Friday, June 06, 2014

The #97th way (out of thousand) to have a happy life; Learn from each other!

"Let everything teach and/or inspire" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
One of the ways we as humans have a happy life is by realizing we are connected or inter-dependent with our fellow humans and that we actually learn from, grow with, and inspire each other.  Today's happy realization and inspiration comes from Journey to Resilience, Gretchen Miller's thoughts about her annual staff retreat which explored self-care and resilience strategies designed for those who have had some exposure to trauma.  Thankfully, Gretchen has most generously shared what she learned with us.

Although the post is packed full of wonderful resilience and self-care goodies, one of the biggest "take-aways" for me was that in addition to the didactic teaching throughout the day, there was also  time set aside for mind/body & sensory based activities to support and explore self-care themes.  And of course we are starting to understand that we learn best (and perhaps we teach best) when we can address our whole selves, when we can speak about principles of neurodevelopment and neuroscience while actually utilizing what we are speaking about. 

The fun thing about being an artist/art therapist is we get to play with ideas through art making when ever we want.  We may actually learn better by interacting with ideas in this way.  So the above collage is my response to Gretchen's wonderful post.  You just never know what you are going to learn next!
Some excellent resource/links from Gretchen's post:

The University of North Carolina Charlotte website devoted to Post Traumatic Growth, which also has a page of downloadable articles!!!  (Hooray!)  

And these lovely Self Care Tips from Transforming Compassion Fatigue into Compassion Satisfaction – 12 Top Self Care Tips.

Thank you so much, Gretchen Miller!

Friday, May 23, 2014

The power of finding beauty and my new blogger app.

"The power of finding beauty in the humblest things makes ... life lovely." 
Quote by Loisa May Alcott,Collage by Lani,  & textures by FlyPaper.

Having fun with collage materials from Teesha Moore, Lynne Parrella, and the Artstronauts Club.  Tried to like my new blogger app, but find the computer so much easier.  Well, it may be good for when I'm on the road!

The Possibilities of Play

"To play made her feel wonderful about life itself" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
 (#96 out of thousand ways to have a happy life ) 

A Fred Rogers quote/meme popped up on my FaceBook feed the other day:
"Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning.  But for children play is serious learning.  Play is really the work of childhood."
It made me wonder when play stops being the real work of humanity, if ever?  For me play is really the work of adulthood too. I certainly couldn't create or live without it.  In fact, philosopher and Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, Martha Nusbaum, lists play as one of our inalienable human capabilities and rights.  It is our Right to Play, to be able to laugh, play, and enjoy recreational activities.  It is my 96th way out of a thousand ways to have a happy life.

AND speaking of play, here's something I'm looking forward to that is going to encourage me to play just a little more.  My friend, playmate, and fellow 14 Secrets buddy, William Charlebois, has a class coming up, “Help Heal Your Heart With Dollar Store Art,” over on  He has a very reasonable early bird special price ($10) so check it out and try play as a way of creating more possibilities for yourself!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

What do you do when the creative blahs set in?

"Change your glasses, have courage, and flourish now" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
Over at 14 Secrets the question came up, "what do you do when you find yourself in a creative funk?" and there were so many fun answers I thought I'd put them down here.
What about permission slips or tickets for yourself??  Give yourself permission to do what you need to do.  Need an idea?  A while back we made a zine full of permissions and there are LOTS of VERY fun ideas.  You can find the zine here.  Just to give you a taste of the over 100 permissions:
Permission to Breathe Deeply
 Permission to Forgive 
Permission to Be Silly
 Permission to Love
 Permission to Create
 Permission to be Brave
 Permission to Sleep
 Permission to Take The Leap 
Permission to Make Mistakes 
Permission to Rest
 Permission to forget My Past 
Permission to Be In The Present

This little adventure in permissions started with Patricia Mosca's book, “Permission Slips... For Your Heart and Soul”.   It has 52 permission slips in full lovely color for every possible situation. (The book began when Patricia was in a transitional space, feeling stuck. A friend asked her what would help to move her forward and she realized permission would help her.  So she set about working on her permission slips, creating them as part of her daily journaling practice.)

Here are some more ideas for creative funk busting: 
Get into nature.
Paint with your feet...
Do anything that takes you out of the ordinary, even if it just means taking a new way to work.
Funk is just a way to tell you to see the fun in things ;) again, in order to do that, try looking at things differently with new eyes, maybe.  (Or new glasses, maybe?)
How about going to a movie--a really good comedy. Laughing is good for the soul and very uplifting. Shopping? Even the dollar store has some fun things that are inexpensive and interesting to look at.
You can always scribble on a large sheet of newsprint and color in an image that you find.
Look in the mirror and make funny faces...
Take a bubble bath with LOTS of bubbles.
Visit an exhibit at the museum that is motivating....a flower show in the area.....
Buy yourself some flowers and place them right where you can see them at home, or buy some plants, maybe pansies...they have lovely faces!
Listening to music that you really like to dance to may be just what you need....listen to the video on youtube: Happy by Pharrell Williams Play it over and over and sing along with it.
If I hear the HAPPY song I'm going to be silly. Works best when its in the low-energy hours of the faster than coffee too.
 Organizing my art area also helps... putting away some materials or shifting items about helps the mental clutter and soon enough I'm making a "to be used immediately" pile.
"Play that funky music, white girl. Play that funky music right!"
(#66-95 out of thousand ways to have a happy life ) 

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Two links for the happy artist's life.

"Be the light" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
       “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.” 
                                  -Albert Camus, The Stranger

This has definitely been THE longest winter of my life, and it's nice to know that through creative effort we may find an invincible summer within.  The first link is for Flypaper Textures where the latest blog post "Snow Trees" reminded me that we can do things when the world provides snow and winter.  Paul Grand suggested we take that last opportunity to grab some snow images and try the new Paper Painterly set!  Of course!  Thank you Paul!

Back yard snow fall in April, with textures by FlyPaper.

The second link is for the website 100 Happy Days, a deceptively simple idea, and web site.  Very much like Martin Silegman's challenge to find three good things every day, this one is even simpler.  Find one good thing every day and document it, one happy moment in your day for 100 days.  From their website:
People successfully completing the challenge claimed to:
 - Start noticing what makes them happy every day;
 - Be in a better mood every day;
 - Start receiving more compliments from other people;
 - Realize how lucky they are to have the life they have;
 - Become more optimistic;
 - Fall in love during the challenge.

Even when the challenge is over the collected 100 happy moments can always remind you about the beauty of your life.
Like so many folks, I know that Martin Silegman's challenge was very successful, so perhaps I might enjoy this one as well and heck, it's just one moment every day!

(#64-65 out of thousand ways to have a happy life )

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

18 ways to have a very happy and not so oppressively formal artist's life

"The Informal Artist" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
 I spotted this perfect gem of an article on FaceBook, in which  Carolyn Gregoire describes the various habits of a creative mind, and while reading it, I thought yes, when I do these various things I am most definitely living a happy artist's life.  Much of it is common sense and reads (to me) like my own resilience strategies.  I also thought Edith Kramer's life exemplified most of these habits.  So I'll summarize these 18 ways to be a happy artist and include various interesting links from Gregoire's article.   She seems most most interested in the ideas of NYU professor Scott Barry Kaufman (Author of Ungifted: Intelligence redefined) but there are a lot more links.

1. Daydream -
If we think back over our most amazing insights, flashes of creative thought, they usually occur during what we might call daydreaming.  Our grade school teachers may have discouraged it, but a 2012 study suggested it is probably a highly engaged brain state and neuroscientists have also found that daydreaming involves the same brain processes associated with imagination and creativity.  Kaufman and Rebecca L. McMillan suggest that mind-wandering can aid in the process of "creative incubation."  So now I'm wondering, is there a way to daydream with deliberation? Say for instance you had a difficult creative problem to solve, what if you used Gretchen Miller's "Relaxation Bottle" to actually induce a daydreamy state of mind?

2. Observe everything -
Always take notes, keep a journal or an art journal with you at all times. Your life can be an adventure if you are actually paying attention.  Edith Kramer always had a notebook and drawing pencils every where she went.  Joan Didion believed in keeping a notebook with her as well.

Want some inspiration?  Here's an essay by Henry James on "The Art of Fiction."  And here's Joan Didion's essay "On Keeping A Notebook."

3. Work the hours that work for you -
Do you know if you do your best work late at night or early in the morning?  Mason Currey has edited a book full of examples, (major inspiration!) Daily rituals: How artists work.  So when we figure out what time of day is creatively optimal, we can structure our day accordingly.

4. Take time for solitude -
In "The Courage to Create," Rollo May said "In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone." Again, this was something Edith Kramer valued a great deal.  If you ever had the opportunity to visit her while she worked in her loft, you got the importance of quiet, undisturbed, creative time alone.

Our culture seems to discourage us from being alone in so many ways, but in actuality solitude can be the key to producing our best work. For Kaufman, this has to do with giving ourselves the time and space for daydreaming and mind wandering.  "You need to get in touch with that inner monologue to be able to express it," he says.  (It's hard to find that inner voice if you're spending all your free time with your mobile device.)

5. Turn life's obstacles around -
Everyone knows stories of pain and heartbreak.  We may even spend a lot of effort avoiding this kind of experience.  But what creative folks tend to do with these stories is create art.  Research in post-traumatic growth, an emerging field of psychology, suggests that many people are able to use their hardships and even  trauma for personal growth. This Scientific American article describes research which shows how trauma can help people to grow in the areas of interpersonal relationships, spirituality, appreciation of life, personal strength, and seeing new possibilities in life.  All of these add to our overall sense of well-being and happiness.

6. Seek new experiences -
Kaufman believes that we have a drive to explore our world, both internal and external, which can be seen in intellectual curiosity, openness to new experiences, openness to emotions, and openness to possibilities.  Allow for this drive and we will be happier artists.

7. Develop a daily practice -
Kaufman also believes resilience in our work is a prerequisite for creative success.  He would encourage us to work hard, creating body a of work so that although we may not love every piece, if we create enough, there are sure to be a few pieces which we can appreciate.  Want some inspiration with this one?  Ira Glass has a nice video here, and Steve Kotler wrote this interesting article on Einstein's ideas about "failing often."

8. Ask the big questions -
If we want to encourage our creativity, we need to encourage our curiousity.   We need to allow ourselves to live an examined life and of course this is not something our culture encourages.  And there is no age limit to being curious about life.  (If I learned anything from Edith Kramer, I certainly learned that!)  We can look at the world around us and ask why things are the way they are, and how they might be otherwise.  (It's probably that very thing that makes the dominant culture a little nervous about creativity.)  There's a nice blog post on how observing the world around us can lead to creative breakthroughs here.

9. People-watch -
Be observant and curious about the lives of others, take every opportunity to do a little people-watching.  Many artists have generated some of their best work this way.

10. Take risks -
Of course taking risks, leaping into the unknown is exactly what we do all the time.  Every time we create something from nothing, we are taking a risk, going against the dominant culture's preference for passive consumerism.  Be brave.  It's worth it!

11. View all of life as an opportunity for self expression -
Why not view our corner of the world as a co-created work of art! When we see the world this way, life is full of opportunities. 

12. Follow your true passions -
According to the Handbook of Creativity, edited by Robert J. Sternberg, we (creative people) tend to be intrinsically motivated, often motivated to act from some internal desire and rewarded through inner satisfaction rather than extrinsic reward.  We are often energized by challenging activities, a sign of intrinsic motivation, and often just thinking of intrinsic reasons to perform an activity may be enough to motivate a creative act.  Perhaps a little self observation and research is called for, in the service of creativity?

13. Broadening our perspective -
Kaufman suggests that one of the important results of daydreaming is that we get out of our own limited perspective and explore other ways of thinking for a bit.  This of course helps us in our creative work.  It allows us to let go of the present and it also allows you to imagine someone else's point of view.  And taking another person's perspective can really move us towards more creative thinking and new solutions.

14. Get into Flow -
Csikszentmihalyi had written a lot about getting in the "zone," or into the flow state, which helps us create at our highest level. In this state we transcend conscious thought to reach a state of effortless concentration and calmness. We become immune to any internal or external pressures and distractions that could hinder our performance.  Csikszentmihalyi says we get into the flow state when we are doing something we enjoy that we are good at, but that also provides a challenge.
We find the thing we love, and we build up our skills which results in the flow state.

15. Surround yourself with beauty -
Semir Zeki, professor of neurobiology at University College London (UCL), suggests that surrounding ourselves with the things we consider to be beautiful is very good for us.  But we knew that, right?  You can read about the research here.

16. Connect the dots -
Look for the possibilities.  Develop your artistic vision. Artists and writers often say that creativity is all about connecting the dots that others might not think to connect.
"Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things." - Steve Jobs
17. Be willing to shake things up -
Diversity of experience, more than anything else, promotes creativity.  We like to shake things up, experience new things, and avoid anything that makes life feel monotonous or mundane.
"Creative people have more diversity of experiences... habit is the killer of diversity of experience," says Kaufman.  So develop a habit of shaking things up, embrace diversity!

18. Make time for mindfulness -
We understand the value of a clear and focused mind, our work depends on it. Meditation and yoga practices can be a very helpful tool for tapping into our most creative state of mind.  Mindfulness practices can improve memory and focus, help our sense of emotional well-being, reduced stress and anxiety, and improved mental clarity.

(#45-63 out of thousand ways to have a happy life )

Monday, February 24, 2014

A tribute to Edith Kramer, 1916 - 2014

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Jug and flowers from Edith Kramer's home in Austria.
We've all had teachers who have guided us in ways which in retrospect were exactly perfect and I have to say Edith Kramer was one of those teachers for me. (Although at the time I was studying with her I did not appreciate the experience fully, of course.)    I wonder if the appreciation or lack of it had to do with the fact that sometimes what a teacher imagines they are teaching may be different from what a student is actually learning.  For example, while Edith was teaching psychoanalytic theory in art therapy, with a heavy emphasis on Freud, I suspect what I was actually learning was something else having more to do with how Edith lived and worked.  A lot of it had to do with how to live a satisfying life, one filled with inner rewards, inner satisfaction rather than the trappings of our materialistic culture; a life filled with as much art as possible, great conversations with many friends over pots of tea and great bread (from the east village in NYC); a contemplative life, a curious life, an artist's life.  I have a very deep sense of gratitude and debt for the many things that I learned from Edith Kramer.

Edith teaching at NYU, photo by Herschel Stroyman (beautiful gallery here!)
One of the more important thing I learned was the idea of story-telling in the art room, and how appreciative the people we work with are, when we can furnish their minds with inspiring, challenging, sometimes scary and ultimately reassuring stories of resilience, like The Wonderful Adventures of Nils by Selma Lagerlöf.   Edith would tell these stories as she helped the Wiltwyck boys master paint and brush at Wiltwyck Boys' School. Their loved the stories of the little boy, Nils, and his struggles to become a real human child.  I can certainly empathize with the boys' identification with Nils and all that he was learning from the old, gray goose, Akka.  I can certainly understand why they begged Edith to tell them more stories about Akka. Both Akka and Edith probably helped many children become human. How satisfying it must have been for them to paint and listen to these stories.  (If you are interested in what this school was like, there was a film made actually before Edith got there, "The Quiet One", but you certainly get an understanding!)

In looking through the slides of Edith's work, her home in Austria, and photos from her family,  I realize that Edith valued history, and the idea of being a part of a lineage.  We learned the things that Edith learned from Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, and of course we can pass these things on.  Lineages are a very good thing to be a part of, we aren't as isolated and separate as we imagine.

One of the best things I learned from Friedl through Edith, was not to wait to do good things in the world. Friedl had told Edith that she thought that something was very wrong with her, that she needed a lot of psychoanalysis because she had never felt more alive than while she was imprisoned for her Communist activities.  Friedl thought this must be masochism and so she should be analyzed right away. In actuality, her ability to remain fully alive under extreme adversity served her and the children she worked with in Terezin very well. This is comforting because I doubt that perfection is anything I could achieve in this lifetime, and if Friedl could do good things without perfection and under such impossible conditions, then surely I could do some good, too, with conditions that aren't too bad.  (There's a lovely write up about Friedl's work here and of course Elena Makarova and Linney Wix have written about her.)

Another aspect of appreciating history and of being a part of a lineage is the sense of community this engenders. I learned to appreciate that so much when visiting Edith in Austria. The sense of history going back generations and the sense of strong, living, supportive community was so very alive when I visited. Edith wasn't just Edith Kramer, artist/art therapist there, she was "their Kramer", in a way held by the community, as if they had created a supportive transitional space with this feeling of history and community.  Just knowing such community and history is possible is more deeply satisfying and comforting than any material rewards could ever be.

Edith and her mother
 Finally I believe that Edith sparked in me the desire to search for things that provide inner satisfaction (more art, more puppets, more beauty, nature and community) and to search for the part of the super ego that is kindly and care-taking, the inner-Akka, or even, perhaps, the inner-Kramer. The search for these things has been the best adventure of all. It must surely compare with Nils' adventures with Akka, and I have learned everything about being human from this adventure.

So for all of these things and for so much more, I would like to say thank you to my teacher and friend, Edith Kramer!

Nils and Akka

Here's a quote from the end of The Further Adventures of Nils, when Nils has become human and tries to say good bye to his friends and companions, the geese:

"He sat down on the sands and buried his face in his hands. What was the use of his gazing after them any more?

Presently he heard the rustle of wings. Old mother Akka had found it hard to fly away from Thumbietot, and turned back, and now that the boy sat quite still she ventured to fly nearer to him. Suddenly something must have told her who he was, for she lit close beside him.

Nils gave a cry of joy and took old Akka in his arms. The other wild geese crowded round him and stroked him with their bills. They cackled and chattered and wished him all kinds of good luck, and he, too, talked to them and thanked them for the wonderful journey which he had been privileged to make in their company." -Selma Lagerlöf

Monday, February 17, 2014

Just a little everyday mindfulness!

"Explore the original universe" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
This is very cool, a simple way to build happiness into what we already do every day, just slow down enough to really be present.  Just a little everyday mindfulness!  Try it!  #33-44 out of thousand ways to have a happy life.

I snagged these simple, eleven everyday mindfulness ideas from MindBodyGreen:
1. Listen to the music, while listening to music. (not a typo)
We often listen to music, but here's a way to do it mindfully.  Even five minutes will assist your brain towards better neurochemical balance.  Try to hear every instrument that's playing.  Separate the lyrics from the melody.  Try singing along, and feel your vocal cords vibrate with the hum of sound. The idea is to tease out all the separate bits of the experience, in order to be fully aware.
2. Drink tea. Or coffee. Or hot water. 
We usually have a hot drink of some kind every morning. Instead of just drinking it while doing 16 other things, try drink it slowly. Dedicate 5 minutes every morning to this. Close your eyes, and feel the warm liquid roll over your tongue. Enjoy it – right now, this moment is all that matters!
3. Do yoga.  
(If you have never done yoga, you are in for a treat!  Take a look at the Ekhart Yoga collection on YouTube. I linked to her yin yoga exercises but there's lots more.  Lots of 5-20 minute stretches and longer for specific results.) Yoga is a great way to practice mindfulness and presence in everyday life.
4. Turn the morning commute into practice time.
We spend a lot of time in our cars, why not use some of that time to practice.  We could think of it as a little quiet time for ourselves. If the commute is by train or bus, try listening to mindfulness talks during that time.  
5. Take a walk.
Make it a slow one. This can be hard, but try slowing it down into a slow motion activity. Inhale and lift your foot, exhale and plant it. Repeat.  Here's a lovely explanation by Thich Nhat Hanh.
6. Create art.
The practice of art making can be very meditative. Set aside a bit of time for art, and while creating make sure to pay attention, creating a kind of dialogue between hands, eyes, and inner artist.  A few minutes every day and you have a daily art practice.
7. Journal.
For the writer, try Julia Cameron's "Morning Pages"!  Great time to reconnect with our selves.
8. Cook.
This is definitely one of my favorite activities. Cooking can be wonderfully meditative. Try grinding spices, chopping vegetables, and stirring the cooking pots with a smile. "Is food precious?  Is food worth caring about?  Are you precious?  Are you worth caring about?" -Edward Espe Brown
9. Eat.
This one can be done in the same way as listening to music.  Try teasing out all the various parts of the experience. Take time to feel the temperature of your food with your fingers, feel the texture, smell all of the ingredients. Be there with your food before you eat.
10. Give or receive a massage.
Touch is a powerful experience. If you are giving a massage, try putting your whole being into this moment.  Be there with the other: receptive, open, and loving. If you are receiving a massage, try the same thing.  Be there now: receptive, open, and loving.
11. Breathe. The easiest of all! We are always breathing, why not try a little mindfulness while you breathe.  It can truly is the difference between feeling anxious and feeling relaxed, between engaging the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. Set aside 5 minutes, use a timer, try a few rounds of 4, 4, 8 count breath. (Inhale for 4 counts, retain for 4 counts, and exhale for 8. Close your eyes. Be slow. Repeat.)  Check in at the end of this and see how you are feeling.

 MMMMMmmmmm! How is your neurochemical balance doing?