Prayer Flags – Part 3 (A Heart-full Example)

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In 2008, I had the amazing good fortune to attend a writer’s retreat in Taos, New Mexico at the famous Mabel Dodge Luhan House, said to be home away from home for such visionary artists as Georgia O’Keeffe, D.H. Lawrence and Ansel Adams (just to name a few).  My luck was tripled when I met my roommate for that retreat, Kate Robertson!  She and I turned out to be true kindred spirits and I’ve been thrilled to see her journey evolve.  Today, she is a painter, mixed media artist, spinner, weaver AND a Kaizen Muse Creativity Coach.  She’s not only making art herself, she’s helping other women become their most creative selves (visit Kate’s coaching site here)!

Kate’s journey through uterine cancer and the part prayer flags played in her recovery was one of the things that inspired this series.  I was a contributor to Kate’s project, meaning I was part of the healing/cheering squad she gathered; and, in a very real way, I was also a recipient of that healing power.  You simply cannot witness the immense flow of love Kate gathered without being touched yourself!

Here is Kate’s story…

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When I first learned about Tibetan prayer flags I was enamored with the idea. Pieces of pretty cloth sending prayers and blessings out to the world was such a great idea. I hung some of the traditional flags in my garden and loved just looking at them blowing in the breeze.

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When my art group came up with the idea to make our own, I jumped right in. One of our members had cancer so we wanted to support her in an artistic way. We made flags for each other and for the person who was ill. It was comforting to know we all had the same set of flags hanging in our yards. Our friend also was touched by the gift (she made a full recovery).

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A couple years went by and I found myself in a similar situation. I had been diagnosed with uterine cancer. In addition to surgery, I was determined to let nature heal me. That year a pair of Great Horned Owls nested in our yard and they began to leave me feathers. I have felt a strong connection to owls since then. I know they had a part in my healing.

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During my recovery, I intended to spend a lot of time in my garden. That is when I thought of the prayer flags I had hanging there. So I put out a call to my local and my online friends to make prayer flags for my own healing.  The response was wonderful. I got simple flags and elaborate flags and flags made with a lot of love. They came from all over the US and Canada. I spent a lot of time in that garden with my dog Flynn, the birds and those beautiful prayer flags.

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Those flags are pretty worn now, but they have been sending healing out to whomever needed it for several years now. I recovered from my cancer and I now like to make prayer flags and send them out to friends facing their own health struggles.

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So inspiring – thank you, Kate!!  I think Kate’s flags have only grown more beautiful with time (top photo and bottom two were taken this week).  It fills my heart to think of them still dancing in the wind, spreading healing power all over Kate’s community and beyond!!

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That’s it for today – be sure to check back in tomorrow for the final installment in this series.  I’ll be sharing a video tutorial for the water flag in my own gypsy prayer flag set!

Prayer Flags – Part 2 (Samples and Ideas)

Welcome back to my series on prayer flags!  Yesterday, I shared some of the symbology and meaning of traditional prayer flags.  Today I have a video for you that will briefly review some of the information from yesterday and expand on the idea of gypsy prayer flags.  I have lots of examples in this video that I hope will get your creative juices flowing!

Prayer Flags – Part 1

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Photo by Rahul Young (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

I have this theory that we can go through our lives never noticing a particular thing, until one day our receptor for that thing suddenly gets turned on and it jumps into our view – we begin to see it everywhere we look.  Not just the thing, but all things related to the thing!  It’s been like that for me with prayer flags – since I started exploring them, I seem to find them around every corner.  And not just the flags themselves, but the ideas they represent – peace, healing, harmony, community, balance.

Over the next few days, I’m going to be sharing some of what I’ve discovered about Prayer Flags.  Today, I’ll talk a little about their history and meaning.  Tomorrow, I’ll be back with a short video showing examples of both traditional and contemporary flags, called “gypsy prayer flags.”  On Thursday, I’m very excited to welcome my first guest to One January Day!  Kate Robertson, The Queen of Creativity, will be here to talk about her experience with healing through prayer flags.  Then, I’ll wrap it up on Friday with a video tutorial on how to make Gelli printed prayer flags.

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Photo by NL (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Oddly enough, historians suggest the flags originated from Tibetan war flags and, when the Tibetans found Buddhism, the flags were transformed from “war icons to wind altars.” There’s an irony there that really speaks to me and a glimmer of hope – if the Tibetans can evolve from a warlike culture to a loving and peaceful one, maybe the rest of the world can too!

The flags as we know them today are meant to carry blessings for both the flag “planter” and to the community at large. They’re typically placed outside homes and spiritual places, where the wind can carry their vibrations across the countryside.

There are two types of prayer flags:

  • The horizontal flags (below), called Lung ta (which translates as “Wind Horse”) are typically square or rectangular shaped and connected along the top. They are traditionally hung on a diagonal line from high to low and in high places, such as the tops of temples and mountain passes.

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    Photo by Immanuel Giel (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

  • The vertical flags (below), called Darchor (“to increase life, fortune, health and wealth to all beings”) are typically a large rectangular flag, attached to a pole along the vertical edge and planted in the ground.

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    Photo by Kothanda Srinivasan (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Originally the writing and images on prayer flags were painted by hand, one at a time. When woodblock printing came into fashion in China in the 15th century, flag creation became much simpler, allowing designs to be passed down from generation to generation.  Flags traditionally have a symbolic image in the center (the flags pictured below feature the wind horse) surrounded by text.

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Photo by Redtigerxyz (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The text is usually made up of invocations, prayers and mantras and the images are typical Buddhist symbols, representing different aspects of an enlightened mind: compassion, fearlessness, protection, harmony, etc.  The traditional images include important people, teachers, animals – you might also see flags featuring one of the “eight auspicious symbols”

  • The Parasol – protects against negativity
  • The Golden Fish – represents happiness and salvation from suffering
  • The Treasure Vase – fulfillment of spiritual and material wishes
  • The Lotus – a symbol of purity and spirituality
  • The Conch Shell – proclaims the teachings of the enlightened ones
  • The Endless Knot- symbolizes a meditative mind
  • The Victory Banner – symbolizes the victory of wisdom over ignorance and the overcoming of obstacles
  • The Dharma Wheel (ship’s wheel or mandala) – a symbol of spiritual and universal law
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Photo by Luca Galuzzi (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The 5 colors of the prayer flags represent the 5 basic elements:

  • yellow for earth
  • green for water
  • red for fire
  • white for air
  • blue for limitless space (or mind)
  • sometimes orange is also included – likely for healing

It’s believed that balancing these elements externally brings harmony to the environment and balancing the elements internally brings health to the body and the mind.

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If you search Etsy or Pinterest for prayer flags, you are likely to encounter many sets of “gypsy prayer flags.”  This term was probably born from the idea of “gypsies” being free-spirited and nomadic, traveling on a whim, changing course with the wind.  In terms of this project, I think that “gypsy” ideal takes the rules away – your prayer flags can have the appearance and meaning that’s important to YOU.  I like the idea of giving a nod to the traditional Tibetan customs and I’ll talk a little more about that tomorrow, but I think my favorite thing is that these can be so individual – you can truly make them your own!!  I also love the idea of the flags being sort of a “kind art” offering – less about personal gain and more about general good will.  I think most would agree that our planet needs healing more than ever!  Global warming, natural disaster, war… I don’t know if I fully believe a prayer flag can bring harmony and healing, but I certainly don’t see any risk in it and it’s sort of a benign way to make an artful offering in the world – something you can do to beautify your own space, while secretly spreading the love to the community at large!

Be sure to come back tomorrow for Part 2 of this series!

Resources

Photo Attribution:

A Delicate Balance

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“This fountain is dedicated to Canyon Ranch as a healing place, in remembrance of those who long ago embraced the marriage of body, mind and spirit, and who inspire us today.”

Every time I go to this place in the Arizona Desert, I bring home some esoteric new gift to add to my lifestyle toolkit – this trip, it was the idea of balance.

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I’ve long been interested in the idea of balancing body, mind and spirit, but I never really thought about it in concrete terms – it was more of a hazy idea; something to do with moving my body, keeping my mind sharp and finding my own way to spirituality.

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This trip, something clicked on a deeper level.  I wrote not long ago about using prayer flags to balance air, space, fire, water and earth for harmony in the community and in the self.  I learned this past week that there are many other ways to balance those elements – through the ways we move our body, the foods we eat, the way we connect with the planet and the intricate dance of all those things against our personal nature or way of being in the world.

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It means I have a lot of studying to do – some subtle refinements to make in terms of food, movement, spirituality and more.  I wish I could have captured the Canyon Ranch spirit in a little bottle that I could open each day, maybe take a drop or two under the tongue for a quick/easy balance boost, not to mention a daily shot of strength and inspiration!

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Barring that, I will be working to balance my fiery Pitta constitution (an Ayurvedic term that somewhat describes my nature of being – click here to find out your own “dosha”)…

  • limiting airy things, like leafy greens, crunchy fruits and carbonated beverages; running or fast/flowy forms of exercise; and airy forms of leisure, like online media and television… or at least balancing the airy things with grounded things
  • working on grounding with earthy foods, like rice, beans and root veggies; Earthing and rooted types of exercise (walking, strength work); and grounded play – painting & collage, writing (by hand, on paper) and singing or reading aloud

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I should say, this “prescription” is purely my own concoction, based very loosely on different lectures I attended at the ranch.  And, truthfully, I fear I’ve barely scratched the surface of how to find a balanced lifestyle – I’ve ordered a couple of books to help guide my way… “The Perfect Balance Diet: 4 Weeks to a Lighter Body, Mind, Spirit and Space” by Lissa Coffee and “Being In Balance: 9 Principles for Creating Habits to Match Your Desires” by Wayne Dyer.

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It’s sort of funny, I started this trip with an intention of playfulness – and I definitely took time for play (Zumba and Bollywood dance classes!!) but balance turned out to be my key focus and perhaps the prize that came home with me.  Of course, as I type this, I realize I’ve spent the entire day working.  Guess it’s time to go cuddle up with a good book and a couple of kitties!!!

Sacred Words

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In 2007, I went on an incredible trip to Vermont with Women’s Quest.  I was at an all-time peak, health-wise, and was sort of aching to spread my wings both emotionally and physically.  It was a terrifying and exhilarating adventure and it was the first time I was exposed to a group of women who truly seemed to understand and share my ideas around positivity, self care, holistic health and other so-called “new age” ideas.  It was also the first time I thought about how the words and ideas of great thinkers might serve as a guiding light in my life, it’s where the “Wisdom Words” page on this site was born, and it’s at the heart of  my latest project.

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I’ve collected wise words ever since that 2007 trip – scribbled on the backs of receipts, screen-captured from the internet, pinned on Pinterest and lovingly collected from friends who are always ready to share words they think I will like.  It’s all tended to be a bit of a jumble – always a challenge to find the words I’m looking for when I need them.  A few weeks ago, I read about someone (don’t remember who) that was collecting their “sacred words” in a personal journal – a bible of sorts – and I was inspired to create my own.

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One of the things that always strikes me about the quotations that different people are drawn to is how they tend to reveal the path that person is on.  It’s like this quote from Chuck Palahnuik…

“your handwriting. the way you walk. which china pattern you choose. it’s all giving you away. everything you do shows your hand. everything is a self portrait.  everything is a diary.”

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When a quote that move me moves you too, a connection occurs – we realize our paths have intersected in some way.  That’s what happened on that 2007 trip – “She Let Go” on my Wisdom Words page was given to me by the director, Colleen Canon, and it shook me to my core.

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When we connect that way – there’s a transparency that happens.  We see each other in a new light, learn something deeper about one another… that’s why I wanted to play with transparency in this book.  I used glassine bags, inserted two-sided papers, then used washi tape to make a folio; in a few cases, I just used a single bag, folded down the center, so I could vary the pages sizes.

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The book itself is five signatures of three folios each, bound pamphlet style, then I’ve played with the ends of the strings to create the criss-cross pattern on the spine.

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The pages in this post are what I have done so far – MANY more to go yet, but I’m taking it in small steps, building on top of the transparent pages with photos, ephemera and, of course, quotes – mostly hand-written because I want them to sink in and become a part of me and this path I’m on.

A Wing and a Prayer

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I’ve long been fascinated with the idea of Mount Everest.  Not climbing it (I don’t have the commitment or physical stamina for that) – no, I think I’m in love with the romance of it.  I love the idea of following a crazy dream even if it means risking your life, of going someplace few have gone, and I’m in awe of the sherpas and traditions that make it possible for mere mortals to climb that sacred rock!  That tradition and symbology, especially, borders on magical to me and, as Meg and I have worked through The Artist’s Way this summer, we’ve both longed for some tangible symbol of the creative spirituality we’re uncovering for ourselves. She mentioned some months ago that she’d like to have a set of prayer flags in her art studio and voila an idea was born!!

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Traditional prayer flags are made in primary colors (blue, white, red, green, and yellow) and are intended to balance the five elements… blue represents sky and space; white, the air and wind; red symbolizes fire; green is for water; and yellow for earth.  Through this balancing, health and harmony are said to follow.  On Everest, that means a safe return to base camp; in our normal lives (“normal” being always relative) they can mean whatever we are especially needing in order to find our own harmony.

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In The Artist’s Way, we’ve been looking a lot at rediscovering possibility in our lives.  Sometimes I think possibility is something that sits at the edge of my peripheral vision.  I suspect it’s there, but when I turn to look, it’s nowhere to be seen.  My reading this summer is challenging me to look a little more closely – to look at possibility full-on and grab some for myself!

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For me, personally, it’s very easy to fall into a “why me” mindset, overlooking all the goodness in my life and focusing instead on problems and a myriad of seemingly-insurmountable worries.  The prayer flags will serve as a gentle and very visible reminder of the possibility all around me… to expect better for myself, to wish harmony for those around me, and to let down my guard a little – to let fear and worry float away so the goodness is more accessible!

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FAR from traditional, these flags are more what I’ve heard called “gypsy prayer flags” – meaning (best I can discern) they can be whatever you want them to be. Mine, in the order shown, represent fire, water, sky/space and air/wind.  I also plan to do one for earth and a sixth for spirituality and creativity.

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My flags (no surprise) all have Gelli monoprints as a base – fire has the Circle Rays stencil from StencilGirl Products, water has a hand-made stencil (inspired by Carla Sonheim’s printmaking class), sky/space features Starry Starry Night from Dylusions/Ranger, and air/wind has Clouds from the Julie Balzer collection with The Crafters Workshop.

Would you be interested in exploring this a little further? I’m working on a little video series that will dive deeper and walk you through making a set of your own prayer flags!  I’ll share more here and on Facebook as that develops.

Summer in Review + Gelli Bound Recap

I’ve been hunkered down this summer – studying, playing, teaching.  Every time I think of coming here to tell you about all my goings-on I hesitate and the moment is lost.  BUT, here I am and so the telling begins…

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Thriving garden!

It has been an intensely strange Oklahoma summer – cool temps, rain and more rain.  In many ways, it has felt like a prolonged spring and I’ve truly loved it.  I’ve walked outside nearly every morning, spent long and lovely afternoons in the shade with a book, and even planted a little garden that is thriving in spite of my brown thumb!  Is this what a New England summer feels like?  I could live with it!!

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Week 7 – Life Collage

I’ve mentioned my journey through The Artist’s Way – I’m on Week 8 now and working to build my artist muscles every day!  Me and morning pages have truly clicked – I write my three pages (or more) every day, without fail.  I’m getting better and better all the time about listening to my intuition – allowing it to guide not only my creative work, but also my decisions and interactions with the world around me.  I’ve learned that Cameron’s brand of “creative recovery” is truly about choosing the lifestyle you want and living it with your whole heart.  I’m learning to let go of perfection, to mine ‘envy’ for clues to what’s missing in my life, and to let art be my connection to something higher.  There are days when I feel like I have an “easy button” – everything flows like a well-oiled machine; and I’m beginning to see that the bumpy days are usually of my own making.  All in all, progress is being made and that’s treasure enough for me.

Gelli Bound Class Sample - Aug 3, 2013 @ My Heart's Fancy

Gelli Bound Class Sample – Aug 3, 2013 @ My Heart’s Fancy

I had a truly inspiring teaching experience this month with another Gelli Print offering at My Heart’s Fancy.  This class was called Gelli Bound and my students learned new ways to create Gelli Plate monoprints, which we then used to make three little journals and a box to hold them in.  If you’ve been a student in one of my classes, you may reflect that I sometimes have trouble getting my voice out to the far corners.  I’m not sure if it’s part of my creative recovery or just a delayed self-realization, but I’ve finally taken steps to correct this annoying problem – I bought a voice amplifier!  It fits on my waistband and connects with a little mike that will boost my voice a bit.  I think it will bring my classes up a notch or three and I’m very excited to use it!!  Despite any volume challenges on my end, my Gelli Bound students did some fantastic work!  I was so busy helping and guiding that I didn’t get as many photos as I would have liked, but here are a few to give you an idea of the gorgeousness that left this class…

Printing

More Printing

More Printing

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Box Construction

More box construction; these black and red prints by Linda where just striking!

More box construction; these black and red prints by Linda where just striking!

Finishing touches

Finishing touches

I also had a big birthday not too awfully long ago – a half-century kinda number, which sorta scared the you-know-what out of me!!  I don’t feel 50, but then I guess that’s one of the keys to longevity – never letting your age hold you back.  In many ways, I feel better than I have in years – healthier, both physically AND emotionally.  I think the main reason is that I’m following my own path, doing what I WANT to do a little more than what I OUGHT to do.  I’m finding it a little surreal how well everything is working out under that approach!

The last little bit of summer will have me traveling and exploring quite a bit.  Hubby and I are off to Tucson next month for another round of health and healing at Canyon Ranch!  Shortly after I get back from that, I’m headed off to the Texas hills with my good friend Mary to enjoy the debut of Lucky Star Art Camp.  Then, as soon as I get back from camp (literally – the next day), I’m going to do something I’ve dreamed of ever since I fell into mixed media art – I’m going to a Painting Experience workshop, taught by one of the co-authors of Life, Paint and Passion, Stuart Cubley.  This has been on my life list forever – I’m fascinated with the intuitive and spiritual aspects of the process and have longed to bring more of that into my work.  More to the point, I’ve longed to get out of my head and let my heart guide my work.  I have to admit that I’m nervous and a little fearful about this workshop, so I suspect it is exactly what I need to do!

So, in the immediate future, I will be store-sitting tomorrow (8/10) at My Heart’s Fancy (special store hours are 10am to 3pm).  I’m bringing my gelling printing goodies to play, so if you’re in the area and want to try your hand, please stop by!