On the Trail

Awhile ago, I took of a photo of an old oak tree that was perhaps misshapen by the elements and because of this, it was fascinating, beautiful to my eye.  I loved the way it bent and twisted and yet reached towards the sky.  Gnarly could be a word to describe it.  I could see the beauty in gnarly although the word, gnarly, doesn’t have a great connotation.

That said, my mind equated it to beauty.  I am neither an experienced nor representational painter.  Yet, this photo image of the tree spoke to me.  I used it as inspiration for my painting of a stylized Tree.  Too many of us think of trees as inanimate, as non-communicative, as unfeeling.

I’m reading a book, Braiding Sweetgrass, by the author, Robin Wall Kimmerer.  She is Native American and her family was shifted from reservation to reservation.  She remembers the Pecan Trees in the various places where she and her family have lived over the generations.  The Pecan Trees–no matter where they are physically located across the country–all produce the fruit, the pecan nut, at the same time.  And, then, they don’t produce for years at a time.  What is gleaned from this fact, is that there is an underground communication system among the pecan trees whereby they concur, regardless of climatic conditions and local geographic factors, to produce fruit.

Fascinating, right?  So walking on a trail by the lake yesterday, I encountered a friend riding his bicycle.  We chatted briefly in a casual way.  Then, out of the blue, he says that he communicates with the trees during his seven mile bike ride around the lake.  That when he moved here many years ago, he was impressed with the trees, their beingness.  That he felt he could turn to them for counsel.
Haven’t some of them, the old growth, been standing here for years?”  He added, “Haven’t they seen the whole human play unfold?”

I was shocked by the synchronicity of my painting and his thoughts on trees.  I responded, “You are weird.”  By that I meant wow, how can it be that we’re both on this tree wavelength.  Today it occured to me how the earth, trees, nature, etc. infiltrate our thoughts and beings when we are receptive.  How they speak through us about what is needed to preserve life on earth.  The conservation efforts, the environmental impetus of a world in jeopardy.  Are these quests all earth and nature-instigated?  Humans think they have these brilliant ideas…but who is our coach and guide?  The earth herself, perhaps.

At some point, maybe we realize that we are the spokespersons for our planet.  At some point, we might remember that we are visitors here. We hope to leave this earth home that we’ve only borrowed, intact and viable for future generations.  And, for the other life forms that exist, survive and thrive here besides humans.

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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.

 

Goals

Goals can give a context within which I live my life.  For a long time, my main goal was survival.  Then, it morphed into the desire for wholeness.  Occasionally, I’ve had a weight loss goal.  Some new years, I’ve made a resolution or two.  How well I stuck to those resolutions varied.

Are you goal-driven?  Are you curiosity-driven?  Are you intuitively guided?  Something else?  All of the above?  Recently, I listened to a podcast by Elizabeth Gilbert and she admitted to being curiosity-driven…that following her curiosities is not only the way that she writes books, it is the way that she lives her life.  Interesting.  Adventurous for sure!

If I’m honest with myself, I would say that setting a goal and achieving it in material terms, hasn’t been my forte.  Recently, there has been a change in the circumstances of my life.  I am now responsible for the maintenance of my little cottage.  As a direct result of that change, I’ve started saving money.  It’s a high priority on the goals list that I jotted down on January 1st, 2020.

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I was thinking about the word aspiration as compared to the word, goal.  One definition of aspiration is “a desire or ambition for which someone is motivated to work very hard.”  To aspire to something isn’t quite the same as setting a goal.  Designing a plan to reach that to which you aspire implies that you have now set a goal.

I don’t consider that I’m goal-driven in the sense that our culture appears to–acquiring things.  I decide on what’s in front of me to do next.  I don’t follow my curiosity as much as I’d like to except when I am painting.  And that curiosity calls forth my intuition as a work of art evolves.

Anyway, following is this short video by Elizabeth Gilbert on purpose, passion and curiosity.  I would add that besides being curious, she is also goal-oriented.  She works with a publisher and has a contract to write a certain number of books.

 

Wordplay & Stream of Consciousness Fun

Sometimes, the mind wants (and needs) a vacation from all of the hard work it does.  Always trying to figure out that which is complex can be wearing.  Following is a fun exercise, a flight of fancy break for the mind and all of its logic

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Spontaneously choose any letter of the alphabet.

Write as many words (and/or phrases) as you can in one minute that begin with your chosen letter.

Then, list the words, one on each line, to begin a sentence.  Write one sentence using the word on that line.  See if you can establish a flow from one line to the next.  Or not.  No effort…see where your stream of consciousness goes.

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Here’s mine.
I chose the letter “F.”

These were the words or phrases I wrote in one minute’s time:

Frazzled, frayed, fizzle, fleet of foot, fools, frumpy, fried, fiddlestiks, fluffy, flat, fanciful, forgetful, frolic

Then I began each sentence with one of these words or phrases:

Frazzled becomes bedazzled
Frayed is remade
Fizzle sides with sizzle
Fleet of Foot couples with sleight of hand or is it faint of heart?
Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread. Is that because they live with dread(locks)?
Frumpy is better than dumpy–it could be frumpy chic
Fried Fiddlesticks–squid and riddles stick in the brain–loosen up girl
Fluffy or flat–what is–could be pancakes
Fanciful could be a dreamy way to live–Walter Mitty style–does he get
the girl in the end?
Forgetful isn’t the same as wild imagination–it’s just that your mind
dwells in other possibilities.
To frolic is an actual path through life.
Let’s go down by the river and frolic.

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Every thought, word, or phrase can go somewhere or nowhere.  We live without certainty and we die without knowing how we came to be here.

Permission to have a little fun along the way.

(Share what you wrote if you like.)

 

 

Being in the Creative Stew

Sometimes, I make a request into the ethers, “Which direction do I pursue in my life/career?” or “What is the next step with this short story I’m writing?”  or “Where do I go now with this painting in process?”

The next uncomfortable position is to find myself in the creative stew!  For awhile, I simmer there without understanding what is going on.  Feelings of uncertainty, doubt, discomfort arise and I probe these feelings.  “What?  What?”  I forget that I asked the question(s) or invoked help and that I’m on the edge of unknowing, the precipice of what’s next.

I have been known to call this the “fertile void”.  Though there is nothing apparent on the horizon, I have invoked the powers that be to show me a direction, how to proceed.  Inwardly, I churn.  I feel discomfort.  An inner edginess.  And resistance too.  All these things and feelings bubbling in the cauldron of “where do I go from here?”  Sometimes, the harder you push, the more elusive the answer.

When a writer, poet, artist is creating something…there are bound to be times when they are stuck and can’t see the next step.  They’ve been deep in process, things seemed to be flowing and then…nothing.  Flat out, nothing.  Whether at the desk or canvas, they are inwardly working something out.  When I remember that this is what is going on, there is some relief.  “Ah, yes, I’m in that disconcerting void place.  It looks like there is no forward movement.  How long is it going to last?  Is there something that I need to do to get unstuck!!??

At these times, I’ve found, the best thing to do is to walk away for awhile, literally and figuratively.  The impasse is in place.  Do something to take your mind off of it.  Dance, do the laundry, get out in nature, do something you are good at.  Anything that isn’t related to the dilemma.

Simultaneously, it’s a time of deep listening and seeing.  Sometimes, answers come to us indirectly, through metaphor.  Other times, someone says something like “You are really good at painting portraits.”  or “I appreciate your sensitivity.  It comes through in your poetry.”  During this time of uncertainty, it pays to be alert to clues as to what the next step is.  Sometimes, a direction presents  in a dream.  You might wake up one morning and know exactly what to do next.

Regardless, this gestation period is part of the creative process, not separate from it.  We ride it out.  We trust.  The flow returns.

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Alone (from an earlier journal writing)

I almost turned the car around and drove home although I had booked a cottage for the night.  I didn’t come to Ashland to feel into the loneliness.  I wanted a day of escape.  Now, I had a sudden longing for home and the usual distractions that occupy me.

There is a lot going on in my life right now.  People close to me are gravely sick.  I give, sometimes over-give, or just carry the weight of things.  I’m taking too many online classes.  I need real people who are in good health to counterbalance the rest.  Virtual people don’t help with loneliness.

Earlier in the day, I had lunch at a favorite cafe–alone.  I went to see a movie–alone.  I walked out of the movie theater after fifteen minutes of watching the actors go through torment.  Why watch other people’s drama on a big screen?  Even if the acting is good, who needs it?  I went out to dinner–alone.  And now, I’m in a newly renovated cottage, again, alone.

I hadn’t unpacked the car yet.  A pang of loneliness surfaced and I got in the car to drive home.  As I was driving down the alley, four stately deer blocked my path.  They are accustomed to people.  They stood there for a few minutes.  I waited–the spotlight on them.  They were unfazed by the car or me.  They neither leapt nor ran.  They either stood stationary or they mosied.  I groped for the camera and got one hazy photo of the youngest deer, though not a good one.  It was at that point that I committed to staying for the night.

This room smells like fresh paint.  There is no television.  It’s weird to be in a large room without my “stuff” floating around me in familiar disarray.  The cottage has a sweet creature comfort–a jacuzzi tub, bath salts and a candle–why not?

I got my luggage from the car and unpacked.  I lit the candle, set it beside the tub, said a prayer, took a bath.  I practiced the familiar rituals of quieting myself.  Tomorrow is another day.  For now, it’s my time.  Self-nurture can soothe the feeling of loneliness and get one through a difficult moment.

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In our culture, there are a lot of lonely people.  We certainly aren’t alone in our loneliness.

 

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Lost at Sea

When I painted this piece in my journal, I was feeling adrift.  So much was out of my hands in regards to the well-being of those I love.

I wrote:

I cannot pretend anything–neither false affection nor that I am practicing a devotion except for this writing and this painting.

Rain today, rain tomorrow.  They’ve colored the sky gray.  The optimism of our generation is deflated.  We wanted to hold up banners of “BRAVA!”  But we are too wise to think that things could be different, better.  We are humans, only humans.  Only that…is that true?  or only an excuse?  We are each the chosen one.  The nadis–weave them all together–then, there’s a wholeness.  In our disconnect, we are adrift in our own limited consciousness.  Out at sea, each in his/her own skincraft.  Aren’t we always looking for a friendly shore upon which to land.  A welcome home sign, a cry of recognition–

“Yay, you’re here.”

 

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Do You Consider Yourself a Feminist?

Sorting through my many files of writing–with the intention of shredding some of it, I came across a questionnaire from my college-age granddaughter…she was writing a paper about my generation of women.

The first question was “Do you consider yourself a feminist?”  As I rewrite this question here, I wonder if the concept of feminist even exists in other cultures.  I’d like to know.  Or does it belong to a time and era, culture and country, localized?

Regardless, it’s food for thought.  Once I answered, yes, I consider myself a feminist, the question arose…How do you define feminism?  I pose that same question to you, the reader.

One dictionary definition of feminism is:  “The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities…” A second definition:  ” Organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests.”

Then I elaborate.  I think that it’s important to realize that in 1787 when the US Constitution was ratified, where it says that “all men are created equal” it refers to educated white males.  Though women in this country were granted the right to vote as of August 18, 1920, the mentality that classed women as property and inferior to men exists to this day.  Within the mindsets of both women and men, women continue to have less status than men in this country–and throughout most of the civilized and third world countries.  Is it changing?

We hear examples of this inequality around the world daily.  Though it is less explicit in this country, wherever women are objectified–popular men’s magazines (like Playboy), sitcoms and movies that portray women as “dumb,” crimes against women that aren’t effectively addressed, the lack of education that would enhance women’s self-esteem and re-educating men to foster respect for the contributions of womankind, up close and personal and globally–the very roots of change that are being undermined today contribute to this inequality.

Truly, the personal is political.  One thought that I would add in defining feminism is this:  Women do have gender-specific abilities, responsibilities, qualities that men obviously don’t have.  One cannot command respect.  That said, a reframing of the intrinsic value of women’s work both to a household and its benefits to a society should not go unrecognized and unappreciated.  That the tasks that are particular to her gender, specifically, childbearing, nurturing, intuiting, nourishing and any other innately feminine traits be honored as worthy and equal to any work that a man does out in the world  boosts esteem.  Different but equal was a phrase commonly used in the sixties when women were burning their bras.  I don’t think that what that statement means is reflected in our policies yet today.

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Are you a feminist?
How do you define feminism?
A good discussion topic with your friends?

In the groove

When you write regularly, you can write regularly.  When there are stops and starts between your writing, whether poetry or prose, the flow is interrupted.  Working with the poet/teacher Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge over a period of several days, the poetry kept coming.  Writing (and reading) this poem, I enter the surreal world that poetry can create without making excuses for itself.

Ocean Eyes
©by Christine O’Brien

I have ocean eyes
roving, moving
looking for home
cathedrals in Toledo Spain
cafes that stay open all night
laughing voices
lifting on warm breezes.
Whose experience can I engage
to make a better-seeming life?
Is it best to go North
is truth to be found there?
Or to the center?
Every day, I fall into
some rabbit hole
and a greedy fear seizes me.
I reside here so often,
it feels like a second home.

Tonight, at 7:30 p.m. precisely,
I put on my pajamas
entered the cave
and danced ecstatically,
among the stalactites.
They’ve discovered gold in Spain
let’s join the rush
pack up our stereos, leave the car keys
and go!
Don’t break the mirrors on your way out
or do break them.

I’m late again.  When I arrive,
the gold is all gone
or was it only a hoax,
something concocted by those
crazy, grazing cows on the side of the road
late last night
grazing right into my dreams
their big cow heads
shoving down between
blades of sleep,
I patted them
and felt their spindly
slobber on my bare breast.

Rain fell like ocean spray
and I entered through
this center of gravity
again too late to reap the reward.
The prize eternally moving,
just out of reach.
It’s the journey, not the prize
that matters
the white rabbit bellows
and I tweak his whiskers for being
such a smart ass.
My house is portable
My home is me
Oh woman of the Moon
on the move.

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I realize that a surreal poem is not unlike an abstract painting.  Go for it!

Giving Your Creative Best

…this is the way I give praise.  It isn’t to be the best…it is to be my best.

Sometimes, I get into a fret wondering what is my purpose?  What is the body of work that I have to contribute either in writing or painting?  What is mine and  mine alone to share?  How am I making the world a better place for my being here?

Do you ever ask these questions?  Or wonder about your purpose?  Of course, if we get into comparison, we see people out there who seem to be driven with purpose from the beginning.  Those who make a positive impact.

Like Jane Goodall…

Watching this documentary over the past few nights, I’m struck by Jane Goodall’s sense of purpose.  Her early childhood knowing that she had a calling.  And, although she didn’t know how she was going to achieve that calling, she trusted in it and perhaps put herself in places of opportunity.  She had a supportive mother who let her believe that her dreams were possible (as outlandish as they might have appeared to others).  Jane didn’t know how it was going to unfold, but unfold it did.

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Most of the people in my circles don’t seem to have such a follow the breadcrumbs course to their purpose.   For me, it’s been more of an obstacle course.  And then an effort to decipher what was that all about?  I find myself looking for meaning in a life that has been turned upside down several times.

Is there a purpose to be derived from a life riddled with complexities–my own intricacies influenced by others?

Does my purpose center around what am I learning from this life of challenges?  Is this what I can share?  The hard won life lessons?  Is my “purpose” woven into these?

In our culture, do we make way too much of having a purpose?  Does even the option to consider your purpose depend on your economic status?  If you are in survival mode, your purpose is to survive.  The self-actualization hovering at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs…if the other needs on the ladder are met, then we might have time to consider purpose.  Then again, we’ve all heard the rags to riches stories.

What is that one magical thread that you seek to give meaning to your life?  Some people never ponder this…they live their lives.  Some with a greater degree of consciousness than others.  Is their life of any less value for not pondering these questions?

Is it as I said at the start of this blog?–
this is the way I give praise.  It isn’t to be the best…it is to be my best.