Menu Close

Without a Net

Daring Starts From Within

Welcome Everything

IMG_8210

In our third Without a Net Creativity Class, our topic was “Welcome Everything,” a call to embrace not only beauty and happiness, but even the aspects of life we’d rather skirt around.

To get class going I read out loud the poem, The Guest House, by Rumi, which I’ve posted before. It speaks for itself.

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi

I chose our topic for this particular time of year because the class fell on January 24, according to some psychologists and other thinkers, the worst day of the year. Here are some of the reasons:

Most of us have just received our credit card bills from the holidays. The weather (as in lack of sun) promotes depression, and most of us have broken our New Year’s resolutions. Many of us still have extra weight from the holidays. We’re now totally back to the old grind, and there are no big holidays in sight. We’re being pressured to have new hopes and inspiration for the new year, but we’re in primal hibernation mode. So, we’re collectively depressed.

There’s no strict science behind the worst day of the year, but from the first time I heard it, I decided that at Red Dot Gallery, we’d acknowledge it and celebrate it. Knowing that we’re all down at the same time seems to help. We acknowledge that it’s OK not to be OK.

My Without a Net paintings are about welcoming everything. Instead of hiding from my shadow side, I decided to become familiar with it. I never liked my shortcomings and difficulties, but I wanted to be real about them and accept them, knowing that self-honesty leads to transformation. My experience with facing shadows has shown me these three options will be outcomes: I’ll find myself being healed and changed from a source other than my own willpower. OR I’ll find myself able to take transformational actions on my own behalf that I wasn’t able to before. OR I’ll just learn to put up with myself, which gives me lots of compassion for others.

If I don’t get more acquainted with my shadow side, I’ll never be comfortable, really. Much about me will remain hidden and unexamined, including all the wondrous qualities that are wrapped up among the darker ones. I want to see all of my parts as fascinating and natural under the circumstances.

Here’s a quote about just that.

“What if, as poets and mystics have log intuited, the reservoir of human darkness is         not so much a disease as the raw material of our transformation? [Our best self] comes into being as a kind of sacred alchemy, through the conscious acceptance and integration of our shadow side. It’s not so much the curing of a pathology as a birthing of something that never would have existed apart from struggle.”          –Cynthia Bourgeault

Our first project used the Without a Net Cards. I spread out the whole deck around the room and everyone picked a card that reminded them of a trait they weren’t proud of. Then, using the card as inspiration, we wrote about how that trait played out in our lives, specifically how it affected our self-talk, our actions, our emotions, and our view of ourselves. It sounds complicated, but with the pretty maps we drew everyone was able to come up with revelatory insights quite easily. Our sharing afterwards revealed that no matter what shortcomings we have, underneath we have the same human frailties. We learned more about each other, and lightened our load of personal secrets, both cornerstones of growth.

The courageous project left us all ready for some lighter play.

First we had a paper airplane contest to see whose could fly the farthest. No one knew how to make paper airplanes, so our competition may have been eligible for the World Record for the Shortest Distances Ever Achieved by Paper Airplanes. Serious failure can make for the most laughter, so our endeavor was successful.

Our next activity was to take piles of objects and sort them into categories. The goal was to come up with creative reasons for our groupings. Each person had a different pile, including colored pencils, plastic fruit, old boxes, junk, and some ceramic figurines. Some creative categories were: things with tongues, things that cling to other things, things from other countries.

Our day allowed us to be brave with our tough stuff and jubilant with the easy stuff. We marveled at our very different viewpoints and our striking similarities. We dug deep into ourselves and stretched out to connect with the bigger group. I’d say we had a victorious day of welcoming everything.

 

(There’s an excellent book by Father Richard Rohr called “Everything Belongs” which expresses similar ideas in a way only the author can, with eloquence and deep wisdom.)

Curiouser and Curiouser

dsc_0171

For those who think my grammar has gone sour, the post title here is a quote by the Cheshire Cat character in the book, “Alice in Wonderland.” (The topic in this week’s Without a Net creativity class was Curiosity.) The pheasant above seems to be gazing into a looking glass, so we seem to be headed down a Lewis Carroll rabbit hole.

I found the following quote in Scientific American, adapted from Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire, from studies at Harvard.

“Openness to experience is absolutely essential to creativity. Those who are high in openness tend to be imaginative, curious, perceptive, creative, artistic, thoughtful and intellectual. They are driven to explore their own inner worlds of ideas, emotions, sensations, and fantasies and, outwardly, to constantly seek out and attempt to make meaning of new information in their environment… Findings suggest the drive for exploration, in its many forms, may be the single most important personal factorpredicting creative achievement.”

This is a pretty significant statement, and not surprising to those who’ve worked in creative fields or who surround themselves with creative people (though I think everyone is a creative, whether dormant or in bloom.)

Centering exercise

We did a breathing exercise in which we paused at the end of the exhale. We listened to the silence and calm, and then were asked to be curious about where the inhale came from. It takes a bit of concentration.  A few people pinpointed a physical place in the body as the origin of breath, and others noticed a feeling of need that propelled the inhalation. We noticed how being curious helped concentrate our focus and thus turn inward quicker.

Topic

My talk about curiosity was simple; I listed all the qualities I could think of that go along with being curious.

  1. It requires open-mindedness, a willingness to see things differently.
  2. Humility goes with curiosity. We have to suspend the idea that we have all the answers, and have to be willing to wrong.
  3. Curiosity about others requires and expands empathy. If I want to know more I have to change my small idea of how life is supposed to be lived.
  4. I’d have to have curiosity to have equanimity. I’d be weighed down by strong judgment if I stopped questioning.
  5. Curiosity brings me to the present moment. That’s where the answers are. I can’t be satisfied with past assumptions or patterns.
  6. Introspection and outer exploration is risky. I have to find courage to embrace the unpredictable.

All of this courageous inquisitiveness calls for a detachment from knowledge. It demands that I be more in touch with a receptive response to the moment. Curiosity is a great word for being “without a net.”

Last week we talked about Risk. If my curiosity is strong enough, I’ll be willing to take risks.

Card Game

Our Without a Net Card exercise for the week involved asking questions about a particular painting. We chose the pheasant in the fancy frame. Here are some of the creative and curious questions that the group came up with.

Is the bird showing off?

What’s he looking at?

Is the bird looking at the past or the future?

Is the bird so close to the picture he sees in gray instead of the real colors?

What kind of road is the bird traveling?

Why is the frame ornate?

Is the bird going home to the black and white scene?

Why doesn’t the bird go fly around?

What is the bird’s name?

What time period is this?

Is the bird desperate?

I’ve offered this exercise before in my workshops, a practice that concentrates and deepens observation of an object. The part people seem to enjoy the most is when they hear the interesting questions of others. Very few people ask the same questions. Hearing what others wonder about enlarges our sense of possibility. Curiosity builds on itself.

Project

We played with watercolor, only with the intention of exploring the capabilities of the medium. There were no skills taught or images to replicate—just an instruction to discover what watercolors do. I’m a proponent of letting water flow and drip and do its thing rather than trying to control it, like you’re filling in an image in a coloring book. In addition to the paint, we used salt, plastic wrap, rubbing alcohol, crayons, sponges, to achieve different affects. It’s always fascinating to see that with the same assignment each person has a wildly different way of going about the task. We saw again how we’re all curious in a different way. The consensus was that goofing around is fun, and we all became more interested in how good watercolor artists make it work well. I posted examples of our investigations on my personal blog.

 

 

First Class

 

Thy Self Thy Foe

This past Friday I held my first Creativity Class at Red Dot Gallery. It was well-attended by a fun and insightful group, inspiring me to share some of the things we covered and what I took from our interactions.

Highlights of this week’s class

We used the Without a Net Deck to practice analyzing images and sharing our personal take on particular cards. As usual, I was surprised and delighted by the various readings, all different than I’d intended when painting the images. One purpose of the exercise was to observe the change in our mindsets as our focus shifted from out-in-the-world mode to introspective. Analyzing a work of art is an excellent way to make that shift quickly.

I mentioned that Yale medical students are required to go to the local art museums to improve their observational skills by looking at paintings. I’ll be posting about that wonderful subject later. The practice of “reading” a painting will be a regular part of my creativity class, as it helps the viewer develop intuitive skills and stretch their imagination, and generally builds skills at looking closer instead of jumping to immediate conclusions about what is seen. As Yale Medicine Magazine puts it, their art workshops for med students are “valuable in developing essential skills that doctors need, like critical thinking and observational and communication skills, as well as bias awareness and empathy.”

The various readings of the Without a Net cards were touching and informative. It seemed that everyone saw their own tendencies in the images, each revealing the kind of hopes, fears, and questions that open one up to more insight and guidance. I know for myself that when I admit or share something of this nature, I tend to see new realizations in the days after. I related to the readings of each person in the room: about insecurities, mysteries, triumphs, bad habits, and daily life struggles.

Continue Reading

Creativity Class at Red Dot

IMG_8203 (1)

To make sure your 2019 gets off to an inspiring start (and keeps momentum) I’m happy to say I’m now offering a regular Without a Net class, much In the spirit of my Without a Net Workshops.  Expand your creative voice and access a deeper connection with yourself and others in this weekly drop-in class. This hour and a half class will awaken curiosity, stretch the imagination, and make self-honesty a lot easier. Each week will offer a different creative project. Click here for a complete description.

Details

Cost:  $15 drop-in (covers supplies) or $130 for 10 classes

When:  Fridays, 10:00 – 11:30 Next class is January 11. (For future classes, check website to make sure class is being held.)

Where:  Red Dot Gallery

Who:  Adults 19 and over

Supplies: All supplies are provided

In the spirit of Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” and Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic,” Without a Net Creativity and Awareness Class will offer participants creative exercises in various artistic media that explore personal mind states and perspectives in a judgment-free setting.

Weekly exercises will include explorations in visual arts, written word, sound or music, drama, story telling, photography, and other mediums. We will also use the Without a Net Card Deck for games in self-study. No experience, talent, or skill necessary. This is not a crafts project class.

Home From Hambidge

IMG_8414

I spent a two week residency in the breathtaking mountains of north Georgia, writing, painting, hiking, playing guitar, and interacting with other writers and visual artists. This was my first residency. In my long career of making and selling and teaching art, I’d never indulged in this most luxurious of retreats. I will be feeling its effects for a long time.

(The photo above is my studio table.) See my other blog for more images from hikes and such.

A residency is applied for and awarded. I was humbled to be among the other talented artists who enjoyed this time at Hambidge Residency for Arts and Sciences. There were nine artists total, and each of us had our own house and studio, all tucked away in the woods with enough distance from each other to have total privacy. Four evenings a week we’d gather for dinner, where a chef had prepared us a meal. After dinner we would talk about art and writing and sometimes animal horror stories.

I got an enormous amount of painting done. Not that output was my goal. I would have been satisfied with any amount of work, as long as I felt like I was following my creative impulses. But as it happened, I felt compelled to spend up to 12 hours a day at the easel, absolutely ecstatic to have weeks to paint without distraction. I finished a first coat on ten paintings.

Continue Reading

Hambidge Residency

Screen Shot 2018-11-11 at 4.36.20 PM

I leave Tuesday for an artist residency at Hambidge Creative Residency Program in North Georgia. A residency is applied for and awarded. For two weeks I will write and paint without distraction due to lack of internet or cell service. I’ll write about my paintings/cards and work on my new body of paintings (to be revealed after my trip.)

I will have my own house and studio, and will join up in the evenings for supper with the 9 other residents from different artistic disciplines. I’ve heard from other artists that the place looks like paradise. I’ll be sure and take lots of photos.

The following information is copied from their website:

The Center was created in 1934 by Mary Hambidge, who established the artist enclave and sustainable farm in memory of her artist partner, Jay Hambidge (1867–1924). After a brief career as a performer on vaudeville stages (Mary was a world-class whistler who appeared with her pet mockingbird Jimmy), she discovered weaving and eventually found her home among Appalachian weavers in the North Georgia mountains.

In the early days of Hambidge, she employed local women to create exceptional weavings that would one day be featured in many exhibits including the Smithsonian and MOMA. Later she broadened the scope of the Center by inviting artists for extended stays. After her death in 1973, the Center evolved into a formal and competitive residency program open to creative individuals from all walks of life.

Hambidge encourages applications from creative minds representing the widest possible range of perspectives and demographics. Visual artists, writers, poets, scientists, ceramicists, musicians, choreographers, chefs and beyond.

Nestled on 600 pristine acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia, the Hambidge Center is a natural sanctuary for reflection and creativity. The property includes 7 miles of hiking trails among an incredible biodiversity of meadows, streams, waterfalls, native plants and wildflowers, and a cove forest. Its salamander population includes rare species that survive in only few parts of the world.

In the Shadows

Stained glass shadows

An article titled, “Me and My Shadow” by teacher and writer Sally Kempton brought to mind how my Without a Net project is an option to spiritual bypassing.

I’ve always been mystified by the people who believe in the put-on-a-happy-face philosophy of life. Sayings like “the past is the past—move on” or “snap out of it” or “cheer up” have never been helpful for the navigation of problems. In fact, they could be considered a little cruel. They ask that you quit being yourself in the moment and act like someone else thinks you should. People who say these things are really saying, “I’m nervous about your hard feelings, so I’m going to demand that you stop making me uncomfortable.” These people are actually uneasy about their dark side and unskilled at expressing it.

Spiritual bypassing has become more common as a term for skipping over our ugly parts with the use of meditation, prayer, or positive thinking. The result is a lack of engagement with our whole self, and an inevitable rebound of ugliness when the concealed issues resurface. In simple words, if we don’t deal with our crap, it will come back to bite us.

Continue Reading

Pick a Card

IMG_8203 (1)

Until the Without a Net cards are published, I’m sharing findings gathered from using them in various ways. Check out the new CARD page with details on how to use the cards.

One of my favorite uses for the cards is to draw a card every morning and interpret its meaning in the context of how I see it on that day, in the mood in which I find myself, in the circumstances of the present. Each reading surprises me with how different its meaning can be from my original intention when I painted it and wrote about it. Insights about a card can change throughout the day, sometimes dramatically.

One of most common and helpful ways the cards influence my day happens when I read something about myself that I’m not happy with. I place the card where it can remind me of the trait, and watch how it plays out in my mind and affects my decisions and actions. I don’t try to change anything; I just observe. By the end of the day of paying attention (with the card as a great reminder) I find I’m more earnestly familiar with the trait and have seen it with more engagement and absorption. I also feel like I’ve made progress in awareness of the subject, usually by finding how surprisingly often it comes up.

The less hidden my shadow side is, the less it has the power to run amok, unchallenged. When I observe it, I step out of the blind spot that keeps me disempowered. After witnessing the affects the thoughts and feelings have on me, I write or talk about the realizations or questions that come up. My goal is not to “figure it out” or devise a plan of action. I’m simply being aware, sharing it, and then making an offering of it, waiting with patience in hopes that grace will transform it.

It doesn’t always go smoothly. I can have days when a card points me to hard realizations. But still, the hand-held reminder to continue being aware (and nothing else, necessarily) is breaking me out of the habit of reaching for an escape when I don’t like how I feel or think. (Some of the cards are about escapes, so those are good to witness, too.) Getting better at facing instead of running is crucial to gaining emotional maturity.

There are many other uses for WAN cards, and I’m looking forward to sharing those with you soon.

 

What the Cards Are Not

DSC_0155

I’ve had people ask me whether the Without a Net Card Deck is a deck of playing cards or a tarot deck. The answer is neither. I’ll explain the differences.

Compared to a regular deck of playing cards, WAN cards are larger and contain no numbers, suits, kings, jacks, and the like. WAN cards are simply a collection of 55 images of my paintings on one side, and a uniform back side. In their present incarnation they are numbered, to be referenced for meaning on the blog, which is still in the works. One may play games with the WAN deck, but not the usual playing card games.

WAN cards resemble tarot cards in size only (and the fact that they both contain images.) At 4 x 6 inches size, the WAN deck resembles some versions of tarot decks. If you’re unfamiliar with tarot decks, here’s a little explanation with information gathered from Wikipedia:

The tarot deck (with different names, depending on the country) started as a pack of playing cards in the mid 15thcentury. Like regular playing cards, the tarot deck has numbered cards in suits, face cards (like kings and queens,) and a version of the Joker card. Instead of spades, clubs, diamonds and hearts, the suits are named pentacles, swords, cups, and wands. Decks come in different forms but a standard deck has 78 cards. The deck is still used for games today.

The most well-known use for the tarot deck is divination. Its first known use for cartomancy was in around 1750, and has gained in popularity and acceptance for such uses in recent years. Some people have a reader interpret the meaning of the cards, and others use them personally for spiritual growth and guidance.

The uses for the WAN cards are being explored. Stay tuned! I will be reporting soon about the many fun and intriguing applications for them.

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

Without a Net Cards

Over 10 years I’ve created 55 paintings in the Without a Net series, and last month I finally had the images made into a deck of cards. It was a marvelous and overwhelming moment to hold all that work in my hands for the first time. I had ideas for the deck, but the intentions weren’t well articulated or developed. After having several prototype decks printed, my enthusiastic focus group and I are now experimenting with uses for the cards. As I come closer to offering the cards to the public, I’ll share our progress and insights.

Older Posts