Compassionate Witness

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.

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*Disclaimer: I am not an affiliate of Oberon. I just love this item!

Message from the Muse, 10/28/19

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.

Tara Erin

Pillars of a Creative Life

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.

Creativity

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.

Love

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

Joy is a byproduct of love-based creativity and a sure sign that I am aligned with my highest path and purpose.

Presence

By being present to the people and situations around me, I open myself to the myriad creative possibilities inherent in every moment.

Intention

From these infinite possibilities, I choose what I want to create in my life, my community and my world with pure intent.

Community

Community exponentially expands individual creative potential. Just imagine a world community creating from love!

Abundance

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.

Inquiry

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?

 

Creativity Connects: in which MassCreative goes to Beacon Hill, and I go with them.

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:

Used with permission of photographer Lauren Frias.

Not convinced? Photographer Susan Margot Ecker got a better shot. I’m in the gray jacket and red sweater here, right up front:

Photograph by Susan Margot Ecker

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.

Imagine 2019

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.

Variously attributed, but most credibly attributed to Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching
(https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/1339572-when-the-student-is-ready-the-teacher-will-appear-when)

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.

Musing on Compassion

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!

Footnotes

  1. Etymology of compassion, by wiktionary.org: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/compassion#Etymology

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