Friday, January 28, 2011

Belly Love and belly insights

My stomach has been bothering me lately. Which is annoying because I have been eating well and cannot for the life of me figure out what is wrong. It is a mild upset that will not go away.

So this morning was my official start day for working with The Artist's Way. I think I am the only person who hasn't read it or really known much about it. There is a reading group taking place over on the Goddess Circle and I decided to join in as I do better when I am holding myself accountable to a group. The major tool of The Artist's Way is Morning Pages. Each day I am to write 3 pages or 750 words, stream of consciousness style to get all the junky junk out of the way. I'm not to be writing anything inspirational, just writing. Gremlins and angels, crap'ola and magic, inspiration and nonsense. And apparently in my case, a spicy dash of profanities.

I grabbed an old spiral bound notebook and I wrote. And wrote. I wrote so fast my hand cramped up and the words blended together on the page in some crazy french liaison-like mush. I was acutely aware of feeling like the day was lost to me. It was 9:15 and I was behind because I did not get up when my alarm went off. And then I spewed forth a long list of all the things I wanted to do and all the things I needed to be doing. Right now. No, an hour ago.

Writing until my claw of a hand could go no further, I realized it is no wonder my stomach is bothering me. The amount of efforting, the volume of I-ness that covered the page would cripple the hardiest of beings, never mind stomachs. Staring at my pages heaped full with desiring, pushing, striving, reaching, grasping and grabbing, I could feel the knot being pulled tighter in my stomach. The navel center and stomach is the chakra associated with fire, will, achievement and individual power, action and expression. It is the chakra that gets things done. And mine is collapsing under all the strain.

This awareness came after another a-ha moment earlier in the morning. I was late getting up because I could not rouse myself from my dream. I have intense dreams and periods when they leave me exhausted and spent. Throughout my life, I have had cycles when specific themes appear over and over again in my dreams. Some just cease and others end when I take action in my dream. For years I had the classic "back to school" dream where I was contacted by my high school that they had made a mistake and I needed to come back and take one more math class in order to graduate. This went on and on until one night, in my dream, I said "I have my college and master's degrees - I don't need your high school diploma!" I never had that dream again.

My present dream theme - one which has been going on for years - is where I am attempting to travel somewhere, usually by plane, and obstacles keep arising that prevent me from either getting to the airport or, if I do travel, I get lost or diverted on route to wherever it is I am trying to go. These dreams leave we feeling frustrated and tired from all the effort spent trying to move through the obstacles. All my attention and energy is focused upon getting to my destination and that never happens.

Wanting to break this cycle, I have tried to figure out where is it I am meant to be going? And what is holding me back? Of course, this is a huge metaphor for my life: what am I supposed to be doing? How can I get there?

This morning it occurred to me to turn things around a bit. What if the dream is not an omen telling I need to figure out what to be doing with my life; what if the dream is about me pushing, striving, straining to get somewhere when where I am meant to be is right under my feet? What if the frustration is from my refusal to surrender to the life I have been given? What if I accept there is nowhere else to go, no one else to be but me as I am in this moment? Because beneath all that straining and efforting is a belief that once I get there, somehow I will magically be transformed or transported out of this existence. Poof! I will explode into a million pieces of light and be free of birth, death, pain, and well, life.

Okay, I should have provide you a map for the circuitous route of my thinking. To put all of this into a larger context, I should also mention the instruction we were given last week in Deep by Connie, our fearless leader. She asked us to consider things this way: that no matter how much we painted, we couldn't get any better than we already are but also, we couldn't get any worse. How would we paint? Wouldn't the only choice be to be ourselves and embrace being extraordinarily that? Because the other option would be mediocre and which is not an option in my book.

So I've been chewing this whole being extraordinarily me for the past week. It has been liberating to paint with a sense of just painting me. Nowhere to go, no striving to improve, just aiming for honesty, aiming for 100% Lisa. Pretty radical. And my painting practice is mirroring the other practices that define my life: yoga, meditation and parenting. In each there comes a point when I've read the books, I listened to the stories and experiences of others, taken classes, seeked advice and guidance and now all that is left is to practice. Roll up my sleeves and do the work. And here's the thing: the work is never finished. I may have an amazing meditation, a glorious painting session, an on-fire-alive asana practice and tomorrow the work continues. As the saying goes, after ecstasy, then the laundry. There is no there to be gotten to, no final launching point (where I will dissolve into that light.) Just the practice. And showing up for it again and again.

Because if there were an end point, that would mean exiting this life which is work, pleasure, pain, joy, agony and ecstasy. Yeah, maybe we become angels, but remember Wings of Desire? Isn't the joy of life so much sweeter because we also experience the bitterness of disappointment, the pain of loss, the full spectrum of emotions that give flavor to existence?

Have I lost you? Maybe I've lost myself. But this is what is welling up inside me. All my striving and pushing and forcing has lead me to this point of total surrender. And in letting go of grasping, I am finding myself opening to receiving the greatest things of all: my extraordinary life, my singular and unique self. That's all there is.

Well, that an a huge stack of dirty dishes and a pile of laundry patiently waiting for my attention.

And hopefully, a new and relaxing cycle of dreams.

(is this what is meant by navel gazing?)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The many faces (and feet and hands) of me

I am looking for clues ...

Who is this woman?

I am whoever I choose to be in any given moment ...

(for an inspiring post for those of us wearing many hats - mommy, artist, housekeeper, cook - check out Pixie's words which rocked my week; then head over to Connie's pad and remember this truth - and be free!)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday Inspiration Celebration: antidote to the blahs

I love Winter, I really do. I love the sound of snow falling; the intense quiet after a storm; the sense of hidden spaciousness when the land is blanketed in snow. I love Cowgirl's excitement when the first flakes fall and she rushes outside to capture them on her tongue; how impervious to cold she becomes when sledding is involved; and how winter days require frequent hot cocoa breaks. And I love the quality of introspection that cold weather and white landscapes evoke.

But, I ask you: Is it my imagination or has winter become dirtier? As a kid, I don't remember all the grit and grime associated with snowfall. Okay, trips into New York City we would joke about gray snow (yellow snow - yes, we knew about that!) but now it seems like slushy, gritty, brown snow quickly arrives on the heels of a fresh snowfall. And I am weary of the grime which is everywhere: on cars, coats, bags, boots, garage floor and rolling around on my wood floors where bare feet are assaulted by the tiny but oh-so-sharp nuggets.

Even my winter boots - veterans of many years of snowy walks - have collapsed under the strain.

that's electrical tap holding the sole of my left boot on (meanwhile, i track the journey of my replacement boots from one snowy fed ex center to another)

Coupled with the exhaustion of lugging around the weight of extra clothing (remember my Moose-walking outfit? At least 2 layers of everything and I walk him 2 to 3 times a day) and I am ready to hang a white flag and surrender. But as Cowgirl reminds me "we never give up - do we mommy?" and so with the going tough, I got going.

When the winter blahs threaten, here's what I do:

Grab my camera and take pictures. Under the guise of being artful, I find the exercise of looking for interesting shots engages me at a time when I would normally lapse into moody reverie. It gets me moving, looking, thinking and present.

Experiment a bit. Which can mean interesting disasters.

this polaroid got stuck in the camera and I had to manually pull it out and then ...

i got the crazy idea that it was too cold inside for the film to proper process and not having a radiator, i thought I would pop the pictures into a warm oven. of course, i forgot about them being in the oven! hence the interesting blue effect (and a curdling you cannot see in the scans)

Paint paint paint. If gray is the landscape outside my house, well, I can find rainbows within.

my latest painting for DEEP; such a powerful experience, words fail me right now

Mix things up: indoor picnics, dance fests and ice cream cones when it is 5 below zero.

When all else fails, I surrender to the blahs and crawl into bed with a good book or my drawing pad.

contour drawings using my non dominant hand

Also helpful - putting my woes into perspective:

Things could always be worse!

What home remedies do you have for the winter blahs?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

winter words

This season has gnawed me clean

Down to emotional bones

Cold leeching all color out

And I am as gray as the morning sky

More snow expected

Driveway to clear

Dog must be walked

Pilgrimage to school made

I trudge through my day

Head down, face shielded

Skin buried in wool and corduroy

My senses knowing only exhaustion and deprivation

Hidden within

A seed patiently awaits

Sunlight, warm rain


A greener day

I know it is there

I have to -

Because not believing

would risk

Sacrificing the last shred of myself

To icy winds

Smacking thin, cracked lips

Winter looks around for more

And I will oblige

Buried under a pile of rotting, fetid leaves

My belief in abundance and renewal



And trust-filled

Monday, January 17, 2011

Monday Inspiration Celebration: quiet

Hard to imagine, but I am feeling very quiet these days. Not that a lot isn't happening ... it just is all internal and the words have yet to reach the surface. I am not at the surface; Deep is requiring me to spiral further and further inward and right now and I am not prepared to surface. What I am doing is listening, journaling, painting and listening some more.

What is sustaining me these days:

My commitment to the 21 days of Yoga challenge by Yoga Journal and an amazing 10 minute meditation by my teacher, Sudhir Jonathan Foust. I'm not sure if this link will work, but if the page opens, select the audio file Energy Awareness Meditation. Each time I do this practice, I am blown away by the depth of awareness and feeling it allows me to tap into.

I love this link Connie shared with us about tuning into our natural rhythms - something I all too often forget to honor. Now I am.

It has been a long weekend of play, time with family, and time to do what we love: create.

It is not a winter of discontent (although the cold and gray are getting tedious) but a season requiring my full presence and patience. Something is taking root and I need to slow down and allow it time to strengthen and grow.

What lesson does this winter hold for you?

I am also clinging tightly to this realization (I mean, it's on a card!)

See that? Artist. That's me. Now, excuse while I get back to my paints ...

Friday, January 14, 2011

my camera is my guide


What we are really looking for when we take portraits is a connection. We are looking for an expression, a mood, a certain something that reveals the spirit of the person we are photographing. We are watching and waiting for something to happen. Something real.
(Expressive Photography: The Shutter Sisters' Guide to Shooting from the Heart.)


I think the same applies to self portraiture. By turning my camera upon myself, I am hoping to come to understand myself in a fuller way. My face, my body, my reflections and shadows carry traces of my past, my emotions, my history internal and external. I take the pictures and then I search for clues: who am I really? How do I present myself to others? What do I fail to see? Appreciate? Value?

The camera is my tool and guide in this journey towards recognizing my wholeness. I experience myself as fractured, broken, defective. Each photograph helps build the case that such a perception is false.






But here - this is why I take so many pictures ...

Portraiture is sacred because it is so intimate. There is something beautifully vulnerable about being seen and witnessed. How often does someone stop and stare into our eyes? How often does someone ask us our story or simply sit and witness the beauty in us?

How do we reveal a deep truth about someone with a photograph? How do we evoke not only their beauty, but also their strength, their truth, something deeper? (Expressive Photography)

When was the last time you really looked - really saw - someone you love? How about yourself? Let's make that our priority in the coming year.

I'll be watching ... and looking ...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Inspiration Celebration: endings and beginnings

cover: my assigned theme was "A Day in the Life"

Five months, 1 week and 4 days and I have finished 42 paintings/pages for my entry into The Sketchbook Project.

When I signed up way back when, I had this image of myself leisurely creating a spread or two each week, documenting the last half of my year. I had the leisurely part right; I did a few pages at the beginning and then when things got busy (when are they not busy?) I would tell myself I had plenty of time ... I could catch up ... I could do a number of pages in a week and be back on track.

inside cover (there will be a pocket placed here) and first page

And so it went.

Sometime in October I realized I would need to do 3 spreads a week to finish in a comfortable manner (meaning, not sending the journal in with the pages still wet with paint) ... and you know how it goes - my winter break arrived and I had to paint something every day.

when i create, i cannot spell! only now did i just catch the misspelling

But by taking leisure out of the equation I discovered something exciting: when I have to create, I can create. I no longer had the excuse of "I'm not feeling inspired right now" or "I will wait for a better idea." Often, I had no idea what I was going to paint when I pulled out my brushes and started. It was scary and it was thrilling. Fear of the blank page vanished and there was no time to agonize over every little detail. Some days a theme presented itself and other days experimentation was my inspiration. The deadline forced me to push myself and by doing so, I created some pieces I am really pleased with while others betray the mark of me pushing - and that's okay.

first full spread

... and the last spread

Now I have to send my journal off and that is a new sensation. Creating work I knew I would not be keeping, I found myself wanting it to be my best, but also struggling with knowing I would have to let it go. Part of that resistance stems from a mistaken belief that my creativity is finite. But if this process has taught me anything, it is that creativity is something I open myself up to; it flows through all of life and like air, it is available to us at all times ... we just have to breathe.

back inside cover ... completing a quote by T.S. Eliot
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive were we started
and know the place for the first time.
- And all is always now -

Okay ... and I am also scanning my pages so if I feel any regrets about parting with my work, I can always paint new versions.

And now I am fully immersed in Deep. I decorated my journal for the course:

and I am working on my first painting

Which is quite a transition from the small scale of the journal as I return to painting on poster board. In Deep I will be devoting my practice - myself - to surrender. Surrendering to creativity; surrendering to my life; surrendering to what is and letting go of straining, grabbing, reaching, desiring, resisting, and avoiding. The time feels right to pull back the curtains, letting the light shine in upon everything - the good, the bad and all that's in between. Because in order to really Shine, I cannot be afraid to see all of me. Including the me that often misspells words (never mind my malapropisms!)

Phew. What is inspiring me these days? Color. Lots and lots of color. It looks stunning in the bright, winter light.