Hard to believe, but what has felt like the longest year has passed since the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 disease came into our lives and turned our world upside-down. We’ve faced so much – together but also alone: the unknown, fear, panic, confusion, isolation, sickness, lingering symptoms, deaths of loved ones. More than half a million people have died – and that’s just in the U.S. Those lost were individuals – someone’s child, sibling, parent, spouse, grandparent, friend. The total loss is too much to really comprehend.
It’s also been a huge struggle and so much work to address job, business, school, and social losses and changes. And these are just a few of the impacts due to the virus. The years of built-up social and racial inequities have been laid bare for all to see. Add the heated, divisive rhetoric and politics. Top it off with the chaotic destructive attack on our nation’s Capitol in early January and its aftermath.
“What a Year It’s Been” feels like such an understatement. We’ve been forced to individually and collectively witness, experience, endure. How do we process all of this and re-create a better world?
A “Buggie” Dream Metaphor to Explore
Sometime late last summer, I awoke from an unusual dream…
Once upon a dreamscape… I am at my children’s elementary school, talking with an old friend in a work room. My friend’s child started playing on the custodian’s computer. Before long, I begin to see flies, bees, wasps, moths, mosquitos, and all sort of other insects flying and multi-sized bugs crawling around. At first there were just a few. But then there are more, and more, and more! It is so odd, I know something is not quite right. I walk through the building and find the custodian. As I explained what’s been happening, the custodian knows exactly what to do to fix it. We walked into the work room and the custodian makes a few keystrokes at the computer. Immediately, the bugs turn around and start flying and crawling towards the computer and into the screen. As it turns out, my friend’s child had accidentally opened up the portal and let all of these bugs out. I am amazed at how easy it is to put those insects back into the virtual world where they belonged. I wake up.
As I considered this dream, I was reminded of Pandora’s Box, an ancient story with which I was only vaguely familiar.
Pandora and the Gift Box
As it goes, in the Greek myth, Pandora was the first woman created and the gods gave her many amazing gifts. These included intelligence, curiosity, beauty, compassion, and many more wonderful attributes. But Zeus’ gift, which was the last one to be given, was a small box. It had chains and a lock around it. When giving the box to Pandora, Zeus instructed her to never open the box.
At first, this wasn’t a problem for Pandora. She had so many other things to explore around her. But as the time passed, she began thinking about the box. At first these thoughts came now and then. But later on, these thoughts grew stronger and more frequent. Pandora wondered what could possibly be in the box? Why wouldn’t Zeus want her to see it? These occasional thoughts became an obsession gnawing at her. Overall, what a crazy-making gift! Perhaps if she just peeked once, she would be able to relieve her great curiosity and go on with life as usual.
The harder she tried to resist, the more she thought about what might be in the box. At long last, Pandora just couldn’t focus on anything else, so she decided to just go ahead and open the box! And what did she find? All thing disastrous, disgusting, ugly, evil, deadly pushed and screamed their way out. Such horrors she could have never imagined. She was shocked and stunned.
After seeing these awful things emerge, Pandora tried with all her might to gather them all up to put back into the box. She tried and tried and tried. But it was too late. Pandora was struck with panic, grief, fear, regret, remorse. How can this grave mistake ever be repaired? Could she ever be forgiven? Could she ever forgive herself?
Between her wailing sobs, she heard one more sound from inside the box. As she crept near and took a closer look into the box, “hope” came pouring out to her, and into the world. In all of her darkness and despair, hope’s light was the one last gift to get her through.
COVID as a Pandora’s Box Metaphor
Just as Pandora faced a different world after she opened the box, we have all also been forced to face a new world due to the virus. Have we taken the time to process these losses?
Many people process life-changing events by recognizing and learning about the stages of grief described in the pioneering work of Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. These stages of Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance typical swirl through us as we grieve our losses. Understanding these stages can also be helpful while experiencing life-altering illnesses, broken relationships, and losses of all kinds. And as we come through the other side, with hope we can re-invent ourselves in our “new normal”.
And a friend just sent me this thoughtful reflection on hope, titled: Disturbing the Peace, from a series of interviews in 1985-86 conducted by the The Vaclav Havel Library Foundation with Czech journal Karel Hvížd’ala.
About Pandora’s Box of Hope
It’s been a year of many laments, many passionate expressions of grief or sorrow. I’ve intentionally taken a year to make this art as a way to process the emotions and feelings from everything lost due to COVID. Although no one can put the darkness of the virus back “into its locked box”, I’ve discovered hope for our future demonstrated by the many acts of care, compassion, kindness, hard work, and love that I’ve witnessed.
This encaustic-covered box has many layers of colorful paper and pastel colored wax on the outside, with a black velvet lining inside. Black onyx bead chains make up the ties broken open. A small scroll penned with “Pandora’s Lament,” an original imagined poem, partners with a stone engraved with “HOPE.”
Oh, no! What have I done? What is this horror I’ve unleashed? I can’t bear to look at it. It is so awful, dreadful, horrible! Stupid, pitiful me. I have no tears left.
I thought I was so smart. I thought I was so noble. I thought I knew the world, but I was so naive! I didn’t now such evil could even exist.
I was so, so very wrong. I regret my actions. I am so ashamed. I am so very, very sorry. How can I ever repair this? I can only hope to be forgiven some day.
One of the fascinating concepts I learned about over the years in dream study is that of the shadow. The negative or dark shadow, according to psychologist Carl Jung, holds those unconscious aspects of ourselves that we don’t want anyone, and most often not even ourselves, to acknowledge. These aspects are typically unconscious and something we judge as “unacceptable”, so we stuff them way in the back of our metaphorical closets.
As the concept goes, if someone really annoys me or gets on my nerves, there is something of that person’s traits that trigger my own dark shadow. Although I will deny this until I’m blue in the face, the heat or emotional reaction is the clue that this may be the case. If I find the courage and curiosity to explore and own up to this, I can grow into a more psychologically whole person.
In the opposite vein, if I really admire, am drawn to, or respect someone, there is something of that person’s “exceptional” traits that are part of my golden shadow. Again, the emotional reaction is the clue and exploring these traits can help me to own those parts of myself, too.
Honoring Shadow Energies
I’ve found shadow energy in so many dreams, as well as in waking life. This encaustic painting, She and Her Shadows, is my attempt to honor the discovery and doing of this internal work. The painting is 11.5″ wide X 18.5″ tall.
Ode to Scarlet Created for Dance of Dreams Exhibit
Thank you to everyone who joined us for the “Dance of Dreams” Art Exhibit Reception on September 27, 2019. The show ended October 31, 2019.
As part of the reception, Special Guest Dancer May Kesler performed interpretive dances focused on two of my 12 dream art paintings. It was a wonderful treat to collaborate with May on this creative art and dance adventure.
The first dance, “Journey of Dreams” focused on the many places, situations, and feelings we experience when we close our eyes and sleep. This dance companioned the painting, Dreamtime Journey.
Ode to Scarlet, the second dance, wove the story of a series of dreams over the past 30 or so years. A scarlet snake appeared in each dream, and over the years, my relationship to and with it changed. At first, it startled and scared me. Over the years, we eventually found a way to co-exist into a deep friendship, before it died in my arms! This duet dance companioned the painting, Shedding Fear.
Finally, we honored this entire dream series by symbolically transitioning the Scarlet snake image to its new life as a symbol of healing. This new 3D artwork was unveiled and fastened to the top of a walking staff, becoming a Staff of Asclepius. The Asclepius symbol takes its name from the Greek diety associated with healing and medicinal arts in Greek Mythology.
Thank you to Shauna Simon and the Simon Says Yoga family for hosting this exhibit of my dream-inspired artworks, and most of all, for their welcoming spirit, enthusiasm, and support for local artists!
Janet Fox Featured Artist Reception – Dance of Dreams Art Exhibit
You’re invited to my “Dance of Dreams” Art Exhibit Reception at Simon Says Yoga to see many of my dream-inspired artworks. Special Guest May Kesler will perform interpretive dances for two of the dream paintings. Located at 4611 Sangamore Rd, Bethesda, MD 20816, the exhibit continues until October 30, 2019. The turquoise and copper painting on the right side of the image is part of my painting, Dreamtime Journey.
Alexandra Sherman, September’s Featured Artist, will also close her art exhibit at the September 27 Reception.
Shedding Fear is an original encaustic mixed media painting inspired by a series of vivid dreams which began many years ago. In each of the dreams, a bright red snake takes center stage. Most often, it is a scarlet boa constrictor. In the following dream, however, a scarlet cobra is the main character…
Once upon a dreamscape, a woman discovers a giant cobra in her house. It is about 10 feet long and if she startles it, the cobra puffs up its cobra neck, hisses, and scares the bejeebers out of the woman.
She loses sight of the cobra. The woman and her male companion now crouch on the top of a tall bookcase, hunched into a ball because they are close to the ceiling. They want to be sure they are as far away from the cobra as possible. Then the woman takes a peek at the bookcase shelf right under them and realizes the cobra is right there, all coiled up, too! Now what?
The woman and her companion have now magically moved around the room and then around the house in and out of various rooms. Scarlet cobra is always close by and after a while, it doesn’t seem to mind us, and we don’t mind it either. We get used to each other, and Scarlet only hisses if I get too close. I marvel at Scarlet’s bright color; the red is so vivid and energized. I realize I’ve seen a bright red snake, but a boa constrictor, in my dreams before. So I realize I am in a lucid state. I’m no longer afraid of Scarlet and realize she’s not really poisonous, after all. I awaken with a feeling that something important has shifted.
A colorful dream character calls out
This dreamscape especially grabbed my attention because I was aware that I was dreaming and in a lucid state. I only occasionally have lucid dreams, so I definitely pay attention when I do. Within the dream, I remembered encountering scarlet boas before, but the only places were within past dreams. And having previously explored and created art based on those earlier dreams, I have an idea what this colorful character means – for me. Some examples and art inspired by those previous dreams are Transformation of a Scarlet Boa.
Curiously, when I’ve shared this dream with others, they’ve responded generally in two ways. If they have a fear of snakes, they react by stepping back and saying how much snakes scare them. Others are fascinated by snakes, leading them to take a very close look. Both can lead to lively conversations!
While researching this topic, I came across, “Snake Dreams and their Hidden Meanings,” by author Amy E. Brucker on The Dream Tribe. In it, Ms. Brucker explores various snake imagery throughout history. I was intrigued further by her focus on the healing aspects of the snake.
So in this episode in my scarlet snake dream series, I had a healthy fear of its danger. But, somehow, I also learned to live with this it in my space. When I shift my perception from fear to healing, the dream takes on a whole new feeling and ah-ha! Perhaps in my own shift, my companion learns to live with the healing snake energy, too.
What do we fear?
This is an intriguing question with as many different answers as there are people. There are so many things to be afraid of… being terribly sick, having a horrible accident, losing someone close, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, etc. We each have our own fears to face. And how can we go about shedding fear?
One of my favorite quotes byauthor Marianne Williamson, in “A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles” (1992). I’ve also seen this quote mistakenly attributed to Nelson Mandela.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
And here’s a fun take on snakes – Bela Fleck’s Snakes Alive musical creation.
About Shedding Fear
This 15″ x 15″ encaustic art piece is also inspired by an actual snake skin, one that I found in my garden compost bin. I assume the snake that molted was either hiding really well or long gone. Looking at this snake skin up close, it was very thin and fragile. With rectangular, oblong, and smaller oval segments, I marveled at its construction and form. The head portion had space for the snake’s eyes and mouth. I had to hold it very carefully, very gingerly. Which also got me to thinking about fear. Could fear be thin and fragile, too? If I could just let it go, would it shrivel up and crumble?
Next, after creating the main painting of the shed skin up close, I created the miniature snake from paper clay, then painted it to resemble a Scarlet Boa, but with a bit more red.
Then to finish it, the miniature Scarlet Boa needed to be resting on, wait for it… a bright red feather from a fluffy scarlet feather boa!
⇒For information about viewing or purchasing this or related artwork, contact Janet Fox. Check out my Encaustic Portfolio for several smaller companion pieces.