Waking Up, Writing Down

Last month we looked briefly at what it might mean to approach our writing from a ‘mindful’ perspective. This month we shall get down to some specifics. While there are many ways of engaging with the process of mindful writing, some styles are more conducive to meditative ruminations than others. Haikus spring immediately to mind.
Most readers, I’m sure, have heard of haiku, and know that they utilize a unique and precise structure. Traditionally each haiku consists of 17 syllables divided over 3 lines of 5 – 7 – 5. There is a marvellous freedom to be discovered within the confines of such a disciplined approach. Writing haikus is my personal preferred form of mindful writing, my go-to genre when feeling uncertain and perplexed. It never fails to ground me in a broader, deeper field of light-filled consciousness. Writing haikus lands me directly in the heart of the present moment, for a haiku is always a record of what is occurring right here, right now.
Here are a few of my most recent haikus:
Waterfall of rain,
curtain of transparent lace,
streams down my window.
*
Winter’s cold breath still
drifts over field’s feathered wisps,
farewell kiss of frost.
*
Transparent curtain
envelops world in grey shroud -
rain falling again.
*
Sudden summer storms
blustering across the fells,
orchestrated dance.

*
Hills etched like blue veins
horizon melts into mist,
gale squalls whipping up.
*
Torn buds, white and frail,
summer tries to show its face,
battered as it bloomed.
*
Blowsy blossoms fall
half-drunk with fragrant splendour,
summers whispered sighs.

Similar in brevity, though less rigid or formal in intention and technique, there is another, slightly different, approach to ‘mindful’poetry. Satya Robyn [http://www.writingourwayhome.com/], refers to them as ‘stepping stones’. Sam Green, in his poem ‘The Grace of Necessity’, prefers ‘small noticings’. Names may differ but intentions remain the same. A rose is still a rose.

 

To take the time to write a ‘small stone’ or ‘small noticing’ is to engage in a practice which helps us to focus and observe what is going on in our worlds, both inner and outer. We begin our practice by slowing down, allowing ourselves to find the still point of silence deep within. Using our senses we turn to that which we have decided to observe, and look, look closely, listen, touch, look again, waiting to hear with the ‘ear of our heart’ the first murmurings of our souls desires. Then, with senses saturated with sensual stirrings, we write down exactly what we have seen, heard, felt.
How much should I write? The answer to this is simple – as much or as little as you feel called to do. When I write ‘small stones’ I usually write something akin to the length of a haiku, eg a few short, descriptive lines filled with vivid imagery and luscious detail. But unlike haikus, I don’t restrict the structure of what I write to any pre-ordained or set order. Essentially ‘small noticings’ capture those moments when we are fully aware and engaged with the present. Nothing more, nothing less.

There are typically two main steps in writing ‘small noticings’ –

(i) Look and see, observing what is directly in front of you very closely, perhaps focusing on one particular aspect of the object. Be careful that you don’t rush through this step. Take your time.
(ii) Write down what you have noticed. Breathe into your noticing. Enjoy the sensual experience of conveying what you are experiencing through your opened senses on to the pristine white page of your mindful writing note book. Rest. Breathe.

And that’s all there is to it! As you engage in this practice, especially if you make it a daily practice, you will slowly begin to notice something else, something about yourself which perhaps you might not have realised before. Over time you may notice certain themes, symbols, images and metaphors which continue to manifest in your writing. Welcome them, sit with them, explore them. Most of all write your way into them. This is what it means to write yourself home.
Try and aim to write something every day. Remember this is not a practice which requires a lot of time. Indeed it may not call for much more than 10 minutes each day. But if you engage with it on a regular basis, you will notice a difference in how you see the world you live in, the everyday world which surrounds you and which you normally hardly notice. Writing mindfully, we are learning to see again with new eyes, new vision, so that everything old is new again.
• Let go of trying to direct your writing and the flow of your words. Let go of judging and worrying and criticizing your work. Let go of what you think your writing should be. Let go of all the ideas you have accumulated over the years about what it means to write. In mindful writing we just write.

• Especially for this awareness practice, I recommend that you carry a small notebook with you through your day and capture those small moments of heightened awareness as you move through the hours.

• Perhaps you might like to share some of your ‘small noticings’ in the comments section below.

There is nothing to achieve here, no goals to be reached. Mindful writing has more to do with deepening and enriching our daily lived experience than in producing a body of work, though of course it is more than likely that much of what we find ourselves writing here will serve as springboards to future works, whether these will be poetry, memoir, creative non-fiction or fiction. But for now they are simply small offerings, glimpses through the veils behind which lies visions and vistas yet to be seen or even imagined. Enjoy your mindful writing, and remember that ultimately it’s a practice designed to get us to slow down and notice the world we live in!
Check out the following website for lots of examples of ‘small stones’: http://www.ahandfulofstones.com/

- Edith Ó Nualláin lives with her family in a small village on the east coast of Ireland, snuggled between the mountains and the sea, where she reads, writes occasional reviews, and spins exotic fibres into yarn. Some day she hopes to learn how to spin straw into gold.

THE ZEN OF ART OPENINGS

A Star Is Born

“A Star Is Born”

Image and Essay by Janet Grace Riehl

This is my 70th Creative Catalyst  post since 2008. During that time so much has happened to me personally and in my creative life. Whether I’ve written about Daddy Care or Doodling you’ve responded and shared your lives right back. How appropriate, then, to tell you now about the culmination of artwork I began in 2011. All those doodles became a beautiful exhibit. Through Women & Wardrobe: The Riehl Collection I claimed them as digital images—fine art. And, the opening of the show opened me.

In all the arts—literary, visual, performing—there is that moment where the art becomes public. There is so much creativity advice about how to inspire, coax and sustain our practice. But, there is little that I know of to help us move through and use the opportunity of shaping and showing our work for an audience.

A mentor once told me that “Your show is really for you. It shows you what you’ve been doing. It’s a time to take it in so that you can use what you’ve done as inspiration to go forward.” With all creative work it’s like that. In studio art made of paint or clay it’s even more striking to see your work altogether in a clean space.

Three equations expressed this protected time.

Work = Play

Play  = Work

Work + Play = Joy

In making the body of work, it worked because:

1) I had no ambition beyond making each image work on its own terms.

2) I let my images do the talking.

3) I taught myself (and taught myself how to teach myself) as I went.

4) I surrendered, and entered a state of easy-going exploration.

Every event has its challenges, and this one was no exception. My framer became sick unto death and I had to find a new one—while on holiday 2,000 miles from St. Louis in Northern California off the grid. “Set up a fashion show? In a month!” the head of the design department of a nearby college wailed when I asked if they’d participate. But, I urged them to continually redefine what a fashion show is, and they hit on a perfect orchestration that blended with and augmented the artwork to make the night even more fun.

Jump cut to opening night—a rousing success! Both on the outside and the inside. On the outside, it was everything any artist could wish, pray, and hope for:

  • Lots of people came. 100?
  • Lots of people bought art. We raised a goodly sum to benefit Portfolio Gallery (all the profits went to the gallery).
  • Everyone (including me) had a good time!
  • People didn’t only raise their glasses and chat. They actually looked at the work and appreciated it.

And for me, on the inside? My opening was an opening of me. An opening of my heart and soul.  There was so much love that allowed the work to happen. To be asked to show. To have a friend who took on all the technical work. To be on TV.  To experience the hilarity of 15 minutes of fame. To have my family and friends come. To have the joy of giving to Portfolio. To have the joy of seeing my work apart from my phone or Facebook transformed into elegantly framed images. The joy of people loving the work. Validating. Affirming. Filled with possibility and a sense of rightness.

______________

Want to read more Creative Catalyst posts about this latest art journey?

In June 2012 I described the wonderful surprise of visual art coming back into my life through “Doodling a Body of Work.”http://storycirclenetwork.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/doodling-a-body-of-work

In July 2014 I shared my happiness at my upcoming exhibit with “Bliss + Work = Results! Case study: Women & Wardrobe: The Riehl Collection.”

http://storycirclenetwork.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/bliss-work-results-case-study-women-and-wardrobe-the-riehl-collection/

Learn more about Janet Riehl’s work on her blog magazine Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st Century (www.riehlife.com). With the mission to create connections through the arts and across cultures.

 

 

From the Tidepools to the Stars

One cannot help but be in awe when one contemplates the . . . marvelous structure of reality.  — Albert Einstein

A handsome dragonfly–a widow skimmer, I believe–is gracing my garden these days.  It has been much too quick for me and my camera; dragonflies are such excellent fliers that aviation engineers research them hoping to glean ideas for improving aircraft.

We humans copy many of nature’s patterns, both purposely and accidentally, I’m sure; notice the rotational symmetry demonstrated in the following cosmos bloom and in our vintage aermotor windmill.

cosmos bloom

aermotor windmill

Sometimes nature seems to have enjoyed a specific design so much that it crafted visual echoes of its own.

I can almost feel the remembered touch of my childhood companion, a pet lamb named Woolybritches, when I see this lamb’s ear leaf in the garden:

Lamb's Ear

And this bat-faced cuphea bloom on the opposite side of the yard brings a smile to my face as I compare its visage to those of the Mexican free-tailed bats which populate our Texas hill country during the summer and prevent our having a mosquito problem:

101

But, along with Einstein (pretty good company, no?),  I also find awe in other organic forms which nature repeats.  One pattern that particularly inspires wonder for me is the spiral repeated in nautilus shells, in some galaxies, and in cyclones.

029

So when I buy an organic romanesco cauliflower, as pictured above, I often think of more than its delicious flavor.  Its own spirals remind me of John Steinbeck’s thoughts on nature’s repetitions, penned in The Log of the Sea of Cortez:

 . . . all things are one thing and one thing is all things–plankton, a shimmering phosphorescence on the sea and the spinning planets and an expanding universe, all bound together . . . it is advisable to look from the tidepool to the stars and then back to the tidepool again.

I like remembering that all is bound together.

*                        *                        *                          *

You can read, if so inclined, a bit about nature’s patterns on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patterns_in_nature.)

Writing Practice:

Complete the following:  One cannot help but be in awe when _________________ .

What reminds you that “all is bound together”?

For quite a few years, Chris Bradley taught English and creative writing to high school students in the Texas hill country. She now has time to travel, garden, ride horses, and mountain bike, but she still misses those discussions with students and continues to be thankful for all the lessons which they taught her.  Chris blogs at www.practicingwonder.com
*                                  *                                 *                               *
Photos by Chris Bradley.

 

Singing our souls back home

“Instructions for living a life:
pay attention
be astonished
tell about it.”

-Mary Oliver

Since its inception the mindful writing group I facilitate has largely focused upon the penning of haikus, or haiku-type poetry, sometimes called ‘small stones’ or ‘small findings’, either name conjuring an image of stopping, looking, noticing, each a gesture requiring long, lingering glances, drinking and imbibing images of wonder and delight, captured immediately, or stored for later translation into words dripping with sensuous detail. This is mindful writing – standing still, watching, listening, touching, tasting. Being here, now.

But, one of our members recently asked, must mindful writing focus on the poetic forms of haiku and ‘small noticings’ alone? The simple answer is ‘no’, of course not! The beauty of choosing the practice of writing haikus or ‘small stones’ is that they are both simple to learn, and easy to implement, making either the perfect choice for anyone who wishes to engage in a daily practice of mindful writing. [Next month we shall look more closely at both of these forms.]

Mindful writing is not a genre of writing, a particular form like, say memoir, or mystery, or magical realism, though the latter could at its best be mistaken for mindful writing. For, while mindful writing is not an immediately identifiable type, or format, it is recognizable by its effects. Mindful writing rings true, it shimmers with a brilliance and gloss which only the recognition of the extraordinary in the ordinary can bestow upon a subject, whether the theme is fictional or non-fictional.

There is a sense of the universal in every mindfully penned piece, the sum always greater than its parts. It is as if the simple gesture of slowing down, turning our inner faces away from the turmoil of our never-ending thoughts and fast-running streams of ideas, desires, and feelings, is enough to quieten our minds. Then we cast our gaze outwards upon a world no longer (at least for a little while) shadowed by the stains of our ego; we see with new eyes, with awakened hearts, with beginners’ mind. A peace descends upon us, enveloping our inner turbulent emotions, quietening our souls, until we are like nursing babes upon our mothers laps, a growing sense emerging that we belong to something much greater than ourselves, that we are connected to a web of life which, while we cannot properly say we can see, yet we intuit it through our awakened senses. Something deep inside begins to resonate in timeless time with the throbbing beat of the wondrous world we share and inhabit with all creatures, human and non-human, with all life which stretches riotously across the globe, its web of threads connecting even us, here, now, with all the streaming, gleaming life enveloping us exactly where we stand.

Any writing, any type, any genre, which captures this ultimate sense of meaningfulness without attempting to pin it down to any particular belief system or philosophy, whether fictional or non-fictional, no matter which, is mindful writing, recognisable always by its effects. It makes you stop suddenly in your steps, it catches your breath, makes your heart beat faster. And if you are a writer, it makes you want to write.

But lest you think that writing mindfully must result in an end product, a complete, polished piece of work, let me remind you of our discussion last month which focused upon the necessary open-endedness of mindful writing, how we always begin with no end in sight. We are simply conduits to the vibrational rhythms of a pulsing world, or rather receivers of the wonder and beauty of an earthly paradise we mostly ignore. So that at least so long as we are engaged in the practice, just that long, we are not thinking beyond the present moment. What we do later with our ‘findings’, belongs to later. Perhaps we will, after all, incorporate our mindful moments into our poetry, our memoirs, our stories. Or perhaps not. Perhaps our words will remain locked up inside our notebooks and our hearts, their only ‘purpose’ the marking of a series of moments which, arising over a period of time, ultimately enrich our deepest, inner selves, singing our souls back home.

Writing Prompt:

The following is an example of ‘mindful writing’ from the journal of artist and writer Emily Carr. Read slowly and mindfully. Then take a walk in your garden, or the woods, up a hill or down by the sea; stop, look, listen. Write.

“Everything is green….Everything is alive. The air is alive. The silence is full of sound. The green is full of colour. Light and dark chase each other. Here is a picture, a complete thought, and there another, and there……There are themes everywhere, something sublime, something ridiculous, or joyous, or calm, or mysterious. Tender youthfulness laughing at gnarled oldness. Moss and ferns, and leaves and twigs, light and air, depth and colour chattering, dancing a mad joy-dance, but only apparently tied up in stillness and silence. You must be still in order to hear and see.” – Emily Carr, artist and writer.

Edith Ó Nualláin lives with her family in a small village on the east coast of Ireland, snuggled between the mountains and the sea, where she reads, writes occasional reviews, and spins exotic fibres into yarn. Some day she hopes to learn how to spin straw into gold. Her poetry is published in Crannóg, an Irish literary journal. Her book reviews are published in Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women, and also online at the Story Circle Network Book Reviewwebsite. You can follow her musings over on her blog In a Room of My Own:  http://inaroomofmyown.wordpress.com/

Bliss + Work = Results! Case study: Women and Wardrobe: The Riehl Collection

Janet portrait

Photo by Henry Lohmeyer.  Essay by Janet Grace Riehl

“If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”

 –Joseph Campbell

Yes, sometimes it does happen that way. In 2011 serendipity entered my life and I followed the thread. I started making art again using the small canvas of my phone. Three years later, I’m having a show. All along the way this new art love unfolded organically. Friends saw the possibilities and flooded me with suggestions for replication and marketing. I wasn’t ready. I wanted to protect my refuge of bliss.

But Robert Powell, the director of Portfolio Gallery in St. Louis, never let it drop. Finally, he simply said: “Come talk to me.” And now? We have Women & Wardrobe: The Riehl Collection—an exhibit and fundraiser.

People moved in to help me make it happen. Curiously, for this celebration of women these helper-angels were all men: printing, framing, and showing the work. If you are in St. Louis, join us at the opening. If you can’t make the opening, the exhibit runs through the end of August. Just call Robert Powell (314) 533-3323 and he’ll arrange a time for you to see the work. If you’re not in the area, go to my website to see all 30 images I’ll be showing. 

I can’t say it much better than in my press release, so here you go.

Women & Wardrobe: The Riehl Collection

 PORTFOLIO GALLERY

3514 Delmar Blvd, St Louis, MO 63103

Exhibit and Fundraiser

Opening reception August 2, 2014

7-9 p.m.

Artist Janet Riehl works big—or, did—exhibiting large-scale paintings, sculptures, and outdoor installations in California, New Mexico, Latin America, and Europe. But, sometimes things come in small packages as proved by “Women and Wardrobe: The Riehl Collection” opening at Portfolio Gallery August 2nd .

Riehl was dazzled by African expressions of beauty during her five years working in Ghana and Botswana. Thus began a love affair that still ripples through her life and art. The images in this exhibit with their creative use of color and pattern strongly reflect these African influences.

Presented for the first time these 30 high-quality framed images signed by the artist are culled from the 2,500 she’s made on her phone since 2011. Portfolio will receive all profits from the sale of Riehl’s work. Cards and books featuring women and wardrobe images ensure that something is available for all pocketbooks.  You can also see a slide show of the larger body of work.

“I’d never imagined making digital art, let alone art on my phone,” says Riehl “I started by chance when a young friend asked for something to draw with. I reached for pen and paper in my purse, and she looked a bit crestfallen.” That night Riehl downloaded her first app, called “Doodler”—thus dubbing the images “doodles.”

This unlikely media turned out to be just the right thing at just the right time. “My studio was always with me with no muss or fuss.” Whether in Illinois taking care of her father (now 98) or back in St. Louis she made art before going to sleep, when she woke-up, waiting for a doctor’s appointment, or even in the grocery line.

“It was just fun and captivating with no pressure to be great or establish an empire. It made me happy. When I started sharing the images on Facebook, I discovered they made other people happy, too.” She encouraged those she met to try their hand at doodling. “It’s such a joy to see people entertaining the notion that they have a little art in them.”

She first met Robert Powell, Executive Director and founder of Portfolio Gallery and Education Center as she explored African-American arts and culture in St. Louis upon her return to the Midwest. “I loved everything about Portfolio: its mission, the power of the art shown, Robert’s dedication to community service and talent as a sculptor, the opportunity to meet artists—some internationally renowned—and the gorgeous 19th century residence that resonates with St. Louis’ history. It was a no-brainer to use my show as a way to raise funds for this organization that has brought so much not only to St. Louis but, really, to American culture.”

Who is Janet Riehl?

Janet Riehl is an award-winning artist, writer, and educator. She describes herself as a country girl who roamed the world and then came home.  Her art is in collections in the United States, Europe, and Latin America.

In 1990 she mounted “Celebrating an African Experience,” an exhibit incorporating large-scale paintings on cloth, creative writing, chants, songs, dances, and ceremonies. The enthusiastic reception spurred her to earn a BFA from the California College of the Arts where she graduated with high distinction as a clay sculptor.

Janet’s focus on creating community through the arts led her to serve as West Coast Ambassador for An American Quilt, The Peace Project, and board member of EcoArts of Lake County. As Artist in Bioregional Residence (sponsored by University of California at Davis) she installed her art in state parks.

From large-scale paintings to sculpture to outdoor installations to digital art Riehl’s love of Africa ripples through.

 

 

 

 

Yoga Lesson

013

A while back, my doubles partner in pickleball, a man I did not know, turned to me after a rousing rally and grinned, saying with good-humored sarcasm, “So–you’re not competitive, are you?”

Me?  Competitive? 

It’s been a central theme and conflict for me since second grade when I ran full speed into a tetherball pole while looking behind me at a schoolmate I wanted to out-run.

The resulting crash didn’t knock any sense into me.

Years later–years ago, now–my then fifteen-year-old daughter dragged me to my first-ever yoga class, designed to help my neck stiffness.

We were told to stretch ourselves to our limits with hands outreaching, fingers interlaced, index fingers together, pointing upward.  I eyed the form she used, lengthened myself, exposed my Achilles heel.

“Breathe with depth.  Rid your lungs of all that stale oxygen.  Fill yourself with fresh air, wringing your lungs like a wet washcloth,” the instructor said.

I smirked a little when we had to pant like dogs, and, as I hiked one leg, growled at my own lack of balance, worrying the bone of ineptness.

In a paired technique, my daughter pulled.

I resisted.

Our sweaty hands slipped apart, and I toppled backwards, an overturned turtle.

I righted myself, strained again to stretch, forgetting to breathe deeply, in a hurry to relax.

My daughter reminded me of what I now try to remember about life:

“M-o-o-m, this is not a competitive sport.”

*                 *                  *                    *

The photo at top shows a ceramic piece my daughter made in college, illustrating a yoga pose.  She is still teaching me lessons about life.

Writing Practice:

Write about a time when competitiveness helped you–or a time when it caused you pain.

What lessons have you learned about yourself from someone close to you?

For quite a few years, Chris Bradley taught English and creative writing to high school students in the Texas hill country. She now has time to travel, garden, ride horses, and mountain bike, but she still misses those discussions with students and continues to be thankful for all the lessons which they taught her.  Chris blogs at www.practicingwonder.com
*                                  *                                 *                               *
Photo by Chris Bradley.

 

Easy livin’

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy…” So, is the reading. The warm, slow moving days tell me to put away those serious, ‘important’ books and do something fun.

            I was at my book club this morning. Yes, this book club meets year ‘round. But we adhere to summer reading rule. Fun stuff. We’re saving Nietzsche (I’m not kidding) for November.

            Today we took up Willa Cather’s Song of the Lark. I’m embarrassed. I’m about the biggest reader I know. Once when I said I was going to read more, my daughter snorted, “More! You already read more than anyone I know!” But with all that reading, and growing up in the middle of the country just as she did, I’d never read Cather. Now I have. As soon as I finished the book, I chased down some short stories. She captures our land.

            But it’s not just book club reading I’ll be doing this summer. Finally, I’m going to get to The Goldfinch; Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature and here is Dear Life waiting for me. I love history, especially the WWII period and The Last Train to Paris waiting to get underway!

 

 

Image

It’s going to be a fine reading summer. And I will have a tiny bit more time for it, because I won’t be sending out this blog every month! No! It’s time for a new voice and you will see it here next month! I can’t wait to hear how someone else feels about books and reading. Don’t think you’ve heard the last of me though. If you want to know what I think—check out the Comments section. I’ll be there!

Happy summertime reading!