Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Elephant Medicine and Painting

Intuitive painting is one of those things that if you don't do it for a little while, it takes a bit to get back in to the flow. Sort of like when you haven't worked out for a long time and you need to stretch and recondition the muscles that you've grown used to not using before you can pick up where you left off.

Over the past two years I've built up what I refer to as muscle memory that triggers my brain to take the back seat so my intuition and I can have a talk. Not always, mind you, because there is still fun and enjoyment to be had when I sit down and say "I want to draw x, y or z thing" but when I want to do some deeper work and exploration. I set up things just so, get out a particular palette, stretch myself out and then ground myself before beginning.

I went through all these motions the other day and started painting what I figured would end up being three women. As the purple paint swooped and looped across the paper, I was fully locked in to this idea of three wise women; I even blocked out the musculature for the central one. But, as I worked I kept getting this internal nudge that sounded and felt very much like "elephant". What? Elephant? This was going to be three wise women, my intuition said so!

The turning point.

Wrong! My brain had decided that's what the painting was going to be, not my intuitive muscles. I stepped back from the painting for a moment and sure enough, I saw the beginnings of a large elephant in the shapes I thought would be women. Following the nudge, I began to work on it and was working much more easily than I had been. In the same time it took me to struggle with 3 shapes and some color, I was able to block out and color this spirit animal as well as begin work on the background before calling it a day.

As I talked about in a previous post, my motivation has been holding steady at empty, which has been frustrating to me, as I'm normally a doer. So I've been bringing myself to the paper for 20-60 minutes a day since Thursday - except the weekend, during which I was busily working on things outside. Some days it's been a struggle to get started, but once I'm actively working the process becomes relatively easy and cathartic. Probably because I'm working on a big blue elephant.

So, why an elephant?

Elephant is what I like to refer to as my lifelong totem. She's been by my side, literally, since the day I was born. Winter storm child that I am, I was born in a blizzard and all the shops aside from a small one near the hospital were closed. My dad, on his way to the hospital having left work, wanted to get me something and the thing this little store had that caught his eye was a ridiculously gigantic elephant toy. This toy is totally the carnival variety; filled with styrofoam beads, covered in not so soft flocking and wearing a party hat and clown ruffle (though the ruffle has gotten lost over the past 31 years). I loved that elephant and still do, it lives with me still and hangs out in my studio with me.

She's been a huge part of my life, as a favorite animal and totem since that day. I've read through the different tales and mythologies surrounding elephants in world cultures, have been active in conservation efforts for them since I was a teenager, have written numerous letters to have them released from carnivals, petting zoos, circuses and small zoos where they aren't properly cared for over the years and I even have one tattooed on my calf that I had done when I had come through a few years of emotional turmoil wiser and stronger than I had been before.

Ganesha, the elephant headed God and I have had a close bond since I found him over a decade ago. I will admit that at first I was drawn to him for his unique appearance but after getting to know him, he is one of the most gentle gods I've ever known. He is said to be another aspect of Hermes, much like Thoth, and seeing as how Hermes has been with me since childhood the connection to other aspects of Him makes sense to me.

But I digress. Elephant comes to me most often when I am feeling empty, drained and washed up. She lifts me up with her mighty trunk and lays me on her wide, strong back to rejuvenate. She fills me with strength as she carries me forward, removing obstacles that stand before me while bestowing on to me the wisdom to be gained from having struggled.

She comes to me when I'm faltering emotionally. When I feel scared or anxious, when I feel lost under a sea of "what ifs". She gently opens the door back to the space outside of those dark emotions for me, allowing love, confidence and commitment to the things I've chosen flow back in to me. She shows me through the actions of elephants out in the world what it is to be part of a family or community, what it is to care, to love and to nurture.

She comes to me now, when I'm at a huge threshold of change - when I am frustrated with myself, nervous and excited about the future, to give me her pearl of wisdom. To show me how to mother, by reminding me of all the mothering I've done for myself and others throughout the years. She comes to support me, to comfort me and to reassure me when I once again need her.


  1. After reading this......I had to take a moment to let all of what you said swirl around in my old noggin and compose myself. The Acorn is an incredibly lucky soul.
    I have for most of my life "kept going" because I was told I had to. I envy you and your ability to take in the moment. Blessings and elephant hugs. Oma

  2. Oh, Dani I love, love this painting. I love elephants and always have and loved Ganesh. I truly believe that your idea for painting wise women came from your place of uncertainty, and your need for support. But what better mother than an elephant? (who also mother others?) And you need only look in the eyes of an elephant and see incredible wisdom. She is the wise woman. I completely agree that she has come to reassure you.

  3. What a beautiful painting! You could even add more flair to the elephant, make it even more "ethnic".


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