As a kid all I wanted to be was an artist but because I was smart everyone encouraged me
to be something else, anything else and above all to choose a career that was practical.
My guidance counselor in high school said my aptitude tests suggested I should be a
mechanical engineer. I knew that was not me but given my era, women’s lib was a faint
glimmer on the horizon in 1957, I went off to college determined to be both brainy and arty.
I thought I’d become a medical illustrator, but the tedium of detail, accuracy and microscopes
turned me off. I went into psychology instead thinking that was the most creative thing I
could do and still fit into my uptight, eastern, intellectual world.
Flash forward to 1980. By now I have four children and have busted my butt to earn a PhD
from the prestigious academic institution Bryn Mawr College near Philadelphia. But our family
moves to Missoula MT where even most professors at the University there haven’t heard of BMC.
Have you noticed how coyote plays tricks in our lives?
I establish myself as a psychotherapist with a group of eclectic practitioners of the psychological arts. Wilderness and spiritual
development open me to dimensions of mySelf I’d stifled during my first 40 years.
Divorce soon follows. By 1989, I know
I have to follow my creative instincts. I quit my psychotherapy practice to honor my own deeper longings. I think I’m leaving my office to become a writer/photographer and to work more regularly in retreat settings where creativity and wild nature can influence the healing process, where I can more freely encourage healing self-expression.
The photo below shows the results of one of those new healing pursuits. It illustrates the end product of an eighteen month commitment five of us made to creating life sized dolls. I initiated the project and twelve participants showed up. We had no idea where it was going to take us and over the course of the first few weeks, seven decided not to continue. But we five didn’t question our engagement. Each step of the process from making the feet to the head, from the stories that were revealed as we asked ourselves why we were making what we were making, every aspect of the journey taught us about ourselves. And suddenly we realized the dolls were telling the stories of how we’d been wounded and how we could heal. We suddenly knew those stories needed to be publicly shared. We were flabbergasted to discover the power of sacred performance, the power of truth sharing to move others. That was in 1994. Inexplicably, that journey has not been repeated but maybe the time is right now. I feel something brewing which would involve large paintings, a performance exhibit of some sort!
After leaving my office, it takes three more years and many losses for me to remember that my primary love is neither writing nor photography but painting! Though I still love those other pursuits, painting is where I become absorbed in worlds of my own making. What a thrill!
By 1992, I am stripped of everything that used to identify me so I take myself on a two month sojourn in solitude. An island in the Salish Sea transforms my identity to artist and changes my path forever. I start out being devoted to watercolor and mostly teach myself with the help of books, trial and error, and several workshops. It occurs to me somewhere along the way, that I am honoring my matrilineal DNA. My mother was a “closet” painter her whole life, an oil painter, but I chose not to follow in her oil painting footsteps. My great grandfather,
Frederic Schiller Cozzens, was famous for his watercolor paintings of yacht contests, especially the America’s Cup, before photography took over
the job of recording those great races.
I chose watercolor, though it never occurred to me that watercolor traditionally suggests pale, pastel, delicate images. I began with wild saturated pigments
and continue to this day with brilliant color. Over the course of my twenty years of painting, I have evolved from being a watercolor purist
( no opaque whites for me, no black from the tube, no grey either but mixing all the darks on the paper thank you very much ) to being
a multi-media artist ( I love gold leaf for instance ) to thinking that the creamy opaque sensuousness of tempera is awesome. Now I may fall in love
with acrylic. I never would have dreamt I’d say that a few months ago.
About the same time I begin painting, I also stumble upon a spiritual practice that knocks my socks off.
Ritual Body Postures and Ecstatic Trance, discovered by anthropologist Felicitas D. Goodman, PhD,
is a practice based on global, pre-agricultural artifacts. I begin the first Missoula group in March 1993 and
as quickly as I can, become certified to teach (1996). I call the practice Ecstatic Wisdom Postures and continue to teach it.
My art and my life are fed by it. Learn more here.
In the Spring of 1999, I wake with an epiphany from dreams at 4 a.m. on equinox. The fact I awakened in a bed in a hotel near a small town near Avebury and Silbury Hill in England at the tail end of a pilgrimage to Ireland with three of my friends from our Missoula Posture group makes the impact that much more riveting. I know in my bones that it is time to sell my parents’ home which I have inherited and find the rural land where I can build a retreat center where nature and creativity can inspire healing. Within three months the miracle of the right place falls into my lap. I call my place Athanor Arts, athanor being the old English word for the alchemical furnace which holds a steady state of heat for transformation to occur.
For ten years that place is my heart home and I intended to live out my lifetime there. But coyote plays tricks again! Economic changes force me to leave it all behind and move to the Pacific Northwest where three quarters of my family live and there is a large and inspiring population of people. I’m positively thrilled with the bubbling creative and spiritual cauldron I find here. The region and I both serve as athanors now.
As an elder, I want nothing more than to contribute to humanity’s maturation so that my children’s children’s children’s children will be able to experience the wonder of living on a wild, juicy and thriving planet. I hope my imagery and words remind you of our interconnectedness, remind you of your own ancestors and perhaps encourage you to think about the legacy you want to leave behind. I trust that my imagery will also remind you of the possibility that invisible realities really do support our world of matter (think neutrinos), that creator really does create through us. My art is my sacred activism, my loving nudge to us all to find passionate purpose, a compassionate heart, and an ecstatic engagement with living.
To read more about my philosophy and to see imagery illustrating my posts, check out my blog titled: The Wisdom of Not Knowing Everything.
How do I get in contact with you? I don’t have your email address — would like to check in about Celebrating Women.
Shaun, I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately and just opened the computer to write a proposal for Seattle’s Women of Wisdom and here you are. Since I never heard back from you, I’d let the idea of CW go but hey, if there is still time, I am interested in submitting a proposal to you, too. My email is: email@example.com. It’s on the contact page here now as well as on my new ecommerce art website: http://deborah-j-milton.fineartamerica.com. I’ll write to you on email too so you’ll have mine in you system again.