home-keeping heart

are we there yet

Stay, stay at home, my heart, and rest;
Home-keeping hearts are happiest,
For those that wander they know not where
Are full of trouble and full of care;
To stay at home is best.

Weary and homesick and distressed,
They wander east, they wander west,
And are baffled and beaten and blown about
By the winds of the wilderness of doubt;
To stay at home is best.

Then stay at home, my heart, and rest;
The bird is safest in its nest;
O’er all that flutter their wings and fly
A hawk is hovering in the sky;
To stay at home is best.

“Song” by H.W. Longfellow: Keramos and Other Poems 1878

As Longfellow says “to stay at home is best”.  But is it?  It feels great to be in a place that feels safe, protected and predictable. This is the land of  known and previously explored territory.  Home is being on familiar ground.  You know exactly where you are.

The challenge in keeping creative process fresh and alive, is to balance the need to keep things safe, predictable and orderly, with the need to explore unknown, unpredictable and potentially dangerous new territory.

It is relatively easy to imagine yourself standing with one foot in order and one foot in chaos. But maybe this balanced stance is more a place of action or experience that is way more complex than imagined.  That place where there is just enough safety and just enough danger, is a space of surprises.  Strangely, this place needs to be repeatedly found and/or rediscovered anew.  There is no guidebook that consistently works. The entrance way (at least in my own personal creative process) seems to be through tolerating frustration, giving up control and welcoming resistance to new, accidental or unplanned experience. That dark and uncomfortable stuff has to be encountered each time. Maybe as Longfellow says, we need to be

“baffled and beaten and blown about

By the winds of the wilderness of doubt.”

Each voluntary encounter with the unknown builds resilience for the next journey along the creative path.  Maybe that is what is meant by practice.

 

Remember to forget

remember

For me art shouldn’t be a fixed idea that I have before I start making it. I want it to include all the fragility and doubt that I go through the day with. Sometimes I’ll take a walk just to forget whatever good idea I had that day because I like to go into the studio not having any ideas. I want the insecurity of not knowing, like performers feel before a performance. Everything I can remember, and everything I know, I have probably already done, or somebody else has

Robert Rauschenburg (1925-), American artist, quoted by Michael Kimmelman in an article about Rauschenburg, New York Times, “Arts & Leisure” section 2, August 27, 2000, p. 26.

Remembering and forgetting are key parts to the incubation stage of creative process. Images and/or ideas found in the foraging and gathering stage begin to simmer and cook.  In this chaotic broth, knowledge remembered is then forgotten, or let go of.  This alchemical creative process is transformational, allowing something new to emerge.

Once an experience is understood, remembering and forgetting is possible.  This transformative process of memory allows new learning, as well as a flexible and adaptive response to life.

Unsinging Bird

bird

silence

.is
a
looking

bird:the

turn
ing;edge of
life

(inquiry before snow

e.e. cummings

An animal eye

animals

What is animal presence?  Why do animals visit in dreams?  James Hillman, founder of archetypal psychology wrote that from a depth perspective of the world

all things are displays, and imagination and perception, invisible and visible, intuition and sensation do not fall apart when discerned with an animal eye (Animal Presences, Spring, 2008).

So what is an animal eye? What is it like to look at the world with an animal eye?  Hillman speaks to using another kind of vision that moves beyond the usual correspondences, symbolization and metaphors that we usually impose on animals in attempting to define their meaning.  Through leaning into the mysterious otherness of animals, by

bringing our superior postures to the level of the creature, kneeling to it, condescension, we begin to see as they do;  a transposed eye [...] to see with the creaturely eye is an act of imagining the world so that it appears in continuing animation, in a continuing play of creation with which human consciousness participates by means of imagining acts. (Hillman, 2008)

Here the creative imagination is not a gift that is bestowed upon us in order to create great works of art, images or ideas.  Animal vision is a way of releasing what already exists. When we see with the animal eye we are able to see and connect with creative process that is ongoing and the possibilities that exist in play.  Hillman emphasizes that

the human imagination is not the creator, does not create; it sees the creative, creatively (Hillman, 2008)

Seeing creatively with the animal eye is a way to open, improvise and play your way into creative process.

Looking Back and Looking Forward

newdirections

“…That’s why we have the Museum, Matty, to remind us of how we came, and why: to start fresh, and begin a new place from what we had learned and carried from the old.”  Lois Lowry, Messenger

The transitional space between old and new feels like a shifting energetic pause.  Time is marked by rituals of looking and stepping back, maybe even gathering up and holding on to last years moments. Review, reflect, let go….then into the New, clean slate and fresh start. A re-new cycle begins.

Part of moving forward includes looking back as a way of combining and integrating (hopefully) the best of past with future. The art of knowing where we are, includes knowing where we came from and where we plan to go.  Maybe this “looking in” knowledge is what allows us to stand in the now and direct fresh energy towards a renewed creative cycle.

Wishing you creativity, health and joy in the New Year.

Slowly looking with the Buddhist “good eye”

Slowly looking

Recently I came across the Contemplative Photography movement, which incorporates Buddhist mindfulness practice with Western ways of seeing the world.  Contemplative Photography practice is based on holding an intention of learning to look and see through a lens of nonattachment. Through practice, you begin to trust the gaps in discursive thought where clear seeing and inspiration emerge in your art.

Matthieu Ricard describes Contemplative photography as

seizing the present moment as one would delicately hold a poppy without shedding its petals.  It is about nonattachment; one has nothing to lose and nothing to gain, but everything to offer to the eyes of the viewer (from jacket of The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the world with fresh eyes, written by  Andy Carr and Michael Wood, Shambala, 2011)

Miksang is a Tibetan word which means “Good Eye”. The practice is founded on Shambala  and Dharma Art Teachings of Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche.  The word “good” relates to uncluttered vision and seizing the present moment.  In the following video “Miksang” practice is explained in a way I hope you find inspiring.

 

the known unknown

 “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

the stars

Poetry

And it was at that age … Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names,
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
deciphering
that fire,
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
nonsense,
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
unfastened
and open,
planets,
palpitating plantations,
shadow perforated,
riddled
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
void,
likeness, image of
mystery,
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.

by Pablo Neruda

To paraphrase Dr. Jordan Peterson from a recent  TED lecture, “there are things that you know deeply, you just don’t know that you know them.”  Creative process is a way to allow the known unknown to surface through the arts.  Encountering the known unknown often leads to the emotional experience of awe.  We risk a leap of faith from what is known into what is not yet known. This is the experience of not having the words to describe, feeling deeply moved, touched, terrified and fascinated simultaneously.  Neruda’s poem conveys the experience of being summoned and touched, and then “my mouth had no way with names[...]something stirred in my soul”.  Creative process is a way to allow known unknown treasure to surface.  The expressive arts have the potential to inspire and reflect back what we most need to know in a form that may be both seen, shaped and shared.

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