Last month I was blessed to have attended Jennifer Berezan and friends concert “A Song for all Beings” with Shiloh Sophia and a tribe of Cosmic Cowgirl Alumni sisters while visiting California – a long way from my Australian home. I first heard Jennifer’s music on tour with Carol Christ in Crete. I clearly remember “Returning” being played as our bus descended the mountains on dusk one evening, and I was deeply moved. I now have a selection of her music and have played ‘A Song for all Beings’, inspired by the Buddhist practices of Lovingkindness and Compassion, nearly every day since.
To have been given the opportunity to see the show in the flesh was a wonderful gift. It was the seemingly endless recital of the ‘Prayer for the Disappearing Species’ by Luisah Teish that left the greatest impression: Leatherback Sea Turtle, Northern right whale, Javan Rhinocerous, Siberian Tiger, Mountain Gorilla, Giant Panda, Orangutan, Polar Bear, Tiger….this is just a handful. Hearing this led me on a search to find out more about animal conservation efforts.
I came across some very disturbing information. Did you know that humans are responsible for eating the world’s largest amphibian, the Chinese Giant Salamander, into extinction? The WWF reports that in 2012 poachers killed 22,000 African elephants!! 97% of wild tigers have disappeared in less than a century. Sadly, many more species of animals on the endangered list are still being hunted for their meat and fur. I have always been well aware that large numbers of animals are exposed to numerous threats; pollution, deforestation, oil and gas development, over fishing, illegal wildlife trade, climate change and poachers.
The issue is obviously much larger and more complex than what I can address here. However, hearing the names of disappearing species read out loud in a sacred context had an intense impact. I left that evening overcome with grief, fear, and a vulnerability that I hadn’t yet experienced. I felt like I was hanging off the edge of a cliff by one hand…life…survival…existence…just teetering on the edge. I am not doing enough!!! I screamed in silence to myself. Are we doing enough? I asked my sisters.
The intention of Luisah Teish’s prayer and the song is to drive us to ask these questions, to lay bare the harsh reality of suffering, yet at the same timeto serve as a reminder of the vital importance of unconditional love, kindness, and compassion. Awash with grief, I was, in the same breath and moment connecting intimately with the deep, deep love and care I feel for the earth and all beings. According to Eco-philosopher Joanna Macy, “what is needed now, is the great interplay of compassion and wisdom.” I believe that ‘A Song for all Beings’ invites us into this great interplay by joining people together to sing, dance, and meditate for the healing of the world.
But what an enormous task healing the world is, it almost seems too big to even contemplate. We are reminded every single day of the suffering and injustices, how do we find a way to not become overburdened by grief and sorrow? How do we find the balance so that we do not switch off and fail to take compassionate action because the problems seem so big and out of our control? Or perhaps we over give our compassion to the point of burn out. Merely having or practicing compassion is not enough. According to Joanna Macy’s interpretation of the ancient Tibetan Buddhist Shamballah Warrior Prophecy there are two weapons required, compassion and insight, because “with insight into our profound inter-relatedness, you know that actions undertaken with pure intent have repercussions throughout the web of life, beyond what you can measure or discern…together these two can sustain us as agents of wholesome change.” So, even the little intentional things I do now to bring about change, regardless of how overwhelming or huge the problems seem, do make a difference. The balance, for me, is about doing what I can, when I can. Leaning into the sorrow and suffering while keeping my heart full of joy and happiness is the great paradox of life. Jennifer Berezan has taken her gifts of compassion, wisdom, insight and her talent as a musician to put together an incredible collaboration to take the message to the people. We can take inspiration from her work and channel our own gifts and talents for healing.
And this is what I have been learning to do. Intentionally channeling my gifts as an artist to bring about change for all beings. This past year I have been blessed with learning from some very wise women teachers and mentors who have inspired my journey, ignited my passion and reminded me that what I create can contribute to healing. I would like to take this opportunity to give credit and thanks to them all: Carol Christ, Catharine Clarke, Shiloh Sophia McCloud, BJ Long, Max Dashu, Anique Radiant Heart and all the sisters I have had the pleasure of connecting with along the way.
My latest painting is the result of the gift of a conversation with the inspirational Anique Radiant Heart while she was here at Goddesses Garden and Studio with Max Dashu on her Australian tour. Anique told me of her deep connection with the Goddess Kuan Yin and the work she has been doing with her over the years. I admit that I did not know much about this goddess except that she was a protector of children. I was prompted by the conversation to look her up. I immediately had to paint her. It was like the light went on and all the feelings that had overwhelmed me during ‘A Song for all Beings’ could now be directed into painting the Goddess of Mercy, Gentle Protectoress, Bodhisattva of Compassion, she who responds to the heartfelt needs and anguish of the people of earth regardless of background or belief. I believe that compassion transcends religion or faith. While all religions and traditions speak of compassion, love and kindness, compassion is really about being fully immersed in the condition of being human, regardless of faith. Kuan Yin is the perfect representative of this, and into her I poured out my overflow. She cries tears of compassion that fall into her sacred vase that then runs into all the rivers and streams, out to the oceans and spreads throughout the entire world.
Jassy Watson, who lives on the sub-tropical coast of Queensland Australia, is a mother of four, a passionate organic gardener, an artist, teacher of the Colour of Woman Method, and a student of ancient history and religion at Macquarie University, Sydney. She runs a small business Goddesses Garden and Studio to keep women’s sacred circles, art, music and gardening practices alive. Jassy teaches regular painting workshops based around themes exploring the feminine.