Friday, July 30, 2010

Question: Why is it so hard to be kind to yourself?

I've wondered about this for many years. I've made many attempts at self-kindness that didn't last. Last week, I found out I'm not alone in my quest, on Mahala Mazerov's blog, Luminous Heart, I joined the Summer of Lovingkindness Invitational.
Calling all practical idealists, hidden mystics, and people of good heart!
Please join me for 2 months of creative focus on love and lovingkindness.
Starting today, (July 1st) through August 31st, I invite you to share your words, art, wisdom, and stories — your questions, contemplations and experiences — in the Summer of Lovingkindness Invitational, #SOLI for short.

There are many wise and wonderful people joining, sharing and commenting. The other day, in a comment on her site, I found myself writing about an experience I had as a new mom.

Here's what I wrote:

As a mother of two, now grown, children, I can see that loving kindness truly bloomed in me as I nurtured my children. And it reminds me of an exchange between my own mother and I.

I had been home a few days after giving birth to my first child, a daughter, and I was giving her one of her first baths in a small baby sink in the bathroom. I’d carefully assembled all the needs, soap, shampoo, soft wash cloth and towel then, just as carefully and somewhat nervously, I undressed this little darling. While my mother looked on, I lowered her slowly into the bath and went about gently washing her smooth skin while taking in her tiny beauty from her dark hair and eyes, little lips and fingernails. As I was absorbed in the process of bathing my daugther, I didn’t notice that I did anything special, but as I finished up my mother said, “You did that all so gently. I never did that, I was in such a hurry and just scrubbed you.” When I looked over at her, curious, wondering if I was getting criticized, I could see amazement on her face. It was as if for the first time, she realized that she could have done it differently.

The act of bathing, feeding and holding my children was always done with loving kindness, I realize now. It just came naturally. Why, then, is it so hard to give that same care to myself?

Mahala used my experience and question as part of her next blog post, Tender Loving Care and many people had their own answers to my question.

The answers were illuminating, helpful, supportive and interesting. Some felt self kindness would make them selfish or self serving or a self kindness addict. Some felt loving kindness is an essential spiritual discipline. Some felt that being kind to themselves would transform their life.

What do you think? Are you as kind to yourself as you are to others? Do you need more Lovingkindness? How would you go about getting it for yourself? My sweet kitty, Terra sleeping on my feet feels like Lovingkindness to me. What ways do you find Lovingkindness for yourself?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Cleaning up the mess brings a few new surprises.

It was a marathon on Friday. Upstairs hall, walls, and stairway to paint, rug to shampoo, sofa to steam clean, curtains to wash, various baseboards, doors and stairway banisters to clean and polish, it was a 12 hour day. But by 8 pm, all was done and we were sitting at the pub enjoying a local brew.

With all painting and cleaning up the mess, I found some things just didn't fit back into the rooms anymore. If fact, most of the accessories are still upstairs. What came back? The rug, sectional, coffee table, lamps, an orchid, two of my screening sculptures, a lion and an eagle plus a small clay sculpture that's half woman, half owl. (Note, the black towel on the sofa in the left corner, an attempt to give a dirty kitty a place to sleep other than on the newly steamed sofa cushion. Alas, it didn't work.)

What changed? The mantle mirror needed a darker patina to go with the new paint. I used black shoe polish over the old red/gold finish making it blend with the brick and wall color rather than stand out. An end table was replaced with a larger glass/metal one, two pillows were recovered in red and yellow cotton, and new pillar candles were added all from Ikea.

Ok, all the painting and cleaning got tiring but I still felt a rush from it all. I look at the new additions and feel brighter in my heart and spirit. Uplifted. Perhaps, cleaning up the mess around me, reached into my soul as well. And that's a welcome surprise.

Now, when will I get the nerve to put something up on those freshly painted walls, I wonder? Or maybe it's time for a garage/studio sale?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sometimes mess is necessary.

This week, my living room, hallway, eating area and studio are all a complete mess. Rugs are stacked on top of the sofa which is in the eating area. The dining table is covered and surrounded, so we can't eat there. Pillows, lamps, tables, mirrors, paintings and all the rest are stacked in an upstairs bedroom. I can't even get to the window to open it up.

There's dust everywhere. Not to mention flakes of old paint, cobwebs, a few little critters who were sharing our home, too. Ok, this sounds bad but it's really good. It's a big sign that renewal, rebirth and positive change is happening. Finally.
We have 25 foot ceilings downstairs that haven't been painted since we moved in. That was 15 years ago or more. So it was more than time, but with all the losses and changes over the last few years, it wasn't a project we were ready to tackle. Physically or financially. We had enough on our plate already, plus the fear that our plate might wind up empty on us. So, we waited.

Without planning or thinking, things started to move around us. It was really small things at first, cleaning a closet, re-potting a few plants, giving my old curtains to my daughter to use in her apartment, making a few new pillows and a valance. Then the painting started in the nook and the kitchen but soon we were painting the ceilings, the hallways and entry area. I got the feeling something other than painting was really happening, but I still wasn't sure. When we spontaneously decided to get someone in to paint the 25 foot ceiling, I knew that our life was changing for the better.

A long time ago, in a class I took, a teacher described how she knew when one of her students was coming out of a down cycle into renewal because they would tell her how they were suddenly cleaning closets, donating old clothes, throwing out old papers and re-potting plants. All these actions, she explained, were signs of a transition to a new life. It's all about cleaning out the old and making way for the new. So when life gets really messy, take heart knowing that the mess is a necessary pathway to renewal.

Now, I have to go rest my feet, so tomorrow I can get back on the ladder and finish painting the upstairs hallway. Then clean the rugs, sofa, floors, lamps, pillows, well you get the idea. Below is a Copper Moon I've been working on in between painting walls.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Child's Play: Creation or Destruction?

Yesterday, Jilly and I walked into our favorite part of the woods, the birch tree circle expecting to see the path, undisturbed as usual. What I saw stopped me on the spot.

There was a deep hole cut into the earth exposing tree roots and inside was trash. Candy wrappers and unopened taco sauce packages lay in a heap at the bottom of the hole. On the ground, next to it were tree branches and wood pieces stacked and held together with the dirt from the hole to create a make shift ramp. Obviously, some kids were at work, here, making a place to ride their bikes or skateboards in the woods.

I was mad at first at the destruction and littering. I was worried that some new birch tree had been uprooted for their ramp and trash bin. And I was tempted to take it all apart.

Instead, I stepped over it all and went to my place in the woods by the Birch Tree to do my morning exercises. After I’d cleared my head and stretched my body, I walked to the arch between the two birch trees. Feeling the energy, I reached out and asked the trees about the ramp, the hole and the destruction. Their answer was simple.

It’s child’s play. No one was hurt. In fact, the trees told me, it was important that I did not disturb it. The children needed to play there. How else would they get to know the trees and animals in the woods? Where else would they be able to create, to take the earth in their hands and form it, to collect sticks and stones and make something from it? Yes, there is some trash here, but not much more than there usually is, and it will get cleaned up in time.

What’s most important is that the children feel safe here. That feeling and the knowledge of the woods as their place will grow with them into a reverence for the trees and animals they share the world with. It's child’s play that will lead to adult understanding in a way no other experience can.

Then, I remembered. All those days biking through the woods on the edge of my suburban neighborhood, making little stick houses from fallen branches and mixing potions from the mud dug up by the creek. I watched my brothers and their friends climbing up the trunks, hauling up boards and making a tree house. One day, they hung a knotted rope from a large tree limb and swung across the creek. It was child’s play. Yes. But it taught me to love the woods, the trees and the birds. Sitting there by the creek digging in the gooey mud, I heard sounds I didn’t hear at home. I listened to the whisper of the leaves in the breeze, the chirp of the birds, crickets and squirrels. I watched with fascination as the tiny, swimming polliwogs turned into frogs. I learned to catch and hold snakes in all their smooth, slithering glory without fear.

I saw what the trees were trying to tell me. This was not destruction but creation. Not just creating a place for bikes to play, but a place for the children to be, to learn and grow under nature’s guidance. Here the woods nurtured the children's growing muscles, minds and imagination, teaching them skills that were new to this generation whose world now consisted of techno toys. It was child’s play. But here, the toys were real and the lessons learned would be carried into the real life and, hopefully, to yet another generation of children playing.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Show and Tell on Saturday

Torches were lit. Cement dust was flying. Wax was melting on the pancake griddle. Glue was drying and screening was bent into shape as seven members of the Pacific Northwest Sculptors Guild demonstrated their work at Evergreen Aviation this last Saturday.

It was a sunny Saturday, a little windy, a little warm, but still good weather for demonstrating. I've done quite a bit of demos over the last two years, so I'm much more comfortable with it than I used to be. Doing my artwork is usually a solitary experience, but doing a demo is part performance, part education and part meet and greet. But it’s a great way to show and tell people about your work, get to know other artists and learn some new techniques, too. The demos were done in conjunction with the PNWS group show at Evergreen Aviation this month.

I bent screening and pushed into copper sheeting to demonstrate my sculptural mask making and copper repousse’ work. Inside the IMAX building, Stephan Seable set up a children’s clay area, where he worked with young visitors introducing them to clay, his favorite sculpture medium.

Carole Murphy worked on her cement sculpture and encouraged visitors to try their hand at sculpting this unique material. Rick Gregg and Lyn Simon shared torches and demonstrated metal welding and creating patinas on steel and copper.
Renee Oberdorf melted different colors of wax on a pancake griddle, and then painted in layers on a wood background demonstrating the sculptural qualities of encaustic. Fortunato Ramirez dipped paper in glue and placed it in layers on large glass circles which he uses as molds for his paper mache’ sculptures.

All in all, it was a nice day to be outside, something you can't always say in the rainy Pacific Northwest. And I really enjoyed meeting new people, showing them what I do and watching their reactions when they tried on my screening masks. Show and tell is still fun even after all these years.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Work done, work re-worked and work in progress - In The Studio

Studio work is work I love, but sometimes, it feels like peddling on a stationery bike. But this week, in spite of the holiday, I got work completed and out the door.

I made these garden lilies last year and sold them out, so I made some more to go to a local business specializing in bamboo. These lilies are made of aluminum screening, paint, beads, colored wire and attached to, of course, bamboo. They can be used as garden art around landscape plants. What I like is that they flower all the time, unlike my own lilies that just finished for the season.

Then I got to work reworking one of my Season's series, 'Winter', fitting it with a new pedestal. My other Season series have been out and about in gardens, including mine, for the last year and the interior structure works well in rain, snow and sun. But high winds plus loose soil can mean they might blow over, so I went about researching how I could make them more secure and still garden ready. I decided to experiment on 'Winter' giving it a concrete base that's treated with a painted finish and adding heavy duty galvanized wire around the base and up both sides.

On the easel is a special project requested some months ago. After seeing my first lamp, Jeff asked that I make him one, too. He plays the guitar and wanted it to reflect that, so these are guitar picks in a pattern called 'clown barf'. I'm not kidding. I have pictures to make sure I get it right.

The bird masks I'm working on had to take a back seat this week. And my clay faces are drying out nicely in this weather getting ready to for the kiln.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

It's just another ordinary day.

In the face of life changes over the last few years, my ordinary life got a little lost. And I know I'm not alone. Many lives haven't been as ordinary as we'd like them to be. But maybe during times like these, it's important to find the ordinary in the life we're living. Right here. Right now.

This quote comes from Susan Tweit's blog Walking Nature Home. "It's time to reclaim our lives and use the flexibility we've been learning to engage in work that nurtures our hearts and spirits while contributing to the landscape, people and community we so value."

Susan and her husband, Richard's lives have been anything but ordinary since Richard started treatment for brain cancer this last year but together they've not only survived but continued their creative contributions to the world around them in their garden, writing and sculpture. Their courage and heart continues to inspire me. It was Susan's encouragement that helped me grow in my work and even my garden.
So today, I spent my day taking pictures of all the ordinary miracles around me once more. Walking in the park, playing with Jilly, picking beet greens and cilantro, making homemade lime/cilantro dressing.

Enjoying eating outside on the patio while the dog sleeps and sharing the sunshine with my love and best friend, Michael.

Here's a YouTube video of my musical inspiration, Sarah McLachlan's wonderful song, "Ordinary Miracle Today".