One of my favorite items is a small tooled leather notebook cover by Oberon Design*. It holds a tiny Moleskine book that has become a core part of my creative practice, moving it from the mundane to the spiritual, and augmenting the resilience I draw from it. I call it my “Witness Book”.
Within the body of practice known as Intentional Creativity, we commonly refer to the legend of the Red Thread, which says that we are connected from birth by an invisible red thread to all those whom we need to meet in our life on Earth. This thread can stretch and tangle, but it can never break. When we claim “our piece of the red thread”, we claim that work to we are connected at a soul level in this world.
So often, though, we feel responsible for the whole ball of yarn. Whether it’s unpredictable tragedy that strikes someone close to us, or unfathomable human cruelty an ocean away reported on the 5 o’clock news, our hearts tell us there must be something we can do. But often there isn’t, and it becomes unbearable.
When that happens, I use my Witness Book to write a simple note about the situation. Often, I will take pages or scraps of sketches from this book and collage them into my art journals or paintings, infusing them with sacred intention. This practice of witnessing, a sort of written prayer, helps me to reflect and know whether to act…or to release, knowing that this piece of the red thread will indeed be taken up by those who own it.
I value this practice because it gives me the strength to witness pain and darkness without turning away, even when I don’t know what to do. And in the brightest moments, a new truth or opportunity is illuminated.
Then, I pick up that new piece of red thread and weave it into my days going forward.
Today begins “Secret Friend Week” at work: a time to share a bit of inspiration or encouragement with a colleague daily. There was a time in my life when I thought stuff like this was rather silly – too forced to be taken seriously.
Now I know that play is serious business, and that when my Muse offers a message, I had better listen and share what she has to say.
Today, she wanted me to share this simple reminder:
Remember to slow down and savor each moment as it comes.
Smell the coffee. Taste the bread. Relish the lingering aftertaste while it lasts.
Release the moment as a good friend, with anticipation of the next time you will meet.
Several years ago, when I first embarked on the Intentional Creativity journey as a member of the Red Madonna “Queen of the Cosmos” yearlong creative practice group, our teacher Shiloh Sophia asked us to contemplate what she called the “pillars” of our belief. Of the many inquiries we initiated that year, this one has had particular sticking power for me, perhaps because it was one of the first times I began to seriously consider my own inner knowing as a source of authority.
More recently, I’ve found myself revisiting the seven pillars I chose at that time and, much to my surprise, I find that as creativity has moved to the front and center of my approach to life, it has also become a common thread joining the other six qualities in a richly textured weave.
To truly live, creativity is essential: everything else is just reading from someone else’s script…even if it was written by your past self.
To live from love is a way of life, and in a world accustomed to operating from fear, creativity is essential to its expression.
Joy is a byproduct of love-based creativity and a sure sign that I am aligned with my highest path and purpose.
By being present to the people and situations around me, I open myself to the myriad creative possibilities inherent in every moment.
From these infinite possibilities, I choose what I want to create in my life, my community and my world with pure intent.
Community exponentially expands individual creative potential. Just imagine a world community creating from love!
Abundance is the inevitable result of creating joyfully in community with others, remaining grounded in the energy of loving presence and intent.
The way these principles work seem to me like warp threads through which I can weave the many fibers of thought, word and deed to create a tapestry of great strength and beauty.
Separate from your faith path, what are the values and principles that serve as the warp threads through which you weave your life? Is there one that stands out to you as central to all the others? If so, how?
On Tuesday, March 26, 2019, I joined MASSCreative for its annual Arts Advocacy day on Beacon Hill. As my children have moved toward adulthood and their own more public lives – one a college sophomore, the other about to graduate high school in a few weeks – so have I. In 2018 I was certified as an Intentional Creativity Teacher, and opened the doors of my own teaching studio, Studio Tara Erin at Knucklehead House in Brookfield, MA. And with Creativity Connects, MassCreative’s 2019 Arts Advocacy Day on Beacon Hill, I have made my first foray into public advocacy.
Here’s a picture to prove it:
Not convinced? Photographer Susan Margot Ecker got a better shot. I’m in the gray jacket and red sweater here, right up front:
As I prepared to climb Beacon Hill, I realized that as many times as I had walked this pavement never once had I understood the importance of this place that so significantly shapes my world. As a young child growing up in Dorchester, the Common was where I cut my foot in the old Frog Pond; it was close to Downtown Crossing where my Nana worked in the seasonal coat and swimsuit department of Jordan Marsh. Around the corner was the old Barnes and Noble where I got my treasured volume of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s three children’s novels: The Secret Garden,A Little Princess, and Little Lord Fauntleroy. As an Art major at Northeastern University, I once followed the Freedom Trail through the city center, and snickered at the “General Hooker” entrance of the statehouse; but my regular haunts were the Museum of Fine Arts, the clubs on Landsdowne, the Newbury Street shops and galleries.
“So this is what it’s like to be a part of a march,” I thought as I climbed the hill, and goggled childlike at the wider world being opened before my eyes. I think there must be no crowd quite like artists for a march: we had not one but TWO bands; a class of elementary school children cheered us on after their teacher explained the march; we even had a giraffe who paused a moment to engage with toddlers at the playground. Everywhere I looked, imagination was on full on display! Carried along by a river of marchers both jubilant and determined, I was struck by the weight of all the history to which I had managed to remain oblivious for most of my life.
Filing into the statehouse with the other marchers, I had my first taste of advocacy: learning to navigate the insanity that is the statehouse floorplan. Being the sole advocate from a rural area, I not only had my own state rep and senator to visit but inherited several extra legislators with no advocates attending the march from their home areas. I had to go pretty much everywhere that day: from the East Wing to the West, and from the lower basement level to the 5th floor.
I left that day with a fair amount of homework on my plate, and I need to dive into that now: following up the delivery of materials with meeting requests to my legislators and following up personally with the many staffers who made me feel welcome at the statehouse, regardless of party affiliation.
Much of my life has been lived in the shadow of Beacon Hill, yet I have rarely noticed it. Even when I did pause to admire the golden dome of the statehouse, its inner workings remained a mystery to me: the domain of legislators, lobbyists, staffers, and not the likes of me.
That was the attitude, multiplied by millions, that allowed a well-organized group of ideologues with a simple strategy – lobby legislators and run for local office – to become one of the most influential forces in our nation. It has brought us as a nation to the brink of authoritarian fascism at the highest levels of our government.
The answer is to hold myself accountable for my share in that situation. The work that translates imagination into a better world is not particularly difficult: it seems to consist primarily of making phone calls, writing letters, and talking to people. But it takes time and commitment: phone banking instead of rewatching Star Wars: A New Hope for the 55th time; writing to my local representative instead of “sharing” another Facebook post; taking a vacation day to show up for advocacy conversations at the statehouse.
While my sons may be coming of age as adults, I too am coming of age in my own way: as a citizen of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and of the United States.
With the exception of 2018 when I completed 5 major paintings for the Color of Woman training program, I have worked on a yearlong painting project each year since 2015. For 2019, my project is based on Shiloh Sophia’s Imagine curriculum. First taught in 2017, its goal is not the creation of an art masterpiece, but the use of creativity to cultivate resiliency and build capacity for thoughtful and creative response to the seemingly endless stream of personal and collective traumas of life.
In truth, these benefits have been evident in all the prior paintings as well, but in this year’s project it feels as if the layer of creating an image has been replaced by a willingness to surrender to the process without any objective other than to code my very experience in paint on canvas. Whatever that might look like.
When the student is ready the teacher will appear.
I began this year’s project a bit later than usual, and am continuing at a pace about a month behind the curriculum. The perfectionist in me might have had quite a lot to say about that in years past, but not so much any more. The more use my creative practice as a tool for personal growth and resilience, the more I realize that everything arrives in its proper time for me. I set the intention, but it progresses at the “pace of grace”. Whenever a lesson is delayed – whether it is a book I want to read, a painting I want to finish, or meeting with an old friend and mentor – I invariably find that when it finally is accomplished, it holds a lesson exactly perfect for that moment.
I invite you to join me here for my “Imagine” journey of 2019…whenever the time is right for you.
Last night I sat with darker passions – resentment, anger, and pride. I neither denied them, nor gave them free rein, but acknowledged them and allowed them space within myself to be expressed.
This morning, for my birthday perhaps, they returned to me a gift of understanding.
Take no action in haste, and speak not in anger. Rather, sit with yourself in compassion. Com-Passion: together with passion (1). Allow your passion to be, and like a good friend, ask what it needs you to know.
Your darker passions are like winds under your command. You can let them swallow you up, like a tornado, blinding you with the detritus it sucks up, and leaving a path of destruction across the landscape of your life. Or you can go with your passion, like a kite or glider or even a scrap of paper upon the wind, and SEE where it takes you.
As you observe passion’s current,, you can learn to navigate it, and rise up to gain a new perspective. Seeing where it came from and whither it goes, you can see if it will spend itself, or if some action is needed on your part to heal that which created the storm.
My Personal Smashbook Pages, 3/1/19
Applied Creativity: An Exercise in Self Compassion
Take your passion to the page. Express it in words. Then, find or create an image that captures the emotion you are feeling. Cut it up and collage it across the page like an exploded puzzle. This is your wisdom portal.
Once you have done this, write, paint and/or collage over the first writing, focusing on in the in-between spaces. See what wisdom this expanded space to honor your feelings will bring forth.
Share your creations in the comments!
Etymology of compassion, by wiktionary.org: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/compassion#Etymology
A long time ago and very far away lived the Queen of Being and her twin daughters, Rhyme and Reason. Both were beautiful and bright, and as they grew, their mother envisioned them as her advisers and, ultimately, the future rulers of the kingdom.
Despite their equal gifts, it seemed when they were very young as though Rhyme was clearly the Queen’s favorite, and all the court shared in adoring the delightful child. When she sang, everyone would stop to listen. When she danced, everyone turned their heads to see. Although there were no refrigerators to put them on in those days the Queen, like any proud parent, made sure that Rhyme’s artwork was on display: her works covered the walls of the palace hallways, and the staff and visitors assured her that she was quite the artist!
Reason, by contrast, was not often seen about the castle. Recognizing that she had a talent for languages, logic and mathematics, the queen engaged the best tutors in the land. To Reason, it was baffling that more people didn’t see the beauty of a well-constructed geometric proof. She adored the way that lines became letters, letters became words, words became sentences…sentences that could contain a universe within! She was at a complete loss as to how anyone could pass a debate on the obligations of privilege without becoming deeply engaged.
“Rhyme gets all the attention,” Reason thought miserably, “No one ever notices me.” She loved her letters and numbers, though, and retreated into them: “I’d rather read my book, anyway.” she said, and hid within the Nursery, poring over her books to her heart’s content.
One day, the Queen announced that a great Statesman was coming to visit the kingdom, and with him he would bring a magnificent entourage, including Dancers, Musicians and Artists, along with a great many Philosophers, Mathematicians and Writers. Both girls were tremendously excited by the prospect of such visitors, and chattered excitedly about the delights the visit would bring.
“I shall put on a show for them!” exclaimed Rhyme, unaware of her sister’s slight jealousy. And Reason, being at her heart a loving sister, smiled and assured her they would love it.
“As for me, I am just grateful some of them have more academic interests.” said Reason. And Rhyme – who was secretly impressed with her sister’s accomplishments – agreed: it was high time she got some of the recognition she deserved.
The day came when the Statesman and his entourage arrived, and Rhyme came out in all her glory. It was quite a shock to her, then, when she heard the polite but tepid applause in response to her performance. Was that laughter she heard as she pirouetted across the stage?
Reason and their mother, being in the audience, heard even more: “What a sweet child,” they heard a Dancer say, “She obviously has no training, though, and she will never be an accomplished dancer. Why, it’s almost cruel of her mother to allow such a display”.
Rhyme was not so lucky as she wandered the halls the following day. Happening upon one of the Artists in conversation with the Statesman, she kept out of sight and listened in: “Hopefully she gets some sort of training,” said the Artist, “So these dreadful scribbles can be replaced with something competent.”
“Well it’s hardly the child’s fault if she is given no tutelage. And more’s the pity, she has real talent, I think!” said the Statesman in reply; unfortunately, Rhyme never heard the reply, having run away in tears before he spoke.
It’s no surprise then, that when the time came for dinner on the second night of the visit, Rhyme cancelled her plans to entertain the group with a song, and took a seat at the foot of the table, making herself as inconspicuous as possible. Silent in company for perhaps the first time in her life, she observed that Reason was having a very different experience. Trained in the arts of philosophy, mathematics and logic by teachers of the very schools the visiting dignitaries had attended, Reason was able to meet them on their own level, and even managed to impress them once or twice.
Rhyme was hardly even surprised when, after dinner on the second night, the Queen gently suggested that she might be more comfortable staying in the Nursery for her meals until the Statesman and his delegation had departed.
From that day forward, Rhyme quietly began to disappear. Her voice was never heard raised in song. If she danced, it was only behind closed doors. Her artwork was slowly pulled from the walls, and replaced with impressive works by certified masters of the arts. Having nothing better to offer, Rhyme contented herself with her childhood toys behind the Nursery doors, acknowledging she could never compete with the Artisans she had met during the Statesman’s visit.
Reason, on the other hand, began to accompany the Queen everywhere she went, and to learn the intricacies of statecraft, diplomacy and trade. If it crossed her mind that Rhyme seemed to be hidden away, she thought, “Well, it’s only fair I should get a turn.” As the Queen increasingly came to rely on her for perspectives and advice, Reason dismissed her sister’s absence: “She cares only for singing and dancing and making little pictures. She has no interest in these matters – it is best we not trouble her at all.”
In the manner of all life, the Queen grew old, and passed away; and the responsibility of the kingdom naturally fell to Reason, to whom she had passed along all her knowledge. And for a long while, things hummed along quite nicely, as Reason predicted they should.
Eventually, though, the day came when Reason had to admit that, despite her knowledge of statecraft, diplomacy and trade, the kingdom was not thriving as she had projected. Her profit and loss statements did not match the actual returns she was seeing. Reason was forced to consider assembling a delegation of her own, to see why her kingdom’s products were no longer sought after as they had been in her mother’s day.
“Perhaps,” she thought, “it’s time to negotiate a new trade deal with the Statesman.” She gathered her philosophers, mathematicians and writers together, and off they went.
The Statesman welcomed Reason and her delegation with great ceremony and festivities. Reason was a bit impatient with the entertainments on the evening of their arrival, but trade negotiations began the following morning, and Reason felt confident she would soon be in her element. The thing she hadn’t seen coming was this: the Kingdom of Being really had nothing the Statesman or his people wanted.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t force my people to buy your goods, and really, there’s nothing that distinguishes them.” he said, almost apologetically. “They are excellent technically, of course; but our own tradesmen carry items of equal technical quality, and our Artisans add a certain je ne sais quoi. Factor in the cost of shipping on top of that and…” the Statesmen shrugged his shoulders in eloquent silence.
That is when Reason remembered her sister Rhyme: a girl who had been mocked by those very Artisans so many years ago. And that is when Reason proposed another deal altogether than the one she had come to offer.
“Send me your Artisans, then,” she proposed. “My mother spared no expense on my education, but there is another whose education was sorely lacking.”
“You speak of your sister, Rhyme.”
“A charming child – I thought she was absolutely delightful. What is she up to these days?”
Reason felt tremendous shame at the answer she was obliged to give, but the very Kingdom depended upon her to give it. “She has all but banished herself to the Nursery since your visit all those years ago,” she began. “And to my discredit…I did nothing to stop it.”
“I’d like to make it right.” said Reason. And the Statesman agreed.
It wasn’t something that could be fixed overnight, of course, but under the tutelage of the greatest Artisans of the Stateman’s realm, Rhyme was convinced to emerge from hiding. As she studied, Rhyme was astonished to discover that many of her failings lay not in talent, but in a lack of education, and in the poor quality of the tools and materials she used.
What’s more, Reason began to invite her to sit in on all sorts of strategic discussions regarding the business of the realm. Having learned the importance of bringing something unique to the marketplace, Reason encouraged Rhyme’s involvement and contributions, and was delightfully surprised, over and over again, when those contributions brought not only beauty but real value to their offerings.
Most importantly of all, though, the relationship between Rhyme and Reason, having never been impaired through malicious intent, healed quickly. As it did, it seemed to spread throughout the Kingdom. Over time, Rhyme became a great Artisan in her own right, and led a renaissance of creative endeavor throughout the Kingdom of Being.
From that day forward, never did one sister try to lord (or lady) it over the other but, respectful of each other’s true talents and brilliance, they formed a collaboration that brought a Golden Age to the Kingdom of Being.
And would you believe, it thrives to this very day?!
Should you be inclined to visit this magical place, I encourage you to begin by looking within.
So here I am, finally, in my new blog about creativity. To be honest, I feel a bit lost. In such a vast territory, where do I even begin?!
The “question of creativity” is enormous, and seems detached from my everyday experience. Then, in the very act of pondering the question, I see it shift under the light of my present consciousness: for these very words on the screen, appearing before my eyes, are an act of creation. I cannot experience creativity in the future or in the past, but only in the NOW.
It seems as promising a path as any other, so I tend it further with my attention, and it sprouts some new leaves: 1) an Idea sustained crosses the threshold into Experience; and 2) the Experience imprints itself upon my consciousness, leaving it forever altered; 3) Experience is the thing: the jewel of NOW set in a band between Past and Future.
Experience, born of our creativity, is the thing of which our every moment is made.
Perhaps creativity only seems insignificant because, rather than exercising our full creative power, we tend to create the same thing over and over again.
The Creation of Our Ancestors
None of this is original: it is an amalgam of ideas attributable to Albert Einstein, Eckhart Tolle, and Zen Buddhism, to name just a few of the influences. The words on this screen, however, are my creative expression. Perhaps the red thread of fate, which has grown short between you and I, dear reader, has called them forth. You are drawing the words out of me that you need to see – to hear with your inner ear – at this moment.
Perhaps we even transcend time, and even as I write these words, you have already read them. Not in linear time, but beyond it, in the space of the heart.
Here in the Now we are each fully present within the heart of our personal experience; we stand at the center of the stream of all humanity. All around us like a rich river delta lies a world formed by the creative moments of our Ancestors, deposited Now upon Now upon Now. Creativity is not only connected to our experience: it has shaped it.
And now, we are becoming the Ancestors…
The Ancestors are no longer here, but the world born of their creativity surrounds us: the dreams of the inventors, yes, but also the triumphs of the victors, the sorrows of the victims. The abused who became the abusers, and the wise ones who founded strong and prosperous family lines.
Each one was creating, but if the evidence around us is anything to go by, too few have been rewriting the scripts when things went badly. Too few even realized that it was possible to rewrite the scripts.
But not you. You know better…
You know we can rewrite the scripts. You know we can change the course of the river. You know we can form a better world through the force of our creativity.
Creativity only seems insignificant because we tend to create the same thing over and over again…
We must immerse ourselves fully in our experience like children, and play with what we find there. We must be willing to risk mistakes, and we must be gentle with ourselves when things don’t turn out the way we had hoped Above all, we must be willing to try again…and again…and again. We must keep trying until we create something like. Something we love. Something, perhaps, that will change the world.
Better yet, we must do it together…
“A Council of Muses would change the world,” my Muse insists.
“I’m sure it would,” I reply, “But how do I call them?”
I love Gandhi’s teaching to ‘be the change we wish to see in the world’. In practice, though, it often feels overwhelming. There is too much that needs changing: no one person can ‘be’ all of it. Systems of finance, government and education seem to conspire in teaching that change comes at too high a cost; and we are socialized to know that being different carries a heavy penalty. For those who have the resources to effect significant change, there is tremendous incentive to maintain the status quo.
We can choose to be the change anyway. We must be gentle with ourselves, especially at first: just pick one. We must believe that every little bit helps, appreciating and using what we have, rather than bemoaning what we do not. At a minimum, we have imagination, and when we look at our lives through the Lens of Imagination, new potentials reveal themselves to us.
We may, however, need to reclaim our imagination before it can be put to use.
A Stolen Birthright
My teacher, Shiloh Sophia, often points out how, in little children, we celebrate and encourage imagination, but then at some point we begin to compare their creations to those of others and find them wanting. We admonish them to turn their attention to more serious matters, to be practical, to grow up. Imagination and creativity are relegated to the dustbin, with the broken crayons and toys we have outgrown.
I still remember when it first happened to me. I was making small baskets out of fallen willow twigs, and filling them with wildflowers from around our backyard.
“Why don’t you make something useful?” asked my mom.
When we talked about this moment many years later, she said she had asked me this question believing I had untapped creative potential, but that’s not the way I took it. Because of that question, I began to believe that my creations were trivial: an indulgence, a personal luxury perhaps, but nothing more.
I began to attach shame to my work, such that I would no longer spontaneously and freely share my creations with others. I was creatively stunted, and I cut myself off from community and the channels therein which could have helped me to grow creatively, to thrive as an artist, and ultimately, to create change in the world.
The Quest: Reclaiming What is Mine
In just under two months, I hope to become a member of the remarkable community of artists, teachers and healers that is the Intentional Creativity Guild. And yet I still struggle to articulate the value of my own creative work with conviction. I still feel an impostor, and no external certification can heal that for me.
Instead, I must validate this value through my own experience. I have undertaken not only a discipline of regular creative practice, but a year-long vision quest in search of where my gifts belong in the world.
And what has been the result? How have imagination and creatively inspired action worked for me?
My inner critic is first to answer, pointing our all the unresolved difficulties that make up the bulk of my day-to-day experience. Some pretty big ones remain unanswered, and it certainly is feels like all of this effort has been for naught.
I NOW have a blog dedicated to exploring the practical application of heart-centered creative practice.
I NOW have a body of work expressing my belief in the collective creative potential of humanity.
I NOW even have an art studio with space for 8 students. On September 28 and 29, 2018, I will open the doors to my first students in this space.
I never really thought I would get this far. But I allowed myself to dream that it could be, and powered by my unwavering desire that it be so, I took one small step at a time. Now, I look back, and am amazed to see how far I have come!
True, some big challenges remain, but these hardly invalidate what I have accomplished: rather, they are the context within which my imagination has operated to create many of the things that I desire. I have accomplished what I have in spite of the challenges. As a result, the way I move through and respond to those challenges has dramatically changed.
I have reclaimed my Lens of Imagination: can see potentials around me and have greater clarity of vision to pursue those I most desire to experience.
And I am never giving that up again.
The Hero’s Reward
Using creative processes awakened my imagination and strengthened my intuition. The result has been learning to literally follow my JOY and see where it leads.
Above this post is a portion of my visual business plan: a whimsical study in imagination that even a month ago I would have laughed at. “Where are the bullet points? Where are the numbers?” my inner critic demands.
Now, I know that I will figure those pieces out when the time is right. For now it is more important to begin.
I am envisioning A Council of Muses as the starting point. I wonder who will answer the call?!
A grand adventure awaits…
Most of us have a story about losing our creativebirthright. Do you? What is it and what did it cause you to believe about your creativity and the value of your creations? What might you do today to begin a daily creative practice, and reclaim your creative birthright?
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end…”
This poignant line from Semisonic’s Closing Time feels most apropos on the day I have finally shut down Mentors and Masterminds, my networking site for administrative professionals, and turn my attention to Tara Erin: Artist in a Cubicle.
The scope of Mentors and Masterminds was quite specific, and that specificity was both its beauty and its problem. The beauty of the site was in how quickly and easily I was able to design, build and deliver focused content on the subject of mentoring; the problem lay in the narrowness of the scope. I am an artist and creativity coach, and there didn’t seem to be room for all that I wanted to do within its confines; and being only one person, I couldn’t really keep Mentors and Masterminds running while turning my attention to a new endeavor with a broader scope. In keeping with my 2018 word of the year, some PRUNING was required.
And now that I stand here on the threshold of a broader conceptual space, I am both excited and overwhelmed. Where do I begin? How will I ever get to it all? What was I thinking?!
My Navigator takes over: she knows the map of this place. “We have a lot of spaces to build: the creativity blog, the teaching studio, the art gallery, the print shop, the services page and the scheduler. We’ll start with the blog. I believe it’s time to bring in the Muse, now?”
The Muse steps in, but she doesn’t say anything: instead, she starts imagining, taking me on a mental journey of the possibilities and I can see these digital spaces being filled with things I have yet to create.