Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Poem for New Beginnings

Sunrise this morning
At the beginning of our Bloom True workshop, 
Flora read aloud the following poem by John O'Donahue, 
and gave each of us a copy. 
It spoke deeply to my heart.
To new beginnings, and work-in-progress
More of this morning's sunrise

Monday, October 5, 2015

Bloom True, Portland - September, 2015

Courtyard of the Tiny House Caravan Hotel

I've been home for a week from the Bloom True painting workshop in Portland with Flora Bowley. It is hard to find words for it - there are so many words. It was everything I had dreamed it would be, and better.
My own space, for four nights! Everyone should stay in a tiny house, just to re-set your idea of what "enough space" feels like.

Better, because it gave me time alone, in a new situation; the opportunity to go to bed alone in a Tiny House Caravan, wake up alone, reflect on my artistic self, my life, and anything else that arose into consciousness. I spent my days in a gorgeous, light-filled studio, led by an inspired artist, surrounded by unconditional friendliness, painting to my heart's delight.

My heart found delight in painting, for the first time in over 30 years: delight, freedom, pleasure, energy, joy.
New friendships were forged. The students in the workshop (all women - 17 of us) came from all over North America, with various backgrounds and levels of experience - from those who had never painted, to those who teach art.
Each day, I arose early in my tiny "Caboose," made coffee, read, reflected and opened my heart. Readings like this appeared, day by day:
- There is no expected pace for inner learning. What we need to learn comes when we need it, no matter how old or young, no matter how many times we have to start over, no matter how many times we have to learn the same lesson...Our greatest chance to change our life is to close our habits of mind and to open our ever-virgin hearts...The time has come to put our stones down. For hands clutching stones can't freely drum. And hearts fisting the past can't freely sing...stop defining who I am by those who have hurt me...The pain was necessary to know the truth but we don't have to keep the pain alive to keep the truth alive... - Mark Nepo
- Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. Between these two banks the river of my life flows. - Nisargadatta Maharaj
- Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition. - James Baldwin
- The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others. - Bell Hooks
- Art, myth, and poetry invite us into the transformative world of sacred story. This kind of knowing has the power to change us at the level of the subconscious and intuition because it can open mind, heart, and body simultaneously.  - Richard Rohr
After meditating on these things, I showered in the tiny shower, dressed, and met the group at the curb to catch our ride to Flora's beautiful studio.
Photo credit: Flora Bowley
Photo credit: Flora Bowley (those are my paintings, in progress, on the far right)
Photo credit: Flora Bowley

In the evenings, spent - yet energized - from painting (standing up) all day, some of us went out to explore and found excellent local places to dine. The neighborhood around the Tiny House Caravan was absolutely perfect for blooming artists: filled with small shops, boutiques and restaurants, all brimming with unique goods, rather than touristy trinkets. We talked and laughed, and shared our lives, led far and wide and a world apart, yet connected by the brilliant thread woven through all: art.

Each morning, the readings and reflections which arrived in my in-box were spot-on for where I was in the process (and this is a process). Each night, I wrote with gratitude in my journal. The journal was a gift to Katie for her 12th birthday from a beloved hospital staffer; I had never dared to write in it before, but couldn't part with it. I knew that this was the right time to add my story to it.
In the mornings when we arrived in the studio, we gathered in a circle, and Flora shared a reading, words of wisdom, a ritual, reminder, demonstration or a combination of all of the above. 
Her dog, Pearl, was an important member of the tribe - our resident angel/silent therapist.
On day one of the workshop, Flora had a gift for each of us: a clutch purse made of her design, filled with nurturing goodies like sun tea, lip balm, soap, etc...
Sun tea, hand-made by a wonderful local herbalist

...and she had painted a miniature with a message for each of us. These were lying face down (white side up) on the table, and we were invited to select any one, turn it over, and receive its message. This one was mine:
...perfect for someone who was blocked for years, after making a serious study of art in college.

As I painted under Flora's gentle guidance and tutorials, I began to see deeply into myself. I began to let go and find new freedom. I enjoyed the encouragement and camaraderie of others who were undergoing the same process of stepping out in faith and wonder, doing their best, liking/not liking the results, and beginning again, over and over, moment by moment.

One of the things I love best about Flora's process is that we can begin again, at any moment. I have never experienced this wisdom in other art classes. Titanium White, or any color of opaque paint, can render the most awkward area of a painting (or an entire canvas) completely new and fresh again. It is never too late; no painting is beyond redemption. And they can be turned - any side can be "up." For example, a painting can evolve from this
my new studio space at home
to this
 to this,
and still be unfinished. We don't have to know "where it's going," don't have to think it through or impose a destination or meaning upon it. We can allow it to emerge in its own way and time, naturally.
 We were offered delicious, healthy, beautiful snacks each day, laid out under this window; a morning yoga session with artist/yogi Lynzee Lynx; an evening pizza-wine-and-painting session. I could have stayed for months, rather than days.

Flora's exercises and demonstrations were fun, challenging and exciting. Her demo painting went through many phases; here are a few of them:
Lots of freedom and fun from very the beginning
Then, unifying...
...unifying with shape and color
...adding some "POP" with color
Flora teaching us - such a gentle, wise, spiritual, experienced, full-hearted soul!
Fun with lines and shapes
Some "Brave, Intuitive" changes - and turns of the canvas
This is where she stopped - pure gorgeousness!
Detail of one of my favorite areas of Flora's canvas

When I arrived at home, I shared my work in progress (because my paintings are not finished yet) with Gregg and my parents.
Last day in Flora's studio: my work in progress

I shared the process with them, as well; I could see that it was all a bit radical to them, but they were delighted in my happiness and progress. Gregg was so engaged that he immediately helped me to set up a studio in our house - so now, I am continuing to paint at home.

"Bloom True" is one of the greatest gifts I've received in my life, for which I am hugely thankful. It has moved a block behind which I was stuck for over 30 years. I knew intuitively (by grace) that Flora was the right teacher for me, and am now enrolling in her "Bloom True" e-course to help me keep going. I don't know where any of this will lead, but it is taking me into more freedom, joy and full-heartedness, and that is enough. To Flora, Anya, Katie and my fellow Bloom True tribe members, thank you for being part of this joyous journey! I love you and will never forget our time together.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Blooming True

"When it is dark enough, you can see the stars." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I awoke early this morning, while it was still dark, to see a star so bright that I wondered if it was an airplane approaching. Observing it for a few moments, I saw that it wasn't moving toward the airport - it appeared to stationary, twinkling and shining right at me. I thought: Katie.

As I watched it shine, other stars appeared nearby - bright, but not as large and brilliant as the first. They brought to mind our beloved friend Diane, who passed away ten years ago this month. For many days after her passing, I noted a similar star in the Eastern sky, which reminded me of her beautiful soul.

"Catastrophe is the essence of the spiritual path, a series of breakdowns allowing us to discover the threads that weave all of life into a whole cloth." - Roshi Joan Halifax

This has been a difficult summer. We have had glorious, sunny weather as well as joys and blessings in the mix, but it has been very, very hard at the same time. I'm thankful that things are beginning to lighten and improve; it has been dark, things have broken down, but I am beginning to see the stars and the threads mentioned in the two quotes above.

"What we need to learn comes when we need it, no matter how old or young, no matter how many times we have to start over...We fall down as many times as we need to, to learn how to fall and get up...No one really likes this, of course, but we deal with our dislike in the same way, again and again, until we learn what we need to know about the humility of acceptance." - Mark Nepo

I'm about to embark on a great adventure. It's one I have dreamed about for several years, awaiting the right time. Because of this courageous, talented and adventurous heart, a blogger who wrote about taking a life-changing course, a dream was sparked in me. Today, I am going on a journey to take a four-day course in painting called "Bloom True" with Flora Bowley.

I majored in Fine Art (with an emphasis upon watercolor painting). I had the privilege of traveling to England to study, and took courses at colleges in the U.S. designed to refine my skills. I love all things creative, artistic and crafty, but I have been "blocked" as a painter for over 30 years. 

I do not paint. I stand before a canvas, and my hands are "mute."

The critique process during my years of college could be called "interesting" and "educational," but for me, it was a savage experience of public humiliation, and it shattered my confidence, as well as any desire to try again. There was some praise thrown in, but I only heard - and took in - the criticism.*

We were taught a structured approach, but I could never seem to rein in my passion while I painted. I always tended to overdo something, and couldn't master the controlled, cerebral way that painting was taught in that school. The urge to let go, and let it all out on the heavy-duty watercolor paper was powerful - I was 20 years old, and overflowing with emotions - but this didn't fit the mold, or the medium. The result was weekly, public criticism for the way I expressed myself artistically. I believe this is a very unwise way to treat artists (and so does Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way), but that was the process of teaching where I studied. 
Photo credit: Anya Hankin, Bloom True
Tomorrow, I will stand before a blank canvas and begin again, in an environment of support and kindness. I will learn to trust my artistic intuition in a new way, and I am profoundly grateful to my family for supporting me on this journey. 

*I'm deeply thankful for my liberal arts education as a whole, and do not consider it wasted in any way. Perhaps I would have been happier in interior or graphic design, but these were not offered where I studied, and they were considered lesser art forms (art for commerce), so (being a young and impressionable) I didn't pursue them.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Book Reviews

I may be the last person to have discovered www.momastery.com, but discover it I did this summer, thanks to Maribeth, who gave me a copy of Glennon Doyle Melton's book, Carry On, Warrior as a birthday gift. I read it over the summer, rapidly, because I could hardly put it down.
If you haven't read it, I suggest you run down to your local library and check out a copy, borrow from a friend, or - if the budget allows - treat yourself to your own. I am grateful to have a copy, because I dog-eared so many pages that I would have been in trouble with the library had I borrowed their book!

One of my favorite things about this group of essays is its reality. Ms. Melton (ok, Glennon!) is a "truth-teller." I love that quality in a person, and especially love it in a writer. Glennon tells her own truth, and she accepts the consequences of airing it publicly, which are not always pretty in this age of lesser-restraint.

Truth-telling is a hard balance, in blogging and in memoir writing. I have faced it numerous times here, and most of the time, have shied away from sharing details of personal difficulties. That's part of the reason there are long silences here. It's not because I want readers to think I am perfect, or have a perfect life; it's because I want this blog to uplift and strengthen others. If my struggles do that, then they are worth sharing. I believe that my struggles through grief did that. But the other struggles, through parenting, marriage, anxiety, work issues, friendships, etc...do those strengthen and uplift others? I am not so sure. Glennon's writing did that for me.

What do you think?

Another book which has been a blessing this summer is "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo. Perhaps the title doesn't sound interesting, but the book is, indeed, changing my life, through my perception of things. A former storage expert, Marie Kondo learned (from years of professional practice) that her clients' problems were not due to a lack of storage; they were due to an excess of possessions. As I prepare to put her ideas into practice, I am looking at the objects in our home in quite a different light.

I've held onto many things since Katie passed away, and David left home. Many of these items no longer serve us: toys, paperwork, clothing, gifts."Does it spark joy?" Ms. Kondo says that this is the key question to ask oneself about each item. As a result, I receive insight into feelings about the object, its origin, gifts in general, what I "need," and whether to keep, or let go.

A humorous aside: I intended to check this book out of the library, in order to reduce expense and avoid adding to clutter, but ironically, I found that this volume is best purchased rather than borrowed, because it is a working aid and worth revisiting!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Ugly, Wonderful Feet

We've just returned from a few days away. As you may know, this is a hard time of year for me. Eight years ago, we sat with Katie as she traveled from this life into the next, right in the room above where I sit typing this now. I find that it's best for me to be out of the house on the anniversary of that day.

This year was one of the hardest, for a variety of reasons (which I'm not going to detail just now). Suffice it to say that I am grateful that August 16th has passed; grateful that we were able to go to a place where my heart knows it is safe, where body, mind and spirit can rest.
The wild west coast of Vancouver Island sings to my soul. My soul knows its song, as if I was born there, or arose from some of the same atoms of creation. It feels like home.
 David flew in to be with us. It was lovely to share a few days off with him.
We walked and walked the shores of the island. Most days, we walked more than eight miles, and one day, more than nine; nine miles of walking barefoot in the sand, in the salty air and sunshine, with a light breeze caressing me. Nothing separated me from the heartbeat of the earth. It was good therapy.
When we returned from that 9-mile walk, I saw that the bottoms of my feet were indigo. A deep, dark blue stained them, yet there had been no trace of blue in the sand. Last year, we saw a huge number of indigo-colored sea creatures which had blown onto the shore, and I wondered if this stain on my feet was a residue of their appearance. No answer to that; just blue feet for about 24 hours. After several washings, the blue disappeared.
My feet have never been beautiful; I have funny-looking, tiny pinky toes and odd, clumsily-shaped large ones. The nails must be painted or you'd never know they were "girls' feet." I have had mixed feelings about them for years, thinking that they are "ugly."
Today, though, I know that they are beautiful; they can carry me nine-plus miles, bare, feeling the sand underneath, the salt, the stones and shells and all that makes up the surface of Mother Earth. Thank you, "ugly," wonderful feet, for solidly supporting me through this life. May you be blessed and healthy, able to carry me through the rest of my days.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Hokusai Says

Hokusai Says by Roger Keyes

Hokusai says look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing

He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it is interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.

He says keep praying.

He says every one of us is a child,
every one of us is ancient
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find
a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive --
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees, wood is alive.
Water is alive.

Everything has its own life.

Everything lives inside us.

He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn't matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn't matter
if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn't matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your veranda
or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.
It matters that you care.

It matters that you feel.

It matters that you notice.

It matters that life lives through you.

Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
is life living through you.

He says don't be afraid.
Don't be afraid.

Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.
{Katsushika Hokusai was a Japanese artist who lived and worked during the 19th century; thanks to my brother for sharing this poem.}

Friday, June 19, 2015

Stroll for Well-Being Featured in nextavenue.org

The Bloedel Reserve's Stroll for Well-Being program is featured in the current issue of nextavenue, an online magazine, described as
"public media’s first and only national service for America’s booming 50+ population. Our mission is to meet the needs and unleash the potential of older Americans through the power of media. We do this by providing news, information and advice to help our audience navigate their lives and inviting them to join in an ongoing conversation about the issues and transitions we all face.
"Twin Cities Public Television (tpt) in St. Paul, Minn. produces Next Avenue for the PBS system and 84 PBS stations are local affiliate partners. Our content extends far beyond our website, through our national network of media partners and government and nonprofit allies."
I was interviewed for the article; you can read it here.
The spring season of the Stroll for Well-Being will wrap up on Monday, and the summer session begins on Tuesday. I'm very excited to help facilitate the meetings, to hear what participants have to say after 12 weeks of strolling the gorgeous grounds of the Reserve (during an unusually sunny spring for Western Washington), to meet the new groups and assist with their orientation.
If you are interested in joining the program, go to www.bloedelreserve.org. You'll be glad you did!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Lovely Month of May

I am finally going through photos from May, and taking time to catch my breath in writing. This month has been so full of good activity that I haven't been able to stop to write about it here. Daily reflection: yes; blogging: not so much.

Awaking early today, the quiet beckons me to sit and write.

Photo credit: Rebecca L./Field's End
Four weeks of Word Soup have been completed. What a wonderful group of talented, open-hearted writers! Each one was receptive to varied writing prompts, and engaged in sharing and commenting supportively on others' work. We were impressed, entertained, intrigued and stimulated by their contributions. I am now in the process of gathering insights from participants. It is a pleasure to lead this workshop, and I am thankful to Kitsap Regional Library's Poulsbo Branch for hosting it.

We had a beautiful Mother's Day. My family gathered to celebrate our mom with brunch in one of our favorite places on Lake Washington.
David was at work, so he joined us later for dinner. This was his generous gift to me (along with a card, which I treasure):
He has been working at his aunt and uncle's business, Savage Plants & Landscape. Isn't that vase fantastic?

We had the pleasure of a long-awaited visit from treasured, far-away, on-line friends in May.
I met Karen through her blog, "From Paradise to Plan B." She and her husband, Joe, had dinner with us on a layover between flights many months ago, but this time, they came to our home for brunch, a beach walk and blessed hours of conversation.
"Love is everything. Everything else is just everything else" - a gift from Karen & Joe
After these two visits, Karen and Joe feel like true friends of many years' standing, though we have mainly known one another from a great distance, and through writing. This is one of the many gifts of blogging: meaningful connections with people you would never know otherwise. We look forward to seeing them again!

The Bainbridge Public Library's new board members took a tour of other Kitsap Regional Libraries (of which BPL is a member). This was an educational and fruitful day; I learned a great deal about the services and contributions to our community which each branch makes, and how things work at the central "hub" of the system. Public libraries are truly democratic institutions. We serve all of the public, from children to senior citizens, from early reading programs to help with job searches and income tax preparation. Students find a safe, quiet place to study, read, access media and take online exams; researchers have access to expert help and free resources; genealogists have a resource room dedicated to their own pursuits; meeting space is available to all; a bookmobile travels to serve those who cannot travel to their local branch. The library is an astonishingly diverse gift for everyone, and it is a privilege to serve as a member of its board.

And then there was the anniversary weekend. Gregg and I have been married for 24 years, and we made the trip to Victoria, B.C. to mark the occasion. As usual, it was blissful. How do I love Vancouver Island? Let me count the ways...

On this annual trip, we have highlights which are favorites, and lots of time to improvise in between. Some of the highlights:
Water views, everywhere
Anniversary dinner at Cafe Brio
Oohhhhh: Sticky Date Toffee Pudding and Venturi-Schulze Brandenburg #3
Live music after dinner
Swiftsure sailboats on the way out of the harbour to start the race
Flowers in town
We walked 8-10 miles each day, window-shopped, explored, visited two farmer's markets, ate and drank and slept well.
A happy husband
I am grateful to this man for his faithful friendship and love over the past 24 years, "for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer." We have experienced all of those things together. Looking forward to the next 24 years, God willing!

David is packing for his move to Montana (he leaves today), so we took him out for dinner last night at his favorite local pub.
We have so enjoyed having him with us, but are thrilled for him to embark upon his new adventure. Bon voyage, David!