Creativity Strategies

Art and Energy

There is something about Marshall Arisman’s paintings that is…alive…like they’re going to spring right off the canvas.

I’ve never experienced them in person, and if they have this effect on me only by looking at a computer screen, I can only imagine what it would be like to see them in person.

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Marshall Arisman: An Artist’s Journey From Dark to Light, 1972-2017 Exhibition at the School of Visual Arts, NYC.

I first stumbled across Marshall’s Sacred Monkeys series on the web years ago, and I couldn’t tear my eyes away. There’s something electric that wanted to draw me into another world where I wouldn’t emerge the same as when I entered—should I give myself over to the urge.

Then, I saw one of his bison. Recently, I learned it was from his Cave Paintings series, which explained my own response to it, but I’ll tackle that more later.

Some of his work is quite dark. I really cannot look at the Frozen Images collection, which is a statement on gun violence. His work has a visceral transference across the board, and some of them show us things we probably don’t want to see in ourselves, in other humans, or contained in otherworldly dimensions. Clearly though, this artist is offering this opportunity.

I’ve returned to his website periodically through time to see what’s new. I finally realized that I’m curious about the man himself. Who is this man who’s able to create such artwork? At least, part of that question has been satisfied.

On my latest visit, I noticed a documentary had been uploaded. A Postcard from Lily Dale is about the grandmother who figured so prominently in his life and art, and also showed some of his personal and artistic development. The film premiered in 2014 at the SVA Theatre in New York City. Within some of the high points I note, I’m also including a personal commentary because they ground my own experience.

Louise “Muddy” Arisman was a gifted psychic, medium, and Spiritualist minister. At the age of 10, an old woman appeared to her, overtook her hand, and Muddy began to produce automatic writing. She went on to find the first church dedicated to Spiritualism in Lily Dale, now billed as the largest Spiritualist camp in the world, located an hour south of Buffalo, New York.

One famous story involved a reading she did for Lucille Ball, who had been told she was a terrible actress and should give it up. Muddy told her she would marry a Cuban bandleader and have a wildly successful career as a comedian. The museum in present-day Lily Dale documents it all.

After Marshall’s birth, barely placed in the hospital nursery, his grandmother saw his aura and proclaimed he would become an artist. Muddy was a healer who read the auras of her clients to identify blocked energy and medical issues. This is the woman who Marshall spent weekends with as a child. Naturally, Muddy was a strong influence, even though his own mother believed all she professed was witchcraft.

As Marshall began to make his way as an artist, Muddy advised him that creating art develops intuition and opens the third eye. Beyond that, she said, “The energy you put into your art will live in your art as long as it exists, giving off an aura of its own.”

Hearing that statement validated for me what I secretly knew. The depth of exchange I experience in creating pieces of art is a sacred conversation that isn’t lost, even at the completion of the process. It becomes contained within the work and exists as an energy, which is an inherent aspect of the story it tells. Only this makes sense to me personally when viewers comment on the emotive nature of a work. The piece isn’t static; it conveys something.

Marshall began to see auras himself when he attended a talk by Jiddu Krishnamurti in 1978, at Carnegie Hall. Listening intently, he suddenly began seeing the speaker’s aura. In disbelief, Marshall rubbed his eyes, yet the visible vibration remained.

I had similar experiences in the mid-1980s when I attended an experiential weekend workshop conducted by scientist Valerie Hunt presenting her work on the human energy field. During a break, we came face-to-face as she exited the bathroom and looked directly into my eyes. At that moment, I felt as though she’d uncovered my soul.

I saw a strong yellow-gold field around her upper body. I was stunned at the time, blinked, and blinked. The impression didn’t go away, but it widened my capability to view the energy fields of others in the room. I had the same powerful experience with spiritual teacher Ted Andrews. The image of vibrating emerald green along his arms still lives in mind.

Marshall began to include his interpretation of energy and auras into his artwork in 1990. It must have been shortly after that when I first came across his paintings, and it explains to me now why I’ve found them so powerful: there’s a transmission.

When in the Dordogne of France, he secretly put his hand over a bison and felt heat coming from the cave painting, which is 12,000 or more years old. He proposes what he read in a thesis to be true. The walls of the caves provide a curtain separating the material world from the spiritual world. With the help of an invisible guide, the shaman crossed through the wall to another world, and after returning, he recorded his experiences in the form of paintings on the cave’s walls. In this way, the members of the tribe could place their hands over the cave art and receive the agency of the journey.

It was evident when I entered Les Combarelles and Font-de-Gaume a few years ago that each was a sacred space, a church of sorts, embodying the ritual transference of things unseen. The energy that permeates these places nearly overwhelmed me.

With this, I’m compelled to wonder if Marshall Arisman himself hasn’t made many explorations through the veil and then, upon returning, recorded what he saw and felt it, so that we could acquire the knowledge.

Muddy relayed a secret to him long ago:

“Learn to stand in the space between the angels and the demons.”

I’d say Marshall mastered it. Muddy said she was blessed with astral light and undoubtedly passed it on to her grandson.

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Watch A Postcard from Lily Dale on Vimeo streaming for free.

A Postcard from Lily Dale is a film that’s interesting on a historic level, a snapshot in time of the spiritualism movement. But more so, it’s a tribute that tells of the lifelong reverence that Marshall Arisman holds for a grandmother who so influenced his life that he still calls her mentor, teacher, and friend.

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Art and Energy was originally published in the Elephant Journal on July 14, 2020.

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Film, Spiritual Evolution, Visual Arts | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Spiritual Travel and the Vanquishing of Dryness

It’s normal for a state of connection to wax and wane, to sometimes experience great spiritual presence and other times less or none at all. We’re human and influenced by so much swirling around us. That’s so even with a strong, consistent spiritual practice. Mostly, if we attend to it, we can weather the ups and downs. But when the absence of connection extends itself for months or longer, when instead there’s an ongoing emptiness, flatness…life feels brittle and sense of purpose becomes lost or heavily questioned…it begins to affect every aspect of our life.

When this happens, we’re actually receiving a special calling…not to succumb…but to evolve…to expand and deepen. I can say this because it happened to me.

In 2011, I traveled to northern Scotland with good friends Phoebe and Paul Hoogendyk from Australia, Jo Elliott of New Zealand and Lucinda Brogden and Doug Easterling of the US…in December. Prior to that I’d felt cut loose for quite a while. I may have hidden it well from others, but it was there.

I’d had a long ‘empty’ spell with my painting, and I was unable to get excited by much, akin to what’s called spiritual dryness. We went in December—Isle of Skye, Isle of Lewis with final destination the Orkney Islands. Paul had had a strong message that time of snow and strong, snatch-your-breath winds was the span to complete a ceremony in a long string of other ceremonies Phoebe and he had undertaken across the world. We especially spent time at standing stone circles.

That spare landscape did something to break me open. For years, I’d often call myself a monk. At some point in our travels, I’d decided that probably wasn’t a metaphor I wanted to embody—at least with some of the elements it contained. At the Ring of Brodgar, a place of significant lightning strikes, I spontaneously undertook my own ceremony, putting my back against each of the 27 remaining standing stones and ‘released my monkish ways.’

When I returned home my creative energy was so strong, I turned out a series of paintings in a flurry dedicated to the Druids, embodied in the stones, and landscape of Scotland.

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Callanish Croft. ©2012 Carla Woody.

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The Disguise. ©2012 Carla Woody.

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Winter Solstice ©2012 Carla Woody.

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The Visitation ©2012 Carla Woody.

These are the words I ascribed to The Visitation.

At a certain point in human time The Light appears, inviting us all to join our ancestors. In the next phase of the journey, the body is no longer needed⏤thus vacated. Our imprint on the landscape is left behind as legacy, as memories and deeds, touching those who will come after us. Connection endures.

The Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis in northern Scotland inspired this piece. When I visit such places, I see the stones as Druids who were transported en masse, through ceremony, leaving the physical remains as a testimony to timelessness.

Simultaneously, I picked up a barely begun manuscript for a novel, I’d put away in a drawer 7 years prior. The story fairly flew out of me, as a movie in my visual field. I merely had to write it down. Portals to the Vision Serpent was finished 3 months later.

The ‘dryness’ had left me through that journey in Scotland and has not returned to block my creative urge or sense of spiritual purpose. Paul was directed to hold the ceremony they had come for, and we others were to witness, at the very edge of the sea, right outside the isolated house we’d rented. A few months later, there was a discovery. Archaeologists had found another stone circle covered by water, just off the shore, where our final ceremony was completed.

From the point where I am now in my life, I look back on that journey and all it personally produced with amazement.

When you receive a strong calling, in essence you’ve been chosen. You’re being directed by a higher sensibility to depart the places known to you—through conditioning, mindset, outgrown choices, geographic location and culture—and strike out…to open up to the wider world beyond the point where you’ve been rooted.  You’re being asked to enter a land foreign to you, to partake of things outside your usual influences that strive to keep you tethered in the same old place. You need a disruption.

In order to take this step, time and space must be set aside from the ‘normal’ life, to the point it becomes sacred. It must be something finite, not a glancing thought or empty promise you make to yourself that you’ll get to it someday. It must be something clearly intended and acted upon so that it becomes a spiritual journey, in whatever form it may take, wherein you give yourself permission for everything to be presented that will usher you through the threshold, producing an evolution over time. Perhaps one never even imagined…until you look back on the path you’ve taken and realize who you are now.

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On another personal note: I’ve been sponsoring spiritual travel journeys for 20 years for those who are drawn to take a leap through the threshold this way. Leading these programs and making my own pilgrimages  has led me to consistently deepen my appreciation for the human condition—including my own—and informed the choices I’ve made. I’ve found myself undertaking things I never even dreamed of and live with great gratitude for the outcome.

As you’re drawn, here are upcoming spiritual travel programs.

Spiritual Travel to Bolivia and Peru: The Heart of the Andes, October 17-30, 2020

Spiritual Travel to Chiapas, Mexico: Entering the Maya Mysteries, January 18-28, 2021

For other spiritual travel programs, go here.

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel, Visual Arts | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The Re-membering Process

The chaotic times we’re living through right now are calling upon our values and beliefs to surface — when otherwise they’re mostly unconscious, but structure how we live. They’re rising to the forefront for us to consider who we are in relation to the larger world…and our Core Self. At the most significant level, it will call into question how aligned or misaligned we are, in our daily life, to those things of deepest importance to us. It’s a time ripe for clear choices and mindful transition to a greater lifepath.

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Ceiba: Tree of Life. ©2018 Carla Woody.

I’m sharing an article of mine — The Questions We Live By — originally published in 2001 in a professional journal called Anchor Point for Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP)* practitioners. It is still relevant today. Over the years, my clients have found what I describe here to be quite helpful. They are able to pinpoint where they are in what I consider a spiritual growth process and provides a map of sorts to guide them as a foundation, along with any other inner work they undertake.

As synchronicity would have it, this morning a short article by Carol Dweck, A Summary on Growth and Fixed Mindsets, popped up in my newsfeed. I suggest you read it as an overview in conjunction with more detailed guidance below in what I call The Re-membering Process.

The Questions We Live By

The edge of our reality depends on what we hold inside our minds as true and possible. We tend to recycle our lives — past, present, future all becoming one in the same  — continually validating the filters through which we live.  We continue to attract to us what we self-select through rote unconscious processes until we don’t. When we don’t, it’s because something has awakened us to a wider life. With that wake-up call, different metaquestions are projected into the psyche from a place of higher wisdom. We begin to run those unconscious questions in our minds instead to attract to us the answers that will fulfill them. In alignment with the new metaquestions, a particular stream of metaprograms enact themselves to provide the thought and behavior orientations that serve us to step into the forest beyond the familiar compound where we used to live. As well, if we take on certain creativity strategies we better support ourselves on the journey.

In my book Calling Our Spirits Home: Gateways to Full Consciousness, I documented the path of what I call the Re-membering Process. I overlaid a variety of world traditions, transformational modalities and tied the process to examples of everyday people undertaking the leap. The model I present in this article is drawn from my book, as well as additional observation and research.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell named three phases to an unfolding:  Departure, Initiation and Return.  From an intimate viewpoint of my own journey and my work with others, I’ve seen that there are two other main developmental points to the path.  While there is no prescription or prescribed schedule, I’m aware of these stages:  Sparking, Separation, Search, Initiation and Re-Entry.  Many of us are on this path, in different phases and timetables. We are being propelled forward by the energetic momentum present with us in the world today demanding transformation now. If we’re not involved and committed to the Re-membering Process, then we’re still anesthetized, betraying ourselves and deceiving others.

THE SPARKING

Sparking is what awakens us from sleep and an unconscious life. It usually happens over a period of time, but can happen within an instant.  It often occurs at mid-life, but if we’re lucky or more conscious it happens much earlier.  Even the Indian prince Siddhartha Gautama, who later became the Buddha or Enlightened One, was once asleep behind the castle walls.  It was only when he finally stepped outside the compound in which he lived that he began to see the wider world.  So, we all live within a container of some sort and are in a stupor to some extent.  We can’t escape it.  It’s part of the human condition. The questions are:  how deep is the sleep? How big does the spark to awaken us have to be?  What will jostle us out of the daily shuffle?  What will cause our heads, bent over so intently eying our shoes, to rise up?

There are some of us who unconsciously decide, without really knowing why, to look up one day and really see the sky or a tree and the Sparking takes place.  For others of us, it may be a seminar we attend or a book someone gives us at just the right moment.  Only a month before, we wouldn’t have heard the message or heard it in a lesser way.  Then there are some who must be dynamited awake.  These are the souls who have to experience a major crisis in their lives.  For them, it’s a significant illness, loss of a loved one or way of life that finally gets their attention.  The important point is that no matter how we receive our Sparking it happens as it needs to for each of us.  It’s at that point we begin to be more aware of how we have been living our lives.  In our semi-wakeful state, we slip ourselves these questions:

Where am I?

What am I feeling?

What am I lacking?

These are the unconscious mantras that run within our minds at this stage. A state of confusion exists that seeks to reach out into the fog and grasp onto explanations. The task of the Sparking is to wake up. We have an orientation to the present. Soon we may even become hyper-aware of the state of our lives.  At this point, we transition to the next phase in the journey.

SEPARATION

 The task of Separation is un-learning. Once we begin to wake up, if we are truly going to continue on the journey, then leave-taking has to take place. It’s a prerequisite of the course.  We cannot travel a path toward authenticity maintaining a false life.  The Separation phase is a major sub-transition in the evolution of Re-membering.  Those who successfully carry it through find within them the great internal resource of courage to hold firm against the forces — internal and external — that struggle to re-establish homeostasis.  It may be particularly dicey for individuals who are externally motivated and used to dependence on others for validation of their identity.  What is required of Separation is a shift to internal motivation.

It’s at this point that we begin to look at our lives and notice what really fits for us and what doesn’t.  Having been metaphorically asleep for so long, it was very easy for things to  sneak in under the cover of night to nestle comfortably around and within us without our real knowledge — becoming a sort of prison containing our very self-expression.  Through the conditioning process we all received messages, verbally and non-verbally, regarding what was “good” and “right” from our particular families of origin, schools and other societal institutions.  Needless to say, “good” and “right” varied greatly depending upon our environments.  In order to make sense of it all, the mind set up “look-outs” to filter out anything that didn’t conform to the inherited paradigm.  But during Separation the “look-outs” are somehow duped into guarding a decoy instead and an opening is provided.

During the Separation phase, we wonder where we went in all the previous years and what stranger is there instead.  Operating in an away from metaprogram, the Critic becomes resident and runs these metaquestions about the past with a slight consideration of the future to move out of pain.

Who am I not?

How did I abdicate?

How do I serve myself?

In fine detail, we examine our jobs, relationships, homes — virtually everything in our lives that matter to us.  As we see how we haven’t been true to our own natures, discomfort and disorientation increase until a shift occurs.  That movement may generate drastic change such as dissolving relationships, transferring career fields, or leaving a geographic location.  There doesn’t have to be a complete break with the pre-existing elements.  However, discovery in this phase will allow the loosening of old beliefs, which will in turn begin to alter attitudes, feelings and behaviors to leverage possibilities to a new way of life.  We are then brought to the next fork in the path.  

THE SEARCH

The quest of the Search is to widen choices.  During the Search we are looking at other perspectives and beliefs and trying them out.  The Dreamer has been invited along as a guide introducing metaprograms to explore options and move toward them.

Who am I?

What are the possibilities?

We will find ourselves investigating areas that are new and different immersed in the present.   The promise of a fuller life may seem endless.  So, we undertake things such as going back to school, inquiring into other careers, moving geographically, experimenting with new relationships, trying out diverse spiritual traditions or religions; many things to bring in additional data.

The Search can be as exhilarating as it can be scary.  We may feel as though we’ve jumped out into space with no safety net to catch us.  This is the time to call on the great faith held by the Innocent, the archetype who knows she will carry herself through to the other side through guidance along the way.  Otherwise, in fear we would find ourselves clawing at the emptiness in attempts to head back to the compound.  The dirty little secret no one told us before we took the leap is that there is really no turning back.  Even if we would choose to turn our backs on the future, we’re still different than who we were before.  The future is guaranteed.  It’s just how easy or difficult do we want to make it. So, we might as well press forward and happily complete the road rally.  In the meantime, our minds may expand and contract.  But if we pay attention, we will be directed by our intent to those things that fit for who we are at the core.  We will know when we have arrived to the herald of our true home not by the logic of the mind, but by the response of the heart.

INITIATION

When the heart is warm, it will feed the mind and further direct intent. After having been on the Search, the traveler comes to rest in the comfort of self-knowledge.  The undertaking of Initiation is assimilation.  The Realist is introduced and experiences the present, to move toward the future with options with procedures and queries:

What are my gifts?

Where am I going?

What do I need?

 While many formal ceremonies exist the world over, the real Initiation starts and ends inside — where the self is finally proclaimed as whole and the wearing of masks no longer necessary.  In this stage we know and appreciate the old life for what it was.  We have made the decision to take the learning and discard the rest.  We also intuitively know that there is a new life on the horizon, a deeper one that stands apart from the one that passed before.  Having been on the trail for so long, we now stand apart from those who have not yet awakened.  We also know we have something to teach — even if only by example.  This is the cusp of a real beginning and the fog has nearly lifted.  We can nearly see.  We are readying ourselves for the journey back into the world.   After a pause and full integration of who we now are and what gifts we have to share, we will re-enter those places from whence we came originally.

RE-ENTRY

The mission of Re-entry is immersion. Having tilled the ground with early questions of authenticity in relationship, spirituality, healing, lifework and ecology and found some deeper realities, we come back to a world often not even yet aware of any need for evolution.  But by holding the questions and the empty space where answers could exist, we will find ways to Reenter and fill that void.  The Dreamer, Realist and Critic collaborate, still internally motivated but include some external  reference; and consider the future for options and procedures.

 How do I return?

What gifts do I share?

What is the structure?

How do I implement?

This is the final tasking of Re-membering, which furthers our own evolution as much or more than it may impact the environments in which we exist.  If we don’t come back, then we haven’t completed the journey and we would remain floating somewhere without any real grounding.  This is the phase of our own transformation that can be equally as major a sub-transition as Separation was.  It’s not easy to enter places where what we have to give isn’t always all that welcome.  It can be frustrating and many of us will just want to give up and close ourselves off.  But we can drop hints where we may. We can watch with our inner eyes for those who are ready for the Sparking, even if they don’t consciously realize it.  These are the people we can touch, even as we go deeper into our own transformation.  These are the ones who will receive the gifts, even if we have to carefully parcel them out over time.

Patience and intent are indeed the by-words of Re-Entry that allow us to ask our own answers.  Belief in ourselves and the possibilities of human potential cleave the way for what is to come.  Questers first had to adhere to the strong possibility that the path was so.  Then over time, the attractor of that energy created the magnet for events to align themselves to make the reality.

THE PRIVILEGE OF OUR TIMES

Cultural Creatives, a name given to change agents by Paul Ray, may be paving a new world pathway.  But evolution is an ancient road.  As far as the common thread of the human condition, we are very similar to people living in times past.  Yet we are fortunate to be born in this age when so many are waking up.

Even as we travel through the cycle of Re-membering, the circle never ends.  We will re-enter the world and integrate our gifts.  Over time, we will then again become anesthetized  while we rest on our laurels.  But sooner or later, we will once again arouse ourselves to invite in an even vaster existence.  The larger the entity the slower is evolution.  But Gaia is awakening and will soon be in the Separation phase.  Being residents within Her domicile, we are privileged to further Her Re-membrance as we do our own.  Any of us cannot help but act on each other because there is no division.  There are only macro and micro interconnecting systems of existence. One touch here will be a  wind on another planet in another galaxy.

♦︎ ♦︎ ♦︎

*Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is known as the study of human excellence. NLP has precision processes that allow you to quickly cut to the core of your own template. You are able to gain a profound understanding of how you operate. Through NLP, you are able to uncover the unconscious beliefs that serve you well and lead toward your successes in life. You are also able to discover specifically what blocks your progress. While NLP builds an even stronger foundation for your strengths, it also enables you to break through the barriers that have held you back by transforming limiting beliefs  — creating movement beyond the dictates of old programming to a enjoy a wider life.

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Healing, Personal Growth, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

One By One

There are aspects of life I largely keep to myself. Not because I’m withholding—but because they’re too sacred to put into words. I’m quite sure that’s true for a number of readers here. When such depth exists, wrapping finite terms around it creates the risk of trivializing.  The vision or process leaks energy. The experience deflates to something more mundane.  That when the culmination—tangible or intangible—is meant to take its rightful place…as a part of who you are. Not what you do.

Good poetry or prose are exceptions. Now, there is specialized language, the kind that uses metaphor and symbol to transport. Stating it directly short-circuits the journey, cutting out the opportunity for readers or listeners to hitch a ride but find their own way.

I notice as I’ve been writing, I’m struggling with how to move into the territory I want to share here. I am a visual artist and rarely talk about my work. Although, I do regularly show my art online and in exhibitions. That’s different. The viewer can experience whatever they will. I don’t typically provide much input, maybe a simple narrative. At shows, I am sometimes asked to demo my work and am quite aware of my internal response.

How can I demo a process…that has turned into a prayer of sorts? A communion built over time? From the first vague spark of inspiration to that liminal point when something else takes over and I’m merely guided? That can be a long process because the spirit of a piece has lived with me for some time before it ever begins to take form? And I don’t create artwork…or write for that matter… just to do it? That’s the sacred part.

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The Ancestors Speak to Me  Oil and cold wax medium. ©2019 Carla Woody

There are the mechanics, of course. The how-to skill I can easily describe and sometimes show, taking the mystique out of the mechanics of artistry. I know someone is looking for something else when the conversation moves beyond the first question, how long did that take? To which I answer, depending on the piece, anywhere from a couple of weeks to a year or more. Then the next comment, you must have a lot of patience. To which I say, it’s a meditation to me.

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Hand of the Healer 3D mixed media. ©2019 Carla Woody.

If they move beyond that in the conversation, and it takes a deeper turn, I recognize someone who is on their own spiritual journey. We have more to delve into even if only for those few moments, and artwork has been the channel.

My friend Jacob Devaney, founder of Culture Collective and co-founder of Living Folklore, posted on social media about beadwork, his regalia and what it really means. I’m sharing it with permission here.

Beadwork is part of Creole Culture. It isn’t something for just women or grandmas. Not too different than Mala Beads for someone while meditating, or Rosary Beads for a Catholic. They are a prayer, each bead is the memory of an ancestor, it is presence, and it is an offering of beauty to the world when it is finished.

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Beadwork by Jacob Devaney.

 Life’s experiences are strung together like beads to make an expression of who we are, where we come from, and what we aspire towards. I don’t see beadwork as art, I see it as an expression of life itself, it is culture for me. In some circles, if I were to show up during carnival season with the same bead patches as last year, people would ask, “What did you do with your life since last year? We already saw these beads!” I know it sounds extreme and it is a form of teasing, but bead patches exemplify the time you spend reflecting, remembering your ancestors, being at home and giving to your community.

There are any number of devotional forms that express similar outcome. Several years ago, my friend Hilary Bee, a spiritual teacher in the UK, described to me how she was taught to make singing bowls, in the old way, by fire. That with each tapping of the small hammer shaping the bowl, a prayer was whispered simultaneously—and became integral to its structure. When I received the bowl she gifted me to carry, it was an incredible honor. I could feel the energy put into it, making its connection to me…and also release to wherever else it needed to go.

That is the intangible intent.

 

 

 

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

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.

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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.

Categories: Creativity Strategies, cultural interests, Film Review | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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.

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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.

 

 

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Film Review, Spiritual Evolution, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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

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