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Moments of Spiritual Flight

A theme of self-acceptance
realized through a collaborative
photographic exploration

I keep experiencing the social good
of this project that began so many years ago
with Under Nature's Canopy.

There's a healthy release of feelings, and a heightened sense of
acceptance that has resulted in so many of my
subjects thanking me for their catharsis.

I take no credit for doing more than aiding
them by setting up a nurturing atmosphere in
which they feel safe to release.

Observations from Some Participants

Tess
The island called me home, back to earth, back to ground, a place to transition through, to be transformed, to walk between worlds.

Aubrey
For as long as I can remember clearly, I have felt the need to hide my body. Growing up, I was tall and strong, and a bit of a tom-boy, with my brother being my most constant friend in between split homes. Some kids can be mean, and some kids can take it to heart- I was the latter.

When kids no longer wanted to be friends with me, I was convinced they were right, that I was a freak. I began to hide in plain sight, making myself as small as I could, and my body began packing on protection. Then when I was referred to as the Fat Girl, I was even more convinced that they were right, that I was repulsive. I would hide away under baggy t-shirts and shapeless slacks, telling myself that it was not because I was afraid of being looked at with judgement, but because I was sparing others the sight of me.

As I left my teen years, and found that men saw my hips and curves as an invitation, I felt the need to cut and run, convinced that I must have been put in the wrong body. Since then, I have found myself in situations with people who showed me and my body the same amount of respect that I did--- which was both enlightening and humbling, as it showed me how little I respected my own body---my only body.

As I've continued to grow, I have tried to make conscious steps towards positive self-love and care, embracing my own femininity. It's been a process. In the last few years, I have lost 60 pounds, half of that in this last year. Experience has offered perspective, and I have developed other forms of protection. Coming here to Kalani, I had no plans to be nude, but I knew I wanted to feel free. Now, a month and a half in, I have done two nude photo shoots and modeled for a figure drawing class. What was wonderful about it all was how natural it felt. It was not a battle with bashfulness or even a burst of liberation. It was just comfortable.

Like the shedding of an old skin, old thought patterns have melted away, now feeling foreign. To feel comfortable in one's own skin---how very wonderful and how very important. I am so grateful for this opportunity to enjoy being natural in nature--- with a creative companion who allowed me to feel at ease for my emergence. Transformation is a gradual process, but then there are those moments that show you how far you have come, and you can smile with a sigh, enjoying living your life in your body. It's the only one you've got, after all!

Side-note: What is also really wonderful about our tree shoot is that I often create drawings in stream-of-consciousness style, tuning into where I am in life and how I feel. Most times...I end up being a tree. Over the years, I have been short sassy trees, long spindly trees, crooked deadened trees, or curvaceous womanly trees, depending on how I was feeling. As I look at some of these photos, I delight in finding that this tree is indeed becoming a woman. :)

And she later wrote:
You found me in quite a turning point, as I began to emerge as a woman, without roots to hold me down, allowing me to dance freely and rejoice in my body for the first time. That photoshoot was the beginning of a whole new adventure, and I am grateful for your support as I shed that old distorted image of self and allowed myself to be seen.

The other photo that really resonated with me was the pained demon one. I have been keeping it close, giving all the love i can to that that visual representation of my physical pain. Thank you for that as well- it is a good reminder of the shadow self, which I am learning to embrace and care for.

I have been learning to live with Fibromyalgia for the last 3 years, but have always had a level of pain and discomfort in my body to cope with. The disorder is still quite a mystery, so every individual has to learn as they go. When I feel pain, it is often followed by a feeling of disappointment and sometimes despair, and life suddenly feels impossibly long. This photoshoot was a wonderful experience in that it allowed me to feel comfortable in my body, and celebrate the curves and creases I usually kept hidden. As I enjoyed both the emotional release and the creative collaboration, I forgot, for a moment, my limitations. As I knocked against the tree and pain surged through my naked, vulnerable body, I was hit with a humble reminder of my fragility. While this photo was created, I, feeling defeated, said "I have to stop, I'm sorry," and the shoot was drawn to a close.

When I looked back on this photograph, I see the physical manifestation of my pain. Looking closely at the morphed, pained faces which were forged together onto one body-- I saw the sadness that I carried in my sighs. The face looking off to the left of the photo looks like a prehistoric woman with sad wide-set eyes, while the face branching off to the right of the photo looks old, weathered, and tired. This person supports herself through her strife, trying to calm and care with the stroke of one hand, while clenching to the tree to release the pain.

I have kept a copy of this photo so that I can offer healing to that sad, pained woman. I do believe that I have the ability to turn this challenge into a gift, by looking at it directly in the face (literally) and encourage healing through loving action and reinforcement.

Thank you for 1. stopping the shoot after this photo, when I needed to rest, and 2. not stopping before, so that I have the chance to face my burdens and release them.

Dora
I wrote to Dora that "I heard you clearly, that I help you, through images that contribute to your understanding of yourself." Dora later responded: I still think that having the opportunity to share myself with you through art was an amazing gift of life.

And Dora had previously written:

I found myself spending an hour to stare at the pictures on your website, I became much amazed by the eyes that allowed the beauty of the moment to radiate through the physical body in them! Thank you for that.

Hawaii helped me to understand my close connection with the Water element, and ever since I am here, I spend a lot of time under water, both in the ocean and in the watsu pool at Kalani. It makes me feel good not to have any limitations on the space that I can move my body in. It is like becoming one with my dolphin nature, acceptive and joyful here and now, within my body that is flowing freely to its rhythm.

Ever since I arrived at Kalani, I have been experiencing an inner transformation. In this process I'm recognizing the creation of space for my true essence to manifest its abundance in physical reality.

As I am becoming more present in my physical body, my connection with Mother Earth is getting stronger, and I don't feel the urge to hide myself any more--- neither from my eyes, nor from others' eyes.

I would like to embrace this transformation, and I would be happy to share it with others who are open and receptive for it. That is why I was interested in participating in your project.

Rose
There is a childish reverence, a curious understanding and connecting with oneself through the rock.

Light from the dark, a flame that flickers, skin pearl white against the unknown, emerging, becoming.

Experiencing growth, feeling alive, the roots rising up in me to explode outward with life, an ancient connection and wisdom through my backbone.

At times I am filled with a childish wonder and I feel my impish nature come to the surface

Every time i go to the lava, and especially when i have the opportunity to fire spin, I get a terrific feeling of strength that surges through my body

The moment at the flowing lava was that strength at rest, going back into the ground.

Catherine
It looks like the ti leaves are angel wings on me, she wrote. Catherine, in her work as a counselor, has written that “...to not risk connection with others for fear that we will be rejected, mocked, or abandoned is to reject, mock, and abandon our own selves first. I believe the root of the word 'belonging' is really the longing just to Be: the longing to be intimate with ourselves, and the longing to be in a group of others, just as we are.” (For more information on her go to: www.feedthelion.blogspot.com)

Shelley
As I read the little poems and such..what came to my mind quickly was.."connecting with one's divinity and being through nature".

Shelley was working in the office and gift shop when a woman approached her for information on my work (later buying a print and a book). Shelley reported:

Charlie's words were few, but her reaction was beautifully emotional, as: I shared to her that this was not some performance as she had thought, but an unfolding of one's self completely naked and free in the raw jungle, trusting and allowing all feeling and experiencing.

Tears welled up in her eyes and she started to see even more in the pictures, touching in on her own soul, her heart. She said she was so moved by them, blown away on how they were done and all that came through. She had connected deeply within herself and I witnessed a stunning opening of her heart and healing. it was priceless.

Radha
I love how I look like i'm in mediation and very connected with the jungle, like my soul is speaking in this photograph.

Jane
You've captured my power and strength. This is something I've been looking for in myself and have developed over time, and I love being able to see it... but if you look closely in one of my closeups, you've also caught my vulnerability. You can just barely see it. Transposed over my face is a shot of me biting my lip which is something I do when I'm gathering my courage to step into something new.

And you've captured the bliss I experience when I'm dancing. It's just perfect that I got to work with Jonathan, my kumu (teacher) for hula, and we're dancing in an ancient halau (hula school).

Jonathan
Aloha Michael,
I jonathan have pic which pic I feel that really speaks out louder...and the pic number is of myself is C150542.JPG and another pic of myself and jenn number C150552.JPG...that really stands out a lot for me...that would be the one that I would go ahead and use...for our next Kalani Honua Art Show Festival...

aloha nui loa e malama pono pumehana a pau.
(roughly translates to "greetings…take care…warm love…")

Mia
Michael!! Mahalo (thank you, in Hawaiian) a million times for these incredible photos. That was such a freeing experience.

Mar
Here is a place where realities collide, where selves unite. Hawai'i Island flows with raw energy, abundant in aloha spirit, a vortex for healing self. It is here that I find spirit and love through selfless practice (Mar is the organizer of Abled Hawai'i Artists (AHA), an all-volunteer organization assisting artists with disabilities to explore self-employment in visual and healing arts).
http://www.facebook.com/groups/334836191111/

Le'a
The grove near Secret Beach, where we brought you, is the entrance to a portal. The Aina holds many open secrets here, she shows you, if you look & listen. Living close to the earth in community on the Big Island has given me a sense of tribe that I have not experienced elsewhere on the planet. We dance together, cultivate, eat the fruits of the land & get naked & swim in her ocean. We are alone together in the jungle on a rock in the middle of the Pacific. This is Pele's island. Honor her, or burn! That earthspirit in the photo is an aspect of me.

www.MichaelPhilipManheim.com/Earth-Angels

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