Entries from October 29th, 2014

Awake

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Awake

Awake awhile.

It does not have to be
Forever,
Right now.

Awake, my dear.
Be kind to your sleeping heart.

Take it out into the vast fields of Light
And let it breathe.

–Hafiz, from I Heard God Laughing – Renderings of Hafiz, Daniel Ladinsky

Days go by. I forget to paint. I forget to open my journal and scribble in my soul’s native language. I forget that the walk to work can be as sacred as my partner’s eyes, and the weekdays as filled with wonder as my heart when my nephew says, “I love you.”

This morning, though, a Wednesday and quite early, the sky was filled with plump pink clouds illuminated like floating ships of light. An old woman in office dress and heels scrambled across the street and jumped smiling to the curb as my car passed; instead of our differences, I saw myself in her, if I’m lucky, 40 years from now, still showing up to something meaningful–I hope–and smiling.

Two-and-a-half years into a very full-time job as a psychotherapist to people in significant pain and distress, I’m learning the value of refueling my own reserves, so I can be present for others from a place of groundedness and inspiration. Refueling in a busy work week takes more intentionality than I realized, and has required a commitment to questioning the frantic voice in my head that says there’s not enough time for me; there’s not enough time to be–there’s not even enough time to fully breathe.

Sometimes painting refuels me, but if I’m not careful, painting can become just another way of keeping busy, of producing a product, and of trying to prove myself.  So I have to make space to just doodle, journal, walk, and sit around, which isn’t easy for me to do. Not easy, but simple, and necessary. Paradoxically though, this unstructured time, with no agendas, can actually yield the richest fruit: Contacting life afresh, with its sweetness and profound uncertainties and difficulties. When I’m in that place, open and letting life reach me, I’m listening, I’m watching, I’m awake. Then painting or not painting, working or not working, doing or not doing: I am being.

Start Close In

Friday, October 24, 2014

Start Close In

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.

Start with your own
question,
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something
simple.

–excerpted from David Whyte’s poem, Start Close In

Art-making seems to require a paradoxical combination of vulnerability and insularity. Artists need to be open to and touched by life, but also need an intimacy with self, a kind of “close in” listening. This listening allows us to hear whatever it is that sources our creative work, whatever tells us, in a world of so many other people’s questions and creations, to go ahead and make ours, anyway.

Like all transformation, the creative process begins close in, closer than we think, right in front of us, right inside. This responsibility makes it difficult to begin, yet is also what makes beginning–and continuing–possible.

The Art of Enough

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Art of Enough

And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles,
no matter how long,
but only by a spiritual journey,
a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful,
by which we arrive at the ground at our feet,
and learn to be at home.

Wendell Berry

We live in a world of constant stimulation. Despite our best intentions, many of us struggle to be present for even the most important, meaningful moments. The mainstream culture bombards us with messages that we’re not enough the way we are–not attractive enough, wealthy enough, fashionable enough, fit enough, smart enough, successful enough, popular enough, young enough. Not enough. Shame, the fear that we’re not worthy of love or belonging because we are lacking in some way, thrives on messages of “not enough,” and shame is highly correlated with addictions and mental health problems of all kinds. For creativity, too, these messages can be lethal. Not good enough. Not talented or skilled enough. Not enough time. Not famous enough. Not original enough. Not enough.

The basic need to be “enough”–to be worthy of acceptance and connection the way we are–is both adaptive and prosocial. Yet when chronic and unchecked, fears of not being enough can drive us away from the very sources that can truly fill the void—our own present-moment experience of reality, and our connections with others. Though I try to stay present, I can easily get sucked into the material world and its trap of finally having, indeed finally being, enough–if only I do more, have more, look differently. Nice things are nice, and external approval feels good. But I always return from these endless missions to realize that the material world does not equate to a good life, and external approval lacks the deep salve of self-acceptance and inner contentment.

So how does this apply to painting? Overtly, my paintings are about growth, change, loss, and renewal processes in the natural world, but they are also, more fundamentally, about simplicity. Each painting is a conversation with the question, “What is enough here?” What’s enough detail, color, form, and movement to describe the simple essence of the natural world I love? How much space does each flower and tree and leaf need around it in order for me to actually slow down and see it? How much of an outline indicates that I’ve painted each individual form carefully, to honor its role in the larger whole, and when does the outline make too much noise and detract from the overall harmony? How much empty space do I put in a painting to see the true shapes of things?

These questions lead back to wondering what I need (and don’t need) in my life to really see the beauty and gifts of what I already have, love, and am.

I suspect that rich, creative, and satisfying lives are as much about what we eliminate as about what we include. Too much stuff—too many details, too many options—they distract and scatter us. We rent ourselves out to everything at the risk of experiencing nothing. This emptiness only deepens the void that stimulates such endless seeking.

My paintings are places where I’ve slowed down, wondered about what is enough, and tried to remove what feels like too much. I don’t always get the balance right, but this question is at the heart of my compositional decisions. Waiting to have the right materials, the next art show, the sense of having enough talent or experience or time or vision or inspiration—waiting to have these things blocks my access to what is already here, what and who I already am, my relationship to the natural world as I engage with it now, and my relationship to others just as we are, all of us: Enough.

Art and the Unknown

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Art and the Unknown

“I write entirely to find out what I am thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see
and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

Joan Didion

“What I like about art is the very thing that makes people fear it.
It enlarges us.”

Julia Cameron, from  The Sound of Paper

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