All the certainty that we collect in our day-to-day living and all the beliefs to which we hold steadfast will push our ordinary mind out of the way when we suffer the dark night of the soul. This dark night will push us, sometimes painfully, through a little door into an entirely different way of thinking.
It may come in the form of a disaster or life altering event for which we have no explanation. What we do know, is that it leaves us questioning everything we believe to have been true. Your life becomes devoid of hope. You keep struggling to stay busy, while waiting for something to happen. During this ‘dark night of the soul’ you are caught between your old way of living, your old tendencies and association, and this nebulous, unreachable realm where hope resides.
You are an exile in both realms. You read all the self-help books, or you may even talk to a counselor but nothing seems to be working. Your work suffers; your personal relationships may suffer, and still you remain in this place of darkness and all the while ‘hope’ and ‘happiness’ seem to remain just beyond reach.
This is a difficult time and a very private time. Speaking of this darkness to your friends seems counter productive so you remain silent. At some point you become profoundly aware of the suffering of others and you begin to identify with that suffering. You prefer total solitude. You have now reached the midnight hour of the dark night of the soul. And acceptance seems to be your only option.
Then subtle changes begin to occur. An overwhelming sense of peace flows over you, like a gentle flowing river brushing over the sedentary rocks beneath the surface. The fire of hope and joy slowly begin to permeate your soul. You have regained a sense of purpose. Your work begins to flow without much effort. Your relationships become far more meaningful; both the new ones and the older ones.
You have invested so much into who you thought you were, that at times this new you fits like a new shoe that is just not quite broken in. It is a little uncomfortable at first.
I do not profess to having the answer as to how this happens. But, I do know it happens several times during our lifetime. Sometimes it can be very chaotic and prolonged, and sometimes it can be fleeting.
These are transformative times that take us to a new and higher conscientiousness. Know this; a caterpillar will one day become a butterfly, the darkest midnight will soon become daylight, and there is, somewhere, a lighthouse that will aid the sailor in a stormy sea.
Stars fizzle out in the universe, buildings crumble, river rocks wear smooth with the passage of time. The distance between ‘then’ and ‘now’ is a nanosecond and an eternity, at the same time. That distance is most relevant to me now as I am in the crone stage of life. I have journeyed through child, lover, mother, and grandmother. I have worn many labels throughout this journey; rebel, counselor, teacher, artist, visionary and adventurer. The labels are not of my doing. They come from how others have seen me at certain points in my life. I am none of these and all of these at the same time.
I wish I could tell you what thoughts come to me about the eternity that has passed. You see the distance between then and now has been filled with so many experiences; some joyful, others not so much. The journey has lasted many lifetimes. Too many to speak of. You see I have been here before and will likely be here again.
Knowing the future is not really knowing about the future. It is about knowing which path to take now. Not all of us are out to catch what we need to survive in this life, but also, what we need to be reborn in the next.
We can live out this lifetime in the middle of the stream allowing the rushing waters to wear us smooth. Or, we can cling to the shore and remain jagged and rough.
A lot has happened this past year in my life. Changes. Changes can be unnerving at first, but one always finds a way to adapt. That is where I am now......in the adapting stage. There have been losses, some victories and some health issues. The victories are those feel-good-moments that grab our ego and our inside voice repeats over and over; ” I want more. I deserve more. I know what I have done is good.” Enter the losses. And those feel-bad-moments grab our ego and our inside voice repeats over and over; “ I knew you would fail. You are not good at this. You will never amount to anything.” Ego is fickle. Ego can stop you in your tracks and inhibit growth. The moment we become aware of the voice of the ego, it becomes no more than conditioned mind patterns. And those patterns we can change.
I have learned some valuable lessons in this past year. I learned that I can proudly call myself an artist. I learned that I make good art and often I make bad art. I learned that I have had many successes and many more failures and it is the failures that moved me to try one more time. I leaned that sometimes it is best to let go because trying harder is not working. I learned that I experience many emotions and they are all good, even the ones that feel so bad at the time. I have learned that a support system on the journey is a treasure to nourish and I do so by offering support in return. And I also learned that not everyone deserves my support. And there is no merit in feeling guilty when I withdraw my support.
Today I took a long walk in a snow storm with snow up to my knees. I shoveled snow until my back hurt and I could not feel my almost-frozen fingers. I got my truck stuck in a snow bank. And I saw the beauty in every moment of that. I felt like I was alive. Every breath of cold air that entered my lungs hurt and felt refreshing at the same time. In those moments I made some decisions; I made choices that I know will bring adventure back in to my life.
We are only here for a short time and in the end the only regrets we will have are the chances we did not take out of fear; the relationships we were afraid to have because of a broken heart; and the decisions we waited far too long to make because we feared failure or success.
Turn your head and pause. There is your next adventure waiting for you. Fall into it.
As artists we often fall in to the need to fill all the empty spaces. We have a need to claim our space. There are many different types of spaces: our physical space (our home and work place), our intimate space (our boundaries), verbal space (communication and listening), or our life space (career and social activities). Empty space often leaves us feeling uncomfortable. We feel the need to fill it.
A canvas would be quite boring if it were left blank, just as verbal space needs a combination of communication and listening. Our life space needs a balance of work, social activities and periods of calm. When one writes a gripping musical piece, it is the spaces between the notes that makes the music. Some of the best musician, I am told, play fewer notes than you actually hear. They play in such a way- and leave enough space- that your mind fills in more.
The best artists are aware that negative space on the canvas carries weight. It is not just the absence of content. The empty space or white space IS content.
It is important that we not fill every moment of our days putting paint to canvas. Some of the most valuable components of a work of art are the moments spent in quiet contemplation. Those are the moments that invite revelation – spaces. Those moments are just as important as the white space on the canvas.
I have always thought my life was well mapped out. I knew what I wanted. I knew how to go about achieving what I wanted and I was journeying on the path just as planned. My compass was pointed in the right direction and all I needed to do, was stay the course. Then the inevitable happens. The uncomfortable groundlessness beneath my feet lets me know, without a doubt, that major life-changing events are happening that may have me changing course. My compass is broken.
Change is never easy. With every breath I take, a change occurs. What makes it difficult is when I convince myself that I am not ready for the change. Over the years, I formed a lot of ideas about what life is, oftentimes based on unrealistic hopes and standards. I learned that what I thought life was supposed to be like, was not always the case. I often found myself frustrated when reality set in and it fell short of my expectations.
Never have expectations played a more significant role than in relationships with others. In any healthy relationship there are certain expectations, like being treated well and being respected. Those are realistic expectations. But sometimes I have found myself in a relationship that did not mirror what I anticipated would happen. At times like this I experience sadness, hurt, remorse or betrayal.
Finding new direction, for me, means changing my perspective. If I cannot change the circumstance, I need to change my perspective. This means seeing the perfection in the relationship, just the way it is.
With eyes full of clarity, I am capable of changing the relationships in my life by adjusting my point of view.
'When you are lost in the rain, search for a rainbow.".
Pushed is what happens
Pushed is losing balance.
Pushed is stretching boundaries.
Pushed is searching. Pushed is falling.
Pushed preceded falling. Falling is losing balance.
I am pushed
A quiescent mind is a bit of an oxymoron. One may have the appearance of being in a state of ‘quietness’ or ‘inactivity’ however, the mind keeps firing. In any new initiative there are moments of doubt. There will be days when one flies high and days when everything seems to be falling in on you. Those ‘falling in’ days are a blessing because it affords us the opportunity to sit up and take notice. We take notice of things that make us feel bad and things that make us feel good and we take notice when we experience some measure of fear with both of these perspectives.
There are times when we don’t move forward with the things that make us feel good for many reasons but the common denominator is fear; fear of feeling good, fear of pleasure, and fear of bliss, fear of failure.
The most rewarding things our lives can come with great difficulty or great ease. How we deal with transformative steps in our life is a choice. We can chose to step in to the change with trust knowing that life will always provide us with what we need. Or, we can fight the change and cling to a painful past, thus letting fear overtake trust.
Transformation is like a mini death. Any life-changing event is like a mini death. And when this mini death comes in to your life it can rattle your bones. Our vision becomes quite clouded at this point. We may choose avoidance or denial rather than going forward in to the unknown and trusting that there is a better path for us. A path that can lead to untold bliss and happiness. We just need to step up and follow it.
I trust that there is a cosmic rhythm and I resonate with it. Everything always comes back to ‘balance’. So even when I seem to get out of sync, it will bring me back.
Life will not always be a waltz, but it will always be in harmony.
When I approach a new blank canvas I attempt to establish a dialogue. That dialogue is with me and the canvas; me and my inner perception of my world; me and those who stop to view the work. I open conversations with signs and signifiers. I give clues.
I try to reach into the recesses beyond what we see with the eye alone. I journey to the bare essence of a moment in time. With each canvas I hope to create a sense of anticipation. I want people to feel that "something" is happening outside of the scope of what you can see. I want the viewer to participate. And most of all, I want to remain a participant myself.
Creating, whether it be with paint, textiles, or sculptures, gives me my voice. When words alone are not enough, I paint. When I establish this dialogue with a canvas I am given permission to speak in many more languages than just the language I use for words. It is that ‘unifier’ that reaches across all barriers to convey and idea; a story; my story.
I wrote those words some time ago in response to a question from my artist friend Katherine Treffinger. Today, I revisit those words and what stands out in my mind is; ‘I journey to the bare essence of a moment in time. ‘ It is those moments in time that can be life-affirming, life-changing, or a moment that can bring us to our knees.
Once or twice during my life, something has happened to push my ordinary mind out of the way, and partially open a little door into an entirely different knowledge; a most lovely, satisfying knowledge. During those rare moments one knows, that even the most painful and miserable moments that life throws at us, it is still worthwhile. It is worthwhile because of the joy and beauty which comes after and before it, and indeed, all around it.
Our lives are an act of invocation. Whether we are aware of it or not, whether we like it or not, every act and thought, the taking up of an attitude of mind, is a mystic act of invocation, and draws unseen powers to our aid or our undoing. So our position is really one of immense power and potency at all times.
Each moment, each day we are faced with new struggles; we battle with our limitations and we make difficult choices. It is my wish that we all come to a place where we see these moments, these struggles, as the most beautiful things.
There are several major turning points in our life such as when we pass from child to teen; from teen to young adult; from adult to senior. In addition, there have been spiritual turning points for me. The most significant turning point was reaching that age when we no longer understand the music of the younger crowd; when we think that the young dress odd; when we look in the mirror and we do not recognize the face looking back.
There was a time when I thought reaching a certain age was an event not to be celebrated. However, now that I am officially in the 'senior' category, there is an overwhelming peace that comes with it.
In Neolithic times the Crone stage was a time of mastery. Crone women were the tribal matriarchs. Their heightened awareness of human nature yielded great insight and they were the source of wise counsel for important decisions.
In our society, ageing is met with denial and condemnation. Many industries exist to support our obsession with looking forever young. Plastic surgery has become almost expected once the first wrinkle arrives to mark the face. Age related medical procedures reinforce the notion that looking old is beyond undesirable.
Once we enter the Crone stage of life, we re-visit our body image issues. At every turn we are reminded of what is considered beautiful; in magazines, on runways and television and movies. We look in the mirror and do not recognize what we see. We see wrinkles and sagging flesh. But in those wrinkles, we can also see kindness, and a gentleness and beauty that radiates from within. We see years of living life the way it should be lived; diving in to the good and the bad moments and coming through with dignity and wisdom.
Many modern women have consciously chosen to reject the negative images of aging and to reclaim their rightful role as esteemed elders. These ladies are stepping into the Crone stage of life with joy and dignity. No matter where you are in your process, embrace it, embrace yourself, love your process. It is yours and yours alone. And, there is no greater gift than life, at every stage.
She came from long unquestioned places where metallic glare
and smell of asphalt baste the skin to darkness
and whiten the opened eye.
The bones beneath the skin form sharp angles
where once there were soft curves.
She reaches up to touch her cheek,
wondering if a touch of blush here or there
would make her look more presentable.
It all seems so distant.
She seems like water,
whose surface has been disturbed.
She sees her reflection,
distorted; ripples on the surface.
You can no longer see beneath the surface.
She closes her eyes to the image that she sees.
In her blindness, the ripples pass
and once again she becomes water.
The foil was crumpled and charred with the residue. I was about to throw it in to the garbage when the simple beauty of the crumpled mass caught my attention. Too often, we rush through life and miss the beauty in everything surrounding us. This moment; this foil; this residue, was satori.
In the Zen Buddhist tradition, satori refers to the experience of kensho. 'Seeing into one's true nature or essence." Satori to me can also mean seeing into the true essence or nature of all things.
Residue as Satori Art
Another sale!!!! Once again, an online artist I know has made another sale. The work itself, by all standards is bad; her training in the arts, non-existent. That is not to say that self-taught artists do not produce and sell excellent work. But, they train. They read books, practice and take workshops. They apprentice with other artists. This artist is proud to state that she has been painting for a couple of years and has never taken a class, nor does she read……anything.
So what is it that draws people toward her work, enough so that they put out hard cash to own one? . After several months of reading, visiting galleries and watching traffic on the internet, I have concluded that one huge factor in the success of any artist is not necessarily the quality of the work, but the person/artist themselves and their story.
People do not just buy the work; they buy the artist first, and then the work. We have instant access to all sorts of quality art, music and writing today through the internet. We don’t even have to leave the couch to find it, purchase it, and have it delivered right to the door. No one is really venturing out their door in search of good art. Well, very few anyway. What they want is the story. This story may be about the thought process in the making of the art or the motivation behind the making of the work. Or, it may be your personal story; the story of YOU.
The latter type of story is the one that is not necessarily told by you, but by others telling a story about you. All you do for the storyteller is provide the fuel. And here is where the artist needs to be so very careful. Be intentional and attentive with the 'fuel' you are providing.
I can mention a few names here and a ‘story’ will immediately come to mind for you. Names like Joplin, Garcia, Hendrix, Lady Gaga, Lennon and Dylan. These musicians do not even need to use their first names for us to know their story.
For the visual artists we have Picasso, Warhol, Van Gogh and Hirst. All the stories that we tell about these artists were fueled by the artists themselves.
‘So how do I get these buyers to like me and my story?’ you ask. Well I am no expert on this but I will offer my ideas.
We need to share something of value with them. We need to give them more than a sales pitch. We have to bring it to a personal level. In the case of the artist mentioned at the beginning of this article, it is her vulnerability; her victimization. A week seldom passes that there is not some huge tragedy in her life. And we all like to be the rescuer. So, we buy a painting because that will cheer her up. That will bring some positive into her life. I do not mean to suggest that these buyers do not like the painting they are buying. But they like the story first and then go in search of a painting they like and can live with second. And she graciously offers up gratitude for those who have stepped up to purchase her work. And I believe she is truly thankful and sincere. We love a tragedy and we love to be the rescuer. The something of value here is that she has given us the opportunity to step up and save the day, even in a small way. She sets up as a victim.
So, back to my thought that we need to SHARE something of VALUE with them. Value comes with the connections we make. We all like to know that others are experiencing the same things we are experiencing. It gives us a sense of community. So, stop always presenting yourself as the successful hero/heroine. Show your vulnerabilities and your weaknesses. Everyone needs to see your humanness. I am not suggesting you hide your success either. But balance it out so that a potential buyer can see your humanness.
Every now and then, show your willingness to step outside the box. Do something that makes you uniquely you. That could involve your travels and sharing through writing about your adventures. We have a local artist who travels extensively and paints and writes about his adventures. Through him we can become armchair adventurers. And…….we buy the work. because we love the adventure. Somehow, that gives us ownership to being part of the story.
Promote other artists whose work you admire. And the opposite of that is to NEVER tear down the work of other artists. (I say this after last missive, offering up negative comments about Hirst). As I painter I do not only promote other painters but musicians, dancers and actors who I admire and know. Some artists do not like to do this because they may perceive the other as competition. Competition is GOOD.
Disempowering others never serves you well. I have heard of many artists giving workshops and telling the participants that so-an-so is not a good artist; a good instructor.
Get involved with your community. That is, your actual community and your virtual community. Be willing to help others on their path to success. There is more to this than money. Share your knowledge, be willing to help, offer yourself as a speaker to community groups. Most of all, be authentic.
Be careful with your artist statement. Potential buyers do read them. Making yourself sound overly erudite will not serve you well. My favourite artist statement comes from an online friend who says, “I paint. Sometimes I use cement.”
How do you know what type of reputation you are building and if it is headed in the right direction for you? Listen to what others say about you. Recently, when asked if I would teach a workshop quite a distance from where I live, I asked how she had heard my name. She said she had not seen my work, (very honest of her) but another instructor told her I was an expert at painting on synthetic papers and with encaustic. Why I tell you this, is that I am far from an expert encaustic painter. I paint mostly with cold wax, not encaustic and I remain far from an expert at either. . I started to paint on synthetics long before they became popular and used cold wax long before it became well known. That doesn’t necessarily make me an expert, just an experimenter. This has become my story. Because I was willing to experiment and take risks with new materials, it has helped to brand my name in a certain way. Participants in my workshops often comment that I motivate them to play and experiment and I make painting FUN. So, that seems to have become part of my story/brand.
And that, in turn, helps potential buyers to understand my story and make a connection. And those, my friends, are my thoughts on this subject.