Saturday, February 6, 2016

Migrations, Dreams & Habits

new work 16"x20"
I am part of a migration, not one guided by the moon or involving birds or butterflies. No one has fixed a metal band round my leg or tagged my ear as part of a study, but still it's happening out there. I suspect you are aware of it too.  It's a technological migration of sorts, one where I sense small currents quietly causing people to drift from the blog world over to facebook or follow the shifting breezes to instagram. Robyn Gordon's lovely curated collections have migrated from her Art Propelled blog to facebook. Jeane Myer's moved house from her blog, Art It to Instagram and I have joined her there for no other reason than to see her amazing work as she creates and shares it.

There are many other bloggers, that were part of community when I ventured here with my first post in December 2008, that like me, simply post less often. I am not leaving quite yet, but it's more of a second home than a primary residence these days. I sense this is true for blogger friends like Lynette Monteiro of 108Zenbooks and Lynne Hoppe (who is also sharing her work on instagram).  Do I have less to say? Do I think about painting and practice less? Not really. It's just that those thoughts don't make it to these pages so often anymore. The excitement of sharing on a blog has met time and they have wandered off together. The Buddha talked about this (not blogs, facebook and instagram) but change. It's the one thing we can always count on. Change is a constant.

Noticing the virtual migratory patterns did give me cause to think about why and what I post. There are artists that share what materials they're using or simply post the work they've been doing. There are those that write about where their practice is at the moment. It's about connecting, sharing what they know in the spirit of offering help and inspiration to others. When I thought about what I want to share these days, it's the things that excite me most, things that I think others might be interested in discovering too.
Trails 12"x12"

So here's a little goody bag of what I've been exploring lately. There's lucid dreaming with Charlie Morley. Lucid dreaming just seems like such a good thing to me and Morley talks about it with passion and clarity. We sleep 1/3 of our lives so being lucid in our dreams expands the time available to us and offers a connection to our inner life that the conscious mind doesn't. Probably most importantly, if you believe in any intermediate state between this life and the next, it prepares you to navigate that.

We listened to this great series of talks , called Awake in our Bones by Martin Aylward on a short home retreat. They were inspiring and expanding, a great companion to a few days of sitting. He has a fresh and clear way of speaking about life and the dharma.

I am curious about all the new brainwave technology and ended up on a site called iAwake that has lots of little samples to listen to and a freebie if you care to share your email address.
Canyon Rain 6"x6"
I've also been re-reading "Breaking The Habit of Being Yourself" by Joe Dispenza and doing some of his meditations. His work is part of the quantum consciousness movement that focuses on how our thoughts create our world. That belief is part of basic Buddhist thought but Dispenza and others focus on using this to create conditions we might want to find in our lives. I'm not talking about "let's get a new car" but working with more stubborn mind states that might affect our health, how we use our time, our worldview and our happiness. I am finding it particularly helpful in my attitude to my painting. In Buddhist thought we might call it trust or faith. For athletes an aspect of performance is wrapped up in mental attitude. Is it any different for artists?

On January 1st I kidnapped a vintage mason jar from the cupboard and made it in to my gratitude jar. I cut up cute little pieces of paper and find things to be grateful for each evening and pop them in the jar. I find the physical act of having a jar a much more powerful reminder than a journal for recording these tidbits. I am finding that simply turning the mind from grumbling over little things to appreciation is a powerful reorientation for a somewhat aversive mind. Here's a lovely little website on gratitude.

And back in the world of things the wood stove in my studio finally got hooked up so other than some storage and a comfy chair my studio can take a bow and pronounce itself finished. It is amazing to have this space to work in. I can while away the hours, listening to the rain on the metal roof or keep company with the big trees out my windows and the ducks on the pond. I look forward to warmer days when I can throw open the door and windows.

And you, what have you been up to that fills your days with joy and passion?

Friday, January 1, 2016

Incidents, Intention and New Years

On the easel
Time with it's minutes and years is a  completely human construct. Like countries, where no line marks the passing from one to another, so it is with years. Did you see a curtain being drawn on the old year last night, a door closing, a trap door opening? Me neither and yet I love the idea of a new year. It gives us humans the opportunity to contemplate what has passed and in that light, set intentions for the part of our lives that lies ahead. It's kind of a gathering and sorting phase. We look back before we move forward and in some way reflect on what worked and didn't and set our intentions for the future. It's like a magical, internal decluttering process. "Let me give this part of my life to the thrift shop. I'll hang that idea in the back closet. And I'll put that practice in the top drawer."

In a way it really is all about taking time in a larger way to think about our intentions and then see how we might really act on them. Lately I have been working a lot with specific meditations that encourage me to see myself and the world in new ways, to trust in the greater intelligence that we are all part of.

Walking The Fields
As we step into this new year I wanted to share two things that seem important to me right now.  The first one is this quote from Joseph Campbell that a friend sent to me. It seems like such a good, overarching attitude to life:

“Nietzsche was the one who did the job for me. At a certain moment in his life, the idea came to him of what he called ‘the love of your fate.’ Whatever your fate is, whatever the hell happens, you say, ‘This is what I need.’ It may look like a wreck, but go at it as though it were an opportunity, a challenge. If you bring love to that moment—not discouragement—you will find the strength is there. Any disaster that you can survive is an improvement in your character, your stature, and your life. What a privilege! This is when the spontaneity of your own nature will have a chance to flow.
"Then, when looking back at your life, you will see that the moments which seemed to be great failures followed by wreckage were the incidents that shaped the life you have now. You’ll see that this is really true. Nothing can happen to you that is not positive. Even though it looks and feels at the moment like a negative crisis, it is not. The crisis throws you back, and when you are required to exhibit strength, it comes.”
From "A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living"
Path To The Sky
The other piece that seems important to me as I look forward is that whatever wonderful thoughts and inspiring quotes we read, to make any real, positive changes in ourselves (and that's the only place we can effect change) we must "practice" whatever it is. It might be meditation or a gratitude practice but we must "do it" and we need to do it over a period of time for it to change us into who we want to become, whatever that is; kinder, more peaceful, more compassionate, happier, less anxious. So here's a lovely little interview between Rick Hanson and his son that offers us the encouragement to do something that contributes to our own well being.

Wishing you all a 2016 filled with lots of creative adventures, good health, and the practices that will fill your hearts with joy and peace. One of the things that has come up on my radar a lot in the last few days is gratitude practice. I plan to start and attempt to sustain 3 notes of gratitude each day.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Notes From The Elves On Finding A New Space

It's official. My studio space is finished, except for the wood stove and a bit of furniture. Even the neighbours' sheep wandered over for a look-see today. I have no excuses (if I ever did). If you asked me why my work sucked I'd now have to fess up and admit to being a lazy, mindless lout full of doubt and misgivings.

But wait, the confession booth is closed for now so I will have to choose another exit. When you get a new space small elves and helping spirits always leave barely legible instructions written in invisible ink on how to use said space. You knew this, right? You need to squint just so and adjust the curl of your mouth to read them but it's definitely worth the effort.

I'm sure they won't mind if I share my special note with you. The ones you've received or will receive could be a little different, based on the nature of your elves and your personal mishigas (Yiddish for craziness) You can always share your elvefull comments below.

1. Come to this space everyday. Let it's essence sink into your bones. Let your essence permeate the walls. It's all about energy exchange. That's how it works best.

2. Trust. Trust that you will know what to do here. Trust the whispers that burbble up from nowhere. If what you hear sounds anything like whinging and doubting, know that these messages were not meant for you. They are just passing through. Start singing very loudly, preferably something inspiring or silly or both.

3. Be still and quiet, especially when you first arrive. That way you can hear what's meant for you. Silence opens up the space in the same way you would pull back the curtains in a dark room, making the invisible available to you.

4. Make an offering each time before you start. It doesn't need to be fancy or elaborate. Offerings show your willingness and appreciation. It could be a whisper, a sigh or a speck of dust. Who you make that offering to (the muse, the spirits of the land, to everything that brought you to this point), those you call upon will grow and expand as you do. You will never run out of muses and beings and spirits to invoke, that way you will fill your space with the welcoming support of a thousand invisible hands.

5. Set an intention. Be clear. It may not be where you end up but it's always good to have a starting point for your creative wanderings.

6. Repeat as needed

I will let you know if they add to the list when they find me in need of fine tuning.  I am looking forward to getting to know my space and work in new ways. I hope my space feels the same way about me (says she to her space in the dimming light) .  I am looking forward to the light and space of  new possibilities.  This is the journey. May we all travel safely, wherever we are heading.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Building A Story Or Building A Studio

Beware of Low Hanging Prayer Flags
These days it's not so much what's going on in the studio but what's happening "to" the studio.  There is an old outbuilding on our property, the size of a small garage. Since we moved here it's been on my radar that it could be "my studio". One winter I dusted and swept and tried painting there. But the wood stove leaked as did the roof and the mixture of smells from smoke and mouldy chipboard  made me feel a bit woozy.  I grudgingly dragged things back to the house and tweaked the lighting in the basement a bit.
New Roof!
This year we hit the five year mark on our little island and we weren't sure if we were staying or going. You know how the mind grumbles, how it finds little things that pain it, how it likes to scan the horizon for problems. "This property is too much work.  It's dark. The ferry is too expensive. This is not right. That isn't quite the way I like it."  And on and on as the mind has a habit of doing, building it's case, sinking it's teeth into the juicy parts of aversion.  Jacob Liberman who has a wonderful TED talk here says we shouldn't call it thinking, we should call it worrying.  I might just call it "grumbling".

36"x36" each  that's big for me! and they quite accidentally go together!
And so I didn't "make a studio" in the old workshop building because I might not stay.  You know the kind of story, built on a teetering wall of doubt. You've probably done it a few times yourself, wrapping yourself in indecision because well, this is not right and that is a problem, and well, what if, and you just never know. So it's best not to commit. There's a snug comfort to doubt.

To make a familiar story short, sometimes you need to come to the edge of jumping into the brink to realize you want to stay where you are.  You start to really appreciate what you will soon lose: the grocery store clerk who says she hasn't seen you in a while, the stunning drive into town, the people that wave at you on your way by, the neighbours who organize the most idyllic summer evening of "boules". Suddenly you feel affection and amusement at the characters who used to seem, well, annoying. It strikes you as odd and you feel a lightness of being. You have the strange sensation of feeling at home in a place where you always had a back-up plan. You wonder if someone is putting something in the water.

And then you start to clue into something, it's the movement of the mind.  Mostly we believe our stories, rather than question them. It's just easier. It's what we do.  We build the stories, we live in the stories, we are the stories. But sometimes, something in you calls you on your stories and you have the chance to say, HA.  And maybe you even tell yourself a different story, because you can (all the while knowing it's a story, that's the important part).

Blowing a hole in the old story and watching the wind whistle through frees up new energy.  Energy to build can replace the inertia of doubt. And so it's in progress, the building of a new studio.  Maybe it's just a story whose time has come. I don't know.

24"x24" Used To Be A Buddha
The carpenter ants (who knew?) have been sent on their way, the leaking roof replaced and the soggy press board removed.  We have an amazing carpenter (who is not an ant) who quietly, efficiently and with joy is rebuilding the place.  He says things like, "there's a solution for every problem." He's a dharma speaker without even knowing it.  When  the order for a new door gets delayed he says things like, "you never know what kind of day people are having."

 The new roof is on in time to keep out the fall rains and it's fun to watch the wizardry of the old becoming new.  It's always like that, the old becoming new, the new becoming old. Nothing stays the same for long. Doubt transforms into energy, energy into new things. And of course the stories, rising and falling with the movement of the mind. If only we can remember to hold them up and see them for what they are, strands of shadow and light illuminated by the movement of the mind.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Working With Hope, Fear And Blocks

Field Notes 16"x16"
Life is full of painting right now. My work table is covered in open tubes of paint, bits of oily rag, and multiple canvases and panels. I am doing an online course called "The Sacred Arts" with Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, though nothing about my workspace looks sacred. The focus of the course  is creativity and part of that is working with what blocks us.

It is a given that true art, whatever it's form, comes from somewhere other than the head. Does it come from somewhere deep inside us or are we tapping into something outside of us, or maybe a combination of both? A lot of artists will tell you," I didn't feel like I painted that or wrote that, I felt like something came through me."

In the west we put a lot of value on our thinking minds.  The old "I think, therefore I am" permeates us at such a deep level we hardly notice it.  We believe in the power of our minds and in part we are right.  What we believe strongly influences what we do.  And yet it is not the whole picture.  My old Zen teacher used to say, "the mind is a good servant, but not a very good master.  This sounds a little medieval but there is truth in it. Sometimes the thinking mind is not enough.  Sometimes the thinking mind is the obstacle.

How To Get There 16"x 16"
In this course we have been exploring what blocks us in expressing our authentic creative selves.  We've been exploring fear and hope as blockages to our work.  Pema Chodron says the human condition consists of bouncing back and forth between hope and fear.  To allow our creative voices to speak we need to move beyond these conditions. Working from a place of stillness and spaciousness allows us to be open to what wants to be expressed through us. And yet we can't brush aside or ignore those hopes and fears.  What are your fears about your creative self and work? Do you fear you are a talentless lout? Do you hope it will be easy? Those thoughts flying below your radar might be standing between you and your best work.

On Mountain Time 12"x 16"
The course is a reorientation for me. I have big tendency to work from my head, to muck, to get frustrated, to believe I can't yet hope I will. (I think that last bit should be added to the definition of insanity!) And in the end it is about the having habits that support us and spending time working.  Ultimately our work will teach us everything we need to know if we pay attention. And the process is transferable to the ultimate art, the most precious canvas of our own lives.  Whatever we learn from our art practice seeps out into our life and the other way around. It is a rich, interconnected tapestry that we have the good fortune to be weaving. May your needle be sharp and your glasses never far away.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Nature, The Ultimate Artist And Teacher?

Kanaskin Lake, BC
I think the artistry of nature has always astounded humans.  To view its sheer vastness, its startling beauty can leave us with only an oooo or an awww coming out of our cake holes.  A lot of art is either inspired by the natural world or seeks to imitate it.  As an abstract artist I'm not so interested in art that seeks to imitate the natural world though I can see how an image of a stunning scene above the couch would bring peace and joy to a home.  I am more interested in the translation of the natural world by the artist into form that evokes some feeling or response in us.  But that is my particular preference. Art is like spiritual practice in a way.  No one thing suits us all and so the many expressions of art. In a recent talk, Stephen Batchelor commented that the Buddha said his teachings were like medicine. Batchelor reasoned that not everyone has the same "illness" so not everyone needs the same medicine. So for art, if it feeds our soul, not all of us are nourished by the same thing. Even the same person may need different food at different times. Sometimes our soul requires peace, sometimes fiery inspiration.

Above Dawson City, Yukon, after midnight
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, a teacher in the Bon tradition, likes to remind of the healing and nourishing qualities of the natural world, how just a short time connecting with the natural world can improve our state of mind and health. The earth can ground us, the sun can warm us and inspire joy, the water of a stream can remind us of the natural flow of all life.  A big sky offers a feeling of spaciousness and the wind shows us how things just move on through.  We can focus on these aspects of the elements to help us become more spacious, inspired, grounded or flowing or we can simply experience it all without thought and be nourished by it's wise and welcome presence in our life. Especially if we spend a lot of time indoors (and most of us do) or in cities, it can be interesting to commit to spending more time immersing ourselves in the natural world and experiment with its impact on us.

Rain passing through at Kinaskin Lake
As I travel through northern BC and the Yukon I am struck by the sheer expanses of untouched wilderness. With less tree cover than I am used to in the rain forested area where I live my heart is deeply touched by the spacious feeling of the big sky.  There is a drama to this landscape, it's wild openness, it's ability to startle, it's rough beauty. One feels a privilege in being able to witness it; to see the alpine tundra with it's permafrost along the Dempster Highway, to see a Ptarmigan half white still from winter, flowers bursting everywhere, wise about the shortness of opportunity. Vastness and drama are the words that come to mind when viewing this landscape.  One gets a sense of the forces of nature, the strength and intractability of the natural world.

Tombstone Park, view from Dempster Highway
To spend time in this open place, to watch weather pass through, experience the strangeness of 24 hours of light and it's effect on the body, to watch bears saunter out to the road with little regard for our presence, reminds me of our smallness in the grand scheme of things.  Someone recently remarked about all the talk of "saving the planet" but in fact what we are really concerned with is saving ourselves.  When you see the vastness of the natural world one senses the planet will survive despite the grave damage we may do, that it will remain in some form long after we have, in our greed and ignorance laid waste to ourselves.  If this sounds negative in some way, it is not meant to, it is simply a reflection based on the seeing the strength, intractability and vastness of this landscape.  With a bow to the unknowable source and presence of it all.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Planning The Trip 12"x12" mixed media
"Let go of your attachment to the object you desire and make your desire the experience of staying focused on working toward your goal.” -Thomas Sterner  from "The Practicing Mind"
It's good advice for our art practice but really it applies to pretty much anything we might want to do. 

Or more simply we might just work, just doing what needs or wants to be done.  There is a freedom in that and who doesn't want to be free?  And what is it we want to be free from, anyway? Freedom from our stories, our complaints, our thinking mind that never seems to stop and is so hard to please? I've been reading a great book called "The Untethered Soul" by Michael Singer.  In lovely plain language he reminds us that we are not our thinking mind but the consciousness that can observe our thoughts. Just stepping back from our thoughts offers us a lot of space. We can even feel amused by the crazy non stop narrative that runs through our heads.

Field Notes 11"x14" Mixed Media
I have been a lazy blogger (does that sound a bit like something someone might call you in an English pub?).  And it seems the less I blog, the less I have to say.  I think that's true in the world too. The quieter we get the more we realize that not so much needs to be said, which brings me back to the mind and it's job in the world, which is to think.  In Buddhist terms, the mind is just another sense organ, like our eyes and ears and nose.  The object of the mind is thought.  The nose smells, the mind thinks. Pretty basic, really but we take our minds so seriously, more seriously than our nose, (unless of course something like freshly baked cookies are involved). We can build a whole story on a random thought, let it ruin our day, make us angry or depressed. 

Before Sunset 12"x12" mixed media
And if you find your mind disturbing you with problems, Michael Singer offers an interesting suggestion: "Don't ask, "what should I do about it? Ask, "what part of me is being disturbed by this? If you ask, "what should I do about it?, you've already fallen into believing that there really is a problem outside that must be dealt with. If you want to achieve peace in the face of your problems, you must understand why you perceive a particular situation as a problem."

And there you have it, a way to relate to the conjuring, magician like mind that is always inventing and manufacturing our reality. Perhaps more often these days, we can just immerse ourselves the greeness of this wonderful season, smell the rich scent of the earth and hear the birds readying their nests. Maybe we can step back from the stories we might tell ourselves about everything and everyone we meet.  Maybe, just maybe we can live in the freshness of having a direct relationship with our world instead of having it explained to us by our minds.