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?

Grow with the Flow

Usually I don't get to decide what I'm painting. At least not all of it. A piece starts with an inspiration, images, feelings. Add to that time when I'm open and willing to work on it. Then in this luscious place, creativity takes root.

If I'm too stuck on things being a certain way, this can be a creative block. So, time to let go and grow with the flow.

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It's a lot like our garden. Some veggies we planted did well, others struggled. And then there were the surprise guests! Carrots and kale, survivors just waiting for the right conditions to pop up. I could never have predicted what our harvest would be like.

The surprises are the best part. What has surprised you in your creative life?

Spring Fever

Someone who loves me told me once that I always have a hard time in the spring. This gives me comfort and perspective when I get restless and think I need to make major life changes. My body can feel discombobulated with the change of the seasons. We are part of nature, and this major phase of change in the natural world affects us deeply.

In creative life, there are cycles as well. Wintertime is a more internal, like germinating the seed. Summer is outward and expansive, sharing the fruits of our work with others. The seasons are especially significant in my husband's pottery work: times for turning pots, glazing, firing and culminating in events for sales and community.

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Since I enjoy a number of creative disciplines - painting, drawing, music, yoga, cooking – it helps to have something I’m working toward like, dare I say it, a clear deadline. A set time to share and connect with other people: a concert for music, a commission for a painting, a workshop for yoga, a meal for cooking.

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There was a time when I put myself down or saw it as a shortcoming that I wasn’t always painting, or playing cello everyday, etc. The restlessness is often unused creative energy. Over time, I learned about myself that I work in projects. Each day is a chance to invest in part of my creative life. Everyone is unique in the way they work.

How are you growing your creative life this spring?

We all Made It

Through the holidays! Or at least to the home stretch. This is cause for celebration.

Isn’t it ironic that all of this merriment and downtime can leave us feeling a little off? Or sometimes like a train wreck. I can’t be the only one.

The holidays are no small occurrence. When I connected with my sangha this week, it was comforting to see that I’m not the only person welling up with things that need transcending. Community always helps me get perspective.

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I’m getting back to painting today. Over time, I have come to understand that my work is an essential part of staying in balance. Deep inside I start to crave it, like traction for a footstep to keep moving forward.

Cheers to digging in heels and growing! Cheers to your New Year!

Grateful for the Crux

“What if this is the crux?” I asked myself as Deepak and I went through our morning workout. Again and again I asked just a little more of myself.

The crux is the hardest part of the rock-climbing route, or anything that we do. It is often the point of no return. Once you make it through the crux, the end is in sight. And there could be more than one.

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Sometimes I am in the crux all day long.

In working, in playing, in loving, in living – if we are really doing it, we will come up to the crux.

The crux brings me face to face with my perceived limits. But I take a break - take a breath - and a solution is here. Usually it is an inner solution of clarity and release, a subtle shift.

This is exactly the process for a breakthrough. And it all started by getting to the crux.

A work of lifestyle

As we prepare to move back to Colorado, Kelly is wrapping up his apprenticeship with Mark Skudlarek at Cambridge Pottery. It has been amazing to live on Tranquil Lane (not kidding) and experience the seasons of life in the pottery.

Mark is a production potter, which means that he makes functional pieces for daily life. His showroom includes: mugs, plates, lamps, casseroles, his famous 'chicken-bricks,' beer steins, planters, large-scale vessels, treasure boxes for your dresser...

Large vessels, a mug, and the kiln in the background - all by Mark

Large vessels, a mug, and the kiln in the background - all by Mark

Speaking of one of his pottery mentors, Warren McKenzie, Mark articulates that the 'work-of-art' in pottery is the entire lifestyle, facility and process:

  • Making clay and glazes from raw materials
  • Chopping and stacking wood for home and kiln
  • Turning pots (as Mark likes to say)
  • The wood firing, a 5-day process that happens twice a year producing a few thousand pots.
  • Home, family and community who gather around the pottery and its events

This process is called the production cycle and flows with the seasons, culminating in a tour in fall and spring. When someone takes home a piece of pottery, it becomes part of their life and they continue this creative process.

It has felt natural to practice meditation as we have lived with Mark in his artisan lifestyle for this year. Many days, I would bring my easel into the workshop and paint alongside the potters.

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We leave Tranquil Lane with a bittersweet sigh and a sense of gratitude as we say farewell for now to Mark and the boys. We will take methods and inspiration for pottery, life and art with us into our next chapter.

Check out Mark's work at www.cambridgepottery.com

Ganesh and Writer's Block

What does it take to move through blocks in your creative projects? In yourself?

Ganesh writing Mahabharata (2014)

Ganesh writing Mahabharata (2014)

The image of Ganesh holding his tusk will always stir my soul. He broke it off during a non-stop writing project, to keep his commitment to write even when his pen broke. Ganesh and the sage Vyasa had a deal - as long as Vyas told his story, Ganesh would transcribe. This story is told in the Mahabharata, an ancient Indian epic.

This was one of the first paintings I made while living at Shoshoni Yoga Ashram. It was incredible how many creative blocks - self-doubt, criticism, fear - showed up during the process! As the lord of obstacles, Ganesh embodies the energy of moving around and through blocks. A key thing here is MOVING - keep momentum in any form. In this and many of my paintings, there is flowing water in the background to indicate creative flow.

I heard recently that when Einstein had a block in his scientific work, he would stop and play the violin. This strategy allowed him to create a flow in another outlet and then infuse it into his work.

As a meditator, I find that blocks in my work are related to a block in myself. I am so lucky for my meditation training at Shoshoni that I know how to look within, take a conscious breath, and release the tensions in me that block my flow.

How do you flow through your creative blocks?

 

Are you creating or consuming?

Were you born and raised in consumer culture? Me too. It feels like  I have to carve my creative self out of a dense consumer shell. Sometimes my desire to have a milkshake and be a couch potato is so strong!

For me, creativity is stepping up to my life. It is not a one-time job. Each new day craves creative effort. I find that an uphill feeling is the norm, and a downhill ride is a treat! And so is the occasional milkshake ;)

Sometimes being creative is expansive, easy and revelatory, other times it is like an ox plowing the field – slow methodical digging that does not appear to end. But it does, and then you have a breakthrough!

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So many things we do can be creative:

  • Listening and being present with someone
  • Making food and house cleaning
  • Running a business and working with focus
  • Exercise
  • Relationships and parenting
  • And last but not least, MAKING ART!

What do you do to be creative?

It's time to break the rules

Sometimes I'm just dying under the weight of these rules. Not anyone else's rules - my stupid rules. The boundaries I place on myself. The rigid definitions and impossible principles that are holding me back in my creativity and happiness.

Elizabeth Gilbert had a great metaphor about this in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (Highly recommended!). She talks about the martyr and the trickster. The martyr puts themselves on a pedestal of principles where they are bound and tied, a clear target and easy shot. The trickster, however, sneaks around, seeks out the opening in a situation, and has fun in the process. Gilbert talks about the martyr on the front lines dying for their cause while the trickster starts a profitable black market on the sides of the battle.

It's time for this martyr to break the rules and get a little tricksy. Here are some rules I broke recently and had a BREAKTHROUGH in my art:

 1. Don't make the same painting twice.  From left to right, a copy of the tiny bamboo bookmark that inspired the paintings, first version 2014 and second version 2017.

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  2.  Don't copy someone else's painting.  Top row: Robert Beer's Milarepa drawing and Faith Stone's. Bottom row: unknown Milarepa thangka and my thangka.

 2.  Don't copy someone else's painting. Top row: Robert Beer's Milarepa drawing and Faith Stone's. Bottom row: unknown Milarepa thangka and my thangka.

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3.  Don't paint from photographs. My photo on left the inspired the painting on right. I have also copied a Georgia O'Keefe painting in the background ;)

How have you broken YOUR rules lately? 

Creative Flow & Plateau

Don't you love being in the flow? Smooth sailing, a sense of focus and purpose - it is the best! And then you hit a wall. BUT, the wall is actually part of a plateau that leads up to our next level of work and growth.

My dad was a professional musician, and he would say that the more he progressed at music, the longer the plateaus were between levels. I can really relate this to the process of growing spiritually in my meditation practice. My teacher describes the process of spiritual death and rebirth as we grow, and how hitting the wall is a normal part of the process. Otherwise how would we transcend?

After finishing the highly detailed Milarepa painting, I needed to prime my creative pump with a simple painting. So, I chose this lovely dancing Nepalese Shiva that I had painted before. Here they are side be side. Milarepa had been so amazing to work on, in a pain-staking kind of way. I spent about 3 hours on the nimbus, or halo around his head. Shiva, on the other hand, was pure paint-by-number delight! I could relax and get the flow going.

It is so essential for me to keep my creative momentum with regular art-making and meditation. Then the wall is easier to scale!

How do you find your creative flow?

Part of the Creative Process

Through making art as part of my lifestyle, I see recurring stages in the creative process. It has helped me to see these stages happening so I can stay in the flow and move through the harder parts of the process. These steps translate to many creative areas  in my life: business, relationships, fitness, yoga and meditation.

 

1.     Ideas and inspiration – this part is easy! There are so many possibilities and inspiration feels uplifting overall. If I have a block about what to make, it is important to choose something to do even if it is a compromise. You can always do another painting. I usually save inspiring images on my phone or hang them around my studio for my later projects.

2.     Begin the project – This can be challenging because the vastness of inspiration is being funneled into something concrete. Over time, I have learned how to begin a project to the point that this has a flow. It is just one step at a time:

a.     Gather supplies and references

b.     Sketch and transfer images

c.      Paint flat colors in the painting – this part is so fast and gratifying!

3.     Development and refinement – Definitely the uphill part of the process! Usually, I don’t already have the skills to do what I envision, so I have to learn and earn those skills. The first part of this process is somewhat grueling, and then as the skills become stronger, the process accelerates and is easier to complete. In general, I paint from the background to the foreground. This generates momentum because the background is usually larger than the foreground. Also, I am usually more excited about painting the subject or foreground: it is like eating your veggies and having dessert later. :)

4.     Refinement and completion – This phase usually has a downhill momentum as the steps that need to be completed are clear. Details often take more time than I was expecting, but it is a clear process. For me, finishing a painting is usually quick and anti-climactic in a good way.

5.     Hang and enjoy – Now you get to live with the art! Or give it to someone else to live with. It has a life of its own. I will usually notice things that can be improved, but I try to relax with this saying: “finished, not perfect.” The creative energy of this process lives in the painting and inspires the next wave in my life.

How do you experience creative process in your life?