Yesterday was the 3rd Search for Meaning Book Festival since moving to Seattle. This is put on yearly by Seattle University and every year I learn about fantastic authors and have met amazing people.
I was getting ready to go in to see artist and author Salma Kamlesh Arastu’s talk on “Seeking Oneness,” when my friend and co-author, Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow), called me with a couple of ideas and visions for our next book, Becoming Medicine. In one of the visions, Joseph said he saw Picuris Pueblo, where he grew up, but instead of houses, there was mist, and then cosmic beings came to him and said, “You are a Mist-ical Being, you are now responsible for the mist-eries we are bringing to the people.” He explained that people should be respected as they get older because they hold the past – however the older you get the more spiritual responsibility you have as well. What he said this vision showed him was that there is a parallel reality to this one because as the mist cleared, he could see the houses at Picuris, but that there was an exact copy of the village up above the village. He said the people in both villages go about their days without awareness of those living just above/below the reality that they are living. Joseph often tells me that we should be always seeking our Higher Goodness and I wonder if this is part of what this vision means, that there is a way for us to live that has more Higher Goodness in it than the way that we are now living.
Anyway…I told Joseph, I better getting going to this lecture, it is on Seeking Oneness and if there is only One, I’m not sure what I’ll get if I am late – maybe just 0.95, that’s not the same as Oneness. We both had a good laugh at that and I went into the lecture.
Salma Kamlesh Arastu is an amazing artist and an embodiment of Higher Goodness! She spoke of her artist’s journey from her work with Embracing All in the Rhythm of the Lyrical Line, to her Celebration of Calligraphy, her work with Turning Rumi, and most recently her Unity of Sacred Symbols and Texts and Unity Mandalas.
She said in her talk, “I speak the Language of the Heart and I know we all speak the Language of the Heart.” She briefly spoke of her journey in the world, from her birth in India into the Sindi.Hindu tradition, to her life in Iran and Kuwait, her marriage and embrace of Islam, to now living in Berkeley, California where she has her studio.
Her art journey started with loopy, calligraphy-like paintings of people, a style shown above. Her first art book, The Lyrical Line, illustrates her work from 1998 – 2008.
She said she also started to copy Arabic calligraphy, marveling in its beauty without knowing the meaning of the words and this led to the collection in her book, Celebration of Calligraphy.
Her next evolution in her work happened when she began turning through the pages of the poet, Rumi, and she created a series of paintings that were inspired by lines from Rumi. She also has been inspired by the Hindu saint and ecstatic, bhakti poet, Meera Bai. Her book, Turning Rumi: Singing Verses of Love, Unity, and Freedom collects her work of this period.
Her most recent work has been to seek the unity in the world religions and to capture their words and truth in written words over beautiful multi-dimensional paintings. She says paints the same words over and over again, using thinned acrylic paint to create a multi-dimensional image. “Each prayer that I paint, over and over again,” she says, “is like a healing for me.” This has led to her book, Unity of Sacred Symbols and Texts.
Salma said that as a child, her mother would tell her, “You are created for a special reason – it is up to you to find out what it is.” Salma Kamlesh Arastu’s artwork reveals that special reason that she was created.
Please visit Salma’s website and look through her beautiful artwork.
The next talk I went to was by Corinna Nicolaou titled A None’s Story: Searching for Meaning Inside Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism & Islam, which is also the title of her book. “Nones” she says, are the fastest growing self-reported religious affiliation. This is the group of people who do not identify with a particular religious affiliation. However, this does not mean that they are not spiritual or do not pray or even believe in God. She says that Nones are different than Atheists, by ticking the box of “none” for religious affiliation, they are more rejecting organized religion than spirituality or God. She cites research from the Pew Research Center that 30% of people under the age 30 report no religious affiliation. She quotes Putnam and Campbell, from their book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, that Nones distance themselves from religion because “they think of religious people as hypocritical, judgmental, or insincere.”
She writes that she started her quest through “a desperate search for the bits and pieces that might make my pot whole,” (A None’s Story, oo5). With a sense of humor and the spirit of a true seeker, Corinna Nicolaou embarks on a four-year journey of church, temple, and mosque attendance, seeking to learn from the inside what each of these religions has to offer and to teach. In her talk, she said that “Religions provide a space to ask the questions about living and dying.” In her book she concludes “No matter what religious road I was on, it seemed to lead back to the idea that we come from, and eventually return to, a common source. We are parts of a whole. We can be different and still make up a healthy totality. I had long ago given up trying to make sense of how I might define ‘God.’ I figured God was too complex a concept and could be imagined a number of ways. I was driving in my car one afternoon not even thinking about any of this stuff when these words popped into my head: God is that which unites us all…I suppose that’s the best definition I’ll ever have of God,” (266).
A person in the audience at the talk asked about the loneliness of not belonging to a particular religious community. Corrina Nicolaou spoke to this and it sparked a question of my own that I wrote in my notebook, “What to do when no one religion feels like home, but all do?” In her book she writes about this. “To commit to none, but to call on all: what would that look like on day-to-day practical terms? With no official place of worship to call home, my spiritual practices will be mostly self-guided,” (283). She jokes about making the rounds of religious places of worship again, “A-to-Z,” and that she could “draw the boundaries of my spiritual identity ever larger” (285).
I kept looking at the back inside cover of the dust jacket. It is an irregular circle with colors of blue, red, yellow, and green in it. I thought, “Why is it irregular?” “Why this little splotch of splashed colors?” Ahh, I get it, the front cover of her book has four separate colors of circles and the one circle at the back brings together her journey into one mulit-colored circle, a little lop-sided, because we are not perfect and the journey is never over. Oh, yes, and I see that her name is written in four different colored letters! Beautiful, that visually sums up the journey!
Oh, yes, and one more thing, the talk that Corrina Nicolaou gave was in the Vachon Gallery at Seattle University and hanging behind her is a beautiful painting by Salma Kamlesh Arastu called “Equal Rewards.” I asked Salma, later, what the name of this painting was and she said, “Equal Rewards – men and women get equal rewards.” I think this applies to all seekers as well, no matter where you are seeking, you will get equal rewards because the reward does not come from the place you are seeking, but it comes from the journey of seeking and it is spoken, whispered to you, in the Language of the Heart.
One last thing to mention, at both these talks I spoke with another audience member afterwards. Angie Louthan is quitting her job as a pre-school teacher in order to bring into existence The Kind Fest. You can contact her at: AngieLouthan@gmail.com, website still under construction for the event.
She is planning to host it in Everett, Washington in September. I think this is a much-needed event to focus on manifesting kindness in these times. I wrote about the Compassion Revolution in health care in the past and I am very concerned about the hardening of the American heart and the deafening of American ears so that it is harder and harder to hear what Salma Arastu calls the Language of the Heart. Actually, on the way to the Search for Meaning Book Festival, I had seen a yard sign in our neighborhood: