After the Hellfire: Healing Personal and Collective Trauma

Free online presentation to benefit Naropa Community Counseling

Thursday, July 22, 4 pm, MST

Throughout history humankind has turned to the creative arts to record, process and heal the psychological, social and cultural wounds of trauma.  Artists have sung ballads of sorrow, painted canvases of rage and penned novels turning suffering into wisdom.

the short night:

after the hellfire

the day breaks

Kabota Mantaro

In these simple three lines we experience the juxtaposition of a descent into hell with the dawn of a new day.  Client and counselor are asked to make the same creative leap in the work of psychotherapy; between then and now, burning and beauty.  

Sharing poetry and visual imagery, this presentation addresses simple ways to incorporate an appreciation of the arts in addressing ways to heal our personal and shared trauma.  Or in more poetic words we will learn to practice what the black American haiku poet, Sonia Sanchez, suggests:

humming this

earth back

to sanity  

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Click Here to Register Now! Free online presentation, Thurs, July 22, at 4 pm

Light of Consciousness: Journal of Spiritual Awakening

Light of Consciousness Magazine

Light of Consciousness Magazine

This wonderful magazine, Light of Consciousness, has a five page article, including seven photos, that I wrote on Visions of The Female Buddha.  Please check it out!

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Learning to be kind to ourselves, learning how to respect ourselves, is important.  The reason it’s important is that, fundamentally, when we look into our own hearts and begin to discover what is confused and what is brilliant, what is bitter and what is sweet, it isn’t just ourselves that we’re discovering.  We’re discovering the universe.

Pema Chodron.

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3dbuddha small_lzn

Photos of Guanyin at the Bangkok Flower Market

Making Lotus Bouquets Making Lotus Bud Bouquets

These photos were taken in Bangkok at the Flower and Produce Market.  I was working on a project to photograph images of Guanyin and happened on this lovely setting while searching for temple sites.  I felt as if I had encountered Guanyin embodied!

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Purple and Yellow Flowers

Altar Decorations

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Making Altar Arrangements

Woman Making Altar Bouquets

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Loading Truck with Flower Arrangement

      Sending Floral Arrangements to the Temple


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Contemplating the Buddha at the Market

          Buddha at the Produce Market

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Two women stringing flowers


              Stringing Flowers for the Temple 

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All the delightful things of the world–sweet sounds, lovely forms, all the pleasant tastes and touches and thoughts–these are all agreed to bring happiness if they are not grasped and possessed.

But if you regard them merely as pleasures for your own use and satisfaction and do not see them as passing wonders, they will bring suffering.

Be aware of the paradox, for if you are blind to the way things are you will not be able to make out anything, even though you might be right on t0p of it.

The teaching about the way things are is not a way to enlightenment for someone who is still fill with desires or who still longs to be a this or a that.  But those who do understand it will become beings of distinction, dispersing all the forces of confusion.

The Buddha

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More inspirational words and photos at

Photos of Temple Life in Burma

Old Monk in MandalayMonk at Teak Temple

 Italian designed eight sided temple, Mandalay

These are just a few of the people we encountered visiting the temples of Mandalay and the surrounding towns in Burma.  The elder monk above guided us through an abandoned temple and showed us where the altars and Buddha statues used to sit.  He smoked a large cigar and folded it into his robes when I asked to take his photograph. 

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Woman ringing bell

Woman ringing Burmese Gong, Kuthodaw Paya (temple), Mandalay

This woman was demonstrating how to ring a traditional Burmese gong and sold us a smaller version after much haggling.  Her original prices were twice what we discovered on the streets  so we were happy to have engaged in   friendly haggling over the gongs.

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Children visiting temple

Young girls visiting a temple, Kuthodaw Paya (temple), Mandalay

These young students were on a field trip from the surrounding villages and flocked around us to see and touch a foreigner.  Their smiles and giggles were infectious and we found ourselves inundated by twenty or thirty at a time.  They wanted us to take their pictures and often expressed a mixture of delight and embarrassment when I snapped a shot.  

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Women Praying

      Women Praying, Mahamuni Paya (temple), Mandalay

This famous temple receives thousands of visitors who come to venerate the famous Mahamuni Buddha image that is believed to have been caste in the 1st century AD.  Only the men are allowed to walk up to the image and apply gold leaf that is now more than six inches thick on the statue. The women gather to worship in front of the Buddha.

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Young Boys in Costume

          Young Boys in Temple Ceremony,

         Mahamuni Paya (temple), Mandalay

These boys stand in line waiting for the procession to begin where they will be “king for the day”.  This Buddhist initiation ceremony occurs once a year and is a once in a lifetime opportunity for both girls and boys.  When we first asked a bystander about the procession where an adult holds an umbrella over the head of each child, he pointed to a girl and said she was “queen for the day”.  I put my hand to my heart to express the specialness of the occasion yet couldn’t stop my mind from the association to the TV show of my childhood era where women were crowned “queen for the day”.  What a different experience! 

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Young people in costume


              Preparing for Temple Procession, 

                                              Mahamuni Paya (temple), Mandalay

These young people pose for a group photo before they join the processional walk around the temple.  Unlike the children we met everywhere we went they held back their smiles for the seriousness of the event.  I am so thankful we stumbled on this ceremony and just wish I could say more about its meaning and origin. 

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Nun studying for exam

Nun Studying for Exam, Samaidodaya Recluse, Sagaing

This beautiful nun was the attendant for the head abbess of a monastery for approximately 250 women.  While we visited and had tea with the elder abbess the young woman studied for an important exam she would take the next day at a Buddhist university.  Her studies included English and she was able to share at bit of her knowledge of the challenging Buddhist philosophy she was preparing to be tested on.  

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Whenever you have friendliness to yourself, then friendliness to your world happens simultaneously.  As natural goodness begins to dawn in your heart, and a sense of dignity begins to occur.  The more you open yourself up to this process, the more you find that the world extends its hospitality for you to proclaim your dignity.

Cynthia Kneen, Awake Mind, Open Heart

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More inspirational words and photos at

Making a Buddha in Burma: Photos of Devotion

two women making a buddhaWomen polishing a Buddha

Three or four blocks of a street in the busy city of Mandalay are devoted to sculptors working on Buddha statues.  On the east side of the street men wield power tools carving out the basic shapes of Buddhas sitting, standing or lying down.  On the west side the women refine and polish the statues before they are distributed to temples or individuals who have purchased the sacred icons.  Men and women cross back and forth checking on the work and chat with their friends and family members.

Although I had permission to take photos I felt as if I was an intruder.  Did I understand their devotion and concentration?  The last thing they probably imagined was that our faith was mutual and that I hoped to share the beauty of their work with the world.  

Everyone one making a buddha is also working on the project of becoming a Buddha.  Below I share a passage of a conversation between Subhuti and the Buddha on what that might look like in our everyday lives.

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Four Burmese making Buddhas


Sculpting Many Buddhas

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Making a Buddha with power tools

      Power tools to shape a Buddha

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Finishing touches on a Buddha

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 Buddhas for sale in the Scupture Park

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Subhuti asked: “What does buddha mean?”

The Buddua answered: “Buddha is reality. One who thoroughly comprehends all the factors of existence is a buddha.”

Then Subhuti asked: “What does enlightenment mean?”

The Buddha replied: “Enlightenment is a way of saying that all things are seen in their intrinsic empty nature, their Suchness, their ungraspable wonder.  Names or words are merely incidental, but that state which sees no division, no duality, is enlightenment.”

Subhuti asked: “if one wants to know emptiness, how should one do it?”

“The one who wants to realize emptiness should adore reality, develop a skill in living in the world, and cultivate friends of the same mind.  Skill can only be developed in the presence of reality, not otherwise.  Endowed with skill, the person gives without the idea of a giver and lives in the realization that all the factors of existence have no ultimate substance.”

The Buddha, from the Prajnaparamita Sutra 

translation by Anne Bancroft, The Buddha Reader

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More inspirational words and photos at

Photos of Buddhas in Burma

Guatama and Maitreya

Guatama and Maitreya

 Dhamayangyi Pahto (Temple), Bagan

So many Buddhas, so much beauty.  There are a hundred more.  These are just a few from our trip to Myanmar in December. Keep in touch!

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Applying gold leaf in Burma


Applying Gold Leaf on Buddha

Swedagon temple, Yangon

Purple robed Buddha

      Purple Robed Buddha, Tha Gha Hit temple, Bagan

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Reclining Buddha in Yangon

Reclining Buddha, Swedagon Pagoda, Yangon

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Buddha in Archway

          Buddha in Archway, Dhammayangyi temple, Bagan

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Magical Buddha in Burma

Magical Buddha, Botataung temple, Yangon

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Mazu in Burmese Temple

Mazu, Queen of Heaven

Kheng Hock Keong temple, Yangon

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If the element of the truth seeker did not exist in everyone,

there would be no turning away from craving,

Nor could there be a longing for nirvana,

Nor a seeking for it, nor a resolve to find it.

The Buddha

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More inspirational words and photos at

Creativity, Commitment and Establishing Balance

Our minds are habit-prone and it is very difficult to get out of old habits.  Establishing new habits means giving ourselves a push, which must not be too hard or too gentle.  It has to be balanced, and only we ourselves know where that balance lies.

Ayya Khema

Share an “old habit” that has been difficult to kick.  What has contributed or gotten in the way to finding the right balance for change?  What approach has been “too hard” or “too gentle?”

Here is one of my worst habits and a true confession.  I don’t exercise my photography muscle and find myself at square one every year when I go overseas to shoot in Asia, the land of amazing photo opportunities.

This spring I took a photo class thinking it would be a warm up to get going. The shooting assignments were over after a week and nothing since.

Not that I haven’t been doing related things.  Editing and re-editing photos, framing images on book, web and newsletter pages, creating photo surveys, and blasting photos out on twitter, facebook and linkedin.

It’s been more than a year since I really shot something interesting, a sumptuous wedding on my husband’s side of the family.  It had all the ingredients of a foray to Southeast Asia.  We were sweating like dogs in the Iowa sun, people wore unusual clothing, there were many interesting foreign faces and we walked on holy grounds where family and friends gathered for a special event.

That shoot was over a year ago!  My photography skills are in reverse.  Abundant in excuses I work full time and have been frantically (and ironically) building a platform for a book of photographs to come out who knows when.  Clicking off tasks on my best days and pushing aside guilt on an occasional hike with friends in the Rocky Mountains.

When I grouch about not using my camera my outdoor buddies suggest I bring it on our hikes.  It’s hard to explain why it wouldn’t work. First we’d have to start at 4 a.m. to catch the early morning glow.  Then I’d be fiddling for hours with finding the right spot, the right lens or the just right light.  Maybe it’s not so hard to explain.

A tripod has never really been my thing and that’s what nature photography is all about.  Not that it wouldn’t stretch my palette for capturing stunning shots of temples dotted across the landscape of Myanmar.   I’m going there in December and would love to be able to capture those images.

Yet those skills are not in my oeuvre and it’s not going to happen in three months.  It’s the same thing when I write out goals to do a photo shoot every week; it just doesn’t happen.

I do need to get out before the trip to Myanmar.  What about shooting one day in October and then over the Thanksgiving break? The rest of September is impossible.  I’m committed to writing for this blog invitational everyday for the next two weeks!  Halfway into October I’m writing a paper for a conference in Bangkok that pays for my flight in December.

Can I kick this old, lazy habit with a reasonable goal?  Not too ambitious, not too slack?  Could it be the beginning of a commitment to get out once a month with my camera and a better attitude towards discovering the splendor of vanilla Colorado?

Now I have you to be accountable to.  We could have fun comparing the pitfalls and breakthroughs in the creative process.  My old habits include isolation and treating photography like it was just another job.  Now I could have companions to not only hear my confessions but also to share in the wonders of the universe.

Will you come out and play with me?

Photography and Trust at Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto

We constantly need new insights, visions. We don’t exist in any solid form. There is no
permanent truth you can corner in a poem that will satisfy you forever. Don’t identify
too strongly with your work. Stay fluid behind those back-and-white words. They are
not you. They were a great moment going through you. A moment you were awake
enough to write down and capture.

Natalie Goldberg

 

woman touching guanyin, kiyomizu temple, kyoto

Put into words a great moment that flowed through your writing or art. Share a snippet of that work and what inspired you.

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In Kyoto at the Kiyomizu temple the late afternoon light was soft and tinted a bronze
statue of the bodhisattva Kwannon with golden highlights. I was focused on finding the
right angle and background to capture its quintessential essence in a photo before the sun
receded behind the mountaintops.

A group of Japanese women gathered at the site and I waited patiently as they took
pictures of each other near the statue. Gazing out over the city I enjoyed the brief respite
yet wondered if I’d lose the light before they continued their tour of the magnificent
grounds of Kiyomizu.

An informal line formed and soon the women were taking turns touching the statue as I
continued to watch. I enjoyed their laughter and a feeling that mixed joy and reverence
in their gathering. Each woman had come to seek the blessings of Kwannon, in one of
her roles as guardian of women and children.

All of the sudden I woke from my hazy reverie. This was the photographic moment!
The statue was lovely yet these few minutes brought it to life. I had almost missed it.
An older woman gently caressed the statue’s hands formed in the gesture of gassho, a
mudra of prayer and appreciation. A pregnant woman touched Kwannon and looked
back beamingly at her friends.

I guessed this group of women was comprised of friends and family and the outing was
intentional. The serendipity was mine. Raising my camera to request permission to
take photos, I received head nods and smiles that it was OK. As I began to shoot I was
forever thankful when they went back to ignoring my presence. This was another clue
one of their primary intents was to seek blessings for the yet-to-be-born child.

Typically in Japan when I raised my camera with an imploring question on my face,
small groups of family or friends would line up for a photo shoot. Then one of the
parties would gesture for a shot of all of us and numerous cameras would emerge until
everyone had a photo of their own. I was traveling alone and always appreciated the
friendly contact. At the same time disappointment would arise as I regretted another lost
opportunity for a spontaneous shot.

I was lucky that day. Everything about those few moments were magic. My camera was
pre-dialed to the right light setting, quickly framing their images seemed natural and I
was fortunate to briefly share in a ritual both universal and heartfelt.

Do I compare these instances to ones where I’m dragging my body from place to place
looking for a shot in the impossible, glaring sun? Of course. Writing about the process
reminds me to cherish yet not cling to those special moments.

The lesson is trust. Trust these encounters arise when I least expect them. After the
exhilaration of capturing a great shot I tend to imagine it will never happen again. It’s the
kind of hazy, habitual thinking that almost got in my way. Perhaps that day Kwannon
was looking out for the free spirited child in me too.


~*~

More inspirational words and photos at www.thefemalebuddha.com