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?

Darkness in Perspective

Am I afraid of the dark? Or am I limited in my perspective?

The painting I am working on now is a Cosmic Green Tara. She is in the vastness of outer space, which appears to our eyes as a dark color.

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The first stages of painting the background seemed like smoke in the darkness. I was nervous and resistant as this was the first time I had painted outer space. The deeper I worked into the painting, the more it developed into something new, beautiful and captivating.

The unknown, the things we can't see clearly, the things we don't have a context for yet - these often appear as darkness and we may feel an aversion to them. The darkness has more to do with our point of view and what is familiar to us. How often my world changes when I get to know someone or something better.

 

Just a Poem

Just sharing a poem today that is speaking to me in my life:

Seasons in the Mind by Kabir

There are seasons in the mind,
great currents and winds move there,

the true yogi ties a rein to them; a power plant
she becomes.

Winter, spring, summer, fall: these are pages
in a book the advanced can turn to,
and impart.

Order is a great benefit to the seeker,
otherwise living in one's own house can become as
walking through a marketplace

where all the merchants keep shouting,
"You owe me."

That does not sound like
much fun

and who could accomplish anything
in all that
noise.

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Epic in Increments

When I was new to making art regularly, a good friend asked me if I would make large paintings of my subjects. I had been making 12" x 16" paintings and I told her it felt like all I could handle at the time!

I had to get a handle on what I could handle, and then scale up from there.

Scaling up happens in a sweet spot somewhere between what I can handle and what is completely beyond me. Like the Buddha's insight  about the Middle Way listening to the musician on the river: "if you tighten the string too much it will break, if it is too loose it will make no sound."  

I have a tendency to want the next level of epic growth RIGHT NOW! Damnit!  Forcing things can do more harm than good, breaking the string. I am learning that my growth feels more like a slow cooker.

Scaling up is also contagious. Hanging out with people who are bigger than I am in the areas I wish to expand. Maybe they'll give me a ride in their airplane...

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I'm scaling up with a new painting: taking things larger, trying a few new techniques that are stabilized by methods I have been working on. Scaling up with a good foundation.

How do you scale up?

You're not Alone

One of the best parts of starting a new painting is putting my team together. Assembling my resources, calling in the troops.

I really never do it alone.

And when I thought I had to do it alone in order to be authentic/original/creative – I was hardly doing it and tying myself up in knots in the fruitless process.

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To create the team behind a new piece, I gather references, usually from more accomplished artists than myself. On the easel this week, Faith Stone’s book Drawing Buddhas and Bodhisattvas is on the left and Robert Beer’s Buddhist Art Coloring Book 2 on the right.

I hope some of their grace will rub off on me. And I hope my work will express my gratitude as we all reach for a new level.

Who’s on your team?

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.  

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.

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.

Chill with the Chaos

Things usually look like hell for a large part of the painting process. Especially portraits - everyone looks old and blotchy. Not suitable for public viewing. A bystander might nod and hum in sympathy that I am working so hard at something so crappy.

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I heard a great quote - "if you are going through hell, keep going." I can really relate this to my spiritual growth and to the process of making art. One of my art and meditation friends said that she will put at least one mark on her painting everyday.

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The "in-between" phase of the process is actually where all the magic is setting in. Things feel unfamiliar because our brains are stretching and new neural pathways are forming. It is a journey into pure possibility and being a vehicle for creative energy.

Interestingly, I have made paintings more by rote, where the process is clear and the in-between wasn't a challenge. And these paintings lacked the magic and refinement. They almost felt like cartoons of a painting.

The more time I spend in the in-between, the more comfortable and relaxed I am navigating this new terrain.

What do you do in-between?

 

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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

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?

Why make art and meditate?

This past weekend, Deepak and I facilitated a Shambhava Meditation Teacher Training intensive at Chi-town Shakti in Chicago. It was so wonderful to reaffirm the WHY behind my practice and spend time in the nourishment of meditation.

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The amazing Meditation Teacher Training Grads at Chi-Town Shakti!

It takes a lot of courage to go within and sit with yourself, especially on a consistent basis. There are a million compelling reasons to fix the world around us and avoid sitting. I remember being a new meditator and the eternity of chanting a mala of mantra and sitting for twenty minutes. I was in denial about what inner skills I actually had, which were pretty weak.

My meditation practice has shown me that the challenges of life have a root in me. Fortunately, the solutions are also within, as is the fulfillment we are seeking in life. When I sit to meditate, I become present and open to experience the Inner Self, the goal of meditation that is a natural part of who we are. Meditation is a process of relaxing into this experience while releasing the things that obscure it: the tensions and emotions of the mind and reactions to our lives. This process of release is what my teacher calls surrender.

Reconnected to the purpose of my practice, I was so refreshed to return to teaching yoga after the meditation training.

Why do you meditate?