How Great (Thou) Art

These are bewildering times. As I follow the growing dis-ease on the international political stage, I retreat to the theatrical one, from which I draw endless strength. In the shadows behind the curtains, I can smell the mystery and anticipation of that golden moment the performing arts can carry.

But it isn’t easy,” said Pooh. “Because poetry and hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.”

Indeed, the beauty of art is a magnificence to behold. After a week in the Swiss Alps near the Matterhorn, observing and interviewing over a dozen artists whose bodies are their art form, I have come to realize two things:

  1. Art is like air. We need it to breathe.
  2. Nature heals and holds us high.

Sometimes we forget in the rush of things how important the simple aspects of life are to nurture us and make us whole again. Then, with a gentle nudge from happenstance, we become transformed as we stumble upon a magical moment. Maybe we pay an unexpected visit to an art gallery or attend a performance that moves us so deeply as we witness the connection between artist on stage and the audience below.

In my case it was Viktor Kee, the world’s best juggler whose act has been featured in Cirque du Soleil numerousIMG_6290 times. He is a mild-mannered fellow who likes to laugh. He told me he is always nervous before every performance, which is a good thing. “The moment I am no longer nervous is the moment I must stop doing this.” Adrenaline gives you a laser-like focus. You can’t be distracted, thinking about what you’re going to cook for dinner when you do circus arts. Keep your eye on the ball. At all times.

Elayne Kramer, a world-class contortionist and a sixth generation member of an Argentinian circus family, told me she has no regrets. “The road is my home. When I arrive to my house in Florida, I am IMG_6300on vacation. But I can’t stand it there for long. I was born to do what I do.” She has appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and Good Morning America. Her charm, grace and balance will knock your socks off.

The commitment these acrobats have for their art is remarkable. A couple from Colombia told me when they perform time stands still. They lose all sense of pain and feel like they ‘are floating in the air. By the looks of their performance, they are!

And so, when poetry does not come to us, we must go to the place where it can find us again. Where we can put the pieces back together of our shattered hearts and remember that these times too shall pass.

And the show? Well, yes. The show will go on.

 

 

Five Ways to Start your Slow New Year

2016 is around the corner. As with every New Year, we have grand intentions to start it off right. We promise to exercise more, eat better and be nicer to ourselves and the world around us.

You know me. Going Slow is my thing. It may not be yours, but a self-paced life is definitely worth checking out. If you’re not sure where to start on the road to heart-based living, consider these options.

5 Ways to Start Your Slow New Year

  1. Greet the day. How you start your day is often how it ends. Begin the day by repeating a mantra or saying that gets your creative juices flowing. It can be as concise as “Welcome to a new day!” or a longer statement that reinforces your life’s purpose.
  2. Show gratitude often. A simple “thank you” can go a long way in making you feel better and those around you too. If you focus on what you have rather than what you don’t, you’ll be amazed at how long that list really is.
  3. Clean house. That includes removing toxic relationships or attitudes. If you’re struggling with your personal relationships, for instance, seek guidance from others who have been there. Arielle Ford’s new release Turn Your Mate into Your Soulmate is an excellent guide in ramping up your love life no matter what age you are.
  4. Embrace Nature. Digging in the dirt – even potted plants – has been proven to improve mental and physical health. In fact, a recent study from The Sage Colleges shows that gardening is as effective (and addictive!) as Prozac. Now that’s sage advice!
  5. Take an artist’s break. In her best-selling book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron suggests taking a few minutes each day to feed your inner artist. Art is balm for the soul. Can’t get away from the office? Then let the art come to you. Internationally acclaimed photographer Klaus Polkowski has an online gallery with black & white photography from five continents that will knock your socks off! Delve into his images for some Slow inspiration.

It is not time that flies by. We do. The good news is you don’t have to join the race. You can decide to dance instead. The choice is yours. Always.

Fine reading to kick-start your Slow New Year


Love in the Land of the Lost


The book pulled me in and kept me there, until last night when I turned the final page. Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho is a haunting story about a young girl from the backwaters of Brazil who seeks love in all the wrong places. She lands in Geneva, Switzerland, a place I know well. My heart broke there — several times; and so did hers. Despite the floral clock and the water and the banks, Geneva was a lonely place for us both.

The protagonist’s search for love is akin to most anyone’s experience. Sustainable love can only come when we reach inside ourselves and realize we are the generators of our own joy. When we love without clamoring, we are set free. She was willing to let her deepest love go because she knew that her attraction to his beauty stemmed in great part from the freedom she felt to leave.

Coelho’s own story fascinates me too. At the tender age of seventeen, his parents put him in a mental institution — twice — claiming he was mad. But his spirit and his creativity were not broken. He followed his path, discovering much later in life that he could indeed find expression for all those thoughts inside.

Coelho reminds me of Sebastião Salgado, another Brazilian artist whose breath-taking photography will leave you hungry for more. Much like Coelho, Salgado found the way to his art form later in life. After moving from Brazil to Europe, he decided to leave his well-paying corporate job in Paris at the age of 30 to do photography instead.

Wim Wenders’ documentary film The Salt of the Earth, which I recently saw with my love at the theater, is an epic narrative about Salgado’s journey as a photographer. He travelled to the farthest reaches of the Earth to document the human condition. When he finally landed in Rwanda during the mid-1990s, he lost all faith in humankind and stepped back from the subject of man. Later he discovered Nature and rekindled his belief in the universal goodness of life.

What struck me most about his life’s work was the support his wife gave him throughout all those years of travel. Raising two children in his absence must have been hard, but she understood his need to do what he did. She, like Coelho’s protagonist, was willing to let him go time and again.

The result is a collection of amazing imagery for which our world would be poorer if Salgado hadn’t followed his calling.

Love is what makes art possible. See for yourself.

 

On Being Real

Dreams are an awesome map to the psyche. They illustrate our innermost thoughts and fears. And hopes too.

In our dreams anything is possible. We can bend time, suspend it or move beyond it, if we wish.

Last night I had the best dream ever. I walked into a café and was greeted by the owner who was wearing a wool sweater. He asked how I was, although I didn’t know him. I put on my very best face and said “Great!” even though, in my dream, I really wasn’t that great at all. He hugged me, then went about his business. I sat next to an artist, whose paintings suddenly turned dark. The room filled with a negative vibration and I could feel the walls closing in on me.

I didn’t like how things were going so I decided — in mid-dream — to back it up and try again. I hit the “rewind” button on the scene and started it again.

Same café. Same owner. Same wool sweater. He asked the same question, only this time I decided to be real. I told him I wasn’t that great at all and that, well, life had thrown a few curveballs my way. He hugged me again, then went about his business. I sat next to the same artist whose pictures now took on a whole new vibrancy. Shoot, her images even danced! The room filled with an atmosphere of love, care and compassion.

So symbolic.

When we choose to be real, we give people permission to do the same. It builds trust and opens hearts.

It gives us the space to let things be exactly as they are. No fighting. No struggle. Just acceptance for the Way Things Are.

I learned a lot from that dream. We have a lot more freedom than we sometimes believe. With that freedom comes the power to choose who and how we wish to be.

I vote for being real and wooly-sweater hugs. How about you?

What Do You See?

Remember the Magic Eye? You had to stare at a picture long enough to go cross-eyed. Only then would the image behind the image emerge. What at first looked like one thing ended up looking like something else. It played with our belief that what you see is all there is. Sometimes it takes looking at something in a new way to see what is behind the mask.

On Saturday I met an artist who plays with images too. Unlike the Magic Eye, you needn’t blur your vision to see what she is trying to present. An artist living in Berlin, Gudrun Leitner stitches together fabric to emulate a photograph. Her accuracy is amazing ~ and the effect on the observer is surprising. Her work moves you to the core. It literally shakes you awake to a new awareness about your handmade reality: that often what you think you see is not what you are seeing at all.

With her permission I am posting my favorite image of all. Maybe it’s because I like green eyes. This one made my knees weak. For more, visit Gudrun’s Web site. She’ll rock your world. You’ll see!

 

optical illusion, gut gg ok

Gut GG Ok, hand-stitched by Gudrun Leitner

 

 

 

The Power of Imagination

Dr. Charlotte Reznick, author of The Power of Your Child’s Imagination, was on my mind this weekend as we took the kids to the mountains for a few days of frolicking. The four-star hotel offered great food, free WiFi, a wellness area with a pool with an Alpine view and enough cable TV to make the kids’ eyes bug out. We managed to go for two hikes, swim in the pool four times, and visit the gym twice. To distract the kids on our long walks, we practiced math problems in our heads. All in all, it was a glorious time.

The imagination part came in with all the storytelling I did to keep the kids’ entertained (and in complete unawareness that they were, gasp, hiking!). Remembering Dr. Reznick’s nine tools to broaden our kids’ imagination, we practiced some deep breathing on foot. Dr. Reznick calls it “balloon breath.” She says:

“Get comfortable on a flat surface and place your hands around your navel. Focus your attention two to three inches below it, and breathe slowly and deeply into your lower belly so that it presses into your hands like an inflating balloon. Stay there for a minute or two, feeling its gentle rise and fall. Notice how you feel. Try it sitting and standing.” (page 20-21) It is a great power of slow exercise for young and old.

It wasn’t hard to do the next piece because, in truth, our special place was right before our eyes. In the second section of her book, “Discovering Your Special Place,” Dr. Reznick says to foster the sense of self that dwells within. She suggests to visualize a peaceful place…perhaps our kids will think of the mountains the next time they’re bored, looking out the window during class!

Although we didn’t find any real animals (it is, after all, almost winter in the mountains, despite the unusually warm temps). Dr. Reznick recommends “Meeting a Wise Animal Friend” to act as protector. Perhaps the protective quality of animals is the reason why animal movies such as ICE AGE, LAND BEFORE TIME and GARFIELD are so popular.

In the third section, “Encountering a Personal Wizard” Dr. Reznick says sometimes we need to look to magical beings that might be able to assist us in times of need. During a particularly acrimonious homework session, I once called my son’s Math Wizard on my cell phone. Suddenly, he was able to solve the math problem on his own because of the mere confidence his imaginary wizard friend gave him.

If you wonder why imaginary friends are useful, consider the next section, “Receiving Gifts from Inner Guides.” Much like the phone call to Math Wizard, imaginary wizard and animal friends can provide gifts of strength and confidence when you need it most. The sixth section, “Checking in with Heart and Belly,” helps your child get in tune with their own feelings.

Dr. Reznick writes: “Neuroscience has shown that certain ‘brain’ chemicals— neuropeptides, which communicate with other parts of our bodies— don’t live only in the brain; they also reside in our intestinal tract. This suggests a second “Belly Brain” for emotions. Other research suggests that the heart has its own intelligence and communication system.” (page 40)

 

Other Suggested Reading

 

 

 

 

In section seven “Talking to all your body parts,” I was reminded of a recent blog post in which I offered up a simple exercise to help us re-enage with our bodies in a powerful way by greeting each section of ourselves with love, compassion and acceptance. Starting with your toes, moving up your ankles, shins, etc., thank each body part for the part it plays in getting you through the day. Give it a try!

We all know color can have an effect on our well-being. In “The Healing Properties of Color”, Dr. Reznick addresses how we can creatively use color to express our emotions. And finally, in “The Healing Power of Energy,” we learn the positive effects of ‘sending’ and receiving good vibes from others.

Fostering your imagination is a wonderful way to engage in the power of slow. Let it be your guide, wizard, animal or otherwise!

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Wednesday Wisdom – Expanding and Contracting Time

Mary Westheimer, who works for Arizona-based sculptor Kevin Caron, shares a neat story about how time expands and contracts whenever she places herself in the flow of life. Fearless and calm, she’s made it across Phoenix in the time it takes to order a Starbucks double latte skim at lunch time.

Listen in on Mary’s story here to find out how you can make time, too. [Listening instructions: Deactivate your pop-up blocker; click on the link, then click on it again. Click on ‘open’ to listen to the .wav file. It’s rudimentary, but it works!].

Wednesday Wisdom – Minute-Snatching at Night

As a young mom, I could relate to the minute snatching this lovely mom of a two-and-one-half year old boy does. An expressive arts coach and artist, Gabrielle Javier-Cerulli paints at night. Despite the poor lighting conditions, she cherishs the ‘me-time’ so many moms do not give themselves.

Gabrielle Javier-Cerulli shares her wisdom here. [Listening instructions: Click on the link, then click on it again for it to open your media player. Be sure your pop-up blocker has been deactivated.]

Balance Needs Beauty

Sian Lindemann is no ordinary artist. She uses art to create not only a powerful, lasting message, but also to create beauty to serve the world. On September 11, 2001, she took action as she saw the world crumbling around her. Balance without beauty is like a mirror without a reflection. In her artist’s mind, they are essential counterparts.

“If one invests wisely in beauty, it will remain with them all the days of their lives” ~ Frank Lloyd Wright

CLH: You started your National Living Arts Foundation as a post 9/11 response. Can you tell us how surrounding yourself with beauty can serve as a reminder to remain balanced in life?

Sian: I did indeed create The National Living Arts Foundation in response to the event of 9/11.

As I sat in response to the event unfolding on the television, I decided that living in the next moment, where individuals would be afraid to travel, to do, to participate and to try new things, might be limited.

Creating the Foundation was an opportunity to “make visible” and to assist many more artists to succeed with their works…..thus establishing more public art exhibitions, installaitons and the like….to inspire elevated thought.

It is essential for me to surround myself with beauty, as acquiring art and the appreciation of art, for me is not a luxury, but a necessity to maintain an inspired view on the world…..when things like the present economy and global unrest seem an overwhelming task to accept or to overcome.

In small ways, with artists, one at at time, or now as we develop group educational programs, I feel that contributing to the ongoing inspiration to the artists to continue is an essential part of my work.

CLH: Some people feel they aren’t creative. In what ways can people invite art into their lives?

Sian: It is true that some people do not feel as if they are creative. It has been my experience that many of my benefactors and supporters do not feel that they are particularly creative. They have expressed that following me, following my activities, and / or acquiring the works that I present to them, is an act in which they can participate to encourage and support this broad development, and they do so as a vicarious “taste” into creativity.

CLH: How does creativity help people in therapeutic ways?

Sian: Creativity and the expression of one’s creativity is a healing proposition. I know that if I cannot get clear on a particular topic in my day….I sing, or I write, or I journal or I paint, as a way to “connect” with my internal intuition and unique “voice.” Yes, sometimes even I drop the thread to that internal peace.

Developing creativity is an essential activity, I believe, and it need not be for_sian_3

limited to that which is art, per se.

It can be developing a creative twist on one’s immersion in family life or business……All of this is a healing and soothing process that brings about greater peace.

CLH: How do the arts serve to counterbalance negativity in the world?

Courtney Milne, Photographer 

Sian: Great question. We can lift humanity throught the arts. I, in fact, had a complete spiritual epiphany with a collection of works from one artist, now many many years ago.

**You can enjoy 365 days of beauty this year with a desktop art calendar and journal. Go to www.poolofpossibilities.com. PROMO CODE: F101.

50% of the proceeds go towards Sian’s foundation to benefit artists.