A Little Slow

After years of working on art, I realize I am not a genius. It’s ok to be a little slow. Sometimes the only way I can get something done is to do it slowly. With my cello students, we slow down the challenging parts until the rough edges wear down and things are more polished. If things are not clear, I can slow down and pay closer attention. The speeding up happens in a natural way when I’m ready.

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Sometimes time slows down. Especially when doing something new. So many new neural connections happening - my brain is stretched! I can only bite off little pieces - an hour here, two hours there. I try to visit my work often throughout the week and keep the momentum.

Slow grows. There’s a slow accumulation of time and energy that builds into something great. Over time, the new and challenging things become skills at the ready. And the snowflake has become a rolling snowball gathering momentum. I look around my studio and feel grateful this body of work now exists!

How do you go slow and grow?

Dancing with your Dragon

This dragon hoards the treasure inside of me. My fears, the things that make me righteously angry, the negativity I project onto others - these become the dragon that stands between me and my enlightenment.

In mythology East to West, the dragon is an archetype of the most unreasonable and formidable foe. Dragon scales are impermeable except for … one weakness. Sometimes the hero needs close observation and a clear mind to see the one gap in a dragon’s armor. Other times the dragon’s scales have developed as protection against the blows of life. Once I lay down my defenses and show kindness, the dragon can remove the burden of their frightening suit of armor and be light and free. They don’t scare anyone anymore. Sometimes we befriend the dragon, sometimes we fool it long enough to get the treasure, sometimes it needs to be slayed.

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These are some of my reflections as I work on this dragon from my recent painting. He guards the pearl of wisdom and dances around Vajrasattva, bodhisattva of purification in Tibetan Buddhism.

How do you dance with your dragon?

Love or Fear?

It hit me in the heart like an arrow of pure truth.

“There are two ways to master an art - through love or through fear.”

A dear friend shared this quote with me on a hike to the Buddha Rocks at Shoshoni. So many years I had fear motivating my work. On a subtle level, I related to my teacher with inferiority and my peers with hostility. My learning process was sabotaged by my inner critic. It was hard to be with myself creatively.

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And now, as the dust has cleared from this exploded illusion, the open space is full of love. How to go about developing my work with love? Marinate in love and gratitude for my life and creative opportunities each morning. Dedicate the merit of my work to the benefit of others. Shake off negative states of mind and see them as passing storms. Release my grip on how things should be and give them space to grow and be as they are.

How do you do your work with love?

Repetition & Variation

My first art class in high school, Mr. Drake talked about art being made up of repetition and variation. It comes through in a painting and even in a meal. Beauty comes through the composition and contrast of flavor, textures, and colors.

Here are a few paintings where I have worked with the same subject over a number of years. It's like deepening a relationship, especially while working with sacred art and painting deities.

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At the top, Saraswati is the goddess of the arts, language, beauty and wisdom. My favorite description of her - "She who swallows my sense of dullness and incompleteness" - from Sri Ma's pujas.

I have connected with Saraswati through puja, mantra, meditation and painting as a way of understanding how to use my creative energy and release my small self in the creative process. In times when I have felt confused and restless about making art (or life in general), I do Saraswati mantra or puja to connect to this pure creative energy and be a vehicle for something higher.

Over the years connecting to Saraswati, I can see my growth in more subtle ways: real changes in perspective and inner experience. In my practice and art, I have learned how staying steady with my commitments opens me up to deeper layers of awareness and spiritual growth. 

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Newest Saraswati in progress. The lines around her head are like a funnel for higher energy to come in and through her.  

Buddha's Moving In

“It’s not personal” – I tell myself this all the time. “It’s not about me, it’s about something bigger.” Painting a Buddha or deity is not a personal endeavor – it’s universal.

When we meditate, we bring our awareness to the subtle inner work of being present and open to a flow of higher energy. It is a way of developing ourselves so that we can truly be of service to others.

It is the same thing with spiritual art, whichever side you are on – making or viewing. My art mentor Faith Stone talks about this process:

“Your goal is to try to stay out of the way and let the Buddha be expressed - not you. Essentially you are creating an environment for the Bodhisattva (enlightened being) or Buddha to reside or take form.”

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When you bring a piece of sacred art into your home, the deity or higher energy is moving in! As a meditator, I see the sacred art throughout my home as a reminder of the practice I did that morning and take a moment to reconnect to this higher awareness.

In sacred art class at Eldorado Ashram, we finish a painting session with this dedication prayer offering up the merit of our actions to the liberation of all beings. This part of class always feels like a celebration and release - because it’s not about me.

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Talent, Skill & Effort

Sometimes I only have a 30% chance of making art, doing yoga or something else productive. The things I want to do be the person I want to be. The trick of it is to convert the 30% inspiration into 100% action.

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Talent and inspiration are not the essence of making art. They are the initial impulse, sometimes a random bonus. The sprinkles on the cupcake.

“The separation of talent and skill is one of the greatest misunderstood concepts for people who are trying to excel, who have dreams, who want to do things. Talent you have naturally. Skill is ONLY developed by hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft.”

- Will Smith

Angela Duckworth quoted Will Smith in her book Grit, where she explores the science and psychology of high achievers. She comments:

 “With effort, talent becomes skill and, at the very same time, effort makes skill productive.”

This reminded me of Swami Rudrananda’s meditation teaching:

“Effort over time equals growth.”

How we relate to and harness our effort matters so much more than pure talent.

Temporary Struggle

I worked on a painting yesterday and it was a very long two hours of effort. For most of that time, I wasn’t thrilled with what I saw on the canvas but I kept working at it to work things out. At the end, I got some space from the painting and the rocks came into view. Ahhh.

The other day I was looking at one of my favorite paintings and remembering the challenge of working through the details. I spent 4+ hours on Kelly’s face – a two-inch square area. I’m pretty sure I cried that afternoon.

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But all that struggle is gone now. In its place is a beautiful painting. I love looking at it every day and continue to see something new. And I feel so lucky that I was part of bringing this art into being.