The Patra Passage ~ Art at its Best!

Linda Lowe has created an art based experiment that explores the act of giving and receiving. It is a truly inspired project.  
108 Vessel ~ The Patra Passage

“The gift finds the man attractive who stands with an empty bowl he does not own.”
LEWIS HYDE, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World

"The Patra Passage is an art-based project that experiments with a cycle of giving and receiving. The passage centers on the gifting of 108 hand-built ceramic vessels to participants who will re-gift them to others. The giftism cycle will continue for one year until each bowl has been presented and received at least three times, creating a community of over 324 participants. At the end of their circulation, the Patra will be returned and exhibited at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, WA, sold, and all proceeds given to charity."

 I encourage you to learn more about The Patra Passage HERE.

The Magic of New Orleans

I am just back from a full 10 days in New Orleans. The city never, ever fails to disappoint. Little did I know when I scheduled the trip that  St. Patricks day and Super Sunday would fall during that time. New Orleans is notorious for their masked parades and celebrations. Learning more about the Mardi Gras Indians and their long history was a gift. When I served in the Lower Ninth Ward post Katrina, I kept hearing how all the artifacts, costumes and traditions were "gone." I am happy to report the tradition is back in full force and quite spectacular.  

Wondering what this is all about?

Text  is provided byWikipedia...

Mardi Gras Indians are African-American Carnival revelers in New Orleans, Louisiana, who dress up for Mardi Gras and other special occasions in suits influenced by Native American ceremonial apparel.

 The idea of letting loose and embracing traditional African music and dance is a backbone of the Mardi Gras Indians practice.
Aside from Mardi Gras Day, the most significant day for the Mardi Gras Indians is their Super Sunday. The New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian Council always has their Indian Sunday on the third Sunday of March, around St. Joseph's Day. 
Mardi Gras Indian suits cost thousands of dollars in materials alone and can weigh upwards of one hundred pounds. A suit usually takes between six to nine months to plan and complete.

  Each Indian designs and creates his own suit; elaborate bead patches depict meaningful and symbolic scenes. Beads, feathers, and sequins are integral parts of a Mardi Gras Indian suit. 

Collectively, their organizations are called "tribes". There are about 38 tribes. They range in size from a half dozen to several dozen members. The tribes are largely independent, but a pair of umbrella organizations loosely coordinate the Uptown Indians and the Downtown Indians.

If you want to learn more, check out The House of Dance and Feathers website, a cultural museum based on Ronald Lewis's participation in the culture of the Mardi Gras Indians and the keeper of the history.

                           St. Joseph Altar 

A Thin Place

Did you see the "Where Heaven and Earth Come Closer" article in the NYT travel section on Sunday?

It took my breath away and I am so happy to share it in case you missed it.

I am always so grateful when I read something that totally resonates with how I feel. I find it very difficult to articulate certain states of being.

What is a Thin Place?

"A thin place is a locale where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we're able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent or, the Infinite Whatever. Not everyone finds the same places thin. It's what a place does to you that counts. It disorients, It confuses. We lose our bearings, and find new ones. Or not. We are jolted out of old ways of seeing the world, and therein lies the transformative magic of travel."

"Yet, ultimately, an inherent contradiction trips up any spiritual walkabout: The divine supposedly transcends time and space, yet we seek it in very specific places and at very specific times. If God (however defined) is everywhere and “everywhen,” as the Australian aboriginals put it so wonderfully, then why are some places thin and others not? Why isn’t the whole world thin?

Maybe it is but we’re too thick to recognize it. Maybe thin places offer glimpses not of heaven but of earth as it really is, unencumbered. Unmasked."

Eric Weiner's has a new book out, “Man Seeks God: My Flirtations With the Divine”

There is also a wonderful description of someone's encounter with the "divine" in Driftless by David Rhodes, another extraordinary writer.

Happy Friday!

Jesse Rieser ~ Christmas in America: Happy Birthday Jesus

Jesse Rieser's "Christmas In America: Happy Birthday, Jesus" was one of the top 50 Critical Mass portfolios from this year. His work makes you do a double take on how our culture embraces Christmas and all the trappings. Enjoy the work...I know I did!

In his words...

"Beyond the glowing green and red lights, past the shimmering silvery tinsel, around the fragrant pine boughs, another Christmas lingers, a Christmas of contradictions."

"This Christmas is complex and at times, uncomfortable. It’s awkward and sometimes bleak. But it is also sincere and celebratory, colorful and creative."

"This is the Christmas I capture in this first chapter of a photographic exploration of the biggest event on the American calendar. I grew up in a secular home and at times felt like a Christmas outsider, never connected to the holiday’s religious importance, or its more extreme cultural trappings. But in these photos, I become a Christmas insider, working to discover and reveal what holiday magic, or mania, compels so many to devote thousands of hours to hanging lights, to carving and painting figurines, to building miniature villages, to converting their homes, yards, garages and cars into monuments to merriness."

"Initially inspired by the absurdity of a five story inflatable Santa who appeared to be guarding a tree lot, I have launched this survey of uniquely American Christmas traditions. “Christmas in America” is an unvarnished examination of the ways people mark the holiday’s meaning."

Jesse's work will be up at the Newspace Center for Photography in Portland, Oregon until December 30th.

Happy Holidays ~ Winter Solstice

Tomorrow is Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, or the least amount of sunlight. It is really heart warming to see so many holiday lights decorating homes.

I mentioned that I was reading Driftless by David Rhodes. I just read an amazing paragraph ...

"Sometimes in the theater of winter, a day will appear with such spectacular mildness that it seems the season can almost be forgiven for all its inappropriate hostility, inconveniences, and even physical assaults. With a balmy sky overhead, melting snow underfoot, and the sound of creeks running, the bargin made with contrasts doesn't look so bad: to feel warm, one must remember cold; to experience joy, one must have known sorrow." David Rhodes in Driftless.

The Visitor

Last night I had an unexpected visitor. I was next door watching people's reaction to the worlds most elaborate Halloween display. A family of three strolled up the sidewalk to take in the scene. I had a feeling they may have been Mexican and inquired. They were indeed. I asked if they would be interested in seeing my Dia de los Muertos altar, which they were.

45 minutes later we were hugging each other goodbye. Her name was Yolanda and she was in the neighborhood with her family trick and treating. It turns out Yolanda was from Michoacan and grew up with all the rituals associated with Dia de los Muertos. She really liked the altar but proceeded to share other items I might consider adding. Slowly we refined the altar, adding a glass of water in case the spirits were thirsty, sea salt to keep the path clean, placing the candles in a bowl of water for keeping the vibrations high, and adding an apple and orange for nourishment. She spoke of the importance of having the 4 elements present on the altar...Fire, Water, Earth and Air. She also sprinkled the copal (incense) over the altar. It was truly an amazing experience and now I feel that the altar is finally complete and ready for welcoming of the spirits tonight, November 1st, the official start of Dia De los Muertos.

(note Yolanda's angel earring)

And Yvette, you asked if the altar would be up for the critique group next week. I am happy to say that Yolanda said it was important to keep it intact for 9 yes, it will be up.

Yolanda's mother lived to 120 years old.

Dia de los Muertos Celebration

12: 05 AM

It is two hours since the last guest left. We just had a fund raiser/salon for Ragdale . It felt like a performance art piece that touched all the senses. Art/food/ and friends gathering to celebrate and support the arts.

As I cut each marigold blossom from my yard in preparation for assembling the altar, I was thinking how extravagant it felt to have so many flowers adorning my home in addition to the 50 votive candles transported from Oaxaca. Flowers and candles are just the best along with the very colorful tissue cutout flags. My home was my pallet and when the sun went down and all the candles were lit, it felt like the entire house was floating on air!

The altar was dedicated to the Shaw family who founded The Ragdale Foundation which provides residencies for artists of all disciplines. I loved setting up my home to reflect the generous spirit of both the Shaw family and Dia de los Muertos, a life affirming remembrance of the departed thru celebration. The food was exquisite (as in transformative thanks to Howard and Kevin) and was followed by a fabulous talk by Chicago Chef Rick Bayless on the significance of food in memory, celebration and the creative process.

Every time I passed the altar I kept wanting to photograph it...just couldn't help myself!

The chocolate skulls were made by Nicole's Homemade Treats...and they were yummy! The mescal, Fidencio, was so smooth and from a distillery we visited this past summer in Santiago Matatlan, Oaxaca.

Happy Halloween and Day of the Dead!

The Thin Veil ~ Dia de los Muertos

As we approach the end of October, I am reminded of the "thin veil" that many people think exists this time of the year between the living and the departed.

© Jane Fulton Alt

Much of my photographic life has been spent exploring death and dying, one of the greatest mysteries and the only certainty of our lives. I have photographed and volunteered in hospice programs, been witness to autopsies, slaughter houses, and cremation rituals in Varanasi, the holiest site in India. I also traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico to learn how Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is celebrated. It was staggeringly beautiful. It is a holiday where families gather at the grave site to celebrate and remember friends and family members who have died. The cemeteries are filled with flowers and the flickering light from hundreds and hundreds of candles. Most families also build altars in their homes to coax the spirits back for a visit. These altars include sugar skulls, marigolds, candles, copal (an incense) and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed.

I do think that we, as Americans, have much to learn from other cultures that have long standing rituals which pay homage to their ancestors.

© Jane Fulton Alt

“To be afraid of death is only another form of thinking that one is wise when one is not; it is to think that one knows what one does not know. No one knows with regard to death wheather it is not really the greatest blessing that can happen to man; but people dread it as though they were certain it is the greatest evil." -The Last Days of Socrates”
― Plato

Our Situation on Earth ~ by Albert Einstein

Our Situation on Earth
--by Albert Einstein

"Our situation on this earth seems strange. Every one of us appears here involuntarily and uninvited for a short stay, without knowing the whys and the wherefore. In our daily lives we only feel that man is here for the sake of' others, for those whom we love and for many other beings whose fate is connected with our own. I am often worried at the thought that my life is based to such a large extent on the work of my fellow human beings and I am aware of my great indebtedness to them. I do not believe in freedom of the will. Schopenhauer's words: 'Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wills' accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others even if they are rather painful to me. This awareness of the lack of freedom of will preserves me from taking too seriously myself and my fellow men as acting and deciding individuals and from losing my temper. [...]

Although I am a typical loner in daily life, my consciousness of belonging to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty, and justice has preserved me from feeling isolated. The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as all serious endeavors in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all that there is."

--Albert Einstein

Just Connect

A simple representation of the experience of meditation.

I had the idea for an installation using this image about 10 years ago. The idea keep resurfacing and about 3 weeks ago it morphed into a video. The power of an idea, 3 creatives, technology and the internet is amazing.

Quieting the Mind at IMS

I have just returned from a mediation retreat at the Insight Mediation Society which focuses on mindfulness. It was a grueling and wonderful 3 1/2 days of agitation, contemplation and reflection. It seems like the first 2 days were a roller coaster of excitement and avoidance, attempting to settle into a quiet mind. By the 3rd day I was falling head over heals with life itself.

I picked up a book while there titled Coming to Our Senses : Healing Ourselves and the World through Mindfulness by Jon Kabiat- Zinn. I am just starting it but would like to share his insightful prose.

"The world needs all its flowers, just as they are, and even though they bloom for only the briefest of moments, which we call a lifetime. It is our job to find out one by one and collectively what kind of flowers we are, and to share our unique beauty with the world in the precious time that we have, and to leave the children and grandchildren a legacy of wisdom and compassion embodied in the way we live, in our institutions, and in our honoring of our interconnectness, at home and around the world. Why not risk standing firmly for sanity in our lives and in our world, the inner and outer a reflection of each other and of our genius as a species?"

"The creative and imaginative efforts and actions of every one of us count, and nothing less that the health of the world hangs in the balance. We could say that the world is litterly and metaphorically dying for us as a species to come to our senses, and now is the time. Now is the time for us to wake up to the fullness of our beauty, to get on with and amplify the work of healing ourselves, our societies, and the planet, building on everything worthy that has come before and that is flowering now. No intention is to small and no effort insignificant. Every step along the way counts. And, as you will see, every single one of us counts."

While walking in the forest, I was so taken with these transparent leaves still clinging to life after such a fierce winter. Frankly, they reminded me of my 90 year old mother's translucent skin. It was only after spending some time with the tree that I realized there were new buds in the "ready" on each branch...the true miracle of the life cycle.

The teachers at this retreat center have spent years in mindfulness meditation and understand the multitude of difficulties in quieting the mind, with incredible benefits to the physical, mental and spiritual body.

My flight home was 5 hours delayed and went late into the night. Little miracles played out during that time in the "holding tank" including a very relaxed mind, kindnesses from complete strangers and learning that a young man sitting across from me was heading to Port au Prince in Haiti to work for 3 months at an orphanage.

The Dharma Seed website has a wealth of audio instruction for free in addition to many other related links. Check it out!

Nine Lives by William Dalrymple

I just finished reading a wonderful book, Nine Lives : In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, by William Dalrymple. It was recommended to me by someone I met in Kerala, India. I read it on my kindle but think I need to buy the "real" book. A wonderful quote...

"All religions were one, maintained the Sufi saints, merely different manifestations of the same divine reality. What was important was not the empty ritual of the mosque or temple, but to understand that divinity can best be reached through the gateway of the human heart---that we all have Paradise within us, if we know where to look."

Everyday Miracles

I was in Whole Foods yesterday riding the elevator up to the parking lot with a petite Indian woman who has been a bagger there forever. As we were getting out of the elevator she said she could smell incense. I was so shocked because I had used it during my morning meditation but had since swam in a chlorine filled pool and showered. I was so surprised that there was any residue left.

I said yes, that I had just returned from India. Well, the flood gates opened for both of us. She, Amma, had been raised in Kerala and there was this immediate connection between us. She proceeded to show me her prayer beads that were tucked carefully under her shirt.

I can't help but wonder if all those water purification rituals I participated in have some how changed my very essence. It would be nice to think so!

my guide for the purifying baths at the Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple on Rameswaram Island at the southern tip of Tamil Nadu

the 10th purifying bath taken from one of the 22 wells within the temple containing water from different holy places

two days and counting...

After the terrible shock of the shooting in Arizona, my mind keeps coming back to the Room of Silence.

I visited the room located next to the Brandenburg Gate while in Berlin last fall. It was a profoundly moving experience. The room is a symbol of tolerance and brotherhood... all are welcome regardless of race, political beliefs or religion. It is a place of peace and spiritual unity.

The room's decoration reflects its non-denominational character. It is neutral and simple. Its only adornment is a woven wall hanging, which the Hungarian artist Ritta Hager made for the room, an abstract work of the light penetrating darkness.

My prayers and thoughts go out to the families who's lives will be forever altered by a senseless act of violence. My hope is that our country will reflect, recalibrate and renew a commitment to non- violent alternatives (both verbal and physical) to resolving differences.


I cross the threshold into a world I have forgotten…
a place suspended in time.

The glow of a shimmering sea of light awaits me as I tread on the
pine needle carpeted floor,
breathing in the scent of the burning copal.

Sounds of whispered chattering, groaning, and chanting abound
while eggs are rubbed over an ailing body.

Invoking holy names, a curandero
abruptly snaps the neck of an unsuspecting chicken.

As liquid offerings of firewater and coca cola overflow,
expelling evil spirits with each burp.

A host of Saints, generously adorned with milagros and photographs,
preside in silence.