The Heart-throb of GREEN
- Heart - Leonardo Da Vinci
- Art nouveau doorway - Berlin
- Vincent Van Gogh, Horse Chestnut Tree in Bloom, 1887
During these long months of lockdown and social isolation, GREEN is a vital colour for our well being and for life itself.
For a start, Green embodies a promise of Growth and Fertility. The link between “green” and plant growth is built into the word itself: “Green” is related to the Old English word growan, meaning to grow or cover with green. On a physiological level, Green affects the body by lowering blood pressure and dilating the capillaries; a restful effect used against both insomnia and fatigue. But beyond the physical life energy, Green also stands for Harmony, Serenity and Hope. Hope that Spring will come again, hope that renewal and re-birth are, in fact, real possibilities for the promise of reaching ones precious goal, beyond the blackness of discouragement.
In these challenging and introspective times, Green is the colour that also invites us to a re-examine our relationship with Nature and our loved ones. And the Heart is the doorway for both. Against all expectations (that love should be symbolised by a Red heart), Green is the colour associated with the Heart Chakra, which is situated behind the heart, half way up the body and the central point uniting and balancing the lower and upper energies of the physical and the mental, situated in the gut and the head.
The purpose of the Heart chakra, in the system as a whole, is to get us to expand beyond our limited egos into a wider sense of connection with all life.
In her book, “The Four-Fold Way”, anthropologist, Angeles Arrien, says: “Many native cultures believe that the heart is the bridge between Father Sky and Mother Earth. For these traditions, the 'four-chambered heart,' the source for sustaining emotional and spiritual health, is described as being full, open, clear, and strong. These traditions feel that it is important to check the condition of the four-chambered heart daily, asking: 'Am I full-hearted, open-hearted, clear-hearted, and strong-hearted?'”
A half-hearted state is caused by ambivalence or a lack of commitment which create mixed messages, misunderstanding and mistrust. It is a sign that we are in the wrong situation and should move on.
A close-hearted state indicates a holding on to resentments and old disappointments. Forgiveness work is needed here.
A doubting heart is in a state of confusion and ambivalence around integrity. Aligning emotions with values creates authenticity and clarity.
A weak-hearted state means we lack the courage to be honest, to face conflict and so we make ourselves small as we opt for appeasement.
If this pandemic is to teach us anything, it is this: without attending and listening to the Heart, we are doomed to repeating another round of suffering through blockages and disconnection. The desecration and commodification of Nature and the Feminine, is only possible when the heart and our feelings are blocked. Increasingly, expressing feelings is feared because handling and transforming emotions is time consuming and requires skills and wisdoms we have lost. As a result, emotions are labeled, pathologised, medicated and blocked... Perhaps now is the time to feel and express openly: deep sorrow for losses, deep anger for unacknowledged hurt and injustice and also deep joy for what we do have. Feel the feelings deeply but let them flow through you; don’t let them flood you or colonise you. You are much more than a single emotion. Only then can these emotions be transformed: sorrow can become an acknowledgement of our capacity to love and be loved once again, anger can become fuel for action, joy can become gratitude and compassion...
Psychology tells us that too much or too little of anything creates an imbalance revealing a shadow aspect. Green’s relationship to life can easily swing to its opposite pole; death, decay and illness; slime, mould, poison, mucus, vomit... It can also manifest in the overly powerful and scary faces of witches, extraterrestrials, dinosaurs and monsters. In the psyche too, there is the green-eyed monster that turns us “green with envy”. (If only we could turn envy into admiration...!)
In recent times, “green’ implies being ecologically aware, caring for the organic life of the planet. This adds a modern note to the old meanings of green as fresh, moist, pliable (like green wood), not rigid. Though Green can imply freshness, of course it can also carry the notion of immaturity, inexperience, awkwardness, unripeness- the “greenhorn”. And yet “green” can become “green-washing”; paying lip-service to ecology while plundering the planet’s resources in new, more shadowy ways.
In Ancient Greece, the goddess Aphrodite (later re-named Venus by the Romans), is associated with love and fertility. Fruitful, green Aphrodite was the lover of fierce, red Ares. Red is the opposite and complementary of Green. They balance and intensify each other in equal measure.
And here it is worth looking at Jan van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Wedding painted in 1453:
From a colour perspective the painting is divided into left and right; the man stands in the neutral yet comforting shades of brown while the woman stands in her greenery next to a bed draped all in red. That may suggest passion, but put those connotations aside for a second, and remember instead that the spectrum now makes us think of red and green as contrasting colours, and so sharply distinguished that we use them as traffic signals. Yet the colour sensibility of Van Eyck’s day (and long after him), put them next to each other as complementary, not contrasting. In defining this picture’s domestic space they do appear to work in harmony, heightening, brightening and strengthening each other. They chime. Or perhaps one might say that they marry. Art historians have often wondered: Is the woman pregnant? Green had been the colour of hope from late antiquity on, when newborns were sometimes swaddled in green for luck, and in the Middle Ages, it was often worn by marriageable young women. In some miniatures, green is the colour for pregnant women as well, conveying a sense of growth and expectancy.
If only the relationship between male and female, heart and mind were more balanced, more fluid, less divided and adversarial! In the 1852 painting by Sir John Everett Millais ,“Ophelia”, we see a depiction of the Shakesperian, heart-broken maiden literally returning to Nature to drown her sorrows and herself. The actual story behind the painting has its own tragedy, caused by the patriarchal power relationship of artist and model.*
Healing the heart involves attending to the most vulnerable and sacred aspects within ourselves. Only by listening to their truth can we drop the protective armour that keeps us bound to the ego, bound to the smaller parts of ourselves, separated from Nature, alienated from the Other (whatever that may be), erecting real or virtual picket fences if only to confirm that the grass always looks greener on the other side...
Neil Jenney, “Here and There”, 1969
In Nature there are no fences and no idealised levels of greenness. In fact, there are so many shades of green and each one contains a varying amount of brown. From the get-go, life already contains the seed of its own death. So when painting the greens of Nature, a good rule is not to squeeze out any green without squeezing out a decent dollop of orange or brown.
With love- always,
*Elizabeth Siddal, herself a poet and painter and Pre-Raphaelite muse and future wife of Dante Gabrielle Rossetti, modeled for Millais aged just 19 years old. To achieve the greatest sense of realism, Millais had Siddal pose in a full bathtub in his London studio wearing an antique silver dress he’d purchased especially for the painting. As Millais had fully devoted the spring and summer working outdoors on the the background landscape, the task of painting Ophelia fell in the winter months. To keep the water warm, Millais improvised a system of lighting oil lamps and placing them under the bath. But on one occasion, the lamps went out. Lost in his work, Millais failed to notice. Siddal, the consummate model, never broke her pose but subsequently came down with a severe cold, thought to have been pneumonia. Siddal accrued a number of doctor’s bills. When her father threatened Millais with legal action—and the artist, somewhat cowed, agreed to pay her medical bills amounting to some £50 (about £7,000 now). Sadly for Siddal, poor health would plague her for the rest of her all-too-brief life. Ophelia, in the years that followed its unveiling, became, in the public imagination, an omen of Siddal’s own tragic story. The poppy Millais painted by Ophelia’s hand would gain a terrible new significance when in February 1862, Siddal, in the midst of postpartum depression following the stillborn birth of a daughter, overdosed on laudanum, an opiate derived from the flower, dying a few days later at the age of 32. (From: https://news.artnet.com/art-world/john-everett-millais-ophelia-3-facts-1912391)
- Tony Cragg, “Leaf”, discarded plastic, 1981
- Henri Matisse, “The Eskimo” (detail), gouache on paper, 1947
- Gustav Klimt, Pond at Schloss Kammer on the Attersee, 1909