Thoughts on Creativity — Newsletter #46
A'musings #15 (Jan 2012)
Each Board Member has looked at what theme is active or has their attention, reflecting or musing on it as an artist from a creative process point of view.
This is about sharing what it is to stand on the threshold of our own creative
edge! It illustrates how the creative process applies to more than just making
art. The creative process can be an integral part of our lives providing inspiration and direction.
by The Creative Edge Board of Directors:
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"Art is a step from what is obvious and well known toward what is arcane and concealed." —Khalil Gibran
2012—a year marked with fears of cataclysm or dreams of transformation depending on who you listened to. As an artist, I have stayed closer to the thinking of Edgar Cayce, who did not mention 2012, but talked about how we'd enter into a New Age that would be known for three things: purity, global consciousness, and a height of spiritual consciousness that we have yet to encounter. Kevin Todeschi, executive director and CEO of ARE (Association of Research and Enlightenment) says "right now, in many, many ways the Divine is constantly communicating with us, but we're just not aware of it. So that, for example, through our dreams, through our intuitive hunches, through our feelings, through our inspirations, through the relationships that are brought into our lives, through our experiences... I think all those things have a Divine counterpart; that somehow the Divine is trying to communicate with us. The challenge is that we are not hearing the Divine."
As an artist, these are challenging and yet, deeply fulfilling times. We are being called, many of us to become wayfinders—to do as the ancient Polynesians did as they navigated their canoes by reading the oceans and the stars—or the Aborigines who found their way through the desert on hundred-mile walk-abouts. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed a different dream of a different promised land—or was the dream, dreaming him and he had a deeply rooted heart that listened?
I am reading a book by Martha Beck called "Finding Your Way in a Wild New World" and I am reminded that there are ancient practices that can help us move forward through uncharted and changeable territory. These practices are the very things, I believe that help artist bring forth their creations from seemingly unconscious realms. Martha Beck names four: Wordlessness, Oneness, Imagination and Form.
In wordlessness: we are called to listen—we move from our heads to our hearts. We quiet the incessant chatter in our heads. Space opens up.
In Oneness: we are intricately connected to all things and therefore capable of drawing upon endless information. We suddenly understand responsibility—how we impact one another—the butterfly effect.
In Imagination: we are open to a field of endless play and possibilities which can liberate us and drops us into virtual realities where we can explore new possibilities—possibilities that may otherwise lay dormant if we do not quiet our own inner chatter and listen to what wants to communicate with us. Our imaginations can crack the puzzles of our own lives if we let them—if we understand that the realm of the imagination is, in and of itself, problem free. It simply offers up possibility, new ways of seeing things, new ways of engaging the world.
Form: from the above three realms we are able to form, not force, whatever we want— allowing the essence of our collaboration to emerge without judgment and fearful manipulation. The zone where magic occurs is so detached it may feel almost boring, but in reality it is a way of allowing and blending with an energy that is what Lao Tzu called "doing without doing."
Our own art, as opposed to art in general, is the way our unique true nature expresses itself in the world of form. Perhaps the divinity that is trying to communicate with us is our own unique nature in all its purity and it is indeed in its very uniqueness a necessary and vital part of a healthy, global consciousness.
To be wayfinders, calls us to step out of our limited thinking—to quiet our needy, fearful, often paranoid minds and drop into a wordlessness and oneness that will carry us all to the very heights of a spiritual consciousness we have yet to encounter.
I have faith that 2012 will be an enlightening encounter with a wild new world unfolding.
I close with another Khalil Gibran quote: "Faith is an oasis in the heart which will never be reached by the caravan of thinking." From my heart to yours—Happy New Year!
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Participating in the Creation of a New World
As the beginning of the new year comes and goes, I am reminded of the creative charge that accompanies it. For a brief period, a new year represents a clean slate, a new canvas on which to create or re-create. 2012, though, offers a unique potential to take this concept to another level.
It was during one of several visits to Guatemala, a decade or so ago, that I was first introduced to the Mayan calendar. The 20 glyphs representing 20 named days of the Tzolk'in calendar were the first to catch my imagination, with their charming, cartoon-like rendering. I then learned that the Mayan Long Count calendar, used for referencing historical and future dates, would soon come to an end. December 21, 2012 would mark the last day of the b'ak'tun, a 5,125 year cycle, or Fourth World. Such an historical demarkation offered rich fodder for musing, "What will the Fifth World bring?"
Today, much of our current pop culture appears to have interpreted the ending of this calendar as some kind of doomsday prophesy. Such end-days visions are not a reflection of historical Mayan texts. So, why has this, apocalyptic interpretation become popular? Maybe it's akin to a dream metaphor, in which death represents change. Perhaps, the end of the world scenario signifies a cultural desire for epic, global change.
More hopeful interpretations of 2012's winter solstice are prevalent among many spiritual circles, and precede most doomsday mythologies. Some interpret Edgar Casey's description of a new global consciousness as a reference to 2012. Others focus on a rare "galactic alignment," such as in the writings of John Major Jenkins, in which the December solstice sun intersects with the dark rift of the Milky Way.
Time will tell whether we are to be engulfed in a great flood or a great flood of enlightenment. We will no doubt be deluged with other imaginative "what ifs" before December rolls around. Currently, the "what ifs" that interest me are, "What if this calendar date might actually mark the beginning of something profoundly new?" and "What if we are invited to participate in it's design?" Might such "what ifs" inspire us to follow the lead of our inner voice and to create?
Creativity tends to flourish in times of prosperity, when the arts need not adhere to utilitarian standards. But it is in the turbulent times of change, that the influence of the artist may be most valuable. Creativity has the power to actively stimulate change, bridge division, and sculpt hope, or more passively influence via the expression or interpretation of that which calls. Both will be required for designing the stage, score, lighting, costumes, and dialog of a new world theater. It is the collective impact of all the creative voices and illuminating visions that form the melody and shape the landscape of any new world, whether it is the world beginning December 22, 2012, or the new world that begins now, and for all nows to come.
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As I seek out a focus for this writing about creative process, I find myself realizing that feeding and tending imagination is one of my favorite exercises. Gifts of nature, along with my love of garden and our local landscape, spark this process. It is a love affair with brush strokes and certain colors like undersea green, raw umber, Prussian blue, ultramarine blue, phthalo turquoise, and magenta. Saving the white delights and rendering the blues of the shadows draws me deeper. Tapping into a flow with my favorite brush, and finding the surprises as pigment makes its way, allows me to enter an automatic privileged state of just appreciating this unfolding show of beauty. There is an acceptance of this gift and trusting of the messages captured by my intuition's signals. I find eyes, faces, birds, cats, elves, jesters, sad souls... with their exuberant stances and reclining respectful poses. All are fleeting glimpses, sometimes lost, and often found again, revelatory reminders of my passion and process.
Later when works are hung on the wall at the foot of my bed, I employ another revelry of imagination to find other pearls of wisdom, splashes of mystic wonder, and the pause that it takes to slow down to the paradise of a small patch of pigment on paper. The suggestions that reach into my psyche are simplistic, sweet, and often humbling. At a distance, not in the throes of painting, I love finding unplanned developments. Being satisfied with an abstracted style that fits with my skill levels takes patience and acceptance, knowing when to stop adjusting, and when to resume with a few tweaks here and there. Then I develop attachments and live with the fear of losing what is there for some new unknown. Within this watercolor world, I find a solitude which reinforces lessons of life revolving around appreciating, reimagining, recreating, and making adjustments along the way.
Each morning I look out my window at an early dawn's golden and magenta washes against the sky's blue brilliance. My cat snuggles against my right side. Peace is with me in this morning meditation as I focus on my view of outside trees, sky, flying birds, and on my paintings in the frames before me. I breathe and relax into this experience of waking up to another day with my cup of Assam tea brewed with loose leaves so I can swirl to my heart's content again exercising my imagination to find a buffet of delightful silhouettes. My cup is full, thanks to the fluid relationship with those things I imagine, create, and appreciate.
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As days grow ever shorter this year moving toward Christmas, I am reminded that we are often presented unexpected opportunities when we least expect it if we are open to new possibilities. Surprises always contain a gift when we look for them rather than focusing on potential trouble or judge them as mistakes. This is an important part of the creative process—it is how we develop the creative voice of our inner Muse. It is the deeper voice we can trust for inspiration when we need it for both artistic and life choices.
What started this line of thought was the recent award of grant money to start a new Creative Edge program under the heading of Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP). Who would have ever thought our programs would include this subject!
It all started several years ago when a talented teacher, Linda Hevern, proposed Creative Edge sponsor her Arts as Healing classes with Monterey County Arts Council grant money. The first classes were for seniors—the oldest being 100 years of age—but recently, they have expanded to include younger adults also dealing with major life and death health issues. The classes were held at the Boys & Girls Club of Monterey County with the hope of crossing the generational divide through shared creativity. To date the classes and resulting art shows have been highly successful!
Recently, Linda and Arts as Healing participants collaborated with a counselor from The Seaside Youth Diversion Program: a partnership between Seaside Police Department and Monterey County Children's Behavioral Health where officers refer youth who have usually committed a citable, non-felony offense whom the officer believes would be better served by having counseling and restorative justice type of activities rather than becoming more involved with the juvenile justice system.
Arts as Healing participants volunteered to share their challenging personal stories and resulting art with the youth as a stimulus for youth to create similar art reflecting their situation. On many different levels, making art together was highly successful providing a model for future intergenerational possibilities.
Then came a call for TPP Grant Proposals including Leadership Training sponsored by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. We answered this call and received a grant even though it led Creative Edge into an unexpected area of endeavor! Because of openness to the unexpected, Creative Edge and the community found a gift!
At the heart of our approach was development of a strong inner authority, sense of self or ego from which good choices may be made for all of life's challenges! This is true at the heart of the creative process where an inner dialog between normal awareness and the deeper unconscious—the voice of the Muses—becomes the necessary source/resource for both life direction and art making.
When youth are able to relate or share in common with mature adults as in our intergenerational program, the adults become mentors and role models helping to build this all important inner confidence and resource through their art exchange. Further, the fact that our Arts as Healing adults have navigated life-challenging experiences with their health issues and expressed it through art reinforces its application to youth circumstances and their choices in a powerful way.
As experienced adults, the answers to most important questions in life are ultimately found deep within us. However, it is also vital we stay open to new possibilities or surprises found in outer life. Learning to decipher the creative voice of the Muses with its many disguises is important wherever found. Often it is outside our normal plans or expectations! This was true for Creative Edge with Linda's proposals for Arts as Healing grants and now with the latest grant working with youth on Teen Pregnancy Prevention.
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When the year is new, it is hard not to think of beginnings—the longing for a clean slate, for new opportunities and the chance to start over. It comes every year at this time, filling me with optimism about the future. This forward thinking brings hope and possibility. It brings the chance to do something more, something better, something different.
Today, though, my thoughts tug me backwards. Instead of looking forward, my inner eye is looking back, evaluating, criticizing, and counting the successes and the failures and all the unfinished business in-between. Could I have lived a fuller life? Did the choices I made along the way really personify my true values?
All these questions and concerns hit me in a blink of an eye, swirling into my consciousness almost instantaneously. But now, a deeper question comes to mind, one that I have wrestled with before, but that hasn't visited the crowded forefront of my mind in some time:
Is it possible that there is no need for this evaluation and concern?
What if my life was lived this last year exactly as it should have been, leaving no place for criticism?
I think of a quote by Thomas Merton: "Every moment and every event of every man's life on earth plants something in his soul." If this is true, then every choice I made, every moment spent, was a truthful moment, perfect in its pleasure or its pain. Life holds the full range, and I have limited control of what comes into my sphere. I do have control, though, of how I react to life.
So maybe this year I'll try something new. I won't look back on the last year with my usual critical eye. I'll forgive my bad choices, forgive those moments when I said the wrong thing,
or didn't speak up as I should have. Instead of counting up the tasks I didn't get finished, I'll focus on all those I did accomplish. I'll release those art projects that I never completed, and
recognize the joy in those that did get created. And maybe, just maybe, I can turn my loving eye towards the gifts planted in my soul by all the past has brought me—the sorrows and the celebrations, the agonies and the joys. And in this new year, I will open my heart once again to possibilities—to the perfect rightness of life's gifts to my soul.
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Barbara Rose Shuler:
Lessons from the Crucible
As Creative Edge people know, creativity is not limited to domains of artists, inventors, poets and performers. The creative process in the individual can be ignited anywhere at any time as it is more a way of being than a gift or a talent. Remembering this during challenging times and stressful circumstances makes a significant difference in the quality of one's life.
I want to share something of how staying conscious of creativity helped me navigate a recent rough patch in my world.
It has been said that if you are going to have an incurable neurological disorder, Parkinson's is less challenging than most. That may be. Nevertheless, it's an unusually complex and formidable disease that dramatically changes the lives of those with the disease and the family members who care for them. For a long time I served as the caregiver for a beloved family member afflicted with this horrible disease. The illness demanded from both of us courage, patience, sacrifice and a willingness to radically alter the way we moved forward.
"Nobody briefs us on all the services we are supposed to perform when we take on this role." writes Gail Sheehy in "Passages in Caregiving."
Her words, I would say, are an understatement.
Towards the end of this caregiving cycle, when it was at its most intense, it became necessary to care for another seriously ill family member, so there were two precious souls on my watch. Of course, this undertaking was exhausting and heartbreaking and took its toll. It would be foolish to suggest otherwise. In an instant I would go back in time and change our destiny to a happier one if I could.
I learned the sunlight of creativity can break through the clouds during even the darkest times and shine grace into the situation.
One of my beloveds has passed away and the other is now being cared for in a professional setting with Hospice attention. The journey is not over yet but here are some lessons I have learned from the crucible.
Stay tuned to the pole star of love. Whatever happens, always return
to love. It renews the heart, body, mind and spirit and brings one
to the realm where healing happens.
Practice staying in the present moment.
Practice cheerfulness and look for laughter.
Forgive easily and quickly.
As much as possible keep in touch with friends and accept their help
Develop creative interests that can be explored in the new narrowed
Seek help when it becomes overwhelming, ideally before. There are many
resources available in this community for caregivers, many of them not costly.
Find creative ways to take care of yourself. This is critical!
Practice acceptance and be willing to change and adapt.
Don't be afraid of a broken heart.
Practice gratitude. Smile often.
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(In the November issue of AARP, an article gave clues to conversations during the Thanksgiving meal. As each day offers Thanksgiving opportunities, I send this on to let you know a bit more about myself.)
My parents told me I was a small baby, a beautiful baby with lots of black hair and deep green eyes. My favorite toy, a box of wooden blocks brought to my by my Uncle Hans. They all fit back into the wooden box if I placed them just right. I liked just right. It made me feel good.
Something I wish was still sold in stores, Fleers Double Bubble Gum. It was hard to get during my childhood, but Daddy imported and exported, mostly machines, but he once brought me home a gross, 144, individually wrapped pieces, in a gray cardboard box. I gave some to my friends at school and sold some for five cents each, a whole nickel, and I had a lot of money for a short time, before I spent it. I was sure popular during the fourth grade.
My first home away from home, a summer camp in Putney, Vermont, work camp where my parents paid for me to work!
Can you imagine? I should have been paid to go there. We raked manure in the stables. The only good thing about that, and it certainly wasn't the smell, was the heat that moistened our skin and gave us neat complexions. I also had to set tables, not like at home, where the spoon goes above the plate, but there, the spoon rested right next to the knife. Really silly, as the spoon is used last, for dessert. I remember, I put black face on for the costume contest. I would never do that now!
My first crush was on Stephen/Tommy, two boys both shorter than I, in the sixth grade. I liked them both and it would be OK if one of them asked me to Gloria's formal party. Stephen did. Mother and I made out a list of topics to talk about on the long two-block walk from my house to Gloria's. It included school, friends, the Yankees, food, and movie stars. I was shy all night, but also a bit excited. After the party, I put the gardenia corsage in the freezer instead of the refrigerator, to keep it longer, but it froze and wilted, all in one night.
I am happiest now when I think of or am with friends. I still daydream, both backwards and forward. I'm happiest when the pen leaves marks on the paper to tell my story so I can remember it over and over again.
My biggest hope is when I die, I'll still be enjoying life, like in The Hedgehog. I like to leave parties before they are over. I hope to be asked to a party where I don't need to make a list of topics so I won't be too shy. Once, I was really embarrassed when I ran up to a man who I thought was my father, threw my arms around him and it wasn't him. I blushed all the way to the sun and back.
I try not to have regrets, they seem like upside down toadstools, things not to sit upon because they could be poison.
One time I got scared when I first lived alone and the house creaked and the trees answered. But I took deep breaths, inhaled prayers, and remembered the fullness of family.
I once received, actually twice, honorable mentions in the Writer's Digest poetry contests. That made me feel good. Both winners were about difficult times. A happy-go-lucky poem would not have been considered. I'm glad I have poems about happy and sad. I like my roundedness. I hope you like it too.
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—As Don says,
"When the Muse isn't working, what do you do with it?"
So here's an offering from my Dream journal instead:
January 4, 2012
Still awake at 2:00 AM and still COMING UP EMPTY...
"It's been an unusually harsh winter, even for these mountains... My presence has been such an inconspicuous part of this sparsely settled community. I doubt my departure will cause a ripple. Checking the cottage for the last time, I remind myself, "Only necessities!" and again ignore the boxed photographs and manuscriptsÉ Fingering instead Nan's handmade quilt, vintage 1929, I reconsider my already tightly packed station wagon...
The chill of the blowing snow makes me flinch and stumble as I check the ropes above it's open hatch. Meanwhile nagging myself with the threat of future regrets if bone-tired-me neglects another run-through of the barn, tack room, and shed.
Tightening my coat, tucking my nose under my scarf, and with Brad's old Cub Scout flashlight in hand, I bend into the wind and trudge, obedient to Demon-Conscience, the one-hundred-twenty-seven steps—Yes, I had counted them on that glorious first Spring day so long ago—toward the gaping hole where our barn door used to be.
Once inside, as my eyes adjust slowly to dimness and disorder, I am startled to discover the black and white patchwork of Molly, our beloved old milk cow, gazing patiently from her accustomed stall. But how can this be?
Molly was sold last month at auction to a lowland farmer and his gaggle of youngsters.
How I wept, remembering our years of partnership, Molly's and mine, as she nurtured my own growing children through their teens with her abundance. The farmer's trailer had pulled away with Molly munching placidly inside, knee deep in straw... Why has she found her way back to me on her own... and from such a distance?
For here she is again... So familiar is the sweet scent of her. Her eyes are soft and trusting as I stroke her forehead and rest my cheek against her velvet muzzle murmuring to her sigh. There are no corn stalks in the corn crib. No grain. Nor fodder. No straw on these bare boards. I have neither trailer hitch, nor trailer—
What can I do? How can I provide?
WHY back to me NOW?
I awakened, haunted by the mystery of those questions.
Now, after several weeks, my dream is still vivid, but the question has become Who or What does Molly symbolize?
Since 2012 is my 82nd year, I've come to suspect she is my Muse!
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