A Friend Was Dying

I continue to post paintings from the year 2016 on this blog and recall the inspiration behind them.  It was a prolific year for me.  I painted almost daily.  And when I couldn’t, I felt antsy and frustrated.  Picking up that brush and moving paint around often felt like the most grounded and satisfying part of my day.

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There was an early winter blizzard–a storm that blocked impasse.  The highway north was closed.  My friend was in hospice care thirty miles north of where I live.  There was no chance of me getting there to sit with her.  Thus, this cow…this pink cow!  I have no idea where this came from or what it actually symbolizes.  I only know that this is exactly what I was supposed to paint in the moment.

 

IMG_9106

Making art engages you.  It takes you on a parallel journey to whatever else is going on in your life.  Surrender is a large part of the creative process.  Through surrender, you discover something beyond what you already know about yourself and
the creative process.

Inherent in the surrender is a leap of faith.  Faith that what you are painting is serving some purpose beyond what you realize.  Yes, it is a distraction or a diversion from whatever else is going on in your life.  And, it also helps to integrate a difficult feeling.  It can offer a degree of acceptance in a circumstance where we feel helpless.  Calling on creativity in these moments heals something within.  There is a sense that this is exactly what you’re supposed to be doing in this particular moment in time.

My friend passed away later that day.  Whenever I see this painting, I am reminded of her Goddess presence.

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What purpose has art and creativity in all of its forms served for you?  The old biblical saying “Don’t hide your light under a bushel” comes to mind…we each have a gift to be shared.  In the times of sheltering at home, it seems to take an added effort to discover ways to share your light…but then, you are creative beyond measure and I’m guessing you’re going to come up with some way to let your light be seen.

Writing as a Spiritual Practice

I think I first heard it from Natalie Goldberg…that writing was her spiritual practice. It seems that she was practicing sitting meditation with a Zen Master.  She struggled a bit.  Finally, her Zen Master suggested that perhaps writing was her spiritual discipline/practice.  He told her “If you go deep enough in writing, it will take you everyplace.”

Do you show up for writing daily?  Do you get the feeling of connecting with something greater and deeper than your ordinary life through writing.  Do you enter a domain that you did not construct but within which you reside for a brevity of time–non-ordinary time?  Is it outside the realm of what the outer world requires of  you?

I sensed that writing was my spiritual practice in the late seventies.  Out of desperation or perhaps out of my soul’s necessity, the pen and the page called to me like a whisperer in the night.  I hadn’t heard of the practice of journal writing in those days.  It hadn’t become popularized quite yet.  There weren’t bookshelves laden with paisley-covered  empty journals, lined or unlined.

For me, lined spiral-bound notebooks marked the beginning of this practice.  And it was daily, nightly, whenever I needed a companionable friend to talk to.  This newly discovered partner was so receptive.  It stood by me and bore any emotion, sorrow, hope, fear, optimism, resurrection…everything over the years.

Showing up for writing was a daily practice. It offered soul connection, enabling me to process through something and arrive at a better place, eventually.  Sometimes the journey was long, harsh and unyielding.  But the page heard it all with neither complaint nor judgment, like a gentle confessor with the power to heal.  These journals have borne witness to the descent and resurrection over and over again.  Writing as a spiritual practice has been an avenue towards the integrity of my body, spirit and mind.

 

Unintentional Creativity

In a way, I think of Intentional Creativity as a more logical (or masculine) approach to directing your creativity.  The artist affects the process by choosing an intention.  The intention propels the creative expression in a mindful way “to support growth and healing.”  In other words, the artist “creates around their intention.”

Of equal value is unintentional creativity which I consider a “feminine” or intuitive approach to initiating making art.  Making random marks on a fresh canvas, dripping or swiping colors over the canvas, paint doodling, intuitively choosing colors, layering, etc. could seem to be “going nowhere.”  However, what I’ve found is that this is an opportunity for the deeper psyche to express itself.  As I get to a certain stage in this free play process, I might begin to see shapes, images rising to the surface of my awareness.  Some of them I bring forth, others retreat into the background.  Some I paint or collage over, others I refine.

This is my preference for now.  That said, I notice that once I paint the “I don’t know where this is going random marks,” I get to the place of crafting a painting.  Then my marks become more intentional as I bring a piece into its final form.  I can’t say that I have chosen a specific intention for the painting even at this point.  I’m allowing the piece to show and tell me what wants to be revealed.

Truly, both styles of painting overlap and weave through any process.  However, when I try to “force” my painting to go a certain way, I find that I can be blocked.  Any piece has a sort of self-determination.

I painted the piece below to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.  For me, painting this felt like a wild ride that intensified as I went.  Painting is an energetic process.  There is the possibility of transformation both of the canvas and one’s own emotional state.

Tchaikovsky.2019

Cycles of Creation

“The cycle of creation, of rising and falling energy, is as it should be. In this sense there is no such thing as creative block, or writers block. There is a time when creative energy flows like a river underground and disappears for a time, in the meantime making something, creating a new body, and then emerging again.”

— Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I have known this to be true from my own experience.  When people talk of writer’s block or tell me that they are not inspired, I remind them of this.  That what we perceive as a block or a lack of inspiration only means that we have entered what I term the fertile void.  In this place, the material of the deep psyche is mingling with your life experiences and your soul quest.  It is in this place that something new is brewing.

Within the fertile void, there is a sort of amnesia.  Even the very things that I’ve been passionate about don’t arouse the energy to bring them to fruition.  And, I lose direction of where to go next with these passionate ideas.  Desolate and aimlessly wandering, I face frustration and lack impetus.  In those times, if I can remember that this too is part of the creative cycle, I might find some relief.  Learning to recognize and trust the creative process at such times, is helpful and hopeful.

This point of seeming stuckness in the creative cycle is not something that needs to be solved.  We see it mirrored in  the wiles and cycles of nature.  If we live in a place with four seasons, we are especially privy to these cycles.  Within her blossoming spring, simmering summer and picturesque autumn, we see momentum and purpose.  Then, that immobilizing frigid winter comes and there is limitation, slowing, hunkering down, waiting it out and inward searching.  When I remember to welcome the winter, I am privy to her gifts.  This fallow time of rest, going inside literally and figuratively,  allowing the integration, rather than resisting it helps.  Winter, this seemingly inert time, is vital to the creative process.  It is not only restorative, it harbors the potential of spring.

This does not mean that I am unproductive during the time of inwardness.  Instead, I can work on creative projects that I’ve stashed away…things like knitting or sewing or cooking a gourmet meal to share.  I might clear out some old files that really do feel stagnant.  I might study something new or even learn Spanish–a promise I’ve made to myself.

How do you experience the fallow time?  What resources do you call on to see you through?

 

The Stone’s Story

I do not for a second believe it when someone says to me: “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.”  Or, “I didn’t get that gene.”

Like anything that one values, your own brand of creativity needs attention.  If you show up and pay attention, inspiration is everywhere and the point where you and inspiration intersect is a creative opportunity.  Creativity isn’t about perfection or making a painting or drawing like someone else.  It’s about tapping into your own unique expression.  And it takes DARING.  Especially in the beginning.  Below is an invitation to you to dare to be creative in a way that is unique to you.  Yes, you get to foster your own creativity!  Have fun.

In her book, Freeing the Creative Spirit, artist/author Adriana Diaz, offers a guided meditation, drawing and writing exercise with a stone or river rock that you select
as your object and subject.  She calls it “The Counsel of Stone.”  Have you ever journeyed with a stone?  Have you considered the stories it holds, the messages it conveys?  I have.  You are invited to follow suit, if you choose.

Stone Consciousness
© by Christine O’Brien

I know loneliness
a stone separated
from it’s streambed
My particular glamour
is less appealing here
Or, residing here for nine years,
have I become part of the wallpaper
unseen, too familiar
Like this displaced stone
am I commonplace
or too old
This stone a misshapen buddha
solitary bodhisattva
witness to its own cleaving
remembering the whole
What dissension shattered humankind
into this separation
Lonely and separate as this scarred stone
praised for its cool detachment
who cares to hear
the untold encrypted story

A star has fallen
to the bottom of the sea
fossilized
while a starfish rises into
the darkening sky
alternating realities
God is in us
is all right with the world
Has the stone learned compassion
Is that the panacea for such loneliness

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Go ahead and find your  stone and seek its counsel.  Study it from every side, notice its angles and curves, any markings, hold it in your palm, draw it, meditate with it, write about what is revealed to you in a poem or prose.  Just do it!

Share here under comments if you like.

Grieve Deeply, Laugh Loudly

pic2We’ve heard this, right?  In order to feel the joy, you have to feel the sorrow.  If you shut off one part of yourself, you are shutting off being fully alive.  How you relate to your emotional life is going to affect your writing and creativity.

Poetry has been the greatest facilitator of the big emotions for me.  Journal writing and painting are close seconds.  I’ve learned that as I’m able to be present with an emotion, I then pass through that territory.  I come out the other side intact and a bit more integrated.

To be an effective writer, finding a way to say “I feel sad” without explicitly stating “I feel sad,” comes with practice.

Below is an excerpt from a piece I wrote in 2011.  My parents had died six months apart following several years of their decline and concurrent family disruption.

“I stopped at Burger Express.  It seemed like a burger was called for.  Single patty with cheese, no special sauce, no onions.  Yes to catsup.  Yes to small fries.  No book to read.  Waiting for my order.  Staring out at the falling snowflakes.  Staring out at nothing.  Squinting and staring at signs across the street.  Staring.  The wait person calls my number.  I take the red tray and head towards a little tucked-away table.  A man sitting at the counter asks “Are you going to share half of that with me?”  I recognize an acquaintance’s warm voice.  I stop to say hello and tell him that my Mom died last week.  I am telling everyone it seems.  Now, the cook, cashier and waitperson at Burger Express know too.  He is sorry.  His Dad died a year ago.  His Mom, 84, lives an hour south of here.  Everything is so tentative.  He gives me a big hug in his bear arms.  “If there is anything I can do, let me know.” He adds “Seriously.”  I thank him.  How I’d like to be held in strong arms for half a day.  I think that would really help.  It gets old, this wrapping my own arms around myself all the time.”

In this short excerpt, do you get a sense of my grief?  Did writing about this help me?  In some odd way, yes.  I wasn’t in denial of these feelings and I found refuge through writing these words.

WRITING PROMPT:
How do you write about the feeling of sadness?  Typically, this type of writing is only for you.  Do you allow yourself to fully express your sadness in writing, poetry or painting or any other creative outlet?

 

 

“Creativity is not Comfortable”

Awhile ago, I jotted down this quote from Billy Wilder,  “an Austro-Hungarian born American filmmaker, screenwriter, producer, artist, and journalist….”  He is long gone from this earth plane…however, as you know, quotes live on.

Creative beings who’ve been practicing their art, know this quote–“Creativity is not comfortable”–in a deeply experiential way.  They understand the edges, precipices, walls; the angst, internal subterfuge and the pushing through.  They understand the daring and the doing despite doubts, fears and/or internal or external pressure to halt!

Why is creating so uncomfortable?  I think it is partly because when you are fully in the creative process, you, yourself go through changes as you create.

TRANSFORMATION could be a synonym for creativity.

Webster’s Dictionary, in defining transformation says “…to change a thing into a different thing.  Transform implies a major change in form, nature, or function…”

mandala.2017ITS

On the canvas, I resist because things are going to be disrupted and perhaps even “ugly” for awhile.  If I am attached to what is on the canvas, it’s going to be hard to let it go.  When I’m backed into a creative corner, I have to make a move that can feel forced upon me in some way.  There is a risk as I leave my comfort zone and engage the unknown. This whole process brings to my awareness the stuck places inside of me, the resistance and lack of daring.  It’s complex, right?

Ultimately, I love my creations, whether poetry, prose, painting or crafting.  And I often surprise myself with what comes.

Writing Prompt:
Do you prefer your “comfort zone” when it comes to writing or making art?  Or do you enjoy the adventure beyond comfort?  When you venture past the borders of the familiar, do you experience doubt as to whether or not you can create something that is “successful”?  Is that a fair requirement of yourself as you are in this process?  And, do you care about what others are going to think?  Do you make that more important than staying true to your artist’s journey?

Write your answers to these questions in your writer’s journal.  Be truthful with yourself.