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Re Entry

I was whining about re-entry into regular life after a wonderful week of blissful nothingness.  No news.  No worries about work, or eating well or exercising, or morning journaling.  Heaven.

Then I heard the news that a local yoga teacher and his partner had been viciously attacked on Saturday night.  Police are investigating it as a hate crime.  His re-entry to his professional life will be tough with his injuries, but thanks to the yoga community, he will have some money to pay for medical bills —  I hope all the money he needs to pay his medical bills.  You’ll have to try hard NOT to find a charity yoga class set up in his honor this month and next in Washington, DC.  This Sunday there are several charity classes at Tranquil Space (www.tranquilspace.com).  Read about what happened, and where to make donations to cover Michael’s many medical expenses here:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/25/michael-hall-yoga-instructor-benefit_n_1699807.html.

The painting I started before I left on vacation has taken on new significance in the wake of this violence.  My original inspiration was my husband — I had been thinking about what a wonderful father he is to our kids, and now that our youngest is about to leave for college, about how good he was at being a parent to them when they were very young.  I’m currently working on another canvas of the crook of his elbow, where they curled up when they were infants, and from where they swung when they were older.

This terrible incident has me thinking about yoga teachers and their hands. Thanks to my wonderful teachers and their hands, I’ve learned about the art, the science and the heart of yoga.  I’m sure Michael is known and loved and respected because of this innate ability to guide people along a path of loving kindness. May he be healthy and whole very soon.

Trippin’ Creatively

Image

Tuesday, Beach

Going on vacation, just as I have started to putz around again with paints and galkyd, new canvases and fresh ideas is just a bit upsetting.  I’ll take the sketch pad and my mat, but I know from experience that the mat will stay rolled up and the sketch pad will contain lots of surreptitious drawings of bodies like the one I found in an old sketch book as I was packing up for the trip.

I remember this day well.  It was incredibly hot and the kids, who were young, were whiny.  The sun was harsh and created so little contrast.  Most people in their right minds had left the beach, except for these women. What drew me to this pair was the big toes stretching to the sky.

Funny how I am still drawn to feet and hands, especially in my yoga teaching and in my own practice.  Grounding all four corners of the feet, all the knuckles of the hands into the mat lock us into the earth where we are supported and from where we can breathe and balance.  The hands channel energy from the earth to lift and fly into arm balances.

So, as I leave my “work” with my recovering creativity, I will remember to that it isn’t where I’m drawing — it is what I am drawn to drawing.   To watch for toes stretching to the sun or any other thing that catches my imagination.

“Whatever your eye falls on – for it will fall on what you love – will lead you to the questions of your life, the questions that are incumbent upon you to answer, because that is how the mind works in concert with the eye. The things of this world draw us where we need to go.”  ―    Mary Rose O’Reilley,    The Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd

A Storm of a Process

Madras curtains

Madras

Week ten as a recovering creative and I’ve slipped big time.  I’ve taken a hold of every “deadly” there is to creativity — alcohol, white sugar, a big bed in an air-conditioned room with full and complete control of the TV remote.  My body feels about as heavy as my spirit. I beat myself up about it, and just as I was lifting a leg to get back on the horse, I was toppled again — this time by a storm.   We became pioneer people this weekend, helping a neighbor take down a fallen tree and washing out unmentionables in a bucket on the back porch.  No time for my little corner studio.

The cool marble of the Corcoran Gallery of Art beckoned to me Sunday with the beautiful Ocean Park paintings by Richard Diebenkorn. I know that my creative recovery stipulates that I am to do artist’s dates by myself, but I took pity on my 17 year old and took her too.  As we sat contemplating a monumental canvas in the series, we were in a peaceful, light-filled, sacred space.  The cigar box paintings, lovingly crafted and given to friends and family, are full of joy, wisdom and personality — like a blessing at wedding by a favorite rabbi or pastor.

But it is what I learned about Deibenkorn’s artistic process that is really a gift to me as I struggle to make sense of what I am to be doing artistically.  He said “I can never accomplish what I want — only what I would have wanted had I thought about it beforehand.”  And all at once I was ashamed that I had spent not just the last week, but indeed weeks and weeks beforehand planning, scheming, thinking too much about what I am to do, rather than just doing it and sitting with it and being with it.

A few Sundays ago I had experimented with water-soluble oil pastels — I had never liked them in class, but I just wanted to feel and use color for a moment before I had to start my week.  The doodles of bright squares reminded me of the madras curtains my mother hung in my room in Bangladesh.  After seeing the Deibenkorns, I wanted to add layers and light to these doodles and see where they would lead me. Another Diebenkorn thought propels me:  the artistic process is intention, intuition and improvisation. Discover something about layers, light.  Follow my gut.  Play.

Parental Creativity


…and protected them when the world outside was cold…

My youngest will leave for college in a month and a half.  Part of why I’ve taken up an intentional and active practice in creating art and teaching yoga is because I’m about to release one of our last human creations out into the world.  My “parenting” (how I really hate that word — but nothing seems to work as well in this context) will now happen on text and in email and during holding-back-tears conversations on the phone on Sunday nights.

This might be why in a moment of peaceful clarity I had an idea about writing a children’s book about a couple who raise pumpkins and raise children.  Where the text flowed out into my sketchbook in an evening, I’m now taking my time with the drawings, which I then plan to take my time translating into colorful oil paintings.  I want this creative process to be like raising my children.  Like raising children (or raising pumpkins) good things come to those who take the time, who are truly present, and who let love and positive energy flow through them to help growth. Because what is the goal of being a parent but the process of learning to love profoundly and deeply?  What is the goal of being an artist?  A yogi? Through parenting, creating art, practicing asana we learn that even when things do go awry and they will, they will…  we can always return to the grace of the practice of time, presence, love and positive energy.

Similarly, teaching yoga takes time too.  I’ve just signed on to teach Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:15 am at a studio near my home.  (See the Classes page for the exact details.) I’ve only been there two weeks, but already I find myself blessed with the seed of love taking hold of me — thinking about how this asana might be interesting for one or fun for another or good for them all. We don’t get to choose our parents or our children, and in many ways our yoga teachers are luck of the draw too.  I pray I can continue to take the time I need to be truly present to the students who are that dedicated to their practice to show up early in the morning, and to let the love and positive energy flow through me to them.  Especially in the winter, when rising at 5 am will be a bit more difficult!

From Judith Lasater’s Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life

Sometimes I notice my yoga students practicing their less than favorite poses with a ho-hum attitude.  At these moments, I remind them that although yoga is powerful, it cannot transform us unless we love it.  When we love, we are receptive to the “other.”  When we love, we are vulnerable.  Although being vulnerable can be frightening, it is also the doorway to the ultimate freedom written about in book four, verse twenty-two of the Bhagavad Gita…   ‘Content with what is chance-obtained, transcending the opposites, without envy, the same in success and failure, though performing actions — he is not bound.’ 

Here, Krishna explains what life is like when you are not bound by the attraction of opposites, and that when this state is experiences, there is no reaction to the vicissitudes of life.  When you react, you are not in a state of love.  When you can love without expectation, you are in a state of pure love.  Mostly what is declared to be love is not.  Rather, it is need, or fear, or the desire for power over another person.  Love in its purest sense is not based upon what you get from the relationship, but on what the relationship allows you to give.  The depth of your love is not reflected in what the other makes you feel, but in your willingness to give of yourself.  Love’s job is to lead you to intimacy with what is enduring in yourself and in others. Whether this connection lasts for seconds or decades, love is not wasted.  Through it, you have been transformed.

Filling in the Form

Faded Bangkok 1969

I’m always two steps ahead of myself creatively.  I’m thinking about what a final series of paintings will be before I’ve even prepared the first canvas.  According to Julia Cameron, this is creative sabotage.  When we are thinking about the end goal, we are allowing ourselves to submit to the fear that our efforts won’t get us there, that we aren’t up to the task, that we aren’t worthy of the inspiration.  But since I’ve been doing the disciplines of morning pages and intentional creative play time, I find that the daydreaming about the future is harder to turn off.

Case in point: I drew this from a beautifully faded photo of my brother and me on a boat in Bangkok.  I loved the bright negative space in the photo.  This inspired me to spend time cataloguing my mother’s letters to her mother when we went to East Pakistan to live in 1969.  I spent Memorial Day placing the old tattered tissue paper hotel stationery and aerogram letters in plastic sleeves.  I started to journal the in-between the lines places of love and guilt of a young mother writing to a worried mother.

At about the same time, a warm wind of inspiration took a hold of me and I wrote a children’s book in one sitting.  I’m now working on the illustrations for it — slowly, steadily.  Sometimes painfully.

Where do these projects lead?  I know I shouldn’t care, but I want to work towards something. I want to devote my time to something that will come to fruition — and soon, dammit! Is that so wrong?

I turned to Pema Chodron’s Wisdom of No Escape last night as I was falling asleep and came upon a favorite passage.  It spoke to me in this instance.  (Sorry I can’t give you the page number — it has a place of great importance in my Kindle, but I’m disappointed that I can’t see the page numbers!)

“The experience of labeling your thoughts “thinking” also, over time, becomes much more vivid.  You may be completely caught up in a fantasy, in remembering the past or planning for the future, completely caught up , as if you had gotten on an airplane and flown away someplace.  You’re elsewhere and you are with other people and you’ve redecorated a room or you’ve relived a pleasant or unpleasant experience, or you’ve gotten all caught up in worrying about something that might happen…Then suddenly you realize, and you just come back.  It happens automatically.  You say to yourself, ‘Thinking,’ and you’re saying that, basically what you are doing is letting go of those thoughts.  You don’t repress the thought.  You acknowledge them as ‘thinking’ very clearly and kindly, but then you let them go.  Once you begin to get the hang of this, it’s incredibly powerful that you could be completely obsessed with hope and fear and all kinds of other thoughts and you could realize what you’ve been doing — without criticizing it — and you could let it go.  This is probably one of the most amazing tools you could be given, the ability to just let things go, not to be caught in the grip of your own angry thoughts, or passionate thoughts or worried thoughts or depressed thoughts.”  

Still recovering.  But at least I’m in the studio today. Sit still, breathe, work, and just be.

On being a recovering creative

ImageI had lost my artistic mojo.  After a burst of creativity, sitting down to paint had been almost painful.  Nothing flowed.  I was just grasping for ideas that would fade before the paint reached the canvas.  Occasionally I made myself complete a painting but eventually I didn’t even bother squeezing the paint on the palette, since I would lose interest and waste the paint.  But I had my yoga, my family life, things to do.  I was as empty as these dried seed pods.  (I completed this painting during this time — it took me, no kidding, a YEAR.  Every time I look at this painting, I’m amazed at how tortured it was for me.)

On the advice of some very wise people at Tranquil Space, I picked up Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way:  A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, (Penguin/Putnam, 1992) and I am now recovering the joy and spontaneity that my creative life had been until I got in the way of myself.

Practicing art and practicing yoga demand that you turn yourself off — get yourself out of your own way.  My art had become all about ME.  What did I think?  What did I want to say in this painting?  What did I think was interesting?  It’s just like how a pose becomes all the more difficult when I find myself thinking about what I look like or how much better I am at this pose now than I was in the past. The lesson is just to do art, not think art.  Just practice.  Be like a transistor radio.

So I get up and do art.  I let the ideas flow from somewhere else.  I just transcribe them. Thanks to friends at the studio and Julia Cameron, I am a recovering creative.

Yes, Cricket, you can be lost AND found

The Garden Gate

I painted these two pictures — the one on the banner and the one in this post — during a time in my life when I was terribly lost.  So I found myself in front of a canvas.  Then I found myself on the yoga mat.  Eventually, I found myself engaging in life in a whole new and joyful way, despite the fact that I was hopelessly lost then and that there will be other lost times ahead of me.

There should be a map for these times in life that says “I don’t know.  Try a left?  Then perhaps a U-turn?”  That’s what I hope my site is for you:

A map with no discernible direction.

I’m tired of strategic plans and goal setting.  I just want to be.  To let things happen.  To do some yoga and create some art. To go for a journey.  So join me.

This is a good reading to start with, from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki (Tuttle Publishing, 1985).  (Shout out to Rebecca Bell Curlin for the great grad gift!)

Zen Dialogue

Zen teachers train their young pupils to express themselves.  Two Zen temples each had a child protegé.  One child, going to obtain vegetables each morning, would meet the other on the way.  

Where are you going?” asked the one.

“I am going wherever my feet go,” the other responded.

This reply puzzled the first child who went to his teacher for help. “Tomorrow morning,” the teacher told him, “when you meet that little fellow, ask him the same question.  He will give you the same answer, and then you ask him: ‘Suppose you have no feet, then where are you going?’ That will fix him.”

The children met again the following morning.

“Where are you going?” asked the first child.

“I am going wherever the wind blows,” answered the other.

This again nonplussed the youngster, who took his defeat to his teacher.

“Ask him where he is going if there is no wind,” suggested the teacher.

The next day, the children met for a third time.

“Where are you going?” asked the first child.

“I am going to the market to buy vegetables,” the other replied.