The Shamanic Life and Art of David Chethlahe Paladin
by David Chethlahe Paladin
Foreword by Matthew Fox
is published on this page with the permission of
Bear & Co, publisher of Painting the Dream.
David Paladin as a Spiritual Artist
A spiritual artist speaks to the spirit, that is, to the depths of human experience. Such an artist brings in more than just the human spirit; the spirits of the ancestors, the spirits of the other-than-human ones, the Spirit that is the Great Spirit arrive through his work.
For David Paladin, his art was his life as well as his paintings. Choices he made to live outside the box of the professional art world give testimony to this truth. His decision to become a Unitarian minister and to work in prisons and as a police chaplain bear witness to his desire to serve, to heal, to make compassion happen, to walk the Navajo way of beauty.
Can an understanding of a spiritual tradition help us to interpret more fully and respond more deeply to the work and life of David Paladin? David Paladin’s search for his spiritual roots as a Native American, as a Western American (his mother was Navajo and his father was European American and Christian) and as a human being find expression in the tradition of creation spirituality. In that tradition, which is found among Native Americans, Native Africans, Celts, as well as in the Bible and in the experience of the historical Jesus, our spiritual journeys are named in four paths: the Via Positiva (joy and wonder); the Via Negativa (darkness, suffering and silence); the Via Creativa (creativity); the Via Transformativa (compassion, healing and justice). Not only will examining Paladin’s work in light of these paths take us more deeply into his work, but his work will also take us more deeply into understanding our own spiritual journey. Paladin is nothing if not a light-bearer and a truth-bringer, an original thinker and a spiritual warrior who ushers in new light that allows all of us to see our world with new eyes.
Of the Via Positiva: Look in Paladin’s paintings for what he called “slight wisps of color that were the first sounds of creation.” Look for his—and your own—oneness with everything and for the joy and wonder that come with that realization.
Of the Via Negativa: There was no lack of suffering in Paladin’s life. From growing up without his biological parents to torture in Nazi concentration camps (which reduced him to sixty-two pounds and left him crippled and in a coma for two and a half years), he learned what shamans need to learn: “Shamans know that those wounds are not theirs but the world’s. Those pains are not theirs but Mother Earth’s. You can gift the world as shaman because you’re a wounded warrior. A wounded healer and a wounded warrior are one.” Instead of afflicting others, the warrior-shaman rises above his own dead body and says, “I have died, too. Now let’s dance. We’re free. The spirit is ours because we have died. Now we are resurrected from the ashes.”
Of the Via Creativa: Paladin talks about the “joy of unbridled exploration, an unlimited source of inspiration” and a “sense of amazement” when he looks at a piece he has completed. But he also insists that we are all creative and can have these experiences, even if our creativity is merely our ability to speak. “If you’re talking, you are being creative. You’re taking concepts and changing them into words so that you can communicate with me. You’re more creative than you think you are.”
Of the Via Transformativa: Paladin took his creativity not only to the canvas but to the community. As a police chaplain he often had to deliver death notices to people’s loved ones and to work with persons facing suicide. “In that role I use a lot of creativity. I become an actor because I try to sense what they need and then fulfill it. This is the role of the artist, the shaman, the minister.” His teaching about transformation is as follows: “Look at yourself as magicians, as healers, as lovers of humanity, as givers and sharers. From that perspective living becomes an art in itself. Then everything you do becomes magic!”
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