Painting board at For The Joy Of It!
One day an old friend came to see my studio at For The Joy Of It! He walked up to my painting board and said, "Oh, so this is what you are doing with your art now!" That gave me a good chuckle. Actually, this is the board where so many, over the years, have placed a blank sheet of paper, stood quietly, and asked for whatever might want to come. Their paintings unfolded each in their own way. The paint spilling out on all sides, made this community work of art. So each day as I place my blank sheet on the board, I am supported by all those who have come before. In that sense, this board is like a pilgrimage site. I experience it as a sacred space.
After some time away from it, I've returned to my practice of painting most mornings. It feels like a coming home. Each day, I am amazed at what emerges. It is always a surprise. My paintings are like waking dreams. They come from the same place that dreams come from and like dreams, the images serve as a bridge between my inner landscape and my outer world. I would be lost without this connection.
For me, painting each morning is a treasured ritual, a practice, like life itself, of facing the great emptiness and making something out of it each day. Whether we realize it or not, we do create our own lives. Certainly, structures set up from the past impinge on our freedom, and outside forces move us here and there, but knowing that we have lots of choice along the way is important. It is what makes change possible. Otherwise we are just passive victims in the world, controlled by our past. tossed about in the present and unable to take aim at our future.
Placing a blank, white piece of paper in front of me each day, reminds me that there is more openness in my life than I ordinarily acknowledge. Maybe we all shy away from that much blank space because in our society, emptiness scares us. We are constantly filling up, our gas tanks, our calendars, our houses, our minds, our bodies. What would it be like to acknowledge the emptiness that sits just beneath the surface of our too busy days? It can be scary, but I like the reminder. So each day before I make my first mark, I take a moment to contemplate the empty page. It is a pregnant moment, that can trigger many responses. Indeed, some of them are uncomfortable. But if I can stay in the present moment, my mind soon flips and I become aware of the endless possibility that lives in the blankness. With this realization, I touch my creative center and that excites me.
It is the "endless possibility" that pulls me forward when I look at all my little buckets of color and dip my brush into the wet paint. There is a feeling of excitement about what might happen next. But I have to stay centered in the pleasure of that moment, letting what attracts me pull me forward, or my judge pops up and stops the magic from happening.
Nothing shuts down that world of possibility like my judge. He is full of instructions about how things should be and what I should do. When he appears I thank him for sharing, invite him to go outside while I go on painting.
I need allies to keep me free of the judge. I have always loved this poem by Shel Silverstein.
Listen to Mustn'ts, child, listen to the Don'ts.
Listen to the Shouldn'ts, the Impossibles, the Won'ts.
Listen to the Never Haves, then listen close to me.
Anything can happen, child, Anything can be.
I think we adults need that poem more than children. It is an excellent mantra for my morning painting sessions. With it, my painting becomes a daily practice of being in the moment, and letting "the still small voice" inside me direct my actions.
Making my first mark is a most powerful moment. It sets a ball rolling in a direction, and my energy begins to roll with it. This morning I started with the red lines in this painting. It grew stroke by stroke, color by color, shape by shape as I stayed centered in the pleasure of the moment and listened for quiet direction from within. I just had to stand back and let it happen.
I would never have thought up this creature in advance. I couldn't have imagined it ahead of time. Have you ever seen or heard of such a creature? When it was finished, I called it "My Antlered Bear." I am touched that she wears a star on her forehead and that the spiral in her center is attached to stars in the heavens. I'm happy that a bright, wild, leopard speckled sun, shines down on her, and that the multicolored stars are out in bright daylight. None of this was planned, but rather revealed itself as I went along.
The painting speaks to me now, of day and night as one. This creature is of the earth, but attached to the heavens as well. The words, as above, so below come to mind. I recognize a truth here that is deeper than the words I find to describe it. One thing I know for sure, my antlered bear is me. This is a self portrait even though I wasn't intending to paint one. The painting brings this moment of recognition.
My judge would never have allowed this painting to happen. Had he stayed around, I would have been robbed of a moment of truth from my inner landscape. Recognizing that moment of truth is why I paint. It is a body experience, beyond words. It feels like an arrow shot from my bow has landed right smack dab in the middle of the target. Bulls Eye! Eureka! I have found it! A place called "home" inside of me.
It is completely satisfying to feel the accuracy of our truth emerging from deep within. Words and meaning can follow, are interesting and useful, (I am always interested in exploring that) but I have a sense that the root experience is far more important than any words we put on it. Letting our deeper truths emerge is an open door to experiencing the love at the center of our existence and offers an immediate experience of belonging to something much larger than ourselves.
Imagine what our lives would be like if we filled our days in a similar way. Imagine acknowledging the emptiness, letting endless possibility draw us forward, staying centered and listening to the "still small voice within," tuning into what is attracting or calling us, not getting fearful or distracted, taking a first step towards what is enticing us, following with the next right action, staying with that thread until we reach completion and then standing back and witnessing what we have manifested. That would be a creative life, an inner directed life, a life where inner and outer meet and are in balance. There would be much to trust in a life built that way. It would be infused with meaning and a deep sense of belonging.
So this is what I practice each day in my painting. This is the life I would like to live, the life I am aiming for. Of course, I fall short. That is the nature of being human. So I continue to practice. Over time, I find the blank page less and less intimidating and more and more inviting. My painting time becomes like breathing, a filling up and a letting go, inspiration and expiration, one following the other, again and again. From blank page to finished painting, from emptiness to manifestation, the breath of creativity moves through me each day.
Evening at For The Joy Of It!
When I first opened For The Joy Of It! to overnight guests, I had no idea what was in store for me. Isn't that how life is when we set out on some new adventure? We have an idea and take our first tentative steps aiming in the direction we want to go, then life takes us for a ride. I'm three years into this adventure, and I am completely delighted with how it has turned out so far.
The vast majority of my guests have found me on airbnb.com. I will be forever grateful to them for initiating the idea of sharing spaces with perfect strangers and the radical trust it is based upon. Mendocino is a tourist destination so by now I have had hundreds of guests. Many have returned, a few have returned again and again, making this their home away from home. Anniversaries have been celebrated, and wedding proposals have been made here. I've met babies who were not yet born when their parents first visited. So many celebrations have taken place. I'm so appreciative of each and every one who has come to stay. It has been a great gift to me. It has opened my world in such a delightful way. I thought you might like to hear a bit about what goes on here.
These three years have been a time of experiment and change. For The Joy Of It! is dedicated to "the healing power of nature and the arts" and I feel like guests are experiencing just that. My proof lies in what I call "the before and after." The faces I see when people arrive and the faces I see when they leave are testimony to the rest, relaxation, and restoration they have experienced while here. Vacations are wonderful but for me, the true test of a good vacation is that it sends me home with a fresh outlook, some awareness that can brighten my more ordinary days at home. So I always wonder how the refreshed energy guests experience here will manifest when they return home.Nature at your doorstep.
Sometimes I get to hear about the changes made. One family from London stayed for a week. They had two adorable little daughters who were calling me Nana by the end of their stay. When they returned home they moved to a new area a bit away from the center of London where their girls could have a yard and more time outdoors. I was delighted to hear that their time here is what tipped the scales toward making their move a reality.
It thrills me when guests also dip into the creative offerings on my property and increasingly that is just what is happening. Artists, writers and musicians come with an idea of what they might find and often choose to add the yurt/art studio to their stay. But it isn't just folks who know they are creative that are enjoying the creative opportunities offered here.
Businesses have discovered my place for work related retreats. Recently a young woman, whose art was discovered on etsy.com by a stationery company, came to stay in one of my upstairs rooms. She and her product manager met in the yurt for planning sessions about further projects. The yurt had everything they needed to bring the creative flair their planning required. It is a real pleasure to host these kinds of events.
I love when writers come to stay. One guest, a writing teacher, had a habit of traveling and writing. He found that moving around to different environments kept his creative juices flowing. He stayed here for several nights before moving on to his next stop. I was surprised recently, to find a piece of his writing published in The Sun magazine.Music at For The Joy Of It!
Another writer came for a five-day writing retreat. We got a good writing space set up for her and she stuck to her plan, only going out for meals now and then. Her focused energy crept down the stairs and into my living space, quieting me. I wrote a lot that week myself. Her creative energy was contagious, filling the whole house.
I have two pianos, a grand piano in the house and an upright piano in the yurt. While some guests spy the grand in my photographs and ask ahead if they can play the piano while they are here, others are more reticent. When I ask guests if they play the piano, I often get a far away look as they tell me they played as children, but haven’t touched a piano for years. If they do sit down to the piano, they are often surprised to find they remember more than they thought they would. It is a deep pleasure to watch that creative spark be rekindled as I left my own music behind in my early twenties and didn't find it again until I had small children some years later. I know something about the joy in that reunion.
Guests who have come for facilitated creative retreats find the experience deeply nurturing and profoundly supportive. They stay in the house and have the yurt available for their own personal creative exploration. Throughout their stay, they meet with me for creativity sessions aimed at enhancing their exploration and discovery. Couples have opted for creative retreats too, loving the discovery of a different way of being together.Painting at For The Joy Of It!
Not everyone comes knowing they are looking for creative pursuits but they stumble into their curiosity when they are here. I find it a special joy when guest like these step into the yurt and can’t stop them selves from trying a few things. My yurt is set up to encourage easy exploration with areas dedicated for different activities. The goal is to have fun and if you can keep that as your goal, you really can't go wrong.
Creativity is for us all. It is something we share, because we are human. We knew this as kids. I just painted with a three year old. There was no critic inside him yet, just the fun of seeing the color go on the paper. He was totally absorbed. We can find our way back, to the little one we left behind, and that child is just waiting for us to come out and play. The yurt is a great place to make that re-connection.
I love supporting creativity in a world that sometimes forgets how important it is. It is so easy to get lost in our busy schedules and never give a thought to the fact that we are, each day, creating our own lives. When we open our eyes each morning, we may think we know what is in store for us, but do we really? The fact is, anything can happen at any moment and we are called upon to respond. When life runs off the track we need our creative spark so we can improvise what happens next. My father used to say, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” Not possible, I say! In fact our bones, in particular are recreating themselves from moment to moment, as is the rest of our body. There is no way to step outside of creation. It is inside of us, and outside of us. We are creativity.
Nothing makes me happier than hearing that guests have gone home and gotten out their old music, have gone to the art supply store and stocked up on paint or other art supplies, or have started collaging again. Some have returned home and signed up for the piano lessons or that special art class they have wanted to enroll in. I have received poems inspired by guest’s time here and heard songs, newly created here. I have been treated to many concerts in my living room. One guest left me a book and a CD of music he had composed.
The creative spark is contagious. Once it lights up, it goes with you everywhere you go, work, play, family, even when you are alone. It is the quickest way I know to bring sparkle to a life that has become too much the same. When guests take that spark home, I know I’m living up to my business name, For The Joy Of It!, because I know joy will be the outcome.
These three years have gone by in a flash. If you had asked me five years ago what I would be doing today, I would never have guessed that my life would have headed in this direction. Isn't that how life goes if we listen to that still small voice within. It will send us this way and that. One step leads to another and suddenly we find ourselves on a whole new path in a whole new world. I trust this creative journey that is life and enjoy letting it take me where it will. I can't wait to see what happens next.
This blog is dedicated to the healing power of nature and the arts. It encourages a different way of looking at the purpose of the arts in our lives. While we can all appreciate well known artists, musicians and writers, it is good to remember that expressing ourselves through the arts belongs to all of us. It is part of being human. The arts and time in nature take us out of our small selves into something so much bigger. We need this larger perspective to guide our daily lives. I have a Masters Degree in Psychology, am a Registered Expressive Arts Therapist and am owner and founder of For The Joy Of It! Creative Retreat in Mendocino CA.