Thoughts on Creativity — Newsletter #49
A'musings #18 (Jan 2015)
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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Reflecting upon the past year, I find the major theme threading itself throughout 2014 was "letting go." It was not an easy year but a necessary one. Sometimes turbulent, the currents of life were rearranging themselves within and without. I had no choice but to surrender to what I trusted was part of the creative process of change. And indeed everything was changing.
I was walking in Moss Landing one day and past by a window with lettering on it which read: " Broken by a storm, freed from my roots, amongst the whales and waves, my journey continues, polished by sand, whitened by the sun, I flow toward destiny where new adventures await anxiously."
One month later, my husband and I and our little dog were traveling across country to our new home. Trusting nature to fill any void, I nurtured a heart aching from too many goodbyes but excited at the prospects of "anxiously awaiting adventures.
Our new home is in Florida. Our Lakeside cottage is named The Egret, a bird which has always held a special meaning for my husband and me. Egrets are all around us here, a-wing with us with their grace and beauty. I looked up the totem medicine of the Egret and it feels most fitting at this time." The Heron/Egret totem teaches balance, the ability to progress and evolve—to walk into deeper waters without fear, to stand on one's own two feet and to learn self reliance."
I am treasuring this time of reflection, taking long walks alongside lake and marsh. I have decorated our cottage with soft colors drawing inspiration from what nature never fails to gift me. These are gentle days. My edges have indeed softened. After a year of letting go, 2015 seems to be sending me a quiet message to "simply be and receive." My heart is full of gratitude. We so often fear change and yet, it is a gift offering us the opportunity to evolve, to move more deeply into the very waters which will nourish our souls.
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Lessons from a Scrub Jay
Seasons come. Seasons go. The more that pass, the more we get to glimpse their familiar cycles. Warm to cold, wind to sunshine to rain, seasons alternate in recognizable patterns.
Whether in weather, or in other replicating swirls of being, observing the rhythms of cycles can aid our ability to follow life's music. If the cadence becomes familiar enough, we may learn to dance to it more gracefully.
Creativity also flows in cycles. The muse may fly off somewhere lush during our drought, leaving the riverbed of our imagination dry. Then suddenly, when the rains come around more regularly, she is back, humming new songs in our ear, sowing seeds for the spring, as if she were never away.
At times, I have experienced dry spells, when thoughts would not yield satisfactory inspiration, no matter how hard I might squeeze. I've usually had the good sense to understand that it's part of the cycle, and that I just needed to wait for the more abundant flow to run again.
Recently, the birds have reminded me, that it is my responsibility to plan ahead for dry days. As there is benefit in learning to cache nuts and acorns, there may also be wisdom in learning to cache ideas.
Now, after a few storms, I am blessed with more ideas than I can take action on in any given week or month. I wonder how and where to store this newfound inspiration.
I watch a western scrub jay perch upon my fingertips, pick up a peanut, shake it, place it back in the palm of my hand, and select another, then fly off to cache it under a select leaf and twig. It isn't always the largest nut which is chosen, but often one with a special rattle, or solid bright shell.
Which ideas should I select? Where should I store them? Should I stuff a sock full with them, so that I can reach in randomly when I am hungry for an idea? Should I place some under pillows, or in cabinets, so that I can be surprised with delight when stumbling upon a forgotten idea, months or years after hiding it?
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Goethe, a master of words, wrote during midlife, "We talk far too much. We should talk less and draw more." I learned this as I read Huxley's Doors of Perception. Huxley goes on to say that he "would personally like to renounce speech altogether and communicate everything in sketches," which he calls, "momentous signatures," and wonders if a "person able to decipher their meaning would soon be able to dispense with the written and spoken word altogether." About speech, he goes on to say "there is something futile and mediocre . . . about speech." Contrast that with "the gravity of nature and how her silence startles you, when you stand face to face with her, undistracted before a barren ridge or the desolation of the ancient hills." He then admits, we need to know how to handle words effectively "but at the same time we must preserve, and if necessary, intensify our ability to look at the world" directly "without generic labels," or, "explanatory abstraction."
I repeat his advice, "to look at the world directly." He had just described an experience with peyote where he was absorbed with folds in clothing, flowers, and a chair. The ability to be with something, as when we draw, paint, or just look at our art, our "momentous signatures"—just take them in . . . without labeling, judging, explaining, or using our futile words to attempt to clarify, justify, and bolster up our "momentous signature."
This impresses me with the worthiness of embracing and being embraced by the creative process. What is that state when we are so immersed that we lose track of time? Is it a moving meditation that suspends the words and should it be done regularly? Should there be creative break times to exercise the right side of the brain?
When I look up a description of creativity I see: imaginative, ingenious, inventive, original, resourceful. All of these qualities are valuable. I wonder if the practice of creating nourishes these qualities, and should I encourage this to happen.
Recently, my husband was away for ten days. I was going to get together with friends; then I decided to spend time alone. On my morning walks, I admired an oak tree and decided to paint it. I spent three days—just me and that tree. At first, I planned to do it in one session like most of my paintings. It was more than I usually attempt, but my time was open. It was just me and that tree—sort of a vacation. I didn't need to go away—well, maybe I did go away. It was my time to purr, see, create—and truly fill my time with this experience. It was an experience of creating a "momentous signature." I made a move toward significance—to be a force of nature.
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Last year, the theme on my mind for A'musings was "change." Lou and I had just moved to Forest Hill Senior Living in Pacific Grove. After a year, we now find our selves well-satisfied beneficiaries of that radical change. The continuing monthly Creative Arts Gatherings held here are also well attended without advertising.
This year, I find myself deeply involved with a different mode of creative expression than traditional painting, sculpting or poetry. As editor of the monthly Forest Hill News, I am responsible for a monthly newsletter and coordination of a staff of eight writers, interviewers, and proofreaders. However, since many residents of Forest Hill are not digitally literate, layout and assembly of each newsletter on the computer is my most important personal task. (I find Microsoft Office's Word and Adobe Photoshop Elements are amazing tools for this on my iMac.) In addition, surfacing stories from both residents and staff members is also a major priority with me—their biographies are a primary focus for the newsletter.
What makes these tasks enjoyable is that I approach this work in the same manner as I would any other art project. Intuition—the act of knowing without the use of rational processes—is a key part of this process. Artists have always called this other mysterious source for inspiration, their Muse. Many times, in what seems to be a conscious rational act during the creative process, it is really a fast moving iteration between conscious rational choice and inspired internal guidance from the unconscious or the Muse. It feels like someone else is helping us accomplish our creative task providing inspiration. Thus personal stress is relieved!
For example, during an interview, as I interact with a person, new questions pop into my head or certain bits of our dialog catch my attention to explore. I generally trust this guidance from my interview Muse. Trusting the process without fear, I stay present and open in the moment of creative listening. Listening both outside in our conversation and internally, for that other input. I listen for questions to pose that come to my mind from the unconscious as we talk. I let these thoughts help guide our discussion while I make a few notes. Later, the notes guide my writing into rational sentences with the use of the mother of all muses, Memory—memories from the interview. Thus, with this internal support from my Muses, I can relax and enjoy each conversation.
This experience reinforces my belief in the creative process as an excellent basis for a rich, healthy, and joyous way of life. It is mainly an iterative process we all have buried deep in the psyche and everyone can learn to use it for every day life. It is good for much more than artistic expression! It is a process that must be cultivated to use without fear. Most importantly, it is limitless—the more we use it, the more we have!
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A new year . . . new chances to make changes that are satisfying and long-lasting. The optimist within me loves this time of year because there is so much possibility, so many hopes! I make lists; I make plans; I dream of how wonderful life will be when I succeed in all my endeavors. But that pessimist living inside, well, she knows better! How many years have I pledged to 1) lose weight 2) do more art 3) organize my paperwork and 4) clean that darn garage!? Sometimes some of it gets done, I have to admit. I have organized my paperwork and cleaned the garage numerous times, but it never seems to stay that way. And those other resolutions—do they get satisfied? Nope. I still weigh more than I should and I certainly never seem to make the time to create as much as I really want. What is this about? What does it mean? What does this say about me?
I live with this interesting (as in "painful") dichotomy in my life: on the one hand, I am a natural caretaker. I tend to put the needs of others above my own. I take everyone else into consideration long before I consider what I want. This is a satisfying way to live because I know I am contributing positively to the lives of others. It feels good—it feels right, and all my life I have gotten positive reinforcement for this tendency. I think of myself as a caring, loving person, and that, I have learned, is a good kind of person to be.
On the other hand (and why is there ALWAYS an "other hand?"), I don't want to be this loving, caring, nurturing person. I want to be selfish. Yes, you read that right—I want to be selfish! Is that so wrong? It sure feels wrong, and yet I long for this in a deep, visceral kind of way. I want to be the person who can say to others "I'm so sorry, I can't possibly help you out today! I have to lay on my bed today because the sun is streaming onto my pillow and I need my medicinal B vitamins!" I want be someone who can make the choice, without reservation or regret, to spend a whole weekend (not just one hour, or even one day—a whole weekend!) playing with colored pencils and gel pens, doodling to my heart's content.
My challenge, I realize, is to find the balance between these two different ways of being in the world. Instead of internally fighting with myself, I need to allow the space for both aspects to live and flourish. I recently had someone give me the perfect answer to this dilemma: it's all about branding! According to this very wise friend, I need to stop thinking about "being selfish" and start "re-centering." I need accept that it is good for me to choose those activities that bring me back to center, even when those activities are being silent and doing nothing. If I am so skilled at supporting others, then by re-centering, I become the kind of person who can support my own wellbeing. And this, too, is a good kind of person to be!
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Barbara Rose Shuler:
Returning to David Whyte
In the early days of the Creative Edge, the organization hosted a number of events featuring a young man by the name of David Whyte, who had recently stepped courageously into a new life dedicated to poetry as a portal to creativity and the life of the soul. That life-changing moment for David came at the end-of-year Brugh Joy conference at Asilomar in 1987. And it made a strong impression on Donald Mathews.
Donald writes: "The next year [at the Brugh Joy conference] going into lunch with the idea to start Creative Edge in my mind, David Whyte sat down beside me. Seeing this as a sign, I asked him to be the first workshop facilitator in my new organization. He agreed and Creative Edge was born."
Over the years I interviewed many of the presenters from this then yearly Asilomar event in Pacific Grove on my radio talk program "Discovery." It was natural to bring David into the studios in connection with his Creative Edge appearances. David's close friend and colleague, the extraordinary Irish priest, raconteur and poet John O'Donohue also came through Creative Edge for a workshop or two. He and David separately appeared numerous times on Discovery thrilling the listeners with their humor, wisdom, poetry and glorious ways with the English language.
Both men went on to become well-known and highly regarded in the international arena, touching millions of people through their writings, recordings, appearances and many ways of serving their fellow humans. Sadly, as many of you know, John passed away suddenly 7 years ago, a huge loss to those who knew him and connected to his effervescent spirit.
Until recently, it had been many years since seeing David, though from time to time I touched into his writings and recordings. I remembered him as he was in his younger Creative Edge days just setting out in a new self-created profession and being well received.
When a friend suggested attending one of his workshops last year, the timing was right. So between the end of October and this month, I plunged into not one but three events with David and his collaborators. One took place on Bainbridge Island, Washington, one in San Francisco and the last two weeks ago at Asilomar.
Often there is both sweetness and poignancy returning to a person or a place remembered fondly after a span of many years. And so it was with these excellent gatherings. Gone the young-man poet and storyteller. In his place stood a strong and vibrant elder who had mastered and refined the form of his public appearances, bequeathing to his audience a unique alchemy of wisdom, vulnerability, humor, depth and profound invitation to the creative edge of being.
He spoke of John and the grief of losing this friend who was closer than a brother. He talked and read poems of other deaths, including his mother, and expressed us how he learned that the conversation with a loved one does not end with death. It continues in a new form with its own rhythms and directions. He told stories upon stories on themes of solace, pilgrimage, loss, harvest, forgiveness, courage, friendship, laughter, work, engaging with spirit and more.
He encouraged us to consider deeply what he calls the "beautiful questions." What is my relationship to the unknown? What is the old self that is about to leave? How can I cultivate a sense of presence equal to the losses I've been given? How can I inhabit vulnerability in a robust way? What is the promise I needed to promise all along? And many more.
David's beautiful daughter Charlotte joins him, working with his administrative staff. Also, wonderfully, she appears as a singer during musical interludes created by Owen and Moley O'Súilleabháin, two gorgeously talented singers, speakers, composers and brothers from Ireland that David refers to as "the lads." They add richly to the quality of these workshops. And Charlotte is achingly lovely as a songstress—such a sweet pleasure to see father and daughter working together in this way.
As David Whyte's relationship with Creative Edge served as part of a springboard to his true life's work, so too I think the person he has become exemplifies magnificently the vision of this organization. In Donald's words: "To search our inner-most feelings and intuitions in regard to our relationship with the world, express creatively what we find and finally share the results publicly, this is the creative edge, the risk of sacred artistry!"
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POINT LOBOS, AFTERNOON BEFORE THE STORM—DECEMBER 2014
We chose the day for a picnic, assuming an outing at this place would be an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. Enjoyable changed to splendid, onward toward fantastic, to the superlative!
Clouds opened to reveal light show in the heavens, the ocean offered primordial mists, and the play between rocks and sea and sky became a performance of wonder so great that I became hesitant to leave. "One more drive by the shore," I requested on our way out and was driven slowly along the almost deserted roadway, aware of the ever-changing scene. We parked near the only other car present, and then walked toward our view. Spray came close enough to taste, as we watched the ever-higher breaking waves crash on the time-worked cliffs.
We noticed two people by the tide pools, faces down, obviously searching. We thought it magic be sea glass, so popular lately. We walked near each other and I asked. "Are you finding something?" "Yes," the response from the woman. "We are collecting heart-shaped rocks, to bring to a friend whose mother just died. She loves hearts."
Immediately my mind goes toward my jewelry box. Inside, a small, about an inch square, stone in the shape of a heart, an agate polished to a lovely sheen. I noticed it recently, admiring its variegated beauty and silken softness before I carefully put it back without recalling how I received it, and feeling that it would remain where I had found it that day.
At Point Lobos, as the evening began to approach, I felt that stone heart pull at me, reminding me of its existence. I spoke, without really thinking. "I have a stone heart, in tans with flecks of brown. I would like to give to you. You can take it to a jeweler and have him make a ring that will hold a chain so she can wear it. By the way, what color is her hair?" "Yellow and shades of brown." I was told. Yes, I knew the heart is going to the right place.
I took her address, promised to send it off the next day. I felt the giving of the heart such a small gift in comparison to the received gifts of the day. Upon arriving home, all fell easily into place. I found a small white box, cotton lined, wrapped the heart in brightly decorated rainbow tissue paper, included a small golden angel that fits on a lapel, given to me for safe travel. Carefully I closed the box, with those two gifts destined for someone I knew not, and wrapped it for mailing. Even though a storm threatened the following morning, I was third on line at the opening of the local post office, making certain the gift would find its destination shortly.
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Louise Gray Tindell:
There are no mistakes, no coincidences.
All events are blessings given to us to learn from.
I said goodbye to my uncle, Frank Palmer, January 24, 2015. His casket was lowered as I drop my lily and tears over him. I realized he was the last of our previous generation. He was 87 years young when he passed leaving behind family, friends, and our memories. I hadn't been in Uncle Bud's Church for a few years but it brought back many remembrances of the singing, the music, and gathering in the social hall. It helped to be surrounded by my extended family. At the service, my cousin, David told us about a car accident with my grandmother driving. The front window was smashed leaving Buddy with a deep cut next to his eye. My grandmother never drove again, so my uncle wasn't the only one traumatized by the accident. Buddy was 12 years old feeling so scarred that no one would look at him, and became embarrassed and shy. After a length of time, my grandmother went to the local Boy Scout Leader and asked if he could help my uncle. With the help of the Scout Leader, Buddy did heal and regain his confidence. Later in life, Uncle Bud had realized his heart was scarred too and finally was able to release his pain. When I first heard his story, I felt very sad. As I grew older, I recognized I also felt scarred inside. Through many opportunities, I have released much of my inside pain.
We are the current generations now with our children and grandchildren, the builders and guardians of the future they will live in. Many family and friends have passed and I know I will die someday. Death is another part of the cycle of life and comes to all of us some day, a reality I am getting used to. I am so fortunate that I can appreciate each day. Some of you know that my husband and I have two grandsons at our home on Monday through Friday. Everyday brings an exciting, creative adventure as our grandchildren develop, creating new memories which we will treasure.
A few days ago, I was holding my grandson, Christopher and giving him a bottle of milk. He looks up each time, seeing a swirling hat I made a few years ago, a hat covered with feathers, shells with a furry bird inside. The inspiration came from Guam when I was visiting with my goddess daughter, Lynn and her baby, CJ. I so appreciate having several years of "Spirit in the Arts" at our Wednesday's Women's Art Group. Luckily now, Carol Mathew-Rogers, also a Creative Edge Board Member, has started "Playing on the Edge." Several friends have come together again for art. We take some time to visit, than we "try" to focus on our pieces in silence. I have a piece which isn't finished, but I so enjoy letting the muse guide me as the piece transforms. My soul feels the richness!
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"Painting as a Meditative Process for Spiritual Evolution"
Painting—when not merely employed as a system of technical rendering, but as a form of authentic Self-expression—can become a meditative process: a creative retreat which offers us vast possibilities for evolving unforeseen images of insight. When that illusory "Magic" enfolds our dancing brushes, images are evoked that awaken a different sense of reality—Forms are revealed and recognized rather than crafted by our arbitrary invention. Numinous connections with the vastness of inner knowing that lies ever-waiting beneath the surface of our daily concerns.
Born in mystery, we all too often manage to drown our wonder, obliterate through doingness, and press through our midlife to the chatter of our own inner multitudes. "Monkey mind" must be hushed in our studios.
Meditative painting provides strokes that support a treading of the waters of the mystery. A process that is both fascinating and calming.
By non-willfully groping, assessing, and redirecting the technical elements of mass and void, shadow and illumination, warmth of hue and chill of tint texture and glaze, visual metaphors materialize, much like out-of-body-experiences by which we can better understand our sacred calling.
By persisting through my own decades of unforeseen metaphysical images, I have slowly evolved a kind of personal iconography—perhaps not worthy of the sophisticated critic's eye—but surely as efficient as an author's private journal to chronicle a glimpse here and there, as I found my way out of shadows and chaos along the painter's path of color and light, frozen out of this vast impermanence of time.
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