Tuesday, December 16, 2014

#107 of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life; Enjoy Your Art.

"The Secret of Contentment: We Enjoy Our Art" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
The #107 secret of contentment or having a happy artist's life is to enjoy your art.  Every day, as much as possible.

Want some of the research behind this assertion?  Check out this article (and thank you Gretchen Miller and Art Therapy Alliance for posting it).

Monday, December 08, 2014

#106 of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life; Try bringing a little affection into your life.

"Bring Color to the World" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
This morning, while doing my morning pages, I was watching Kory Floyd give a lecture at Stanford (on YouTube).  He was talking about the health benefits of affection or the Importance of Being Prosocial.  It was a fascinating talk that you can see for yourself here.  The gist of it was that basically prosocial behaior, specifically expressing affection has an effect on our health and well being.  His research was for the most part correlational, so we can’t conclude that being affectionate is the only possible cause in these outcomes, however people who score high on expressing affection also scored high in the following areas.

1.  We tend to be happier and have higher self-esteem.
2.  We tend to experience less susceptibility to depression.
3.  We tend to have lower average blood sugar and lower resting blood pressure.
4.  We tend to be more comfortable with closeness and less fearful of intimacy.
5.  We tend to have healthier 24-hour cortisol rhythms (which aid the stress response).
6.  We are less likely to experience loneliness and social isolation.
7.  We have a more positive body image.
8.  We are more likely to be in romantic relationships (and are more satisfied in those relationships).
9.  We have more effective natural killer cells in their immune systems.
10.  We recover more quickly from stressful experiences.

So #106 way to have a happy artist's life is to express your affection when ever you can.  For more Kory Floyd, see his website here.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

#105 of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life; Use your gifts!

"Always be true to your gift" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.

This post is all about remembering your gifts and using them.  I had been been feeling increasingly weighed down by various events in the US.  And I noticed that my morning pages were getting a little dreary.  Suddenly it came to me that using a sense of humor was one of my resilience strategies, or gifts, so why not add a little laughter to my morning pages?

When life gets difficult, that's the time to pull out your creative gifts and get busy. Your gifts will help you feel resilient and strong. Use them. Always.

Friday, November 28, 2014

#104 of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life.

"This Day is a Gift" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
It's that time of year again, the onslaught of frantic materialism disguised as a holy season begins today.  Hmmm.  Well, I continue to search out ways to counter this a little bit.  Free stuff is good, and real life wanderings and adventures are also good.  So here's an offering from Keri Smith that combines both of those things.  Happy Black Friday everyone.  Go out and have a free adventure.  This would be #104 of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life.

Bricolage - Keri Smith from Lucky Treehouse on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

#103 - Happiness is in the search!

"Beautiful Hearts" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.

Here's the Happiness Discovery for today! (#103, of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life.)  I am getting ready for a trip to Vienna for the Edith Kramer Symposium.  When traveling, I easily lose track of where I am in the moment, especially if uncomfortable travel is involved, long flights, delays in travel plans, jet lag.  It is so easy to get really caught up in wishing to be "there" already. The exact opposite of being here now.  And I imagine traveling to Quebec in order to catch a flight to England, and then on to Vienna will be a similar experience.  So I'm imagining the worst already (definitely not a way to have a happy artist's life)!

But there are things that can counter that disorienting feeling of not wanting to be where I am. One, of course, is morning pages daily art practice.  I decided to do a little prep research on the subject of daily art practice while traveling (what kind of scissors can I pack) and I discovered some really interesting spots on the internet.  First of all there's Belzer Designs Hand Made Art website which has a corner devoted to art journaling every day.  There is a whole archive of 4 years of inspiration, tutorials, and links.  Of great interest is her blog post on 15 Things You Should Give Up to Be Happy: Art Version.  And an article about a magazine I had never heard of called Featuring which is all about art journaling and mixed media.  Who knew?  Their website is here.

From the magazine website I decided to explore one of the featured artists, Sandra van Doorn.  She had an intriguing little description of a character, Mademoiselle, walking into her studio, and how they be inseparable, from that day on.  And together they make the world more beautiful.  How cool.   She also has an invisible pet elephant and a lovely video about living in a fairy tale, minus the witches.

So the #103 of a thousand happiness is in the search and in allowing the adventure to unfold, and maybe exploring a fairy tale or two and an invisible pet elephant while the adventure unfolds!!!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Edith Kramer workshop at the Summit in NYC

Photo from Herschel Stroyman
Word has it that our workshop at the Summit is just about sold out.  To take advantage of the early-bird special, click on the link below. 

November 6 & 7
Art As—and Is—Therapy: Hands-On Teachings of Edith Kramer (2 Days)
School of Visual Arts — Thursday
132 West 21st Street (between 6th & 7th Avenues)
Art Therapy Department, Co-sponsor
A 2-Day Training Intensive
9:30 am  -  4:30 pm

Lani Gerity, DA, ATR
Martha Haeseler, MA, ATR-BC
Susan Ainlay Anand, MA, ATR-BC, ATCS, LPAT

This team of art therapists, students of the late art therapy pioneer, Edith Kramer, have spent their working lives using art to build strengths and resilience, much in the way that they were taught by Edith Kramer. The presenters, weaving experiential evidence throughout the didactic segments, will carefully examine the lessons of the mindful, collaborative, strength-based and culturally adaptable form of art therapy practiced by Kramer in her lifetime. With a focus on Kramer's teachings, participants will learn a broad range of interventions that can foster intrinsic rewards and optimize daily function for clients, patients, and therapists alike.
Registration is available separately for each day. Attend either or both.
Edith Kramer Self Portrait

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Autumn Workshops

"Discover your gift" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.

 The fall workshops include an online Morning Pages Daily Art Practice eCourse, with instruction in collage and  photo manipulation as well as encouragement in keeping a daily art practice to support a happy artist's life.  (You can read more about it here.)

Next scheduled "live" workshops are in Vienna and NYC.

The Edith Kramer Symposium
  Vienna, Austria (PDF here)
October 6, 7, and 8



art • dance • music • drama • story • play

Our Fifth Year • NOVEMBER 6 - 9, 2014




9:30 am  -  4:30 pm

Art As—and Is—Therapy: Hands-On Teachings of Edith Kramer (2 Days)
School of Visual Arts — Thursday
132 West 21st Street (between 6th & 7th Avenues)

Art Therapy Department, Co-sponsor
Day 1 of a 2-Day Training Intensive

Lani Gerity, DA, ATR
Martha Haeseler, MA, ATR-BC
Susan Ainlay Anand, MA, ATR-BC, ATCS, LPAT

This team of art therapists, students of the late art therapy pioneer, Edith Kramer, have spent their working lives using art to build strengths and resilience, much in the way that they were taught by Edith Kramer. The presenters, weaving experiential evidence throughout the didactic segments, will carefully examine the lessons of the mindful, collaborative, strength-based and culturally adaptable form of art therapy practiced by Kramer in her lifetime. With a focus on Kramer's teachings, participants will learn a broad range of interventions that can foster intrinsic rewards and optimize daily function for clients, patients, and therapists alike.
Registration is available separately for each day. Attend either or both.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Another way to have a happy artist's life; take at least one sacred pause every day.

"Always Play" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.

 #102 (out of thousand) - Taking a sacred pause.  While I was working on my morning pages, my daily art practice, I could hear a Tara Brach talk on meditation in the background.  She was describing how busy life is today, how we are so drained by the end of the day we can hardly think.  She described the Chinese word for busy (mang) as being a combination of heart and killing.  Sure enough, 忙 (busy) is created with "a variant of heart" and 亡 which means to die or disappear. When we are busy our hearts disappear into who knows what.  In this state we no time to reflect, to consider what might be best for ourselves or others. Our hearts disappear.

But in a sacred pause, in a true refuge, we can recover our hearts, we can come back to ourselves.  We can remember what really matters. As I worked quietly on my morning pages, I realized that was exactly what I was doing.  I was giving myself the time and space to actually hear my heart's sorrows, longings, and joys.  And because my morning pages are a daily art practice there is often a possibility for a deeper understanding, art actually providing many layers of expression of the heart's sorrows, longings, and joys.

On her blog Tara describes some possibilities. "We may take a pause from our ongoing responsibilities by sitting down to meditate. We may pause in the midst of meditation to let go of thoughts and reawaken our attention to the breath. We may pause by stepping out of daily life to go on a retreat or to spend time in nature or to take a sabbatical."

To this I would add that we may take a pause from our ongoing responsibilities to do our morning pages, our daily art practice.  The world will carry on quite easily without our input, without our losing our hearts into who knows what for a little while.  Do you want to be a happier artist?  Do you want to find your heart again?  Then perhaps a morning pages daily art practice, a sacred pause, this quite time with our hearts and art, would be just the thing.

Here's a clip of Tara and the sacred pause.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Ninety-nine through one hundred and one (out of thousand) ways to have a happy artist's life

"Be treasured" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
These three ways to have a happy life are borrowed from a Brain Pickings post which turned up on my FaceBook feed.  I'm pretty sure it was Gretchen Miller's instigation, lol.

So here we go, #99. This one is huge and it's from Dan Dennet (in discussing the secret of happiness).  It should really be #1.  “Find something more important than you... and dedicate your life to it.”  This will make you happy, for sure.  You will end up being more in the world and not stuck in your own head. 

#100 is "Do what you love" from Paul Graham’s 2006 article, How to Do What You LoveHe talks about getting stuck doing things you don't really love for the sake of “prestige”.  He says don’t worry about prestige, it's like a nasty magnet that keeps you attracted to it, and distracted from working on what brings you joy, on things you actually love.  Prestige is especially dangerous for ambitious people. He says if you want to make ambitious people waste their time, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. A hook baited with prestige is the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. If you want time to do what you really love and to be happy, it might be a good rule to avoid any prestigious task. 

And #101, "Find out what you really want" is from philosopher Alain de Botton.  It's related to #100.  We need to know what success really means to us.  Often our ideas about what it would mean to live a successful life are not our own ideas at all. We get these ideas from our peers, and of course from television, advertising, and marketing (which is probably where our peers get their ideas about living a successful life). These ideas of success define what we want and how we view ourselves. Alain argues that we should make sure that our ideas are our own.  Make sure we are the authors of our own ambitions. He says that it’s bad enough at the end of our journeys to realize we didn't get what we wanted, but it’s much worse to find out after spending our whole life on something we thought we wanted, that it isn’t, in fact, even remotely close to what we really wanted at all.

Do find out what you really want in life, what you love, and then do a lot of it!  At the end of the journey you will be satisfied, and pretty much all along the way as well!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

New Morning Pages eCourse alert!

"Animate our dreams" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.

The doors for the Morning Pages Daily Art Practice eCourse with an attached FaceBook Group classroom are almost ready for members.  (The FaceBook Group would be a place for community; for sharing images, ideas and questions but is totally optional.)

Over the past couple of years, I've been creating and posting morning pages every day on FaceBook.  Here's what I have learned so far.  If you practice something every day, you get better at it.   If you practice something which encourages thought and reflection every day, you become more thoughtful.  If you practice something which makes you happy every day, you get happier every day.

As a student, I used to wonder about why Edith Kramer, art therapy pioneer, told us to create art every day.  She also encouraged us to keep a journal for things we were learning, for the ideas and questions that come to us.  She suggested that these activities, if engaged in fully, would help us grow into our best selves, that we would be able to see our strengths and resilience unfold.  There are a lot of intrinsic rewards built into utilizing our inner strengths and nothing that promotes freedom, independence,  and a sense of self worth better than the realization that we have the power to create our own inner satisfaction and intrinsic rewards. Over this past two year Morning Pages exploration, I have to admit Edith Kramer had a point about all of this.

This eCourse will be about growing into our best selves, engaging in a daily art practice, the benefits and joys of such a practice, the challenges and even the specifics of collage work and some photoshop tutorials and guidance (because you have asked my how I do what I do, so why not share it).  In the past I have created eCourses with blogs, posting bi-weekly (sometimes more) and that the blog would remain up for a few months after I stop posting.  That makes it self paced and with a FaceBook group we can continue to play.  Hope that sounds of interest!

If so, just $15 will get you the course, the group, and a bonus eZine "Art Dreams (Lani's Morning Pages).
 If you just want the zine without the course, it's yours for $10. 

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The #98th way (out of thousand) to have a happy life; Listen to a mindfulness talk while making art! Yes indeed!

"Hear Love, Speak Love, See Inside Our Hearts" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
While working on my morning pages this morning, I was listening to Jon Kabat-Zinn in a discussion about happiness.  I learned (or re-learned) the following:
Jon Kabot Zinn - “Happiness is a skill.  …Happiness is not a single state… Your happiness may already be here, inside yourself…  those aspects that supply meaning, supply deep connections, supply just that sense of interconnectedness that truly lies at the bottom of well being and happiness.”

Doesn't that seem about right?  That the things that make us truly happy in a deep, contended way are the things that help us live a meaningful life, the things that help us create connections in our lives, and of course things in us that are touched when we sense the interconnectedness of all life?  And all of those mysterious things are within us, right?  Happiness is a skill and it is inside us.

Friday, June 06, 2014

The #97th way (out of thousand) to have a happy life; Learn from each other!

"Let everything teach and/or inspire" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
One of the ways we as humans have a happy life is by realizing we are connected or inter-dependent with our fellow humans and that we actually learn from, grow with, and inspire each other.  Today's happy realization and inspiration comes from Journey to Resilience, Gretchen Miller's thoughts about her annual staff retreat which explored self-care and resilience strategies designed for those who have had some exposure to trauma.  Thankfully, Gretchen has most generously shared what she learned with us.

Although the post is packed full of wonderful resilience and self-care goodies, one of the biggest "take-aways" for me was that in addition to the didactic teaching throughout the day, there was also  time set aside for mind/body & sensory based activities to support and explore self-care themes.  And of course we are starting to understand that we learn best (and perhaps we teach best) when we can address our whole selves, when we can speak about principles of neurodevelopment and neuroscience while actually utilizing what we are speaking about. 

The fun thing about being an artist/art therapist is we get to play with ideas through art making when ever we want.  We may actually learn better by interacting with ideas in this way.  So the above collage is my response to Gretchen's wonderful post.  You just never know what you are going to learn next!
Some excellent resource/links from Gretchen's post:

The University of North Carolina Charlotte website devoted to Post Traumatic Growth, which also has a page of downloadable articles!!!  (Hooray!)  

And these lovely Self Care Tips from Transforming Compassion Fatigue into Compassion Satisfaction – 12 Top Self Care Tips.

Thank you so much, Gretchen Miller!

Friday, May 23, 2014

The power of finding beauty and my new blogger app.

"The power of finding beauty in the humblest things makes ... life lovely." 
Quote by Loisa May Alcott,Collage by Lani,  & textures by FlyPaper.

Having fun with collage materials from Teesha Moore, Lynne Parrella, and the Artstronauts Club.  Tried to like my new blogger app, but find the computer so much easier.  Well, it may be good for when I'm on the road!

The Possibilities of Play

"To play made her feel wonderful about life itself" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
 (#96 out of thousand ways to have a happy life ) 

A Fred Rogers quote/meme popped up on my FaceBook feed the other day:
"Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning.  But for children play is serious learning.  Play is really the work of childhood."
It made me wonder when play stops being the real work of humanity, if ever?  For me play is really the work of adulthood too. I certainly couldn't create or live without it.  In fact, philosopher and Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, Martha Nusbaum, lists play as one of our inalienable human capabilities and rights.  It is our Right to Play, to be able to laugh, play, and enjoy recreational activities.  It is my 96th way out of a thousand ways to have a happy life.

AND speaking of play, here's something I'm looking forward to that is going to encourage me to play just a little more.  My friend, playmate, and fellow 14 Secrets buddy, William Charlebois, has a class coming up, “Help Heal Your Heart With Dollar Store Art,” over on http://www.purplemooseheartart.com/.  He has a very reasonable early bird special price ($10) so check it out and try play as a way of creating more possibilities for yourself!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

What do you do when the creative blahs set in?

"Change your glasses, have courage, and flourish now" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
Over at 14 Secrets the question came up, "what do you do when you find yourself in a creative funk?" and there were so many fun answers I thought I'd put them down here.
What about permission slips or tickets for yourself??  Give yourself permission to do what you need to do.  Need an idea?  A while back we made a zine full of permissions and there are LOTS of VERY fun ideas.  You can find the zine here.  Just to give you a taste of the over 100 permissions:
Permission to Breathe Deeply
 Permission to Forgive 
Permission to Be Silly
 Permission to Love
 Permission to Create
 Permission to be Brave
 Permission to Sleep
 Permission to Take The Leap 
Permission to Make Mistakes 
Permission to Rest
 Permission to forget My Past 
Permission to Be In The Present

This little adventure in permissions started with Patricia Mosca's book, “Permission Slips... For Your Heart and Soul”.   It has 52 permission slips in full lovely color for every possible situation. (The book began when Patricia was in a transitional space, feeling stuck. A friend asked her what would help to move her forward and she realized permission would help her.  So she set about working on her permission slips, creating them as part of her daily journaling practice.)

Here are some more ideas for creative funk busting: 
Get into nature.
Paint with your feet...
Do anything that takes you out of the ordinary, even if it just means taking a new way to work.
Funk is just a way to tell you to see the fun in things ;) again, in order to do that, try looking at things differently with new eyes, maybe.  (Or new glasses, maybe?)
How about going to a movie--a really good comedy. Laughing is good for the soul and very uplifting. Shopping? Even the dollar store has some fun things that are inexpensive and interesting to look at.
You can always scribble on a large sheet of newsprint and color in an image that you find.
Look in the mirror and make funny faces...
Take a bubble bath with LOTS of bubbles.
Visit an exhibit at the museum that is motivating....a flower show in the area.....
Buy yourself some flowers and place them right where you can see them at home, or buy some plants, maybe pansies...they have lovely faces!
Listening to music that you really like to dance to may be just what you need....listen to the video on youtube: Happy by Pharrell Williams Play it over and over again....dance and sing along with it. http://youtu.be/y6Sxv-sUYtM
If I hear the HAPPY song I'm going to be silly. Works best when its in the low-energy hours of the afternoon...works faster than coffee too.
 Organizing my art area also helps... putting away some materials or shifting items about helps the mental clutter and soon enough I'm making a "to be used immediately" pile.
"Play that funky music, white girl. Play that funky music right!"
(#66-95 out of thousand ways to have a happy life ) 

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Two links for the happy artist's life.

"Be the light" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
       “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.” 
                                  -Albert Camus, The Stranger

This has definitely been THE longest winter of my life, and it's nice to know that through creative effort we may find an invincible summer within.  The first link is for Flypaper Textures where the latest blog post "Snow Trees" reminded me that we can do things when the world provides snow and winter.  Paul Grand suggested we take that last opportunity to grab some snow images and try the new Paper Painterly set!  Of course!  Thank you Paul!

Back yard snow fall in April, with textures by FlyPaper.

The second link is for the website 100 Happy Days, a deceptively simple idea, and web site.  Very much like Martin Silegman's challenge to find three good things every day, this one is even simpler.  Find one good thing every day and document it, one happy moment in your day for 100 days.  From their website:
People successfully completing the challenge claimed to:
 - Start noticing what makes them happy every day;
 - Be in a better mood every day;
 - Start receiving more compliments from other people;
 - Realize how lucky they are to have the life they have;
 - Become more optimistic;
 - Fall in love during the challenge.

Even when the challenge is over the collected 100 happy moments can always remind you about the beauty of your life.
Like so many folks, I know that Martin Silegman's challenge was very successful, so perhaps I might enjoy this one as well and heck, it's just one moment every day!

(#64-65 out of thousand ways to have a happy life )

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

18 ways to have a very happy and not so oppressively formal artist's life

"The Informal Artist" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
 I spotted this perfect gem of an article on FaceBook, in which  Carolyn Gregoire describes the various habits of a creative mind, and while reading it, I thought yes, when I do these various things I am most definitely living a happy artist's life.  Much of it is common sense and reads (to me) like my own resilience strategies.  I also thought Edith Kramer's life exemplified most of these habits.  So I'll summarize these 18 ways to be a happy artist and include various interesting links from Gregoire's article.   She seems most most interested in the ideas of Scott Barry Kaufman (Author of Ungifted: Intelligence redefined and Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania) but there are a lot more links.

1. Daydream -
If we think back over our most amazing insights, flashes of creative thought, they usually occur during what we might call daydreaming.  Our grade school teachers may have discouraged it, but a 2012 study suggested it is probably a highly engaged brain state and neuroscientists have also found that daydreaming involves the same brain processes associated with imagination and creativity.  Kaufman and Rebecca L. McMillan suggest that mind-wandering can aid in the process of "creative incubation."  So now I'm wondering, is there a way to daydream with deliberation? Say for instance you had a difficult creative problem to solve, what if you used Gretchen Miller's "Relaxation Bottle" to actually induce a daydreamy state of mind?

2. Observe everything -
Always take notes, keep a journal or an art journal with you at all times. Your life can be an adventure if you are actually paying attention.  Edith Kramer always had a notebook and drawing pencils every where she went.  Joan Didion believed in keeping a notebook with her as well.

Want some inspiration?  Here's an essay by Henry James on "The Art of Fiction."  And here's Joan Didion's essay "On Keeping A Notebook."

3. Work the hours that work for you -
Do you know if you do your best work late at night or early in the morning?  Mason Currey has edited a book full of examples, (major inspiration!) Daily rituals: How artists work.  So when we figure out what time of day is creatively optimal, we can structure our day accordingly.

4. Take time for solitude -
In "The Courage to Create," Rollo May said "In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone." Again, this was something Edith Kramer valued a great deal.  If you ever had the opportunity to visit her while she worked in her loft, you got the importance of quiet, undisturbed, creative time alone.

Our culture seems to discourage us from being alone in so many ways, but in actuality solitude can be the key to producing our best work. For Kaufman, this has to do with giving ourselves the time and space for daydreaming and mind wandering.  "You need to get in touch with that inner monologue to be able to express it," he says.  (It's hard to find that inner voice if you're spending all your free time with your mobile device.)

5. Turn life's obstacles around -
Everyone knows stories of pain and heartbreak.  We may even spend a lot of effort avoiding this kind of experience.  But what creative folks tend to do with these stories is create art.  Research in post-traumatic growth, an emerging field of psychology, suggests that many people are able to use their hardships and even  trauma for personal growth. This Scientific American article describes research which shows how trauma can help people to grow in the areas of interpersonal relationships, spirituality, appreciation of life, personal strength, and seeing new possibilities in life.  All of these add to our overall sense of well-being and happiness.

6. Seek new experiences -
Kaufman believes that we have a drive to explore our world, both internal and external, which can be seen in intellectual curiosity, openness to new experiences, openness to emotions, and openness to possibilities.  Allow for this drive and we will be happier artists.

7. Develop a daily practice -
Kaufman also believes resilience in our work is a prerequisite for creative success.  He would encourage us to work hard, creating body a of work so that although we may not love every piece, if we create enough, there are sure to be a few pieces which we can appreciate.  Want some inspiration with this one?  Ira Glass has a nice video here, and Steve Kotler wrote this interesting article on Einstein's ideas about "failing often."

8. Ask the big questions -
If we want to encourage our creativity, we need to encourage our curiousity.   We need to allow ourselves to live an examined life and of course this is not something our culture encourages.  And there is no age limit to being curious about life.  (If I learned anything from Edith Kramer, I certainly learned that!)  We can look at the world around us and ask why things are the way they are, and how they might be otherwise.  (It's probably that very thing that makes the dominant culture a little nervous about creativity.)  There's a nice blog post on how observing the world around us can lead to creative breakthroughs here.

9. People-watch -
Be observant and curious about the lives of others, take every opportunity to do a little people-watching.  Many artists have generated some of their best work this way.

10. Take risks -
Of course taking risks, leaping into the unknown is exactly what we do all the time.  Every time we create something from nothing, we are taking a risk, going against the dominant culture's preference for passive consumerism.  Be brave.  It's worth it!

11. View all of life as an opportunity for self expression -
Why not view our corner of the world as a co-created work of art! When we see the world this way, life is full of opportunities. 

12. Follow your true passions -
According to the Handbook of Creativity, edited by Robert J. Sternberg, we (creative people) tend to be intrinsically motivated, often motivated to act from some internal desire and rewarded through inner satisfaction rather than extrinsic reward.  We are often energized by challenging activities, a sign of intrinsic motivation, and often just thinking of intrinsic reasons to perform an activity may be enough to motivate a creative act.  Perhaps a little self observation and research is called for, in the service of creativity?

13. Broadening our perspective -
Kaufman suggests that one of the important results of daydreaming is that we get out of our own limited perspective and explore other ways of thinking for a bit.  This of course helps us in our creative work.  It allows us to let go of the present and it also allows you to imagine someone else's point of view.  And taking another person's perspective can really move us towards more creative thinking and new solutions.

14. Get into Flow -
Csikszentmihalyi had written a lot about getting in the "zone," or into the flow state, which helps us create at our highest level. In this state we transcend conscious thought to reach a state of effortless concentration and calmness. We become immune to any internal or external pressures and distractions that could hinder our performance.  Csikszentmihalyi says we get into the flow state when we are doing something we enjoy that we are good at, but that also provides a challenge.
We find the thing we love, and we build up our skills which results in the flow state.

15. Surround yourself with beauty -
Semir Zeki, professor of neurobiology at University College London (UCL), suggests that surrounding ourselves with the things we consider to be beautiful is very good for us.  But we knew that, right?  You can read about the research here.

16. Connect the dots -
Look for the possibilities.  Develop your artistic vision. Artists and writers often say that creativity is all about connecting the dots that others might not think to connect.
"Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things." - Steve Jobs
17. Be willing to shake things up -
Diversity of experience, more than anything else, promotes creativity.  We like to shake things up, experience new things, and avoid anything that makes life feel monotonous or mundane.
"Creative people have more diversity of experiences... habit is the killer of diversity of experience," says Kaufman.  So develop a habit of shaking things up, embrace diversity!

18. Make time for mindfulness -
We understand the value of a clear and focused mind, our work depends on it. Meditation and yoga practices can be a very helpful tool for tapping into our most creative state of mind.  Mindfulness practices can improve memory and focus, help our sense of emotional well-being, reduced stress and anxiety, and improved mental clarity.

(#45-63 out of thousand ways to have a happy life )

Monday, February 24, 2014

A tribute to Edith Kramer, 1916 - 2014

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Jug and flowers from Edith Kramer's home in Austria.
We've all had teachers who have guided us in ways which in retrospect were exactly perfect and I have to say Edith Kramer was one of those teachers for me. (Although at the time I was studying with her I did not appreciate the experience fully, of course.)    I wonder if the appreciation or lack of it had to do with the fact that sometimes what a teacher imagines they are teaching may be different from what a student is actually learning.  For example, while Edith was teaching psychoanalytic theory in art therapy, with a heavy emphasis on Freud, I suspect what I was actually learning was something else having more to do with how Edith lived and worked.  A lot of it had to do with how to live a satisfying life, one filled with inner rewards, inner satisfaction rather than the trappings of our materialistic culture; a life filled with as much art as possible, great conversations with many friends over pots of tea and great bread (from the east village in NYC); a contemplative life, a curious life, an artist's life.  I have a very deep sense of gratitude and debt for the many things that I learned from Edith Kramer.

Edith teaching at NYU, photo by Herschel Stroyman (beautiful gallery here!)
One of the more important thing I learned was the idea of story-telling in the art room, and how appreciative the people we work with are, when we can furnish their minds with inspiring, challenging, sometimes scary and ultimately reassuring stories of resilience, like The Wonderful Adventures of Nils by Selma Lagerlöf.   Edith would tell these stories as she helped the Wiltwyck boys master paint and brush at Wiltwyck Boys' School. Their loved the stories of the little boy, Nils, and his struggles to become a real human child.  I can certainly empathize with the boys' identification with Nils and all that he was learning from the old, gray goose, Akka.  I can certainly understand why they begged Edith to tell them more stories about Akka. Both Akka and Edith probably helped many children become human. How satisfying it must have been for them to paint and listen to these stories.  (If you are interested in what this school was like, there was a film made actually before Edith got there, "The Quiet One", but you certainly get an understanding!)

In looking through the slides of Edith's work, her home in Austria, and photos from her family,  I realize that Edith valued history, and the idea of being a part of a lineage.  We learned the things that Edith learned from Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, and of course we can pass these things on.  Lineages are a very good thing to be a part of, we aren't as isolated and separate as we imagine.

One of the best things I learned from Friedl through Edith, was not to wait to do good things in the world. Friedl had told Edith that she thought that something was very wrong with her, that she needed a lot of psychoanalysis because she had never felt more alive than while she was imprisoned for her Communist activities.  Friedl thought this must be masochism and so she should be analyzed right away. In actuality, her ability to remain fully alive under extreme adversity served her and the children she worked with in Terezin very well. This is comforting because I doubt that perfection is anything I could achieve in this lifetime, and if Friedl could do good things without perfection and under such impossible conditions, then surely I could do some good, too, with conditions that aren't too bad.  (There's a lovely write up about Friedl's work here and of course Elena Makarova and Linney Wix have written about her.)

Another aspect of appreciating history and of being a part of a lineage is the sense of community this engenders. I learned to appreciate that so much when visiting Edith in Austria. The sense of history going back generations and the sense of strong, living, supportive community was so very alive when I visited. Edith wasn't just Edith Kramer, artist/art therapist there, she was "their Kramer", in a way held by the community, as if they had created a supportive transitional space with this feeling of history and community.  Just knowing such community and history is possible is more deeply satisfying and comforting than any material rewards could ever be.

Edith and her mother
 Finally I believe that Edith sparked in me the desire to search for things that provide inner satisfaction (more art, more puppets, more beauty, nature and community) and to search for the part of the super ego that is kindly and care-taking, the inner-Akka, or even, perhaps, the inner-Kramer. The search for these things has been the best adventure of all. It must surely compare with Nils' adventures with Akka, and I have learned everything about being human from this adventure.

So for all of these things and for so much more, I would like to say thank you to my teacher and friend, Edith Kramer!

Nils and Akka

Here's a quote from the end of The Further Adventures of Nils, when Nils has become human and tries to say good bye to his friends and companions, the geese:

"He sat down on the sands and buried his face in his hands. What was the use of his gazing after them any more?

Presently he heard the rustle of wings. Old mother Akka had found it hard to fly away from Thumbietot, and turned back, and now that the boy sat quite still she ventured to fly nearer to him. Suddenly something must have told her who he was, for she lit close beside him.

Nils gave a cry of joy and took old Akka in his arms. The other wild geese crowded round him and stroked him with their bills. They cackled and chattered and wished him all kinds of good luck, and he, too, talked to them and thanked them for the wonderful journey which he had been privileged to make in their company." -Selma Lagerlöf

Monday, February 17, 2014

Just a little everyday mindfulness!

"Explore the original universe" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
This is very cool, a simple way to build happiness into what we already do every day, just slow down enough to really be present.  Just a little everyday mindfulness!  Try it!  #33-44 out of thousand ways to have a happy life.

I snagged these simple, eleven everyday mindfulness ideas from MindBodyGreen:
1. Listen to the music, while listening to music. (not a typo)
We often listen to music, but here's a way to do it mindfully.  Even five minutes will assist your brain towards better neurochemical balance.  Try to hear every instrument that's playing.  Separate the lyrics from the melody.  Try singing along, and feel your vocal cords vibrate with the hum of sound. The idea is to tease out all the separate bits of the experience, in order to be fully aware.
2. Drink tea. Or coffee. Or hot water. 
We usually have a hot drink of some kind every morning. Instead of just drinking it while doing 16 other things, try drink it slowly. Dedicate 5 minutes every morning to this. Close your eyes, and feel the warm liquid roll over your tongue. Enjoy it – right now, this moment is all that matters!
3. Do yoga.  
(If you have never done yoga, you are in for a treat!  Take a look at the Ekhart Yoga collection on YouTube. I linked to her yin yoga exercises but there's lots more.  Lots of 5-20 minute stretches and longer for specific results.) Yoga is a great way to practice mindfulness and presence in everyday life.
4. Turn the morning commute into practice time.
We spend a lot of time in our cars, why not use some of that time to practice.  We could think of it as a little quiet time for ourselves. If the commute is by train or bus, try listening to mindfulness talks during that time.  
5. Take a walk.
Make it a slow one. This can be hard, but try slowing it down into a slow motion activity. Inhale and lift your foot, exhale and plant it. Repeat.  Here's a lovely explanation by Thich Nhat Hanh.
6. Create art.
The practice of art making can be very meditative. Set aside a bit of time for art, and while creating make sure to pay attention, creating a kind of dialogue between hands, eyes, and inner artist.  A few minutes every day and you have a daily art practice.
7. Journal.
For the writer, try Julia Cameron's "Morning Pages"!  Great time to reconnect with our selves.
8. Cook.
This is definitely one of my favorite activities. Cooking can be wonderfully meditative. Try grinding spices, chopping vegetables, and stirring the cooking pots with a smile. "Is food precious?  Is food worth caring about?  Are you precious?  Are you worth caring about?" -Edward Espe Brown
9. Eat.
This one can be done in the same way as listening to music.  Try teasing out all the various parts of the experience. Take time to feel the temperature of your food with your fingers, feel the texture, smell all of the ingredients. Be there with your food before you eat.
10. Give or receive a massage.
Touch is a powerful experience. If you are giving a massage, try putting your whole being into this moment.  Be there with the other: receptive, open, and loving. If you are receiving a massage, try the same thing.  Be there now: receptive, open, and loving.
11. Breathe. The easiest of all! We are always breathing, why not try a little mindfulness while you breathe.  It can truly is the difference between feeling anxious and feeling relaxed, between engaging the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. Set aside 5 minutes, use a timer, try a few rounds of 4, 4, 8 count breath. (Inhale for 4 counts, retain for 4 counts, and exhale for 8. Close your eyes. Be slow. Repeat.)  Check in at the end of this and see how you are feeling.

 MMMMMmmmmm! How is your neurochemical balance doing?

Sunday, February 09, 2014

"...Love again the stranger..."

"We all desire happiness" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
"Love after Love" by Derek Walcott
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

#32 out of a thousand ways to have a happy life; love again the stranger who was your self.  Of course that's a little easier to say than to do.  We grow up thinking it's our job to be good so that our parents will love us, and to keep them happy and everyone safe.  It takes a while to realize that the world is not our family and it's no longer our job to get people to love us, but rather to help ourselves learn to love the stranger who was our self. 

 Lucky for us there are some experts in the self-care/self-love field that can be called upon for assistance when needed.  One of these folks is Jennifer Louden, who was a pioneer in the self-care movement with her first best-selling book The Woman's Comfort Book. She's written 5 more books including The Life Organizer, which I'm just exploring with great joy. 

Basically Jennifer uses daily creative/self-care practices to lead a fully humming creative life, and The Life Organizer is structured to help us do just that, lucky for us!  She has noticed that between the struggling to survive the chaos and busy-ness of our lives and the awesomeness of leading a fully humming creative life, lies a middle ground where we find our minimum requirements for self-care, where we figure out what we absolutely must have to stay in touch with our center. Basic needs, or minimum daily requirements, can be simple things like getting enough sleep, moving our bodies, eating fresh food, or being touched.  But they can be big things like connecting to something larger than ourselves, and listening to our dreams.  

Jennifer has noticed that it can be easy to dismiss the importance of the basics practices (and maybe even let them slide), because somehow getting enough creative alone time or taking time for a nap when we are tired just doesn’t have the excitement as realizing our most fabulous dreams. Of course we can't get to those dreams if we are running on empty or if we have even forgotten how to check in with ourselves.   But that's where this book is such a help.  It provides a way of creating a mindful year, using journaling/art journaling and self inquiry.  It can help us with this daily practice.  The book is full of inspiring stories, mood shifters, happy reminders, prompts and wisdom. It's exactly like sitting in a kitchen over coffee with a best friend.  You can take quite a big peek at it over at Amazon, certainly enough to see it's usefulness!  And you can actually get a free app to use with the book and some other goodies on her website!  So don't delay, come meet yourself at your own door, and find your humming creative life!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Empathy, Compassion, and "Compassion Fatigue"

"All one here" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
Here's a little story about the possibly misnamed experience of "compassion fatigue".  Matthieu Ricard, the happiest man in the world, was a subject in some neuroscience research that Tania Singer of the University of Zurich was exploring.  With neuroimaging, Tania was trying to tease out the differences between empathy and compassion and what parts of the brain might be involved in these different experiences.  She asked Matthieu to simply feel empathy for the suffering of others, without transforming it into compassion, concern, or love.  It took her half a day to persuade him, and after a short while in the scanner he was begging her to please let him do his loving-kindness meditation, that experiencing the pain and suffering without doing his metta meditation was unbearable.  She found this experience really eye-opening.  She believes this may be the reason healthcare workers suffer burn out and fatigue, because we are overwhelmed by the suffering of others and are not taught to transform our empathy into compassion, concern, and love.  She thought that actually here in the west, we are more concerned with holding ourselves apart from those who suffer.  Suffering is an aversive feeling.  We are taught to fight, flee, or freeze when we come into contact with aversive feelings.  From an early age in our culture, we are taught to differentiate ourselves and others, to perhaps even to deny the possibility that one day we may suffer as well.  

The good news here is that there are folks out there working very hard to teach us what to do with our empathy for the suffering of others.  Joan Halifax is one of these individuals.  She has taught thousands of healthcare providers at the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, N.M.  She believes that developing our capacity for compassion makes it possible for us to help others in a more skillful and effective way, and that recent research studies suggest that compassion plays a significant role in reducing physiological stress and promoting physical and emotional well-being, as well.  (Good news right?)  She kindly suggests a great collection of studies and articles on the benefits of compassion, which we can access from the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, based at Stanford University.

In response to the need for tools that can help prevent burnout and secondary trauma in clinicians, Joan developed the "G.R.A.C.E." model. This practice offers physicians, nurses, and others working in stressful situations a simple and efficient way to open to their patient's experience, to stay centered in the presence of suffering, and to develop the capacity to respond with compassion.

She believes it is quite possible to use "G.R.A.C.E." in our everyday interactions and allow it to help us cultivate more compassion in our own lives. Here's the abridged version.
The G.R.A.C.E. model has five elements:
1. Gathering attention: focus, grounding, balance
Here we should pause, breathe in, give ourselves time to get grounded. We can invite ourselves to be present and embodied by sensing into a place of stability within our bodies. We can focus our attention on the breath, (especially on the out-breath which activates the parasympathetic nervous system). We can also bring our attention to a phrase or an object. We can use this moment of gathering our attention to interrupt our assumptions and expectations (and our cultural training) and to allow ourselves to relax and be present.
2. Recalling intention: the resource of motivation
We can remember what our life is really about, that is to act with integrity and respect the integrity in all those whom we encounter.   We can remember that our intention is to help and serve others and to open our heart to the world. This "touch-in" can happen in a moment. Our motivation keeps us on track, morally grounded, and connected to our highest values.
3. Attuning to self/other: affective resonance
The first part of this is to notice what's going on in our own minds and bodies. Then, we can sense into the experience of the other; sense into what they are saying, listening for emotional cues: voice tone, body language. Sense without judgment. This is an active process of inquiry, first involving ourselves, then the other person. We can open a space in which the encounter can unfold, in which we are present for whatever may arise, in ourselves and in the other person. How we notice the other person, how we acknowledge the other person, how the other person notices us and acknowledges us, constitute a kind of mutual exchange. The richer we make this mutual exchange, the more there is the capacity for unfolding.
4. Considering: what will serve
As the encounter with the other person unfolds, we can notice what the other person might be offering in this moment. What are we sensing, seeing, learning? We can ask ourselves: What will really serve here? We can draw on our expertise, knowledge, and experience, and at the same time, be open to seeing things in a fresh way. This is a diagnostic step, and as well, the insights we have may fall outside of a predictable category. We shouldn't jump to conclusions too quickly.
5. Engaging: ethical enactment, then ending (this has two parts)
Part 1: Engage and enact. Joan believes that compassionate action emerges from the sense of openness, connectedness, and discernment that we have created. This action might be a recommendation, an open question about values, or a proposal for how to spend the remaining time with this person. We co-create with the other person a dynamic, morally grounded situation, characterized by mutuality, trust, and consistent with our values and ethics; we can draw on our expertise, intuition, and insight, and we can look for common ground that is consistent with our values and is supportive of mutual integrity. What emerges is principled compassion: mutual, respectful of all persons involved, and as well as practical and promoting action. Joan believes that these aspirations might not always be realized; there might be deeply-rooted conflicts in goals and values that would need to be addressed from this place of stability and discernment.
Part 2: End the interaction. Joan believes it is important to mark the end of the interaction with the other; release, let go, breathe out. She suggests we explicitly recognize internally when the encounter is over, so that we can move cleanly to the next interaction or task; this recognition can be marked by attention to our out-breath. While the next step might be more than we expected would be possible or even disappointingly small, we can notice that, acknowledge what transpired. Without acknowledgement of what unfolded, it will be difficult to let go of this encounter and move on.

Joan believes we live in a time when science is validating what humans have known throughout the ages: that compassion is not a luxury; it is a necessity for our well-being, resilience, and survival. Joan's G.R.A.C.E. model can help us to actualize compassion in our own lives and that the impact of this will ripple out to benefit the people with whom we interact each day.  Wonderful!  I think perhaps this G.R.A.C.E. model may just be the #31 out of a thousand ways to have a happy life.
Grace by Gretchen Miller
If you want more, do check out the Upaya Zen Center or this lovely video interview between Joan Halifax and Dr. James Doty.