Celtic Wisdom: A Captivating Spiritual Legacy

The lyric melody of celtic music is captivating to the senses. At the very least, it can lift our spirits and lighten our hearts. At best, it can assist us in transcending our limitations and connecting with a higher consciousness. Music in general has the singular power to bring about an immediate attitude adjustment. For that reason, music is sacred in all spiritual traditions. Constant chatter gives way to interior reflection as the music plays. There is a spiritual component to celtic music that mirrors the essence of celtic wisdom. As music attracts and transforms us, the celtic experience of nature with fully attentive senses is also considered spiritually sacred.

To walk the hills and valleys of the earthly landscape, mindfully, is a spiritual act. In our own lives, an appreciation of the world outside the walls of our home or office offers us an opportunity to reconnect to something that is more beautiful and glorious than our usual, limited perspective of the world.

The complexity of modern life and perhaps the lure of materialism all contribute to the estrangement we often feel from our spiritual selves. We look outside of ourselves for answers or solutions and rarely consider entering the silence within.

Interior meditation is a practice embraced by several spiritual traditions and it requires that we turn away from our hectic pace to give it a try. Start by endeavoring to awaken your awareness through the simple act of stepping outside. Can you remember a moment in time when the beauty of the world took your breath away? Was it a snow-capped mountain, a sunset masterpiece or an animal in the wild? Recall how you felt during this awe-inspiring encounter.

If anything, a true perspective on life was restored and we remembered that life is a precious gift. Treat yourself to a walk very soon. Focus on whatever it is that catches your attention. Try not to think, instead quiet your mind and engage in appreciation. You may be surprised at what you learn.

The world can be a very alienating place; we need a sanctuary where we can restore our souls. For matters of personal responsibility, we need to be out in the world yet, it is equally important to step off the beaten path, still the coursing thoughts in our mind and reflect on spiritual truth.

Celtic tradition points to the connectedness of life. Not only do we affect each other through our thoughts and actions, but we affect the living earth. We all have something to offer, this is our birth right. As we look up at the stars, listen to the waves as they crash ashore and feel the sand underneath us, we are active participants in this connectedness.

We can learn from spoken truth as readily as we gain knowledge from the miracle of a seed sprouting into visible life. The old Irish saying: “isn’t the hand of a stranger, the hand of God?”; supports this notion of connectedness. Therein lies our true destiny. In this life, it is incumbent upon us to nurture our own soul growth, be of service to others and leave the little patch of earth we call home better than we found it.

However, if we are trudging along through life and ignoring the promptings of our soul, how authentic is our path? Working towards harmony within ourselves and with each other, as we acknowledge that we are part of something much larger, is the road to inner peace, and it is within our grasp. We are personally responsible for our own happiness in this life. We possess all that we need to achieve our dreams, survive day-to-day and live life to the fullest. We began to connect with this power the moment we decide to journey within our own interior silence.

We may be unable to singlehandedly end violence, pollution and discord, but we can clean up our own act. Celtic tradition tells us that ancient wisdom already exists within us. One does not have to come from a line of celts to possess this wisdom; it’s available to all.

The celtic way is but one of the paths to follow. For those of you with celtic lineage, this path may speak truth to you on a very deep level. A famous Irish Saint, St. Brigid, was known for her love for the land. By entering a sanctuary, be it outside or in the next room, we are able to examine our life, transcend our limitations and tap into that ancient wisdom within.

Dedicate this day to a new beginning in your life. Consider it an opportunity to implement a change. What self-imposed or self-imagined limitation do you wish to transcend? Build upon your self-improvement by remaining fully engaged with truth, reality and what it is you must work through to arrive at a better place. Remember, that which is worthwhile and valuable in life is not given to us – we must do the footwork and put in the time to advance ourselves on the path.

It is through the presence of balance in our life that we experience harmony. Listen to the complaints that you might speak only to yourself throughout the day; herein lie the clues to the possible extremes that keep you off balance. Clarify to yourself, what it is that constitutes your personal truth. What feels authentic? What feels strained? What would you change if you could? Contemplate your unfulfilled desires. What is holding you back? Procrastination? Time? Money? Cast aside these concepts of lack and limitation and begin, simply begin.

Release the need to be validated by the world. Step out into the open air, breathe deeply and chart your own course. Refuse to be constrained by rigid opinions; be they your own or those belonging to others.

Dare to walk in the direction of your dream as impossible as it may appear from the perspective of your present circumstances. You are not alone. Your life is connected to all there is or ever was. The path of celtic spirituality is best initiated outside, in view of the sunrise, while the leaves still cradle morning dew, like precious jewels. Begin your personal journey in touch with the beauty God has created and take it with you as you start your day.

Thomas Cole – The Father of American Landscape Painting

Nineteenth century American artist, Thomas Cole was born on February 1, 1801, at Bolton, Lancashire in Northwestern England. The founder of the American art movement ‘Hudson River School,’ Thomas is an established name in ‘Romanticism’ and ‘Naturalism.’

His early education in arts swung around the domains, wood engraving and calico painting, until his family immigrated to Steubenville, Ohio, America, in 1818. Here, Thomas learned the essentials of painting from a portrait painter, Stein. His interests however, gradually tilted towards landscape painting. In 1823, the Coles moved to Pittsburg, where Thomas began to draw painstakingly detailed sketches of the city’s highly picturesque scenery. The artist then shifted to Philadelphia in 1824, where he worked with the members of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. This association brought him the privilege of displaying his canvasses at the Academy’s exhibitions.

In 1825, he moved to New York, back to his family. The city’s esteemed artists and patrons admiringly noticed his works. He sold his paintings to finance his summer trip to Hudson Valley. Here he explored the haunting beauty of Catskill Mountain house and its wilderness. One of his prominent works, “Gelyna, View near Ticonderoga” took him to the highs of fame everywhere, bringing eminence to his works. Soon, his stature elevated, and he was appointed a member of the National Academy.

During 1829-1831, he traveled to Britain, France, and Italy, to study the great historical works at various art galleries there. His stay in Italy, from 1831 to 1832, supplemented his imagination with noble themes and ideas, and from this point on, his paintings began carrying the hard-core ‘Romantic’ spirit. During this period only, Luman Reed, a New York based merchant, became Cole’s patron for whom the artist produced his best-known series of paintings, “The Course of Empire (1834-36),” depicting the progress of a society from the savage state to a zenith of luxury, eventually leading to its dissolution and extinction.

November 22, 1836, added a new chapter in Thomas’ life, when he tied knot with Maria Bartow at Cedar Grove, where he eventually settled for life. The couple had five children. During his second trip to Europe (1840-1842), Cole developed a mastery over his art of using colors. He would brilliantly recreate the atmospheric magic, particularly that of sky. He painted his second great series of work, “Voyage of Life (1840),” during his this second spell at Europe.

Although, Cole was a landscape painter, his allegoric creations embodied the same intellectual content. Some of his other celebrated works were, “The Garden of Eden (1828),” “The Oxbow (The Connecticut River near Northampton) (1836),” “The Departure (1837),” “The Return (1837),” “The Past (1838),” “The Present (1838),” “L’Allegro (Italian Sunset) (1845),” and “Il Penseroso (1845).” On February 11, 1848, the maestro breathed his last, at Catskill, leaving behind his rich legacy, and a firm foundation for the continued growth of the American landscape painting.

Architect Julia Morgan Broke Barriers, Built Enduring Legacy

Among the pioneers and luminaries named to the California Hall of Fame in 2008 is a woman whose vision and skill make her a giant of architectural genius, though she stood but five feet tall. Julia Morgan’s work adorns California from the Bay area and far beyond, crowned by her most famous work, the design and construction of Hearst Castle that hovers over San Simeon Bay.

An Architect by Birth
Morgan was born in 1872 in San Francisco and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1894 equipped with a degree in civil engineering. This was likely not the first indication that Julia Morgan was destined to become a groundbreaker for women in a male dominated profession, but it was the springboard for an illustrious career that blazed a path in architectural innovation.

Her skills were finely honed at one of the world’s most prestigious architectural schools, Ecole des Beaux- Artes in Paris. There, pushing the limits of convention, she was twice denied admission. According to Morgan, her rejection was based solely on gender. Finally admitted after placing 13th out of a field of 376 applicants to take the rigorous entrance exam, she became the first woman to graduate with an architectural degree from the world famous school.

A Career Begins
Julia Morgan had a singular focus – architecture suited to the environment that surrounded the building. She was able to successfully blend the strictly classical training she received in Paris with her home-grown love of the California landscape in its many natural variations. . In 1904, she again exerted her individuality and started her own architectural firm in San Francisco. She began to receive commissions and build a reputation. One of her first assignments was a home in Grass Valley, in the foothills of the Sierra, where she built the North Star House in the Arts and Crafts style.

The widespread devastation of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake caused an interesting side effect as the acute need for rebuilding mitigated prejudice against a female architect. Her own office, on Montgomery Street, was among the hundreds to crumble into ruins. From those years of intense design and reconstruction, Julia Morgan was never at a loss for work and her reputation grew as steadily as did her body of work.

Assertive and Individual
Certainly, one of the hallmarks of Morgan’s hundreds of homes, buildings and public edifices is eclecticism. Armed with her classical education, she was never caught up in a particular trend, design or architectural paradigm. Morgan designed her buildings with consideration for the site, use and the surrounding environment. Her work ranged from extraordinarily ornate and opulent, to simple and functional. She was comfortable working in many architectural styles and considered each commission a newly stretched canvas upon which she’d create a site-specific masterpiece.

The range of Julia Morgan’s work is equally extensive. She built for billionaire magnates such as William Randolph Hearst, but attacked more modest projects with the same dedicated focus. Among her public buildings are YWCA’s, the Riverside Art Museum and the Los Angeles Examiner Building. She also worked extensively on college campuses in Northern California and designed the Mills College Bell Tower as well as buildings for churches and private homes.

She is most widely known for her work with the Hearst family. The crown jewel, of course, is Hearst Castle which is visited by millions of people each year. There, she was remembered for wearing stylish slacks and silk blouses while scrambling quickly into the construction work to make certain the details of her design were being followed and properly executed by craftsmen, carpenters and masons. Julia Morgan dedicated years of labor, love and exceptional creativity to build the vast estate that sits atop “La Cuesta Encantada” – The Enchanted Hill. As visitors from around the world know, it takes many hours to appreciate the 165 rooms, gardens, water features and acres that make Hearst Castle a woman-made wonder on the Pacific Coast.

From Bavaria to Wyntoon
Less well known, but nonetheless breathtaking is the Bavarian Village at Wyntoon, built in the 1930s. This was Hearst’s 50,000 acre getaway that lies in the shadow of Mount Shasta in Northern California. At this heavily wooded site, Julia Morgan felt the pull of Bavaria and Austria, with timbered building sheltered by tall pines and crisp clean air filled with the scent of pine.

To make Hearst’s many distinguished guests comfortable, Morgan designed three guest houses, each three stories tall. There were four to eight bedrooms in each timbered house along with sitting rooms. All looked out to a grassy expanse and backed up to the rushing sound of the McCloud River that meanders through the estate.

True to her love and connection to the natural environment, Morgan used local stone and wood in the construction of the Bavarian Village. The effect remains timeless as steep roofs jut skyward with many gables and faceted windows framed by massive timbers. It is, indeed, as if a small piece of Bavaria was lifted up and gently eased into the California landscape. But, upon closer examination Julia Morgan’s touch of genius took the traditional architecture to new heights. The many artistic touches and unusual conventions that Morgan brought to the Village are entirely unique.

In preparation for building the Village, Morgan and her sister, Anna, traveled with Hearst to Bavaria in 1931. Some experts speculate this visit furthered Morgan and Hearst’s resolve to carry forth the Bavarian theme because they sensed the rise of Adolf Hitler might threaten the survival of Austrian and Bavarian architectural treasures.

The Wyntoon Bavarian Village guest houses were named for fairy tale characters – Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty among others. A noted muralist from New York added his artistry to the outside walls of two of the buildings, painting fanciful scenes of tales from the Brothers Grimm. Among the most embellished was Hearst’s personal home on the property – the Bear House. There, the muralist painted scenes from Snow White and Rose Red over the entire stucco exterior.

As with many of Julia Morgan’s major projects, select artisans – men and women – traveled with her to ply their craft on her projects. Although she never married, Morgan attracted a rich following of friends and colleagues in whom she had confidence and respect for their work. Wyntoon is a prime example of the kind of team work that characterized Julia Morgan’s long and successful career.

An Isolated End
After hundreds of notable projects and widespread recognition of her considerable talent and leadership, Julia Morgan’s last years were spent in self-imposed isolation. With many of her friends and family gone, including Hearst who died in 1951, Morgan felt herself failing. No longer able to work, to express the passion that had fueled her life, she chose to become reclusive. She died on February 7, 1957, leaving behind endowments for aspiring architects, scholarships and an unparalleled body of work.

She also left behind a road – one that started out a rough and cobbled path to be maneuvered by only the most bold and brave of young women. Today, that road is paved and many women architects stand on the mighty reputation of Julia Morgan, a California original.