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.

 

Unsinging Bird

bird

silence

.is
a
looking

bird:the

turn
ing;edge of
life

(inquiry before snow

e.e. cummings

Look up….Look waay Up

giraffe

Head in the clouds. Feet firmly planted on the earth. This is the optimal creative stance. Why?

Groundedness and solid, secure connections provide the safe supports needed for creative exploration and the transformative risks that give life meaning.  Dan Siegel writes about cultivating the ability to become grounded in the tripod of mindsight

Mindsight is a kind of focused attention that allows us to see the internal workings of our own minds. It helps us to be aware of our mental processes without being swept away by them, enables us to get ourselves off the autopilot of ingrained behaviors and habitual responses, and moves us beyond the reactive emotional loops we all have a tendency to get trapped in…The focusing skills that are part of mindsight make it possible to see what is inside, to accept it, and in the accepting to let it go, and, finally, to transform it (Siegel, 2010)

Being grounded in the tripod of Mindsight involves openness (receptivity to whatever comes into awareness without censorship, which allows clear seeing); observation (cultivating the ability to observe yourself in the midst of reactivity, which creates space); objectivity (developing the ability to remain present without identifying with particular thoughts or feelings and/or being carried away by them) (Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation 2010, New York, NY: Bantam Books).

In the optimal creative stance the feet firmly planted on the earth support a “head in the clouds” creative exploration. A multitude of vantage points, perspectives, options, hopes, dreams, imaginal possibilities and treasures may be found spending time appreciating the awesomeness of clouds.

Here is a short and beautiful meditation on clouds, by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, creator of the Cloud Appreciation Society.

Lost and Found

lost and found

The Little House of Lost Play (Mar Vanwa Tyalieva) by J. R. R. Tolkien

We knew that land once, You and I,
and once we wandered there
in the long days now long gone by,
a dark child and a fair.
Was it on the paths of firelight thought
in winter cold and white,
or in the blue-spun twilit hours
of little early tucked-up beds
in drowsy summer night,
that you and I in Sleep went down
to meet each other there,
your dark hair on your white nightgown
and mine was tangled fair?

We wandered shyly hand in hand,
small footprints in the golden sand,
and gathered pearls and shells in pails,
while all about the nightengales
were singing in the trees.
We dug for silver with our spades,
and caught the sparkle of the seas,
then ran ashore to greenlit glades,
and found the warm and winding lane
that now we cannot find again,
between tall whispering trees.

The air was neither night nor day,
an ever-eve of gloaming light,
when first there glimmered into sight
the Little House of Play.
New-built it was, yet very old,
white, and thatched with straws of gold,
and pierced with peeping lattices
that looked toward the sea;
and our own children’s garden-plots
were there: our own forgetmenots,
red daisies, cress and mustard,
and radishes for tea.
There all the borders, trimmed with box,
were filled with favourite flowers, with phlox,
with lupins, pinks, and hollyhocks,
beneath a red may-tree;
and all the gardens full of folk
that their own little language spoke,
but not to You and Me.

For some had silver watering-cans
and watered all their gowns,
or sprayed each other; some laid plans
to build their houses, little towns
and dwellings in the trees.
And some were clambering on the roof;
some crooning lonely and aloof;
some dancing round the fairy-rings
all garlanded in daisy-strings,
while some upon their knees
before a little white-robed king
crowned with marigold would sing
their rhymes of long ago.
But side by side a little pair
with heads together, mingled hair,
went walking to and fro
still hand in hand; and what they said,
ere Waking far apart them led,
that only we now know

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.

Holding on-Letting go

outside the box

let it go – the
smashed word broken
open vow or
the oath cracked length
wise – let it go it
was sworn to
go

let them go – the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the boths and
neithers – you must let them go they
were born
to go

let all go – the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things – let all go
dear

so comes love

~ e. e. cummings ~

(Complete Poems 1904-1962)

I recently facilitated a parents group where the conversation centered on the idea of taking risks in life.  The group seemed to agree that human curiosity and learning involve different and varying levels of risk and experimentation. We all have different comfort zones for risk taking. For some of us,  starting any type of creative journey feels overwhelming, often making it hard to let go of the familiar in order to enter unknown territory.

“I hate writing; I love having written,”  is a saying attributed to the writer Dorothy Parker.

The creative journey always looks easier in retrospect, after the project is finished.  Why?

Creative process requires the act of showing up and being seen.  It takes courage to put yourself out there and risk failure, feel emotionally exposed and vulnerable to judgements, from both inside and out.  At the same time allowing yourself to stand in this improvisational, authentic and raw place yields incredible rewards.  All plans have dropped away. You are fully engaged in the moment.  You embark on the hero’s journey to claim treasure from the dragon and the whole point is leaving your comfort zone. Research professor Brené Brown believes that vulnerability is the most accurate indicator of courage.    However, there is a paradox revealed in the act of being vulnerable in that it feels like weakness in yourself and appears as courage only in others.  Another paradox to think about is that in order to let go, you have to be holding on.  Weakness and courage, order and chaos are cyclical, dynamic and emergent states.

In the following video Brené Brown explains the ways uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure are essential to a successful creative journey.  I found it inspiring, hope you do too.

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.

 

Madiba and the power of creative potential

Madiba

Madiba’s powerful words encapsulate many levels of meaning. Perhaps that is why they inspire and light a creative spark for so many of us. These words point to the idea that finding passion requires commitment and responsibility. The heroic attempt to live up to one’s potential and the power that entails is often an overwhelming challenge.  Marianne Williamson wrote

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? [...] Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do [...] As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

The responsibility of owning our powerful creative potential requires knowing the shadow aspects of our personality.  Artist Louise Bourgeois had a deeply personal lens through which she artistically engaged with her shadow and what she felt was the burden of her own creative potential power.  Bourgeois wrote

I’m afraid of power; it makes me nervous [...] In my art I am the murderer, the man who has to live with his conscience… As an artist I am a powerful person.  In real life I feel like the mouse behind the radiator… By withdrawing, by recognizing that you have no power, you become more than yourself.  You get ideas which never would have occurred to you .  In my art, I live in a world of my own making.  I make decisions.  I have power.  In the real world, I don’t want power

Bourgeois was able to create powerful art by acknowledging her shadow side and fears. She played with both positive and negative aspects of power and its potential for both good and evil.

In his lifetime, Madiba also experienced both the dark and light sides of power.  His words are meaningful because they emerge from a deeply felt, impassioned life experience, a life that entailed great courage, risk and exploration of the unknown, all elements of the archetype of the creative hero.

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.

“Ten times a day something happens to me like this – some strengthening throb of amazement – some good sweet empathic ping and swell. This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”
― Mary Oliver

treasure

The most treasured moments are those timeless ones where you are totally engaged with whatever you are doing.  You are in the zone, the canvas, the rock climbing or the conversation.  You are completely focused and feel positive shifting of energy.  This experience is a cultural universal.  When we are in that place we are connected, fulfilled, at “one” with and at home.  Just what is this state of consciousness or energy that gets activated?

Chi is described as the universal life force or energy that permeates everything in existence. Is this mysterious river of energy  related to Mihali Csikszentmihalyi’s flow state, the state of mind where we are optimally challenged and totally engaged?

Watch John Vervaeke explain the psychological experience of Chi………Chi Explained Without Magic.

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