and Light


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Poetry Auger_Lucas_An_Allegory_of_PoetryI’m writing for the first time in months—my granddaughter started preschool today. She’ll be going twice a week now. I miss her already.

I haven’t had time for writing or anything else since she and her dad came to live with us five months ago. Caring for her has stirred up my world in all sorts of ways, and nothing has really settled yet. The past, the present, the future swirl around in my mind, some bright and sweet, some dark and scary.

I love her beyond words and we are very close, maybe too close.  What will happen when she and my son move out? Last week he took her unexpectedly for the day and my home seemed so empty and I felt so lost. I didn’t want to do anything—not write, nor read, nor clean, nor paint, nor walk, nor just sit and think, alone, undisturbed—all the things I wish I had time to do when she’s with me. I couldn’t wait till she came home so I could scoop her up and feel her small, sweet body melt into mine.

We spend our days playing and singing and dancing together. It’s filled with sweet cuddles and kisses, silly games puffing our cheeks and popping them together, playing with puzzles and legos and coloring and reading stories. We swim and pick roses and watch Disney movies together. Making up stories and pretending to be kittens and crocodiles. She loves to play hide and seek, where she hides in plain sight and I pretend I can’t find her while she laughs and giggles, and when I do find her, she demands—AGAIN!—and hides in the same place once more.

But by the afternoon, I’m tired. I’m wishing for a few moments alone. I’m wishing she could play by herself for longer than five minutes at a time, stopping her play to look for me, to demand to be held, to read a story, to come back into the room where she’s playing.

I try to get her to nap, but too often it’s late in the afternoon when she does, at 3 or 4 or 5, when I know doing so that late means she won’t want to go to sleep before 9 or 10. More often she doesn’t nap at all.

“Grandma needs quiet time I tell her,” time away from her is what I mean, but she doesn’t understand that, doesn’t understand that demanding my constant attention frazzles me as the day wears on. Even sitting her in front of the TV to watch cartoons (bad grandma!) doesn’t help as much as you’d think—every commercial she looks for me, and it’s the same with movies. “Come watch with me, Gwamma,” she says in her sweet, tender voice, pulling at my arm.  My heartstrings tug, and my nerves tighten.

And then there’s the tug-of-wills, where she tests my boundaries, doesn’t listen when I tell her to leave something alone, to not go in there, not do that. I haunt parenting advise forums on the internet looking for ways to discipline, to cope, to mellow.

What did I do when my children were young?

I don’t remember my daughter ever wearing on my nerves with the demand for constant attention, or defying my will the way my granddaughter does now. My son defied my will on a daily basis, but he wasn’t as demanding of my attention as she seems to be. Still, we had our tug-of-wars too. I remember one dark day when I needed him to take a nap so badly and he simply refused to stay in his room.  He’d come out, I’d put him in, he’d come out, I’d put him in, over and over again, like puppets in demented play, him crying and me yelling at first, then me crying and him yelling. I thought I was losing my mind. We were stuck in a hysterical repetition, like a broken record that would not stop. I don’t remember how it ended.

I do remember that I let him play in our fenced backyard by himself for long periods of time when he was a toddler, where he had a swing set, and sand box, and lots of toys. Something I can’t do with my granddaughter where we live now. Even so, he “escaped” several times, wandering off down the street—three years old—to visit grandma five blocks away, or to visit the little green store across a busy street.

Once a police officer brought him home to me. I hadn’t even known he’d gone missing.

I was a bad mother. If that had happened today, I would have been arrested. But things looked different back then. Children were encouraged to spend the day outdoors playing, to be independent. Little boys wandering off with a penny in his pocket to buy candy at the neighborhood store was “cute.” It showed his independence and adventurous spirit, not my poor parenting.

The thought of my little three-year-old granddaughter doing something like that today horrifies me. The thought of her living alone with her father on a busy street with chance of unlocked doors giving her access to the great outdoors makes me want to keep her here at home with me forever.

And yet, and yet, the other day my nerves were so frazzled I wanted to lock myself in a closet just to have a few moments alone without her, without hearing that sweet, tender voice calling out, “Gwamma, where are you?” And I wondered: Is this what drives some parents to lock their children in closets? The thought was so mind-chilling I wanted to sit down and cry.

Instead, I gathered my granddaughter in my arms and let her melt against me.

“I didn’t know where you were,” she tells me frowning, holding my face between her small hands.

“Don’t leave me,” she says, as she does several times every day.

“I won’t, baby,” I tell her. “I’m not going anywhere.”

But I will leave her. Or rather, she will leave me eventually, when her father finds a place for them to live that’s closer to town, closer to his work. Will she think I abandoned her, betrayed her?

Part of me longs for the peaceful life we had before they moved in. And part of me is terrified at the thought of them leaving.

Treasure what you have now, I tell myself. Don’t think about the past or the future. Now is where we are. Where my arms and heart are full. And while my poor nerves may get frazzled at times for want of the peace and quiet I sometimes crave, it cannot eclipse the wonder and joy of this child and how she fills my heart with light.

Living on the Edge of the Ghostly and Unexplained


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man in a dark forestThere’s so much in this world that surrounds us that we can hardly fathom, let alone explain. We keep bumping up against it, like looking into a mirror and seeing ghostly shapes of things all around us that are invisible in our daily lives. Are they real, or imagined, or do they dwell within the dark matter of the universe that haunts our psychic and scientific minds? Or if, as some say, all is consciousness, then are we merely peeking into the dark corners of our own inner space?

So much of what this blog is about is exploring those spaces, those ghostly, ethereal presences that lie all around us, some beautiful and serene, some dark and scary, some transcendent and awe-inspiring.

A couple of years ago I wrote a series of blogs about my experiences with some of those ghostly presences, the kinds that, if we are lucky, enter our homes only in costume on Halloween, when we make light of our darker fears. If only we could contain them there. Alas, we are not all so lucky.

Climb under the covers with me if you dare, and peek out into my own dreadful unknown. If you’ve had similar brushes with ghostly presences, I’d love to hear about them.

You can read the full series of true ghost stories at the links below.

The Face of Bliss, While Swimming


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DSCN0713Have you ever seen a more contented face? What is it about children and water that mixes together with such ease and delight?

I haven’t been posting lately,since my son and his two-year-old daughter have come to live with us. But I have spent a lot of time in our pool. When we first took our granddaughter swimming two months ago, she fell in love with the water. She was using a floatie then because she couldn’t swim. But now, two months later, she dives in head-first and swims across the pool and back all by herself (no floatie!). She does little twirling, acrobatic tricks that she makes up by herself, and she sings songs while floating on her back.

What she loves most of all is swimming under the water and diving deep to touch the bottom of the pool. She thinks she’s a mermaid–and so do we.

She’s absolutely fearless when she’s in the water, like it’s her natural element. And maybe that’s how it feels to her, so soon from the watery womb where she first swam. The look on her face when she swims is pure bliss–as I captured in the cover photo when she was still using the floatie.

I so relate to that look. I’m not the natural swimmer she is. And I’m far from being fearless in the water. But I spent a great deal of time on and under the ocean when we were sailing around the world. I spent hours every morning snorkeling with my daughter, foraging for food (rock scallops, mostly), while my husband and son went spear fishing. I felt at home in the water then, and I still do when swimming laps in our pool. There’s something about being suspended in that embracing space that feels like heaven on earth.

The passage below captures better than I can that sense of being so at home in the water:

When we swim we shed our higher consciousness, the complex, reasoning human organism, and remember, deep inside ourselves, the first oceanic living cell; we almost become our origins. Whether in lake, ocean, or pool, there comes that moment when the world of our ordinary preoccupations washes away and we sink into a meditative state where the instinctual, intuitive, subconscious mind can tell us what we need to know.

In the world of water, we become aware of our skin, of the body’s limits and definitions, while we are simultaneously wrapped in an element so familiar, so delightful, sensual that we feel we have come home.

—From Splash! Great Writing About Swimming by Laurel Blossom

I’m glad my granddaughter discovered the bliss of swimming early in life. I hope she never loses it.

Other water and swimming-related posts you might enjoy:

The Wildness of Water

Swimming Among the Stars

Water Holes in the Wild and Backyard

Peace in the Midst of Chaos


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11011995_10207524310489835_6784827811432251936_oIs it possible to find peace in the midst of chaos? An early Chinese poet asks and answers this question.

To build a house in the world of man

And not to hear the noise of horse and carriage,

How can this be done?

When the mind is detached, the place is quiet.

I gather chrysanthemums under the eastern hedgerow

And silently gaze at the southern mountains.

The mountain air is beautiful in the sunset,

And the birds flocking together return home.

In all these things there is a real meaning,

Yet when I want to express it, I become lost in no-words.

By T’ao Ch’ien from Creativity and Taoism: A Study of Chinese Philosophy, Art, and Poetry by Chang Chung-yuan

“When the mind is detached”–how do we do that? How can I let go of wanting things to be the way I want them, of striving to make things the way I feel they should be instead of the way they are? And let go of all the frustration and upset that accompanies that struggle?

Yet underneath all that turmoil, when I let go and become lost in the “no-words” of “what is”, I experience that peace.

A deep calm underlies the surface struggle.

Just reading this poem brings me a measure of relief and the assurance that I too can find peace in the midst of chaos.

Where else is it to be sought or found?

Into the Flow, Bringing the Mountain Top into Market Place


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IMG_0308Have you ever felt being in the flow of things? That optimum experience that many athletes and artists feel when time disappears and everything you are doing just seems to click effortlessly into place?

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who has written extensively on flow, calls it “an almost automatic, effortless, yet highly focused state of consciousness” in which you “become, at least temporarily, part of a larger entity” or even “at one with the harmony of the cosmos.”

I’ve experienced this a few times for extended periods, but most often only for brief moments. The type of flow usually comes after long periods of meditation, usually when I’m outside, immersed in nature, when thoughts cease and sights and sounds flow through me. “Mountain-top” moments you might call them. But occasionally, more rarely, they happen in the “market place,” unexpectedly, in the middle of a busy day. I love it when that happens.

Anchored in MooreaThe first extended period of this came when we were sailing in the South Pacific. We were anchored in a cove off Tahiti and I went ashore to do some shopping.

I felt unusually light-headed, as if walking on air, or as if some filter called “me” had disappeared, and all that was left was this crystal clear awareness taking in everything and everyone I met—that “not-two” feeling I mentioned at the end of my last post on ‘Lightness of Being.” That sense stayed with me during the bus ride to Papeete and slowly dissipated as I went about my shopping.

I wrote a poem about the experience when I returned home, focusing on the bus ride. When sitting in the open-sided bus looking out at the passing landscape that sense of “flow” was especially intense.

On a Bus to Papeete

Wind through the window
Streaming through my hair

I in my stillness
Hurtling through the air

Trees and grasses and roads bending
Faces with flowers and houses blending

Objects like petals on a dark stream,
streaming through me, leave me

Clean and empty as a hollow reed, still
faintly tingling with the rhapsody of being.

It happened another time when we had returned home from our voyage and I was working as a manager of a small popular family restaurant. It was Sunday morning and we were slammed. Folks were lined up out the door waiting to be seated. The hostess was going crazy trying to keep up with the demand, scribbling down names and crossing them off, leading couples and families to tables, bringing out highchairs and crayons and coloring books, taking out trays of water.

The waitresses were buzzing around the room taking orders, pouring drinks, balancing up to six plates at a time in their arms. The poor busboys were clearing tables as fast as they could, wiping them down, hauling cartloads of dishes back to the kitchen. Things were at a fever high pitch of frantic in the back of the house too, as cooks called out orders, slapped slabs of bacon and sausage on the griddle, flipped pancakes, whisked eggs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd I was everywhere at once, making the rounds, helping out as I moved along, taking around coffee, refilling cups, chatting up the guests, helping to clear tables and seat people, checking up on missing orders, lending a hand to the stack of avocados that needed peeling to make up a new batch of guacamole.

Everywhere at once, acutely attuned to what was needed in the moment and filling in the gap, just streaming along, light-headed, calm, exuberant, being all things at once and nothing at all, just letting the ebb and flow of activity move me along, marveling even while in the midst of it, at how natural, spontaneous, hyper-aware, hyper-alive I felt.

It lasted all morning and well into the early afternoon. Then as the stream of guests faded, and the restaurant began to empty, so did the “high,” that sense of flow, and I was gently landed back on the ground again, normal me, but not a bit tired and still very happy.

Scenic003Now most of the time I feel I’m being carried along mid-stream, not “in the flow” at the center as I was then, but skirting it, somewhere between the flow and the swirling eddies at the edge of the stream. It’s a pleasant place to be, knowing the “flow” is right there beside me, ready to whisk me away again when I’m ready and things are just right.

But happy too that I’m avoiding for the most part those pesky eddies that try to pull me away into the shallows—-those petty, tiresome swirls, and fearful spins, and down-spouts of grief and anger that are always there, ready to pull me under and upside-down when they can. Usually I am able to scramble free easier than I have in the past, knowing that whatever trouble in the world they represent is more easily solved when I’m not tumbling around in the turmoil.

Mostly it’s a balancing act, trying to bring those mountaintop moments into the marketplace and finding myself somewhere in between. Not an unpleasant place to be.

[First posted this in May 2013 under a slightly different title. Things are rather chaotic in my life right now and I found this post a soothing reminder. Still seeking to bring those mountain-top experiences down into the market-place.]

Hot Hills in Summer Heat, Revised


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“I watch them every summer, the hot hills crouched like a lion beside the road, tawny skin pulled taut across long, lean ribs. I would take my hand and trace round ripples of male muscle, feel the hot rise and cool dip of his body. . . .”

So begins a poem I wrote years ago as a young woman driving along the Central Coast of California on my way to class at Cal Poly University in San Luis Obispo.  I loved the commute along highway 101, especially that stretch between Pismo and Avila with the golden rolling hills studded with oak groves towering up beside me on one side, while on the other side lay the Pacific Ocean, cool and shimmering,  far below.

My commute was a kind of communion with silent companions that lay still and passive while I moved past them, watching them fervently. I traveled with my hands stretched out, tracing the changing contours of the passing landscape with my fingers. I felt the silky coolness of the sea, the soft brush of the hot hills– physically, intimately, intensely. And I felt as if I was leaving part of myself behind as I streamed past them

It was an overwhelming feeling, permeated by a sense of longing and loss, because that sense of connection, of “oneness,” I felt so keenly, was so fleeting.  A waft of perfume, a balmy breeze, that slowly dissipates and disappeared.Photo DBrasket Fleeting Rose

Knowing this, sometimes my watching was like a spurned lover or jealous mistress. Sometimes like a distant voyeur, or persistent suitor, watching and waiting, watching and waiting.  Waiting for that moment, as my poem concludes, when the lion so still and silent beside me would “rise, stretch his sensuous body against the sky with one low moan” and “pursue me”.

Pursue and devour, was the unstated implication.  “Swallow me whole” is the metaphor that comes to mind these days—consummation.

All that waiting paid off, it appears.  My relationship with the natural world has matured over the years. How I remember so long ago watching the streaming stars passing overhead on those hot, balmy nights, and being filled with a deep sense of longing and loss.  This too must pass, I thought, and it was almost unbearable.  But no more.

Photo DBrasket Moon RisingNow when I say goodnight to the stars before going to bed–the nights hot and balmy or crystal clear and cold–there’s no sense of longing. When I turn away toward the house nothing is lost. It’s all a part of me now.  A sustaining presence.

And the passing days and nights, that sense of fleetingness that the poets have mourned over the ages, is “a dark stream streaming through me,” as I write in another poem.  It’s all one, the stream and the streaming.  It always was.

For those curious, here’s the complete poem I quoted earlier, written so long ago and recently revised.


Hot Hills in Summer Heat

I watch them every summer, the hot hills

Crouched like a lion beside the road,

Tawny skin pulled taut across

Long, lean ribs.


I would take my hand and trace

Round ripples of male muscle,

Feel the hot rise and cool dip

of his body.


I see the arrogance—rocky head held

High against a blazing sky, the patient

Power unmindful of the heat

that holds me.


One day he will rise, stretch his sensuous

Body against the sky with one, low moan.

On silent paws he will pursue me.

And so I wait.

[I first posted this in September 2012 with the original version of the poem. This post features the revised draft. It’s a work in progress, as all things are, it seems.]

Major Life Changes – Writing with Toddlers (or not)


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Writing Albert_Anker_(1831-1910),_Schreibunterricht,_1865__Oil_on_canvasFunny how life plays these little tricks on you. When my own children were toddlers, I put my writing aspirations on hold because it was too difficult to care for them and write at the same time. I know many authors are able to do both, but I discovered I couldn’t. Not happily so, at least.

Putting my writing on hold was a sacrifice, but I felt good about my choice. I knew my little ones would not be little for long and I wanted my care for them to be free of the distractions and frustrations that trying to write would bring.

Later when they were in school, other obligations and adventures kept me away from full-time  writing. That too was a conscious choice I felt good about. My plan was to retire early and devote myself to writing then. And that was what I was doing, with great pleasures, until very recently.

That’s when life played its little trick. The saying goes: “Man makes plans, and God laughs.” Well, he seems to be laughing now. But maybe not for long.  For the time-being though, I must learn to write with toddlers playing at my side, or put my writing aside, again, for a little while at least.

My beautiful little granddaughter is living with us for a while. For how long, I’m not sure. I love having her here. She’s a joy and a delight. I feel so blessed holding her in my arms, watching her play, teaching her to swim, reading and singing songs together. But finding time to write is almost impossible while she’s awake, and when she’s asleep, I’m so exhausted that writing is the last thing I want to do. Sleep is what I crave. Mindless rest. No thought.

So my posts here may be fewer and far between for a while. I’m still working on the final copy-edits for my novel, and sending off queries to agents and publishers. That’s as much as I can manage for the moment.

If you are a writer with small children and have suggestions on how to care for both at the same time, I’d love to hear them.

Mothers & Other Lovers, Compelling Art


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Margarita Sikorskaia 1968 | St. Petersburg, Russia | TuttArt@ | Pittura * Scultura * Poesia * Musica |

Margarita Sikorskaia 1968, St. Petersburg, Russia

What makes compelling art? Why do I find this image of mother and child, and the ones below, so powerful and profound?

I’ve asked these questions since creating a new Pinterest page titled “Mother & Other Lovers.” Somehow I felt compelled to collect and preserve these images for my viewing pleasure.

I could probably write a post for each artwork in the collection, exploring the rich associations and symbolism, both personal and primal, as well as the emotional, philosophical, and spiritual subtexts and connotations. But I’ll start with these four.

One element I’m drawn to is how the depiction of mother and child is a powerful symbol, not only of love, but of unity and wholeness. It depicts two in one, and one in two. Two overlapping and enveloping identities. “Not-two” is the way a Buddhist or Taoist might put it.

The painting by Sikorskaia at the top of the post shows this beautifully. The mother’s body wraps about her breast-feeding infant and fills the whole space with the solid, four-square wholeness of her presence. Her dark head is bent, attentive, surrounded by a halo of light-colored flesh. Her arms, open hand, and bend back form another circle, encircling the first. Her feet tenderly touch each other, and with the raised and lowered legs form a triangle of unity, the base upon which the mother sits.

The dominant colors of blue and gold complement each other. She is sitting on the earth with the mountains at her back. She is grounded and centered, while the child is loose in her arms, able to move and to feed freely, but blending with the mother’s flesh, showing how closely knit they are even while separate beings. The dominant lines creating this painting are round, curved, circling each other. Mother and child are one in body and being. Two in one. One in two.

The following image by Barnet is similar. Mother and child completely fill the space and overflow it. They are facing each other, mirror reflections of each other. She sees herself in her child, the child sees itself in the mother. Her hands are wrapped around the child, but open, as is the child’s hand, reaching up toward the mother, toward its other surrounding self.

The unity here is expressed in layers of gently curving horizontal lines, the gray space between the two indeterminate. The two-ness is more distinct than in the last image we looked at, but the oneness is also clearly seen. Soft shades of grey unite them. But that bit of red fuzz  on the child’s head, as well as the vertical slant of the child’s knee and arm, sets them apart. Their eventual separation into two-ness is gently hinted here, unlike the first.

Will Barnet, Mother and Child,1993-2006, Oil on canvas, 26 x 30 inches. Courtesy of Mr. & Mrs. J. William Meek III. ©2006 Will Barnet

Will Barnet, Mother and Child,1993-2006

The painting by Irwin that follows also creates the powerful feeling of oneness and unity, but without the round and horizontal lines of the first two. Here we see the indistinct features and form of mother and child surrounded by a shadowy, indistinct background. The vertical figure is centered and reaches top to bottom, nearly bisecting the page. Clearly it shows two in one, one in two. The soft, indistinct edges of the form feather into the background, soft and permeable. The Mother and Child are one with each other and one with the surrounding environment. The whole painting is a study of unity and wholeness.

Madonna & Child  by Holly Irwin

Madonna & Child by Holly Irwin

Two-ness is more evident in the next paintings.

In the first below by Harmon, mother and child again fill the space. Wholeness, oneness, is still the dominant theme. The mother’s face seems blissful, as if she is drinking up the scent of her, to savor her closeness. The sea surrounds them, symbolizing the womb, the place of birth, of oneness. But the child’s dangling legs, the soles of her feet, denote her readiness and ability to separate from her mother. The restless waves at their feet foreshadow the coming parting, when the mother puts down her child. We can imagine them walking hand-in-hand down the beach.

In The Ocean Air by Johanna Harmon

In The Ocean Air by Johanna Harmon

We see this close unity and foreshadowing of separation in the following image by Sorolla as well.

Here, the sea as backdrop both unites the figures of mother/child and introduces the element of separation in the layered waves and wayward boat. The deep shadows and strong light also denotes two-ness–the pairing of opposites. The towel flung over and around mother and child unite them, but all that takes place behind them foreshadows separation. It seems a beautiful, tender, but fleeting moment in time. Unlike the first three images which seem iconic, timeless and eternal.

Sorolla - Masterful colorist "Just Out of the Sea" 1915

Sorolla – Masterful colorist “Just Out of the Sea” 1915

This last painting by Larson is probably my favorite among these six–for so many reasons. But first and foremost because it captures that golden glow of late afternoon on the beach, when the strong light casts shadows so deep and dark. The light shimmers around them and through them, uniting them, and revealing a transparency that we see in the figure’s back-lit clothing.

Mother and child are clearly two distinct individuals now. Still, the touching heads and hands form a circle of unity and closeness. Even the shadows at their feet flowing upward through the two figures form a second circle of unity. We still have two-in-one and one-in-two, even while the separate individuals are clearly defined.

There is something nostalgic about this painting. A tender sweetness underscored by the foreshadowing of separation as the two move apart from each other and this singular moment is lost in passing time. We cannot stop passing time, but we can capture it in these sweet moments, and preserve it in our art and our memories.

"Beach Treasures" by Jeffrey T. Larson (1999)

“Beach Treasures” by Jeffrey T. Larson (1999)

And I suppose that’s why I find all these paintings so powerful and profound. They capture universal and primal experiences we all have shared at one time or another in our journey from one to two and back again.

Do these images speak to you? Which do you favor and why? Visit my Pinterest page to see more.