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Steps toward a well designed life

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Steps toward a well designed life

 

I sometimes have to remind myself of the steps I have made to re-design my life.

They haven’t been easy.

First Steps

But they’ve been huge steps in reclaiming joy and peace in my life.

Me and my boys with our new baby ducklings.

Me and my boys with our new baby ducklings.

No more 60 hour work weeks.

Rarely 40 hour work weeks anymore.

Through contracts, projects, and writing I make enough to allow me to keep on building my business and paying my bills.

But more, I have enough time to make room for living.

To make time for life.

Time to enjoy my children.

Time to grow a garden.

Time to sell jams, jellies, and sunflowers at the local farmers market.

Time to listen to the world.

Time to hear myself.

It is worth every penny, every hour that I get to call my own.

It is worth living my life.

And I am grateful. reflection

(Trying to) Navigate Stress in New Ways

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(Trying to) Navigate Stress in New Ways

Stress and I have an unhealthy relationship. It’s kind of a co-dependent relationship. I tend to respond to stress with compulsive behaviors.

Yesterday I put my husband in the hospital and today he might have surgery. It’s only his tonsils… but still, I feel the familiar stress of any set of crisis and unknown outcomes.

Without working a 9-5 job, I am not entirely sure how to spend my time. In fact, I am almost certain that working on any of my projects would not be a healthy option right now. For me, work as an escape is a habit. A bad habit. Using work to escape from the stress of any current state of being is essentially the same as using a chemical substance. And of all the things in my mind, work, play, rest, sleep, spazz-out, be grateful, write, draw, do dishes, walk…the one thing I can confidently know NOT to do RIGHT NOW is to have a drink. So, it would make sense not to engage in any other addictive behaviors, right?

This is day three of being in a stress response mode. And I feel like I’ve done remarkably well up to this point. Prioritizing, eating well, meditating, sharing, sleeping, I even went to yoga last night. And yet it is like speaking a foreign language. It takes great effort and sometimes feels like I’m doing it all wrong.

I think the key here is to remember the choices we have. I don’t know anything more than I did 10 minutes ago in regards to my husband’s condition. However I choose to use this limbo time, it is up to me to make choices that nourish me, reduce stress, and enhance my sense of well-being. Because acting like I’m trying to fix the situation certainly doesn’t fix it.

Interesting… the things we can learn when we are mindful of the situation at hand.

Recovering a Sense of Compassion

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Recovering a Sense of Compassion

“Learning is movement from moment to moment.” ~J. KRISHNAMURTI

In my progress as a recovering artist, I felt like I got stumbled up a bit. I wrote about it last week, “I had done so well with Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” Then real life started to happen. I had grant contracts, I had deadlines, I took on the project of developing and opening the Upstage Gallery in my community. I got busy. I left the book behind. Still conscious, still grateful, as if I had completed ahead of time.”

Then, I sat down to read the chapters I had abandoned. But wait– they had been read! I even highlighted them. Rereading, I do remember the content of “Recovering a Sense of Compassion,” but I never really felt the words. So today, I make my effort. To go through and re-read (again) with a pencil, paper, and a clear mind. To have an awareness of potential blockages that keep me from hearing the truth. And here, I share that.

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~Fear~

One of the most important tasks in artistic recovery is learning to call things- and ourselves- by the right names. In most cases it is fear that blocks us.”

When I first started with the project of opening the Upstage Gallery with Dakota Prairie Regional Center for the Arts, I was absolutely petrified with fear. After the initial meeting, I wrote to a friend, “I find myself feeling very nervous about this and it took me a little to figure out why– I think it has to do with the collaborative aspect of the project and the fact that it is the first “long-term” commitment I’ve made in a long time. I just find myself terrified that I’m going to let folks down. I realize though that these are old dysfunctional feelings…” That was 10 weeks ago. That fear is no longer there, in that way. I was delighted by that collaboration in the project and we had a quite successful soft opening, with the grand opening coming soon. We have work from 15 artists consigned and the list is growing. There has been no disappointment, only enthusiasm and support.

Artworks on display at DPRCA Upstage Gallery. This is the first long-term project I've been involved in since I left my day job in July 2012.

Artworks on display at DPRCA Upstage Gallery. This is the first long-term project I’ve been involved in since I left my day job in July 2012.

This is not to say that fear has gone away completely. It has moved, to a more private sphere of life. Fear permeates me as I prepare my work for display. Even as I encourage artists young and old to honor the value of their works, I have trouble doing the same.

The need to be a great artist makes it hard to be an artist. The need to produce a great work of art, makes it hard to produce any art at all. 

And months ago, I made a vow to stop using the excuse- “I’ve been so busy.” So when one of my collaborators asked, “What about your jewelry? Where’s that at?” I told the truth, “I’m working on it.” And that night I did. I prepared enough feathers for 12 pairs of earrings.

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Then the next day, I completed 7 pairs for the gallery and took them in right away. It is part of my habit to silence my critic, to take in my work for consignment nearly immediately. As soon as it is framed, finished, complete, I take it in so there is no room for self-doubt and fear to grow.

Once it is on the wall, it is part of the display.

"Pheasant Feather Series"  Fine Art Photography by Rachel Brazil. 65

“Pheasant Feather Series”               Fine Art Photography by Rachel Brazil                  65–

 

But, yet the fear still hangs on as I have pastel drawings in my studio, waiting to be sprayed with fixative, mounted, framed, priced, and consigned.

~Enthusiasm~

Perhaps the greatest anti-venom for fear and self-critique is enthusiasm. Julia Cameron explains,

Enthusiasm is not an emotional state. It is a spiritual commitment, a loving surrender to our creative process, and loving recognition off all the creativity around us.

And for me, there is so much truth here. I have a terrible tendency to curb my enthusiasm. If I start to get too excited, too giddy, I see it as a sign of irresponsibility on my part. If I don’t curb it, I get scattered. I’m flying high, but I lose my keys, break my glasses, forget to pay the electric bill. I realize now that my curbing my enthusiasm and maintaining my sense of a responsible self, that I let fear continue to have influence in my life.

I am fortunate though, that sometimes I just can’t help it- genuine collaboration breaks down that ill-suited defense against enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm (from the Greek, “filled with God”) is an ongoing energy supply tapped into the flow of life itself. Enthusiasm is grounded in play, not work. Far from being a brain-numbed soldier, our artist is actually our child within, our inner playmate. As with all playmates, it is joy, not duty, that makes for a lasting bond.

This explanation of enthusiasm is so key for me and my recovery as a work addict. Enthusiasm is NOT about work. It is about play. It is about JOY. And with a wonderful group of collaborators to experience the joy of creation with, no longer should I confuse joy and responsibility. Yes, the two can co-exist, and they can be found within one another– but they are not equal. They do not look the same. They do not feel the same. There are differences to be celebrated in both joy and responsibility.

~Creative U-turns~

As I reach this section of the book, it is overly highlighted. It looks like an undergraduate textbook. I’m sure I understood it, I must have recognized myself in it. But it is the sections that I didn’t highlight that are most revealing.

A productive artist is quite often a happy person. This can be very threatening as a self-concept to those who are used to getting their needs met by being unhappy.

This is one phrase that wasn’t highlighted. Even now, in rereading I looked over it. Initially, it didn’t resonate with me. “That must be for someone else,” I thought. But, no. There is startling truth in it. While the statement feels like someone saying, “Oh, you’re just unhappy to get attention…” the truth in it has more to do with the fact that dysfunctional patterns of life lead us to do things in unhealthy ways. For me, I was most productive when I was unhappy. Whether I was physically not well, emotionally scarred, grieving loss, hiding anger, or just simply not quite okay with things– that is when I excelled— as a student, as an artist, as a waitress, as a grant writer, as someone striving to be the best THE ABSOLUTE BEST they could be, just to drown out the unhappiness. In this pattern, I got graded well, recognized, tipped, funded, and promoted. I got my needs met.

So yes, now doing art simply out of joy!? Writing for the creative endeavor of it!? It seems so foreign! This is my creative u-turn. Healthy creativity. Finding support. Nourishing myself. Respecting myself. Honoring my work. Letting enthusiasm drive away the fear.

~Blasting through Blocks~

Now I remember! I do, I do!

In order to work freely on a project, an artist must be at least functionally free of resentment (anger) and resistance (fear). What do we mean by that? We mean that any buried barriers must be aired before the work can proceed. The same holds true for any buried payoffs to not working. Blocks are seldom mysterious. They are, instead, recognizable artistic defenses against what is perceived (rightly or wrongly) as a hostile environment.

I reached this point, and anger swelled inside of me. I couldn’t let it go. It felt like I cut a vein, and it wouldn’t stop bleeding. Anger about my art, led interestingly enough to anger about my past. Mostly on the topics of spirituality and sexuality. It was more than I knew how to handle. I consulted my yogini, “I’ve got some serious pent up rage issues bubbling up to the surface today and quite honestly I have no idea how to deal with it. (If I did, I wouldn’t have this problem, right!?) I do however, know what NOT to do. No breaking stuff, yelling, hitting, and so on. So my question, do you have any suggested yoga poses that can help to open and release some of this?” 

Her suggestions to do backbends like Camel, Cobra, and Upward Bow, and the kneeling arm sequence (Mudhra bind, Reverse Prayer, Half Eagle, and Half Cow Face) to  open the collarbones and extend the spine were followed by opening my hips. She said “it will free emotions and may lead to a sudden overwhelming rush of feeling, but it will help you work through them faster. These are poses like Garland and High Lunge, Wide-Legged Seated Forward Bend, and One-Legged King Pigeon I.” Then, after feeling better I tried an inversion like Downward Dog, Standing Split, Wide-Legged Forward Bend, or even Big Toe.

It worked marvelously. I felt so much better, but physical pain still remained in one particular spot. Physically, meta-physically, whatever, however it works out, that pain became a block for me and I never followed up on the rest of this chapter. So hear I am, reading the notes I made, with an awareness that detects the anger still there and hoping to break the cycle that consumed me before. 

Cameron asks a lot of questions of her readers.

“List any resentments you have in connection with this project?”

I wrote about my involvement as a consigned artist at Upstage Gallery.

  • having let the process of creating artwork go, earlier in my life.
  • feeling an expectation to have some of my work (but not too much) as the gallery manager.
  • feeling intimidated or superior to other artwork I see.
  • not having the space, time, money, or energy to do the work I want.

“Ask your artist to list any and all fears about the projected piece of work and/ or anyone connected to it.”

  • I’m afraid the work won’t be good, or won’t be presented as good as it should.
  • I’m afraid people will love it and come to expect things of me.
  • I’m afraid I will be judged.
  • I’m afraid it will be too expensive for others to buy- that I’ll be at a loss.
  • I’m afraid I will have to talk about my work with others who won’t really understand.
  • I’m afraid I will have to defend myself, my philosophies, and my methods.

“Ask yourself if that is all. Have you left out any itsy fear? Have you suppressed any “stupid” anger?”

  • Is that all?
  • Am I afraid of having things on display?
  • Showing myself to the world?
  • Afraid I’ll be made a fool?
  • Afraid I’ll have to make commitments that I’m not comfortable with?
  • Afraid I’ll have to face the old feelings that I once hid from with art?
  • Afraid I’ll have to face the feelings that led me to stop doing my art?

How strange it is, to go back to these notes I made! To see how deep the fear is… the fear that being an artist will force me to accept myself and my past. How strange it is, to see it all as a learning process. How strange it is, to see that I’ve been here before. Days ago, weeks ago, years ago. How strange it is, to move on, to move into it. And to understand that compassion can be a guide, as we move on, move into, and move through the world.

“We learn to do something by doing it. There is no other way.” ~ JOHN HOLT

 

 

 

 

Taking Flight

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Taking Flight

I’ve been kinda stuck at this in-between-stage of creativity.

I know now that it is possible for me to be creative.

Photo on 2-23-13 at 10.51 PM

I have a space dedicated to my work and I have a bit of an open schedule this week.

Neko, my business associate. working in the office.

Neko, my business associate. working in the office.

But I have this little problem. I try too hard. I try to do too much. I get disappointed easily.

I wanted to work with some feathers today. I love the beauty that resides in a paradox of simplicity and complexity that can be found in nature.

But, leave it to me to try to complicate things.

The pheasant feathers I sorted through today were fairly large. Many were too big for the jewelry that I’ve used feathers for in the past.

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Plus, I wanted to try new things. I sought out exploration over method.

I tried using some spray adhesive to adhere feathers to paper. Yucky and smelly.

I tried some ModgePodge instead. It took away from the shape of the feathers, those natural curves.

I embraced those curves and even tried to ModgePodged some feathers on eggshells. It was interesting. But it just wasn’t what I was looking for…

I got myself completely frustrated. So much so that I was willing to walk away. I even thought about taking a nap.

Then, I just started tidying up my work space. I sat for a long time, looking at the feathers and admiring their beauty.

Then, it hit me. Why not take photographs?

I gave myself a load of ridiculous excuses.

My inner critic is even still at work right now, “What’s so great about a photo of a feather?”

Well, my inner critic, let me tell you.

It’s about embracing simplicity. Recognizing the unique in the familiar.

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Highlighting beauty. Slowing down to see things that might be mundane.

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Revealing the beauty that is, in what it is.

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Remembering that art is not about what I think others might think. DSCN8487

It’s my art and it’s about how I feel. It’s about who I am.