Thursday, January 04, 2018

#178 - 180 out of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life; "Three Good Things" Revisited

"You Are Loved" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.

 This directive is similar to "The three good things challenge"While working on my Morning Pages, I was listening to a Commonweal podcast of Rachel Naomi Remen describing the "discovery model" curriculum for medical students. The whole podcast is a goldmine of lovely suggestions which would benefit every art room and every human interaction, but Remen's emphasis is on how to encourage medical students to be present with their patients. 

The directive that caught my ear was one Remen got from Angeles Arrien, about how to take time in our day to ask ourselves three questions. (A written description can be found here.) I've adapted these three questions for the art room. Sitting quietly with our art materials, we can think back over our day until we find something that surprised us. Find a way to include this in the work. Then we can review our day again, looking for an event or person that touched us. We can include this in our work as well. Finally look for something that inspired us, and include that.

We may find after practicing these three questions (What surprised me? What touched my heart? What inspired me?) in our daily art practice, we start to look about our environment for surprises, things that are touching, and things that inspire. And of course looking for these things will actually help us attend to our lives more carefully and actually find more things to be a happy artist about.

For more wonderful ideas from Rachel Naomi Remen, please see On Being with Krista Tippett, also Remen's own blog and website, and Commonweal's audio/video library.

Happy Exploration!

“The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other's memories. This is how people care for themselves.”
- Barry López, Crow and Weasel

Sunday, December 31, 2017

#172 - 177 out of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life; Six Self-Care Lessons

"Be Inspired Every Day" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
Jane Claire Hervey wrote a helpful article about artist Yayoi Kusama's self-care lessons for Forbes Magazine. She suggests that if we are feeling a little burnt out and uninspired here at the end of what was a very difficult year for most of us, we should take heart from Kusama's ideas about self-care.  They can carry us into the New Year and to remind us to take care of our best asset (our selves!): 
Kusama's first idea of self-care is to normalize rejection. Rejection is okay, we all experience it from time to time. If we normalize it, we won't be afraid of it. If we accept that rejection is part of the process, then we can be brave enough to create truthfully. Hervey tells the story of how Kusama was actually physically removed from her installation at the 33rd Venice Biennale for selling portions of the exhibited work throughout the opening reception. She was examining the relationship between art and consumerism—the message was not appreciated by the powers that be.

Kusama's second idea that we can say "no" to what we find dull, uninspired, or unbearable. Because she had been frustrated with her early experiences at Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts, she began to explore Western modern art and eventually moved to NYC to launch her career. Being active in the pop-art scene in New York in the late 1960s, Kusama took part in anti-Vietnam War protests featuring her performance pieces with naked participants. She bravely sought out and associated with Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Georgia O'Keeffe and others.

Kusama's third idea is that we should invest in our own wellbeing. She found that being very busy and pressured is not necessarily a good thing. She was first hospitalized because of overwork and exhaustion, but in 1977 actually moved into Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill in Tokyo, and has lived there (by choice) ever since.

Kusama's fourth idea is that we should explore methods and approaches to work, find the things that actually help us create our best work. She discovered that institutionalization did not have to stifle her creativity or her productivity. "It doesn't matter at all that I work in hospital or anywhere with limited space. Every day, I'm creating new works with all my might," she told The Huffington Post.

Her fifth idea is that we should appreciate our mentors and enjoy our tribe. Kusama's personal and professional friendships with Georgia O'Keeffe, Donald Judd and Joseph Cornell helped her enormously throughout the difficult times in her life.

Kusama's sixth idea is to fall in love with the process. She believes that success, fame and money do not make our work exciting, pleasurable or meaningful, but falling in love with the process will. And that makes all the difference. She continually credits her daily
art practice as a source of sanity and stability, referring to the actual work itself as medicinal and prescriptive. She wrote in her autobiography Infinity Net: “I fight pain, anxiety and fear every day, and the only method I have found that relieves my illness is to keep creating art. I followed the thread of art and somehow discovered a path that would allow me to live.”

Here's to Kusama's daily art practice and self-care lessons. May they help us steer our way into the new year.

For more information on “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” check here.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

#171 out of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life; Compassion and the Happy Artist

"Abide" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
While working on the above collage, I was listening to a talk by Paul Gilbert on compassion focused therapy. He spoke of originally using cognitive behavioral therapy in his psychotherapy practice, but noticed that some of his patients were having difficulties in their attempts to change their unhelpful patterns in thinking, belief, and attitude. The common element in this group was a certain amount of sternness and self-criticism. They seemed to be unable to show kindness or warmth towards themselves.

He talked about the evolutionary and developmental reasons for this harsh inner voice and then explained how Buddhist psychology and neuroscience helped him think about creating more compassionate inner voices, more warmth and kindness. As he put his ideas into practice it seemed that his psychotherapy practice was becoming more effective. His experience is that using compassionate mind training helps people develop an inner warmth, safeness and self-soothing so that they have the tools to successfully work with their depression, insecurities, and stresses.

 At about the 32 minute mark in this talk, he guides his audience in some breathing exercises to access the parasympathetic nervous system, and some neutral vs. friendly exercises to help the audience experience the difference between the two.  Then he started focusing on compassion, helping his audience find their inner wisdom and compassionate selves.  

It was a lovely experience to listen to the talk while working with art materials, highly recommended. I may need to do this some more, practicing a little more self-compassion and art.

Monday, November 27, 2017

#170 out of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life; Using Art and Imagination Turn Anxiety Into Calm.

"Calm Heart" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
While working on my morning pages, I was listening to a talk on YouTube by Marty Rossman.  It's a very encouraging talk, if you are ever disturbed by anxiety (and is there anyone who isn't disturbed these days?)  He explained how often times anxiety is caused by runaway imagination and obsessive thinking about worse case scenarios and how this helped us in our evolution. But today it is often used against us, keeping us glued to our media and devices. So he uses the imagination to relieve stress, and literally change our lives. He takes the audience through an evocative guided imagery experience. As he talked, a part of my mind was occupied with his evocative imagery, while another part work on this art piece. Actually there was a blending of his evocative imagery with the choices I made for this piece. Now when I look at it, I can see aspects of his talk and guided imagery and I can feel a sense of calmness.

I may need to print is out and have it where it can be easily seen when the the media and my devices begin to feel like they are too much with me.

Friday, November 24, 2017

#169 out of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life; Play with questions.

"We Can" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.

This one is a little experimental. I created the morning pages above and somehow I didn't feel completely satisfied. I ended up turning the statement into a question which oddly somehow felt very free, full of possibility. Could it be that questions create more creative space in our minds and that the use of creative space has a very positive neurological effect on us? Feeling the need for research.
"Can We" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.

Monday, July 31, 2017

#168 out of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life; "Hacking your brain" for happiness.

"Art Affects Reality" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
This one is from Dr. James Doty's Ted Talk on why we might want to activate the para-sympathetic nervous system. He explains how we have become hyper-stressed in modern culture. He believes we are using our sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight/freeze) way too much. We are actually damaging our health, work, relationships, and creativity if we don't take breaks from our culturally induced stress, anxiety, and depression.  And there is a solution. Doty believes that we can switch on our para-sympathetic nervous system using compassion for others and ourselves and when we do this the positive effects on our health are obvious and measurable. It has been shown to boost our immune system, slow our heart rate, lower blood pressure, and decreases our stress hormone levels. We actually feel happier.
He suggested that if he told us he had a pill made of sustainable, organic components that could assure you of these effects (including happiness) we would consider it very valuable. The only thing that would be required would be that after taking this pill we would have to sit in silence for 15 minutes and slowly breathe in and out and focus our intentions on compassion. Doty said that it would soon become obvious to us that we didn't really need the pill, just the sitting with the compassionate intentions.
Well, guess what, try the same thing with a little daily art activity, maybe 20 minutes or half an hour, just because it's kind of fun, and think about your intentions to be a little more compassionate in the world. You will find yourself down regulating, switching out of your sympathetic nervous system and switching into your para-sympathetic nervous system.
It couldn't hurt to give it a try.

Friday, July 14, 2017

#161-167 out of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life; Seven things to do in dark times.

"Dark Times" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.

The first six ways to have a happy artist's life came from a Facebook post by Gretchen Miller, as so many of these Happy Artist's Life posts do. It was about transforming life’s difficulties into awakening and benefit. The original article is here about a meditative practice with six ancient Buddhist slogans. Well worth the read!

#161 - Turn all mishaps into the path. If you have been through "mishaps" or dark times in the past and faced them with patience or bravery, you will know what this one is about. There's nothing like fairly intense "dark night of the soul" to open our awareness and our compassion. And a daily art practice can be a comforting way to go through the darkness.  The article is describing using meditation as a contemplative practice, but for me, I love my daily art practice. I can say “Yes, of course, this is how it is. Let me turn toward it, let me create art with it, let me go beyond entanglement to gratitude.” This I can do. And that makes me happy.

#162 - Drive all blames into one is an interesting slogan which seems a little opaque but actually means that you can’t blame anyone for what happens. Even if it’s actually someone’s fault, you really can’t blame them, or you can but it gets you nowhere. Something happened, and since it did, there is nothing else to be done but to make use of it. If you want to get somewhere, move forward, there's nothing else to do but make some art of it. This I can do!

#163 - Be grateful to everyone. This one is pretty clear. Cultivate this sense of gratitude all the time. Even if people are "misbehaving" there are things to learn, things to be grateful for. Practicing gratitude leads to a very happy artist's life. We can feel grateful for what is possible for us in this moment, no matter what our challenges are. If we feel grateful that we are alive at all, that we can think, that we can feel, that we can stand, sit, walk, talk, and most especially make art—if we feel grateful, we are happy and we maximize our chances for well-being and for sharing happiness with others. We can do this!

#164 - See confusion as buddha (awakening) and practice emptiness. Whew, this one is a little harder.  The author of this article, Norman Fischer, suggest the meaning is to view our daily human problems in the light of actual birth and actual death. If we can do that, we are practicing with this slogan. Every moment of our life, even (and maybe especially) our moments of pain or despair or confusion, is a moment of buddha, a moment of possible awakening. When our mind is confused and entangled, we can take a breath and try to slip below our desire and confusion. We can notice that in this very moment time is passing, things are transforming, and this impossible fact is profound, beautiful, and joyful, even as we continue with our misery. Especially if we are making art.

#165 - Do Good, Avoid Evil, Appreciate Your Lunacy, Pray for Help. Okay, another tough one but worth the effort. Doing good is basically genuinely being helpful and kind and thoughtful in as many small and large ways as we can every day. The results will make us happy.

Avoiding evil is actually paying attention to what we say, think, and do with generosity and understanding—and purify ourselves of most of our ungenerous thoughts and words. I'm thinking this is definitely a practice.

Appreciating our lunacy is a way of appreciating the demons inside us, developing a sense of humorous appreciation for our own humanity. We are are so not alone in our silliness! We can laugh and not take our failings (or those of others) too much to heart.

Praying for help is asking for help and for strength to do what we know we must do. It can be a stated intention, a willingness to look for and accept help where ever it comes from. We are not alone.

#166 - Whatever You Meet is the Path. This slogan sums up the other five: whatever happens, good or bad, we can make it part of our spiritual practice, we can make it into our art. I love knowing this is possible.

#167 - Practice contemplating opposites is from a yoga lecture by James Reeves. He was discussing the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali which offers a simple directive: "Vitarka badhane pratipaksha bhavanam." ––Sutra 2.33
This translates to: If we are disturbed by a negative train of thought, a way to derail the train is to contemplate the opposite kinds of thoughts. Pratipaksha means opposite and bhavana means contemplation or meditation. If we do this we are realizing that thoughts are just thoughts, yes there is this negative thing in our life which we are thinking about in a way that feels like a train out of control, but there are also other kinds of thoughts, other kinds of feelings. Look for the opposites.  This can broaden our perspective and create some space for ourselves. We unhook ourselves from this particular train of thought.

By practicing the cultivation of opposites our life can start to feel more manageable. Patanjali is asking that if we have angry thoughts, remind ourselves of compassion. We can even draw out our compassion. If we have violent thoughts we can remind ourselves of peaceful and loving thoughts. This could soothe the pain, tension, and stress of our runaway negative train of thought. And it can make our art very interesting.