Preparation for the Journey

Over the years I’ve studied with a number of amazing professors.  Each of them focused on human potential, healing, and making the world a better place.  I owe a note of gratitude to Jean Houston, Lucia Capacchione, and Angeles Arrien.  These three women gave me the tools, preparing me for the journey and the path I’ve chosen.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that one of the key ideas I’ve focused on over the years is The Odyssey and the idea of embarking on a journey that is life altering.  Pilgrimage like The Odyssey start with a call that we often turn down or refuse at first, but the clues keep pouring in and show us that the call is part of our calling.

When starting out on a journey of any kind we need to make sure we’re prepared.  What tools do you need for your individual journey?  I made an assessment prior to the start of the Feast for the Soul about the tools I would need so I can maximize the outcome of this adventure.  I do feel that it’s an adventure because it has any many unknowns as knowns.  It is driving me to begin a deep dive into my consciousness and will show me where it intersects with my community.

I have found that it’s important to have the right tools for the right job.  Recently we bought new furniture for the office.  I measured twice before making the purchase and finally once delivered I realized I’d need to take the hinges off the door.  I tried to use a screwdriver but the hinges didn’t budge.  I watched a YouTube video and the “tutor” used a nail sink to boost the pin out of the hinge.  I went a bought a nail sink, lo and behold the pin came right out.

New Cutting Mat, Two Bolts of Fusible Web, Book of Poems by Nikki Giovanni (things I needed for the journey)

Given that example, I went to the store and bought some supplies. These tools will make the journey more productive, and will keep me stocked so I won’t have to run to the store in the middle of a studio session.  It will also keep me focused on the project, the journey to mindfulness.

What will you need before setting out on your own “odyssey”?  The planning will bring you to the present, help you focus, and as Stephen Covey states, “Begin with the end in mind.”  Obviously on a pilgrimage you won’t know every conclusion, but think about what you hope will be the conclusion.

I’d love to hear about your own journey!  Feel free to share and let’s start a dialogue.

Doing Something Religiously…?

This is one of my favorite times of the year.  Even though it’s the dead of winter here in the northern hemisphere, the Feast for the Soul is a springboard for renewal, spiritual renewal.  It’s a good time to spend time in silence, following my breath, my heartbeat, and my motivation for inspiration.

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Preparation for the journey

Unlike many, I don’t meditate sitting on a cushion, chanting, or burning incense (although I do often burn a candle).  I use my meditation time to work on one piece of art, forty minutes a day for forty days.  I delve into the consciousness of my soul and how it shows itself in my art.  I give myself the space to allow the art to tell a story, a theme that is the focus for the length of the meditation.

I find it interesting that when someone asks if we do something regularly, we’re often asked if we do something religiously?  I’m not sure how this came about, but I don’t believe it had anything to do with organized religion.  I believe it relates to the idea of creating a practice.  Engaging in something with regularity and intention.  Intention is the key because it drives my focus, and in turn allows the release of negative energy.  It gives me the opportunity to allow the energy to guide my actions and provides me with a forum for something that is utmost importance to me, and in many cases, society.

We live in an unsettling world.  The amount of uncertainty is enormous and that provides a state of anxiety for many of us.  We’re hyper-vigilant impacting our sense of calm, perspective, and focus.  The media has heightened our need to be informed.  Our safety is threatened by politics, the environment, and the recent repeal of human decency.

The focus of my forty days of meditation is “protection”.  The desire, need, and right to feel safe in our country, our homes, and our hearts.  The work I’m creating will provide me with a sense of safety because I have the freedom to create.  It will provide me with a sense of calm because I’m choosing to be mindful (anyone who doesn’t think textile art doesn’t require mindfulness has never been cut with a rotary cutter or burned with an iron).  It provides me with a sense of community and purpose because I’m hoping the work will share the common story we’re currently living.

Join me on this journey (www.feastforthesoul.org).  It can have transformative capabilities and will reinforce the feeling of being in community.

Is Not Succeeding the Same as Failing?

I recently organized by studio and believe it or not I threw away some pieces that I didn’t feel were worthy of salvaging.  These works were lackluster and weren’t worth the investment of time and effort to save.  As I watched them disappear into the bin I didn’t have any sense of loss or disenchantment because although these pieces weren’t masterpieces.  I learned something about myself and my creative voice by attempting them.

The piece I’m posting was my most recent attempt at creating small works for experimentation and education (education of my soul and artistic ability).  I had created some works in the past that were simply cut outs of fabric placed on a batting and a backing.  I followed the old recipe and as I began quilting the piece, but the components started to shift and fall off the quilt.  I became increasingly frustrated by this less than perfect creation, and finally decided to stop.

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I took the piece out from under the needle and assessed the errors of my ways.  What I came to realize is that I needed to secure the small pieces of fabric down on the base so I would have a sturdy foundation when it what time to quilt.  I made a commitment to taking a little more time in the preparation so I would have success when I went to finish the art.

This small adjustment made a huge difference in my attitude toward making small works as well as the increased completion rate of the work.  I don’t feel that the piece was a failure.  I made some wrong decisions and what’s most important is I learned.  The learning process is what propels me forward in my creative endeavors.  It also gives me the motivation whenever I reach an impasse in life to see what I could do better next time the situation arises using this information.

I think this is especially important when discovering ways of easing our anxiety, lifting depression, or reducing physical pain.  If we only try one avenue of healing and it doesn’t work we think we’ve failed instead of it failing.  If we assess what didn’t work with this method, then we can look at the alternatives, make new selections, and discover better options that fit our life and our situation.

We’re resilient beings!  I hope you’ll look at what’s not working for you today and then ask yourself what else is available that will improve your quality of life!

I Zigged When I Should Have Zagged

I mentioned in my previous post that I spend a number of years traveling the country for work.  I drove to each location so I spent a lot of time on our nation’s highways and byways. I always wondered why is it that there’s so much space available in the air and yet the bugs and in my case a bird found my windshield.  I was driving home from Nashville when a partridge flew into my windshield while driving 70mph.  It shouldn’t be surprise that it shattered the windshield.

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Why am I telling you about my windshield mishap?  I’m wonder about the choices we make on a daily basis.  When I was working on this piece of art, I reflected on all the times I went in one direction when my intuition told me I should go in another direction.  I’m beginning to focus on interpreting the ideas, thoughts, and feelings that rise during my meditation.

Creating work is a reflection of our stories.  It allows us to explore what’s important to us.  It gives us the opportunity to play with the creative expression of our emotions promoting self- expression and an outlet for negativity while celebrating what’s positive in our lives.

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I’m currently enrolled in a graduate certificate program in Health Humanities and Bioethics.  I’ve been combining my mental health background, work in health and healing, and art to tell stories that reflect my personal experiences and as a means of social justice.

We all have something that gets our attention, makes us think, and hopefully gets us to act.  As creatives, we don’t have to march or picket.  We have the ability to create poems like those by Nikki Giovanni that get the attention of the nation.  We can create paintings like Keith Haring chronicling the AIDS crisis.  We can watch movies like Hairspray that shines a light on segregation in our country (something very relevant given the energy in the country).

It’s time that we pay attention to our own energy and follow its lead.  We all have those whispers giving us direction and when we don’t follow their lead we veer off in the wrong direction.  What would your creative life look like if you zagged when that’s the direction of your energy?  Don’t you think it would turn up the volume on your voice if you followed your creative intuition and energy?

Give it a try and let me know what shifts you’re making in your personal storytelling.  Don’t forget to zig when you zig and zag when you zag!

Crossing Paths

Things can change in a minute as life teaches us each and every day.  I took some fabric that I was going to use as a backing for a mini-quilt.  I proceeded to cut up scraps of fabric and when I put the quilt sandwich together, I flipped the fabric and what was the back became the front.  It’s this type of extemporaneous creating that adds to the creative experience.

The piece I created was originally titled vectors.  I like to name my pieces, but sometimes the work yells that it’s got the wrong name and I need to reconsider both the intention and design.  I went from calling the piece vectors to crossing paths.  The piece was a visual representation of what is coming up in my meditations.

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We just finished a year and it’s usually a good time to reflect on what transpired in our lives.  I thought back to when I had traveled for work and was away from home four to six months at a time.  I lived in various parts of the country, urban and rural areas, highly affluent and socioeconomically challenged communities.  I learned something from each person I had the pleasure of meeting at these diverse locations.

What did I learn?  I learned that small town living is intimate while at the same time being a bit enmeshed.  I learned that economically challenged communities are always looking for new ways of reinvigorating their communities while trying to provide opportunities for those who live locally.  I learned that the foods in western Texas are very different from the foods in northwest Pennsylvania.  What I learned first and foremost is that people are people.  All we want is to be included, heard, and seen.

I wanted to show that we never know who will cross our paths and we definitely don’t know the impact they will have on our lives.  Who has crossed your path that had an impact on your life?  How are you expressing that creatively?  Perhaps you’re writing a story. Maybe you remember a song that played on the radio while you visited a particular location and every time you hear the song memories of that place rise to the surface.

Working in oncology services I met many people who commemorated their last chemo with a celebration, a work of art, and written words.  People and experiences will continually cross our path trying to get our attention and teach us something that will propel our lives forward.

What has crossed your path?  How did you mark that experience?

Echo Chamber

How many times do you need to be told or hear the same thing before it registers?  Are you attuned to the clues that step-in front of you on a daily basis?  When I was in college I toyed with the idea of being an English teacher.  I registered for the class Foundations of Education with Mr. Sacca.  One of the things he shared were his secrets for being a student and trying to figure out what would be on the exam.  Mr. Sacca shared that if something in the lecture was repeated it would most likely be on the exam.  His mantra in the class was “repetition for emphasis.”

I’ve been out of college for over thirty years and this mantra sticks with me.  Every day I try and pay attention to what enters my consciousness.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect.  It may take numerous encounters with an idea, a person, or an experience before its purpose registers.

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Spending time in the “echo chamber” is living in the cross-hairs of important components of our lives.  As creative beings, our ability to convert the same idea, color, tone, meter can be developed to look, sound, and feel different every time.  It’s this variety that helps us punctuate our message.  Repeating a theme increases the volume of our creative voice.

If you think you don’t have anything to add to the conversation in the Universe you’re wrong.  What I’ve learned over the years as an artist is that we can all want to share similar messages, but it’s our unique energy and point-of-view that makes it accessible to a specific audience.  We all have an audience waiting to hear what we have to say, so say it!

Don’t’ be surprised if you have to share your message over and over before it’s received.  We can’t expect others to get it and assimilate it any faster than we did.  Don’t give up because persistence shows the power of your message.  When you take a stand, you’ll be surprised how like the Pied Piper, others will stop, listen, and eventually follow.

Now more than ever we need your creative voice.  Your creative energy will be a catalyst for change in the world!

Capturing a Moment

I read a lot of medical journals and research statistics about what the world will be like, medically, in the coming years.  Lots of people I know are posting about the health and illness of family and friends and that gets me thinking about the future.  The statistics in the United States regarding dementia are staggering with no cure arriving in the immediate future.  I remember sitting in the movie theater watching Julianne Moore in Still Alice and astonished at the course of her illness.

There is a lot written about the impact the arts can have on those with memory deficiencies.  A song can trigger a memory.  When someone smells a scent from their childhood they reflect on those memories and stories giving their loved ones a glimpse of the individual’s world and allowing the family an opportunity to recapture a moment in time of their loved one.

I decided to follow my own advice and go to my studio to capture a moment.  One of my favorite experiences, in my life, was a trip to Japan back in 1990.  I spent ten days visiting Kyoto, Nara, and Mt. Koya.  It was a magical trip and drew me in deeper to my love of Asian culture.  It shouldn’t be a surprise given that information that I went to my studio and pulled out a drawer of fabric filled with Asian inspired fabric.

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Since that inspirational trip, I’ve developed an ongoing love of the Japanese people, their food, and their culture.  One of the most memorable experiences I had was visiting the Zen rock gardens across the country.  I’ve created a body of work where I the quilting follows the Zen rock garden designs.  They are meditative pieces and I often use them in presentations because participants can do a finger meditation directly on the work.

I went to the studio today with the idea of capturing another memory that I can use as catalyst of the mental file folder I have of Japan.  Every time I look at this piece it will take me back to an earlier time.  It honors a culture that has taught me many valuable lessons.  The work was a meditative experience in and of itself, providing me with studio time to be reflective emotionally and spiritually.

What moments do you want to capture?  Is there a song, a poem, a photograph that sparks a memory?  How do you use your creative energy to share your life stories?  Remember, every creative venture leaves a legacy!

One Note

It’s easy to get into a rut.  We’re creatures of habit and leading us to a life of uncomfortable predictability.  I love to cook and I watch a lot of cooking competitions like Chopped and Top Chef.  It’s not uncommon for the judges to describe the contestants dish as being “one note”.   The judges are referring to the lack of complexity in the dish.  It’s flat and doesn’t give the diner anything diverse in their experience.

When creating what does that mean to you?  I had taken a quilter’s color class over a decade ago, and the first piece we created was monochromatic, a work all in one color.  One color doesn’t mean boring.  It pushes us as creators to think beyond one color, one note, one set of words or meter.  How are we able expand our resources?  This applies not only to art, but to business, finances, even politics.

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I guess what I’m wondering is “Have we been trained to settle?”  Are we inclined to stay safe because we’ve been conditioned to avoid “less than perfect?”  As I explore creativity and its impact on our well-being, I want us to explore what would happen if we changed or modified one thing.  I don’t want to through the baby out with the bath water, but I’m wondering what we can add to the bath to make it more enjoyable and more expressive of your identity.

One note in creativity is similar to believing there’s only one treatment for illness, one diet to lose weight, one way to save money.  When we go beyond one note we explore options.  We’re encouraged and rewarded for our efforts.  We learn things about ourselves boosting our self-esteem.

We’re complex beings and living lives that are “one note” compromises our uniqueness and our magnificence.  Go beyond the one note…use a new color, change the words you use most often expanding your vocabulary and enriching your work, use a new spice when cooking a favorite recipe giving a new twist in your diet and enjoyment of your food.  We’re creative beings.  If we weren’t we would have gone the way of the dinosaurs…let’s use that gift!

A Blank Canvas

A new year, a new you…of that’s what you desire.  The one thing I know about creativity is its incredible ability to transform our lives.  It allows us to tell our story creating the pieces to the human quilt.  Creative energy provides us with the momentum we need to create a life that evolves and can be crafted with deeper understanding and meaning.

I’ve been fortunate to enroll in a graduate certificate program in Health Humanities and Bioethics.  The class is a mix of health and allied health professionals all focused on one goal; how to incorporate the humanities in medicine.  I’ve been a huge proponent of art and medicine for years.  I’ve utilized my own artistic practices to reflect my own health challenges and the stories of those I’ve interviewed.

The professor for the class I just finished allowed us to do something creative for our final project.  I created four new art pieces and combined that with eight pieces in my personal collection and paired those twelve pieces with poetry reflecting the sentiments of the art.  I curated the show in a round room so classmates could stand in the center of the work and absorb the gravity of the subjects I tackled in the art.

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The experience was overwhelming.  The work had an even greater impact than I expected.  As health professionals, each class member related stories from their own professional lives punctuating the exhibition.  If that weren’t enough, one of my classmates wrote a song for her final project.  The song debuted while everyone was standing in the middle of my art.  The synergy of our two projects was spectacular.

When we combine our creative energies, we can build upon each other’s stories.  The songwriter approached me after the presentation about doing a collaboration in the future.  The idea of combining visual art, poetry, and music speaks to the impact art can have in healthcare.

My hope this year is to take you on a journey giving you the opportunity to explore your creative side and meaning making.  Our creative storytelling can deepen our connection to one another easing tensions inter-personally and in society.  Let’s take this journey together and see how we can transform the world.

If Acceptance is Your Goal…It’s Time to Reevaluate

I’ve been hanging around artists for a long time.  I go to art galleries, museums, and artists’ studios.  I belong to an art guild, buy art magazines, and subscribe to a number of artist sites on social media.  I’m drawn in by the artist’s narrative.  I would love to spend time in art studios just observing the process.  I get to do that when I watch the series Art 21, but in person would be better.

Listening to artists who are caught up in notoriety leads many to make things that are “pretty”.  They are visually appealing and if that’s how you define success, then you’re successful.  The problem for many creative beings is that they became artists because there was a calling.  There was a moment in time when there was a knock on the door and they decided to answer.

I’m always intrigued by installation art because it’s a huge mystery to me.  It took me a long time to realize that installation artists depend on commissions to make a living.  Installation artists embody a quality that many other artists don’t experience, freedom!  There is a freedom to tell a story.  They aren’t concerned about whether or not the work will fit in someone’s dining room.  The Mattress Factory, an art museum in Pittsburgh is devoted to installation art.  They provide the artist with space to create, and a place to live while working on the installation.  They are given the freedom to create with a sense of purpose, honesty, and authenticity.

We live in a world full of judgments.  Feeling judged is a way of herding creative beings to a place of safety.  Some artists create in a place of safety because the world can be harsh and they haven’t developed a tough skin to brave what comes at them.  Acceptance is a tricky thing because it makes us prey to the valuation placed on us by others.  I understand that if someone is going to make a living creating art the work has to be marketable, but if it’s not about the artist’s truth is it worth the sacrifice?

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Michelangelo, Crouching Boy

If freedom is the goal then the artist can create from the soul.  They can tell stories that need to be told.  As artists, we’re social commentators.  We have a platform the expose cultural inequities, historical mishaps, and question authority.  We can create work that challenges cultural norms and provides a haven for people to explore their inner worlds.

Striving for acceptance and sacrificing freedom eventually is a stifling force.  It will in time stifle creativity.  Open yourself up to freedom and see what rises to the surface.  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.