Death, art, and magic: a true story from my life.

A few years ago, a very dear friend of mine died suddenly. Dana was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer and given a prognosis of 2 weeks to live. Indeed, she passed into the next realm 14 days later. Although I was deeply, profoundly, utterly grateful to spend a lot of time with her in those 14 days, when she finally transitioned I was bereft.

A couple months later, I happened upon a listing for a workshop, held in a cemetery in Oakland, CA, inviting participants to move their grief into beauty. It was called Morning Altars. I registered.

Those few hours were heart opening beyond description.

In connection with the ones we’d lost, we wandered around the cemetery gathering fallen leaves and flower petals.

We chose our spots and arranged our materials in honor of our dear ones.

Finally, we visited each other’s altars and told stories about who they were for.

Of the four in my sharing group, all four of us cried at each of the four altars.

Each one exquisite and wildly different from the previous.

Each one, touching.

I had cleared the whole day on my calendar, figuring that after the workshop I would be exhausted and sad and likely want to crawl into bed. Instead, after the workshop I felt bright, spacious, and open—almost elated. I felt fully connected to Dana. Instead of going home I wandered around Berkeley and happened upon a shop I’d never seen before. It was busting with color and pattern and mirrors and beads—just like Dana, I surprised myself by splurging. I got (among other things) a pair of light blue tassel earrings.

A few days later I ran into a mutual friend and I happened to be wearing my new finds. She asked me if Dana had given me those earrings. No, I explained I’d just gotten them at the shop in Berkeley. The friend smiled as she said, That was one of Dana’s favorite stores.

Finally I understood! The process of making the altar with and for Dana had connected me to her deeply. And then, through whatever realm-shifting magic, she had taken me shopping at her favorite place. I had felt like we’d spent the afternoon together. And we had.

I felt a bloom of appreciation for Dana and for the mysterious workings of the universe, for our profound interconnection and for the dazzling beauty that surrounds us even when we’re oblivious.

Why am I telling you this whole story?

Because art heals.

Because these are hard times.

Because we all could use a little healing, a little rejuvenation, a little blast of magic.

Putting our grief and our anger and our confusion into our hands—into making, into creativity—can heal us.

And it can reveal the beauty of the world in the process.

Chapter 2
I immediately took on this Morning Altars practice as my own.

I then began offering it as part of my teaching at Art Monastery events. After teaching the form a few times it struck me like a thunderbolt to the gut: I didn’t have permission to be sharing this!

Right then and there I emailed Morning Altars teacher/author/artist: Day Schildkret. I told him how much his work has meant to me. And I confessed that I’d begun teaching it. I had always mentioned him and encouraged people to follow him on Instagram, but I asked for his forgiveness and his blessing to continue.

He wrote back right away, graciously thanking me for being an ally & giving his blessing. He told me he was developing a teacher training program and invited me to join.

Three years later, just last month, I graduated from the yearlong training!

It was a year of deep dive into awe & wonder, grief & praise, gratitude & generosity. We cultivated a profound appreciation & respect for the beautiful land we live on (my fellow teacher-students were spread all over the globe) and practiced sharing that wonder & appreciation with our communities.

I’m so grateful to have come across this work and even more grateful for the opportunity to share it.

Dear one, thank you for reading all the way to the end of this missive!

I hope your days are bright and full — even in the face of setbacks in the control & safety of our bodies and the air we breathe, the horrifying loss of life due to mental illness left untreated and a culture that resists being with pain.

In the midst of all this, may you cultivate resilience.

May you find avenues for dancing through the stress & anger & grief.

Please move whatever emotions you’re feeling.

Move them with paint, with dance, with song.

Move them with flower petals, with bicycle wheels, and with jokes.

Move them through eye contact with strangers, with handwritten love letters to old friends, and through silly photos texted to family.

Move those emotions.

Let art help you.

And you just might get a glimpse of the magic of the universe.