Archives for the month of: April, 2015

I woke this morning, too early, because biology said so; I had to pee. I wanted very much to go back to sleep, even though I knew the alarm would go off in less than an hour. It mattered less that I might not sleep more, than it did to honor my desire to do so. I snuggled up in the warmth of the blankets, and let myself drift off, favoring meditation if sleep didn’t come. Sleep didn’t come. Anxiety did, though. Like a blast through my relaxed near-dream consciousness, like a bucket of ice water on a challenge I didn’t volunteer for, like a pit in a pitted cherry in a particular good bite of pie, my anxiety surged very suddenly, and without obvious cause. Amusingly, I ‘heard’ a distant imagined voice, calm and professional, my own, in the background “please do not panic…” and smiled as I comfortably shifted my body to a more open position, and focused on my breathing. The anxiety quickly dissipated, lacking anything to feed on, and I continued to meditate until the alarm went off, and then for a couple of moments afterward; reacting to the alarm often starts my day badly, for some reason, perhaps some association with the word ‘alarm’, itself, and I often take a couple of minutes to breath and relax before I rise.

Like any muscle, my will becomes stronger (and healthier) the more I exercise it. Practicing good emotional and physical self-care pays off over time, although initially I wasn’t really  certain that such small changes would ‘matter’. Isn’t that the thing though? If I had insisted for myself that small changes, better practices, and that really committing to the practices that feel good to me were of no value – or no lasting value – or that I ‘won’t be able to make that work’, I most assuredly would have achieved what I was certain of – they wouldn’t have been of much value. Don’t get me wrong on this one, I am not decrying the value of empirical evidence, or sneezing on the standards of proof in science. I am suggesting that it is rather obvious, regardless what can be proven effective, that we have the power to render the most effective treatment worthless by undercutting our will, or by defining our successes as failure, or simply by choosing to identify the outcome as ‘not working’. This is not a matter of ‘faith’ – because the things I am practicing are not ‘faith-based’ practices. Like any practices, if I don’t actually practice them, they will not be effective – it is my choice to apply myself, to enact my will, to see change manifest because I choose it. There are verbs involved…but there is also acceptance, and awareness involved.

Tree of Life, Tree of Knowledge... or just a tree? You choose.

Tree of Life, Tree of Knowledge… or just a tree? You choose.

Why am I on about this today? For a friend, actually. It seems he has lost his will, and is surviving life on his ‘won’t’ instead. It sucks to see him suffer – worse still, it sucks to see him not only choose suffering, but to invest heavily in the continuation of suffering as though the suffering itself has great value, or is the desired outcome. Hell, maybe it is. He does get to choose. I feel both sympathy and compassion for his struggle; I have my own such moments. Maybe we all do, now and then. We each make our choices. There are verbs involved. Our results vary. We are each having our own experience. The map is not the world. The journey is the destination.

My friend has been exposed to all these ideas, himself. He has a lot of people who support and encourage him (although he often doesn’t recognize or acknowledge it). He very specifically enacts his ‘won’t’ at many decision-making points, and defines many moments as failures, accepting that there is no possible good outcome available to him. He often makes a point of limiting his perceived options, and holds onto life-goals that appear specifically chosen to be as far out of reach as possible, while firmly refusing himself any opportunity to see more of life’s potential. It makes my heart ache to see him suffer…and it confuses me to see that it is willful, and so carefully crafted. I am powerless to help – because these are his choices to make, and he makes them. Another lesson on attachment, perhaps, and a reminder that some of my own self-inflicted suffering is a matter of choosing (poorly) to find myself responsible for someone else’s self-inflicted suffering by assigning myself some portion of the task of alleviating that suffering. It doesn’t work that way with self-inflicted suffering; only the self can choose to let that one go.

The loveliness of life is not visible so easily if my eyes are closed; knowing this may not be enough to decide to open my eyes. That's how choice works.

The loveliness of life is not visible so easily if my eyes are closed; knowing this may not be enough to decide to open my eyes. That’s how choice works.

Today is a good day for good self-care, and for loving the being of light that inhabits this fragile vessel. Today is a good day to be compassionate. Today is a good day to consider more than the obvious options, and choices that didn’t make the first list. Today is a good day to be open to success, and to accept failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. Today is a good day to love, and to put myself at the top of my own agenda. Today is a good day to change the world within.

I slept well and deeply last night. I woke feeling stiff, and in pain, but in a generally positive place emotionally. It’s an ordinary enough Wednesday. I sip my coffee and consider how meaningless the sentence “It’s an ordinary enough Wednesday” actually is, if one does not know the meaning of the word ‘Wednesday’. It’s quite difficult to have a good quality discussion on a topic, if the participants don’t share a similar understanding of how the words being used are defined. It’s a huge part of the ‘each having our own experience’ puzzle; the way we understand the world, ourselves, and the way we use language have the potential to be misunderstood.

We are each having our own experience.

As with the definitions of words in the spoken and written language we use, our assumptions ‘about’ things and people going on around us define other characteristics of the world, and our experience; our assumptions are quite individual and personal, and may not be shared by others. The assumptions we each make may not even be ‘accurate’ when compared to what can be shown empirically, tested, or verified.

We are each having our own experience – and it may not be ‘real’… or to be more reasonable, it may not be anything at all like the experience a large percentage of other people are having, seem to be having, say they are having – or is being held out as some sort of defining ‘norm’. It’s our own. Exclusively and entirely ours – and mostly chosen, and often based on our assumptions. To be clear, I’m not attempting to say that we are ‘at fault’, ourselves, when someone else acts against us violently, or when we must endure non-consensual experiences inflicted upon us. We can make use of our free will to take action, and some of the actions taken in the world are inflicted on someone, by another, causing pain, injury, or assorted other negative outcomes.

Some of the most horrible things that occur in the world are defended, and often by a great many people, using assumptions and definitions to support them, while the suffering is decried by others, also based on assumptions and definitions. It’s messy. Who is ‘right’? Does the injured party define the circumstances because they are injured by them? Does an aggressor define the circumstances, free to do so based on ‘intent’ versus ‘outcome’? We each have our opportunity in life to examine this puzzle closely; we will each hurt someone, sometime, and we are each at some point hurt, ourselves. When we are hurt, does the intent of the one who hurt us matter more than our pain? When we have injured someone else, which thing is more significant to us: explaining why we didn’t mean our actions to cause injury, why our actions ‘shouldn’t have’ caused injury, or that someone is hurt? Is being ‘right’ more important than treating each other well?

We are each  having our own experience – and I can’t answer my questions for anyone but me, really. I am thinking these things over, myself, because ‘reciprocity’ is on my mind; it’s one of my Big 5 relationship values. Reciprocity, from my perspective, might mean everyone takes turns on a household task, or it might mean that one person does a specific thing routinely because they don’t mind or have unique skill at it, while others also take on tasks similarly suited to their nature in equal measure, thus distributing the work in a way that is balanced and fair to all. Reciprocity can mean ‘taking turns’. Reciprocity, emotionally, means I give support in equal measure to receiving it, and that I back my partners goals and growth equally with my own. “Equal”, “balanced”, “fair” and “reciprocal” are all words, and because we are individuals, we define them for ourselves, quite individually. My need for reciprocity is not necessarily shared by others; it is my own choice to value this quality in my relationships, and to foster it in my own experience. I choose whether to build relationships with individuals, and can’t force my values on them. Sitting here sipping my coffee and considering reciprocity as a relationship value I realize that one thing I think is utterly urgent to be reciprocal with is consideration, itself. Reciprocity is hard to achieve if I don’t take time to consider what has value to others, what their needs may be… Oh, damn. Another definition would be needed… “need” versus “want”.

Each having our own experience…and it hits me hard, as I down my last gulp of now cold coffee; if I am engaged and present in my own experience, awake, aware, and observing the experiences of others while doing so…making the wisest choices I can to take care of me, and meet my own needs over time…listening deeply when others interact with me…practicing non-harm, compassion, and self-compassion…treating myself truly well, and living beautifully…it sounds rather as if on those terms, reciprocity happens, consideration is, and The Big 5 dovetails quite seamlessly with The Art of Being. So…this tells me living my own experience fully, and mindfully walking my path each day is ‘all’ that is required to live a life that is generally contented and joyful. There’s definitely a lesson about attachment sneaking in there, too. My definitions, my values, my goals…your results may vary.

I am a flower, blooming in my own time.

I am a flower, blooming in my own time.

Today is a good day to enjoy the person in the mirror. Today is a good day to do my best. Today is a good day to build emotional resilience and self-sufficiency, appreciating how far I’ve come, and what a lovely journey it generally is. Today is a good day to listen deeply, to love well, and to savor being okay right now.

Disinhibited Love

I think of you,
and in the thinking my heart calls your name
and if you are near, I reach for you;
when you are far away the longing is greater,
and becomes words.
Love letters once penned in ink
on lined paper
in spiral notebooks or
are faster now
easier now
more immediate now
and my heart pours directly onto the digital page
until a simple ‘I love you’ becomes somehow fantastical
and exotic
just perhaps
too much.
It’s just that I was thinking of you…
and my heart called your name,
and in your absence
my love comes tumbling out in words;
I have just enough on hand to say
I love you.

"Baby Love" Scrivener 1992

“Baby Love” Scrivener 1992

A quality of The Art of Being struck me with force yesterday; there is no ‘blank canvas’ once we get started, not generally. We only get the one blank canvas, and ever after must add, correct, adjust, change, modify, paint over, or enjoy the work in progress, as is it is. I’m not complaining; it’s the biggest canvas ever, and when we get started it seems as if there is no likelihood of filling it with our vision – it’s that huge. When we start, we lack vision, we lack composition, we lack technique – but we also lack doubt, and we are not self-conscious about The Art of Being; we begin the thing fully engaged and present…and doodling, metaphorically. I mean…few of us are, as children, what we will become as adults.

"Broken" 14" x 18" acrylic and mixed media with glow.

“Broken” 14″ x 18″ acrylic and mixed media with glow. 2012

Yesterday, a bad bit of earlier work beneath some lovely very new work on the canvas of my experience produced a predictable enough moment of misunderstanding. I’ve spent enough time wading through the wreckage that it feels fairly normal…I forgot that it is ‘wreckage’, and shards of chaos and damage. Violence and ancient pain have left their mark on me, and although most days it’s just a smudge on the corner of my canvas, yesterday it was as if India ink had been spilled, blotting out a bit of the good work of later years, seeping through from underneath.  For just a moment, it felt as if perhaps the whole piece was ruined – it can so easily look that way if I forget that my metaphorical canvas never dries, and is never completed.

"You Always Have My Heart" 8" x 10" acrylic on canvas with glow.

“You Always Have My Heart” 8″ x 10″ acrylic on canvas with glow. 2014

The challenge, and the life lesson, are once again about attachment. Attachment to outcomes, to emotions, to people, to moments – however lovely, moments are still quite fleeting, ephemeral, and in a sense quite unrepeatably unique. Life is always ‘live’. People persist in being quite human. The shadows cast by past violence are but shadows, however ‘real’ they feel in some later moment. Then there’s this; because so much of my experience is ‘made up’ content built of my assumptions, my thoughts, and my memories, filtered through my values, prejudices, and perspective, I am very much at risk of becoming attached to something that doesn’t really exist, isn’t what I perceive it to be, or isn’t shared in the way I may want it to be. The Art of Being is art because the limitless power to create even who I am has no rule book, no instruction manual, no single scalable process with a reliable error-correction cycle, no universally shared measurable quality that all agree is ideal…I choose who I am, I choose my words, I live my life…but it isn’t ‘paint by numbers’, and some days it obviously lacks technique, or skill…some days the art doesn’t move me, some days it isn’t pretty.

Unfinished canvas...what will it become when the moment arrives?

Unfinished canvas…what will it become when the moment arrives?

Take a moment to consider how little technical mastery, great design, composition, fame, or expertise actually matter when we see something that delights us aesthetically. I have been as captivated by a child’s unskilled painting as by a masterpiece; the engineering and craftsmanship are not the defining qualities of ‘art’, although some art certainly shows amazing engineering and craftsmanship.  I am finding this true of life as art, too. What moves us isn’t always easy to understand. Certainly, what moves us isn’t always understood by others.

"Kuwait; Oil Fires" 26" x 48" oil on silk.

“Kuwait; Oil Fires” 26″ x 48″ oil on silk. 1992

The Art of Being as an approach to learning life’s lessons, living beautifully and mindfully, and being the woman I most want to be is a powerful act of self-compassion, and self-nurturing; as a metaphor it allows me to take a step back, and view life from another perspective, as an artist at work on something wonderful might be inclined to do, reconsidering something on the canvas, and taking time to touch it up, or understand it differently.

"Communion" 24" x 36" acrylic on canvas w/ceramic details 2010

“Communion” 24″ x 36″ acrylic on canvas w/ceramic details 2010

Today is a good day for a metaphor. Today is a good day for life as art, and to study The Art of Being. Today is a good day to feel pleasure in spite of heart ache, and to love the canvas in front of me enough to keep working on it – and to do my best work, mindfully, and with love.

"The Stillness Within" 8" x 10" acrylic on canvas with glow.

“The Stillness Within” 8″ x 10″ acrylic on canvas with glow. 2014

I find it interesting to notice how much longer a weekend feels when I really take the time to invest in exceptional self-care, and really make a point of relaxing, and savoring the simple sweet moments that are often so common – and so easily overlooked. Is life ‘perfect’…well…no – and yes, mostly, sort of… It’s a matter of perspective and sufficiency, and making a point of treating me well, myself.



It’s been a lovely weekend. Simple enough, and I am content with it. Perhaps it’s simply that I slept well and deeply, two nights in a row, or maybe it is that I feel comfortable and certain of my current trajectory in life, at least for the moment, and enjoy the feeling without complications because it is truly my own? Does it matter why contentment is, when it is? Is it enough to enjoy the moment, to be, in fact, content? At least for now, it seems that it is.

I have been attentive to my self-care. I have been attentive to myself. I have been awake, aware, and able to observe the world, and my own interactions from a place of compassionate non-judgment most of the weekend. Most of my choices have been sound. Most of my interactions with others have been harmonious, and enjoyable – pleasant, moment to moment, most of the time. The handful of challenging moments didn’t seem particularly noteworthy, or confrontational, and generally they were not at all about me – and that was something I understood at the time. As I said, it’s been quite a lovely weekend. Even my pain didn’t seem worth slowing down for; it was merely a nuisance.

Incremental change over time? Well, perhaps – or maybe just a good weekend. Is sorting out that distinction worth taking the time away from savoring what a lovely weekend it has been? I think not; this is a moment for being. For loving. For lingering in this joyful contented place… That’s enough.