Cultivating mindful presence: the artist’s task.

Featured Image -- 1685It is impossible not to love the words and insightful wisdom of American poet, Mary Oliver. I have just read a lovely essay by her on Vox Populi and feel compelled to share it.

In my own experience, cultivating a mindful presence is so critical to being able to fully and freely access my own creativity, and I’ve made it an essential part of my Buddhist mindfulness practice. A task to be done. A commitment. A promise to myself.

It is a promise I try to keep–though imperfectly, since that’s the way of things for me–because I have found when I manage to live completely submerged in the mindful moment, wholly present, that is when I find deepest resonance with Spirit, am open to the eternity of consciousness.

When I remember to, I can allow myself to be in that spaciousness, to just be, open to what arises and falls. Sometimes a flood of in-sight-full images clear my clouded vision. Sometimes a torrent of words comes streaming through my mind and I cannot write quickly enough.

And it is good.

And now, the essay reblogged from Vox Populi:

Mary Oliver: The Artist’s Task

It is a silver morning like any other. I am at my desk. Then the phone rings, or someone raps at the door. I am deep in the machinery of my wits. Reluctantly I rise, I answer the phone or I open the door. And the thought which I had in hand, or almost in hand, is gone. Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart — to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.

But just as often, if not more often, the interruption comes not from another but from the self itself, or some other self within the self, that whistles and pounds upon the door panels and tosses itself, splashing, into the pond of meditation. And what does it have to say? That you must phone the dentist, that you are out of mustard, that your uncle Stanley’s birthday is two weeks hence. You react, of course. Then you return to your work, only to find that the imps of idea have fled back into the mist.  Continue reading

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Poet Rainer Maria Rilke, a feminist in his time and for ours as well.

Beloved poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote the words below in one of ten letters exchanged during 1903-1904 with a young student, Franz Xavier Kappus, who had sought his advice, initially about becoming a writer, but ultimately about life. The collected letters were first published in 1929 and later, in 1984, translated into English by Stephen Mitchell. Published in a small volume entitled Letters to a Young Poet, they are among the most beloved letters of all time.

On this International Women’s Day, and in light of my novel’s themes of female empowerment at a time, the late 1960s, when modern-day “Women’s Lib” was first hitting its stride, it seems fitting to share Rilke’s early twentieth century perspective on women’s potential:

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Build bridges, not walls. We grow rich from diversity.

“Love trumps hate,” the protesters’ signs say. But sadly, fear closes hearts and ignorance breeds contempt.

America is a nation grown rich from its diversity, its wealth of variations in cultures, religions, lifestyles, viewpoints and beliefs. That is our strength. It’s who we are. And as we grow more so over time, we should be eagerly opening up and building bridges to understanding, nurturing community–not building walls and closing doors. Hate won’t make us great. It will make us lose our soul.

In such challenging, even chaotic times, these words of Robert Kennedy are good to keep in mind:

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I am reminded that Robert Kennedy was assassinated, like his brother, President John F. Kennedy before him, in his prime. I felt deep respect–in fact, love–for these two men. They inspired me as a young person to open my heart and mind to “meet” all people with an expectation of commonality beneath differences and belief in a wondrous possibility of shared gifts. The deep sadness I felt at their loss still lingers. I was in high school when the world lost JFK, and it was the tumultuous year of 1968 when, at the Democratic Convention, RFK was shot and killed.

My novel, The Flying Girl, begins in 1968, a time so much like now. No wonder these words of Robert Kennedy ring as true today as then.

Get the facts! Be informed! READ!

Books collection

Just like during the Sixties, when my novel, The Flying Girl, takes place, we Americans must be well-informed–with facts, not propaganda–if we are to navigate through the turbulent times we face. America’s greatness today, as in the past, must come from the wisdom and strength of a citizenry guided by truth, not led astray by false idols and promises. So let’s all take the advice of that sage character of British television fame, Dr. Who, and arm ourselves with knowledge. Read!

Words of wisdom for these times from author Ursula K. Le Guin

The wise words below are those of distinguished author Ursula K Le Guin, from her acceptance speech at the National Book Awards two years ago, when she was honored for her lifetime achievement. I think they are worth reading again, now.

“I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality.”  Ursula K. Le Guin

Author Ursula K. Le Guin

Note: See/hear the full speech, live on video, (posted on my blog Nov 24, 2014).

Susan B. Anthony Remembered This Historic Election Day

Susan B. AnthonyToday, Election Day 2016, Americans are voting for a woman who is running for president of these United States. Many years ago, a courageous woman, suffragist Susan B. Anthony, fought for the right for women to vote, paving the way for Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. While there have been other women who have run for president, she is the only one who has been nominated to be the candidate of a major political party.

Susan B. Anthony was never able to vote in her lifetime, but her spirit is voting in the hearts of millions today, and she is rightly being remembered. Then and now, she has been an inspiration, empowering girls and women to achieve equal rights and success on every level.

At her grave site in Rochester, New York, thousands are waiting in a long line snaking through the Mount Hope Cemetery to pay their respects, leaving “I voted” stickers on the headstone, flowers, and other tokens of remembrance, as well as taking photos. Once again, this election season shines a bright light on a woman worthy of being called a flying girl.

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Hillary Clinton for President of the United States – a flying girl first!

And since I’m going political . . .  On this election eve, 2016, I would be seriously remiss if I did not take notice of and applaud Hillary Clinton for being the first woman to be a major party’s nominee for the presidency of the United States of America. That is an example of a woman flying high! The video below sums it up:

Postscript, November 9, 2016:  While Hillary Clinton has lost the election, nothing can take away the amazing accumulation of successful achievements she has been able to manifest in her life. Despite all the obstacles she has faced–starting with being a woman pursuing a law degree at a time when the Women’s Liberation movement was barely awakened, then practicing law when there were relatively few women attorneys, and most recently finishing with her service to this country as Secretary of State and her candidacy for president–she has forged on. Even Donald Trump has acknowledged: Hillary Clinton never gives up.

Postscript, February 22, 2017: We are now one month into the new administration. I can’t help but think that America could, and perhaps should, have this dignified, experienced woman as president. But that is not the case, so . . . .  Since this is not a political blog, and I more fully express my concerns and opinions elsewhere, suffice it to say here that I believe we, the people of America, have much to look closely at, revitalize, and fortify, if we are to truly move on and be the great nation and community of people that we are capable of being. To this end, I believe priorities range from the importance of education in civics and learning how our government and participatory democracy works, to an insistence on journalistic integrity and support of a free press as a vital cornerstone of democracy, to a cleansing of the electoral process, ridding it of all efforts to interfere in fair elections, whether by gerrymandering, hacking computer systems, tampering with voting machines or shenanigans at the ballot box, as well as all the many shameful ways some have used to suppress the vote in communities across the nation. If these things are not attended to, now, none of the rest will matter. It’s time to be awake. Be watchful. Act.

Wonder Woman: UN Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls

It seems it’s true that wonders never cease, and in this case it is the United Nations naming Wonder Woman as the Honorary UN Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls around the world. I have no doubt she has and will continue to inspire flying girls to be all that they can be for many years to come. Wherever you women and girls may be and whatever your hopes, dreams, and pursuits, fly high! 

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POW!  BAM!  WHAM!  KAPOW!

Against all odds: courageous women never give up.

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A woman’s life isn’t all sugar and sweetness. It’s full of challenges, losses, and, yes, heartache. It’s the journey that strengthens, and the survivor that wins.

Quote: Swimmer Diana Nyad's pride and courage in the face of defeat.

Metal sculpture, “You Blew Me Away,” by Penny Hardy, Scotland. Photo by Kripu Kasumarthy.

Flying girls soar! They swim, too, and accomplish amazing feats–particularly when they come in the embodied spirit of Diana Nyad, who four times attempted to swim from Cuba to Florida without the protection of a shark cage and finally, at age 64, succeeded on her fifth try! I find her words upon finishing her fourth failed attempt inspiring. She tells us to persevere in our dreams, to never give up. So on this International Woman’s Day and ever after, keep flapping those wings, women of the world, and let’s rise up together!

 

Gutsy, insightful words from a wise woman: Ursula K. Le Guin

In her acceptance speech at the National Book Awards a few days ago, when she was honored for her life’s work, science-fiction author, Ursula K. Le Guin, demonstrated once again her ability to view the world as a visionary, this time turning her perceptual acuity to the evolving world of authors, publishers, and booksellers.

I have no doubt her powerful words rang loudly in the scholastic halls of fine arts programs, rattled the shelves of bookstores everywhere, and embraced the weary shoulders of writers working endless hours on their creations. Hopefully they also struck lightening in the minds of those who put profit over art and seek to diminish the value of writers and their work.

If you missed her short but oh-so-sweet speech, hear it below:

Ms. Le Guin is one of those rare, intuitive individuals who sees not only between the current linesin this case, Amazon and those publishers who devalue authors’ work and challenge libraries’ worthbut far beyond to pages on which the literary world’s story is yet to be written. Not only did Ms. Le Guin boldly call out capitalism’s corruption of art, but she voiced a prescient warning that should be heeded if the value of American literaturenot just to writers and readers but to our culture’s healthis not to be denigrated or lost.

It has been gratifying to see her words recognized and repeated. We owe her a boatload of gratitude, but now need to take up the cause lest it be forgotten or is defeated by apathy due to assuming “others” are doing the job.

In Ms. Le Guin’s words:

“I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom.  Poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality.”

To my literary colleagues: We are writers, and our written words can be powerful actions to push against the forces she warns of. Everyone, let your voices be heard!

Judge not . . . lest ye be wrong.

yellow tulips beneath blue skyI sometimes am asked about the kinds of subjects and characters I like to write about.

While I haven’t necessarily set out to do sonot consciously, anyway—it seems that, one way or another and more often than not, the underlying themes of both my fiction and non-fiction writing are rooted in certain needs central to the well-being of us all:

  • the need to be seen, heard, and understood;
  • the need to be respected and accepted without judgement;
  • the need to love and be loved for who we are.

Pretty basic stuff.

As you’ve probably noticed, people aren’t always what they seem. We make assumptions and think we know who others are, then find we have a lot to learn—hopefully, anyway, assuming we have a capacity for self-reflection. Misperceptions come easily, and many are quick to judge. Age, race, size, gender, religion, occupation, education level, liberal/conservative, married/single, gay/straightthe labeled lenses through which we view ourselves and others go on and on.

Maybe we try to deny we have our own pet prejudices, but they’re likely there, somewhere, tucked away in embarrassment or shame. Out of ignorance and fear, we needlessly, and often cruelly, separate ourselves and others into groups and categories, types of “we” and “they,” then look the other way. Continue reading

Instead of trying so hard, try more softly.

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“You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” 

                     ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet


A comment on my last post–He made us laugh. He made us cry. He left us asking why.has prompted me to share the eloquent, wise words above. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote them in one of ten letters exchanged during 1903-1904 with a young student, Franz Xavier Kappus, who had sought his advice, initially about becoming a writer, but ultimately about life. The collected letters, translated into English by Stephen Mitchell in 1984 and published in a small volume entitled Letters to a Young Poet, are among the most beloved letters of all time. And it’s no wonder! Over the past twenty years I have read and reread multiple passages in the letters, for comfort, for inspiration. The depth of understanding about life which they reflect is revelatory, stunning when one realizes that Rilke was only twenty-seven when he corresponded with Kappus. We know he had a painful childhood, that he struggled greatly with solitude, a burden he felt necessary for self-preservation. Even so, he loved deeply and had a rare appreciation of women. (One of the paragraphs about women’s strengths is remarkably fitting for today; I will share that quote, and others, in future posts.) There is so much in these letters. If you are not familiar with Rilke, seek out Letters to a Young Poet and read his poetry. I wouldn’t be at all surprised you don’t also come to treasure his words.

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He made us laugh. He made us cry. He left us asking why.

Photo-robin-williams-2011-per-wikipedia.

Suicide challenges our assumptions and beliefs about the way things are supposed to be, and death always leads us to try to make sense of life. Death substantiates life and reminds us to make each day count. 

Many of us, I suspect, experienced an anguished sting at the moment we learned of actor/comedian Robin Williams’ recent death. Suicide usually surprises, and it always raises questions. We try to understand why, perhaps wonder if anyone tried to intervene. Over and over, we hear and speak that word: Why? Why? Why? If the person who died was someone we knew or a loved one, we wonder why he or she didn’t come to us or if there wasn’t something more we could have done. Along with our pain at the loss, we may feel shame, even fear or anger, all normal feelings in the wake of such tragedy. Suicide challenges our assumptions and beliefs about the way things are supposed to be, and death always leads us to try to make sense of life. Death substantiates life and reminds us to make each day count.

That someone who brought so much laughter into the world could feel such despair seems incongruous.

We want to believe it impossible. Seeing that it is not, we imagine reasons for Williams’ choice. Even those close to him, who loved and understood him better than any others, have likely struggled with such questions. No doubt they tried to talk to him, to give support, engender hope. Somehow it wasn’t enough; whatever happened, he chose to leave us. Some say a prescription he was taking to treat his Parkinson’s disease may have triggered suicidal thoughts. As most of us know, it wouldn’t be the first time that an otherwise useful medication has led to such tragedy. But we don’t know the circumstances or Williams’ reasoning, how clearly he was thinking or carefully he had weighed his options. And we certainly have no right to judge.

Stigma and shame are the products of others’ ignorance and emotional bias and block people from getting the help they need.

Quote: Maya Angelou. Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you now better, do better.Sadly, few of us recognize the tell-tale signs of serious suicidal threat or know how to respond helpfully. We all have personal beliefs about depression and suicidality, sometimes well informed by training or experience, but all too often motivated by ignorance and emotional bias. While we care and mean well, when faced with another’s despair we tend to be at a loss for what to say and do. Perhaps we feel expected to “fix” the problem, and feeling frustrated or impotent, end up turning our backs. Or maybe we look the other way because shows of emotion, especially when “heavy,” make us uncomfortable. Sometimes others’ depression and suicidal feelings challenge our beliefs or frighten us, so we judge and ridicule so as to push the threat they represent away. “Get over it!” we say, or “Stop wallowing!” or “You’re just feeling sorry for yourself! Nobody likes a pity party!” Maybe we try to help by pointing out what we see as positives and say, “So c’mon, you’ve got nothing to complain about!” Does anyone find such statements helpful? I doubt it. All such words do is diminish and invalidate what the suffering person is feeling, as if the pain is something to be ashamed of or inconsequential; they make it sound as if he or she should be able to simply flip a switch and find everything okay.

Being stuck emotionally points to a need trapped in confusion and begging for illumination.

Needless to say, if it was that simple, people would do it. Contrary to what some believe, people don’t like to suffer. Folks who imagine there are those who enjoy misery should try it. Serious misery, I mean, the kind that comes from wounds beyond belief or things that can’t easily be made sense of. And who but the one who has been injured can describe it as beyond belief? No one. Pain is subjective, and can be hugely complicated. So is change, hard. Being stuck emotionally points to a need trapped in confusion and begging for illumination. Until a person can peer into the darkness and see at least some light, or at least have some reason to trust there is no drop-off or trip wire, it’s not easy to take steps forward. Continue reading

The joy of writing

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Old-peasant-woman-with-laptop.

A picture really is worth a thousand words. Maybe more. What’s that? You don’t think she’s a writer? Remember: everyone has a story. She could be reading someone else’s story, but I prefer to believe she’s inspired, recalling her own adventures or telling tall tales.

I believe in flying.

Seagulls-over-water-orange-sunset-I-feel-free.I collect birds. Not live birds, but beautiful little birds of pottery and porcelain, glass and mirrors, bronze and silver, straw and paper mache. I keep most of them on a round, glass-topped table in my living room, graced by a window’s natural light by day and illuminated at night by the soft glow of a table lamp. I have a few more birds here and there throughout my home. My sweet and simple birds wouldn’t be found in the cabinets of serious collectors or gallery displays, but I treasure them. For me, their value is in their meaning.

Each one, both unique and universal, reminds me of an experience years ago that changed my life forever, a transformation that lifted me from the darkest night to sustaining light. I suffered terrible angst and despair during my teenage and young adult years—yes, I was one of those “at-risk” kids. I hid it, though, turning my pain inward and wrecking havoc on myself rather than acting-out and making trouble for others. In my parents’ and teachers’ eyes, I was a good girl, and a great student. Even so, I was unable to hold onto any confident thread of hope for a fulfilled life, desperately searching for answers to questions I couldn’t even clearly formulate.

Many-flying-seagulls-blue-sky. One day, exhausted by my struggle, I just stopped trying. In the days that followed, I felt a profound sense of anticipation, akin to an intense feeling of foreboding but oddly without threat, until finally sensations and light overtook me and a vision of an exquisite, translucent white bird lifted me up from my dark night of the soul, took me on a journey up and out of my limited self, and led me to the mountaintop and an opening to all eternity. Continue reading

Maya Angelou: a woman without shame or blame

May Angelou smiling, poet,educator,author,playwright,activist,historian,producer,actor,director.

Source: MayaAngelou.com

Some of us choose to tell (or read) the stories between the lines, where the truth lives, without pretense and uncensored. Maya Angelou was such a writer. She was such a woman. For Angelou, there was no shame in having been a victim, no weakness in having to struggle to survive and find her way to a quality of womanhood perhaps only arrived at when the dues of wounding and injustice are paid. She didn’t hesitate to say the journey wasn’t easy, but with singular grace and courage, she rose above the abuse and humiliation she suffered to affirm her dignity as a woman. And did she ever! Continue reading

Love poetry from the Sufi poet, Rumi–with layers of meaning.

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Rumi quote Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They're in each other all the time. over two pink and yellow roses.

I love Rumi’s poetry, the surface simplicity of his words and the depth of meaning they convey. He writes of love, and lovers, and the Beloved–not only the people we hold dear, but God–and the way all weave together and are joined in eternity. Sometimes I wonder: Do moments of synchronicity present opportunities to connect in realms of consciousness beyond our normal awareness? Is our destiny realized when our streams of consciousness cross paths of recognition in the universe and we seize the moment? Is that the essence of “soul mates”? (Or is destiny derailed and reoriented because we fail to open to what is offered us?) My novel, The Flying Girlasks such questions . . .

For many of us, writing might just be the surest route to heaven . . .

These inspiring quotes speak for themselves. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do, and will come back to savor them again and again.

Many thanks to WritingForYourWealth.com for compiling and presenting them so beautifully.

Read more about me and why I write, or check out my novel-in-progress, The Flying Girl.