A discussion on FAITH

Let's talk about FAITH.

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Cyrena: Hi Kim! It's time to talk about FAITH.

 

Kimberly: Why, yes it is! Cy, where do you think we should begin?

Cyrena:  From the beginning! What was your first concept of "faith" that you can remember?

Kimberly: From an early age, I think I also synonymized faith with some practice or ritual associated with religion. For my grandmother, it was waking up every morning to her Buddhist chants. For my grandfather, it was following the rituals of ancestral worship common in traditional Chinese culture. For my parents it was interesting. My father always claimed that studying and reading was a practice of faith in science and one's initiative, whereas my mother had a more spiritual view on practicing faith. Needless to say, it was interesting growing up with them under the same roof.

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Cyrena: That's so interesting -- so you essentially grew up with four different models of 'faith'...What do you mean by more "spiritual"?

Kimberly: I think my mother was humble in her faith, she recognized that there were things she couldn't fully understand or know. So, she believed in God and also saw the possibility of the existence of ghosts and other spirits.

Cyrena: Yeah, those are definitely concepts I grew up with, too -- spirits and ghosts. I didn't see such a regimented routine of faith -- my grandfather was Muslim, and all the other grandparents were lax Buddhists, or at least adhered to the same rituals of ancestral worship. And my parents were more or less the same, but even more lax -- though I can't ever remember a time where someone unequivocally told me that there was a god, or that there was a heaven, hell, etc.

I definitely heard of these terms - through the media and my neighborhood friends, but again, it seemed more cultural rather than "religious truth", if that makes sense.

Kimberly: I think I know what you mean. The journey to search for "religious truth" has been something I've been thinking about more recently in my ideas towards "faith".

Cyrena: Oh yeah? So has faith always been associated with ritual & practice then? Or did that change along the way? Which model did you like the most?

Kimberly: I think as I've grown in my understanding of religion and faith, so have my ideas changed towards practicing spirituality. Most recently, investigating teachings of the Baha'i faith has taught me to value religion as guidance and tools to unleashing our individual spiritual capacities, which may not necessarily be grown through merely performing rituals.

Cyrena: Cool -- can you tell me more about the Baha'i faith? I don't know much about it. How did you first come across it?

Seat of the Universal House of Justice, governing body of the Bahá'ís, in Haifa, Israel

Seat of the Universal House of Justice, governing body of the Bahá'ís, in Haifa, Israel

 Kimberly:  The Baha'i faith is one of the world's newest independent religions. The main focus of the religion is work towards building a just, peaceful, and sustainable world by focusing on service and community development at the neighborhood level. I actually learned about the faith during our time as students at Barnard College. One of my hallmates, who is now one of my dear friends, shared the teachings and service-oriented activities of the Baha'i teachings with me over the span of our time as students.

Cyrena: That's awesome and so interesting, especially since I was just reading about the distinction of religion - that is, how institutions can be exempt from certain laws though the basis of being a religion, of having faith... how would you define religion versus faith?

Kimberly:  I recently attended a gathering with Baha'is where we actually touched on this topic. According to one of the main figures of the Baha'i faith, Abdu'l-Baha, "faith is meant, first, conscious knowledge, and second, the practice of good deeds." I feel that religion today has become muddied with adhering to laws or attachments to certain rituals that may not necessarily at its core, be contributing to elevating one's spiritual consciousness. However, that isn't to say that all religions work like this. I think as spiritual beings, it becomes our duty to recognize the fine distinction between faith and religion. How about you? What has been your spiritual journey?

Cyrena: Definitely - if anything, adherence to arbitrary laws and rituals is what most turns me off from "organized religion". I grew up more or less an atheist with beliefs in the supernatural, and I feel like in America, so much of the dialogue about religion & faith is binary in the most narrow sense: there is a heaven or hell, there are the believers and non-believers - it's extremely Judeo-Christian centered without taking other religions into account.

Kimberly:  Have you had personal experiences with this?

Cyrena: Sure, I mean, I've definitely spoken with people about their Christian faith out of curiosity, and most were pretty sure I was going to hell, as a non-believer, haha... which is a weird thing to have a stranger or friend think of you. But more generally, I feel like it's permeated in our culture: to rebel, to be goth is to "invert" the cross - in pop culture, in fashion, you know? It's so limited, the only alternative.

Kimberly:  That's an interesting observation...

Cyrena: Yeah it definitely dominates the dialogue! I mean, the words "under god" were introduced to the Pledge of Allegiance only recently, too. So as time passed, I became more interested in reading about spirituality as a belief in how we can live life, rather than claiming myself as a follower of a certain religion.

Kimberly: Hmmm... has there been certain readings that have stood out to you in their discussions on how to live life? And what is your understanding on the connection between spirituality and its application to daily life now?

Cyrena: It's sort of a mish-mash of a lot of things - Buddhism, Daoism, UFO theories... If I had to sum up my faith: it is that we are all creations springing from consciousness: we really shape the world we live in, and are all living beings trying to make sense of life. When you take that into account; it's important to treat every living being as you would like to be treated.

Kimberly: I like that a lot. Makes me think back to the Baha'i faith's main goal of unity.

Cyrena: And I suppose because I believe in the power of the imagination; I don't disclose any possibilities of the world - I think some scientists in quantum physics say that it's possible that there are infinite "realities" just from every choice we make.

Kimberly:  It's fascinating to think about that humbleness that comes with being aware of these infinite possibilities too. This is going to be such an engaging theme for the month (even just for myself)! Talking about spiritual identities really provides an avenue for sharing stories about ourselves in a different way, one that is filled with our meaning and understandings.

Cyrena: Definitely! Humility & inspiration to do good, for sure. What's one time in your life where you felt like faith played a really integral role?

Kimberly: I think I'm living it right now, actually. I've decided to commit my time and energy to a year of service building community in Flagstaff, AZ to support Baha'i as well as local efforts to empower young people. Even my choice to come out to Flagstaff seemed to be full of confirmations. I had a job lined up in Beijing, China and was planning on staying another 2 years abroad, when I just came back to the States, and didn't feel right about it. And everything fell into place on its own in due time- all of my possessions in China were either sent to me or given away, and I've felt a growing sense of belonging in Arizona over these past 6 months.

That was a great question, Cy. What about for you?

Cyrena: That's so great -- I want to hear more about the experience of doing that!

I've never had a strong faith in one "thing", so I've never really had my faith tested. But there have definitely been times where I devote a lot of mental energy into wanting to turn an idea into reality, and I've succeeded -- which has reconfirmed my own current faith and I guess, most importantly now - my faith makes me way way more empathetic towards other people. Spreading positivity (on the basis that it is possible from intent) is really gratifying

Kimberly: That's beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. I even see INSTA-GRANDMA as an extension of that practice of faith- of asking from ourselves and those around us to reflect on their understanding of consciousness in their lives. I also hope that this space becomes one where we continue to foster making and building connections, as well as collaborating on ideas and visions.

Cyrena: Definitely! We are the compound results of our mothers and fathers before us after all... it's important to reflect. 

What is your faith like? What is your concept of it? Share your story in the comments or get in touch....

Artist Behind the Sankofa: Zakiya Mason

Zakiya Mason is one of my oldest friends from New Jersey -- and it's been seven and a half years since she moved off to the west coast. She is also the painter behind the Sankofa featured on this site. Currently residing in LA, Zakiya is a barista, all-around lovely person, and artist. We had a brief chat about art, life, the importance of having a creative outlet, and everything in between. All artwork by Zakiya.

See more of her creations on Instagram here and purchase a few at her Etsy shop.

Zakiya's painting of a Sankofa.

Zakiya's painting of a Sankofa.

CYRENA: How do you define "artist"? I always remember that tee-shirt you wore in high school that mandated the pronunciation of the word to be "art-teest". 

ZAKIYA: I think "artist" is a title you earn just like "doctor" or "mechanic."  It comes with a mastery of skills, intense studying, and the development of specific sensibilities.  To me, the title represents a high level of understanding in how to use experience, aesthetics, form, and intellect in order to communicate and affect an audience.  But since there's no certificate that comes with the mastery of these things, I rely on my peers to decide when I've earned the title.
 

CYRENA: I think you've earned it. What do you usually paint or draw?

ZAKIYA: I probably draw women more than anything.  Overall, there's probably an even split of drawings from life and from my imagination.  If I'm not drawing from life, the work is very introspective, and since I am a woman, I'm very interested in the role.  There are so many female archetypes: the man-eater, the virgin, the workaholic, the mother, the slut; Medusa, Persephone, Athena, Hera, Aphrodite.  I'm completely fascinated with each of these roles, the way in which women wade between them, and each of the feminine, masculine, and androgynous layers woven within them. People are so interesting and complex, but women in particular are so misunderstood.  I enjoy exploring the female psyche and physicality.
 

Alessandra Ambrosio 

Alessandra Ambrosio 


CYRENA: What inspires you, motivates you to make art?

I think I need to make things in order to be happy.

  ZAKIYA: I've been drawing, painting, sculpting, and dancing since I was a little girl.  I do it mostly compulsively.  There was a short time, about a year or two after I graduated college, when I created almost nothing.  I was in a failing relationship, I was working a job I didn't enjoy, and I felt completely uninspired to do anything more than go to parties.  As soon as I started keeping a sketchbook and going to life drawing workshops again, I instantly felt better.  I think having a creative outlet is important for everyone, but I know for myself it's the only way I can release negative and/or static energy.


CYRENA: I 100% agree. I think a lot of us, as we get older, lose that creative drive to consumeristic or vain desires. How does your art now compare to the art you created when you were younger?

ZAKIYA: After working with high school students here in California who have little or no access to arts programs, I am completely grateful that I had so many art classes and clubs in my public school (in New Jersey).  Every quarter, I took at least one class in the art wing, whether it be drawing, painting, photography, cartooning, printmaking, or cooking (not in the art wing, but an art nonetheless).  It was such an integral part of my elementary and secondary education that I can't help but ache for the children growing up in schools without it.  My teachers may not have had the skills of Rubens or Hitchcock, but I think at that age, you really just need ambassadors into the arts world.

CYRENA:  People definitely underestimate the importance of liberal and creative arts. But with the popularity of social media, it's easier for artists these days to get there work out - and to find inspiration! How do you use social media as a source of inspiration, and how do you prevent it from being a source of distraction?


ZAKIYA: I love social media, especially Instagram!  I think it inspires me in two major ways.  The first, is that I not only want to create things for myself, but I want to create things to share.  If I have an idea I think is particularly fun or clever, I like to sketch it out so I can share it with other people. 

The idea that I can instantly share a tiny painting I've done on a 2.5"x3.5" board with anyone in the world who searches for "painting" in the app, is so thrilling to me! I can reach a wide variety of people who can also reach out to me. 

The second, is that I love finding artists who I never would have otherwise.  I've discovered amazing artists in Los Angeles and across the world who I might never have seen otherwise.  The informal forum also encourages these artists to share sketches and developmental stages, that they wouldn't have been able to share otherwise.  I love this, because I think you can learn a great deal when you're able to watch someone's process from start to finish.  

As far as distraction is concerned, I don't really find anything to be a distraction.  I think if I'm compelled to spend an entire night reading a novel or entertainment news or scrolling through instagram posts, it means I need a night to draw up inspiration.  I can't force myself to do anything I'm not compelled to do, so if I don't feel I want to draw, or have anything to draw, I accept this and spend time doing some thing else I want to do.  I suppose it would be different if I were my job to draw, but everything I make, including the painting for this site, was a project I gave to myself because I wanted to do it.  

CYRENA: Yeah, accepting circumstance and letting things go is key. Onto a bigger question: how do you currently define the meaning of life?

ZAKIYA: I have no idea how to answer that question.  I can say that I don't believe the meaning of life can be written down and processed intellectually.  I think it can only be intuited and felt.

CYRENA: Your favorite memory?

ZAKIYA: When I was around five years old, my brother would read this children's book about a goofy dragon (the title of which I can't remember), almost every night.  I begged him to read it to me, though I could read it perfectly well by myself, but I loved having him beside me, reading it aloud, and taking on the voices of each character.  Afterwards, he would tuck me me in, literally cucooning me into the sheets, and turn out the lights. I'd feel so warm and happy.

CYRENA: Squee. And finally: the last dream that you remember?

ZAKIYA: The last dream I remember was in a tropical forest setting that had the structure of a building- no apparent walls, but with levels and elevators to navigate them.  I was walking through the forest with a good friend of mine, who was pushing a stroller with a baby, though in real life she is baby-free.  At some point, I lost her in one of the elevators, and found myself on a level where a number of painters, including a good friend of mine who works as a professional painter and teacher, were painting a still life.  However, they were painting the still life from a projected photograph on a flat forest surface.  It was shortly after this odd scene that I awoke.

CYRENA: I love that dream. If I were to dream about art / painting, I'd want it to be like this movie:

See more of Zakiya's creations on Instagram here and purchase a few at her Etsy shop.

DOPPLEMAMMAS

We love meeting the mothers of our friends -- it's like looking at the original version of an artwork that I really, really like. Sometimes the similarities are so striking, especially when you can align two photos of a person at a certain point in their life next to a photo of their mother (or grandmother) at a certain point. Do that, and presto! You've got twins. 

Below are a bunch of photographs we collected from our friends and family -- mothers, the originators, on the left, and their spawn on the right. Some look similar as infants, some were doppelgängers during the teenage years. Enjoy!

"Her name was Freda. She died when I was 15. Because of my age when she died and the difference in our backgrounds (she grew up on a farm in the 30s with a Catholic family, I grew up in a city in the 90s with a feminist mom), at the time she died I came to view her as a tragic symbol of life before feminism. I interpreted her life story as being very sad and cautionary--she had seven kids, was a housewife, always was a very traditional woman. But now, I know I was just judging her through my own desires--I think she actually led a very interesting and fulfilling life. She would probably view my life--childless, unmarried, always moving around--as somewhat sad, but she was the kind of person that wouldn't have judged me."

"Her name was Freda. She died when I was 15. Because of my age when she died and the difference in our backgrounds (she grew up on a farm in the 30s with a Catholic family, I grew up in a city in the 90s with a feminist mom), at the time she died I came to view her as a tragic symbol of life before feminism. I interpreted her life story as being very sad and cautionary--she had seven kids, was a housewife, always was a very traditional woman. But now, I know I was just judging her through my own desires--I think she actually led a very interesting and fulfilling life. She would probably view my life--childless, unmarried, always moving around--as somewhat sad, but she was the kind of person that wouldn't have judged me."

"My mom loves to copy my orders at restaurants. That is to say, she usually lets me order first, but the truth is I'm falling into her habits of fifty plus years. (She'll tell you I'm finally coming to my senses.) If I'm having a broccoli and cheddar omelette, rye toast, so is she. And she's telling the waitress in this off the cuff way, laughing, "well, I'll have the exact same thing!" Then she looks at me. "Too funny, Fraylie." The loose translation, I assume, is, "she insisted for so long that she'd never be like me, and now look. Just look!" And then to me: "Fraylie, I told you so." I think it's a source of great pleasure for her. She gets this look on her face that it's the ultimate joy to sit down for breakfast, not rip each others' hair out, and eat broccoli and cheddar omelettes with a side of rye toast."

"My mom loves to copy my orders at restaurants. That is to say, she usually lets me order first, but the truth is I'm falling into her habits of fifty plus years. (She'll tell you I'm finally coming to my senses.) If I'm having a broccoli and cheddar omelette, rye toast, so is she. And she's telling the waitress in this off the cuff way, laughing, "well, I'll have the exact same thing!" Then she looks at me. "Too funny, Fraylie." The loose translation, I assume, is, "she insisted for so long that she'd never be like me, and now look. Just look!" And then to me: "Fraylie, I told you so." I think it's a source of great pleasure for her. She gets this look on her face that it's the ultimate joy to sit down for breakfast, not rip each others' hair out, and eat broccoli and cheddar omelettes with a side of rye toast."

 "The thing that I love most about my mom is how she treats everyone like equals and will drop anything for the people that she loves. She's a giver."

 "The thing that I love most about my mom is how she treats everyone like equals and will drop anything for the people that she loves. She's a giver."

"I love that my mom can be serious at times, while also being open-minded and naively curious. She believes in ghosts and God. And mermen and UFOs. I remember her constantly telling me that there's a lot in the world that we can't explain. She's played a huge role in teaching me humility, humbleness, and just keeping a healthy sense of wonder about the world."

"I love that my mom can be serious at times, while also being open-minded and naively curious. She believes in ghosts and God. And mermen and UFOs. I remember her constantly telling me that there's a lot in the world that we can't explain. She's played a huge role in teaching me humility, humbleness, and just keeping a healthy sense of wonder about the world."

"My mom rode her bike with me to school each day when I was a little kid. One time I stopped short at the top of a hill and my mom crashed right into me. Aside from that, it was a wonderful time. "

"My mom rode her bike with me to school each day when I was a little kid. One time I stopped short at the top of a hill and my mom crashed right into me. Aside from that, it was a wonderful time. "

"M mother had a pet lion for a while... until it misbehaved and bit the maid in the leg. Let's just say the Stasi in East Germany was not too bad at times."

"M mother had a pet lion for a while... until it misbehaved and bit the maid in the leg. Let's just say the Stasi in East Germany was not too bad at times."

"My mom is one of the happiest people I know. She's my best friend- I call her everyday. We talk about everything and nothing. The other day, she recounted a story about how a bird landed in her hand and laid three little eggs, which then hatched. In her hand!"

"My mom is one of the happiest people I know. She's my best friend- I call her everyday. We talk about everything and nothing. The other day, she recounted a story about how a bird landed in her hand and laid three little eggs, which then hatched. In her hand!"

"My mother creates without effort. And: what she creates seems inseparable from her. I long, in my own work, for this kind of instinctive handling of material. Unlike the rest of us, she doesn’t worry about what she doesn’t know — she bypasses uncertainty, she is on the move — and so she is a singer, a songwriter, an actor, a painter, a filmmaker, a poet. She gives birth, brings to light, dando la luz, again and again; it comes easy; it is artless. Mother. Of all your many names this is the one I like best, the one you credit me with giving, but that was yours long before. Mother, creator, named before I named you."

"My mother creates without effort. And: what she creates seems inseparable from her. I long, in my own work, for this kind of instinctive handling of material. Unlike the rest of us, she doesn’t worry about what she doesn’t know — she bypasses uncertainty, she is on the move — and so she is a singer, a songwriter, an actor, a painter, a filmmaker, a poet. She gives birth, brings to light, dando la luz, again and again; it comes easy; it is artless. Mother. Of all your many names this is the one I like best, the one you credit me with giving, but that was yours long before. Mother, creator, named before I named you."

"Sometimes, when I talk to her, I feel like I'm talking to myself. There is no doubt that we are related. No DNA test needed.

"Sometimes, when I talk to her, I feel like I'm talking to myself. There is no doubt that we are related. No DNA test needed.

"Things I like about my mom- she's crazy patient and is never shy about her age. Whenever my dad teases her, she just lets the jokes roll off her and remains collected. My dad calls her "Serious Khanum" (farsi for "Lady")."

"Things I like about my mom- she's crazy patient and is never shy about her age. Whenever my dad teases her, she just lets the jokes roll off her and remains collected. My dad calls her "Serious Khanum" (farsi for "Lady")."

"Mami has a will as solid as a lion."

"Mami has a will as solid as a lion."

A Woman's Love

I've been blessed with the opportunity to become friends with Stephanie Flood during my time in Flagstaff, AZ. A talented writer, artist, musician, and general creative being, Stephanie inspires me to push my own limits in self-expression. 

 

"Glow" (Mixed media art) by Stephanie Flood  

"Glow" (Mixed media art) by Stephanie Flood  

A Woman's Love By Stephanie Flood

A woman 

glows like a ripening moon

humming above the prickly terrain of the Sonoran

desert. Her sighs travel the globe like the 

Aurora Borealis dancing these ancient wreathes bursting in prehistoric colors flying through a

nomadic sky dispelling time

dispelling words. Her light sparks valleys and human-built monuments 

over mountain peaks and cacti stretching centuries past 

the Canterbury tales

Shakespearean sonnets and

Gothic cathedrals that freckle civilization. She loves from the base of existence dancing like 

leaves grown from seeds of a Bonsai tree or like sacred Kachinas spirits

on the San Francisco peaks when she is whole

able to unveil your fear with peppermint scented lips able to still guide you on 

even in the dark

                  even when she’s gone.

 

 

Stephanie Flood is a writer and artist based in Flagstaff, Arizona. Check out more of her writing, multimedia artwork, and music here: http://floodfreelance.weebly.com/

 

Sisters, Brothers, Neighbors

I've known Adam Abada for a while now -- one of his most admirable feats is skateboarding from New York to Boston. This short film of his is a poignant, intimate portrait of sibling relationships: when we look at the relationships we have as adults with our brother and sisters, it's inevitable to stumble into nostalgia, looking back at the years we spent growing up in such close proximity with them as children. It's bittersweet to think that those years are mere memories now, but always a good reminder to spend as much time as possible with those who you know best, when you can. 

NEIGHBORS, a short film by ADAM ABADA

My sister recently moved to New York and is helping me realize what a daunting place it can be for someone who isn’t fully used to it, especially in comparison to the home life she had where she was living in DC (big house with tons of friends always around as opposed to much smaller apartment with friendly but constantly busy roommates). As a result it’s making me really consider my relationship with her (always very strong) in an effort to make sure she’s getting used to her new life here. It’s making me think a lot about our relationship historically as kids, growing up, apart in college, and where it is now as adults living in the same place

Adam Abada is an artist and filmmaker from New York City. Hit him up or catch him cruising. You can also check out his website here: gnarcotics.com

Not The Little Girl Who Played Teacher

Not The Little Girl Who Played Teacher

NOT THE LITTLE GIRL WHO PLAYED TEACHER explores how one woman became a teacher - despite never wanting to have been one - and her relationship with teaching and herself, now.

Ally is a South Jersey transplant to that "central Jersey" region that doesn't really exist. She splits her time between teaching high school English / History, reading all of Ophrah's book club suggestions, and attempting Paleo recipes in her crock pot. Her dream is to become a Vatican City tour guide and is one stop closer by marrying her Italian-national fiance this fall. Check out her blog:http://tequillavsmockingbird.wordpress.com/

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Ballet Confessions: Mary Ellen Beaudreau

Ballet Confessions: Mary Ellen Beaudreau

Ballet Confessions inverts the world of ballet on it’s head: the music (warbled Romeo & Juliet), the props (piles of "dead" pointe shoes and a giant tutu), the movements (hands instead of feet). It studies the arc typical to most dancers: stereotype, discovery, euphoria, obsession, destruction, and then; renewal.

In some ways, the ballet world is a mirror of the real world. Females are treated as objects, and the men are favored and told to be stronger rather than thinner. We’re all born with innate creativity, but then forced to mold ourselves into the shapes society provides us with. 

What happens when the mold we've been conforming to for so many years, breaks? What happens when our world changes, when we lose something close that we've held onto for so long? 

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