Creativity Strategies

Retrospective, Part II

Several months ago, I was listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2016 interview of Neil Gaiman on her podcast Magic Lessons discussing the creative process and other people’s expectations. If you’ve done something they like, they want you to repeat it. They don’t want you to surprise them with something else. The gallerist who wants a body of work. The publisher who wants a genre. No matter the author has a history of bestsellers. Write outside the genre they’re known for…and the publisher isn’t interested. What they’re really saying they want is consistency without risk to the bottom line…marketability.

Gaiman told a story. There are two types of writers: dolphins or otters. Dolphins are very good at doing tricks a trainer wants them to do — in exchange for a fish. They’ll do it over and over again. There’s some banter about the dolphin living in captivity and being very good about training the trainer to get what the dolphin wants. It all sounds like manipulation to me.

Then there’s the otter. No one can train an otter. Why would you want to do the things you just did when there’s the next thing to be done? That’s why there aren’t any otter shows…

It’s plain to see Neil Gaiman is an otter, quite the successful one. He’s readily described as a prolific creator of works of prose, poetry, film, journalism, comics, song lyrics and drama.

Consistency — in the terms it’s meant by gallerists, publishing houses and art collectors — bores me to tears. That’s why I took a long break from oil painting. I’d done it off and on across nearly 40 years, with long pauses, until I just couldn’t stand it anymore. But the creative urges kept calling. So, I took up writing. Quite the divergence.

In hindsight, that was the point where I gave myself permission to be as diverse as I liked, and wish I’d done it much sooner. I’ve been so much happier ever since. It matches my nature, and I’ve never done well with attempts to box me in. I refuse to create in a formulaic manner. Fine for others. But for me, it would dull things down and dispel any feelings of awe the process can bring.

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Rolling Clouds. B/W photography, gelatin silver print. ©2004 Carla Woody.

My return to visual arts, finally, was black and white photography. It had always fascinated me. It was emotive. With tips from a photographer friend, I purchased a manual camera and began shooting black and white images. A few years later I discovered mixed media. By virtue of its very name it encourages exploring, combining things in ways to make it more than it would otherwise be using one lonely medium.

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Prophet Series: Warrior of the Spirit. Mixed media on gold leafed canvas. ©2013 Carla Woody.

Here at long last I’ve found a home. What it took was making the decision to create in the way that was most inspirational to me, not by the dictates of the outside world.

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Winter Solstice Mixed media on wood cradled panel. ©2015 Carla Woody.

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The Ancestors Speak to Me Mixed media on wood cradled panel. ©2018 Carla Woody.

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Of the Jungle Mixed media, 3D. ©2018 Carla Woody.

Second, after study about such things, I recognized how my mind works and why I rejected the formulaic method often preached. I accepted my difference instead for the formula my mind came up with that produces efficiently for me more often than not.

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I Hold the Keys Mixed media on canvas. ©2019 Carla Woody.

My personal strategy is in first creating the vision in my mind — the outcome — then gathering up piece parts, considering fit of different media, combining them in such a way most likely to induce the effect I envision. It’s a consistency I can abide by, and it’s rarely the same twice. The strategy isn’t step-by-step and usually not conscious, but a flow when functioning well.

But the most important thing I found? I said it earlier. Giving myself permission to hold the inspiration and strike out beyond any confine. Here is the same thing said in another form of mixed media.

***

Read Retrospective, Part I.

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Healthy Living, Personal Growth, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Retrospective, Part I

I had an invitation from an art docent group to speak about my work a few weeks ago. Since I’m a narrative artist, the subject was art as a form of storytelling. Their preferred method was a PowerPoint presentation — a format I hadn’t used in decades — with real life examples displayed so they could encounter them up close and personal.

How to best represent my art? Going back 35 years, long before it became a conscious outcome, each of my pieces had a story behind them. They came from my experiences. Initially, they centered on villages I’d wandered through and trails I’d followed through forests, particularly in Europe.

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The Florist. Oil on canvas, 1988. ©Carla Woody.

Later, it was more about what came from sacred sites, ceremonies and people who populated Indigenous lands where I returned over and over, conveying in some way what had touched and changed me, deepened my understanding of what matters in this life.

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Maya Prayers Oil on canvas, 2011. ©Carla Woody.

I’m quite clear about my personal evolution over the years — changes I chose that placed me on another track entirely — but I hadn’t realized how it affected my artwork as well. How could I have missed that? I’m like anyone else. I’d gotten so immersed in the day-to-day I hadn’t realized what was evident. Creating that presentation became a gift. It caused me to stand back and pinpoint how I got from there to here. In that moment, I became the observer, not the artist. Each of those pieces were part of a history that generated a visual story. I used the same strategy on myself — in the context of art — that I facilitate with others who want to consciously create a transition in their life.

In being our own witness, rather than being in it, things become apparent. It helps us make decisions. It serves as momentum to veer off a beaten path, to move through a threshold with intent. It naturally gathers energy that provides courage and reinforcement.

So that was my first decision. If these folks really wanted me to relay how art could tell a story, they were going to get a retrospective peppered liberally with how I’d progressed as an artist, what influenced me, and finally what was behind each image in the PowerPoint.

That decision took me to another level. I became aware that, over the last decade, creating art had become integral to my spiritual practice. For me, that means there’s an excavation of sorts that occurs in the process of creation. My intent is to express something deeper than a surface level image and initiate an evocative response from the viewer. To do so, I require myself to go deeper.

During my talk prep, I came across a quote from the writer James Baldwin.

The purpose of art is to lay bare the question hidden by the answers.

 I’d written and taught of this before, although I hadn’t considered art when I did.

…Like an unconscious mantra held in the mind, we ask a question in any given moment. In asking the question, the answer naturally comes to us. Therefore, in holding the thought, we ask the answer. This is the paradox that guides our lives.

We cannot ask a question for which there is no answer. Our minds can’t conceive of such…Through some fluke of determination when our minds can conceive of a wider reality, or at least have some inkling of acceptance, that conception will generate answers beyond the questions. This opening will then move us into new experiences through the wider framework of the mind—and we wonder how we got there.

—Excerpted fromStanding Stark: The Willingness to Engage

I noticed there was increased depth in my art when I made a simple adjustment about five years ago. I sit in the same place every morning when I do my early morning meditation practice. I learned long ago that energy builds up in a physical space when I return to it over and over with such intent. It becomes a natural segue, an anchor or portal through which I easily enter a meditative state. Energy lingers there—like a booster rocket—the same as when I close my eyes in a certain way, signaling readiness for a shift from ordinary reality, a surrender to non-ordinary reality.

The simple adjustment I made was this. I began to bring whatever piece of art I had in process and placed it within direct viewing distance from my meditation spot. Then when I opened my eyes, still in a deeper state of being, a communication started to occur. A communion of sorts. No, I didn’t experience discourse with my ordinary ears or eyes. But something happened. I formed a much greater connection and knowing. The artwork came to life and had its own expression. The piece itself became my guide in how to express its deeper nature.

Of course, you can do the same for any context you wish to explore…whether you place a physical object as I did…or project some representation—via visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory manner—of what you wish to consider.

***

Read Retrospective, Part II.

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Meditation, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: Quantum Creativity

There’s an annual tradition I hold as a year closes. I find something to read that I think will set a meaningful frame for my personal transition into the next year. This time I found that in Amit Goswami’s Quantum Creativity.

Quantum Creativity Image

You may remember this author as one of the researchers and physicists featured in the documentary What the Bleep Do We Know? Dr. Goswami was also a senior scholar in residence at the Institute of Noetic Sciences and has taught at Pacifica, Philosophical Research University and elsewhere as well as written a number of books for the layperson on quantum physics related to consciousness.

If you’ve ever had the experience…

…of teaching and suddenly find that something has overtaken your vocal chords and words are being delivered at a depth you wondered afterward where they came from…

…or you’re writing a book and find it all laid out in front of you as though you’re watching a movie and realize your job is to merely scramble and write it all down as fast as it’s happening…

…maybe you’re painting and enter a space where the subject matter itself seems to be directing your brushstrokes and effect of the colors you use…

…then you realize this is one of the great wonders of the Universe.

The experiences I mention are mine. But most of us have had such things happen to varying degrees. And it brings a sense of true reverence and awe to the creative space. When it happens to me I know I’m touching something much larger than myself. That I’m somehow communing with the Collective Unconscious. I define these occurrences as one of the Great Mysteries. And I want to fine-tune my capabilities to open that portal more so.

I don’t know that it’s possible to call upon such a gift by will. But I am sure we can all develop ourselves to be in a state of readiness for when it does insert itself.

In Quantum Creativity Goswami goes a long way in explaining the quantum physics that informs the creative process.

…when subtle energies engage with consciousness, then creativity is possible, even likely. In their quantum aspects both the brain and the mind consist of possibilities from which consciousness can create the endlessly new…The presence of consciousness in itself does not cause potentiality to actualize. Collapse [manifestation] occurs when an observer with a brain is present as well, with the intention to look…

 He also confirms that having a consistent intention to look is like exercising a muscle. It develops strength to support the endeavor. It supports the wisdom of ritual. You have to religiously show up with your readiness. It’s not a sporadic thing, not something for dabblers.

There’s also the argument for daydreaming, mind wandering⏤something many of us were probably chastised for in school.  And for time in nature or meditation. Creativity shows up in the space between the thoughts.

Consider the composer Richard Wagner’s account of his discovery of the overture to Das Rheingold. Wagner came home after taking a walk and went to bed, but could not sleep for a while. His mind wandered through various musical themes and eventually he dozed. Suddenly, he awoke and the overture of his famous Rheingold came to him in a creative outpouring.

 As much as this book is a primer for quantum physics in general it also offers the relevance to the creative process specifically and how to set yourself up to receive it. If you want to enhance your own process, then this is a book to assist your development. Of course, you still have to do the work involved yourself. The first step is showing up for that exhilarating ride.

Quantum Creativity is widely available in print and ebook. Here it is on Amazon. Highly recommend if you’re interested in self-development of any kind.

 

 

 

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Sacred Reciprocity, The Writing Life, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Film Review: Accordions Rising

My favorite type of novel is when an author takes obscure subject matter or a little known historical occurrence then expands upon it, slipping in a perspective to make entertaining reading. I gain knowledge in an area where I had little or none without the drudge of academic study, all in the midst of pleasure.

That’s how I felt when I stumbled upon the films of Roberta Cantow. Earlier I reviewed Clotheslines. Now she’s just released Accordions Rising. Originally, I wasn’t necessarily attracted but remembered the unique spin she put on Clotheslines, which was really a statement on the status of women. So I watched the new one and became engaged just as I do with the type of novel I mentioned.

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This filmmaker moves you well beyond the instrument’s association with street vendors, Lawrence Welk and the polka to its surprising—for me—modern-day use in orchestral, experimental, jazz and ambient music. And history? How about accordion during rituals of Vodou’s Marie Laveau? Beyond the music itself, she features the accordionists giving voice  on how they came to their instrument. These are the kind of stories I personally love, plus all the examples of its role in traditions across the world. Then there’s the power of the accordion that you can hear throughout the film. Depending on the focus of the musician, it can take you on an emotional ride. And I guarantee you’ll be tapping your foot.

I was curious as to what drew Roberta to undertake all the intense research, time and other investments a documentary requires to do well…for something so unpopular. So I wrote to her and asked. I learned as much from her answer as I did from the film. I’m sharing a bit with you here.

 Let me start with this: The accordion, I have come to understand, is far less ‘obscure to mainstream’ than one might think. In fact, although I was not able to include all of these examples due to licensing issues, the list of musicians that play or include accordions is quite long. All with names that are familiar: Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, etc.  The instrument was simply not foregrounded. It certainly did fall out of favor at one time, but there has been a resurgence for the last 20-30 years.

When I began, my knowledge of the instrument was thin. I had enjoyed a set of disks called Planet Squeezebox going all the way back to the late 80’s, the accordion in every corner of the world. In the 90’s I started seeing photographs and graphic images that piqued my interest. I attended the San Antonio International Accordion Festival, and it was as if I were lit up. I loved that it had a home in so many different cultures and styles of playing. I thought that it reflected the diversity in our culture (and our world) today. I was also extremely intrigued with the people who were using the accordion differently and unexpectedly in new music and avant-garde forms. My eyes were opened wide to the versatility and various passions of the players. I felt that it didn’t deserve to be ‘maligned’ the way it was, so I set out to set the record straight. I begin the film with these words…. ‘I have often been drawn to the misunderstood….’ and that is true of the subjects of many of my films.

With both of Roberta Cantow’s films I’ve seen thus far, a major take-away: When you think you know something—if you take it at face value—you don’t know anything.

If you have Amazon Prime, you can see it for free or $2.99 otherwise. And tell her what you think in the rating and reviews section.

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Film Review: The Alma Drawings

You may have heard of the psychic phenomenon automatic writing. But what about automatic drawing?

In her later years Alma Rumball felt the urge to pick up a pen, and her hand began to move on its own. She said, “My hand started to move and I started to draw.” In that moment these creations took over her life and home. Eventually when paper wasn’t enough, her walls, floors and even bathroom fixtures became crowded with repetitive motifs.

Alma Rumball

Automatic drawing by Alma Rumball.

As I watched the film I became fascinated by the remarkable similarity of the symbols and figures in Alma’s work to those in Maya, Tibetan and other world religions. I also noted some resemblance to the technique called automatism introduced by the Surrealists meant to give the subconscious mind free range.

But those don’t appear to be the influences here. Alma was raised a devout Christian and had always led an isolated life in a rural area of Northern Ontario, with very little exposure to the outside world. She never studied art and took no ownership of what she produced. She allowed, “The Hand did them.” And sometimes there were spirits that lived near the ceiling who gave her messages. The Hand—being in charge—would let her know when she was done with a piece when it ceased to move. When The Hand came into her life at the age of 50, she withdrew even more so and claimed to know nothing of religions elsewhere in the world.

Filmmaker Jeremiah Munce covers Alma’s origins, later life and artwork, much through her own words thanks to a recorded interview. The question it puts forth—as ascribed to a number of artists—was Alma’s work directed by a higher consciousness…or the result of mental illness?

Alma Rumball passed in 1980 but left a rich collection of work. Go to the official website to view her art and read articles.

View The Alma Drawings in its entirety on You Tube. Highly recommend not merely as a curiosity but also as a question regarding the creative portal. Released 2005 in Canada, 46 minutes.

 

 

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Book Review – Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe

GeorgiaI’ve read biographies on Georgia O’Keeffe. But this is different. You might think because this is a novel it’s a poof piece. It’s not. The author portrays the relationship between O’Keeffe and her patron-photographer-husband Alfred Stieglitz from the first enchantment to its lingering disintegration. It’s written from the painter’s perspective. While no one can ever get completely inside someone else’s head, it’s evident that Dawn Tripp has done the extensive research necessary that makes the book plausible. Believable. This is essentially a book about the precise care and manipulation Stieglitz gave to the creation of O’Keeffe’s public persona from the point she was moldable to when she was not. It’s a story laid against the backdrop of their great talents and marriage—the play between Steiglitz’s control and O’Keeffe’s internal conflict. It’s about the position women were historically placed and their treatment … and how this woman claimed her rightful recognition as one of the greatest American artists. Perhaps there’s an argument that O’Keeffe wouldn’t have made it there without Stieglitz. But I don’t find merit in it. She was a force all her own.

As an artist myself I appreciate the way the author wrote from an artist’s sensitivities on the form. That, too, made the book believable.

…It occurs to me now that art is exactly this: making what’s unseen but all around, visible. Having that sort of faith…

And it pained me to read what she wrote of O’Keeffe going blind. She enlists the gardener’s help:

…to lead my left hand onto the first sheet of paper… He leaves and I’m alone. I paint shapes—a wave, a circle—the circle slides like grace over the page. I make forms that echo those early abstract forms I made when I was no one, and it occurs to me that art is a separate country, outside the body, outside time, like death or desire, an element beyond our physical selves we are traveling toward…

 

Available on Amazon and elsewhere.

 

Categories: Book Review, Creativity Strategies, Visual Arts | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

The Dialogue of Creative Intelligence

Ann Hamilton describes herself as a “maker” rather than artist, and characterizes the start of her projects this way: I just try to listen for what something needs to become. Michelangelo relayed a similar process so long ago: I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.

Delivery doesn’t come in an instant but evolves in a process ⏤ bit by bit. It’s about being patient with the unfolding. It takes a dialogue with what wants to emerge, creating space for the communication. Sitting with it.

If what emerges has depth then it isn’t formulaic. For me, it’s about synthesis. In what form does this communication want to be held? Two-dimensional? Three-dimensional? Oil? Mixed media? Or written form? I introduce options to the conversation and question the best fit ⏤ and am open to changing directions in mid-stream because it’s suddenly called for.

I’m not a person who has one way of doing things. That would bore me to tears, limit flexibility and impede problem-solving. I enjoy stockpiling choices at my fingertips. It fuels my creative energy. Ongoing learning, adding this and that to my repertoire, inspires me. I believe this strategy sparks a type of creative intelligence. I wouldn’t fit on an assembly line and abhor restrictions. It sucks the life right out of me.

I’ve written before about the expectations establishment galleries and publishers hold. Recording companies, too. They want what they call ‘consistency’ which translates to limitation of subject matter and form. Of course, they’re invested in bottom line dollars. But what they’re doing in the process is obstructing artistic growth. The artists I revere most are those who deviate.

Shawn Phillips is a case in point:

…The mere fact that he was a musician as much as a singer and songwriter made him stand out, and helped him attract a dedicated following. His refusal to shape his music — which crosses between folk-rock, jazz, progressive, pop, and classical — to anyone else’s expectations allows him to hold onto a large and dedicated cult following, without ever achieving the stardom that his talent seemed to merit…He never courted an obvious commercial sound, preferring to write songs that, as he put it, “make you feel different from the way you felt before you started listening”…

My respect for Picasso grew exponentially when I was in Paris last year and went to the Picasso Museum, which houses representations of all the journeys he’d taken. I’d known him mostly as a Cubist, and for his Rose and Blue Periods. I discovered he was not only a painter of many diverging techniques, but also a sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, stage designer, poet and playwright.

 

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She-Goat. Picasso, 1950. Constructed of found objects then bronze cast.

Picasso’s ability to produce works in an astonishing range of styles made him well respected during his own lifetime. After his death in 1973 his value as an artist and inspiration to other artists has only grown. He is without a doubt destined to permanently etch himself into the fabric of humanity as one of the greatest artists of all time.

There’s something to be said for being unorthodox. Especially if you don’t care about mainstream success. Although it may come unexpectedly…precisely because you deviate.

In this round-about way I’m now introducing my latest venture. For a while I’d felt the pull to move into more three-dimensional artwork and had been casting about to see what drew me. Then I discovered the separate works of Jan Huling and Nancy Josephson…unlike anything I’d seen before…which spoke to my unconventional soul. They’ve both had their artwork featured in a multitude of galleries, museums, newspapers and magazines. I decided to go study with them for a week in April in Puerto Vallarta at Hacienda Mosaico and came away with a treasure trove of new knowledge from their generous teachings. And they’re good people.  No affected airs there despite all their accomplishments.

Das Bug

Das Bug. 8′ long. Jan Huling. Currently showing at the Duane Reed Gallery in St. Louis and slated for the Art Market + Design Fair in Bridgehampton, July 7-10. Photo used with permission.

In her artist statement Jan says:

In a recent review, the New York Times dubbed my work “oddball assemblages,” and aptly so. My three-dimensional collages combine found objects with surface design, sometimes touching on narrative themes. I’m also drawn to religious and political icons, inspired by a continuing fascination with indigenous or popular culture and world religions…Czech seed beads adorn objects in colorful patterns, camouflaging their original circumstance, allowing us to see them as pure form without their usual connotations. The process is slow and meticulous, Zen-like, with the choice of forms motivating color schemes and iconography.

Bird Goddess

Erzulie Kouvez, Bird Goddess. 10′ tall x 6′ diameter. Nancy Josephson. Exhibiting at the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore until September 4. Photo used with permission.

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Erzulie Kouvez, detail. Photo used with permission.

Musician, artist, Vodou priestess…Nancy shares this:

I started in music. I only wanted to do ‘real’ music…rootsy, soulful and elemental. I wanted to get to the core of what music is in the way it lifts the spirit from the inside…Then I started using my hands instead of my voice. Visual art gave me a more solitary way to explore how to surround myself in physical beauty and meaning. Trial and Error was my alma mater…Then I went to Haiti…My first trip opened up questions about physical home, one’s spiritual ‘home’, how one ‘gets by’, what one must risk during the creative process, what IS the creative process. With every trip I found more questions as well as a few answers.

Here’s the piece I’ve thus far created since returning home. A plethora of ideas hover in the ether nagging at me. I believe most of them will get their turn over time. I’ll integrate what I’ve learned into both two and three-dimensional pieces, an extension of my meditation practice. Indeed, I’d been describing the process as Zen-like before I read the same in Jan’s artist statement. But then there’s a bit of obsessive quality to it, too…

Rain God Front

The Rain God. Carla Woody. Mixed media: Czech glass beads, resin clay, found object, acrylics. 7.5″ tall x 14″ diameter.*

The Rain God

The Rain God, side view.

On another note, I’ve been asked about my artwork: How can you let them go?

When there’s a dialogue of great depth I find that I do need to keep them on the easel or table for a while, maybe even a few months, to see what else we may have to say to each other ⏤ to make sure the conversation has come to a close. When there’s a sense of finality then I can release it with the intent the piece itself will take the dialogue to others.

Sometimes that happens in surprising ways. A few years ago I painted an oil I called My Magdalen Heart which was displayed at The Gallery in Williams. On a day I was there, a French Canadian man approached me with an incredulous look saying the piece had spoken to him. It’s a blessing for me when I hear how the dialogue continues. A few days later the Magdalen went to live in New Mexico with a woman who’d had a relationship with her since childhood.

It’s important to put our expressions out into the world, in whatever way we do, without conforming to others’ rules, and then sending them on their way…so they can take on a life of their own. There may be someone just waiting to engage in the dialogue ⏤ with an anticipation they didn’t know they had.

♦︎♦︎♦︎

*The Rain God is currently available through The Gallery in Williams or inquire by email through this blog.

Categories: Arts, Creativity Strategies, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

The Fierce Quiet Place

We give a gift to ourselves when we allow connection with our innermost being. This is the one untouched by circumstances but fierce in its inviolate sanctity. The silence in this place is so loud you can hear it, so palpable you can feel it. And yet there’s no adequate way to express the comfort and inspiration it brings. Comfort here meant as nurturing. Coupled with inspiration, it urges us on…through…and beyond…to what we can’t yet know. And the circumstances of our lives⏤the challenges⏤fall away. It doesn’t mean they’re not there but are approached differently. A state of grace through the chaos and surrounding confusion.

And that Fierce Quiet Place wants expression in any way we can. It creates a portal and finds its way into the material world through narrative art, music, poetry and prose, ceremony and ritual…a touch…complete presence we give to others. It’s funneled from non-ordinary reality that exists out-of-time to land here.

This is what I’ve recognized more and more. And knowing that when I give myself over to that Fierce Quiet Place the most beautiful things happen. I live from a deeper place. I meet people who hold similar expression. I want to introduce you to one of them through the way it happened.

In February I completed This Is My Walk in Life, an oil painting. Over the course of its creation, it came to life. The portal opened. A silent dialogue ensued and conveyed itself as best I could onto canvas. It was not a casual process.

This is my walk in life

Title: This Is My Walk in Life Oil on canvas, 20×24. ©2016 Carla Woody. All rights reserved.

This is the description I gave it.

We all have a walk in life, perhaps chosen before we set our feet on Mother Earth. And amidst hardships there’s unexpected joy. If we open our eyes to it, there’s magic in fleeting moments when we truly experience what life is. This painting is inspired by the Lacandón Maya women of the rainforest village of Nahá in Chiapas, Mexico.

Then at the end of March I met Laura Weaver. She came from Colorado to take part in the fire ceremony guided by Tat Apab’yan Tew during our Spirit Keepers Series. I didn’t know she’s an accomplished poet. I’m quite sure she didn’t know I’m an artist and writer.

Then a few weeks ago I saw a poem she wrote in March.

 A Way of Walking

There is a way of walking

from point A to point B

as if there is nothing

of significance in between.

 

We have been taught to move

in straight lines, to lay life out

along a grid of efficiencies.

But there is another way to navigate.

 

This way carves a serpentine road

full of mysterious meetings.

Along this path, the directives come

from the world itself speaking

 

through all of its voices. And because

something else is guiding us—because

we are listening—at the next crossroads

we turn left instead of right—

 

and find a never before seen village

where an old man harvests golden apples

he offers to those who pass by. And over

the silken hills, cowbells sound out

 

like ancient monk song, and the last

of the sunlight breaks through the rainclouds

so that everything is shimmering and awake.

And the oak tree that cracked in last

 

night’s storm is dripping with honeycomb

and bee hum. And as this moment swells

and blooms open with its own fullness,

suddenly the idea of Point A & Point B

 

makes no sense at all. For now

you have no idea who you are

or if you have arrived. You only know

that you are everywhere.

I couldn’t help but note the strong similarities in the titles of our respective works and common message. Then yesterday I read her poem Making Passage which reaches an even deeper platform. I urge you to read it. It will speak to your soul.

I don’t think I’m presuming. When the Fierce Quiet Place is fully expressed we all say the same thing. Only the variation in our medium is different.

Earlier I described Laura as an accomplished poet but that’s not quite sufficient. Her words have a way of gently, persistently making their way inside us on a path all their own and touches the universal. And—in my experience—I feel heard. Even held.

 ♦♦♦

♦︎ The reprint of A Way of Walking is used with permission. Subscribe to Soul Passages and receive Laura Weaver’s poetry as she publishes.

♦︎ My original oil This Is My Walk in Life is currently available. Inquire for more information. Archival prints are available here.

 

Categories: Arts, Creativity Strategies, Spiritual Evolution, The Writing Life, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Float: Losing Your Skin to Deep Relaxation

In the 1983 my life began to change drastically. I was living in Germany and suddenly exposed to many influences unavailable⎯or at least drastically hidden⎯in Ohio where I’d lived for the previous seventeen years. I regularly attended weekend seminars in Wiesbaden through the international branch of the Association for Humanistic Psychology featuring researcher Dr. Stanley Krippner’s work on dreams and shamanism, scientist Dr. Valerie Hunt’s research on the human energy system and others. And I was immersed in a progressive, experiential master’s degree program on human relations through the University of Oklahoma’s satellite program that exposed students to such areas as Virginia Satir’s family systems work, sacred Native American rituals and even Robert Monroe’s studies in out-of-body experiences.

It was somewhere in here that I heard about neuroscientist Dr. John Lilly’s sensory deprivation tanks, initially emerging from his interest in trance states and what happened⎯physically and mentally⎯to astronauts when freed from gravity. The late Edgar Mitchell, who went on to found the Institute of Noetic Sciences, is a good example, seen here in this beautiful tribute video We Are One.

I remember thinking: I wonder what it would be like if I no longer identified with my body or mind? I’d already been meditating for about five years, a practice begun as recovery from a serious health issue. After the first few years I’d begun to experience⎯what seemed like at the time⎯strange sensations in my body. Having no one to talk to about these experiences, it was a relief when I went to Dr. Hunt’s seminar to learn that energy was something present for everyone. We just need to open our awareness to it.

But there was no floatation tank available, and my desire to experience it went underground. Years later through meditation, ceremony and being in an altered state of consciousness for days through spiritual travel I would sporadically lose any sense of boundaries. The only way I could refer to it was “losing my skin.” These rare occurrences were spontaneous, nothing I could call on myself. But the sense it brought was merging with the Universe⎯not unlike what Edgar Mitchell described.

Then about a year ago I came across some information online indicating there’s been an upsurge in interest in floatation tanks, state-of-the art versions, and more prevalent opportunities to dip a toe in. In fact, there are several sites in Arizona alone. Indeed, it seems to be going as mainstream as massage therapy.

So a couple of weekends ago when I was in Sedona with close women friends, I suggested we make appointments at True Rest. We all held anticipation for the hour-long session. I’m sure with different thoughts going through our heads as with any unknown experience. There were three uppermost in my mind. I’ve never had claustrophobia but wondered if I’d have any anxiety being completely contained in a small pod. That was a needless concern. The young man on staff was very careful to introduce every aspect of the experience, through video and demonstrating each feature on the pod, including how to alleviate any sign of claustrophobia. The second thought in my mind was whether it would be like “losing my skin.” It was and more. The third had to do with sleep patterns and whether it would help. For years, I’d been experiencing cyclical issues with sleep. I was in the middle of one and sleep deprived.

The young guy on staff had offered his own story having to do with a broken back, intense chronic pain and no sleep, which had resolved through regular float sessions. So I was hopeful.

The float rooms and tanks are private with shower. The water in the pods is body temp and they’re filled with a huge amount of Epsom salts, causing the body to automatically float. There’s an option to have light or complete darkness, as well as soothing music or none. My initial experience was floating on a warm sea that graduated to being in the womb. And before long I did “lose my skin” and had the sense of being elevated somewhere in the clouds or beyond. Periodically, I would feel gently thrust through the earth’s core. A purely kinesthetic experience of nothingness, with movement, quite hard to describe. At one point I had a fleeting thought to breathe in and out of my third eye and was presented with extraordinary visuals and energy. As I breathed in, I was looking from above into billowing light and energy emerging through the third eye portal. As I breathed out I was in an underground cavern standing at the edge of a lake leading to light in the distance. I was in two places at once and witnessing from a distance, the image begging to be documented on canvas.

Pyrenees

Pyrenees, Camino Frances, 2015.

There was a sense of timelessness. After “no time” the filter began swirling and drew me back, letting me know the hour had somehow ended. I showered off and went to the other dressing room. My body was more relaxed than I could remember, even after a very good massage. I looked in the mirror and swear I appeared ten years younger.

But the best news is the longer effect it’s had on me. Since this initial float I’ve slept quite well at night. Only once did I resort to the herbal sleep aid I keep on hand. I feel rested upon awakening. The visuals are still vivid, waiting to be transferred to canvas.

After the float when my friends and I returned to our lodging I was drawn to sit outside where it opened to a creek and wilderness area beyond. I felt absolutely present with nature, a comforting stillness inside. I sat there for quite some time until I got up to leisurely shoot images of the ducks and light on the red rocks. Only in retrospect did I realize the float had provided this segue to absolute Presence.

Each friend’s experience was different; the common denominator was deep relaxation. When I spoke to the young man about the depth of my own initial experience, he said I was probably predisposed due to all my years of daily meditation practice. I intuitively knew how to put my mind and body in a state; the float took me the rest of the way. In all the literature I’ve read, including the classic book by Michael Hutchinson The Book of Floating: Exploring the Private Sea, experiences similar to mine do begin to occur after a series of floats, number depending on the individual. Long-term effects being: stress management, healing, pain management, enhanced creativity and sleep, increased problem solving capabilities, and spiritual consciousness. It’s even said to have effect on addiction and weight loss, which makes sense if the aforementioned attributes are in place.

Of course, the ultimate intent is to have such a Zen state integrated through daily life. It seems to me that, in addition to my daily meditation practice, a monthly float will help create such a passage. There’s no need to have the background knowledge that ushered me into my first session, just a desire to glean the benefits.

To find a floatation location in your area, go here. I do recommend True Rest in Sedona, with other locations in Arizona and elsewhere. The premises were quite lovely and spotlessly clean, and staff was welcoming and informative. Groupon coupon discounts are sometimes available.

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Energy Healing, Meditation, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

A Word

This is the time when many of us look back over the last year to note how things have evolved…and to the future for what we want to come into our lives next. Goal-setting is just too dry and linear for me. There’s no juice to it. Besides, it reminds me of all those many strategic planning retreats I facilitated with executives and their managers when I was an organizational development consultant so many years ago. I think they despised the sanctioned process as much as I did. Then after all that drudgery the plans always ended up in a drawer somewhere, merely lip service paid. By the way, that’s one of the major reasons I stepped out of that line of work. It was like banging my head against the wall—and I’d much rather put my attention where it can make some kind of difference.

I prefer the organic, a framework that gives rise to things I couldn’t predict but end up having so much more effect on evolution, maybe revolution—my own and others’—than I ever could have dreamed up. There’s a core element to it, a sort of intent. A few years ago, I shared an excerpt from my book Standing Stark in a post called The Tasking relating to this subject. The first few lines are below.

Set your intent and let it go. Your intent is your beginning. Worrying about the details detracts from the intent. In your strong intent, the attraction will take care of the details.

I want to offer you a ritual that leads in this direction. I am part of a small women’s circle. We gather in a member’s home once a month, have deeply personal conversations and share a meal. I have much gratitude for these women. There’s trust that goes beyond mere friendship. We hold space for each other in a way I’ve not ever been held except by my folks. For the last few years in December we’ve come together for special purpose. I don’t think they’ll mind if I tell you. Good things need to be shared. And the process is also similar to what I’ve suggested to students over the years.

We each choose a word for the next year. Not just any word. Not one taken lightly—because we’ve seen well enough through experience how the word will make appearances in our lives in ways that shape us. It will bring experiences in the mundane, the beautiful, the difficult. It acts as a teacher, and through this learning we are consciously involved in our own process and communion with the Infinite. It’s for those who want to delve deeply.

I can liken it to the wazifas of the Sufi tradition. Through wazifa practice, chanting one or more of the Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of Allah, you’re essentially calling in an attribute, one you ask to open within yourself.

The difference here is that you don’t have to chant the word, although you could use it in meditation or some other way to remind yourself. The beauty is, that once you’ve chosen your word, you’ve made a declaration. The word has been released to the ether and will come back to you as most beneficial. Note beneficial doesn’t necessarily mean easy.

Apparitions

Apparitions. Mixed media on panel. ©2014 Carla Woody

A personal example from December 2014: I knew I’d been hovering at a threshold for quite some time. I’d been patient for a few years. But I was also quite ready to step through and get on with it…whatever it was. For 2015 I chose: Momentum. In my personal translation I view momentum as something that builds upon itself, a movement that keeps on delivering. It did and will likely continue since I’ve embraced it.

When I look back on my last year I’m astounded at the turn my life began to take almost immediately. It started with the depth and breadth of the container we engaged with during the January Maya program. Within a few months I walked the Camino de Santiago, one of the most difficult yet beautiful things I’ve done for myself. I knew this going in.

Through the summer I recovered and integrated but was aware the pilgrimage wasn’t yet complete. There was another part that was to come. It would determine my level of integration to date and carry its own outcome, which it did and laid the groundwork for something else. If you haven’t already read about the happenings during the October-November initiation journey in Bolivia and Peru, take a look at A Hopi Discovery in Bolivia and A Vision Comes. In this entire year-long process my creativity and relationships have deepened; I’ve gained an added state of presence that I’m shown in so many ways large and small. I feel different. I’ve been graced. And it looked many different ways over the course of the year.

So it may come as no surprise that in December during our special purpose gathering…after sitting with my choice for 2016, considering carefully, I chose: Grace. With all its many nuances—potential ways it may visit—to polish any rough edges, this is my choice.

Choosing a word to inform your year isn’t necessarily for the faint of heart but does come with untold benefits in the long-run. If you’re tempted to invoke yours, I encourage it. Such an act enlivens you.

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If you want to choose a word but just the right one remains elusive, take a look at the Positive Qualities Chart. It shows root and related qualities. This is a tool I offer students during my Navigating Your Lifepath program. I notice the chart’s author now has one for Divine Attributes as well.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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