Monthly Archives: August 2017

What Is A Western Hindu?

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Lord Shiva

Lord Shiva

My daily walk through the forest has become an important part of my devotional and meditative practices. I live in the midst of a State Park, and the swamp and forest are thick, dense, green and jungle like. It is not difficult to picture Bagheera in many of the dramatic live oaks set deep in the green.

Mein junglee ladhki hai! Which, if I remember right (or spelled it right), means “I am a jungle girl” in Hindi. Or, loosely translated, “I am a wild girl.” I set off into the forest knowing that it was likely to rain. Frankly, I’ve never seen so much rain. Sure enough, it began raining shortly into my walk, and like most people I instinctively turned to head home, but I got to a point where I realized that I was already wet, so what I was doing, running to my car to get home, was an unconscious act. It was a compulsion that made no sense. I was not the one making a B-line for the car, my conditioning, social and cultural norms and brainwashing compelled me to unconsciously, compulsively, head for the car. I got to the point on the trail where I could have gone straight to get to the car, or I could turn left and go deeper into the forest, following a path I do not know. I chose, consciously, to stop obeying an automatic and predictable compulsion to head for my car, and instead head off down a path that was unfamiliar to me.

And that was Shiva.

Choosing the path I did not know helped me pay attention to the new scenery as the rain slowly dripped on me. It was turning out to be a good walk, and I could feel the ecstasy of a realization coming on. For those of you who perhaps do not understand realizations, it goes like this. A realization written down is nothing you haven’t heard a hundred times before, a thousand if you are a seeker. Realizations are when the teachings we intellectually understand suddenly internalize, and the firsthand knowledge of a thing at the Godhead level can bring about an ecstatic state that can sometimes become close to orgasmic, though not sexual. This, is why, Shiva’s phallus is seen as erect in many of the ancient images. It is a symbol of being in a state of awareness so intense it can be hard to bear until you get the hang of it.

Soon, I had circled back to a familiar trail with the intention of heading back to the car, though this time consciously. I came around to the trailhead off the forest road and started up the path towards the car, satisfied with the long contemplative hike, all the way the rain falling. I thought about how I was a drop of rain, no different. It was the perfect realization to keep me company as I walked towards the car.

“The drop in the ocean, everyone knows
The ocean in the drop, A rare one does”

Kabir

I am a drop of rain, no different. And I am the frightened deer in the distance, the wetness in the ground, the mightiest tree and the old dead willow, and I am Shiva. Though this metaphor has been said a thousand times, this time I knew what it meant to say: “I am a drop of rain,” and I knew as the raindrops fell to tickle through my hair, that there was no separation between the rain and I. And that like each drop of rain, I form from the mist of Atman to manifest, to become physical, then act as the raindrop which falls to the ground to expire, wetting the soil to nourish life, evaporate, then rise and fall again and again and again, mired in Samsara (the cycle of death and rebirth). Until, of course, I get tired of the forming, falling and perishing and realize the pain of Samsara.

I am a raindrop that has become aware of the pain of falling. I want to evaporate and merge with Brahman, never to fall again.

As I pondered this realization of oft-heard wisdom (remember what I said about “realizations,” you’ve heard their wisdom so many times before, to where they sound like cliches, the realization is what changes that cliche to a vibration so powerful it becomes existentially experiential), I began to realize I did not know where I was. I was not headed for my car. A moment later I realized I had accidentally doubled back and gone in a loop around the same unfamiliar trail. Like the raindrop in my realization, I had been literally and physically going around in circles! Just as in Samsara! I was physically moving through samsara as I was realizing its nature through the drops of rain. I thanked Shiva, and soon got my bearings, took the right path and found my way back to the car.

This time, this drop of rain is falling in the form of a “Western Hindu.”

“Is it not true that a nation is, in reality, first and foremost perhaps a subconscious construct? You imagine the nation before it exists, and so it exists.”

Hindol Sengupta

I’ll tell you what a Western Hindu is… sometimes an honored guest, sometimes a curiosity, and sometimes sniggered at. There are some Indians who are amused by us, but privately dismiss us. Other Indians are delighted to meet Westerners who are so engaged in their culture and spirituality. We are, however, surprisingly spoken of with derision even by white male leaders of the American Vedanta movement as white women in saris with dots on their heads. Worst of all, many Western Hindus like to wallow in the “white guilt” gutter and try and be overly magnanimous and humble and dismissively shit upon themselves. But the sad truth is, what is the root religion of “the white man” in America? Well, being on American soil, should we be practicing the religions of the Cherokee? Should we take up the desert religion of the Old and New Testament? Face it, though some paths are seen as more acceptable for and among whites, none of the things we turn to come from our white caucasian heritage. Simply put, any religion a white person takes on is a robe designed and weaved by other people, usually in other lands.

And let’s just take the dismissive attitude of those few Indians and Americans, who will not entirely accept us, after all, we were not born South of the Indus river. Even one of my many white Vedanta teachers was sharing concern over how they are treated or thought of by Indians. Anyone who has gotten outside of mainstream white culture and has experienced other cultures knows that racism is not a one way street heading from light to dark. I have been a minority in a lot of situations (take 2 years living in Asia for a start), and I’ll tell you what… a minority is a minority no matter what the color of the skin.

It is often snobbishly said that it is impossible for anyone not from India to ever truly be a Hindu. But anyone believing that… is clearly not a Hindu, or at least, knows nothing about what Hinduism teaches. Yet, it’s only natural for a white woman to ask… then what am I? What is a “Western Hindu?”

I will say this, anyone who thinks a white person cannot really be a “Hindu,” in the spiritual sense, has completely misunderstood the core concept of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism).

“That which is in us, the pure consciousness that observes all our senses. emotions and the ego and is beyond it all is what we really are. And that pure consciousness is common to every living thing on earth. It is an idea that inevitably stops you in your tracks. It is an idea to end all ideas: in essence, every living thing is the same.”

Hindol Sengupta, “Being Hindu”

Shiva is, and is as much for a white person as He is for an Indian.

We are all Atman, white or Indian. If you cannot accept that, you have not accepted Shiva.

We are all souls caught on the wheel of samasara, slowly rising towards liberation. ALL OF US!

In other words, to my dear skeptical and derisive friends, I ask, is it so that all the wisdom of the Hindu scriptures applies only to people born in India? Is it so, then, that only Indians can know God? Is it true that only Indians can meditate? Is it so that ONLY Indians are Brahman? Is it so that we are all in maya, that we are all manifestations of Atman… or is that only true for people born below a particular river?

And, is it not said again and again in “The Siva Purana” that Lord Shiva takes on many forms? Shiva takes on whatever form he chooses, and those forms are not limited to the borders or gene pool of India.

To think less of us, to dismiss us, to treat us as novelties, to turn us away from temples… is to deny Shiva, is to to live in ignorance… it is a sin!

A Western Hindu is a Hindu, if “Hindu” is a term used to describe a person who follows the specific sets of spiritual concepts laid out by the sages. Was Shankara ONLY talking to Indians? Was the vision of the sages limited ONLY to people from India… or are those truths universal?

OK, this is not debatable, those truths are universal! A Western Hindu is a Hindu. I will say this proudly (EGO), I have probably read many more of the core scriptures than most Indians at the Temples I visit. How many India-born Hindus have read “The Siva Purana?” I have read about 6 books to prepare for it and am well over halfway through the 2,200 pages! I have read many translations of “The Bhagavad Gita.” Geographic accidents of birth are as irrelevant as the ego itself.

An Indian friend of mine corrected me on concerning myself with what to call myself or what a “Western Hindu” is by saying that it might help if I stop thinking of myself as “converting to Hinduism” and simply think of myself as a sisya, as a seeker, and to drop the word “Hindu” and go with “Sanatana Dharma.”

To be honest, most of my encounters with Indians have been overwhelmingly warm and welcoming (in fact, most Indians are more welcoming to me than other whites), and they have proven to be wholly open to the things I say… and they treat me like an equal, like a seeker. This piece is written for those few who would refuse us entry into temples, and who would dismiss or deride us in the quiet of their own minds. It is written for the whites who crumble into apologetics and shameful self flagellation. Sadly, it is written primarily for my own myself, to my own weaknesses, for when I sometimes do not entirely accept that a white woman can be a Hindu either!

At last I had returned to my car soaking wet and sat for a moment with my thoughts and questions. Maybe it is so that it is almost impossible for a person from a Western background to truly understand the complexities of the Indian mind, culture, and spirituality… but that does not mean Shiva will choose to speak to an Indian over a white Northerner transplanted to the South. It does not mean that I have less a chance of attaining Samadhi, or of becoming realized.

If our physical births are births into maya. if our bodies are the gross layer, if the Atman is our true self, then surely the bit of dirt we were born upon is less significant an attachment than a child’s attachment to her favorite rattle. Those who think only one born in India can be a Hindu are living under the spell of Shiva’s maya! They are deluded, still attached to materialism. They believe that the matter from which we came, the land from which we emerged, makes us more or less Atman, more or less Hindu, more or less human. They are in darkness, in ignorance, and that is the only real sin in Sanatana Dharma.

Could I not have been an Indian in a previous birth? Could I not have been a spiritually advanced person who has reincarnated as a devoted seeker challenged and tested by her birth in the West? Isn’t gender, political ideology, financial status, nation of birth, aren’t all those things aspects of maya, of the material world? If a Hindu does not identify with the trappings of the material world, then why would geography be the only material trapping that would decide whether or not one attains moksha? Shiva (Krishna, Vishnu, Durga) chooses his followers, and he does not take gender, wealth, or nation of birth into account.

But it is so, due to my Western birth, I am not steeped in a culture that was founded on and inherently understands the juicy complexities and ultimate simplicity of Hinduism. It’s a challenge to take on this belief system from the West, but, as I intimated, perhaps that is one of the things I am to overcome. Is it fair to suggest I cannot overcome the country of my birth or the color of my skin? All aspects of our material manifestation are to be overcome. And while I’m at it… ultimately isn’t this sort of bias against “Western Hindus” just another form of bigotry?

Let’s consider also that the word “Hindu” was originally a derogatory word (Hindoo) used by the British. The term many so-called Hindus prefer is Sanatana Dharma. The word “Hindu” was meant to describe people from a geographic location, not a people who followed a specific spiritual school of thought. And what is the specific school of thought that makes up “Hindusim?” There is as much, if not more, diversity of thought within Hinduism than what exists outside it within the multiple faiths that are not Hindu.

Once it is analyzed, perhaps there are no “Hindus,” not in the spiritual sense. There are only seekers.

So, perhaps I do have this all wrong after all. Maybe I am not a Hindu, but Shiva has made his presence known to me as both nirguna and saguna, Mother has sent me signs, Ganesh has cared for me. I have trembled in the ecstasy of realization. I have seen a higher self. I know I am on the wheel of samsara, and I want off. I want to stop circling, to stop falling.

Maybe I am not a Hindu.

But I am a drop of rain.

No different.

FOUR: The Art Of “What The Lions Saw” (Justine’s Gainesville Period)

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FOUR: The Art Of “What The Lions Saw” (Justine’s Gainesville Period)
To read in order:
Part ONE: https://barefootjustine.com/2017/08/14/one-the-art-of-what-the-lions-saw-introduction-1-of-2/
Part TWO: https://barefootjustine.com/2017/08/14/two-the-art-of-what-the-lions-saw-introduction-part-2-of-2/
Part THREE: https://barefootjustine.com/2017/08/24/the-art-of-what-the-lions-saw-part-3/

(Barefoot) Justine comics illustration

(Barefoot) Justine comics illustration

Since I’ve been in Gainesville, I’ve taken on a number of projects, some of them very surprising. I’m afraid the gripping narrative of the blog may give way to the act of simply sharing for a page.

Look at this as Justine’s show and tell!

But along the way I will share some insights and stories about each project. Oh… and I don’t think I’ll be talking about any of this in any kind of order. I guess the order will be “whatever Justine feels is groovy enough to talk about now.” I think this will set the stage for how the work of my “Gainesville period” led to the lovely project with the Matheson illustrating “What The Lions Saw.”

OK, so who would have thought that barefoot batshit crazy hippie Hindu Justine would one day work for the Department Of Defense (actually DARPA)? Well, not me, but never one to turn down a chance to pay rent and buy groceries I went at it. Actually, that’s a tad flippant. The project was great, a comics version of the Odyssey. And my ambition was not to pay my rent and eat, but to learn how to render more like Al Williamson. Yeah, I like to set the bar frustratingly high.

The image below was a favorite page, and the detail image of the head to the left was inked with toothpicks while the rest of the page was inked with a brush. Yeah, you heard right, I inked that with toothpicks!

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen - Odysseus 6: final inks

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen – Odysseus 6: final inks

But, one of my favorite jobs was the animation we did for the library at UF. This was one of those amazing jobs where the topic was dry as stale melba toast, but the “committee” in charge trusted me to do my job. OK… RANT WARNING… I hate hobs where my status as a “creative professional” is reduced to that of “plebeian renderer.” They were open to whatever I had in mind, and essentially left me alone, free to write, storyboard, illustrate, animate, direct and color this thing, with a ton of creative and technological help from Tom Hart at SAW. If you have 6 minutes, it’s worth watching. The challenge was… how do I make this dry information so entertaining that people will WANT to watch it rather than watch it because they need to understand the concept. One of the things I try and do with every job, be it an annual report or infographic, is I try and create something that is NOT disposable. I try and make everything I do something the people who encounter it will keep and enjoy. Most graphics, as I’m sure you know by having ignored them, are hot and trendy, but wholly disposable and forgettable no matter how “daring” and “hip” they were with their fonts.

It was really fun to be able to work in that cartoony style, so different from my work on the DARPA project.

Painting Stage Sets

Painting Stage Sets

On Stage

On Stage

As amazing as those projects were to work on, the job I never could have seen coming was when I got a call to design backgrounds for a ballet that would be at the Thomas Center. I had to design elements that would be sculpted, as well as the props and set dressing elements that decorated the pre-existing backdrop of the castle interior (which I did NOT do), the stairway and so forth. Add to this that I had to paint a 10 foot skull, as well as paint the stairway facade, based on how the backdrop was painted. Keep in mind, I am NOT a painter anymore than a set designer. In other words, it was a lot of work recklessly outside my comfort zone.

Here’s a secret, if you, as an artist, are offered a job outside of your comfort zone, take it, do it, and NEVER let on that you are nervous, you know, like the old deodorant commercial… never let them see you sweat. If they see one drop of sweat they will cast you aside and look for someone less sweaty. Clients are like deer… very easy to spook, and they will run for cover.

In the end I painted the giant backdrop with local artist Margaret Tolbert. It’s funny, I always scold my students for how they hold their brushes while inking comics, and that day Margaret scolded me for how I held my brush. I needed to learn to hold the brush like a painter, not a comic artists. I needed to learn to “say something” as she urged as I meekly went about trying to find volume and proportion on a 10 foot canvas. To be honest, when we began painting I had a panic attack, was in tears. I knew I was in over my head, and figuring out how to draw on a 10 foot canvas was very intimidating, but eventually I got it figured out. In fact, after a half hour of panic, all at once I saw the skull on the canvas, and practically shoved Margaret out of the way saying… “Wait! I see it… I can see it now!” and I saw it and painted in the basic form that we then brought to life, mostly thanks to her confident skills as a painter.

To the upper left are the stairs I designed as painted the day a former student and I had done it, and directly below, that same stairway on stage.

Below, the final stage in my design for the stage set itself. I hand intended for this to be a rough only, but the client looked at it and said, “What’s wrong with this?” Nothing… so it became the final sketch. Below all that… well, that was what I saw when the curtain opened… awesome! I mean seeing it on stage, then the music and the ballet, I felt like a part of something grand. I was… “The Ballet.”

Stage Design

Stage Design

On Stage

On Stage

Yeah, it gets interesting, doesn’t it? Mythology, Cartoon Modern animation, and ballet set designs. And this ain’t the half of it. I’ve done tons of stuff in Gainesville, not all of it for local clients, but it’s more fun when it is. A few years back we did a great project in Gainesville for the CRA, it even won 2 awards, but I think of all the things I’ve done in Gainesville, the animation below is my favorite.

Nothing I have done has come as much from the heart, and there is nothing I’m more proud of than this animation. There are jobs I’m equally proud of, but none I am more proud of. This project pushed all my buttons, as a seeker (see “Hindu”) the thought of doing animation to preserve wild India, it’s elephants and indigenous people from being raped and destroyed by corporate crimelords… appealed to me. Jai Sri Ganesh!

Note that many of the images (as Ganesh at the beginning) were not drawn by me, but were taken from books and processed the same way as my drawings through Adobe Illustrator. It’s obvious which ones I drew… they share a similar line quality. The landscapes and stuff I inked with a brush, the elephants I inked with toothpicks. Why a brush and toothpicks? Because I despise most Flash animation, so cold, those horrid paper doll-like “bone” people that move like lousy shadow puppets. I want my animation to look hand drawn even though it’s all processed through “live trace” in Illustrator, and Flash. The limitations of a tool should never inhibit an artists vision, but should challenge them to shine through the limitations.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!

I guess with all this work (award winning work, at that) under my belt here in town, I’ve become rather cocky. Ever since I’ve moved to Gainesville I’ve been the bold brash woman I’ve always wanted to be. I’ve come to realize something at this stage in my life, and that is that people really do not respect or understand artists. They expect us to go into the studio and be innovative, brilliant, unconventional and sensational in our work, but expect us to act like middle-management bankers at meetings.

NOPE! Not me. I go to all my meetings (whether they be with university librarians, city officials or museum administrators) barefoot and in cut-off denim shorts. I travel at one speed without regard to the circle in which I’m flying. The raw passion, rhythmic heart, and vivid imagination it takes to produce great work is the same imagination that makes us envision other ways of being, of living, of acting. I didn’t become an artist to play by the rules everyone else has to play by. I am the same passionate imaginative person in meetings as I am in the studio. I speak in the same way, and the emotion and passion it takes to make cool art is the same high emotion I bring into the boardroom. A lot of clients can’t handle it, but I’m not playing their game, I can’t, I never knew how to, and I do not want to. Oh… and I will not! You want me and my unique take on the possibilities of your project, that comes with me and my unique take on how to travel through life. Deal with it or hire someone mediocre.

Well, that makes keeping clients a challenge sometimes. But, as I said, if I wanted to be a banker I would have been a banker. I’m not worried about winning any popularity contests (which is good… ’cause I ne’er e’er won one in my life), I’m interested in making work that engages me, and often what engages me frightens committees. Well, sod the committee. And what has all this rant brought us to? It has brought us to the brass tacks statement I made during the very first meeting with the Matheson crew. I said very directly, “Nothing kills creativity like a committee. I want creative control. Give me creative control and you will get my best work.” As soon as a committee starts to micromanage or get too involved, I lose interest and hack through the project to cash the check and pay my rent, but if a client has come to me and hired me to be a creative professional, and is willing to trust their own judgment, then the work I do will not disappoint them. And that’s just it, my ONE message to anyone hiring an artist, and it goes simply like this, if you do not trust the artist you chose to do creative work with the creative work, what that reveals is that you do not trust your own judgment. I can’t stand working with micromanagers, for I can see that they simply do not trust their own judgment.

Well, I am pleased to say that the folks at the Matheson Museum (Peggy MacDonald in particular) have had the courage to trust their judgment. They have given me creative control, and they have gotten me at my very best… and you will see all that very soon.

Next time, at long last, I’m going to get down to really talking about the new project, “What The Lion’s Saw,” and give you all a nice behind the scenes look into the process. Stay tuned… same batshit time, same batshit channel…

NEXT: FIVE, in walk the lions! Behind the scenes preproduction art!

The Waiting Room

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The Waiting Room
by Barefoot Justine

Loneliness is a shabby waiting room,
The magazines like tattered Bibles,
And I have read them all before.

I wait sick, sweaty as a child,
Whose belly ache is the very sun,
Where all my joys are burned to ash.

The wait is longer than a splinter,
Ocean deep, a canker in my skin,
And I can see no end to it.

The lamplight dims and this room,
Consumes me into its empty belly,
And I forget that I was waiting.

So I curl into a ball and forget,
That loneliness is a waiting room,
And not every bite I swallow.

Then you appear faint as a phantom,
A misty shimmer, a hesitant yes,
Yet with a shadow that denies me.

Though my ears perk at the promise,
I dare not see you with my eyes,
And burrow down my old dark hollows.

Wait… I dare to think it so,
Was that you that whispered,
And stirred me from my blankets?

My fear-cramped fingers do uncurl,
Hesitantly towards your warmth,
Yet with hope in their reaching.

Dare I remember the truth,
That loneliness is a waiting room,
One small place and nothing more?

Are you there, beyond the door,
Dare I uncurl into the cold,
Do I dispel the cling of darkness?

I have before, left this room,
Only to be shoved back within,
Wearing a skin of newfound fear.

I curl back my fingers tight,
Plug my ears with old doubts,
Squint against the light of hope.

Are you still shimmering for me,
Holding the door open a crack,
Warm and tremorous, like me?

Eyes closed I recall the sun,
Golden in a sea of brilliant blue,
And remember what I once knew…

That loneliness is a waiting room,
And I do not have to stay here,
I do not have to wait here.

Dare I smile as I warmly cry,
Dare I move an inch for fear,
You will run like the doe?

If I uncurl and leave this room,
I will need to eat and drink,
And I will need to be held.

Tell me when I may burn it down,
that grave, that coffin, nothing that,
This shabby little waiting room.

Three: The Art Of “What The Lions Saw” (Justine Lands In Gainesville)

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THREE: The Art Of “What The Lions Saw”: Justine lands in Gainesville
To read in order:
Part ONE: https://barefootjustine.com/2017/08/14/one-the-art-of-what-the-lions-saw-introduction-1-of-2/
Part TWO: https://barefootjustine.com/2017/08/14/two-the-art-of-what-the-lions-saw-introduction-part-2-of-2/

Mike Lenz, a Blues musician and formidable guitarist from Akron dumped some truth on a mother who wanted advice for her son. She asked him, “What advice do you have for a young guitar player and musician?” Mike said, “Work hard, learn all he can, sacrifice, and spend all your time playing and practicing… and if he does all this and he’s good, really good… there’s hundreds of dollars to be made every year… hundreds!”

Yep, that’s about the size of it, whether you are a guitar player or an artist. You know what my gross income was last year? Less than $7,000, and you know what’s of no help at all?

Words.

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen: WOTC Illustration Pirate Woman

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen: WOTC Illustration Pirate Woman

I don’t know how many times I’ve stood and listened to people tell me how amazing my art is, how good I am, how stunned they are by my art… but they can’t even afford to spend $2 on a crummy postcard at my table! They have no idea I’m starving. I even had a woman say to me “Well, artists are supposed to starve.” To say the least, I was furious, I mean that’s the very rubbish that keeps us down. Worse by far than that, once I even had a woman come to my booth and take a photo of the image she liked when she could have bought a big postcard print of it for $3! She snapped the photo, shot me a shit-eating grin and scurried off quite proud of herself. I chased her down! Yeah, damn straight, that’s pure Justine, chased her down, and right in front of her friends I said, “Do you know what you just did? You just took food out of my mouth. Instead of paying $3 for the postcard, you took a photo and ran off feeling all proud of yourself… and now I don’t get to eat lunch today!” and I walked away.

She came back a few minutes later in tears, apologizing.

And you know what… she still wasn’t willing to cough up three lousy bucks for the postcard! I mean, thanks for crying and apologizing and all, but tears don’t pay the rent, not unless your landlord’s a sucker.

Yeah, all that, all the years of rejection slips, of cheap words, of shallow praise, all of that played out in my mind as I showed Tom Hart my portfolio, my creative life and life of dreams was flashing before my eyes. I needed work, I needed a job, hell, what I needed was salvation! As he poured over my portfolio I could feel my guts clench as I waited on the inevitable cheap words, the enthusiastic praise and the pat on the back as he politely, but determinedly, guided me out the door. I knew all the steps to that dance. I was halfway out the door in my mind before I’d even walked all the way in through the door.

But that didn’t happen. Tom is a different sorta person, and thank God for it, too. He listened to my story about how before leaving Ohio I had sold off guitars, art, whatever I could, then laid out twelve envelopes and placed what I figured was a week’s worth of money in each envelope so that once I got to Florida I would have three months of survival money before I was in trouble. You see, I had no safety net, no home in Akron to return to, no one in Florida to catch me if I fell, and now, here I was in Gainesville, down to my last 4 envelopes, and that was it! What then. What if all I got was more lousy praise? Like I said, Tom isn’t like that. He saw in my portfolio that I was not only good, but real good, that I was obviously self-disciplined, that I knew how to work for things that were out of reach of most people, and though I had no way of knowing this, Tom Hart knew what it was like to be a starving artist, having just fled New York City for that very reason himself. I was on tenterhooks as I waited for him to finish looking at my work.

Inside… I was crying.

Lucasfilm art by Justine

Lucasfilm art by Justine

Tom listened to my story, looked up from my portfolio and said, “We need to get some more money in your envelopes.” Wait… what? It was like in a cartoon when the character’s head starts rotating side to side, tongue out, that “ie e-ee ie e-ee ie e-ee” noise coming out. He didn’t show me to the door with a golden shower of cheap words? Almost immediately we got down to throwing together an evening class for me to teach. Tom knew I could draw, but that was about it. Lots of people can draw, lots of people can teach, but few can do both. Tom Hart became my personal savior! He attended my first class, wondering if I could teach, but what he had no way of knowing was just how much teaching I had done. As I was still commuting from Ocala to Gainesville when I taught that class for Tom, by the time I got home there was a lengthy email from him. I doubt he remembers it this way, but I have the email to prove it. In the email he effused over how good a class I ran, how good my teaching was, and he literally said, “I am begging you, begging you, to become my year-long drawing teacher.”

Wow! What I hadn’t known was that Tom needed me, too. It was no less a miracle to him that his drawing teacher had simply walked in off the streets unannounced than it was for me to have walked in off the streets into the warm arms of Tom, SAW and Gainesville. Through Tom I was able to find an affordable apartment as Joe Courter, who was a neighbor to SAW, needed a housemate, and whether he knows it or not, Joe Courter is a major patron of the Arts. Without him and this absurdly cheap rent in this spectacular house on this stunning piece of property, I don’t know where I’d be now. More than friends, Tom and Joe were instrumental in helping me make my life work, and I was teetering on the edge of a major disaster. I’ve been at SAW and in the Lakehouse with Joe ever since July 4th five years ago, and I’m family in both places. I even take care of Tom and Leela’s magical daughter Molly Rose. I think I was the first person Tom gave a key to his school to, and the first person to babysit his daughter. Yeah, sometimes there are people out there who will give an artist more than a pat on the back, they’ll give us work, trust, and something far more important… a sense of family.

Tom’s my brother.

Most people don’t trust artists at all, primarily because they don’t understand them. I used to joke that I’d go into a meeting with a potential client with a portfolio full of drawings of pumpkins, squash and eggplants, and the client would smile, then shake their heads as they slid my portfolio to me, saying, “You draw pumpkins, squash and eggplant really well… but we need someone who draws watermelons.” Then I met an agent who I told this joke to, he shook his head and said, “That’s not really funny. I represented this artist who had a lot of drawings of horses in his portfolio, I showed it to a client who refused to work with him because they needed an artist who drew cats.”

You know what being an artist really teaches you? It teaches you that people really are that stupid.

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen: WOTC illustration

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen: WOTC illustration

I wasn’t fully prepared for where the SAW journey was going to take me. Soon after Tom took me under his wing I began working for DARPA on a comics project meant to help veterans with their PTSD, and soon job after job came through SAW, mostly jobs local to Gainesville, the very jobs that paved the way for me getting the job of illustrating “What The Lions Saw” for the Matheson. And, man, I’ve done it all, from designing murals to animation for UF, from comics and T-shirt designs to set design for the ballet! Soon I am going to share some of the images I’ve done since I’ve lived in Gainesville, and what I am sharing is by no means complete. I still don’t make enough money to live, not by most people’s standards, but I’ve done a ton of work here.

I’m gonna share some of that work with you next time, and then we’re gonna dig in and see how the process of making this new book for the Matheson is like.

NEXT: What I just said above…

For more about Justine: barefootjustine.com

Lines & Questions

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Lines & Questions
by Barefoot Justine

I will give and I will take,
I will watch you cry tears,
I have served like tea.

My regrets are of the heart,
My mistakes have legs,
And they chase me down.

Each demon I battle is mine,
Like a lifelong lover,
They know me as a mother.

I skip like an old album,
Stuck in well worn grooves,
Like a bed I despise.

I suffer my every excess,
And celebrate my extremes,
And wonder which am I.

My mistakes are like wool,
I wear them like a choker,
And sweat under them.

I see myself repeating,
And hear that I know better,
And ask, who is that I?

Who is that curious I,
Can I tolerate being,
In her skin another day?

Or can I love all she is,
Can I know that this I,
Is perfect as she is?

I am this and then that,
Love, hate, peace, anger,
I am light and I am darkness.

I am a beast and a flower,
I am anger and compassion,
And you will see what you will.

I am a beast and a flower,
I am anger and compassion,
And I will be all I must.

Cancer Scare

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I realized today that cancer can be cured, but once you’ve had it it never goes away. not that I think about it much, for the most part I don’t, but sometimes in the dark of night, sometimes when you are suffering some new health problem… whatever the physical problem is, the real problem is always cancer. Having cancer teaches you one thing for certain, and that is that it can most definitely happen to you. Cancer isn’t just something other people suffer. Perhaps it is… but who knows who the other people are, and who knows whether or not you are one of the other people?

I have always been one of the other people. I belong to that tribe, the Tribe Of the Other People.

People die, people around me have both beaten and been taken by cancer. Once you’ve had it, cancer becomes the little devil of existential possibility in even the most unfounded and anxious worries over health. Cancer can turn an ulcer, cyst or ache into a tumor, at least in the mind, and what we think is our reality. if that ulcer is cancer, it’s cancer, and when it’s proven to be an ulcer and treated and healed… it just becomes the one that wasn’t cancer… but what about the next time? Once you’ve had cancer you know that not all of them always turn out to be ulcers, cysts or aches. Man, it’s brutal KNOWING that as an existential certainty.

No, I do not think about cancer all that much, but I had a long week and a miserable day to think about it again, and I learned a lot of things.

I looked around and learned that my life really would go on without me. Everything that was my material reality will still be going on. The sun will still be shining on all the people I love in Gainesville.

I know I am going to die. Not abstractly either, I know I am going to die. I can see it on the horizon, the only question is… who will I be when it comes for me? Will I greet death with grace or hysteria, with confidence or terror? Will I meet death at peace or in a panic? Will I meet death with a smile of contentment knowing that everything is perfect? That is my biggest fear, you know, it has changed. My biggest fear is no longer death, it is that I will not be ready to meet death with a smile, that I will not have mastered the art of dying. Will I greet death having attained Shiva?

I thought about Shiva a lot.

But I fear I failed this test. I panicked, I was not at peace. It feels like I have a lot of work to do before I will be able to stand back as the watcher and go at peace. But at least I had a plan, and I realized where I am. Panicky or not, my thoughts all turned spiritual. Whether or not I learn to die with grace, I know now that I will at least die a seeker with Shiva on her mind.

I thought a lot about Varanasi. Today, as I sat in the emergency room, I knew that I wasn’t going through it again. If it was cancer, I was going to Varanasi. I was going to let go of my body there. I saw myself on the cremation grounds well before passing. I saw myself learning to let go. I saw myself surrendering to Smashan Tara, to Shiva, to my own true SELF.

Yeah, a cancer scare is a helluva thing.

I suspect this will change me. I am hoping this has come to bring about a new clarity. I have a lot to sort through, but I know something has changed.

Perhaps what has changed is, from this point on, maybe, just maybe… the ghost of cancer has finally left me.

TWO: The Art Of “What The Lions Saw” (Introduction Part 2 of 2)

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TWO: The Art Of “What The Lions Saw” (Introduction 2 of 2)
To read in order:
Part ONE: https://barefootjustine.com/2017/08/14/one-the-art-of-what-the-lions-saw-introduction-1-of-2/)

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen: Star Wars illustration

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen: Star Wars illustration


Cause they told me everybody’s got to pay their dues,
And I explained that I had overpaid them,
So overdued I went to the company store,
and the clerk there said that they had just been invaded,
So I set sail in a teardrop and escaped beneath the doorsill.

Cause the smell of her perfume echoes in my head still,
Cause I see my people trying to drown the sun,
In weekends of whiskey sours,
Cause how many times can you wake up in this comic book and plant flowers?

Sixto “Sugarman” Rodriguez

I shoved more books into a box, books in print, with my name and art in them, closed the box and ripped another strip of flesh and spirit off the roll to seal up another cardboard coffin. Yep, I had really made it, internationally published, but by the time I was packing up, that was long over, even the crying was long over. I had worked on Green Lantern for DC Comics, and had inked most of the famous characters, including the Flash, Superman, Swamp Thing, and others. I had managed to work for WOTC on core Dungeons and Dragons product, and had even been “Lucasfilm approved,” which means I was one of the artists approved to work on Star Wars projects! I hadn’t seen that coming, hadn’t even dared to dream I’d be hired by Lucasfilm to draw creatures from Star Wars, and I had never dared dream I would one day be as good as I got, and that ain’t ego, I paid my dues. But that seemed like a lifetime ago, and at that moment, that life was packed away in boxes that would soon be shoved into the dark of someone’s closet in Akron.

Boxes of dreams dry with dust in the dark of an Akron closet.

DC Comics, Justice League, Pencils: unknown - Inks: Justine Mara Andersen

DC Comics, Justice League, Pencils: unknown – Inks: Justine Mara Andersen

Nothing lasts, not even fully fulfilled dreams, not even identity. First the economy, then one thing after another, and slowly I watched precious water drip away as all my clients evaporated. The springs of my dreams having run dry, I found myself back at the bottom of the food chain in the world of comics, gaming illustration and art. Within a few years I went from turning clients down because I could not complete all the work coming in, to sitting around in my studio broke, exhausted and bitter. I mean, I didn’t have any idea what to do or where to turn from that bottom… what does a person do who defined themselves by their dream… what do they do once the dream collapses? Who are they?

What are they?

All I knew was I didn’t have any desire to work my way back up from the bottom again. Once around that bush was enough. A lot happened in the years after my dream ran dry, a whole lot, 2 years in Korea dealing with cancer, time in Chile working as an illegal immigrant, performances for Buddhist monks in the mountains of Korea, a near fatal SCUBA diving incident in Thailand, performing for prostitutes and Johns in the Philippines, scrubbing toilets in an Akron grocery store, even performing in nightclubs in Seoul South Korea drenched in the numbness of 7 shots of whiskey, bankruptcy, foreclosure and divorce.

Let the good times roll!

What does one do indeed? Me, initially, as you can see, I did everything, but ultimately what one does is pack up and move on.

I got into the car with the two Akron Ogres, a portfolio full of blessed art, and a sacred statue of Ganesh, and headed off, southbound from Meat City to Slowcala with no plan, no job, no shoes, no friends, and only enough money to survive for 3 months before I was, well, to put it bluntly… screwed, but I was screwed no matter what I did. The groovy part of being that totally screwed is… it’s a total liberation! But you have to let go and surrender to the free fall.

But in order to surrender to the fall, you first have to find the courage to jump!

Barefoot Justine WOTC Illustration/Lucasfilm

Barefoot Justine WOTC Illustration/Lucasfilm

Yeah, well, things weren’t much better in Ocala. I was still screwed, but at least I was warm and screwed. I had fled a foreclosing house in the ghettos of Akron to find myself in a barren room in Ocala, sleeping on a lumpy half-deflated rubber bed under the lordship that pair of Ogres. So without rooting through the dirty laundry of my Ogres with too much zest, let’s just tell one story. The She-Ogre had cooked dinner and asked me to join them. The next day around the pool she asked me when I was going to pay for the portion of food she had served. Family-friendly blog entry or not… I don’t think anyone could blame me for inserting a quick “what the fuck?” here. Besides all that, I was running out of the 3 months worth of basic survival money I had brought. I got down to about four weeks worth of money, had no job, and soon nowhere to live, and worse, no home to return to in Akron, not even with family. I still had Ganesh… but my faith was being tested.

In continued desperation, fleeing Ocala on a daytrip, in search of more liberal pastures and possibilities, I wound up visiting Gainesville Florida, just to see if perhaps Gainesville might be a better fit for me than Akron or Ocala. I distinctly remember the first time I set foot in Gainesville, walking barefoot down Main Street, then on past Bo Diddley Plaza where I wandered around the Sun Center and Hippodrome. I sat in Mochi eating yogurt (a place I was later kicked out of as an employee erroneously believed my being barefoot was a health code violation… it’s not, look it up), and it was there where I nodded to myself and thought, “I could live here.”

But how?

I had looked up every arts oriented place in Gainesville before driving in from Ocala, stunned to find that there was a comics school in Gainesville! SAW, The Sequential Artists Workshop, founded by Tom Hart and Leela Corman, who knew? I mean, really… how many towns have comics art schools? I’ll tell ya’ how many, there are three freestanding comics art schools in the country, Gainesville’s got one of ’em! SAW’s a big deal for Gainesville, a hanging-on-by-the-skin-of-its-teeth big deal, but a big deal. Quite unannounced, I walked off the streets into what we now call “Old SAW” which shared a building with the CMC and what was then the Co-op. Oh God, I knew the stink of desperation was seeping from my every pore, but sticky-thick with it or not, I had to keep keep trying and hoping lest I ended up homeless.

And there, sitting at drawing tables right up against the wall were Tom and Leela. The school had barely even opened, hadn’t even had a year of students yet, I mean, talk about getting in on the ground floor. I announced my arrival, and told Tom Hart the (looking back on it) rather pathetic story of how I ended up there, and as I told him I needed work, I plopped my portfolio on the table, full of the art that had been blessed by Ganesh, the remover of obstacles. Tom stood up, approached me cautiously, thinking (as he tells it), “This crazy barefoot woman walks into my school and starts asking for a job, and immediately I want to tell her that we’re just a small school, we don’t need anybody…”

But then he saw my portfolio…

Mara Medievalist (by Justine)

Mara Medievalist (by Justine)

NEXT: July 4th, Independence Day… and I begin crafting a life for myself in Gainesville Florida as a teacher and artist, and all while the Lions slumbered in the dark.

NEXT: FOUR: The Art Of “What The Lions Saw.”
For more about Justine: barefootjustine.com

ONE: The Art Of “What the Lions Saw” (Introduction 1 of 2)

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ONE: The Art Of “What The Lions Saw” (Introduction 1 of 2)

Barefoot Justine in her studio at SAW

Barefoot Justine in her studio at SAW

When I moved to Gainesville July 4th five years ago, I was very desperately seeking independence.

But Gainesville hadn’t been in my plans… plans… what plans? I had moved down from Ohio to Ocala Florida on a mad impulse and had found myself in a shockingly Cinderella-like situation that was worse than the situation I had fled in Ohio. I mean, I literally ended up living in an unfurnished room in Ocala (no comment on having done time in Ocala), sleeping for months on an ever-deflating inflatable mattress, and serving a pair of Ogres… though when I had met them they seemed to be a fairy godmother and godfather… but, we all know how fairy tales turn out. Spoiler alert… this tale, at least, ended in me escaping the home of the Ogres to an ideal job as an artist and teacher at SAW (sequentialartistsworkshop.org), and a pastoral life in Gainesville on a lakefront property with a serene view of the forest. I went, it seems, from Cinderella’s misery in Ocala to the bliss of Briar Rose’s idyllic cottage life in Gainesville, but instead of living with the three good fairies I am now living with Grizzly Adams (my dear friend Joe Courter).

“Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.”

Goethe

For all the idyllic qualities of my life as it is today, it could have turned out far differently, for, as I’d said, not a bit of it was planned, or even the least bit thought through, neither from Akron nor Ocala. Oh, but wouldn’t you know it, there was a long journey through the dark forest before I got anywhere near SAW or the Lakehouse in Gainesville, let alone to the Matheson where I would start work illustrating “What The Lions Saw.” And, so far as I’m concerned, that journey is all part of this story, I mean, how can an artist separate her life from her art?

There wasn’t exactly a beginning to the story, other than that it started in the same place as a lot of stories… desperation, if desperation be called a place. I was desperately seeking an escape from the tyranny of life in the ghetto of “The Rubber City,” Akron Ohio. So let’s just put Akron and life therein into perspective. I had hit bottom, I won’t go into details, but trust me, it was the bottom, as in hospitalized. I had to wait overnight to see a psychologist, but come morning, once the psychologist listened to my story, she told me there was nothing wrong with me, I was fine, just different, and if I got out of Akron I’d be fine. Hand to Vishnu, that was what she said. It wasn’t what I had expected to hear, but that was her verdict on my mental health… it’s not you, it’s this lousy city, get the hell out of Akron Ohio. To make matters worse, I was not only in Akron, but right smack dab in the middle of a divorce, a bankruptcy and a foreclosure… oh, and I was still recovering from cancer and the trauma of escaping South America as an illegal immigrant… but those are other stories. So as you can imagine, those last days in Akron were pretty grim, and from the steel grey skies and rusty air of depression that is the spirit of Akron, my future wasn’t looking much better.

By the time I was packing to escape from Akron Ohio, I was wondering how my life had become so grim, how was it I had fallen from such a height? I mean, I knew I was a talented and accomplished illustrators… why was I scrubbing toilets at a local grocery store by day and downing doubles of Black Velvet by night?

Such desperate questions lead to desperate actions, but in those last days of suffering in Akron before my blind faith trip to Florida I had just become a “practicing Hindu,” and so I was beginning to learn to reframe my point of view… in other words, what was called for wasn’t a “desperate action,” but a leap of faith. On my last visit to the Shiva Vishnu Temple before leaving Akron (God… how I hate even typing in that word, “Akron”) I had my artwork blessed by Ganesh via the Temple Priest. As I was about to go home and shove more stuff in hastily labeled boxes, I spoke to one of the most dedicated Devotees about my situation, a lovely Indian woman, and she said, “So long as you have your faith, you’ll be alright.” So, there wasn’t much left to do but take that leap of faith. I was in the hands of Ganesh now.

I’ve never been in better hands.

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen - unfinished, Hinduism comic

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen – unfinished, Hinduism comic

There’s nothing like ripping packing tape off the roll to skin the soul raw. With each cranky rip and tear I reflected on how I had gotten myself into this mess. There’s a lot of time to reflect when you’re boxing up your memories and deciding which ones will be hidden in a dark closet somewhere, and which precious few will make the cut for the move. Nothing in my life to that point had worked out as I had envisioned it, and each box full of dusty books drove the point home. At one time I had been a motivated dreamer, then an ascending doer. I had not only scaled many heights, but had surpassed my every expectation for myself, at least in regards to my life dream, well apart from the part of that dream where I earned a pile of dough. Not a sausage! Man I was broke, and I had worked long and hard for that bit o’nothing. I had announced early as 4th grade “I’m going to grow up to become a dolphin trainer or a comic book artist.” Well, once my mother pointed out that dolphin trainers had to learn science, which meant being good at math (“math,” a word that fills me the same dreary chill as “Akron”). Needless to say, I thought, “To heck with math, comic book artist it is.” I mean, hell, when you’re a comic book artists you don’t even have to grapple with simple addition, as there’s hardly a dollar to count.

Yeah, by the time I was living in a ghetto house in Akron, by the time I was embroiled in bankruptcy foreclosure and divorce, by the time I was packing to make a hasty, some might have said, foolhardy, retreat, by the time I had a closet full of “fallen soldiers” (emptied whiskey bottles) I had really fallen. It seemed like I had fallen hard and fast. But before all that I had succeeded in a big way. I had clawed my way into the major leagues. It had taken years of groundwork and heartache, but I was not only one of the few people from my school to have actually grown up to do what she had dreamed of doing, I was one of the few artists who dream of making it into the big leagues to have actually done it. Most quit when the going gets tough. But that dream was all I had back then, it was the only thing I knew about myself to be true.

I know a lot more about myself now, and what I know is I am more than any dream.

NEXT: Introduction part 2, Justine Lands in Gainesville…

For more about Justine: barefootjustine.com

The Three Dreams (Dream 3, The Lamb)

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Shiva White Lamb

Shiva White Lamb

36. Concentration may also be attained by fixing the mind upon the Inner Light, which is beyond sorrow.
37. Or by meditating on the heart of an illumined soul, that is free from passion.
38. Or by fixing the mind upon a dream experience, or the experience of deep sleep.

from The Yoga Aphorisms Of Patanjali (as translated by Swami Prabhavananada)

It’s hard to say how long I had been on this pilgrimage, but I found myself suddenly traversing the last leg of it, which started at the bottom of a hill, or perhaps it was the final peak of a mountain. Mountain? Hill? It was hard to tell when all that concerned me lie ahead. Up there, unseen, was my higher self. As I climbed that peak, the ground covered in patchy chill blue grass and porous stones, I began to notice the toads. They were hard to miss, thousands, of large Bufo Alvarius, the DMT toads. These toads were hopping their fat warty bodies here and there on the path as I ascended, the toads sometimes hopping onto my bare feet, me sometimes having to step over and around them, ever conscious that one might hop right in my path as I set my foot down. The higher I climbed, the more toads covered the hilltop. It appeared there was no other life on that hill but me, my higher self, and these magical toads.

At the top, there she was, me, my higher self, a hilltop ascetic. I don’t remember much about my higher self, only that she had been sitting atop the mountain like Lord Shiva on Mt. Kailash. There I, She, Shiva, was, centered, chanting, so deeply immersed in samadhi that I am not even sure she saw this little me, her unrealized self, coming ever nearer. She had merged with God, Om Shivoham! The toads barked, hopped, and many stood silently, a tribe of hundreds and hundreds all around both of me, and thousands beyond.

As was so with my conversation with The Panther in which Her words turned to sand when I awoke from that cave of wonders, so has the encounter with my higher self been lost to the mists of the mountain on which she did her meditation, but I think we merged, and I attained and realized her. I emerged as her, as I can only recall there being one of us as I stared down the path towards home. But I can not say, perhaps she was sitting in meditation behind me, I wish that part of the experience had not become veiled in such uncertainty.

Regardless, The path down from the hill was not the same path I had climbed to ascend its peak, and this path was far more covered in toads. As I stared down the winding path there were thousands upon thousands of toads with glowing white eyes covering the path, seeming to stretch on infinitely. The white light shining from their eyes filled me with a strange awe, that though eerie, did not frighten me, and though they were not perfectly still, they were subdued and staring at, or rather into, me. One of them, far below, began to rise up over the others, and to move towards me. This toad seemed to be almost floating a head above the others,but it was hard to tell as it was so far away all I could see was the light of the white eyes as it ascended. As it came higher up the hill I noticed a whiteness around the eyes as well, and when it crested the hill to stand above the toads and directly before me, my eyes went wide! This had been no toad, but The White Lamb! The Lamb stood there at the head of the path, staring and blessing eyes of pure white light glowing, offering me an ecstasy of peace and silent wisdom.

When I awoke, I worried that this dream would dissolve as certain as most dreams do, but I soon realized this was the dream that put the other two into perspective as being of powerful personal and spiritual significance. This was the third dream! So many significant things come in threes, wishes, the trinity, the eyes of Shiva, the three lines of Shiva’s head, the three bears, the three little pigs, three is a magic number. And this, The Lamb completed the cycle. As this was a year ago I know that cycle of dreams, that cycle of prophetic dreams, of visions, is complete. Other dreams and visions are likely to come, but they will tell other truths. I will add that like the other two dreams, this one is clearer and more real to me than yesterday.

Bufo Alvarius

Bufo Alvarius

Why the toads? And who was The Lamb to me? If the Panther was Atman and attainment through meditation, if The Horse was the power and strength of courage it would take for me to travel the spiritual path… what was The Lamb?

But first, why the hill? Why the pilgrimage towards the higher self? The hill, or mountaintop, it possessed qualities of both, was obvious in meaning. Serious spiritual progress is an uphill battle, like any pilgrimage, it is an ordeal, glorious, but an ordeal nonetheless. And atop that hill my higher self sat as Shiva atop Mt. Kailash. At first, why the hill was covered in DMT toads was a mystery. Of course it had been my experiences with DMT that had opened me up enough to finally be able to receive such dreams and visions, to finally realize that my higher self was attainable, but why, specifically, were the toads there? Well, that I at least would understand once the Lamb rose up from among them, but what was far more spectacular was that I had come on pilgrimage to seek audience or to merge with my higher self.

Om Shivoham.

The whole point is to know that I am the higher self as much as I now live as this ego-driven self. I am nirguna (without form) just as I am saguna (with form). That higher self was the Shiva I am to realize. In the dream I am fairly certain I merged with her, but like my dream of The Panther where our conversation did not survive the trip back to waking reality, neither did the events that took place between us on that hill survive waking up. Had I really merged with my higher self, or do I recall her being behind me? perhaps I should meditate on that a little longer, but for now I choose to believe that I had either merged with my higher self, or I now, at the very least, knew not only that she existed, but where to find her, and regardless as to whether or not we merged, she is my conduit to Absolute Reality, to moksha (liberation), to realization and realizing of Shiva. I know this, that higher self is existential, and I have enough faith in the message of this vision to have hope that I may realize her in my waking life. As I consider it now, why would my higher self appear to me were I not meant to realize her? It seems to me this dream was showing my the goal if not my destiny. This dream, as Brother Shankara said, was no mere dream, it was prophetic. That higher self is attainable, and although I have yet to fully realize her, she is already in me, under it all, she IS ME! Will I ever find her under all this flesh and bullshit I wear as I travel the material world as Barefoot Justine?

Once my time with her was done and I turned to go, I was not to go down the same path I had followed in my ascent. I was now going to travel a new road. How could I possibly go backwards down the same path I ascended after witnessing or merging with my higher self? But perhaps that’s part of it, perhaps I am constantly merging with that higher self, perhaps that merging is less a single moment and more a process. Regardless, I was heading down off the hill from a different point of view, down a very different path.

The path before me was lined and filled three deep with DMT toads, and why became obvious as my dream progressed. At first it simply was a reminder that it was DMT that had brought me closer to Shiva, that opened me up to meditation, that had cured me of relentless anxiety, and had revealed to me the secrets that have fed me for the past year and a half. Without the light of this entheogen I might still be stuck in the mud spiritually, spinning my wheels on the wheel of samsara, I might not be able to meditate, I might be stuck in a feedback loop of anxiety and self loathing thoughts. The funny thing is that I never took DMT from a toad, I took the DMT that came from ayahuasca, or at least it had been created molecularly to be the same as the DMT in ayahuasca. Why the toads? Well, I guess because they are a more poetic and intriguing symbol than a vine. Besides, out here on the lake, I am surrounded by the roar of frogs on the lake, and “Bufo Alvarius” are not really toads, they’re called “DMT toads,” but they’re really frogs. Why the glowing white eyes? Well, the light seems to me to have been just that, “The Light.” DMT led me out of the darkness and into the light, so of course the eyes of the toads glowed to bathe me in their light. That light had dispelled the darkness in which I was living, had brought an end to much of my ignorance.

But what exactly was the light they shone on me? I have experienced what I can only describe as “the eternal,” have enjoyed the bliss of being without ego. I have a better understanding of the nature of maya, and for better or for worse, have experienced alternate realities, perhaps greater realities. I have experienced the joy of a silent self, a self without desire, memory, even the pollution of a single thought. I have been able to disassociate from headaches, thereby curing several of them (most of the time I can’t pull this one off either). I have realized oneness and the nature of “reality” and maya in glorious ecstasies. All of these things have actually been shown to me, have been experienced by me, even if I get scared and my shriveling little ego cannot handle it, these things are existential, and are far greater and far truer than the simple constructs my ego prefers. The problem I have now is those experiences, those moments and ecstasies have been fleeting, I am far from enlightened. I am awake, I am aware, I am grateful for the experiences… but I have a long long way to go.

“Although lord Shiva is omnipresent he is not seen by the people of deluded intellect. He is known as a mere lord, he who is beyond the reach of minds and words.”

Siva Purana

“Fly my pretties… fly!”

The Wicked Witch of the West

Our ego, and our intellect, work in tandem, as one. They work to maintain their self-appointed tyranny over all they see. Think of this union of ego and intellect being rather like the Wicked Witch of the West in Oz. Dorothy comes in with a load of truth, revealing the great and might Oz to be nothing more than a little man behind a curtain, showing her friends how to surpass their weaknesses, and the witch does not like this, and neither does our ego. Our ego will do anything to maintain its place as self-appointed dictator of our lives, and anything that threatens its supremacy, say like spiritual truth, prophecy or realization, is a threat to the tyrannical toddler that is the ego. Anything that comes along to threaten the ego’s tiny little construct, anything that threatens its tidy little notions about the nature of reality has to go, so the ego, like the wicked witch sends its flying monkeys out to rip to shreds any truth that threatens it, that threatens the status quo. This is why when we have mystical experiences or experience things that are beyond our limited understanding of how reality is constructed and how reality works, it must be destroyed. The ego will defend itself from any truth that threatens to usurp its power. And it will fight dirty and it will fight tirelessly.

“Reasoning is necessary, but we should not let it swallow the faith in us. We should not allow the intellect to eat up our heart. Too much knowledge means nothing but a big ego. The ego is a burden, and a big ego is a big burden.”

Amritanandamayi Ma

Most of us will use our intellects to undo any magic, realization or spiritual progress by sending in the flying monkeys to dismantle, disassmble, dismember and discredit anything that threatens it or the limitation in which it is comfortable. “No, not me, I couldn’t have had a prophetic dream, those sorts of things don’t happen, the dream was just a collection of cliches and corny old symbols that I, the ego, the king of all I see, has created, therefor there is no depth, no truth, no prophecy, and indeed no God, after all if there was a God, if there were mystical experiences, science would have shown me evidence.” Then the flying monkeys go back to the witch and everything returns to normal in the good ol’ land of Oz, in the good ol’ land of our limited reality. We call things “coincidences” just to make ourselves more comfortable. “Coincidence,” ha, so far as I’m concerned “coincidence” is just another word for “cowardice,” as the word is used to discredit any ideas or experiences that suggest the universe is so big and mysterious that our brains cannot comprehend it and our science cannot explain or prove it. Frankly, I don’t need science (man’s intellect and ego) to prove to me that what I have seen I have seen, what I have experienced I have experienced, and that what I know I know.

Why do we fear greater realities? Because to the ego, its death is a great agony and threatens to undo everything we earned, everything we own, and everything we thought we knew. The ego knows that spiritual awakening, that prophecies and signs are nothing but trouble. We all know, don’t we, that it’s easier to disassemble, discredit and dismiss the deep truths that are revealed to us rather than to let them destroy us, rather than allowing ourselves to be transformed and reborn… who needs all that? Well… I do! I long for such destruction, ordeal or no, agony or no, it is also the greatest of liberations! And the White Lamb came to me in all its innocence, with all its light and purity to remind me that through spiritual use of entheogens, meditation, contemplation and study, that my old model of the world, of reality, was too small and that I am not to sacrifice that knowledge on the altar of democratically constructed “reality” and that tyrant of tininess… the ego! I am to be strong and brave enough to live up to what I know to be so, whatever the consequences. And there have been, are, and will be consequences… but, as uncomfortable as those consequences might be, they are merely waves tumbling over an ocean of vast peace, knowledge, and Godhead. The consequences of not following spiritual truths through in life, I have to say, are far greater than the consequences of dismissing them.

“‘Faith’ is often used by agnostics as a term of abuse. That is to say, it is taken to refer to the blind credulity which accepts all kinds of dogmas and creeds without question, repeating parrot-like what it has been taught, and closing its ears to doubt and reason. Such ‘faith’ should certainly be attacked. It is compounded of laziness, obstinacy, ignorance and fear. Because it is rigid an unyielding it can quite easily be shaken and altogether destroyed. … True faith is provisional, flexible, undogmatic, open to doubt and reason.”

from Swami Prabhavananda’s “How To Know God”

No, of course we need to discriminate, but using our intellect to discriminate is entirely different than using our intellect to dismiss. And it is so that any faith that cannot bear testing is of no real value. If your faith cannot stand up to questioning, it is a sad and tired faith. Faith must be built upon solid stone and hard work. But, when we are given truth and insight, it is to be welcomed, not shunned.

The Lamb represents truth, truths that have survived discrimination and have emerged from my DMT experiences (hence the toads) and greatly furthered by my spiritual practices. The Lamb came to remind me of those truths, and more specifically, of the sacredness of those truths. The Lamb came to show me that only my higher self, which I had merged with, will be capable of remembering and holding those truths. The Lamb came to remind me not to disregard what I have experienced and what I know. The Lamb came to remind me not to give in to materialist constructs or cynicism. If the intellect always returns one to cynicism, said intellect knows no wisdom.

The Lamb is wisdom!

The toads revealed The Lamb to me, to remind me never to forget that I have been shown truths, pure truths that I am not to dismiss, deny, or allow my ego to destroy.

The Lamb was the third eye of Shiva opening upon and within me. The Lamb, gentle and pure as it was… IS my destruction! And now that it has revealed itself to me, I have to travel a different path than the one I took to realize my higher self and see The Lamb. Up one side of the hill and down another, the journey continues, but I can never go home again no matter how many times I click my heels.

I came up one path, have been destroyed, have been reborn, have been shown challenging truths. The Lamb came to show me this, and now I must use all the power of The Horse as I follow a new path to realize The Panther, and through Her, to journey ever deeper into the mysteries. My old game is over, the jig is up, and I am up to contending with what all that entails, and I will call upon The Lamb, The Horse and The Panther as I realize my true nature as Brahman, as Atman, as Shiva!

Om Shivoham!

And yet as I meditated this very morning (the morning of my writing the next draft of this entry), an alternate accounting of my meeting with my higher self was realized. In meditation I chose to try and see this dream from a different perspective, so instead of seeing it from the perspective of myself as the pilgrimaging seeker, in meditation I saw the vision from the perspective of my higher self, and I became that higher self, I realized Shiva. I saw Justine approaching me, and saw with great compassion that though she came as a sincere seeker, I saw her pain, her entanglements, attachments, and the many scars she carries. I hurt for her. I felt terribly sorry and hoped she would let go and merge with me, realize me. We both knew I was her, that we were one, but she, perhaps, did not yet know how to realize me, her higher self, so I guided her to the road she was to follow and manifested The White Lamb to forever remind her of the deepest knowledge and great wisdom she has already realized. I will wait patiently for her, and I will guide her compassionately, for I am She.

Om Shivoham!

I am here for her to realize, and I am her whether or not she realizes it to be so.

I will add that in the days following the above meditation and its revelations, I have begun to see the world more and more from the perspective of my higher self, and I have begun to realize that I am living two lives, having been split in two by the desperate clinging force of my ego and the greater force of my many realizations, dreams, prophecies and knowledge.

But I know who I am, I know what I want…

Om Shivoham!

Regardless which story, which translation of this visionary dream I choose, at their core, they are pretty much the same, aren’t they?

Har Har Mahadev!

The Three Dreams (Dream 2, The Horse)

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Shiva White Horse

Shiva White Horse


“Emboldened by so many battles won, again the demons charge,
Battering me with obscenities and curses they’ve handcrafted,
From the rhythms of my beating heart and the crimson of my blood,
In peace and with one breath of God I blow out all their flames,
And in the stillness bind them to each nightmare they inspire,
They’ll not have me, this time at last, for I am not of them.”

A verse from the poem “The Battle” by Barefoot Justine
(For complete poem: https://barefootjustine.com/2016/03/21/the-battle/)

My room consists of a lot of windows, the front of my room is nothing but one huge wall to wall floor to floor window overlooking the swamp and a lake, and the side wall offers me an unspoiled panoramic view into the forest. While I love the view and my windows… I don’t have much room for art or posters on what little wall space I do have, so instead of looking at art… I look out through my windows into the ever-changing forest, where I have seen young fawns lying at the feet of their mothers, predatory birds on the hunt, and about everything but other people. The view out the side window caught my attention as the sun coming in shone more golden and brilliantly than usual. There was more sky than I remembered. I was drawn to get up, and was astonished to find that the landscape was not the same. When I look out the window, now as I am writing, I see forest, but in that reality it wasn’t that way. What I saw was a meadow, and to the right, running parallel to the back wall of my room was the forest, a perfect line of trees and undergrowth. The sun had lit up the meadow in rich rolling golden greens, and rich deep greens.

Suddenly there was a stir coming from the forest, something deep among the trees, something massive, a dinosaur, a cyclone, Paul Bunyan, something, was ripping its way through the leaves out into the meadow. Leaves, twigs, Spanish moss, birds and dragonflies flew and blew out over the meadow from ground to treetop. The trees were bending and blowing outward towards the meadow like tall shafts of midsummer sweetgrass.

Then came a rustling, almost as if a furious and starving prehistoric predator were charging through the forest and towards the meadow. The chaos was thunderous and tumultuous. A beast, the size of a dinosaur, broke through the tree line and out onto the meadow, stopping, dust and leaves settling around its mighty legs. It was The Great White Wild Horse! White or no, the body of The Horse was scarred and haggard like the walls of an ancient embattled fortress. She was earthy, as if she had emerged from the ground itself, and stood with the presence of an ash covered ascetic. Yes, though it was weathered like an old stone mountain, it was luminously beautiful. I was awe struck as I stood staring at this The Great White Wild Horse. It towered over many of the trees, and its mane blew and whipped the leaves from the over-reaching branches. Its breath rumbled like alligator bellies to the ground, like thunder.

Yet The Horse was saddled. And the saddle belonged on The Horse, was as much a part of The Horse as its mane. Then, from around the side of the house came my friend, we’ll call him Jay. Now, Jay, being Jay, he put his rational mind to work and decided to free the poor horse from its saddle. As he stood under it, working the buckles, I was horrified! Couldn’t he see? This is a mythic beast! You don’t just amble up to it and start messing with its stuff! To my further horror, The Horse bucked up on its hind legs, its front right hoof poised to crush my dear friend Jay! Down it came, like a falling brick tower, it’s hoof down on him. The last thing I wanted to see was my dear friend, atheist or no, crushed under The Great White Wild Horse. But The Horse stopped short, gently but firmly pinning Jay to the ground, applying no more pressure than what it took to hold him to the ground. It’s head, nearly big as a bus, turned to me. It’s black eyes were the size of bowling balls. Her stare burrowed through my many sad delusions and unconscious illusions, as if to tell me who I truly was.

And I woke up.

I hadn’t even figured out The Panther, and now I had to work out who or what this Horse was. Now I had to work out what it was telling me. I knew the dream was big, but what I didn’t know was that it was so big it was part of a trilogy of dreams that had not yet been completed. It seemed I was dreaming my own personal “Lord Of The Rings.” In waking from the dream of The Great White Wild Horse, The Panther dream, I suddenly realized, took on even greater significance.

Though these dreams happened about a year ago, thanks to Brother Shankara, I have just recently found answers, as he had suggested I meditate on them. As it turns out, the very day I meditated on The Panther, answers came to me about all three dreams, The Panther, The Horse and The Lamb. Meditation is a powerful thing, and while it took DMT to destroy the walls my ego had put between myself and these larger truths, this deeper knowledge of self and the nature of maya, now it seemed I was so open to the larger truths and realities that Panthers were speaking to me and Horses were staring God-like gazes into my deepest corners.

Since the forest here has become my Guru, let’s first consider the forest itself. Of course The Horse came from, and was probably born of, the forest, of the wild, just as I have gone wild out here in the forest of my Guru. I live in the middle of Newnan’s Lake State Forest, and so much has this forest become my Guru that upon returning from a week long trip, when I got home the first thing I did upon my return was head straight for its paths. As I walked the dirt road to its end, as I got ever nearer the paths and trees, I felt the same elation any Devotee must feel as she returns to her human Guru. This Horse was not only emerging from the forest, but was inviting me deeper into it, deeper into its truths, deeper into my self, further from maya. This Horse was not merely emerging from a forest, but The Forest that was my Guru! Right now, at this stage in my spiritual development, the answers are in meditation (which I do in my room, from where I saw The Horse), and in the shade, rain, sun and mud of the forest (which was from where The Horse came).

“Man, the imperfect, the bound, the sorrowful, has a thousand enemies within. He is riddled with negative thoughts, fears, yearning. These are selfishness, jealousy, meanness, prejudice and hatred–just to mention but a few. The Sadhak must get rid of these lawless villains within. With Mother Kali’s Kripa, these destructive masters are to be annihilated. No amount of soft persuasions can avail. The forces of Sri Rudra must be applied. There must be a deep, determined, adamantine resolve, and a fight royal within, as sanguine as Kali’s ferocious sword dripping with blood; and unless the Sadhak is ready to wear about his neck the Skull-mala of these murdered false values there can be no peace or order within.”

Swami Chinmayananda from “Symbolism In Hinduism”

So… who was this Horse? Was she Ma Durga. “Mother?” Why was it so wild, so raw, so uncivilized… and yet wore a saddle? I am a person with wild, raw, sometimes uncivilized emotions, that at times to me feel like raw unprocessed feminine power, a power of emotion that can help me proceed when others would pull back, but a power that has not only a deconstructing power, but a destructive power as well. The Horse is Shakti! The Horse is the other half of Shiva, the feminine. But The Horse is also everything I need to carry me through not only life, but the coming challenges of a life that is slowly growing more spiritual, a life that may well take me away from all my material attachments. I need that power, but I need to reign it in, I need to master it, just as I have needed to learn to master my mind and my emotions (both of which I have only begun to do). The Horse, perhaps more clearly than anything, is my courage, my strength and my energy. My feminine power indeed, my Shakti! These powers need not only focused, steered, and guided, they need to be integrated. In the dream The Horse was outside of me, staring not only through my eyes, but through my windows! The Horse started off outside of me, in the depths of my forest Guru, and turned and, with its black eyes, bore its depths right into mine. The Horse was outside, in my forest, outside my room, outside my body… but through our eyes, we were one.

Just last week, which was about a week after the metaphors and symbols of these dreams were decoded through meditation, I was hiking with my friend Melissa on Payne’s Prairie. As we hiked out onto the prairie, we noted at first a little rabbit, then hundreds of dragonflies all buzzing around our knees, and just ahead, five wild horses, one a young colt! Honest to God wild horses were just ahead on the path! As we approached them, several deer came charging out from the underbrush across the path to splash into the swampy marsh on the other side. This was, quite simply, the most unbelievable series of wildlife encounters I have ever had on land. We chose a safe distance from the horses (a very close safe distance as these horses are used to people being about) and we sat in the grass of the path and meditated. The wild horses went about their grazing, and we went about our meditating. As I had been contemplating this dream of The Horse and all the truths my meditation had revealed about The Horse, having the opportunity to meditate in the presence of five wild horses was intensely holy to say the very least. I was on holy ground.

Unlike the five wild horses on the prairie, The Great White Wild Horse of my dream was saddled. The saddle, I have only just understood, as it had been one of the big mysteries up to now, meant that I was to ride that horse, to guide that horse, to reign in and master that Horse… my own power, powers that at times seem to throw their energy like a spray of sparks. That Horse and saddle represented fiery hot virtues that are mine to realize, integrate and harness to propel me forward. Too often, now, I am afraid, those energies and powers still tend to run rampant.

Yes, though The Horse meant to be ridden, its powers harnessed, it is nonetheless meant to remain forever wild! I am to focus that energy, but not tame the wild intensity out of it. Both the tamed and saddled powers and the wild forest of emotional power are part of me, part of The Horse, and part of Lord Shiva. Just as Shiva, who came to his wedding party wild as an Aghori, so the wildness of The Horse is among my aspects. But just as Shiva reigned in his wildness and put on a civilized form, so was The Horse saddled, so am I to learn to ride my own power and forms with more grace. Just as Shiva had to tame his Aghoric aspects for his wedding to Parvati, so am I to tame the wildness of my Shakti… but like Shiva, only when needed. I am not to conquer or sublimate my wildness, only to harness it and keep my hands on the reigns, until I learn to ride that wind bareback.

I am The Panther Woman, and I am The Wild White Horse.

Om Shivoham!

“The materialists — those who describe themselves as being ‘down to earth’ — are the ones who are living in an unreal world, because they limit themselves to the level of gross sense perception. But the perception of the illumined saint ranges over the whole scale, from gross to subtle and from subtle to absolute; and it is only he who knows what the nature of this universe actually is.”

From Swami Prabhavananda’s commentary on Patanjali’s “How To Know God.”

So who is Jay and why did he try and unsaddle The Great White Wild Horse? Jay is a materialist through and through, a political atheist, one of those guys who reads the “Humanist” magazine. You know the magazine, the one that always has a picture of some smug bearded middle-aged guy accompanied by a quote about how he believes only in his precious intellect (his over-developed ego), in what he has decided is “reason.” Those guys are a little like Daksha from the story of Shiva’s wedding to Sati. Daksha, Sati’s father, who was very offended by Lord Shiva’s ascetic wildness and disregard for social convention, but that is a simplistic reading. Daksha represented ego, a life centered around society, and cultural rules, which includes subcultural rules, and in subcultures the rules and codes of conduct demand far more conformity than those of mainstream society. Though Jay is an atheist and progressive, he lives a life that involves a lot more committee meetings (society, rules of engagement, etc.) than I could tolerate. When I do go to committee meetings (be they with city officials or museum officials or whoever), I do so barefoot in bangles, bindi and bare legs, as if to say, “I’ll do the work, I’ll do it well… but I am not one of you, I am not part of this committee, and I will remain The Panther Woman!” I relate to Shiva’s Ganas, outsiders who are not accepted by mainstream society but who are accepted by Shiva. I lead an internal introverted life. Jay leads an extroverted life, a life dependent upon outward pursuits. Now, I love Jay, but needless to say, we couldn’t be much more different. Now, I would like to say that in every other way Jay is not much like Daksha in that, for example, he, too is pretty uncivilized (like me), and he is in NO WAY interested in conservative rituals and points of view, but in the context of the dream, those Daksha-like qualities of Jay were of paramount symbolic and metaphoric importance.

So, why did The Horse rear up and pin Jay to the ground? Why did She do so without harming him? Because Jay is a really good man doing really good things, and The Horse and I (rather… The Horse IS I) love him… and love him just they way he is. But in the dream Jay was not Jay, Jay was a symbol for godless atheism and materialism (and NOT in the “materialistic” sense, Jay has, like me, practically taken a vow of poverty out here, but in the sense that he believes in non-spiritual intellectual/scientific solutions to life’s problems). The Horse wanted to keep Jay, and that aspect of me who is like him, under Her hoof. I am not to give into Godlessness or materialism. I am to face such concerns with courage and in steadfast power, just as The Horse silenced him under Her hoof. My spirituality is not to be trifled with externally or internally. In other words, I know the whole atheist and materialist song and dance, I know it well and inside and out, but I do not need to continue to let it infect me and it will take all the courage and power of The Horse for me to rise above such doubts and concerns. I am, like The Horse, to dominate such thoughts, I am to face courageously, yet say NO to thinking that binds me to maya. I am not to run away from the hard questions, challenges to my faith or doubts, no, I am to harness all of my power and face them… and THAT takes courage.

In a sense, The Panther was Atman, but also, in a sense, Purusha, and The Horse was raw earthy power, my courage and strength, but also, as she was a manifestation of the Goddess and her power, Prakriti. One is to be attained and realized (The Panther, Purusha); the other is energy to be ridden for spiritual purposes (The Horse, Prakriti). Yes, The Horse IS my power, my courage, but is also Shiva, is also fearlessness, or at the very least, by calling upon The Horse, by realizing or attaining The Horse within, I am to be fearless yet in control. I will need full access to my power, my Shakti, if I am to realize my spiritual potential, if I am to realize Shiva!

Om Shivoham!

I am Shiva!

NEXT: The Three Dreams (Dream 3, The White Lamb)