Something in the way she immersed herself…

How you do make art? Where? When? Why? Anu Mathur changed several of my perceptions on this topic. And she, I believe, disliked the term art. Perhaps, because such a small word diminished all she was doing. Art, of course, is everywhere and surely, in a mindful sense, frame an angle – and so it is, a work of art. Just as it is. Anu reminded me of this – in her penchant to foster engagement in the natural landscape – rubbings or as seen here, dancing in the marshes of Chester County, Pennsylvania – last spring.

She is dancing, there, with my daughter. They spoke a common language: curiosity, playfulness, and wonder. I am not sure how I will break the news to my daughter – as I am processing the news, myself, on unsettled terms. Anu Mathur passed away from a long, grace-filled warrior fight against cancer. We, 21st Century Earth, are losing her too soon – this round.

She was a great many things, as my recent Op Ed on Race and Mindfulness highlighted. By trade, Professor of Landscape Architecture and Design. To me, she was the kind of mentor I missed out on in traditional schooling: innovator and someone willing to listen to the natural landscape, immersing oneself rather than labeling and seeing how the natural landscape could serve us. This kind of empathic tango, seeds for a community built with Anu and her partner – Dilip da Cunha and friends of the Charlestown Playhouse – Jessica Wolff and Allegra Churchill. We call ourselves TAPESTRY – building a literal something, from nature rubbings and art with nature as our studio; a more beautiful something built from smaller, individual pieces donated towards the end of each workshop.

And we call ourselves TAPESTRY – inspired by the ideas of Anu Mathur, that through mindful immersion rather than past information or knowledge of how we understand the natural world, oneself, and one another – we may build a more beautiful something. Anu will be with every step of my artistry moving forward and in true Anu fashion, I will welcome her whispered critique on my word choices and we will compromise, that words aren’t enough sometimes.

Keep moving forward, whatever you call your efforts – as I will do – to make the world a more beautiful place. And, well, I will look for the bird flying over us, noting that angels never really go away, they spread their wings and evolve.

Add a Little Abstraction to that Spice

One of my favorite avenues for art making involves making art like a toddler. They are the royal court jesters of non-representational expression. Splotch here, dash there, anything is a potential material with which to work, feeling and not overthinking.

Let’s get playful with some tips toward expanding abstraction with your artistry:

  1. JUST BE: Emphasize making something rather than defining what you are making; hold a chosen tool and begin again – explorative rather than destination based.
  2. ABSENCE OF MIND: Quiet the volume on thinking through steps; allow the tools before you to lead your expression.
  3. IMAGINE IT SO: Consider that if your tools may create it, it is so; care not what it resembles, care for its originality in this moment.

GO INWARD THEN ONWARD, THERE HAS NEVER BEEN ANOTHER YOU OR MOMENT LIKE THIS TO SHOW BACK UP TO ART MAKING…

Wander with Wonder

Scraps have a playful and divine energy, repurpose and repurpose again, and again, and again.

Excerpt from Reframe Your Artistry: Mindful Tools for Art Making at Any Age, 2019 Prodigy Gold Books

Allow nature to model that change is inherent, finding possibility rather than discontent in seasons, stages, and fresh angles.

Allow imperfection to be a state of being that is momentary, disallowing mistakes or artistic bombs from being catastrophic to the lifespan of your artistry. 

Allow impermanence to highlight that our quality of mind, our emotions, and our physical states vary from moment to moment.

Recognize that productivity rides the mind, body, spirit kiddy-size rollercoaster and embrace the comings and goings with flow.

Allow incompleteness of one moment’s efforts to remind us that we care about art making, wishing to continue to carve out more time and place for it.

slow flow

long before the pandemic, though compatible with our current lifestyle, i began to slowdown. let me clarify, if i’m being honest, i thought about slowing down long before i was able: in skill, in scheduling, in psyche.

the week before social distancing measures began to be enforced, i left my clinical practice, undecided if i should head right home to the soothing mechanism of eye contact with my daughter or straight to the emergency room. i’d had a prolonged tingle and numbness throughout my left side, then moving into chest pains.

i chose to drive home and hug my little heart in a five-year-old’s body.

a week later, i was informed that while life was stressful, my body was likely having these symptoms resembling a stroke because of the inability of my body to metabolize the level of folate that i was taking to offset the exhaustion and sluggishness that had settled in. my doctor explained, all that folate had nothing to bind to.

a good night’s sleep, which – ironically arose when i realized i didn’t have to leave the house for sometime – more privilege than burden for an introvert like myself – combined with a healthy dose of magnesium, and my entire body began to thaw out.

enough was enough, i began to realize.

each day, i started off, unalarmed and waking to the natural timing of my body. my commute dissolved, my to do list outside of top priorities: career and family, disappeared.

it was then, as it is now (even after a year when i was overwhelmed by the amount of need for mental health care needs – not surprised, just overwhelmed in asking: how much may i give of myself? it is then, that i have decided upon what i had considered for some time. i was conditioned rather than intuitively craving the busy bee life.

no longer do i wish to fill in the weekends with plans that i will not want to keep.

one event per weekend, no more than two weekends a month will suffice.

my daily rituals have dwindled to what i could count on one hand.

and all i still care about – career and family. though, my career, as you can see – has many dynamic sides including care for and inspiration from kind hearted nature, art, and humans.

however, if i am being honest – while i care about it all, i have improved my ability to believe for myself and convey to others – the essence of life, it is simply being: a slow flow of showing up for what matters most, the rest is learned behavior, distraction, excess.

Permission to Pause

Steps to pause and refuel creative energy.

Excerpt from Reframe Your Artistry, the book:

Picture the last time you powered down. If you cannot recall, I’m not judging. I very much relate. Nights pass with a neglected feeling of wanting to connect with my husband at bedtime, even if it’s a few highlights or lowlights from our day. Too often, we’re both scrolling through our phones for latest updates and what-nots. Take it from me, power down more often. It’s liberating! And it’s healthy. And your artistic growth depends upon this healthy freedom.

            Silence your cell phone and camp out in your make-shift art cave. Or just make eye contact with someone, anyone, or anything, during prime time.  Maybe this sounds too good to be true, right away. But like Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams, build it and it will come to you. Intend to make it happen! And it happens!

MECHANISMS TO PRACTICE PAUSING INCLUDE:

three part breath, three times: inhale – belly, chest, nostrils, exhale – nostrils, chest, belly

set an intention and visualize actions that embody that intention

make eye contact and follow a child’s or pet’s lead for ten minutes

journal for a few minutes, early in the morning or to engage creative circuitry during a lunch break

sketch a familiar spot

meander down an unfamiliar lane

back to the ground, study the sky

            With pausing practices under your belt, powering down is within reach. Pausing with natural elements, repurposing energy, or marveling at supposed mistakes shift our outlook. It warms up our brain to thaw technological chills. Pause and fresh point of view are some of the best nutrients for a twenty-first century brain. They are also vital nutrients to expand concentration to find your flow for art making. The practice of pausing is productive for the brain no matter what you’re engaging with. And I bet the time spent pausing off-line will translate into more time spent art making.

            Begin by setting aside pockets of time throughout the day and choose to pause. Some of these pockets may be straight-up pauses and some may be time for art making. Some pauses could be as brief as a drink of water or three even breaths. Some might be as simple as a two-minute shower or as long as thirty minutes meal. Length does not matter as much as mindful attention to one grace-filled thing at a time.

NOTICE THAT GRACE-FILLED THING WITH BEGINNER’S EYES AND ATTENTIVE REGARD.

            Pausing becomes second nature like flossing rituals. The tool’s brand may change, and certain brands work better for some than others, but the effect is similar. Pauses clean out excess goop and create healthy foundations.  The more habitual the practice, the cleaner the space. I consider quality of mind, or the health of our mind-body-spirit connection, to be our mental ability to maximize intentional living and decrease distractibility or reactivity. Give pause, with or without art making, the same hygiene regard as flossing. Like any habit formation, after a matter of weeks, it becomes part of your lifestyle.

Redirecting the Wayward Traveler

Inspiration for restorative walk, perhaps – before your next creative endeavor.

Let’s begin.

Head outside.

Allow each step to be a conscious, next step – in some direction. Forward? Still? Play around with levels. Kneel, if that is available to you, see the lower levels of life. Look up, see the infinite expanse above us all.

I encourage you to bring your attention to an intention, in this moment: intent to notice the outside world, through your senses. I see…I hear…I smell…I touch…I taste…

I will repeat each of these phrases and allow you to explore them more deliberately.

Before that, a note, my friend, about being with your senses outside.

Roam, roam in a matter of fact way – getting so curious, about what you see, get curious about the details.

But again, notice in what I call a matter of fact way.

Quiet the volume on judgments, the way you wish something might be, quiet the volume on everything but noticing and soaking with your outside would, through your senses, with a beginner’s mind.

This practice, this practice will set your tensions and point of view free, free to roam.

Ah, I know you’re human. Those personal experiences, those personal thoughts, feelings, and sensations are bound to come up. But unless they are intense enough like a full bladder and need to be tended to ASAP, please, practice letting them go. Let them go. And return to each of the prompts I will remind you of…this very act of letting go will also pave new ways for you to travel, traveling the healthiest and freshet pathways of your mind when you want to. Intending to focus on something, allows you to focus better this time and next time and the time after that.

Go ahead, show up.

Keep walking.

Keep walking, change levels, pause with the following prompts:

I see…

I hear…

I smell…

I touch…

I taste…

When you are fulfilled, head back inside. But keep this fresh imprint with you, that at any time, in any context – you may explore and marvel. All you need is an intention to pay attention, through your senses.

When you are ready, show up for whatever you choose to do next, refreshed.

On Intersections of Trauma and Creativity

I had the honor of speaking with Dr. Tanner Wallace, @thisiscandykiss, last Friday. The inspiration for the discussion was her work on trauma, relationships, and intersections with artist dilemmas. I hope you will check out the wealth of output from that interview at Youtube, snipits via InstaTV, and via podcast format.

Since the discussion, my own clinical problem solving and imagination has creatively benefited. There was a moment, and it felt like the eye of the storm regarding the flow of our trauma discussion, when we discussed how to care for and what it tends to be like at that moment – retraumatized, flashbacked; as artist, as partner, as well intentioned isolated human – we feel utterly alone, hopeless, and re-aroused as if it’s the first or fiftieth time of our mistreatment.

The wise doctor gave some brilliant suggestions on shifting the self-talk. And, we discussed interpretations and minced experienced of mindfulness applications, and its sometimes severe ineptitude, at that hour.

And then I pitched and began to wonder, as she began to do the same, in the absence of a healing voice, an image of a healing other – might our imaginations, the stories we could tell ourselves (sometimes less based on this supposed 21st century the better), might we find a compatriot?

In my own aloneness, an in between of mixed ethnicity, mixed states of being between fitting in and so-far-out-there, I know this state. It has crept into my conscience, taken over and pulled me as far down as almost grave at times.

And then, I told the wise doctor – last Friday, I have experienced for myself, as I notice in clients with such damaged early life attachments in the shelters of Boston (that they prefer street or shelter to shelter life to any human proximity) I told her, art is usually there for me, no matter what.

It is, often, an inkling, a poetic line, that builds into a structure when I come to. Come to, my friends, what I refer to as moving out from under the heavy cloud of re-arousal and depression that follows. It used to be a gesture, that would build into a dance. And for many artists that I work with – it is a color, a brushstroke, that becomes a painting or beat, a lyric that becomes a song. When there is nor has there been any other safe introjects, as we call it in the psychology world; none of those things we can conjure from within nor our support network, maybe – for some of us, artistry remains.

I am neither art therapist nor a trauma specialist, acute trauma that is. I am a mindfulish human, artist, and psychotherapist. However, my lived experience of recurrent relational and system traumas – now coined either Complex Trauma or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Complex – and the bearing witness of similar experiences of clients, I wonder if artistry does more, at times, for the artist than simply being that thing we do.

I wonder, as well, what sort of research does or could exist regarding art as the introject to save the wounded soul. I already see how it saves the world, and my own world, specifically.

A Merry Mindful Holiday Season to You!

As we move into the holiday season, many of us are swirling with mixed emotions that trace back to childhood.

Regardless of detail from our lived experience – we may feel excitement, hope, intrusive bad memories, hurt, loneliness, and anger.


Your emotional space is your sacred subjective world. Be mindful of what comes up this month, hold your lived experience in a sacred zone of validation and then get curious about what thoughts, feelings, sensations and actions you choose (with clarity) to carry forward in this moment. This is your moment.

Mindful Artists, Brave-gentlemen Warriors

With enthusiasm and pride, I wish to celebrate the art of two young gentlemen: Javier and Antwone.

At the Reframe Your Artistry Workshops, featuring the Next Gen, these radiant souls surely did shine.

Javier showed up with perfect attendance and ideas plus supplies galore.

Antwone, often begrudgingly showed up – to appease mom or brother – though, regardless of what got him there, he made his presence known when he did.

Their works speak for themselves.

As we celebrate works in progress, this week, in a reframed artistic world, let’s look up to these young role models. They exemplify how to show up, and show back up, no matter the glitz and glamour that may or may not surround our creativity. Instead, as they model best, it is time to listen to the wise ones, expressing themselves with authentic voice and vision.

Fall on the Wall, by Javier – who gathered then encased in a repurposed frame, leaves of the present season; he regularly re-uses the frame to feature pines around the holidays or hearts in February.

Fall into creativity.

‘Tis the season to be enveloped by the elements. The weather is not too hot, not too cold. And bold colors, they swirl around us. Be reminded, that even as things devolve, there is elegance in the breakdown. Allow your eye to wander in unassuming directions. Here, I looked down, to capture the magic of wet leaves (they are more than just a nuisance:). Engage in your world, just as it is: for that is beautiful.