Saturday, March 31, 2012

Ease & Dis-Ease of the Mind

On the easel, like it, afraid to ruin it!

I am feeling the sense of being able to hold a multitude of things this morning, not like pots and pans or laundry or anything but all the thoughts that float into the mind, unbidden. There is a lyrical feeling to it, one of touch and let go.  I can hold the poem I wrote yesterday, the possibility of what I might write here, the etsy order I need to get ready for mail, the question of what I will make for a potluck and on and on until the thoughts trail off into the ether. They form and linger briefly, a small cluster of grape like thoughts, a lovely rich little vine of possibilities. Usually I line these thoughts up in a row like urgent soldiers and they chase me around. Perhaps it is Spring, perhaps it is the homeopathic remedy I took last night. Who knows? Wanting to know the answer to everything is one of the dis-eases of the mind. How nice to just let it all just be.

So in honour of the feeling du jour I will wander around a bit with a tray of hors d'oeurves, holding out some tidbits in your general direction. Some may not be to your taste. That's fine. You are allowed to crumple them in your napkin and toss them into the compost bucket where they might feed new life.

not yet ruined!
Over at Layers blog, Donna gathered a basket of mindfulness to share. She asked a number of artists to contribute a little something on the subject. It's a lovely post about how people start their day or simply a few thoughts on mindfulness.  A few of my words and a photo of my painting spot are included there. Instead of playing it safe and using someone else's words (which I seriously contemplated, ah how we like to hide behind words of the wise!)  I wrote a few of my own.  In researching "mindfulness" I found this lovely page of poems. You can read them here. And then there is the lovely Mary Oliver poem called "Mindful" which you can read here.
finished and reasonably happy with!!

If you stop by here once in a while you have undoubtedly heard me sing my little song about  frustration as it relates to creating art. I am always so envious of artists who say they don't go to this place. But it is part of the process for a lot of us and I was totally heartened in a strange way to hear Rebecca Crowell's words on process as she followed her heart and moved from painting landscapes into creating the wonderful abstracts that she is known for now. You can read that post here.  And in Miriam Louisa's Simons generously offered, free ebook on creativity she gives "frustration" a place in the process. Can you hear my little self searching for reassurance that she's on the right track, wanting to know it's okay to meet frustration in the studio. She is one of the small creatures of the forest.  I think I saw her scurrying across the road in the dark last night. She will find her way.

And here's the little poem that wrote itself onto a painting yesterday:

do not measure the progress of your journey 
by the miles you have covered
it will tell you nothing 
except how many shoes have been worn thin
you must peer into the vast universe of inner space
for your travels have been transcribed
into the journal of your heart
etched and illustrated in great detail
while your heart
has been carefully sipping
cups of joy
and buckets of sorrow
with the same gusto

How's your creative process going?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

You Are The Canvas

work in progress

My meditation room (read living room without furniture) is like a projection booth for my mind. This morning the image of self as landscape painting was showing on the big screen. Trouble is, I was a lovely, large canvas smeared with muddy hues along the horizon line, a painting gone awry, tinged with shades of frustration and envy. But that was okay in a strange way because I was  big enough to hold it all.  And beneath the lashings of poorly mixed student grade paint was a large, clean canvas, simply bearing witness to what came to rest on it. It could go any way.  It could be repainted at any time.

 With lots of studio time lately and a strong aim to find my voice in abstraction I find my brush frequently dipping into pots of frustration. I am suffering the distance between what my work should look like and what it does. Ira Glass talks about that here. I am suffering from my pursuit of beauty, that Peter London reminds us, in his book "No More Secondhand Art" is not the real aim of art.

My head can recite a long list of clever lectures to myself on the topic of frustration, telling me how I shouldn't be attached to outcomes, how I should not compare myself to others, how it is all creative compost.  And while this is all true my mind thinks it can push frustration away by arranging the alphabet in a certain way and spitting it out in frustration's general direction. And yet the truth is frustration arises, bubbling up from somewhere deep inside. It takes no notice of fancy words. It stays close to me, like any faithful companion.

Frustration and I are deeply connected in this lifetime. It has crossed my mind that I might make friends with frustration. If we're going to spend time together, why not quality time? I have sniffed around her a bit, trying to get to know her without getting too close. She's agitated, speedy, and completely without patience. She can make my stomach churn one time, my chest to tighten another.  My attempts to banish her having failed, I can think of nothing else to do but get close enough to know her scent. It is only my judgment that finds frustration not worth knowing.  It is my pleasure seeking self that would like to usher the difficult visitors quickly out of the studio, so I can enjoy more pleasant company.

More work in progress
 When frustration leaves the building envy has been coming to brush up against the canvas I call me.  I suspect envy has been lurking greedily around the corner almost forever. My little self hates her palour, her odour.  Who welcomes the likes of envy? And yet, there she is. Again clever mind tells me I shouldn't compare myself to others, that is my source of envy. I shouldn't lust after the success and accomplishments of others like there is only a finite amount to go around. I should not feel deflated by seeing others soar. Clever self makes me feel worse for all it's lectures about envy.  Yet I feel her hot,  brushstrokes bleed across my canvas. I feel the raw sting of her close companion, shame.  Shame rides snuggly in the pocket of envy. It's just one of those combos: bacon and eggs, toast and jam, envy and shame.  And yet there is a strange twist to this painting.  I want to get to know shame and envy. I dip my finger into their muddiness. I reach it to my lips and taste it. It is sour and bitter, like wormwood and vinegar mixed. I breath it in and hold out a cup of tea at arm's length. Come, come, feral visitors.

So these are my companions. And while the canvas seems caked with mud at some points of the day, for whole days sometimes, underneath it lies the still white canvas, host to it all.  It is only me, looking for beauty and gratification that deems one canvas covering lovely and another one unacceptable. I am learning gradually to appreciate the colours of the day as fine. I am learning that though I prefer chartreuse green to mud, there is value to it all and when viewed skillfully from the eye of practice, the wise curator, there is beauty in the mud. Like all good sculptors know, mud can be worked. It is part of my story.  What's yours?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Wind, Well-Being & Lemonade

Can You See The Fallen Trees?
The wind started flexing its large muscles around here last night, large enough that we set out pots of water on the counter before bed, just in case. (A well with an electric pump works like this- no power = no water.)We awoke at 6 am. to the sound of large branches careening around on the roof like a heard of small elk. This caused us to pull the down comforter up a little closer to our noses and appreciate our safe, warm bed.  I was reminded of a Gil Fronsdal talk on insomnia where he suggested rather than fretting about lack of sleep a person could lie there and appreciate that they were safe and comfortable, resting in the present, rather than building a story around sleeplessness. It also echoes words from the Dhammapada: "with our minds we create our world".  So often we forget  the power of our minds and let them lurch around the landscape unattended.  We are mostly unaware of how what we think affects hundreds of functions in our bodies, how it affects our outlook and ultimately our actions in the world.  All this from a simple, single thought.  Anais Nin reminded us there is no objective reality when she said: "We see the world not as it is but as we are"

As the winded revved up to 72 kmph we were treated to the flashes, beeps and sqeals from the digital phone and the itouch dancing to the power surges.  It was strangely festive!  By 7 am my thoughts turned to coffee and aiming to head that power failure off at the caffeinated pass, I set foot in the kitchen just as the power failed with a definite air of finality.  There were two sounds to the wind now, a deep underlying drone that cradled a higher pitched wooshing in the trees. By 10 am two trees had uprooted themselves and the property was littered with a carnage of naturally pruned tree bits.

View from the front door  Do I want to go out there?

Still we were reasonably warm (I wrapped in a blanket), fire glowing in the wood stove, leftover coffee reheated on the gas range.  And still the mind could turn to stories of when is the power going to come on? Last year it was out for 3 days during the snow, and no shower now, and, and and.  But I have been working with training this puppy dog mind of mine and instead I savoured the slowness of the morning start, my daughter's fine company as we sipped coffee in the bright sunroom, no computer screens to stare at, no work to preoccupy us.

It was a good time to snuggle up on the couch and read so I pulled out my notes from the "Awakening Joy" Course I am taking again (you guessed it I failed last time, ha!) and reminded myself about the importance of setting and renewing my intention during the day. Otherwise the mind simply seeks it's default setting, whatever that might be for us. What do I really want to do? What is my highest and best intention for this phone conversation, this interaction, this painting session?

Nature's Spring Pruning

As a self confessed aversive type I am much more likely to hunker down in my blanky and worry about conserving my body heat and wondering when the heck are they gonna get that power back on, they're not that reliable and blah, blah, blah, blah.  But who is the biggest loser in this little complainfest? Always me. I have the pleasure (or displeasure) of my own company.  So as a lover of harmony and tidiness I am intent on cleaning up my mind's backyard. Are there little plastic bags for that?? It is actually kind of fun to catch myself and wonder now what could I think instead?

So these are the things I've been working with.  I like to keep it simple.  While my mind is a messy workplace, it is also a tad on the simple side. I keep renewing my intention to cultivate states of well-being and appreciation in my life.  And when I get myself in a funk of worry or fear or whatever other longstanding mind habit pops up, I try to remember to be kind and compassionate to myself.  I remember Gil's response at a retreat where I became aware of the steady diet of fear in my mind.  He asked, if you found a small child that was afraid, what would you say, how would you treat them?  This is how we want to treat those tender, vulnerable spots in ourselves, with understanding and gentleness, a hug, a pep  talk and maybe a lollypop.

It is important to remember that old habits take time to change. I remember my Zen teacher talking about "chipping away" at our old habits or challenges. As we build these new habits, miraculous things happen. The brain actually changes, weakening the old neural pathways of unhelpful habits and forging new, more wholesome ones that we are seeding.  While Buddhism acknowledges the suffering that exists in this world, it is important to remember that becoming more mindful and acquainted with the teachings will help us incline our minds toward the well-being and peace that is always there for us.

So whether its the weather or your work or your family, you always have a choice in how you respond to what life brings to your doorstep. What is your recipe for lemonade?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Where Is Your Trust?

8"x10" acrylic on canvas board
If I was asked to get rid of the Zen aesthetic and just keep one quality necessary to create art, I would say it’s trust. When you learn to trust yourself implicitly, you no longer need to prove something through your art. You simply allow it to come out, to be as it is. This is when creating art becomes effortless. It happens just as you grow your hair. It grows.”  -John Daido Loori from "The Zen of Creativity"

I have come across two pieces of writing on "trust" this morning and I don't believe in coincidence. I need to hear this.  I think our understanding is like some moveable puzzle and we always need certain pieces at certain times, to help us with our understanding of truth, the universe and our place in it. My puzzle needed the "trust" piece right now.  Lots of lovely pieces have been moving into place but there was a gaping whole where trust should be.

I think we need trust everywhere in our lives, even Loori"s reference is specifically to art. Trust, when we wear it well, can be like a shimmering veil that, flows over everything, making  us graceful, patient and wise.

studio bits (charcoal & newsprint on card)
Marcus over at Wake Up & Laugh wrote a lovely post about "entrusting" which was the second finger pointing toward "trust". He tells a story of a family's trip to Disneyland in which the little girl becomes so excited that she runs toward something and gets lost. On finding her the father says, "if you get lost again, remain calm and wait where you are. I will find you." Later she needs to call on these wise words and the father finds her calmly sitting in one place waiting for him.  This is his example of "entrusting".  The child trusted her father to find her.

We might use this story for a metaphor for how to conduct our own lives, keep calm and if you feel lost, wait where you are until you have an experience of being found. That experience may be an event or simply some internal sense of how to proceed, an inkling, a hunch, but it won't come from your thinking mind.

But for me the story was instructive about how to use trust in our lives.  We don't throw out our thinking mind and just trust blindly or wildly, that can get us in a lot of trouble. There are situations that do not deserve our trust.  Often we have little "niggles" about who or what not to trust and sometimes we ignore them. Our desire can easily get in the way of clear seeing. Then we learn by hindsight. But as long as we learn we train ourselves in how to use trust next time.

 more studio bits (6"x6" acrylic & charcoal on canvas paper)
It comes back to the Zen idea of "we do our part."  The child used the rational part of her mind, remembering to stay where she was.  As a bonus she stayed calm!  But that wasn't hugely necessary. She just needed to stay put to be found. Weeping would have been fine, she'd still have been found.  But she did save herself a little suffering by remaining calm. Perhaps her calmness mirrored the depth of her trust?  Or perhaps pointed toward her temperament? But she knew where to use "trust".  If she hadn't believed she'd be found by staying put she might have done other things.  And so it is for us.  The hard part often comes in knowing when and what action to take and when to "trust".  I think we do the best we can and learn from that. After all what is life if not our own little experiment in living a human life?

Trust. I need to remind myself of this valuable quality over and over. How do you use trust in your life?