Taking My Own Words to Heart

I grew up and found my purpose and it was to be a physician. My intent wasn't to save the world as much as to heal myself. Few doctors will admit this...but subconsciously, in entering the profession, we must believe that ministering others will heal our woundedness. And it can. But it can also deepen the wounds.

Abraham Verghese, Cutting for Stone

There are times when life becomes a heavy load--patients, tasks, family issues.  I was trying to keep myself glued together as various parts threatened to swirl off, so many fall leaves sucked into the wind and I was stuck in the studio. Odd, because lately the studio was the only place where I wanted to be-- and suddenly, I wasn't comfortable there.

I was going through the motions of art making, pushing pieces of paper together for my collages, fitting them like so many pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, but where was my intention, the focus that brings everything together?

What to do?

How to open my heart? As I sat thinking, I remembered 6 Degrees of Creativity 2. Several people had written about major life transitions they were experiencing. They said that it was difficult to find time and energy to engage in the prompts I'd written for Creating a Mindful Studio Practice.

I urged them to take the prompts slowly; to divide one directive into smaller, more manageable steps. Their responses were heartwarming; I was honored that they were able to take something from what I'd written and apply it to their lives.

Once you’ve chosen a theme/object, write down everything that comes to mind about it, every perspective that you can come up with. DON’T EDIT--USE A STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS APPROACH.

Now, take the same object or theme do it again, only this time, write down only the things that interest you about this object.

Look carefully at the two lists and ask yourself what appeals to you about the second list. What you’re going to come up with is your artist thumbprint--your slant on the world. Be mindful AND RESPECTFUL of this-- it will stand you in good stead...

I took up my pen, groaning inwardly, "you mean I have to hand write this??" The odd thing was, as soon as I had my pen in hand and started to write, the grip on my heart began to ease. I took my subject: "Repair" and began to break it down.

By the time I had two lists in front of me, I was feeling whole again. It's funny. Many artists find that sketching their ideas allows them to create an outline, a plan, a clear intent. They create an approximation of what they want to do--paint  a landscape, a portrait, represent an abstract idea. I've always written mine.

Caught up in the difficulty of the cases I was working with at the hospital, I had forgotten how important this step was.

My journal waits for me now on the work table, right up front with the watercolors and I sense where these pieces on "repair" may take me- but more importantly, I've rediscovered the means of writing myself back together again...

21 Days

I've been having a lot of fun lately with 6 Degrees 2, an on-line workshop. I'm one of the instructors for this nourishing soup of activities and I'm also a student. As soon as the class descriptions were posted, I promptly signed up for the other 5 workshops.

But I decided to begin with my own: Still Point in a Changing World: Creating a Mindful Studio Practice. (Or, 21 Days, 21 Lesssons.)

When I initially conceived of the course, I thought about the many times I've heard an artist sigh and wish that s)he spent more time in the studio. From my own struggles with this predicament, I knew there must be a way and I pondered how to come up with internal bearings, a means to orient participants, over and over toward their work space. Perhaps even to a place of stillness where they might find their heart's desire.

Little did I know that I was drawing my own map. When I wrote out the course, I was feeling lost and stuck in a barren landscape. Try as I might, I could not get a new series going. Small starts led nowhere or into cul-de-sacs.

In order to build a structure for the class,  I paired a poem or quote for each day with a corresponding directive for artwork. Each person can choose whatever they want from that combination and take off from there.

As I make my way through "21 Days," my 21 have expanded into many more. I begin with one simple watercolor and then let the guidelines for that day govern the fate of the rest. I've been hovering between Days 9 and 13 for sometime and the collages I'm tackling are captivating me.

Constant slow movement teaches us to keep working

Like a small creek that stays clear,

That doesn't stagnate, but finds a way

Through numerous details, deliberately.


I began the course myself to test the prompts I'd written. I didn't assume that following them would lead me in my own new direction. I'm profoundly grateful to Gretchen Miller for inviting me to take part in this workshop and I'm moved by the power that connecting with like-minded individuals has to provoke change.

So, I'm curious. Have you taken up a new direction this summer? I'd love to hear about it.

6 Degrees of Progress

For the past several days, I've been working on a plan for my upcoming workshop: Still Point in a Changing World. My original idea for the workshop was to offer participants an opportunity to spend time in their studios, (whatever their definition of studio might be) on a daily basis for the period of 21 days.

A common notion states that a habit requires 21 days to set. (In actuality, some habits can take longer, but I thought that this time period would be  workable range in people's lives.)

I wanted the studio practice to be akin to a meditation practice; something that they could return to day after day from whatever flurry they found themselves in and locate a point of stillness.

It was inspired too, by my own practice of  watercolor, which I'd conceived in a time of hospital fatigue.

I'd wanted to do something simple, daily and beautiful, with which I could find refreshment, nourishment and tranquility. I found it in the watercolors..

However, I realized that I couldn't just say to workshop participants : "Ok, get yourself a box of watercolors, find something to paint and just keep it up for the next 21 days." Instead, I decided to read about mindfulness and creativity and found myself covered in reference books.

At the same time, the Jewish practice of the Counting the Omer began. (This ancient practice takes place between the holiday of Passover and the later harvest festival of Shavuot).

An artist friend of mine, Laura Hegfield, introduced me to a Facebook page entitled, "A Way In," where Counting the Omer has been re-imagined as an invitation to mindfulness practice: paying attention not only to each day as it passes but also to the individual spiritual qualities which were assigned to it by the 16th century Jewish mystics.

I became fascinated with the simple words and phrases which were offered up each day like a carefully crafted ceramic bowl.

I decided to weave some of the meditations (along with others from a variety of sources) together with prompts for each of the 21 days. Each day of the 21 day workshop will offer a meditation and studio practice for artists to explore.

I couldn't wait, so I decided to start experimenting myself.  I'm working on Day 10 and you can see the results above. If you're intrigued, you can register here for my workshop and discover what the rest of the days, and the other five workshops, have to offer.