I have lived my life from a feeling of equality with all beings and want to resurrect and make popular old-fashioned values like humility and respect. In March of 2021, I wrote about the value of promoting humble and vulnerable art. A year later I felt moved to expand what I’d written to include the realm of spiritual awakening. Through spiritual writing and teaching, I advocate for equality and integrity and work to evolve formats that support equality both within hierarchical structures and also as an alternative to hierarchy entirely.
My work in the world has primarily been that of a teacher and caregiver. Those whom I teach and care for, in their own ways, also teach me. I have discovered that even individuals with extremely severe handicaps have different but equally valuable qualities and lessons to offer. Teaching, learning, and caring are mutually dependent and intertwined. Although all parts of life offer opportunity for insight, my husband, Denny, has been my most consistent spiritual teacher. We each follow our own path but support each other as equals in accessing and living our true nature. Always, he helps me to keep it grounded and real.
Due to the loss of my caregiving work during Covid-19, I have had time to devote myself to inner healing and writing. As I move into spiritual teaching and publicly sharing my work, the equality that I established in other capacities is strengthened here as well. I receive pleasure from collaborating with others and drawing out the wisdom of another. My life has been lived on the outskirts of mainstream culture, so I easily identify with those whom society has cast away. I know firsthand what it is like to live poor and on the edge. Spiritual awakening, healing trauma, art making, and subconscious guidance from dreams have tightly woven themselves together. In this article, I write first about humanness in the art world and then how it relates to spiritual realms of wisdom.
When making art for inner development, I have found that the quality of the art is relatively unimportant. What matters most is receptivity and inner listening. Spending time gazing at a completed healing image, is an effortless way to absorb nonverbal communication that flows from the unconscious. I make art as a way of partaking of the vast unknown mystery. I have learned to not reject any work that feels like failure or a mistake. It is even more valuable to sit with and absorb uncomfortable elements that arise. It’s a means of becoming more human, more whole. Art-making then becomes a practice of learning to judge less, and a way to integrate rejected portions of self. Along with beauty and inspiration, art may bring forth imperfection, shame, confusion, immaturity, or some other shadow aspect of self. I hold uncomfortable things with compassion and love; it’s an ongoing practice.
When living in a space of open receptivity, words and writing may then deepen nonverbal understanding and connection. Though we respond powerfully to art without knowing its intended meaning, appreciation expands when one learns about the artist and what the piece meant to them. I like to understand an artist’s process, especially that which compels them as a human being. Some people make art for money, business, and fame. But many seek something more than just selling. Unfortunately, there may be a rift between those who make art for galleries and collectors, and those who make art for healing. Art made for healing and personal meaning is typically judged and devalued. Those without training, who make art that has been labeled “outsider”, often leave a rich legacy of work that is only appreciated after they pass. I long to inhabit a world that does not divide insiders from outsiders. I want to reclaim and promote art that expresses humbleness, vulnerability, sensitivity, and intimacy—art that serves to keep us open and human, connected and whole. Art that allows us to recognize and value under-appreciated aspects of each other and ourselves.
Although I wrote the above words about art-making, these same metaphors apply for spiritual awakening. There are insiders who use the charisma of self-realization to amass followers, fame, and material wealth for themselves. And, as in other areas of life, there are insiders of spiritual lineages, who misuse their position of hierarchy and power. I intend no disrespect, and recognize that countless beings have benefited from ancient wisdom teachings of diverse religions and faiths. However, many have also been abused and harmed by those in positions of spiritual authority, as well as by insiders who covered and minimized the abusive misdeeds of their teachers and cohorts. People and situations are complex. Sometimes extremes of both benefit and harm coexist together. We must all hold ourselves responsible for caring about the treatment of the vulnerable. And also, we must delve more deeply into the core of abuse and find humane and restorative ways to end repetitive cycles of victims becoming abusers.
Many difficulties arise from imposing hierarchical relationships upon others and the world around us. Especially when existing within systems of hierarchy, it is helpful to not elevate teachings, teachers, or self, and put someone or something on a pedestal. Often, that which is put up, invariably falls down. Conversely, it is good to take care to not belittle and judge others or self. The tendency to put others up and down, often arises from an underlying sense of lack, or a feeling of being damaged at one’s core. Instead of encouraging blind obedience to authority and elevating particulars, we can teach a cultivation of respect, dignity, kindness, and reciprocity; and move in beneficial directions of empowering one another. That which you seek and elevate externally, may also be found within.
There exist among us, some who live humble, quiet, enlightened lives, without attracting much attention at all. There are stories of sages and hermits who’ve lived entire lifetimes meditating in hidden caves. People in undeveloped nations often recognize and revere the saints, shamans, and sadhus who roam among them or live penniless in nearby caves. In these places, boundaries between insanity and enlightenment are often blurred. In our developed world, it is perhaps even easier to live a simple life of spiritual obscurity, because people tend to only see that which meets their predisposed expectations and is glorified and promoted by the media. It has become difficult for us to discern truth from lies, because we’ve been conditioned to believe that which our media manipulates us into thinking. We don’t recognize the living buddhas and saints standing next to us, because they may be clothed in and speaking the unexpected. We dehumanize, judge, and isolate those who do not meet our standards of acceptability. Healers sometimes see ordinary people, or those who have been deemed outcasts, with remarkably expansive energy fields. But also, and even more importantly, every person alive has unique gifts to offer. To recognize and value the strength which lies hidden within another, is a blessing for us all.
It is much more difficult to live an invisible and challenging life of obscurity, than it is to evolve within families or systems of support. Expansive beings often incarnate into handicapped bodies and difficult lives because of the extraordinary opportunity and potential those lives offer. The book, “In Love with the World: A Monk’s Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying” by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche is one of my favorites, because it illustrates the hardship that an awakened monk experiences, when living an unrecognized life without his robes of distinction. Mingyur Rinpoche gave up his prestigious monastic life to wander the world for four years. He survived his ordeals and near-death experience. The arduous circumstances profoundly tested and deepened his wisdom. Yet, he also came close to passing away in obscurity, and that happens frequently, too. There is no way for us to hear about and learn from the invisible lives of those who wandered but didn’t return. Or the radiant beings, who roamed too far over an edge of mental illness or addiction, and passed beyond without enough time to share their more sensitive light.
We each are a vital and equal part of this grand dance of divinity. Our lives and existence depend entirely upon a vast unknown mystery and indwelling spark of God. Some of us consciously surrender to the unknown and rest in the genuine to a greater or lesser degree. But each life may be likened to a spiritual teaching of one kind or another. I hope to reclaim and promote the lives and spiritual qualities of those who have become lost due to the sophistication and intellectual reasoning of our culture. I spend time being with and humbly integrating a full range of diverse human experience that exists within and around me. It is only through being with my own weakness and flaws, that I may be able to grasp and appreciate the humanity of another, with its full capacity for both hatred and love, craziness and sanity. For wherever we fall on the spectrum of light and dark, awakened or asleep, may we retrieve and treat kindly these underappreciated aspects of each other and ourselves. May we learn to live humble lives of integrity. May we discover and live a redemption of the whole.
~ Arena Heidi has lived a simple, dedicated spiritual life in Vermont. Seamlessly, over a span of 30 years, she has eased into a sense of inner fruition. She has a BFA from Tufts University, and enjoys learning and exploring the natural world, the subconscious, human nature, and a vast unknown. She appreciates comments and inclusive discussion that welcomes sensitive and diverse perspectives. She is looking to collaborate with others around non-hierarchical ways to impart spiritual insight and empower those whose voice has been suppressed. Her website is www.kindground.org
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