Do We Need Magic to Create?

Greetings my dear readers,

I’ve been away for a while, busy with life, and probably will be again very soon.  More on that later.  But for now, I would like to share with you some wisdom I learned while reading a book by one of my favorite authors, Steven Pressfield. I first read his book The War of Art a few years back, which talks about fighting against “The Resistance” in order to pursue your creative work and accomplish your goals. He was referring to that inner critic inside your head that provides nothing but negative self-talk. That voice never goes away, but you can learn to quiet it and trust yourself.

I just finished reading another one of his books, Turning Pro, also excellent. Several passages struck me, but one really stood out, especially as it pertains to my word for the year: MAGIC. He talks throughout the book about the amateur vs. the professional mindset and how that can make all the difference. We must let go of self-doubt and procrastination by establishing discipline and striving for excellence. But one question remains.

What about the magic?

He’s referring to flashes of brilliance and moments where we feel the muse speaking directly to us.  Shouldn’t we wait for those moments? His answer is no.

“The monk glimpses the face of God not by scaling a peak in the Himalayas, but by sitting still in silence.”

This is not to say that we should do nothing. On the contrary, we should sit down in the chair every day and attempt to write, draw, design, etc. No matter how we’re feeling. No matter what is on our mind. Because eventually we’ll get there. But waiting around to get there isn’t going to make anything happen. Achieving a moment of greatness won’t do it. We’ll only be waiting for the next moment. But showing up in front of the silence of the blank page will. Every time we face that challenge, we’ll grow stronger, and be more likely to come back again and again to do the work. To make something happen.

“In order to achieve ‘flow,’ ‘magic,’ ‘the zone,’ we start by being common and ordinary and workmanlike. We set our palms against the stones in the garden wall and search, search, search until at last, in the instant when we’re ready to give up, our fingers fasten upon the secret door.”

I’m sure you’ve all experienced the magic moment before: The Flash of Greatness. But I’m calling on you to experience something more. It’s the same magic, but there’s another way in, which involves a little more searching, a little extra effort. You get there simply by starting. You’re in the tunnel, and it’s dark, lonely. But you dig anyway. Keep going. Claw your way through. Until you see a light. And before you know it, you’re in the zone, and you’re not even sure how you got there. But you know, if you did it once, you can do it again. Because you’re not waiting for it to show up. You’re going after it.

Find your magic. Find it every day. But don’t wait around for it to appear. All you have to do is begin. Start by playing. The magic will want to play too. It can’t resist. And before you know it, you will have created something unique, dynamic, and all your own. Not perfect, but something you can be proud of. Something born not out of a moment of greatness, but through patience and effort. And that which is created from such a hard-won battle is truly inspiring.

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Turn Your Routines into Rituals

Happy Summer!  I’ve been away for a while, partly do to injuring my left wrist while paddle boarding Memorial weekend.  But I’m back, and here to talk to you about how you can turn your everyday routines (boring!) into amazing life-changing rituals.

I saw the above quote while on a recent trip to New York City.  You see random stuff like this posted all over the city, and you can never really be sure if it’s advertising, artwork, or just a random rant.  But this one struck both my husband and I so much that we had to take a photo.

We all have daily routines: washing dishes, doing laundry, answering emails, taking the dog for a walk, driving to work.  We do these things over and over every single day, and mostly it just feels like a big waste of time or at the very least a nuisance.  But can we make these trivial, monotonous moments meaningful?  The answer is YES.

Some of my creative rituals include:

  • putting on my blue polka-dot robe to get ready to write
  • listening to Joss Stone’s “Clean Water” while cleaning up my art space to get in the mood to paint
  • giving my lucky Petoskey stone a squeeze before I send out a submission
  • thinking about my characters or plot problems while exercising or washing the dishes

Performing these rituals help me take on the creative tasks day in and day out.  They motivate me to do the work.

I also have rituals before I go to bed to get ready for sleep.  I drink a cup of tea and do gentle yoga or meditate with a special mantra.  Sometimes I take a bath and mull over the day, before letting it all go.  Then I count my thoughts until they disappear.  Just by engaging in this ritual, my  body knows it’s time to unwind.

Other useful rituals I do that you might enjoy:

  • call a friend for social time while taking a walk and listen more than you talk
  • focus on the world around you and experience it with all five senses
  • meditate on different quantities of empty space while staying in the present moment, a technique known as open focus, which allows your brain a break

Rituals add excitement and meaning to your every day.  They feel more like preparation.

So go get ready already!  Because your next big adventure could be right around the corner.

 

 

 

Notan: Harmonizing Darks and Lights

I’ve been taking some art classes this week.  While studying composition, I came across the Japanese term, “notan” which literally means “dark-light.”  It’s a fascinating design concept centered around the idea of creating harmony in a drawing through value contrast.  When darks and lights are dynamically balanced, the result is a more pleasing work of art.

More specifically, dark shapes are placed against light shapes and light shapes are placed against dark shapes.  Relationships are formed through this interaction of dark and light.  Neither white nor black dominates.  Consider a portrait drawing done in grayscale.  Notice how the effect of the drawing improves when a dark background surrounds the lit part of the face and a light background surrounds the shadowed part of the face.

According to Dorr Bothwell’s book, Notan: The Dark-Light Principle of Design, the way that positive and negative space interact has meaning.  Both shape and background have equal importance.

This design principle can be used for all types of artwork including painting, pottery, and photography.  One of the simplest and most well-known representations of the concept of notan is the yin-yang symbol, which depicts the dual nature of the world and literally means, “dark-bright.”

Imagine your life in terms of notan.  How might you see the world differently?  Notice how the stars stand out in the night sky or how your shadow stands out on the wall.  The beauty of dark and light is all around us.  As artists, we must have the courage to draw it.  And in life, we must be willing to see it.

“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”   — Anne Frank

 

To learn more about the Japanese concept of white space, termed “yohaku,” see my post here.

 

New Mantra: “Pursue Excellence. Ignore Success.”

The Atlas Slave was an unfinished work by Michaelangelo.

I’ve been a fan of Deepak Chopra ever since I read his book, The spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire: Harnessing the Infinite Power of Coincidence, which is all about synchronicity.
Earlier this year, I came across a great article, “Deepak Chopra: A Life of Fullfillment,” where Chopra talks all about success.  Given that he’s both a spiritual leader and a highly successful individual, I was excited to hear what he had to say on the subject.  As expected, he had many wise words.
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To start, here is some sage advice:
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“If you focus on success, you’ll have stress. But if you pursue excellence, success will be guaranteed.”  –Deepak Chopra
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To go along with that he  says, “Try hard and you will succeed.
 Try too hard and you will fail.”
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I think this is especially important for artists to remember, although anyone who is a perfectionist at heart or an over-achiever can benefit from these words.  Sometimes when we want something, we try so hard to get it that we end up not getting it.  It’s important to remember to relax, enjoy life, and take your time.  In other words, don’t take life too seriously!  😉  That doesn’t mean avoiding hard work or showing up every day for the task.  Rather it means, be kind to yourself if you have a down day or don’t complete as much as you hoped.
 
Chopra says, “Being locked up in your own mindset means being locked out of the world around you,” and as artists, that’s the last thing we want.
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If pursuing excellence sounds a little too much like pursuing perfection, you can look at it a different way and pursue fulfillment.
 
Here are some other strategies.
  • Create something of value that wasn’t there before.
  • Focus on:  “Creativity, imagination, insight, intuition, conscious choice-making, love, compassion, understanding…” rather than instant gratification.
  • Adopt a growth mindset and see opportunities rather than adversity.
  • Engage the “unfriendlies” and dissect their point of view until you find the inherent value.
  • Remember that true creativity requires an open mind and curiosity.
 “I define success as the following,” Chopra says. “No. 1, the progressive realization of worthy goals. No. 2, the ability to love and have compassion. No. 3, to be in touch with the creative source inside you. And No. 4, to ultimately move from success to significance.”

Finding Your Center

What if I told you there was a spot on Earth that marked the world’s center.  Would you want to go?

The axis mundi is known to be the world’s center point connecting sky and earth where all four directions meet.  There are actually many symbolic representations of this point including structures like lighthouses (no wonder I love them!) and natural formations like mountains.

I was lucky enough to encounter several of these on my recent trip to Italy.  One was at the Pantheon in Rome.  It has a concrete dome with a central opening (oculus) to the sky.  And what a view!  The height to the oculus measures the same as its diameter–142 ft.  And if you stand in the center underneath it and look up into the sky, you certainly feel connected to something higher.

Another axis mundi was seen on a hike in the Cinque Terre from Monterosso to Vernazza.  I couldn’t ignore the spot where the earth and especially the sea met the sky.  It was like I was staring at the edge of the world.  Or perhaps it was the center.  I could not tell, only that it was breathtaking.

A skyscraper can also serve as an axis mundi.  I just saw the movie The Walk about Philippe Petit’s walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.  I dare say he was experiencing a divine moment when he did that.

One of the greatest symbols of an axis mundi in literature, religion, and myth is the Cosmic Tree or Tree of Life.  Like all trees, this tree exists on three planes–heaven, earth, and underworld (where its roots are)–and symbolizes immortality.  It makes you look at trees just a little bit differently, doesn’t it?

I was also delighted to discover that the mandala represents an axis mundi.  No wonder they’re such a powerful tool for meditation and centering one’s self!

Even more mind-bending is the notion that the human body itself can serve as an axis mundi.  The Renaissance image of the Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci symbolizes the axis mundi.  Furthermore, many religions view the human body as a temple and prayer as a column from earth to heaven.  Do you see the connection?

Now, what if I told you the world’s center was right where you stand?  Strive to connect with heaven and earth in this moment.  Then you will find the center inside of you.

“At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.” –Lao Tzu

“I want you to be everything that’s you, deep at the center of your being.” –Confucius

 

Discovering My Roots in Italy


Hello my dear readers and sorry for the long absence!  My husband and I were celebrating our 5 year anniversary in Italy–an amazing trip which has been on my bucket list for a long time.  It’s quite gratifying to accomplish one of my dreams!  This trip was far more than just a vacation or celebration.  I consider it a pilgrimage of sorts, as I’m part Italian.  One quarter to be exact.  I’d been wanting to delve into my roots and explore part of my cultural background.  Just as my first trip to Japan helped me to understand my Japanese husband better, this trip to Italy helped me understand myself better.

I thought it might be fun to document some of the things I affirmed about myself and share them with you.

  • I understand part of why I was raised Catholic, as this religion played a huge part in developing Italian culture and politics.  The pope and the Vatican are here, which is like a world unto itself.  I can also see why I have an interest in mythology, given Rome’s history which included Greek and Latin influences.  Visiting the Pantheon was quite a unique experience, since it’s been the site of religious worship since about 27 BC!  Even the current building dates back to about 126 AD!
  • I can see why I love learning, knowledge, and books.  So many great minds had the freedom to explore and experiment here including Marco Polo (we visited his actual stomping ground) as well as Amerigo Vespucci and Galileo.  Travel, maps, and stars–all our favorite things!
  • Italians are passionate and emotional by nature but at times disorganized, as am I 🙂  But gratefully, they really seem to know how to enjoy life!  Which brings me to my next point.
  •  The Italian workday typically starts at 9 or 10am with a long lunch from about 12 or 1 to 3pm.  Shops often close in the evening around 7pm with an 8 or 9pm dinner hour.  This suits my night owl tendencies and sleeping habits.  Perhaps I’ve been running on Italian time all along 😉
  • And the last thing I would like to highlight is..well…the art, of course!  From The Roman Empire, to the Medieval period, culminating in the Italian Renaissance, there was no shortage of creativity here.  So many advancements were made in terms of both subject matter and drawing/sculpting techniques.  Seeing the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s David statue, The Birth of Venus and Primavera (2 paintings by Botticelli) was awe-inspiring to say the least.  I felt without a doubt that art is in my genes.  It’s who I am, and I don’t ever want to forget that.

I encourage all of you to explore what makes you unique.  If you don’t have the ability to travel, then head to your nearest library or bookstore and do some research.  Check out your genealogy and family tree online.  I think the more we can understand where we came from, the better we can know ourselves, and the more we can connect to others.

Ciao for now!

Quote for the Day: Happiness

We all want to be happy.  The pursuit of happiness is mentioned in the Declaration of Independence.  Will Smith even starred in a movie about it.  But what does it really mean to be happy?

I recently watched a TED Talk that offered another model for this ideal.

“The happiness of pursuit”

Instead of always trying to accomplish something in order to find happiness, we might want to consider finding happiness as we try to accomplish something.

Shawn Achor says in his talk entitled The Happy Secret to Better Work, “Every time your brain has a success, you just changed the goalpost of what success looked like. You got good grades, now you have to get better grades, you got into a good school and after you get into a better one, you got a good job, now you have to get a better job, you hit your sales target, we’re going to change it. And if happiness is on the opposite side of success, your brain never gets there.”

So go after what you want.  But instead of viewing happiness as a destination, see if you can find happiness along the way.

 

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