Stop Your Rant In Its Track

TODAY’S FEATURED THOUGHT FOR HUMANS

Stop your rant in its track

I come from a long line of ranters and am famous for ranting. Through a life of ranting I’ve learned that rants are mostly a useless exercise. They serve as a pressure release, which is say, energy that is misdirected. Miracles happen when misdirected energy is focused and released toward an intention. Rants are essentially an admission of helplessness, a scream of, “Why is this happening to me?” Redirected, the energy becomes a focused stream of, “I am going to make this happen.”

FOR TODAY’S FEATURED ENCOURAGEMENT FOR HUMANS, GO HERE.

Dance Without Effort

my mud-slog

my mud-slog

Last night I painted badly and I did it intentionally. I went down into the cool of the basement studio to escape the heat and humidity. A new canvas was stapled to the wall, gessoed and ready to go. I picked up my brushes, squeezed paint onto the palette and began working.

Many years ago I made the switch from oils to acrylics because the fumes were making me ill. It was a happy accident. Acrylics required me to work fast and fast meant I had no time to think. I learned by default that I am a much better artist when I’m not laboring over the details. Sometimes the process feels like an invocation. Sometimes the process feels like a rolling mess that morphs and morphs until the final moment when, like focusing a telescope, the image becomes crystal clear.

My paintings are generally big. They demand a full-body engagement, painting-as-dance. I know I am working well when I lose track of time, when the dance overtakes me, and the line between painting and painter disappears. It is pure magic: a place free of thought-obstacles.

Last night there was no magic. When I was younger the slog sessions would depress me. I believed I had to have magic all of the time and felt despair when, instead of magic, I danced knee-deep in mud. It took a long time for me to appreciate the necessity of the mud dances. Painting badly is, of course, necessary to paint well. In fact, I now know that there is no such thing as painting badly just as there is no such thing as perfection. Saying more with less is a life-long learning process for all artists. Freedom of expression is a yoga, a practice. It has as much to do with muscles as it does with minds. It is a yoga of brevity. It is as efficient as breath. It is a paradox of stepping out of the way so that you can fully step forward.

I once saw an exhibit of the hundreds of sketches and studies John Singer Sergeant did before painting El Jaleo. I loved it. He drew the same thing over and over again. He painted again and again the smallest detail. He was putting the image into his body. He was teaching his muscles to flow without tension. The finished painting (the last thing in the exhibit) was thrilling. It is a celebration of brevity, free motion without mental intervention. It made me dizzy. It made me cry because I knew how devoted he was to his practice to say so much with so little. I knew how many hours of effort it took for him to dance so effortlessly.

 

 

Experience The Miracle

From the archives: Pidgeon Pier. This painting is about paying attention

From the archives: Pidgeon Pier. This painting is about paying attention

“It has become my view–my faith–that all elements of nature have that power to produce peace. It is surely why so many are drawn away from their urban lives and back to natural places. But those places need not be grand scenic vistas. The same peace can be found in the dandelion growing in the nearest vacant city lot.

It is, in the end, a choice either to “shut up and listen” to these sources of strength–no matter how great or humble or where we encounter them–or to hurry on by.”

~Master Jim Marsh in a comment about my post, Sit By The River

There was a cool breeze off the lake this morning that slowed the mounting humidity. We were a mile into our usual morning walk, rounding the path to the rocky lakeshore, when we entered the storm of dragonflies. There were hundreds of them, hovering just above our heads, occupying a narrow band that stretched as far as the eye could see!

I gasped and stopped! Never in my life had I seen so many dragonflies. Kerri said, “They come out when the weather has been hot and without rain.” Before continuing on our way, we stood for a few moments appreciating the hovering, the methodical zigging-and-zagging. Until our path deviated from the coast, they were with us, green and purple spirits, riding the air-line where earth meets water. For me it was pure magic.

Many years ago, as a way of ending our relationship, a woman told me that it was too hard to be with a mystic. I’d never before (or since) thought of myself as a mystic so I looked it up to make sure I understood why a mystic might not be easy to live with:

Mystic (noun): a follower of mysticism.
Mysticism (noun):
1. Belief in intuitive spiritual revelation,
2. Spiritual system,
3. Confused and vague ideas.

I laughed aloud when I read the three definitions of mysticism; the third definition applied to the previous two! I left my dictionary with two beliefs:

  1. All human beings are mystics if they simply slow down and pay attention. There’s no trick to it. And, that was certainly the problem in my relationship: I have always liked walking slowly in a world drunk on racing to the next big thing. That is hard to live with!
  2. The line between a spiritual revelation, a cathartic experience, a scientific eureka, or an artistic visit from the muse, seems to me, to be semantic. In our age of the intellect we generally run from the word intuition unless we apply a label like “gut instinct” (transforming a feminine energy to a masculine gut) or “I just knew it!” (transforming the scary clarity of an intuitive feeling into a safe clarity of an intellectual experience). It’s all wordplay.

Hearts know. Thoughts babble. And the only way to sort it all out is to stand still, stop the babbling, and see the miracle.

Paddle On

photo-3We’d been out in the canoe for more than an hour. The morning was warm and the water was still. We hugged the shore, cruising the lily pads. Dan told us some of the lily pads were over 150 years old. I was amazed at their capacity to reach through time but also reach through long stems to the water’s surface to drink the sun.

The turtle emerged from nowhere. It appeared from the depths, through the lily pad stem forest, and rose to within inches of the surface. It was big for a lake turtle, perhaps the size of a dinner plate. I let my paddle trail in the water. It was so close I could have reached into the water and touched it. We glided forward and turned the canoe so Kerri might see it but the turtle had already disappeared.

the view from the canoe

the view from the canoe

Turtle is perhaps the oldest known symbol for the earth. In many traditions, turtle carries the world on her back; the earth is her shell. She is a great reminder to go slow and persevere, to live grounded amidst the chaos of life. She symbolizes patience and ease. I was struck by how similar are the symbols of turtle and lily pad. Peace. Ease. Both are extraordinary symbols of grounding or rooting. Both cross the boundary of elements: the turtle lives in water and land. The lily pad reaches through the water to find air and sun. Both inhabit the depths and reach to the surface.

It feels as if I came into this world with art already in me. From an early age I drew pictures, not because I wanted to but because I had to. Like the lily pad, I was reaching for something unknown. I drew the same images over and over again: a cabin in the woods, eyes, clowns. I wasn’t drawing to master the image, I was drawing and painting in order to reach beyond the image. There was something there, beyond, deep in the depths, a root, rich soil, the void. There was a force behind the image that pulled me. My artistry felt like a descent into the caves of the ancients, a search for sources mythological.

Sometime during these past few years, the direction of the pull reversed itself. Like Orpheus in the underworld, I turned around. I walked toward the surface. In essence, the pull to the depths became a reach to the light. The sun called. Balance, in this life, at long last necessitated light and warmth.

Tom once told me that inheriting his family’s ranch and subsequently finding a trunk hidden in the wall of the house containing his ancestors possessions served as an affirmation that he had finally come home. Sitting in the canoe, the turtle rising by my side, I felt the affirmation. I am now only inches from breaking the surface. I drink the light because I know the depths and am adept at walking in the dark unknown.

the first layer of  under-painting for the next piece

the first layer of under-painting for my next piece

I am working much slower now. I am in no hurry to get anywhere. And my art, my life, is the better for it.

 

 

 

Jump!

photo

The set for The Lost Boy

Once, I stood on a ledge. I wanted to jump into a river several feet below but I was afraid. I’d watched kids do it all day. They told me in excited tones that it was only a 70-foot drop. I’m a bit afraid of heights – okay, I’m a lot afraid of heights – and from the ledge it looked to me more like 1000 feet. I jumped but have no memory of it. After investing in my fear for many minutes, I remember making a decision, standing and walking toward the edge. I remember bobbing to the surface and laughing aloud.

I learned a great lesson that day: if I put my focus on my fear I will be paralyzed. Before taking the big step off the ledge I sat on a rock, and told myself that I was afraid. I was stuck. I couldn’t move. My mind was atwitter with all the reasons I couldn’t do it. When, finally, I realized that, if I put the same amount of focus and energy into jumping as I was investing into being afraid, the jump would be easy. It would be inevitable. It would be a decision, a choice. And, it was easy. The jump was as intentional as the fear was irrational. It was enlivening.

The Chili Boys in rehearsal

The Chili Boys in rehearsal

Last week we performed my play, The Lost Boy and through the process I revisited my ledge of so many years ago. The opening night served as a touchstone of growth. A play is made complete with the addition of an audience. Boil a play down to its essence and there is an actor and an audience. One is exposed and vulnerable, the other is safe within a group. That’s what makes it work: the one facilitates the journey for the many.

The actor gives and the audience receives – and, if the actor is doing his or her job, the audience gives and the actor receives. It’s a loop. It is a relationship. For the actor, this dance of giving and receiving can be either a terrifying proposition or an exhilarating experience. It all depends upon where the actor places his or her focus. If the focus is on pleasing the audience, the play will be a miserable affair to perform. The audience will play the role of judge or worse, the enemy. It will be a ledge alive with irrational fear. If, instead, the focus is on the action of the play, the simplicity of doing, the experience will be alive and invigorating for everyone involved. The audience will be allies on a single journey with the actor. The actor will be present so that the audience can also experience presence.

When Kerri and I stepped onto the stage last Friday, there was no ledge; it was all jump…

[to be continued]

Flow With Your Constraints

a rough draft from my soon to be released children's book, Play to Play

a rough draft from my soon to be released children’s book, Play to Play

Margie said, “You two need to learn how to be cool and calm.” We repeated her words as if in a trance, “Cool and calm,” I muttered. “Cool and calm,” Kerri said and then looked at me and asked, “Can we do that?” I shook my head. We smiled. The previous day we jumped out of bed at 1:30am and drove 4 hours to Indianapolis to help Craig move out of his apartment. We made it back home by 10pm.Tomorrow we drive to Colorado and then on to Columbia, Missouri. Next week we drive to Minneapolis and on to Colorado again. “You have to learn to sit still!” Margie chirped.

Many years ago Makaela told me that I was like a feral cat. “There’s a part of you that flees from any form of containment,” she said. I was at first surprised by her comment. From the inside, my life seems ordinary. I go to the grocery store. I pay bills. Makaela has a Cheshire Cat grin and it flashed across her face. In truth, I can’t wear lace-up shoes. Neckties are deadly to me. I am brilliant at starting things: programs, theatres, companies,.., just don’t ask me to maintain them once started. Neckties, cubicles, and commutes suffocate me. “See? Feral,” she said.

Cool and calm? Feral?

Neckties and lace up shoes restrict movement. To me, they are improper constraints. Improper constraints are akin to knots in a muscle: they impede flow. Toxins collect around the knots. Disease in a body is the result of an improper constraint. An improper constraint can be literal, a knot in a muscle, or a thought pattern, like the expectation of being perfect. “Perfect” is a mental knot. It stops flow. It stresses unnecessarily. It blocks the movement of free self-expression and engenders judgment. It becomes toxic to the system. Gossip is an improper constraint.

The flip side an improper constraint is a proper constraint. Proper constraints facilitate movement in a direction. They focus energy. Proper constraints define clear and open channels of movement. In a healthy body, air and blood and lymph move unimpeded through channels of proper constraint. Proper constraint is necessary to feed the body. Proper constraint is necessary for vital artistic expression. Healthy communication works just like a healthy body. A choice is a proper constraint. Proper constraint frees the movement of self-expression and engenders connectivity. It clears toxins from a system.

“Wait a minute,” Kerri said as Margie retreated down the stairs, “I think we’re always cool and calm.” I agreed. Our proper constraints look a bit different than most peoples. More than once Craig has looked as us and said, “You two are not normal.” Too true. What is normal, after all? A proper constraint for me is improper for others and vice versa. Kerri and I know for ourselves what engenders flow and what interrupts it. Jay Griffiths wrote that a society has to be tame to need the concept of wild. If there is no break in the natural world, if there isn’t a need for dams and fences, there is no need to distinguish between wild and tame. I am not feral after all. Kerri and I work at having no internal dams or unnatural fences. Our business is to create our own version of flow. Isn’t that what everyone wants?

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Embrace The Mess

circa 2011

circa 2011

I did not intend for this post to be a continuation of yesterday’s but when Amy climbed the stairs into the choir loft and said, “I don’t do change very well,” I laughed. It was word-for-word the same phrase that Kerri had just spoken.

For some reason, we’ve come to expect change to be comfortable and breezy. We expect ourselves to be paragons of reason in the face of imbalance. I find this ridiculous expectation of centered-off-centeredness to be suspiciously corporate. Apparently all change needs management and if it is not managed smoothly and without feeling or emotion then it is not well done.

Emotion is messy. Change is hard. The seed cracks before the tender shoot finds its way to the sun. The seed needs to crack in order for the new form to emerge. Hearts are broken, like seeds, to allow new forms to emerge. Even the “right” relationship is dynamic, messy, surprising, joyful, disappointing, filled with fear, the heights of elation, tenderness, quiet, and at the core is this volatile thing called love. Love burns hot during transformation; love is snuffed when excessively managed. Love is transformative when not unduly controlled.

Everyone does change well because change is the nature of our existence. Energy is always in motion. If humans are expert at anything it is change. We do change well because we can’t avoid it. What we do not do well is afford ourselves the grace of feeling the grief, the insecurity, the frustration, the anger, the joy, the exhilaration, and the dizziness that comes with change. We limit our emotional color palate when we confuse change with control. We do not allow ourselves the mess, the unpredictability, and the loss of balance that necessarily comes with this rolling vibrant transformation called life.

Amy would have been more accurate had she said, “I don’t do control very well.” I didn’t tell her the secret: no one who experiences the fullness of life does control well. In the face of her messy, volatile, change process, she wouldn’t have appreciated my counterpoint. When someone is standing in the middle of the muck it is cold comfort to tell them that they are in the right spot. So, I simply laughed, nodded my head, and said, ‘I know….”

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