Saturday, July 31, 2010

Peaceful reflections

One of the many gifts I'm finding in my classwork is that both classmates and teachers are encouraging me to question my assumptions.  Assumptions seem to me to be a bit like blind spots: we operate out of them, make decisions based upon them, and yet often have no clue that they exist.

I suspect that's one of the distinct values -- and challenges, of course -- of living in a community, and living in a family.  Yes, it can be challenging to cope when someone points out some aspect of your behavior or personality that you hadn't already recognized for yourself.  But the wisdom of friends and family-- if they're willing to speak up, and you're willing to listen -- can be extraordinarily helpful.

... which means we, too, can offer that gift to others; can challenge them on their assumptions and behaviors in a way that invites them to new growth.  That can take courage, and a willingness to listen to your own intuition. And our insights can only be effectively shared in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect -- which is one of the reasons I'm in this program in the first place: I want to know what it takes to build that kind of openness, trust and respect into workplaces and communities.

So what does this image (completely unaltered), which rose up for me today out of all those great fog shots I took yesterday, have to say about this?  The first and most obvious thing I notice is how brightly that white boat glows against the darkness of the surrounding scenery.  It feels to me like an invitation to adventure; to step out into truth and light, to release the ties to that darkness and embark on a new and hopeful journey.  Perhaps our assumptions are those ties?

The next thing I notice is the reflections, and how clear they are -- or can be, when the water is completely still.  I think we need to create those moments of stillness in our lives in order to reflect upon our surroundings, our choices, and our potential opportunities.  It's also true that there are some things on the outer edges of our experience -- like the tops of those trees -- which our limited perspective only allows us to see when we DO take time to reflect.  In this image the whole upper portion feels dark and looming; it is only the reflection (and the voice of experience) that tells us there is sky and light beyond where we can currently see.

But what I see also is that the boat is not the only option; that I could walk back up the dock, and I would still have several choices -- to go left, right or straight -- and each choice has its own opportunities for discovery.  Just because the boat is there, doesn't mean I'm supposed to untie it and paddle off into the unknown.  And of course, the fact is that this boat isn't mine, and if I WERE to take it I'd be stealing!  So, in a way, though I'd been assuming I was supposed to leap into the boat, I am exactly where I need to be in the moment I'm taking this picture, seeing what I need to see, doing what I was born to do, and that's just as it should be.  It's okay to stay in the moment and not rush into choosing a path or assume I'm supposed to be doing something other than exactly what I'm doing now.

Perhaps the image is simply that: an invitation to be at peace with who and where you are right now.  Don't assume you need to be anyone other than who you are, or anyplace other than where you are, or doing anything other than what you're doing right now: it's all good.

Friday, July 30, 2010

I break for fog

I ADORE shooting in fog, and fog is actually pretty rare on our little island.  So when I woke up this morning and looked out the bathroom window at a solid wall of pale grey, I abandoned my normal routines, grabbed my camera, and headed for Waterfront Park to shoot what turned out to be almost 250 pictures...  it was amazing.

This isn't necessarily a representative sample; it's a photo of our neighbor's dock, taken on the way back from my morning's activities.  But I love the way the crow stepped in at the last minute...

And of course -- since I just threw on my clothes and jumped in the car -- I forgot my cellphone (again).  So even though I returned with a 20 ounce cup of his favorite coffee, my husband still needed to point out that I'd forgotten to take the phone: turns out we have house guests arriving around noon, so he thought he'd better cancel his lunch date and oh-by-the-way we might need to do a little cleaning up?

Though the fog is lifting now at the park, it's still pretty thick at our end of the island, and part of me is itching to spend more time out there with my camera.  But guests come first -- especially the really special ones; the ones who were in our wedding, and came all the way from Vermont to visit a brother-in-law who just HAPPENS to live across the water from us.

So the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom are tidier now, but I really really need to shower and change, so I'll just leave you with this thought: some days it's okay to skip meditation practice!  Walking the docks, breathing the faintly salty damp air, feasting on the rich colors of the flowers and boats at the water's edge -- it all feeds my soul, and serves as a wonderful restorative in preparation for what looks like it might be an eventful day.

If you're feeling a bit fogged in yourself this morning, I hope it lifts by afternoon (as hopefully it will here) and you have a chance to enjoy the beautiful day.

It's all good!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The harbor at day's end

There is a quiet beauty in this image, a calm acceptance that the day has come to an end and it's okay to rest; that all is ready for the next day's adventures, and we can settle down to enjoy the sunset, the gentle lapping of the waves at the side of the boat, and the cries of the gulls at their final feeding of the day.

It's hard, I think, to give ourselves permission to rest; difficult to step away from all the projects we've got going and simply revel in an evening's peace.  My husband and I are fortunate, in that we have neighbors who make it a point to stop what they're doing and retire to their deck to watch the sunset every evening.  It's nice, when that time of day rolls around, to know they're out there, taking in the beauty as the sun disappears behind the Olympic mountains; nice, also, to know we're welcome to join them, that there are chairs enough to accommodate us all.

I had my first session as a coach yesterday, and in preparation for it I listened to a CD of sample coaching sessions on the ferry on the way over to Seattle.  And what I loved about what I heard -- which seemed different from spiritual direction and therapy sessions I've experienced -- was the way the coaches had of creating a safe and peaceful space for their clients.  It's a bit like the space that awaits us on our neighbors' deck; a place where you can ruminate on the challenges of the day, where you are free to grieve, or to imagine alternatives, or to dream... it's very freeing.

I'm not there yet -- I have a lot to learn about how to create that space -- but I can say that there were moments in our session where I felt my client and I, together, were in a deliciously open and accepting space, totally present and attuned to one another.  It had the same clarity and purity of feeling that I've gotten sometimes when meditating in a group setting; the same clarity and purity and acceptance and restfulness that I find in this image.  I felt a wonderful connection to my client, I have to say.  I could imagine that a life spent in sessions like these could prove enormously satisfying.

Hmm.  Who knows where this boat will take me?  Right now it doesn't matter; I am happy to be safe and quiet in my harbor, and ready for the next adventure.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A crack in the foundation

I think this morning -- though I've been reading both The Heart Aroused and books about coaching for my schoolwork (I will have my first session as a coach this evening) -- I will revert to a former practice on this blog and spend some time looking at the image that draws me today.

This is another of the images shot at the Fort Worden Bunkers -- I've just heightened the colors and changed the top a little.  It has a little statue-of-liberty-in-the-clouds feeling for me; when I first saw the original version I saved it as "I lift my lamp," because I could hear these words from the song we learned as children:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door

As an artist, I am thrilled by the colors and textures of that yellow/orange-into-purple section in the middle of the picture, and by the sort of ruffled feeling of the vertical arm.  But some other part of me feels that the purple clouds are obscuring some important part of the image, leaving her faceless, or blinded, or perhaps voiceless.  And then there's that ominous streak of what looks like blood above the central cloud...

So here's what came to me in the course of centering prayer this morning.  I know: centering prayer is supposed to be about creating a sort of inner silence, an emptiness.  But just as often -- for me -- it is about opening my awareness to what's blocking that silence.  And what's blocking the silence for me today is something that doesn't even affect me directly.  People close to me have created a situation which they all deem acceptable, but which from my perspective has all the seeds for a potential disaster.

My rational mind tells me -- repeatedly -- that if the disaster does occur, it will ultimately prove useful; an educational opportunity for all affected parties.  Another part of me is saying it's possible that because these people have different values from mine, the outcome may not be disastrous at all.  And another part of me is concerned with the fallout's effect on one particularly vulnerable individual.

But I suspect -- given the nature of my dreams last night  -- that what is really bothering me is the situation's unfortunate resonance with my own personal history.  Watching what appears to be history repeating itself -- though that may not be what is actually happening -- is awakening some uncomfortable old demons, and so I'm pretty edgy.  And the question is: what do I do with all this?

I've already explained my concerns to that vulnerable participant -- who acknowledges the underlying reason for my anxiety but suggests gently that this situation is completely different. So  I've said my piece, and must be silent now; perhaps that's why the cloud over the face in the image feels so stifling.  And perhaps that bloody smear is just about old wounds being reawakened, not about impending doom.

So maybe I need to get back to the roots of this image.  Because the fact is, what I photographed is just a crack in a foundation.  But that foundation still survives despite the crack.  Is that what's bothering me?  Could it be a sense of guilt for having run when my own foundation began to crack?  Clearly some things can continue to exist despite their cracks; perhaps I've been too hasty?  Am I willing this other situation to fail so that I won't feel bad about my own exit habits?

That is, of course, the question of the wounded healer: how do we know when what we are seeing is true, and when it is colored by our own woundedness?  Is what emerges from our woundedness wisdom?  Or is it simply a determination to project a particular lens onto other situations?  When do we trust our intuition, and when must we step back and away, understand that our vision may be faulty, and allow events to occur without interference?  And what do we do with the voltage that surges in us as we watch, even from a distance?

These, to me, are key questions for anyone who chooses to play the role of coach.  But it's also a key value of my meditation practice: it gives me the opportunity to step apart and observe, a chance to see what is being triggered in me and a chance to sit with that; to allow my own issues to surface in a quiet, separate space without spreading their toxicity onto others.  Which is not to say that's an easy place to sit. 

On the other hand, I have to believe -- it's all good.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Strolling the Via Negativa

This morning when I sat to drink my coffee I saw from my dining room window that this heron had elected to perch on the downed tree that lives on our beach. So of course I grabbed my camera and stepped outside -- though we see herons every day, they're not always this close, and the light isn't always that good.

Photography is always about choices and conscious decisions -- will I take the camera on this ferry trip?  Dare I interrupt this conversation -- or this bridge game -- to run out with my camera?  Do I shoot now, or wait till he goes for the fish?

And choices, in turn, are often about saying no to one thing in order to say yes to something else.  David Whyte, in  The Heart Aroused , calls that The Via Negativa.

"The Via Negativa is the discipline of saying no when we have as yet no clarity about those things to which we can say yes.  We take the via negativa when there is not yet any sign of the via positiva.  But in the continuous utterance of the no is a profound faith that the yes will appear -- not just because of the law of averages, but because we have said no to so much.  In a way, if we treat our destiny as a potential marriage, it chooses us as much as we choose it, and like a seeker for our hand, deems us to be seriou about it through our continued refusal of the wrong suitors.  We create in effect a kind of energetic vacuum into which something we recognize can appear."

For some reason that really struck me this morning.  Perhaps because I watched an old episode of Friends yesterday, the one in which Joey, having lost his role as Dr. Drake Ramoray in Days of Our Lives, refuses to try out for a role as a cab driver in Another World, believing "Something better will come along."  His friends point out that his reckless spending necessitates some financial compromises, so he eventually goes to the audition anyway, and blows it -- almost as if, even though some part of him has accepted the necessity for compromise, some other part of him is convinced the part is beneath him.

The via negativa seems to me to be challenging on a number of levels.  In an economy like this, can a man justify turning down a job he deems beneath him when he has a family to feed?  Or should he hold out for an opportunity worthy of his skills and experience?  That can be a difficult question to answer.  What about the woman who refuses a perfectly worthy suitor because she's waiting for Prince Charming to appear?  Do we really approve -- especially if her standards are so high no-one less than Prince William or Prince Harry could possibly meet them?

On a smaller scale these choices can become more clear but no less troublesome: if I want to say yes to a thinner, svelter me, I should say no to these chips.  But sometimes my mouth craves chips, and my weight's not THAT bad, so I say yes. If my boss asks my approval for something I think is foolish, I should say no, but I'm afraid of losing my job, so I say yes.  I'm in the checkout line and in a hurry, and my child grabs a candy bar, demanding that I buy it for her.  I should say no, but I don't want her to make a scene and I don't really have time to argue, so I say yes.  My church asks me to volunteer for a committee.  If I add another weekly meeting to my schedule I won't have enough time for my art or perhaps my children, but they are persistent, and they need me, so I say yes.

Saying no is just hard.  And sometimes it means defying a whole host of voices that are demanding a yes.    Saying no, says Whyte, is really an act of faith.  "As T.S. Eliot wrote ...

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope,
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing:
wait without love,
for love would be love of the wrong thing;
there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

One way to come to yes is to say no to everything that does not nourish and entice our secret inner life out into the world...We say no in order to bud and blossom in our own time, when saying yes might force us like a hothouse flower into a premature and evanescent bloom.  We guard the richness of our interior hopes and imaginings even when there as yet seems to be nothing in the outer world that confirms them.  When finally we do blossom, we may bear fruit in the most surprising and astonishing way."

In the end, saying no can necessitate a great deal of patience, courage, and faith.  But perhaps we can learn to say no to the big stuff if we start with the small stuff.

So what will you say no to today?

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

This is another of my images from the graffiti-covered walls of Fort Worden's bunkers. I shifted the colors and added the bird (who is probably quite unnecessary) but the rest of the image is just as I found it.

I keep thinking of that Milan Kundera title, "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" when I look at this image.  It seems to me to have a joyful exuberance to it, and it reminds me both of Paddington Bear in his little matching hat and raincoat (don't worry if you can't see it!) and of Pooh, following his own footsteps in the Hundred Acre Wood. (Get it? Un -BEAR-able?)


I've never read the Kundera book, but I do love that title.  So what do YOU think of when you think of "the unbearable lightness of being?"  To me it speaks of that longing for gravitas, for importance, to be thought valuable, to be taken seriously -- and I think that's because, while doing Centering Prayer this morning, I found myself confronting my competitive nature.

I was thinking back on a conversation that had happened at the dinner table last night, after our daughter called to tell us she was safely in Mongolia, and, from the distance of a few hours, I could see that some part of me had seen an opportunity to impress a visitor at the table, and I allowed that part of me to take over the conversation, selling myself instead of listening to what the visitor was really trying to say.

What is it in us -- or is it just in me? -- that can't be content to just listen, to invite confidences, but has to strut onto center stage and hammer its worth into the audience?  Why am I not content to just float happily on the sidelines, or find foolish delight in tracking my own footsteps?  Why does the heaviness of doing always seem to overcome the lightness of being? And how -- if I am to learn coaching -- will I ever learn to create a light, safe space for others to expand into if I insist on jumping into that space with my own leaden feet?

The good news I'm taking home from my classwork, and from my reading in  The Heart Aroused this morning, is that these kinds of struggles -- if and when I am conscious of them -- can inform and ignite my work.  Whyte tells a wonderful story of an ancient Chinese master potter who was attempting to create a new glaze for his porcelain vases.  "Every day he experimented with the chemistry of the glazes he applied, but still he could not achieve the beauty he desired and imagined was possible in the glaze.  Finally, having tried everything, he decided his meaningful life was over and walked into the molten heat of a fully fired kiln.  When his assistants opened up the kiln and took out the vases, they found the glaze on the vases the most exquisite they had ever encountered.  The master himself had disappeared into his creations.

Work is the very fire where we are baked to perfection," says Whyte. "and like the master of the fire itself, we add the essential ingredient and fulfillment when we walk into the flames ourselves and fuel the transformation of ordinary, everyday forms into the exquisite and the rare."

I have to hope that in unmasking my own demons I can become more effective at helping others unmask theirs.  But some of those demons are so ugly, it's hard not to want to run away from them.  I need to cultivate the light and welcoming feeling of this little lavender creature as the demons leave their dark sticky tracks across my psyche. Perhaps I need a refresher course on Centering Prayer's Practice of the Welcoming Prayer...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sometimes it's hard to watch...

Part of a mother's job is teaching her children to fly.  Watching them practice can be unnerving, but once they've got the hang if it she has to be ready to fold her wings and watch them fly away.

Yesterday we put our older daughter on a plane to Mongolia -- well, strictly speaking, on a plane to Vancouver, BC, where she spent part of the night in the airport before boarding a plane to Beijing.  Somewhere around 6:00 this evening she'll land in Beijing, and then, after a brief layover, she'll head to Ulaan Bataar, hopefully meet up with a friend, and then spend 2 1/2 weeks wandering.

Since she had written her thesis on Mongolia, it seemed -- when the opportunity arose -- utterly crazy not to take it.  But it was challenging to remain aloof from the packing and the planning, to trust (even though she spent 9 months living in Taiwan and a summer in Japan) that she could handle all the arrangements herself.  What must this heron mother think when she watches her scrawny little ones lift their incredible wings, not for the first time, but for the fourth, or fifth?  Does she ever stop wanting to give minor course corrections? And when they fly beyond sight distance, are they still on her mind?

I've known for some time, at an intellectual level, that there is a feminine aspect to God.  But I clearly remember the first moment I was actually able to internalize the divine femininity of God -- because it was also the first time I'd ever felt God as a physical, nurturing presence.  As my concepts and awareness of the Divine continue to evolve, I see that, for me, when God is "out there, somewhere," he is primarily male in my understanding.  When God feels close, touching or holding me, she becomes female: I keep having this image of a very large Native American woman cradling me in her arms, or someone delicate and airy resting a supportive hand on my shoulder.

And when God is within me?  I'm not really sure what that is, only that there is a sort of glow of recognition and a sense of rightness.  In some ways, that's the root of teaching our children to fly, I think -- helping them to find and recognize that sense of rightness within themselves, so they can take off, and soar; trust their wings and their sense of direction to find their way to whatever will become Home for them.

Still -- sometimes it's hard to watch...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

On being devoured

One of the challenging aspects of the Gospel of Thomas lies in the many layers of meaning contained within its Logia.  I've always found Jesus' words in Logion 7 particularly troublesome that way; it goes like this:

A lion eaten by a man is blessed
as it changes to human form,
but a human devoured by a lion
is cursed as lion becomes human

But this morning, in my reading from David Whyte's  The Heart Aroused, I found a passage which helps illuminate this confused devouring:

"Whether we work with supportive or unsupportive colleagues, we will always be hunted by what we have most denied in ourselves.  Waking or sleeping, it takes many different forms, but most often the shape of a devouring creature trying to include us, literally, in the greater body of its experience.  If outer corporate inertia is used as an excuse for our own hesitations, we become the frightened stag at the edge of the lake, looking back to find that our deeper longings have turned, suddenly, to the snarling teeth of pursuing hounds.

Ironically, our place of refuge is the lake where the greater devouring animal of our disowned desire lies...The refusal to go down into the lake is the refusal to be eaten by life.  The delusion is that there might be a possibility of immunity from the natural failures that accompany the soul's explorations in the world.  But [Beowulf] tells us you are going to be swallowed by something greater one way or another.  The question is whether you will give yourself to that greater life consciously."

I'm thinking this issue of devouring or being devoured is about our willingness to pay attention to those dark parts of ourselves; that if we do not choose to engage with them, to risk going deeper into those terrifyingly gloomy corners of the psyche, we are doomed to encounter the alternate, and ultimately much more deadly risk of being eaten alive by the very things that might have fueled us; that instead of functioning as our fullest selves, we are overtaken, consumed and derailed by our fierce and unrecognized inner demons.

Hmm.  I may need to go back and re-do the photo/reflection for that Logion...

Friday, July 23, 2010

Grant us courage

Yesterday I went into Seattle to lunch with one of my classmates and discuss the immunity mapping exercise I've been describing over the last two days.

When I began describing some of my results in columns 3 and 4, the ones where you list competing commitments and underlying assumptions, she didn't say much but I could see her brain was churning.

As we began packing up to leave, she stopped and said, "You know, it's really all about my mother." And we began sharing a little about our respective childhoods; there were some startling similarities.

And so, this morning, as I continued reading in David Whyte's  The Heart Aroused, I was particularly struck by this passage.  Whyte is talking about Beowulf, and the hero's efforts to defeat the monster Grendel and its mother.  And here's what he says:

"What are the modern corporate equivalents of these repressed monsters writhing just below the surface of our professional life? We can list a few of many.  Most important: unresolved parent-child relationships that play out into rigid company hierarchies, paternal management systems, and dependent employees; unresolved emotional demands individuals may have of fellow workers but will never admit to themselves; the refusal to come to terms with an abused childhood; the subsequent longing for self-protection and the wielding of organizational power and control at any cost to gain that protection.  Perhaps the parent of all these vulnerabilities is Beowulf's mother herself, the deep physical shame that we are not enough, will never be enough, and can never measure up."

Well, ouch!  As a mother myself, I resent the connection he draws between mother and shame.  But still, he's giving clear voice to the patterns I'm uncovering.  And, hard though they may be to face into, knowing they are there can clearly help me not to project them so consistently onto others.

So then, last night, I found myself working on this image, yet another from last week's excursion to Port Townsend.  I haven't altered it in any way except to heighten the colors and shift them into a range that works for me; otherwise its ingredients are as I found them.

As I examine the image, it could be two faces, one a reflection of the other; the way you can see my mother's face in mine.  But what I really see as I step back from it is boldness and courage, a determination to carry light into the dark corners, a willingness to face into the wind and let it pare me down to essence and bone.  And that circle around the figure, I think, is divine protection; that which shelters me when I choose to brave the storm.  And so I take heart, and know this walk will take me where I need to go and empower me to serve more effectively in the end; that wherever, however, and whomever I may serve, my service will be enlivened and enriched by what I'm learning on the journey.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Stumbling into belonging

Before we work on changing those big assumptions I mentioned yesterday, let's revisit Kegan and Lahey's immunity mapping exercise (from  How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work) from a more personal level, i.e., here's a piece of what happens when I walk through it with my own "stuff."

My commitment is to speak my truth.  But in fact I have a tendency to shut down and be quiet when I disagree with those around me.  That's because I have a hidden/competing commitment to avoid drawing critical attention to myself.  And the Big Assumption that lies beneath that commitment is that any time I stand up for myself or my beliefs I will do something stupid that makes both me and my ideas look hopelessly foolish, resulting in the opposite of the desired effect -- rather like this poor graffiti artist whose potentially profound thought is derailed by his misspelling of the word "criticize."

So how do I start dismantling that assumption?  Kegan and Lahey offer the following steps to help work through this.  They suggest you take on these activities with a peer group and share your experiences after each:
  1. Spend time noticing what does or does not occur as a consequence of holding your big assumptions as true, then share your observations.
  2. Be on the lookout for any experiences that cast some doubt on the truthfulness of your assumptions, then describe the results to your peers.
  3. Spend some time reflecting on the possible origin of your assumptions, then share your thoughts.
  4. Design a modest and safe test of your Big Assumptions and share the results of your experiment.  Keep it small; don't go overboard, and then, with the help of your group, keep refining and expanding your tests over time.
If you're like me, the thought of walking into this space -- what David Whyte, in The Heart Aroused, calls "the black, contemplative splendors of self-doubt" -- can be daunting.  "But wanting soul life," says Whyte, "without the dark, warming intelligence of personal doubt is like expecting an egg without the brooding heat of the mother hen."

Self-doubt, he goes on to say, "is that part of the soul that is able to to taste the bitter in life as well as the sweet.  It is open to a side of life that a sunny disposition must ignore in order to carry on smiling." What I learned walking through this exercise (and trust me, there were several other commitments and assumptions I uncovered) is that most of what I struggle with has to do with a longing for connection and community.  Which meant that this passage, encountered this morning in Whyte's book, really resonated:

"The whole of western cultural tradition is based on a primary interior struggle: the essential aloneness of the individual, coupled with a wish to be part of some larger corporate body... bridging two impossible worlds, personal destiny and impersonal organization, we find ourselves standing in a half-dark, twilight land between them both.  As we begin to think about our aloneness, where we fit in the world, why we are working where we are, the state of our soul and the direction we are headed, we join a long lineage of men and women who gave themselves over to the imagery of the poetic imagination to find out the selfsame thing.  We begin to give those images life by speaking them aloud, however hesitantly.  

Questioning in a real way, we start, by all the lights of the poetic tradition, to awaken.  We are come to consciousness, albeit in a dark wood,  But as we awaken, we take the first steps into the hall of grief and loss...At this point we are thrown back on ourselves and must live on what we find there.  In a way we are finally forced to rely on the one thing already within the compass of our grasp -- our soul's natural entanglement in the world...It is as if we first stumble into our belonging by realizing how desperately out of place we feel."

I love that phrase, "stumbling into belonging."  It seems to perfectly describe my experience as I move into the challenges of my coursework -- and echoes what I do believe, though I can't always seem to practice it: that by allowing ourselves to face openly into our vulnerability, we can finally begin to achieve the connection and community for which we hunger.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Don't box me in...

I'm sure I've mentioned before that we have a saying in our family: "You can't put Walkers in a box."

This morning I've been reading Kegan and Lahey's book, How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work, and in doing the exercises they offer I am learning how certain assumptions we carry over from our childhoods can box us in and keep us from achieving our deepest desires; i.e., we box OURSELVES in, and build our own multi-layered traps.

Not that that's any surprise, of course, but the authors offer an intriguing way of looking how that works and helping you begin to dismantle your boxes. 

They start by inviting you to name something you're very committed to: let's say, for example... meditation.  So then you're asked to describe whatever it is -- the self-defeating behavior -- you're doing that gets in the way of that objective -- shall we say, over-scheduling your day so there's no TIME for meditation?

Now let's take a look at what Kegan and Lahey call "The Competing Commitment."  What deeper commitment or belief do you hold that drives you to over-schedule your day?  Could it be something like "I don't want to look lazy" or "I need to be out there, visibly contributing to society" or "I need my work/environment/children to be as perfect as possible?"

Kegan and Lahey like to point out that, in view of that competing commitment, your self-defeating behavior makes perfect sense.  The problem is that this competing commitment -- the one that underlies your self-defeating behavior -- is based on what they refer to as "A Big Assumption."  You can get at that assumption by quickly answering this question: what would happen if you DIDN'T adhere to that commitment?  And answers -- in this example -- might include "If I look lazy they might fire me" or "If I'm not constantly contributing this society might shun me" or "If anything in my life is imperfect I'll be despised and rejected."

At some level we get that this big assumption is false.  But it's usually true that something way back in our personal history has made it (here comes that word again) a deutero-truth: something we believe to be absolutely and unquestionably true at a very deep and incontrovertible level.

Tomorrow I'll share more about how these deutero-truths can derail us, and what we can do to reduce their hold over us.  But for now -- since I have to go -- I just invite you to play with this exercise.  What are you committed to?  What behavior gets in the way of that?  What's your competing commitment?  And whats the Big Assumption that underlies that competing commitment?

If nothing else, the questions make for interesting conversation fodder...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

When you raise the shades...

Sometimes I play bridge with my neighbors on Monday evenings, so last evening we found ourselves gathered around a card table in my living room. The doors were open, the dogs were socializing happily on the deck and the kids were playing on the beach, but because the living room faces west, we had the shades down to block the heat and the light a bit.

As soon as the sun dropped below the mountains though, we pulled the shades back up again, to be greeted by this magnificent sunset. Though I was NOT the dummy, I left the table for my camera; just couldn't resist the beautiful scene before me.

I wonder how often that happens; that we pull the shades on some part of our lives because the heat and light are just too intense, and then we miss something unbearably beautiful as a result.

Hmmm. I'm just askin...

Monday, July 19, 2010

With a light touch

I am still sifting through my images from Port Townsend: such a pile of blessings!

What I noticed as I examined this one more closely was the two oarlocks, those little U-shaped metal pieces protruding from the edge of the boat.

I don't know if you've ever done any rowing, but oarlocks can be a problem. The boat is created with holes in the rim, and then you slip the oarlocks into the holes; they rotate in the holes with the movement of the oars.

The problem is that it's easy for them to fall out -- and into the drink. Some people solve this problem by attaching the oarlocks to the oars themselves. But in this case the oars are tied with a light string to the board that supports the seats. If you DO need to remove them, it's easy enough to untie the string. But otherwise the string ensures they don't slip out accidentally.

I like the simplicity of this solution, and I like, too, the delicacy of the string. I am always in favor of a light touch to keep things from falling apart; it's easy to get heavy-handed about such things. A light touch, to me, seems to trust that the natural order of things is good; that most days things will evolve and function exactly as they need to. And, at the same time, it's a gentle protection against the occasional shifts and challenges that can occur, a sort of "I've got your back when the weather gets rough" statement.

If you look at that in the context of parenting, a light touch takes the shape of gentle discipline, clear boundaries, statements of trust, and lots of attention and awareness, so that small course corrections can be administered early on to avoid more substantial disasters.

What I'm learning in my coursework is that coaching, too, necessitates a light touch, a certain delicacy of approach. The coach invites her client to speak, encourages a return to task if she gets off task or off topic, but doesn't come in with heavy-handed questions about plans and alternatives. The word I encountered yesterday was "curiosity," and I like the delicacy of that. As your coach, I don't need to make you do anything. My job is simply to help you uncover your own challenges, gifts and strengths, your longings and possibilities. I don't have to know anything other than how to stay in that curious space without judgment or proclamation; I trust that all the knowledge you need to know already resides in you; I only have to help you tease it out into the open.

I'm not there yet; my blindspots and patterns lead me to judgments and proclamations all too often, and for all the wrong reasons. But I find this idea that I only need to provide a safe space and curiosity very appealing and freeing. I am the string for the oarlock: it gets to do all the hard work of keeping your boat on task; I just serve to lightly anchor and secure it so it may continue to function as it was born to do.

And doesn't that go a long way toward explaining that tricky concept of Free Will? God is always present, gently encouraging and guiding with occasional course corrections and a constant safety net. But it is we who do the work, make the choices, choose the path, and step forward into the light.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Unchained melody

In 1998 I took a week-long photography class in Port Townsend, and I remember taking pictures of this same little dinghy, sitting in the grass beside the path to the beach.

It moves me still, and must move others as well, because it still sits chained here in the same spot. And though it's a little more beat up now than when I photographed it before, there doesn't seem to be any of the graffiti here that plagues other parts of the park.

So what is it that draws us about this boat, and what is it that has compelled the rampant graffiti gangs to refrain from displaying their art on its lapstraked sides?

Any answer I give would only be projection, so I'll just speak for myself. There are certainly cliches that come to mind -- "a fish out of water" is the first: something in me mourns that it is trapped here in the grass when water is where it belongs.

"So near and yet so far" is the second; the fact that the water is just over the rise but still invisible and inaccessible to the boat; as if in struggling to reach its home it gave up the ghost only a few yards away, never to see the stuff of its dreams. That one makes me ache; it has echoes of that tragic scene at the end of Dr. Zhivago when he sees Lara on the street from his window, after so many years' separation, tries to run after her, and has a heart attack as she turns the corner and walks away, oblivious.

It's separation from love that is symbolized here, I think, and though we naturally see that in terms of human love -- Dr. Zhivago never reuniting with his Lara, or Sophie giving up her child in Sophie's Choice -- I think the root emotion is the longing for that Divine connection, and the loneliness we humans feel when we get out of touch with that which conceived and created us and continues to live on within us and around us.

All of which for some reason reminds me of that old Righteous Brothers tune, Unchained Melody, playing behind that moving dance scene from the movie Ghost:

Oh, my love, my darling,
I've hungered for your touch
a long, lonely time.

Time goes by so slowly
and time can do so much.
Are you still mine?

I need your love,
I need your love,
God speed your love to me.

Lonely rivers flow
to the sea, to the sea
To the open arms of the sea.

Lonely rivers sigh,
'Wait for me, wait for me'
'I'll be coming home,
wait for me!'

Oh, my love, my darling,
I've hungered for your touch
a long, lonely time.

Time goes by so slowly
and time can do so much.
Are you still mine?

I need your love,
I need your love,
God speed your love to me.

And it may be that all this is resonating for me this morning because I just couldn't seem to sit still long enough to meditate. Yes, I do have days like that. And I'm thinking -- since I woke at 4:30 and couldn't get back to sleep -- that the solution may be just to crawl back into bed; perhaps -- just for now -- I need sleep more than I need meditation.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Touched by Divine humor

There are moments, as a photographer, when you know beyond any shadow of doubt that what you're seeing through your camera is just... well, amazing.

It's not an ego thing: I didn't create the boat, or the still water, or the morning sky; I just took the time to go out and watch it, and found the spot where I could stand and see the proportions were just right.

Inevitably, however conscious I may have been in that moment, something comes along later to surprise me. In this case, it's those three little weeds that are suspended from the top left corner of the picture -- and I love them!

These little surprises resonate for me because they somehow remind me that God is present in these moments. This will sound a little odd, but let me explain.

As I think I may have mentioned before, my brain has a habit of rehearsing what-if's: if this happens, this is how I should probably respond; if that happens, I could try that response. When I get into stressful situations, this brain pattern goes into overdrive.

One of the times in my life when the pattern consumed me the most was in the final year or so before my divorce. Though it was about 30 years ago, I remember those days all too well, the constant chewing over of possible outcomes and encounters, and what I eventually came to see was that however elaborate my imagined possibilities, reality always turned out different than anything I might have planned -- and, surprisingly, better. It felt like God, and it seemed to me that God was infinitely smarter than me; that all the outcomes had a way of benefiting more people and solving more problems than anything I could have dreamed up -- and often with a surprising touch of humor.

I'm not under that kind of stress now, and for the most part that activity level no longer dominates my brain. But at a time when creativity is my passion, it's lovely to see that God is still better at it than I am; that whatever I can visualize, God can enhance or surpass in delightful ways, and that humor is still often a factor.

So I smile at those three tiny weeds in the corner, and don't erase them. Like the mistakes built into a quilt, they serve as a delightful reminder that I am only human, that creativity is truly Divine, and God is still present and participating somehow in all that I do -- often with a twinkling eye and a sense of humor.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Winter's wounding

Forgive the Dream (Hafiz)

All your images of winter
I see against your sky.

I understand the wounds
That have not healed in you.

They exist
Because God and love

Have yet to become real enough

To allow you to forgive
he dream.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

An encouragement of light

It Felt Love

Did the rose
Ever open its heart
And give to this world
All its

It felt the encouragement of light
Against its

We all remain

(Hafiz, The Gift)

PS: This entry is a tribute to my husband: Thanks, cutie, for 26 years today!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The scent of light

The Scent of Light

Like a great starving beast

My body is quivering


On the scent



(Hafiz, The Gift)

This poem really resonated with me this morning, and I thought at first it was because it so perfectly describes the way I sometimes feel at that moment when I reach for my camera.

But as I sit with that feeling a bit, I see that it also describes the way I felt in my classes this past weekend. As a result of the various exercises we were doing, the techniques I was learning and the coaching I received, I had this sense that I was "really on to something," that I was getting close to some important truths about myself -- which, interestingly enough, seem to have to do with my blind spots. I felt that some parts of me that have lived in the dark for a long time, unacknowledged, were finally coming to light.

It's astonishing, still, to me; that we can be so crippled as adults by the messages we received as children. How can it be, when we work so hard to shed light on all those shadowy places in our souls, that there are still more truths -- and untruths -- hiding in the corners? Odder still that they loom so scarily in the dark, and then, if we can coax them into the light, it turns out that it was only their shadows that were large and that they themselves are small frightened animals, desperately longing for a gentle hand and a taste of light...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Those Divine Animals

This was the view from my classroom window yesterday; I just had to go out at lunch time and capture it with my camera (to share with you, of course!)

And then, this morning, I found myself wondering what on earth I could say about this photo... And it seems like there are two ways I could go. The first is that I remember my husband's boss in NH, years ago -- a died-in-the-wool New Yorker -- sneering a bit at the thought that his daughter had elected to move out here. I think she actually moved to Portland, but it was clear he thought Seattle and Portland were interchangeable -- and equally laughable.

Never mind the delightful climate, or the bodies of water and the views, or the proliferation of successful hi-tech companies: it was clear he was judging this particular book by its cover, and not looking beneath the surface -- a mistake we all can make.

But what I really love about these two Seattle icons actually IS their giddiness, their laughability, their creativity: I mean, what would we be without them? Just another ordinary city... although, of course, we'd still have the Toe Truck... Seattleites must be the kinds of people who come up with crazy ideas like these, and Seattle must be the sort of place that welcomes them.

I'm not certain I would have thought about that before yesterday, but it seems that in Antioch Seattle I've found a wellspring of folks who are willing to be creative, open, and inclusive; willing to ask the hard questions and take risks -- it seems to be the prevailing climate there. Is it because they see these bizarre objects every day? Do these crazy icons encourage openness and creativity, humor and risk? I don't think we can go that far -- but I do think those divine animals Hafiz was describing in yesterday's poem have an invitation to take flight in this place. And how fun is that?

Those animals came up again in my Hafiz reading this morning (I'm just walking through (again) The Gift, Daniel Ladinsky's translations of poems by Hafiz, the great Sufi Master). I love these poems, and there are probably more downturned pages in this book than not. But here's the one that seemed to tie most nicely with yesterday's divine animals. It's called "A Crystal Rim."

Lifts its glass to the sun
And light -- light
Is poured.

A bird
comes and sits on a crystal rim
And from my forest cave I
Hear singing.

So I run to the edge of existence
And join my soul in love.

I lift my heart to God
And grace is poured.

An emerald bird rises from inside me
And now sits
Upon the Beloved's

I have left that dark cave forever.
My body has blended with His.

I lay my wing
As a bridge to you

So that you can join us

And now I see that the Space Needle -- in this picture at least -- looks a bit like the glass, being lifted to the sun. Perhaps there IS a bird sitting on its crystal rim, beckoning us to love. But I especially resonate with those last four lines of the poem: I feel like that could be a life's mission -- to lift my wing as a bridge to you, so that you can join us, singing...

Monday, July 12, 2010

Beauty in Strange Places

My daughter's boyfriend has a delightful blog called "Religion in Strange Places," and sometimes I think mine should be called "Beauty in Strange Places." Not that you may find this image beautiful, but -- for whatever reason -- I did. Even though it's shot at an odd angle, and it's just the sunset reflected in the taillight of a car in the ferry line... well, I just like it! So live with it!

This is one of a bunch of images I shot today -- I was kind of on a roll coming home on the ferry this evening, and just about everything seemed beautiful to me. So even though I was involved in school for almost 12 hours, I still came home with almost 130 new images.

I think it has something to do with all the pieces in me that are being opened up by this experience. And it makes me think of a poem I read in my Hafiz book while waiting for the ferry (I've decided reading Hafiz in the morning will be the perfect antidote to all these textbooks). So I'll share a piece of that poem (called "Why Just ask the Donkey") with you, because it makes me think of some things that were revealed in the classroom today:

Just ask the donkey in me
To speak to the donkey in you,

When I have so many other beautiful animals
And brilliant colored birds inside
That are all longing to say something wonderful
And exciting to your heart?

I think many of us grow up with adults who are uncomfortable with that which is outrageous or original in children -- which is not to blame those adults, only to say that they felt their job was to civilize us, and that which is uncivilized has always made grownups nervous.

But a lot of what they felt or designated uncivilized was probably our raw creativity and originality, so when those bits surface later -- whether in ourselves or in others -- (here come those deutero-truths again) we get uncomfortable and try to damp them down. Which means we end up being kind of donkeys, speaking to other donkeys. Even if we know our own brilliant birds inside, we don't share them, and others don't let us see theirs, either -- which I suspect leads to a lot of unfortunate underestimating and misunderstanding of one another.

Why just bring your donkey to me
Asking for stale hay
And a boring conference with the idiot
In regards to this precious matter --
Such a precious matter a s love,

When I have so many other divine animals
And brilliant colored birds inside
That are all longing
To so sweetly

Perhaps it's time to take a risk: stop trotting out that same old donkey in situations where you feel awkward, or uncomfortable, or overwhelmed. Bring out some of the Divine Animal in you, let it step into the room, maybe growl or strut a bit, or flex its glamorous feathers.

Now I'm not saying "let it all hang out."

I'm just sayin...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Blessings in the air

For some reason this image -- taken last fall on a visit to Kalaloch on the Washington Coast -- reminds me of that diamond necklace in the movie, Titanic...

But mostly this morning it speaks to me of the gifts life gives us; I've been feeling particularly blessed. Blessed by the fog this morning -- a welcome and soothing relief after the past few days of hot sun -- blessed by the lessons learned in class yesterday, blessed by the visit (later today, can't wait) of a reader from Texas who's in the area and wanted to visit, blessed by this morning's sermon on the Good Samaritan (and by the reminder of the church of that name that we helped start some 20 years ago; what a kick that was!).

There's a lot I could write about today, but my time (and your patience, I'm sure!) are limited, so I'll just say I'm thinking about how many gifts there can be if we just stop, breathe, and listen to our hearts. Or maybe that's just me, today, feeling joyful and optimistic now, even though I woke up a little cranky. Might be that double short decaf breve that just walked through my office door -- and the apple fritter (we call them "fat pills") that tiptoed in behind it. They're not gonna help me lose weight, but I sure am going to enjoy them: Thank you, honey!

To all of you: may you find refreshment, peace and joy somewhere in your day today...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Party time

I got up at 5:30 this morning in order to be ready to head for the 7:55 ferry into Seattle for my first day of classes. Had a wonderful day, actually managed to catch the 5:30 ferry home, and now I'm sequestered in my office while my husband and a whole pack of his friends are out barbequeing on the deck.

This is the sunset view we'll all be watching soon; I just wanted to share it with you so my friends could be at the party, too. Truth be told, I'm too exhausted after the day to want to interact with all these strangers, but they seem like very nice people so I'll probably head out there when I'm done.

I think it's sweet that he's throwing this party; such a sign of hope! And I had to do absolutely nothing, just point him to the party mix on my ipod and mix up a batch of homemade guacamole... Nonetheless, there are times when we have to postpone our quiet times until the rush of the day is over. So I'll be up and away. Enjoy this image; I hope you are among friends and enjoying the summer, wherever you are!

Friday, July 9, 2010

The assimilation phase

A friend who has decided to spend her summer writing a romance novel wrote this morning to say she seems to be stalled and is feeling discouraged. Boy, isn't THAT a phase we all know well!

Robert Fritz, in Path of Least Resistance, says creativity comes in three phases -- Generation, Assimilation, and Completion. My guess is my friend's at the assimilation stage, which definitely seems to be the trickiest one. Here's what Fritz has to say about it:

"One reason the assimilation stage is so little understood is that during this stage progress in growth and development remains invisible for a time. For long periods it may look as if nothing of significance is happening or being learned. A common experience during the early steps of assimilation is for no change whatever to take place... and people often give up the pursuit of their desired result. This is the point when beginning music students give up studying their musical instruments, when most people who enter exercise or fitness programs stop going...

The emotional experiences common to this crucial stage in the creative cycle are discomfort, frustration, and disappointment. ... This period of assimilation naturally includes much trial, error and experimentation. But the outcomes of such experiments teach you what you need to learn in order to have the result you want....

Fritz seems to see assimilation as a time between -- kind of like the quiet winter between the glorious colors of fall and the growth and promise of spring -- a time for things to germinate in the groundwork of promises already laid.

"New forms emerge from the disintegration of old ones. It would never occur to a New Englander to try to hold on to the foliage season. The leaves are not saved for their color; instead they are collected an burned in small bonfires. No one climbs a ladder and staples the leaves back on the branches. Yet we do not always translate this same wisdom and respect for the forces of nature into the rest of our lives. We have the human trait of holding on, past the seasons and cycles of our lives...We fear endings, resent change, and ignore those seasons and cycles.

Take this image, for example. The original piece has been sitting in my folder a while; I look at it, wander off, and come back. Finally today I decided to play -- which consisted mostly of lots of failed experiments. This one may be another failed experiment, for all I know; I'm not sure I'm done with it yet. But the important thing is I didn't throw it back on the heap; I kept playing. And the reason I can do that now is because of all the previous assimilation periods: I've learned what it feels like to be on the right path, to be close to getting at this thing I can't really visualize when I start.

And, most importantly, I've learned there's always a certain amount of experimentation and failure, and that sometimes when you get to the other side the end result is just WONDERFUL and worth all the struggle. So I'm willing to keep pushing through, just like I'm willing to keep blogging even though some days I haven't a clue I've anything worth saying.

Now if I were only as assiduous about dieting as I am about creativity... But I'm working on that. I did it once, lost 30 pounds in about a month and half and kept most of it off for about 5 years. Now the weight is creeping back up -- something about having kids in the house (and all that SNACK FOOD!!!). I just need to bite the bullet and cut back.

So how's that workin' for ya? (I hear my husband saying.) Not great just yet, but I'm still in the assimilation phase...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

When routines break down

So here it is, noon, and a beautiful summer day, and I still haven't written anything on this blog.


My routine got all confused: one of the cats elected to sleep with the kids last night (but we didn't know that) so I was worried he'd be out all night (we have marauding eagles, coyotes, raccoons and otters, all threats to a beloved kitty).

And because it was warm we left our bedroom door open -- which meant I was awakened at 3 AM by the desperate cries of our other cat, who was shut up in her room for the night and desperately lonely for her sleeping buddy.

She and I got up and went outside in search of the other cat, but with no luck (since he was closeted with the kids) but by then I was awake, so I sat in my chair with a cup of coffee and did my morning's reading/coursework with her purring and kneading contentedly in my lap.

Finally, around 4:30, I returned her to her room and went back to bed, then slept til almost 8, barely time to shower and meditate before my weekly coffee date. So now I'm back, looking at this blank page, not remembering anything I read. I have a nice picture to offer, but not really anything to say about it... it's a good reminder that the way my routine works is the way it works; that I'm not nearly so articulate and observant as the day wears on!

And you know what?

That's okay, too: it's all good.

Have a wonderful day! And may all your cats come safely home at the end of it...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Choosing by the book

According to Robert Fritz, in Path of Least Resistance, the creative process has three stages: Generation, Assimilation, and Completion, and the chief characteristic of the Generation phase is the act of making choices.

He then goes on to say that if we are stuck in reactive-responsive mode (as opposed to creative mode) "there are eight common ways in which people avoid or undermine effective choice and by which they lose the potential power of choice."

I'm thinking this is pretty critical information: it seems to me that the reason people feel trapped in situations is because they feel they've lost the power to choose. So how does that happen?

Here are the eight ways -- or actually nine -- as Fritz sees them:

1. Choice by limitation -- choosing only what seems possible or reasonable. Yup, seems like that would be an easy trap to fall into -- but if you limit yourself that way, by settling for less than you really want because you don't think what you really want is possible, then all you have left is compromise, and it's pretty hard to feel enthusiastic about that.

2. Choice by indirectness -- choosing the process instead of the result. We all know people who make this choice; people who get stuck on the way to health or wholeness because they get caught up in the intermediate steps: always trying new diets, or going to workshops, or undergoing therapy as a way of avoiding actually getting thin, acting on their learnings, or releasing old wounds and getting on with life.

3. Choice by elimination -- eliminating all other possibilities so that only one choice remains. This one often takes the form of consciously or unconsciously demonizing a person or situation so that your only choice is to leave. What's really going on is that, for whatever reason, you want to go, so you justify that decision by exaggerating the problems you've decided to walk away from. What can I say? I've definitely done this...

4. Choice by default -- the choice not to make a choice, so that whatever results happen seem to occur without choice. Because of an inability or unwillingness to choose, the person in this mode assigns the power to the situation -- i.e., you miss a deadline, don't follow up on the job offer, don't prepare -- or even show up -- for the interview... I think chronic procrastinators are particularly good at this one.

5. Conditional choice -- imposing preconditions on choices. We've all done this one, I think: "I'll wait to start doing X (whatever X is) until I meet Mr. Right, or until the kids are out of school, or until the economy gets better. Sometimes it's reasonable to wait, but often we manufacture excuses to avoid making a change.

6. Choice by reaction -- choices designed to overcome a conflict. These are the choices that are made, not to start something new, but to relieve pressure or discomfort: pulling a kid out of school rather than addressing their problems, going along with decisions you don't really agree with, avoiding relationships, friendships, or intimacy when things get sticky...

7. Choice by consensus -- choosing by finding out what everyone else is willing to recommend and following the results of that poll. This one is usually preceded by some heavy PR on your part: you tell people about your situation, weighting the description heavily on the side of your intended choice, and then following the suggestions you've encouraged them to make (and blaming them, not yourself, if that choice turns out to be not a great one). Yup, done this one, too.

8. Choice by adverse possession -- choice based on a hazy metaphysical notion about the nature of the universe. This is the one where you think you're doomed; the one where you blame your environment, or your upbringing, or some self-defeating part of you, for whatever situation you're in, and take it as inevitable.

9. Choice by negative results. Though he doesn't include this one in the list, he does mention it a page later; this is the one where you base your choice on avoiding something you don't want, as opposed to choosing something you DO want. This avoidance choice often becomes a lifestyle, one characterized by a state of conflict, always aware of what you're fearful of or angry about.

Fritz believes that the way you choose reflects your thinking on where power lies in your life: all these types of choices assume that power lies somewhere OTHER than in you, but he insists that we can actually consciously choose results.

I like his idea in theory, but I worry about it a bit precisely because it seems to me there will always be some circumstances you can't choose -- although I guess I do believe that to some extent you can choose how you react or respond... but then that puts me back in the reactive-responsive lifestyle. What DO you do if you're in an abusive situation, or if you lose a child to a life-threatening disease? I applaud my friends who, having been in those situations, choose to dedicate their time to efforts that will help others cope in similar circumstances. I suppose you could claim that is a response. But I also see these friends choosing to live busy, healthy, productive lives, open about their grief and willing to share; perhaps that is where the choice lies.

At any rate, these feel like intriguing questions to pose for yourself when you're making choices -- and so I share them here.

Have a great day!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Creating to feed the soul

"The artist who experiments with an improvisatory process may be unclear about how the final painting may look, but extremely clear of what he or she wants to express. In this sense the painting itself is part of a process; the final result is the power of the expression."

Robert Fritz, The Path of Least Resistance

I read this passage this morning with a certain sense of relief: Oh, good, he gets it, I don't have to know what the final image will look like. All I need to know is what I'm hoping to express.

Except why do I need his approval for that in the first place? And did I in fact know what I wanted to express with this image?

(I find it amusing that I almost immediately began putting myself in an adversarial position with this author. Why is that, I wonder? Is it because I have to read him for a course? Am I doing that thing where I put people in positions of authority and then feel rebellious? Or is it just the tone of his writing? It seems to be a bit of both, but I've definitely felt my inner judge being activated; perhaps I should sit with that a bit...)

The second question is trickier -- particularly with this image. I shot several pictures of California poppies yesterday while out on a walk with my husband, and this one was definitely my favorite: I like its graceful lines, its simplicity, and the feeling of light. So I sat with it a while in Photoshop, playing with the lines and shapes, and playing with the lights and darks. And, quite frankly, it wasn't at all clear to me that any of the things I did improved upon this image. So here it is, exactly as I shot it.

Does that mean I knew what the end product would be? Clearly not. But what I did know was the effect I wanted to create -- or did I? I think what happened was I saw this -- once I had shot it -- and it spoke deeply to me about the relationship between creator and creation: To me this flower is basking in light, worshiping the light, welcoming and open to the light. It feels the way my heart feels at those most precious moments in meditation: open, whole, accepting... which is certainly something I hope to share in my art.

But was I consciously going for that effect? No, I'm not sure I had any idea before I took the photo, or even before I started playing with it, or before I started writing this post, that that was where I was going. It was in the process of spending time with the image, opening to the image, and attempting to describe what I see that I learned what it says to me and why that's important enough to share.

Perhaps THAT is the end point of my creative process: to arrive at something that makes my heart swell with joy, to spend time in co-creation and watch to see what it has to teach me. Perhaps it's not about knowing what I will create, but about staying in touch with my inner guide: knowing myself and what I hunger for, and then working with the creative process until I arrive at something that feeds my soul.

At the end of today's chapter, Fritz seems to address this process beautifully:

"Roger Sessions, describing how Beethoven's musical vision affected his compositional process, wrote, "When this perfect realization was attained, there could have been no hesitation -- rather a flash of recognition that this was exactly what he wanted."...Very often," Sessions explains, "he is unaware of his exact processes of thought till he is through with them; extremely often the completed work is incomprehensible to him immediately after it is finished."

It is as if the composer had been led to the result by the inner eye of vision. Many creators express this sense of surprise and awe at their own creations.

The inner eye of vision can see what isn't there yet, can reach beyond present circumstances, and can see what, up to that point, has never been there. It is truly an incredible human faculty that is able to see beyond the present and the past and, from the unknown, to conceive something not hitherto in existence.

The great twentieth-century composer Karlheinz Stockhausen wrote, "We need to close our eyes for a while and listen. There is always something unheard of in the air."

Hmm. I like the sound of that!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Between what is and what could be

So here's another of those images shot in Anacortes on Saturday -- played with, of course, but still: the basic composition of it is exactly as it first presented itself, and, in fact, I think it would stand on its own as a work of art even without my modifications.

And now, having said that, I realize that the least I can do is share that original with you, so here it is:

I'm still reading The Path of Least Resistance (hey, I have to get through SIXTEEN CHAPTERS by Saturday, so it's obviously going to be absorbing me for a bit) and pondering the mystery of the creative process.

Today's chapters had to do with the importance of structural tension to creativity, and points out that a successful creator needs to be comfortable with the discrepancy -- or is it disparity -- between how things are now and their vision. In addition, the point is made that the tension between is and could be is a very important part of the work itself; part of the creation's charm and appeal.

So I am weighing those thoughts in with all of your interesting comments from yesterday; still not at all certain that there isn't something more serendipitous at work here. Fritz, the book's author, keeps claiming we need to be able to visualize what we're working toward. But I seriously believe that to do that would limit the outcome to "something we are capable of visualizing."

I think that outcomes are more magnificent if we start, not with a vision of an end product, but rather with an assurance that there can be a magnificent end product, but that it will be bigger or different in some way from anything that has gone before, and that we are not necessarily in sole control of the creative process; that it is a cooperative venture between ourselves and the universal creativity to which we choose to open ourselves.

Is that too woo-woo? Too mystical? The fact is, this book was written in the 80's, and I think in those days we had more of an illusion of control than we do now. I don't mean that in the sense that he decries, that of being at the mercy of circumstances; I mean it in the sense that... well, email and the internet were just beginning in those days, and there was unprecedented economic prosperity, and it was easy to delude yourself that you could make your life into whatever you wanted it to be.

Now, I think, we have a broader picture of the world, a better understanding of our connectedness to it and to individuals around the globe, and a more awakened awareness of the extraordinary mystery of life. But maybe that's just me. At any rate I have to say his notions of control seem a bit old-fashioned and narrow-minded to me. Yes, it's true; I am fascinated with faces and would love to do a series of art that somehow includes faces in it. It's true I am interested in broken and pockmarked textures, and in certain colors on the spectrum.

But the fact remains that when I see this original wall with its wire, I don't think, "Wow, I could turn that into a face, and couldn't those marks become a hat, and hair, and eyes, and doesn't that look like a finger?" I think, "Cool: wonder what that could become; let's play with it and see what emerges!"

And if something DOESN'T emerge, or if I don't like what emerges, that's okay, too. I don't feel the tension here that he deems necessary to create; I only feel the differential between what is and the potential for what could be. But he's right; I'm happy to play in that field between is and could be; willing to accept that the game might have no appreciable outcome and yet delighted to allow for the possibility that some new truth might emerge and to serve as a tool for the expression of that truth, whatever it might be. Maybe that place would be tense for someone else, but for me -- well, it's just... home! It's a place where I'm delighted to roam, and where I rarely if ever feel alone.

Mystical? Woo-woo? Maybe. And your problem with that is... ?