Begin

my studio and all of my current messes-in-progress

“Where I create I am true, and I want to find the strength to build my life wholly upon this truth, this infinite simplicity and joy that is sometimes given me… But how shall I begin…?” Rainier Maria Rilke

But how shall I begin? It is a great and ubiquitous question. I have, in my life, worked with many, many people who passionately and at last created beautiful studios for themselves and then, in horror, sat frozen in their dream creative space blankly staring at a canvas. Or a blank sheet of paper. Or an incessant cursor on an all-white screen. Or an instrument. Their first question for me (for themselves): but how shall I begin?

A friend once told me that artists’ studios can sometimes be terrifying places. “You have to show up,” he said. “And what if, when I show up, I find I have nothing of value in me? What if I have nothing to say?” Ah. There’s the rub. Inner judges delight in confusing creative spaces with torture chambers. No one, in their right mind, will willingly step into a torture chamber. Even the hardiest creative impulse goes into hiding when judgment is on the menu.

In the category of things you can say to friends but not to clients: What if you have lots to say but are simply too afraid to say it? What if within you lives an entire universe of unique perspectives and you have created a monster at the door to ensure your silence? Who’s this judge that you fear?

Rilke wrote, “Where I create I am true….” Truth is not a frozen, fixed thing. It is alive and dynamic. Artistry is an exploration into truth (personal truth), not an answer. It is a living dynamic process, not a finished product. This same sentiment applies to all of life.

my favorite recent spontaneous art installation by 20

Tom had a mantra: a writer writes and a painter paints. He might have answered the question this way: begin. Simply show up. Begin. Make messes. Make offers. Make strong offers. See what happens. Learn. Choose. Make mistakes. Make big mistakes. Decide. Fall down. Go too far. Rip it up. Stop too soon. Use the torn pages. Learn. Play. Surprise yourself. Bore yourself. Learn. Play. Choose. No judge, inner or outer, can survive in such a vibrant creative truth-space.

An actual studio is nothing more than an expression of an artist’s internal life. How do you begin? Value your truth. Allow it to live. Knowing how to begin requires an understanding of why you stopped in the first place.

And then, as someone wise once said to me: make all the world your studio.

 

Wait For The Flow

The Weeping Man

The Weeping Man

The Weeping Man is finished.

Sometimes the process of painting feels like wrestling with an angel: It will not release me. I will not let it go. We wrangle and discover the truth in each other. It is, as Quinn used to say of all relationships: “corrections as refinements”.

Sometimes a painting follows you for years and chooses its day. It chooses its time and simply steps into the light. It announces itself: “I am here now.” The Weeping Man was like that.

In my life I have painted hundreds of paintings and I can count a handful that are like The Weeping Man. Pure. In laying it out, I corrected one line. I added another. There are relatively few unnecessary brush strokes.

Flow is like that.

Answer The Question With A Question

carrying on the tradition (and my heroes): mike and sabrina bartram

carrying on the tradition (and my heroes): mike and sabrina bartram at Changing Faces Theatre Company

Many years ago at the start of my career I bumbled into running a summer theatre company. It would become one of the great gifts of my life. At the time I decided that it would be my laboratory. I’d be able to experiment with directing processes and actor training techniques. What I didn’t realize until much later was that I would also be running an experiment in business and, more importantly, how to create a community mindset of support and empowerment (and, therefore, achievement). I was free to succeed because I gave myself permission to focus on the quality of the process instead of worrying about hard and abstract words like ‘achievement.’ My bottom line was the inner growth of everyone in the company, the inner growth of the community that we served.

When the company was up and running, when it was mature, company members swept the parking lot because they knew it would make the play better (improving the audience experience always impacts the performance). The people running the box office prided themselves on their kind service and efficiency because they knew that it would make the play better. The actors understood that they were in service to the play and not themselves. In fact, everyone in the company was in service to something bigger than themselves. That was the culture of the company. When pushed to articulate the success of what we created together, I’d say, “We’re focusing on the important stuff.”

Yesterday with great intention I sent that phrase (focus on the important stuff) out into the e-stratosphere. I lobbed it in association with the company that Kerri and I are in the process of creating to see what would come back at me. Like the summer theatre company, this new venture is our laboratory. What came back was the question, “What’s the important stuff?”

Sometimes the only way to answer a question is with another question. Take a look around your world. Take a moment to look at the difference between what you say and what you do. What do you see? What do you want to see? Big power comes to people when, like my company members (students) of so long ago, they realize that their “seeing” isn’t passive. The greatest single power any human being has is to choose where they place their focus. The greatest single revelation any human being has is to recognize that what they see impacts everyone around them. No one does this walk alone.

the very first painting in the Yoga series. It was an experiment, a walk of discovery. It's also about being alone

the very first painting in the Yoga series. It was an experiment, a walk of discovery. It’s also about being alone.

It’s easy to place a focus on an obstacle. It’s very easy to fix a gaze on the problems. It’s easy because, left alone, believing we are alone, that’s where most people default. Place yourself in a community that knows there is something bigger, something more important to see and serve, and the field of possibilities becomes easy. My company members of so long ago didn’t know what they couldn’t do so they did everything they imagined. That was only possible because they imagined it together. So, answering a question with a question, to you, what’s the important stuff?

 

Change Your Mind

I used this quote by Friedrich Nietzche in The SEER:

“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well as the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be a mind.”

A few days ago I asked myself this question: What if I never painted another painting or wrote another word? What would happen? Who would I be?

title_pageThe first question, what would happen, is much less interesting to me than the second question: who would I be if I simply put down my brushes forever? When I was younger, I felt driven, as if I had to paint. I needed it. In asking the question I recognize that now I choose it. I don’t have to paint; I want to and consequently I am a much better artist. It’s a paradox: I am a better artist because I don’t need to be an artist. In other words, I don’t need to be, I am.

I’ve been revisiting The SEER. My initial team of wise-eyes unanimously voted the first draft to be “too much.” The book that I published is comprised of the first three chapters of the original draft. I deconstructed them and broke the steps into smaller bites. There were six more chapters outlined and, in my latest revisit, I recognize that I have a trilogy if I want it. So, book two is in process. I’m going to release the first draft in daily snippets as I write it. Everyone gets to be my wise-eyes this time around.

Here’s the launching pad section for book two from The SEER. It’s from the second cycle (story):

You can change your story. That is the sixth recognition. Doesn’t it sound simple? Say it this way: changing your story is the equivalent of changing who you know yourself to be. Changing your story often requires the loss of your illusion, a lot less armor and nothing left to lose. Who are you when you don’t know who you are or where you are going? This was the heart of Virgil’s question to me. Who are you distinct from your circumstance? Who are you when the mask comes off? More importantly, what are you capable of seeing when you are not looking through a [knight’s] visor? No one is immune to the stuff of life. Everyone lives a unique version of the story cycle. It too is a pattern, a natural process.

Go here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

Go here (to Leanpub) for all digital forms of The SEER

Canopy by David Robinson

Canopy by David Robinson

And, for fine art prints of my paintings, go here.

 

Embrace The Paradox

Mark Seely's gift to me: A Wordle of my blog

Mark Seely’s gift to me: A Wordle of my blog!

This is a landmark post: number 1000. When I started blogging I told Horatio that I feared I only had enough thought for 10 posts. He said, “If you can write 10, you can write 1000.” I wrinkled my brow in disbelief but it turns out that Horatio was right. With every step comes a new perspective. Kerri has a phrase I love: take down one tree at a time. In other words, if you can’t see where you are going, take the step that you can see; many single steps translate into miles of walking just as one post at a time can become 3 years of small thought-shares all in a row. What is a lifetime but a long series of days?

I’m writing this from a dining room table. All around me, covering the walls, are long strips of newsprint with a gathering storm of many colored post-it notes. The notes contain phrases, actions, like “Burn Your Trash,” or “Both Feet In, “ or “ Leave the Yuck Behind,” or, as you’ve already guessed, “Take Down One Tree At A Time.” They are story prompts. They are insight and idea prompts. Each prompt is associated with one of Kerri’s music compositions (she has 15 albums to date, with material enough for 3 more). They are building blocks for concert/storytelling evenings or keynote speech/performances. From the more than 60 post-it note prompts (and growing) we can combine any 9 to configure an audience-specific performance. The possibilities are endless. The viable themes are both unique and universal. Our umbrella title is Back To Center. We have a series of workshops to compliment the performances. The workshops illuminate the extraordinary moments and liberate the boundless capabilities of we mortals, we ordinary human beings. The big box is appropriately a prompt: Be A Ray!

Kerri and I are bringing our work together in a new form: Be A Ray!

Kerri and I are bringing our work together in a new form: Be A Ray!

As it turns out, I am a man of my time after all. The notion of a series of discreet component thoughts assembled to create a universal conception is taking over all of my processes – writing, painting, coaching, facilitating. It is the “many small steps making one large journey” philosophy of creation. It has taken over our world. It is contemporary: note the thought behind an App store or an Army of One. It is natural; cells do it. In the blog world it goes by the name of a “plug-in.” Build your own burger: design your car from the available components. It is the illusion of individuality in the midst of a constraint of choices. There is no arrival, just continuing process of expansive and interchanging capability. It is the Kahn Academy. Work at the pace that is appropriate to you. It is yoga: begin where you are, not where others are. It is what the old world of government process (ridiculously obscure tax codes), health care, education…the usual bureaucratic suspects and old school businesses do not understand. The world of rolling process has ascended; products and outcomes are obsolete before they hit the shelves. Story is more accurate than data (data is, after all, a type of story).

Nimble thinking requires nimble processes. Expansive living requires expansive thinking. Cathedrals are built one block at a time but the secret story of a cathedral is that it is never finished. It is always under construction, always changing, updating, repairing and modernizing. That’s the point of a sacred path. Stability, your sacred home, in this modern age is now found in motion, in a pure engagement with a moment. This is what we mean when we say, Be A Ray! Get into motion and focus your intention. Safety is never found in stasis.

Yesterday I wrote that a good life is marked by the capacity to stand solidly in the constancy of discovery. It is a paradox. Another prompt on the wall, one of my favorites, reads, “Embrace The Paradox.” Yes.

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

Or, go here for hard copies.

 

 

Find Your Voice

722. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

Yesterday I worked with teachers and students in an art cadre. We explored what it means to make art.

I am resistant to write, “We made art” because it implies that the “art” was a product, a thing separate from the process. It implies that the “doing” was incidental and the outcome was the thing called “art.” That notion is upside down. The art is not the outcome. The art is the process yet we have no language to correctly express it. What happened in our art cadre was essential. The students and teachers recognized that a great product requires a great process; the process is the essential.

We focused entirely on process because I know that students and teachers alike are all the time squeezed into demonstrating outcomes. They are forced to let go the primary in service to the secondary. Art teachers are generally under siege and always have to prove their value to school districts because school districts see “art” as an incidental. Consequently, art is often taught as a product and therefore not art. It is misunderstood as something non-essential.

There is an entire industry known as “self-help” dedicated to a single, simple impulse: the full expression of the self: how to give full voice to perceptions and ideas without impediment. In other words, how do we get out of our own way? This is a question of process and reachable through “art” when art is understood. Businesses invest fortunes to “brainstorm” new ideas, to see patterns and give form to new conceptions. Perception is the province of “art.” I hear whining from the glass towers of commerce: “Why aren’t schools producing self-directed, critical thinking workers?” Answer: dedicating the focus to outcomes and answer regurgitation (in other words, beat the art out of people) will always produce a hiring pool of anesthetized answer regurgitators. We get what we produce. Self-expression and critical thinking are sister skills. Quash one and we quell the other. Art would seem to be an essential skill for business.

One of the saddest moments of the day came after the cadre. Two teachers stayed to talk. They told me that they knew what they are doing to kids (yes…doing TO kids) is wrong. They are required to produce products. They believe that they have no voice in the matter. They told me that they agreed with everything we explored but must serve the product expectations of their district. I didn’t ask the question I wanted to ask. There seemed no point. I wandered when they would wake up and recognize that supporting a system that they knew to be harming kids was also taking a toll on their health and lives. Voice is not something other people give you. It is something that you have to agree to give away. Voicelessness is a terrible thing to exchange in order to follow a rule, especially if you do not believe in the premise of the rule.

Let Go The Separation

720. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

It is Sunday night and I am reviewing my week. Sometimes I am astounded at how much happens in a single week of life. I’m sure this is always true but lately I am acutely aware of the passing of the days, the variety and richness of my experiences every day. I started to make a list and after filling a few pages I stopped. There was no point in going on because the point was made: there is no list capable of capturing the enormity, the passing of a single week of life.

In order for lists to be meaningful the items need to be separate, discreet. Generally, this is how we look at our lives, things on a list: grocery shopping, driving kids to daycare, lessons, dinner with friends, a trip to the gym, etc.; separate achievable actions checked from the list.

From another point of view there is no separation. Place the emphasis, not on the achievement, but on the quality of process, the level of presence and meaningful engagement, and the list blends into a single experience with many textures and colors. The separations are constructs and largely false. How can I separate experiences like the conversation in the gallery from the chips and salsa and beer from the walk along the river?

Last Sunday a friend made me dinner to celebrate my birthday, I flew on a plane with a woman who was very ill so we talked of the comforts of being home, I stood by the river on a freezing cold evening and watched with awe the geese swirling like locust in the sky, I sang “Yesterday” with Lexi on Friday night, drank too much coffee and sat up half the night writing emails, walked through the galleries of the Joslyn museum, stopped in awe at the El Greco and Thomas Hart Benton and laughed through my first grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwich. When did one experience stop and the other begin?

I flew, I sang, I celebrated, I stood, I drank, I walked, I stopped in awe, I laughed… They are only separate actions because the limits of language make them so – or because I might have chosen to see my life as a list. I could write: I lived. I could write: I loved. These are also true.

I stood over the Missouri River watching the ice like enormous frozen lily pads flow beneath me. Depending upon where I looked they seemed to be rushing by or almost standing still. It depended upon where I placed my focus. When I focus on achieving my lists the days rush by as I race through my days. When I let go the separations, all days become varied and rich; the moments like the icy lily pads move by me though I have to distinct impression that I am standing still.