Thought Precedes and Creates Change

kung fu

To create means to take what is and make something new or different. We learn how to take raw materials—canvas, pigment, paint, brushes, pencils, paper, clay, dirt, stones, glass, water, seeds, food, technology, fire, even pressure; and most important of all, our thoughts—and create. We create art and music, tools and technology, community and communities, fun and fitness, first with our thoughts and then with things. In all instances, we as creators have to either allow or facilitate the changes that make what is into something different.

There is one thing that interferes with change, though. Resistance. Others resist our desires. We resist theirs, because _________ (fill in the blank). Things that are big—like a tree or a building—resist our efforts to move or change them (until we think of a way to make the big things smaller and easier to manage). We’re accustomed to looking outside of ourselves for the person or thing that’s behaving like an obstacle when resistance interferes with our plans. Often, however, we’re actually getting in our own way with our own split energy. This happens when we direct some of our energy toward a desired outcome while also expending energy to resist very changes we want to make. Mental resistance, while it has no size or weight, because it consists entirely of thoughts (which can’t even be seen), is the BIGGEST reason we don’t get what we want in life.

I watched Kung Fu starring David Carradine when it was on TV in the 1970s. That was my first exposure to the fascinating world of martial arts and Eastern philosophies. I enjoyed watching Caine, as he was known in the series, demonstrate the power of non-resistance. Every episode had a fight scene and when Caine was threatened, he practiced non-resistance. I don’t mean that he let himself be attacked. But when the person came at him, Caine deflected the attack or stepped aside and allowed the attacker’s momentum to carry him until he stumbled and fell, sometimes over a cliff. In every instance, it was the attackers’ behaviors that caused their own self-undoing.

The Kung Fu philosophy is grounded in the Tao, meaning “the way, or the path,” and that means simply living in harmony with nature, other people, and within oneself. While living with nature and others is important, it’s the relationship to self that forms the foundation for everything that follows. And thinking anything that goes against yourself and splits your energy will make it more difficult to create whatever it is that you desire to create: artwork, a fit body, healthy relationships, etc.

Everyone is a creator, because thoughts turn to things. If you really want to create a painting, you’ll think about it and do what you need to do. If you want to be a better painter, you’ll think about what you need to do and then do it. If you want to be more fit, you have to start where you are, think about what you want to do, and then do it. If you don’t let your thoughts get in your way, you’ll succeed. It’s hard to ignore the truth that “thoughts turn to things.” But if you doubt that’s true, look around you. How did you get to where you are? Did you have thoughts and did you’re thoughts become actions or beliefs that you live with now?

To suppress a truth is to give it force beyond endurance.  —Master Po in Kung Fu

What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.  —Carl Jung

 

From Inside the Stillness that Is a Rose

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I’ve been painting roses like the one pictured here for the past three weeks as homework for a class, “Finding Inner Peace through Painting Roses” that Dennis Perrin offers online. I’ve felt many things while standing in front of my easel and working really hard to paint roses, but feeling peaceful has not been my state of mind. Dennis has offered many demonstrations throughout this time and I’m still not getting it. I’ve felt frustrated, impatient, inept, disappointed, and not close to understanding how to find peace or paint roses.

Every time I try to paint them I’ve wondered What is their secret? To be fair to myself, I’ve learned many other things as I’ve painted. I’m more confident today about mixing paint, seeing values, and I have a new “palette discipline,” which simply means keeping color values together rather than being indiscriminate and haphazard about where I mix a pile of paint. The color value piles on the palette match the color and values in the painting.

I’m acutely aware that I’m still missing the simplicity of the act of painting roses, which are by their nature full of complex details. I’m making it too hard. So this morning, I decided I need to take a break, to step back and look elsewhere for guidance.

While going through a drawer in my bedroom this morning, I found a small notebook. The first entry was made in September 1994. The last entry was made in October 1998. On one of the pages, I’d written the following quote:

Deep within each of you, you will find real beauty, virtue, and goodness. It may be hidden very deep inside of you, but have faith that it is there. You can find it when you are willing to search within with real determination. For you draw to yourself what you hold in your thoughts. Think the very best and you will draw the very best to yourself…Realize how much you have to be grateful for. Surround yourself with beautiful things and beautiful people. See the light in everything and everyone. Let your light shine brightly from deep within you and know that nothing from without can extinguish your flame. So keep your lights burning brightly so you can blaze forth, pushing back the darkness. Be light and let it shine forth from you.
~Author Unknown

I think I’ve found a thread that if I follow it, I will be able to paint the rose. I’ll post it when it’s done!

 

Ready, Set, Go…Well, Maybe

The success of any creative effort depends on your expectations and how ready you are to do what you want to do.

What are your expectations for yourself? For the outcome of your effort? How prepared are you to meet your expectations?

Playbook strategy

There’s often a gap between where you are and where you want to be, what you can do and what you want to do. In other words, you may not be ready to do what you want to do. But don’t let that gap stop you. Just start where you are now. Ready, set, go!

 

 

 

There’s an easier way to be

To be, or not to be, that is the question.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is contemplating death and the unfairness of life when he says that. He goes on to say:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
the heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
that Flesh is heir to?

Hamlet is thinking about his father’s murder and the expectation that he will seek revenge, but he hesitates. For far less dramatic reasons than Hamlet’s, we have to make decisions every day about “being” in this world. We experience heartache and shocks to our being—who we are—because we live, and like Hamlet, we often wonder if it’s worth it to “take up arms against a sea of troubles.”

I told my parents I wanted to be an artist when I was in my early teens. My mom was silent on the subject, but my dad let me know what he thought. He was against the notion because, he said, “You can’t earn a living as an artist.”

It was easier then, as it is now, to earn a living wage by working for someone else. Some part of me abandoned the artist who lived inside and got on the merry-go-round that’s life. I went to college and then went on to earn a master’s degree in education. The question that fueled my desire to learn was: When most people hate what they do and often dislike who they work for, why do they tolerate a system that requires them to do what they’re told to do, what is expected, every day of their working lives? I paid $35,000 for the answer. But why do you think we learn to be other than we are? Because _________ (fill in the blank).

It often seems easier to do what is expected of us, to ride the merry-go-round, but is it? What did, or do, you want to create? Is there time in your life for you to do whatever it is that you need to do? Who do you think you are? Does the last question irritate you? Why?

Are you being urged to create something new?

A lunar eclipse occurred this morning (January 31) when the sun and moon were on opposite sides of earth. Our earth actually blocked the sun’s light from reaching the moon. For a brief time, the reflective moon was darkened as it passed through the earth’s shadow.

A bit of trivia

In ancient times, astronomers in Babylonia studied events that occurred around eclipses (there are a minimum of four eclipses every year), viewing them as omens that would impact humans in the months to come. According to these ancient scholars, eclipses could predict the death of kings. If Jupiter (the planet associated with kings) was not visible during the eclipse the king could die. FYI: Jupiter was visible in the predawn sky today during the eclipse today.

What astrologers have observed about lunar eclipses

The moon is at its fullest during a lunar eclipse and immediately after the eclipse it begins to diminish in size until it completely disappears about fourteen days later. Not everyone is equally sensitive to lunar activity all the time. But some of us will notice events occurring (in recent past and in the months ahead) that can be described as coincidence or even omens of what is to come.

The sun was in Aquarius and the moon in Leo during the eclipse today. If your birthday falls between January 28 and Feb 3 or between July 28 and August 3, you may be experiencing changes in some important relationships. If this is happening to you, you may also be thinking about what you can do or need to do now. These thoughts and any emotions attached to them are behind the urge to create something new.

I used a photo of settlers moving west during the 1800s because those folks who decided to create a new life had to make decisions about what to leave behind so they could make the cross-country journey. Their wagons could reliably carry about a thousand pounds, but many people packed their pianos, good china, and furniture in addition to all the food and supplies they needed for the months ahead. Once on the trail, they had to decide what was more important—their dream of a new life or their possessions. The trails west were littered with all that they had to leave behind if they wanted to survive the trip.

If you’re feeling the need to create something new, you need to decide what to abandon so you can survive and reach your destination. You may feel resistance to leaving what you have behind, and that resistance will limit your ability to create what you’re being urged to create for yourself.

 

 

What does fear of failing prevent you from doing?

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An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.  ∼Edwin Land

I painted in my twenties and thirties. Then I put my paint box on a shelf in the basement and went on with life. The “idea” of painting sometime in the future never left me, but as time passed, fear set in and I began to believe painting—an activity that I loved—would remain shelved, like the supplies I’d left in the basement.

Three decades passed. I felt the urge to paint a couple of years before I actually picked up a brush and mixed paint on a palette or applied it to a canvas. But by the time I acknowledged to myself that I wanted to be the artist my younger self had believed in, I was too afraid to paint. So instead of painting, I got interested in polymer clay.

I didn’t want to use the clay to make jewelry or cute animals. I wanted to paint with clay. I searched the internet for examples and artists who used clay the way I wanted to use it and found few who had tried. In the meantime, I learned about the tools clay artists use and I started making small landscape clay paintings. The one above is 4×4 inches. I developed some skills with the medium, and then I hit a wall. I couldn’t make the clay comply with my vision. Clay, like every medium, has its limitations.

Working with the clay had shown me that I wanted to paint landscapes. I also knew I couldn’t realize my vision using polymer clay. I needed to use paint. So I put aside the fear of failing and began again to paint. My “clay period” showed me some things about myself. It was an important and necessary step to take. But I’m so glad I decided to move past the fear, because that decision opened doors to new communities of people, new experiences, new confidence in myself, and it reconnected me to my joy, which is painting.

What brings you joy? What do you want to try doing? Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from trying.

Creativity: What is It?

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6×6″ oil on wood panel.

Ancient Greeks and Romans believed creativity implied freedom of action. Poets were thought to be creative, because they brought to life new worlds. Artists were not considered creative, because they copied what they saw—imitated, in other words—and didn’t create anything new. So it remained, with little real change, until roughly the 19th Century. Artists and writers could be craftspeople. Poets were the creators or art.

Perhaps the desire to upend this notion about who could be creative is what motivated and elevated some 20th Century artists to fame. Artists like Picasso, who painted mostly from his imagination, and Marcel Duchamp, who was associated with Cubism and the development of conceptual art (a theory the values concept more than the beauty of works of art) threw away the rules. They insisted on having the freedom to create by taking whatever actions they desired. They insisted on the freedom to create and were not be bound by rules.

It’s my opinion, which is shared by many, that abandoning aesthetics (subjective, emotional values that vary by culture) is risky—especially if the goal is to sell artwork. We rely on others to like our work and have positive emotional responses to it.

I took liberties with the landscape painting (above), emphasizing elements to my liking—implied freedom of action. Still, I copied what I saw, too. I do think of it as creative.

Thoughts? Do you consider yourself creative? Why, why not?

 

Doing What Matters

A man I know has spent his entire adult life becoming exceptional. He is a world-renowned astrologer and a couple of years ago he began sharing his knowledge on Facebook for free. Now in his seventies, he wants to give back to those who have supported and sustained him and his work. In one of his very early astrological posts, he shared that he felt concern about what he was doing because not many people were clicking on “Like.”

Using the Like button on Facebook is one way we  express our approval.

So when we post something, such a photo of our artwork, we tend to keep track of the number of Likes the post gets. Lots of Likes means lots of love—and approval. Seeking approval is in our nature; it might even be tied to our basic need to survive and thrive. But seeking approval can also make us feel vulnerable and to question whether or not what we have to offer is good enough to be valued by others. When my astrologer friend mentioned his concern about not getting a lot of likes, he was questioning the value of his work.

It’s common for writers to avoid writing, because someone else has already written the same kind of story and gotten it published. The insecure writer will say to him or her self, “why bother.” Fear of rejection (the opposite of approval) and the feeling of not being good enough are always behind the “why bother” attitude.

We want to matter to people, to be “liked.” And we want what we create to matter, as well. While wanting to matter may be human nature, it also contains danger. Maslov’s hierarchy of needs is a theory Abraham Maslov proposed in 1943. He had observed that people exist on five basic psychological levels. The most basic need is the physiological need to survive (food, clothing, and shelter). After basic survival is the need to feel safe, which is followed by the need to belong and feel loved. When these needs are met, we feel good about ourselves in the context of our lives—we feel valued in the world. The danger that I mentioned exists when we depend on others to determine our value, which may be one of the best reasons to heed the advice: Make your art and let it go. Detach from the outcome.

At the top of Maslov’s hierarchy of needs is self-actualization. According to Maslov, “What a man [or woman] can be, he [she] must be.” I agree, and I think that’s what the urge to create is all about. Emotions are fickle though. Some days we feel awesome. Other days not so great. We want and seek approval from others. The strategy that leads to personal success, I believe, involves recognizing and valuing ourselves and what we do for as many hours of the day as possible.

 

Art Is …

Consider this: Can anyone create art?

The answer depends on who you talk to.

Some people say “true art” can be created only by people who understand that art should exist only for itself and that it doesn’t need to have utility or a function. I’ve tried to imagine what such works of art might be like and everything I think of fails to be useless. Any object placed in a space or on a wall will, at the very least, FILL that space or become something to bump into or trip over. That’s probably not what “some people” think of when they’re creating useless art, but my mind can’t escape from the notion that everything we create has some purpose.

We create in response to what we see, think about, and feel, and we create in order to communicate to others what we see, think about, and feel. Whether or not what we create is “art” depends, again, on who you talk to. Grandma Moses began painting in her seventies, and her artwork never advanced beyond the “primitive” style for which she was famous. Her paintings remain popular today.

Everyone is creative. It’s in our DNA. And anyone can create art. Art is merely the application or expression of creative skill and imagination, which will be discussed in future posts.

What are your thoughts about creating and art? Are you creating?