Registrations are open for 2020, classes in Taos, Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana, Canada and Italy. I’d love to hear from you.Read More
We began with the idea, expressed in many traditions, that we are each born with a seed, an acorn, a particular something that we have to offer back to this world that has been given to us. The clue to what this is, as Joseph Campbell has said, is this question: What did you do as a child that gave you a sense of timelessness? Even if this doesn’t directly answer what your “seed” is, it is the thread for you to follow. Here is the same idea posed by an Italian born, German priest, Romano Guardini, talking about his dream:
Last night, but probably it was the morning, when dreams come, one then came to me. What happened in it I no longer know, but something was said, either to me or by me, which also I no longer know.
So, it was said that when a man is born, a word is given with him, and it was important, what the meaning was: not just a predisposition, but a word. It is spoken unto him in his essence, and it is like the password of everything, what then will happen. It is at once the strength and the weakness. It is the commission and the promise. It is the guard and the dangers. Everything that will then happen through the course of the years is the effect of this word, it is the explanation and the fulfillment. And everything comes to pass for him to whom it was pronounced -- each man, to each to which one was spoken -- he understands it and it comes into agreement with him. –Romano Guardini
When driving along, glancing at the passenger sideview mirror that says: Objects in your mirror may be closer than they appear, my first response is anxiety, trying to work out what it means. If they may be closer, may they not be? Or may they be further? Or, if it may be nearer than it seems, how much nearer? I cannot even work out how near it seems. It reminds me of Bilbo Baggins, at his farewell birthday party, saying goodbye to all his friends and neighbors:
Alas, eleventy-one years is far too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable hobbits. [cheers abound.] I don't know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
– From Tolkein, The Fellowship of the Ring
Once Bilbo added the last sentence, there was dead silence from the crowd, as they tried to figure out if it was a compliment or an insult. Perhaps it has to do with my poor sense of spatial direction, but the information on the mirror confuses me in a similar fashion, as I have to try to understand what it means, which makes me anxious. Like Bilbo’s audience– I am unsure how to respond to the information I have been given.
This has prompted me to write about some remedies for anxiety, which is so pervasive in our world. Anxiety is contagious. It floats. It permeates. It is not grounded in any particular, but blossoms in the general. It is perpetuated by the endless lateral movements we make, responding to links, dings and news. It is fed by fear. Unless we do something specific to counter anxiety, we float in it through the day, and it enters our sleep at night.
Here are some ideas for stilling anxiety:Read More
After writing the last post on sleep and dreams, with the poem by Herman Hesse*, Maria Poplova posted her Brain Pickings :
You were made to be yourselves. You were made to enrich
the world with a sound, a tone, a shadow. – Herman Hesse
For makers, and I think for most of us, there is a yearning to make a mark, leave a sign, sing, write, paint, proclaim– to leave a footprint .
What does it take for you to believe that your particular sound, tone, shadow is already in you, already good enough, and unlike anyone else’s? And that this has nothing to do with fame, acceptance or perfection?
These are questions I return to like water over stone. How often I forget Mary Oliver’s proclamation:
For how long will you continue to listen to those dark shouters,
caution and prudence?
Fall in! Fall in!
Yesterday I taught a class in brush lettering at the University of Louisville, to young students who don’t remember a time before social media…who feel the universal pressure of class assignments, and find it difficult to set aside time for what is going on inside. I was delighted to see how willingly they surrendered their phones to the “basket”, which was placed outside of our circle, away from our bodies and minds, allowing uninterrupted no ding-dong time to enter. They seemed to delight in the freedom of attending only to breath, brush and ink. (It’s just as well too, that I had no idea we would have an audience of students and teachers from the rest of the art department, as spectators. The students proved to be undaunted by this, completely willing to enter the temenos).
One of the great gratifications of teaching brush lettering is being witness to a student who suddenly comes alive, in body, mind and spirit, whose countenance is all at once lit up, by making of an unself-conscious, authentic, unedited mark. One unguarded moment of freedom from what anyone else thinks, including herself!
One door to finding yourself, and your path to enriching the world, is doing something that brings you pleasure.
A phrase from our recent poem by Tony Hoagland comes to mind:
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing,
that also needs accomplishing
Do you remember?
Back in my studio, I took the time to find some things that give me pleasure, things that you can do even when you feel you don’t have enough time:Read More
With Thanksgiving being so early this year, the holidays seem to have lasted longer. Yet how quickly another year arrives… One of my wishes for this new year is to pay more attention to night and dreams.
Our entire history is merely the history of the waking life of man; nobody has yet considered the history of his sleeping life. – Georg Christoph Lichtenberg c. 1780
Perhaps a contemporary exception to the idea that history is all about our waking life– that no one has revealed the history of their dreaming life– is Carl Jung’s The Red Book. It is noteworthy that he did not allow this amazing work, in which he writes and illustrates his dreams, to be published until 100 years after his death. The taboo of going into the dark was even stronger in the early 1900’s, especially as a professional. Carl Jung was a pivotal thinker in terms of bringing our focus back to night and dreams, in insisting that darkness, and our shadow self, our fears and our regrets, has a world of gold to offer.Read More
I am just beginning my retreat at St Meinrad Archabbey, so instead of getting ready for the holidays, I am stealing time to contemplate classes for next year, paint and write. This is a long habit– taking time away in solitude while the world is occupied with decorating, shopping, and entertaining. Today the snow is falling. I am thinking of some quotes from books I am reading:
Don’t hurry. Don’t rest.
– Rachel Kadish, The Weight of Ink
in sorrow seek happiness. Work, work unceasingly.
– Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
It sounds harsh– the part about not resting, and working unceasingly– but there is something about not hurrying, having no interruptions, and working with my hands that expands the day.
Two new classes have been added for 2019:Read More
I have been working on a new series of small paintings. Winter is a natural time to turn your gaze inward, and make space for what is to come. Painting and writing are ways to renew your dreaming life, to get fuel from the inner imagery that arises. The text in the paintings is written in one of my alphabets. Even when you feel as if “you got nothing”, begin with a color, a tool, an image, or scraps for a collage. It is a lovely way to balance the high pitch that tends to accompany the holidays.
This series is called Dream Image: Intuitive Messages
These works are on paper and mounted on 5” X 5” wood panels with a depth of 1” and 5/8”.
Here are a few of them available at my store: (click link for bigger images)Read More
“I have required great order in my habits to counteract the great disorder in my mind.”
– Christian Wiman, He Held Radical Light: The Art of Faith, The Faith of Art
It’s curious, the force it takes to create a structure that clears from my mind the chaos of information onslaught. The might it takes to stay with my work, not allowing distraction or interruptions. There is a fierceness needed– and yet, within the structure, I know if I stay with it long enough, play will spontaneously arise. I am experiencing this now, having ten days alone, and painting. Play in making does not happen at this deep level without there being a structure for it.
Play is the blossoming forth of meaning. …It has all its meaning in itself.
– Brother David Stendhl-Rast
I can be over-serious about this “making” thing. I can get lost in my own preoccupation with purpose. It brings to mind something William Stafford, the poet, said: Poetry is the kind of thing you have to see from the corner of your eye. You can be too well prepared for poetry. A conscientious interest in it is worse than no interest at all... It's like a very faint star. If you look straight at it you can't see it, but if you look a little to one side it is there.
I can be too solemn, too direct with my painting. Serious mind is soon followed by his critical sister, judgement. I know you know who I am talking about, and I know the futility of banishing her. Instead, I give her a chair on the other side of the room where she can sit quiet for awhile. Rather than going straight to my paint, I wander around the house, and into my studio. I discover things I haven’t seen for years: A journal from my year in Paris where I turned 21, and a dream I had there that still has a hold on me. I wander outside and discover a gingko tree, they call her “Maidenhair”. She suddenly seems to have grown several feet and is covered in golden splendor. I am caught off guard– being both shattered and delivered by this tree– its presence, and the simultaneous freedom I find in losing myself. A tree that has been there these last ten years, and never fully seen.
Once I establish my structure– easels, canvas, scraps of paper, notes, paints and sketchbooks– I vanquish the adult from the room… the one who has all kinds of restrictions on what I should be doing, or what is possible. So, for example, instead of playing classical or contemplative music, I fill the house with my old favorite soul music and pagan blues. Love songs. Van Morrison Did ye get healed? This, in combination with canary and crimson suddenly bursting from the trees, has opened me. At moments the opening feels more like a tear, as in ripped open. Anything can come through this opening– grief, regrets, loss, joy. There is risk in fanning the fire inside a maker, and the possibility of rescue.
This is where I paint from, not knowing the object, why I am doing this, or if anything will ever come. I only know that I feel the rise and pull of something that is in me, but does not belong to me, is something “other”. I make room, give an invitation, (or perhaps more an invocation) for grace.
What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you.
Today we are going to explore what I am calling the third arrow, that magic number three that is the number of movement and creativity. The number that is in the old stories: three wishes, three sisters, three chances… Three creates movement– it breaks up the stasis or duality of two.
This is the third in our series of “arrows”- the first arrow being the necessary suffering of loss, impermanence and death. None of us, no matter how “lucky” we are, escape the first arrow. Last week we talked about the unnecessary suffering of complaint, blame and bitterness that arise from the second arrow.
To the Buddhist story of the two arrows, I have added a third. The third arrow does not inflict pain. It is about taking aim: pointing yourself in a certain direction. You do this by accepting what is presented and releasing the second arrow.
III. Third Arrow: Finding Direction
The question that the third arrow asks is:
What is the coherence that transcends chaos and impermanence?
This is the perennial question. It is behind the deep longing to be near, to feel continuity in the midst of chaos, and to leave a trace, a footprint, a song– it is what impels makers of all kinds to turn to praying with their hands.Read More
Last week we addressed the first arrow, which is a symbol for the initial pain caused by loss, chaos and impermanence. The first arrow strikes each one of us at different moments along the way.
How do you respond to living in times of great change and difficulty? How do you find your footing when the world seems to be spinning out of control?
This is the second part of a three part series, based on a Buddhist story using arrows as a metaphor. Today I will talk about the second arrow.
II. The second arrow
How do you react when things fall apart?
The second arrow is more painful than the first one, because our minds torture us with reactions against the painful situation. We are beset with what ifs, and why this and why me. Whatever it is, we want it to stop or go away or be different. Our experience of the first arrow is compounded further by blame of oneself or someone or something else.
Our resistance to pain can take many forms, and often goes unnoticed. We become unaware of how aversion works against us. Or, when we do notice our fear, anger or impatience in response to a given situation, we berate ourselves for being imperfect, for being insecure, tired, angry or fearful. The second arrow becomes a flame of blame. This behavior is destructive, and blocks our movement toward the door that opens with pain.Read More