Monday, February 21, 2011

Alchemical Cartographers of Art & Spirit

I am having a great time bathing in my own frustration ( could someone turn the hot water off?) and trying out my authentic voice in the metaphorical shower. That is to say, along with some other artists I am participating in a workshop called "Seeking Authentic Voice" offered by artist, coach and blogger, Leslie Avon Miller. We are exploring and mining some deep veins of artistic importance (hard hats are required, along with steel toed boots). In addition to my new work as a miner (no asbestos hazards here) I have dived into a new Dharma pool of brilliant sea green waters and refreshing Sangha breezes. This is a perfect combo pak, filled with richness and excitement and new things. New neural pathways are being forged and old trails through despair are growing over from disuse.

Over the past year I have moved twice, spent time on the road, done renos to the house I am living in now. It wasn't until I looked at this with new, kinder eyes that I realized why I haven't spent a lot of concentrated time in the studio. A lot of creative time has gone into re-visioning the home I am living in now, a creative process in itself. But until stopping to have a good look at this I created a lot of angst around the art making process. Art making needs space. Like any Dharma practice it needs room to breath and space to allow things to lazily and playfully percolate to the surface. So in thinking about my frustration, which I am now acknowledging as part of the process (gasp) I was drawn to the following quote: "The greatest opportunities for creative transformation are often lodged in our discontents. Art is an alchemical process that feeds on emotional energy. When we realize that a perfect equilibrium in our lives might not be the best basis for making art, then we can begin to re-vision our stress points. So rather than try to rid your life of tension, consider doing something more creative with it."

"Don't underestimate frustration and discontent. They are eternal wellsprings for artistic expression. After sustained periods of being stuck, your impatience with the situation might unloose a new phase of creation. You might boldly paint over the picture you have been fussing over for weeks and discover the basis for an original composition in your burst of emotion." I love the idea of finding opportunity in our difficulties, of reframing things (though I don't always get this right away!). It's like nothing is ever wasted (it's the ultimate in recycling, right?) we use even adversity. from "Trust the Process : An Artist's Guide to Letting Go" by Shaun Mcniff. It's a lot like any aspect of the Dharma really. We embrace everything, the ups, the downs. We become "a bigger container" as Joko Beck puts it. So riding the horse of frustration is a necessary part of the process, even if it's not much fun. Perhaps we can come to regard it as fun??

Another idea we've been exploring in the mine shaft is the role of creator/ editor in the process. In thinking about this I referred to an old friend, "The Zen of Creativity." The late John Daido Loori offers this commentary on the act of creating art: "In the creative process, as long as the energy is strong, the process continues. It may take minutes or hours. As long as you feel chi peaking and flowing, let it run its course. It's important to allow this flow and expression, without attempting to edit what is happening - without trying to name, judge, analyze, or understand it. The time for editing is later. The time for uninhibited flow of expression is now."

... "The editing process begins with reconnecting with the feeling, the resonance, that was present during the creation of the work of art. Then we slowly and deliberately remove the unnecessary elements, without disturbing the feeling of resonance. If the resonance weakens, we've gone too far."

"... Attending to chi and resonance can facilitate the process considerably, particularly if the mind is empty and you trust your intuition. ... Ultimately, all of the elements, ... muse, hara, chi, resonance, expression, editing - are really nothing but the self. It is important to trust this and to trust the process. Trust yourself. Your way of experiencing the world is unique. And what you're trying to do is give voice to this unique experience. Criticism in art is certainly valuable, but the creative process and developing your creative abilities is not the place for it. It is important, in engaging the creative process, to be able to work freely, without hindrance or judgment." These are important suggestions to work with I think, to make them your own. I find there is always a period of understanding and then adjustment as we work them into our own process.

So it is a rich and on-going exploration. I have decided I want to get lost in the "process" of creating. I want to forget about the end product. Considering outcomes is counter productive and stifling in the act of creation. As in the work of the Dharma and awareness we just want to be present to what we are doing, not constantly catapulting ourselves into the future.

I have decided that as part of the creation process I will conjure up an inner guide (I acknowledge the need for help) to offer positive direction and guidance. I need a road map through the creative wilderness. It is easy to get lost, to get off track. The automobile association towing service apparently doesn't service this area. I need an alchemical, cartographer type in my court, failing the service of a spiritual tow truck. Do you think I could advertise for her on Craigslist? I will know her when she answers my advert. When she comes for her interview she will be slightly eccentric, graceful, yet awkward, unusual, and bookish, homely, yet intensely attractive. If you were to peak into my studio you would see her there, a tall woman with dishevelled dark hair in a long blue skirt, wearing blundstone boots and a lacey shawl. She would be telling me some funny story and doing an impersonation of someone that would have me rolling on the ground. Of course I would hire her on the spot. The only fee she would charge is gingerbread cake and strong black tea sometime in the late afternoon. And as needed she would put on her dark rimmed glasses and turn her razor sharp sense of inquiry toward the canvas and ask me just the question I need to put me back to work. If you see her, tell her I'm looking for her.


  1. This was illuminating! Just this morning I was gently whining in my daily morning pages about various current difficulties, time and energy sucked out of me from various things needing my attention and bemoaning lack of time to explore some new creative impulses whispering to me. This post on transforming the negative into a positive, and seeing the negatives as part of the creative process, not something to be rid of or hop over, has me seeing my current picture with fresher eyes! Thank you! :o)

  2. I know, Tracy, for some bizarre reason, the fact that everyone passes through the woods of frustration was a revelation to me. And then it makes sense to go with the process. Just a natural part of life. Why didn't they teach us this in kindergarten!!?

  3. What a wonderful description of your process of the process!

  4. Interesting! Love that title: "alchemical cartographer" and your description - inspiring actually. I need a muse like her :)It seems we are on that same road through the dark forest, re-discovering that inner creative fire again. It's like waking up from a deep sleep... Just call me Snow White... Where are those dwarfs when you need them!? Seriously, it feels like whatever has been laying dormant wants to wake up,to be Alive while I am still alive, to be expressed, using *everything* as fuel for the fire to burn brightly again. I hear that in you too - that deep creative frustration/passion that wants to be let out.

    So, if a strange 60ish woman with a decorated metal colander on her head shows up at your window, peeking in, you'll know it's me, wanting to borrow that delightful muse you have conjured up!

    On the threshold with you! C

  5. Leslie - inspired by you!

    MeANderi- I see you in that colander, like some viking warrioress! Vanquishing frustration with your might sword! Heck who needs dwarf when you've got a dragon fighting sword. And I'm sure you can use it rekindle the fire. Let's say we all go on a picnic, you, me and Maude?? The forest is a great place for a picnic.

  6. grand that you're working with the major gifts of Leslie...wouldn't you just adore being 'on location' in her new studio.

    Second...I'm grinning ear to ear...for me you've nailed that slog, romp, wrestle that's a natural part of the creative process that we all dread yet couldn't get where we're going without.

    when you get to this:

    as needed she would put on her dark rimmed glasses and turn her razor sharp sense of inquiry toward the canvas and ask me just the question I need to put me back to work.

    My eyes go I see the "ask me" and the "put me back to work".

    ME...I've been studying this past year... is an ancient alchemical code signifying the Divine Feminine (think Tara)...and she is the Muse...she is the one we've been waiting for..and she's called ME...and she's a code for the Divine Feminine (think Tara)...yes I'm repeating myself...I have found this to be stunning...stunnin gfor several reasons yet...

    one of which is that we're moving closer and closer day by day (with collanders on our heads, thank you very much) to stepping into the 90 day quadrant of the natural wheel when the keyword will move away from 'Mystery' where it's been since Solstice 90 days ago and enter into the 'ME' segment until Solstice again in June, at that point the keyword for the next 90 days becomes 'Others'...

    something wonderful is emerging.

  7. Merci33 - Thanks for the nod that somehow I am groping in the right direction!

  8. I tried to comment yesterday but the net-verse was blocking me. I so appreciate the quotes by Daido Loori. Especially the ones on editing - which at a psychological level open my eyes to what I tend to do in relationships. Practice, for me, is about allowing the creative to infuse the entirety of Spirit - without editorializing. But it's tough... those danged red markers are everywhere!


  9. Yes, frustration and discontent . . . Powerful energies that leave the door wide open for extra mindfulness and investigation. Usually the precursors to change. I know a little bit about the topic :)

  10. This is a wonderful description of the process you are going through. I hear delight in what you are discovering. I love the Loori quotes. I have ordered this book from the library. I look forward to reading all of what he says about creativity. I read the intro the other day, and he strikes a strong chord for me. Thank you got introducing him to me.

  11. This time last year (during a coaching program) Leslie pointed out that perhaps these January/February blues were just part of my natural rhythm. She was so right! Every Jan/Feb I go through this unproductive phase.... and the wallowing in frustrations..... but I need to be reminded that its all part of the process. Great Shaun McNiff quote!

  12. Hi there!

    I am quite new to the amazing world of Alchemical Art, and I'd like to thank you for your inspiration... and also extend my hand of friendship.

    I'm slowly exploring myself, and would love to know if you think I am on the right track?

    I have built a website -

    and also a Facebook page -

    I hope you like my experiments, and again, thank you for your inspiration!

    High Regards