Painting as process and as a spiritual journey ~ Connecting with ancestors.

Welcome to my new blog on

Beware! I am not known for brevity. If you are up for longer, heartfelt reads, grab a cup of tea or a glass of wine and settle in!

Before today’s topic, some background. I have been pondering for two years now what to do with the blog on this site, whether to use it at all, or to continue blogging on my personal site Soulful Ground (which has languished a bit lately). Soulful Ground was the space for my (often) very personal musings inspired by life on our former property outside of town. There we were surrounded by acres of forest, fields and gardens, chickens and wildlife. That blog was about my personal spirituality influenced by nature, gardening, and my experiences as a coach. I have been a bit stymied as how to approach that blog since we moved into town here, where my immersion in nature has been disconnected but for a tiny urban garden and my daily dog walks in local parks and on regional beaches. 

So when I created this new web space for my work as an artist, Soul Coach, and Creatively Fit™ coach, I wasn’t sure how I would use the blog option here but for discussing topics around creativity, coaching, and painting. Which will still happen.

I wasn’t expecting to use it to discuss my continually-evolving spiritual journey but, well, here goes, because my art is involved. The latter part of this article began as a meditation  that came through me as I sat in contemplation of the painting that is shown below. It is an intersection of my painting practice with my personal growth and attempts at spiritual connection. 

But first, some background for the painting itself.

Since around mid-January this year I have been working on what I am calling “ancestral healing.” For various reasons I was inspired to look a little more closely at some family history, reviewing family tree research that someone had done for me years ago, looking at photos, reading old letters, pondering the backstory.  A couple people from years ago had gotten in touch for various reasons and it got me reflecting more about my own experiences in childhood.

I am not going to share all my musings about my own family, but your imaginations need not go wild wondering, there is nothing “major” to report that I know of. Just the usual ups and down, grief and losses, in a family tree that can seem to pass down different impacts to one’s descendants and influence our behaviours and emotional states.

 Suffice it to say that I have realized over the years that a certain kind of sadness, self-doubt, and a degree of “stuckness” I have long carried in my heart is in some ways not totally mine, but has come to me through parental influence.

I had thought I had expunged most of the sadness over a decade ago with some shamanic/ceremonial work I had been guided to do around my mother. That did, indeed, relieve some of it, but it returns from time to time in waves, unbidden. 

 A chance viewing of a video online led to my buying a book on ADD, which then led me to some insights that had heretofore eluded me.  I discovered that I might indeed have many symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder, and the book, by Dr. Gabor Maté, explained that ADD may often relate to a sense of dis-connection, in one’s family of origin. It seemed to explain a lot of things to me about my life. On the surface one’s upbringing can look fine, there doesn’t need to be what most might think of as any “trauma.”  But the stresses on, and emotional well-being of our parents and ancestors may in fact have deep impacts upon their descendants, varying depending on one’s own level of sensitivity and life circumstances growing up.

It can be so subtle, such that you can’t understand or pin down why you have the feelings you do, especially when everyone in your family seems to have a slightly, or even dramatically, different experience or perception of their upbringing. I had a lightbulb moment when I heard Dr. Mate’s talk on a video, and then more when I read the book, “Scattered Minds ~ The Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder.” So many aspects of my life started to make sense. I hadn’t imagined I could actually have ADD. That said, I have not been diagnosed, but so many things seemed familiar in this material, and connected me to struggles my parents and perhaps grandparents had experienced in their lives.

I decided to use my art to try to help heal the feelings that weighed me down. It falls under the category of “Can’t hurt, might help.” Indeed, I do think that making art heals, even if at times it may open us up to more vulnerable and tender feelings for a while.

Regarding the notion of “ancestral healing”, some people suggest that in the “spirit world” there is “no time”, so that it is possible to heal one’s ancestors so that one’s lineage may also be healed going forward. I decided to set that as an intention for this painting, but I had no concept for what the image would look like.

Obviously we cannot protect our descendants going forward for all time, as they will all continually encounter new experiences in every moment that will influence and challenge them. But if we can at least release and heal some of the old emotional baggage we carry that is no longer relevant to our own lived experience, the stuff that lies in our subconscious and somatic memories, then perhaps we can give our descendants a better start. By “descendants” I also include what my teacher Denise Linn calls “spiritual descendants,” for those of us, for example, who have no children of our own, but nevertheless have influence on others who will go on to influence their own descendants.

We can also work on this through many forms of therapy, and I have done some, but at this point I am choosing my art as a tool of spiritual healing.

The previous painting, finding a benevolent mother figure gazing upon the innocent baby inside the grumpy outer being.

As I worked on building the intuitive layers of this painting, I actually started by covering over an existing painting that was done as part of an intuitive art workshop with another teacher over a year ago. I had been surprised by the seemingly bizarre image that had emerged at that time. I had not wanted to let it go, but also didn’t know what to do with it. It may in fact be a “better” artwork than what I have come up, with but that’s not the point.

As I set my intention to work with the ancestors, it became clear that this existing painting was the start.  I won’t explain what I see in this image, you can make of it what you will. I covered it entirely with white gesso as a fresh ground and started to build the new layers from scratch. But it feels relevant to me to have used this underneath. It is symbolic of a new beginning.

As I built up the colourful layers, I decided to use some oracle cards for added inspiration. I drew guidance from the wording in the guide book for the cards I pulled, from the Alana Fairchild “Sacred Rebels Oracle” deck.

Also, as the weeks went on and I added to or reworked the painting bit by bit, I created ceremony for myself. I created altars of family photos, candles, and symbolic objects, to support my intentions to resolve any sense of disconnection, disappointment, and sadness in my lineage.

Some might challenge me and say that I am “dwelling” too much on the past, to just get on and enjoy life. My position is that you can’t heal what you won’t feel and “what you resist persists.” And obviously stuff keeps floating up and interrupting my enjoyment of life, so like an investigator, I try to look into it.

I am a feeler. I always have been highly, and often annoyingly (to me), sensitive and emotional. The feelings that plague me come unbidden, they are not always stimulated by thinking or dwelling on old issues or experiences. Feelings arise from my subconscious to be dealt with, to send a message. And of course they do inspire thinking that can flow into a spiral of distortions, sometimes leading to brief bouts of depression. I respond and investigate, I have lots of tools to do so. 

Sometimes answers come fortuitously, as in the video and the book I stumbled upon, leading me to a new line of inquiry.

So, I go to my toolbox as a soul coach, and sometime shamanic practitioner, and now artist, and create what I feel I need to, to process what has emerged, and hopefully move another step beyond to let it it move through and out.
The word emotion comes from the Latin “emovere”, to move out. The idea is not to stop the flow but to allow it to move through and out. It is an intuitive process that I trust. I have a deeply emotional life, it is challenging, but I try not to staunch the flow. It will inevitably come back to flood you if you do.

Some of the random layers before the faces appeared.

So, in the end, after several weeks, I declare this painting done. (Image below.) I will varnish it soon to keep me from trying to tweak it further, forestalling the recovering perfectionist within. It is a totally unexpected image, I did not anticipate creating faces. My painting skills are not yet up to my imaginings, but this is where I am. 

The faces are, to me, representations of unconditional love. They are to remind you (and me) that we have a right to be here. We do not need to prove our worth or validate our existence. I enjoy just gazing at these faces one at a time. Maybe you will too. Ask them for their messages for you. I came up with names for each one, and each came up with different messages for me. You could try that yourself.

My Creatively Fit™ teacher Whitney Freya has been offering a course recently using the Flower of Life symbol, the geometric form I have used here that ties this together. I have not looked at her course, but rather I pulled the symbol from the oracle cards that I had drawn for myself. I see it as a kind of web of life and interconnection through time and space. It suggests the replication of cells into a flower from a central seed and the growth from one to many, as well as the unity of us all. 

I had not intended to do an explication of my process and intentions in this blog, but there it is, it is already miles long before I even get to what I had planned to write…

Which IS that, after completion of the painting, I sat and meditated with it, gazing upon the faces, and asking them what wisdom they might have for me.

 I recorded what came through and then transcribed it below, minimally edited for clarity. And that is all I will say. I hope someone may find this helpful in their own journey.

Oh, you might want to ask me later, did this process and painting “heal” me? I will venture to say that, after 60 years on the planet with all the unconscious imprints I have had, let alone the ones I am conscious of, it may take a little more than a couple months with a painting and some ritual to clear all my sadness and self-doubt from my system. Feelings and the impact from our experiences get stored in the body, not just in the mind. Your body might be holding things of which your mind is not conscious. That is why body-centered therapies like Somatic Experiencing™ are so helpful, especially for those with trauma.

I believe healing is ongoing, kind of an unravelling. I keep peeling off the layers, hoping to find that green sprout. Insights can come in a flash, but transformation takes time, maybe a lifetime. But the perspective and added peace I can gain from using painting and ritual as a form of self-inquiry and blessing, are steps in the right direction.  (Read below the image for the message “from” the painting.)

Unconditional Love of the Ancestors. This and all images and text ©Mary Dixon 2021

And now, the message from the painting:

“Be kind. Kindness always. You never know what burden someone is carrying. Be kind first. Offer space. Everybody has something. Imagine everyone as the child they once were and have compassion for that being, because somewhere along the way they were hurt or influenced, creating the person they are now or inspiring the actions they have undertaken to this point.

Everyone starts as a little baby, pure, innocent, untouched, uninfluenced, although there is influence in the womb. Try to see them as that, it’s as close as you can get to their Soul, although they are already “in form.”  You can shift for one moment of an interaction to see every being as an infant. You too can smile upon them with a heart of compassion. 

It doesn’t mean you totally open yourself if the person they have become is challenging or threatening or hurtful. But you can step back with the perspective that they were not always that way. Take a split second to let your heart go to that place where they were untouched, unharmed, pure of heart, pure of intention, happy, joyful.

You were that way once. Your parents were that way once too. They had many struggles, many obstacles, they did their best with what they knew as did their parents, and their parents, and all the ancestors before. It is a different world now from the one they lived in. Their level of awareness was different from ours. The kinds of challenges they faced were different from ours, although some kinds of struggles were similar.

You can bless them and see them as innocent children, and their parents before them as innocent children, before the hardships of life and the culture and the society of the time made its imprint upon them. Open a space in your heart for love and unconditional acceptance for all, always recognizing that that also needs to be directed back at yourself equally. 

No matter what you’ve done, what choices you’ve made that you regard as bad, misguided, wrong, hurtful, frivolous, whatever, any choices or actions you regret or are not proud of, recognize that you made choices in light of your experience, even if the experience was unconscious.

Even the kind of energy you came into the world with, from your parents’ experience, their stress, judgment, perspective, societal worries and concerns…you came in and were imprinted and were continually influenced and reinforced. And as those influences and imprints built a personality that you called your Self, each choice you made was then based on the imprint. Some imprints came from parents, some came from siblings, some came from random experiences in the world. The effects of those imprints are mostly unconscious, until we run into challenges and start the often deep unwinding of the layers to determine what those influences were, and whom we might be without them.

So, see that the heart of you behind all of that, is a pure Soul and an innocent child, who did the best they could with what they knew. As Maya Angelou said, “When we know better, we do better.”

And our awareness keeps unfolding the more we know about our history, our familial experiences. Sometimes we’ll never find the real stories behind the story. But you can do your best to interpret the stories of your ancestors and yourself with open-hearted compassion for the notion that everybody is dealing with struggles that we don’t see, in a context that we’ll never fully see or understand.

Even if it is explained to us, we will never be that particular soul in that particular body in that particular situation in that particular circumstance, so we will never be in the position to fully understand the path of another nor the decisions of another.

So our goal is open-hearted compassion. It’s a high aspiration because we can always be compromised or threatened by the actions and attitudes of others. But we can, in our ideal selves, be a safe space for others to experience unconditional love and acceptance. It is a high ideal, not many are capable of it. But to at least aim for that is a gift to others, a gift to the world and the generations to come. This is not a call necessarily to forgive hurtful conduct….. but simply a call to see where it might have originated and to try not to pass it on — to become aware, and to break the chain.

Remember that green sprout inside your heart, the seed of you that came into being, fresh new growth from Spirit, and honour the resilience of that sprout which has grown exponentially to become who you are today, in the same way that it has in all other living beings. It’s a miracle.

Life is a miracle. Remember that newness.

And celebrate that you are still here, learning and growing. There is always more to know, always more to experience. You are miraculous beings. Remember the beginnings, and in your heart you can create a new beginning every day, with every thought, in every moment.

That is all.”


Disclaimer: Please note that this is all based on my personal experience and study, I am not a therapist, psychologist, registered counsellor, nor physician, and I recommend anyone traumatized or with mental health challenges to seek the assistance of qualified therapists. What I offer as coach, artist, and writer may be considered complementary practices to support one’s healing journey, but not a replacement for appropriate therapy.

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