Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Work in Progress Means...

...being bold
...going to the edge 
...risking and going farther
...letting go of what doesn't work
 ...working with what's working

...patiently, expressively, again and again
...until you know it's "finished." Notice that this painting started life as a horizontal piece, but ended up being vertical. It's an intuitive process!

Today is the first day of Flora Bowley's five-week Bloom True e-course, and I've enrolled. It's a perfect way to continue to grow in this way of painting, with Flora's guidance and the benefit of a virtual community. Graduates of her in-person Bloom True workshops receive a discount, and everyone has the privilege of using the class materials for a FULL YEAR. You can take the five weeks at your own pace, and you can take them over and over again, all year long. It's a fabulous opportunity to study with Flora again, and I can't wait to begin!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Power of Student Leadership #AWSL2015

Coach Jamie, the chairmen of #AWSL2015 and results of their service project
Yesterday, Gregg and I traveled to Puyallup (in case you're not local, that's pronounced pyew-all-up) High School, through a driving rainstorm the likes of which we rarely see, even here in Western Washington. I had been invited, through a message sent to Katie's Comforters Guild's Facebook page, to address the 2015 Fall Leadership Conference of the Association of Washington Student Leaders. This wonderful group of high school students and advisors gathers annually to learn and grow, and then take what they have gained back to enrich their local school communities.

The group modeled their theme this year ("We Over ME") on some of the motivational concepts of the Seattle Seahawks (#WhyNotUs, #AllIn, #MakeThemNotice). They asked me to speak to them on Day Two (theme: "Why Not You?") of the three-day conference, before they began their annual service project: making blankets for Katie's Comforters Guild at Seattle Children's Hospital. Each school had gathered fleece for the project, and sent it along with the delegates to the conference. Coach Jamie, advisor to the conference's hosting team, wanted to help all of the students understand the power and purpose of what they were about to do.

As the name AWSL suggests, their programming includes a huge emphasis on developing leadership skills; what isn't apparent, until you enter the conference, is the joy, fun, energy and freedom-within-structure that is part of the organization. I felt it as soon as the students began to gather in the gymnasium; it was like a pep rally for human potential.

I had prepared a short speech and sent photographs of the Guild's work to Coach Jamie. I packed two of Katie's comforters to bring along with me. I prayed and listened and felt that everything was ready to go when I went to bed the night before the event.

Yet I awoke yesterday morning with an inner knowing that I needed to re-write the speech.

In the wake of recent school shootings, I felt moved to speak to the group about the power of simple presence, of helping others to know that they are not alone, of knowing that we are not helpless in the face of tragedy. I sat down at my laptop and the words poured out of me, just as they needed to do, by Grace.

When we arrived in Puyallup, we were warmly welcomed. The "Varsity Team" (conference chairs) Kelty, Nicholas and Kenton introduced me to the crowd: hundreds of energetic students. The lights were turned down and a spotlight shone in my eyes, so I could see only my notes. After sharing the message, there was a huge outpouring of love and gratitude from the students. They stood and clapped, lined up to hug me and say their personal "thanks," briefly told me their stories of connection to Seattle Children's Hospital or to someone with cancer, and then they departed in teams to make blankets.

Gregg and I were taken on a tour of the school by the conference organizers, meeting and taking photographs with some of the teams as they worked.
This is what love-made-visible looks like
After an hour had passed, we were called back into the gym so that the results could be reviewed and tallied. Imagine our surprise when the total came in at 396 blankets!

It was hard to hold back the tears as the students admired the immediate results of their teamwork: nearly 400 blankets of all shapes, sizes and colors of the rainbow. They asked me to sit for photos and continued to thank me, but I thank them, because they made this miracle occur. {If you are a user of Instagram, go to #AWSL2015 to see the student delegates' postings.}

To Jamie, Kelty, Kenton and Nicholas, 
to every student member and advisor of AWSL, 
to every school which sent delegates,  
Thank you! 
I am overwhelmed by your generosity of spirit, and inspired by each one of you! 
Our schools, state and country will be in good hands under your leadership.

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.}