Deep water flows within

This week the Potomac River is over her banks in the rite of spring, flooding streets, sending whole trees whirling through churning cafe au lait water as all the rain and snow come surging seaward.

from lreed7649's Flickr

Floodplain from lreed7649’s Flickr


Last night  a friend and I went to a meditation group that we once attended regularly. We had heard it was going to be the last meeting, and even though we hadn’t been for some years, we felt a need to be there.

The host, Susan, who has worked tirelessly to organize many wonderful events, is moving to California. The leader, Jennifer Halls, is a gifted intuitive who works as coach and counselor. She will no longer travel from 3 states away to hold groups here. It was the end of something significant, and a celebration of all of our changes.

When I stopped to count the years I was a bit amazed. It’s been over 5 since I saw most of these people. And as Jennifer convened the group she noted it was 13 years since the first meeting.

I remember meeting her more than 11 years ago. Jennifer is  approachable and down-to-earth, yet also someone who can move energy, and hold space for people to open into. Self, soul, spirit, creativity, purpose: call it what you may, there are special people who can guide you to making that deep inner connection.

I did a great deal of work in those early years with Jennifer in group, workshop and one-on-one to heal my blocked creative self. And then life changed and changed again, and I no longer went out to Leesburg for those meetings. So when I saw Jen last year, I was a bit amazed to realize: that work is done. Completed! I no longer suffer for the work I cannot bring myself to do. It  seemed like I would never succeed, but I truly have freed my creative self.

I have a series of paintings about this inner work, this drive to connect the deep inner movement to the regular motions of art-making, paintings made over the course of 15 years. I’ve rarely shown this work, it’s so personal, it felt too raw. But I am seeing more of the bigger picture now, and it has begun to make more sense.

After last nights meditation, it’s time to post this and see what needs to happen next.


Higher Power Series

The first piece was made in 1994, and the original idea was a picture of myself with helpful spirit guides. I had a sketch, and set to work on a larger canvas, roughing in the figures. As they emerged, the central figure began to resemble my mother, and the ‘guides’ took on a menacing aspect.

Initiation ©Patrise Henkel 1994

I kept working on the picture and it became clear her arms were pinned back, restricting her, and her young belly swelled with child. Me. The image disturbed me so much, I not only put this canvas away, but I abandoned my entire effort at figure painting with spiritual or political themes, and went back to landscapes, my comfort zone.

It was nearly a decade later that I was working with my therapist on the powerful and bizarre (to me then!) fantasies that had begun surging through me. She encouraged me to follow them, to see where they led, and I discovered my Muse: that force/being/god/energy within that not only lets me create, but means I must create in order to fully live. While working with her I did a number of revealing and powerful paintings, this being the culmination.

When I began this painting  I thought it was about the enormous disconnect between my upper and lower body. I felt all this energy, rooted, grounded, powerful, but it was capped off, not able to flow up into my heart and mind. Similarly, the darkness in the belly seemed to mean that I wasn’t able to be conscious of that earth energy, or my own intuition and sexuality. I was afraid it meant I was ill, or damaged.

Integration ©2004 Patrise Henkel

As I worked on it, several things happened. There emerged an inner figure,  (the heart is it’s  head) giving a sort of higher-self/lower-self idea. I began to identify with the higher self, protective of the uncertain, unconscious one.

And another meaning unfolded as I looked at it. The darkness in the belly was not  a disease, or a blindness, or a failing. It was the Void, the Mystery, and the Source. (I am large. I contain Multitudes.*)

Energy flows around it. and unknowable things emerge from this place. And it was at my center.


Last night’s meditations worked from a peculiar theme: the image of a ball point pen.

The idea was to imagine a point of stillness, that was not static or stuck. it became an amazingly compelling image, as I imagined the sphere, floating in ink, containing space, rotating and flowing, yet centered. And the flow all around it! controlled but fluid, and in our meditative space, limitless. What sounded at first trivial began to make a powerful metaphor.

In the meditation I experienced myself as filling and filling with that inexhaustible source. at first there were blocks: under my heart, and into my stiff leg, but by asking to become open, the ‘ink’ began flowing up through my upper body, and down through my achy leg, refreshing and awakening them.


Last night we celebrated years of work, transformation, healing. There were twenty-odd people there who were greyer and more careworn than they appeared in those early years. There were people who were no longer with us. There were survivors of divorce, cancer, loss of parents and loved ones. There were stories of triumph and tragedy. There were children who I new as small fry, now adult! And all of us were still searching, still moving, still learning and sharing.


The river is deep and wide. From the highest hills, a small trickle of snowmelt joins the rain and together they make a mighty flow. This river waters our crops and quenches a city’s thirst. She is a powerful force, beautiful and terrible, a determined current sweeping all before her. Today I stood on a dock and watched huge treetrunks hurtle downstream, and admired her wild power.

We have this power and beauty within us, ever flowing.

3 thoughts on “Deep water flows within

  1. Patrise, this is so beautiful and inspiring and brave. I’m in awe of the work you’ve done, and the wisdom you’ve gained. The images are so rich, and have so much to say. That they were created by you, and for you, and about you, is wondrous. As are your insights and observations. I’m humbled to be a part of your sharing these personal and intimate lessons. Someday I’d love to be permitted to see the originals.

    You inspire me. You truly do! *hugs tight*

  2. Lovely, powerful – I feel so privileged to be sisters on our creative journeys. love, t

  3. You know my aversion to being on the computer for any length of time. So, after having had such an enthusiastic response from you, in helping me to set up my website, I finally took the time to brows through yours. WOW! Not only is your art gripping, but your personal stories with them! How courageous and wonderful, that you would share them with us. Thank you, thank you!

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