Musings from the Moonroom

Thoughts on Art, Inspiration, Creativity and Spirit


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A Year of Mindfulness: Just Eat

Each week I am sharing a mindfulness practice based on the book How to Train a Wild Elephant by Jan Chozen Bays. To learn more about mindfulness, please read the introductory post here.

Last week we practiced mindfulness by appreciating our hands. Are you appreciating your hands more?

I found this practice difficult. I found it hard to observe my hands while doing another task. My focus was on the task at hand (ha, ha) not on how my hands moved in unison, in partnership or individually.

Wait, I must have noticed something if I knew they were working in unison, in partnership, or individually. Okay, so maybe my subconscious was paying attention on some level. I think the point here is that, once again, we often move so quickly through our day that we don’t notice what we’re doing. What we’re REALLY doing.

I will continue with this particular practice but focus on a smaller task, such as putting lotion on my hands.

This Week’s Practice: When you eat, just eat

Oh this is a good one. This week we are asked to remove all distractions when we eat. That means no watching TV when eating. No reading a book or newpaper or magazine while eating. No iPad, No computer, No nothing when eating.

Why? Because when we eat we often multi-task. We sit at our desk at work, eat lunch, and surf the Internet or catch up on email. We eat and talk on the phone. We go through a drive-through, pick up a meal, and scarf it down in the car.

Not the best way to enjoy our food is it?

So this week when you eat. Just eat. Remove all distractions. Start with one meal, slow down, and enjoy your food.

Reflection: When eating, just eat. When drinking, just drink. Mindfulness is the very best seasoning. -Jan Chozen Bays


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An Artsy Weekend in New York

Over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend, we ventured to New York as part of our Christmas gift to each other. The primary reason for our visit was to see Alan Rickman, one of my favorite actors, in the Broadway play Seminar.

Our visit started with dinner at a favorite restaurant Fig and Olive.

The Guggenheim

On Saturday we visited the Guggenheim Museum, a first for both of us. The main exhibit was Maurizio Cattelan’s All.

Guggenheim Art Museum

Cattelan is an Italian artist who uses the exhibition format as a mode of expression. All is a site specific installation which suspends Cattelan’s entire body of work in the center of the Guggenheim rotunda. As the exhibit brochure states, this method of installation is “disorienting” and makes the work seem like a “haphazard mass in the center of the building’s Frank Lloyd-Wright designed rotunda.”

Indeed.

Maurice Cattelan's Exhibit "All"

Love Saves Life

Untitled Gelatin Print

Mother

Felix

Not Afraid of Love

Untitled

It was an interesting exhibit. One that if you looked at it long enough you’d see items you hadn’t seen on first pass. We also checked out the other galleries at the Guggenheim and had lunch at the museum

In the evening we enjoyed seeing Seminar. On our walk back to the hotel, we passed by Rockefeller Center and the skating rink.

Ice Skating at "The Rock"

It certainly looks quite different in January than it does in September.

Rockefeller Center at night

Sparkly Lights

More Artsy Fun

It was cold the weekend we visited. On Sunday, we visited another museum, the Morgan Library and Museum. The Morgan is comprised of Pierpont Morgan’s own library, an annex, and Morgan’s mid-19th century brownstone.

The Museum holds the vast collection of artistic objects collected by Pierpont Morgan. This includes drawings by Rembrandt and Rubens, medieval and Renaissance texts, Gutenberg Bibles, letters and manuscripts by Dickens and Twain, musical scores by Mozart and Beethoven, and Near East carvings.

On Sunday evening we enjoyed seeing Kevin Spacey in Richard III at the BAM-Harvey in Brooklyn. (Be sure to click on the first link to see a video synopsis of the play.) This was a complete surprise. Spacey was amazing on stage and I’m still basking in the thrill of seeing another favorite actor on stage. Seeing Shakespeare performed live is always a treat. It can be a little tricky to follow the original Shakespeare, but you’re sure to hear several familiar phrases that we continue to use today.

It was a lovely weekend. We came home on Monday filled with new and interesting art experiences.


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A Year of Mindfulness: Appreciate Your Hands

So how did you do last week with eliminating filler words? I thought it would be easy. However, eliminating those words is more of a challenge than I expected.

As an artist I spend a lot of time by myself. When I’m with family or friends, conversation is a welcome change of pace. What I realized this past week was how quickly I forgot this mindfulness practice. It wasn’t until late in the week when visiting a friend that I listened to myself while speaking. My big filler word? “Um.”

I find I use the word “um” as a way to string together my thoughts. Instead of taking a short, silent pause between phrases or sentences, I fill the silence with “um.”

Of course, the more aware of this I became, the more effort I put into trying to stop myself from saying “um.” I was hearing myself speak, then thinking “stop saying um,” and then worked harder to try and stop myself. Frankly, it was a bit exhausting. The solution? Speak slower and think about what you’re saying.

This week’s practice

This week’s mindfulness practice is to appreciate your hands. Several times during the day this week, observe your hands as you use them in activities. Observe them at rest. Observe your hands as if they belonged to someone else.

We use our hands naturally and unconsciously. This week observe your hands, how you use them, and how they help you.

Caution: I suggest doing this practice during safe activities. Watching your hands while driving, chopping veggies, or cutting wood is not recommended.

Reflection: If you ever need a helping hand, you’ll find one at the end of your arm.  -Yiddish proverb


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Art Ideas in Progress

One of the challenges for artists is coming up with new work. Sometimes the creative well is filled to the brim with ideas. At other times that well can be drier than fallen leaves.

I have several sketchbooks full of ideas, many of which never see the light of day. It can be fun to flip through the pages long after a particular idea has passed. I look at some sketches and wonder “what was I thinking?” Sometimes old ideas can spark something new.

Drawing on Inspiration

Following the success of my Ornimals: Animal Sculpted Ornaments, I started sketching ideas for a new line of artwork. This new line may compliment the Ornimals in some way. I definitely want to continue with the sculpting that I really enjoy. So I started thinking about totems and mobiles. Brainstorming with some fellow artists, other ideas that came about were house spirits, garden totems, and reworking the standard ornament so that it doesn’t look like an ornament.

I took several of these ideas and did a brain dump in my sketchbook. (That isn’t as messy as it sounds.) I sketched ideas, did some word play with names, and flipped through several books on icons and symbolism. I also poked around on the internet. There I found some inspiration in the face beads created by the lovely Maureen Carlson.

With Maureen’s face beads as a springboard, I pulled out some molds made from my own hand sculpted faces, a pile of texture plates and tools, polymer clay, some alcohol inks, soft pastels, markers and colored pencils.

Below is the result of playing with these materials.

Totem idea

Janus Face 1

Janus Face 2

Two Faced Janus

Ideas are still percolating in my head. I really like the two faced piece and will explore that further. I also got some ideas from another friend for potential themes for totems (or whatever name I decide to give them.) The biggest piece in all of this is keeping it fun. And these are definitely fun.


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A Year of Mindfulness: Eliminate Filler Words

Each Monday during 2012 I am sharing a mindfulness practice based on Jan Chozen Bays’ book How to Train a Wild Elephant. You can read more about the book and mindfulness here.

Last week’s practice was Leave No Trace which essentially means to pick up after yourself before you leave a room. How did you do with this practice? My big challenge with this practice was cleaning up in the kitchen. I have a tendency, especially during the day, to let the dirty dishes collect in the sink.

With this practice I found myself not only cleaning the dishes instead of letting them sit in the sink, I also dried and put them away. It did feel pretty good to get everything cleaned up and out of the way instead of letting it linger. The one caveat to this practice: my studio. I may pick up a little bit, here and there, after I finish for the day. But cleaning up completely? Nope.

This week’s practice: Eliminate filler words. Oh boy, this could be a real challenge. Filler words, such as “um,” “you know,” “like,” etc permeate our conversations today. Some say it is because we’re afraid of silences in conversation, so instead of silence, we use a filler word. Some say it is because we’ve become lazy in our speaking skills. And others may say that these filler words “fill in the space” while we think of the word we’d really like to use.

Whatever the reason, filler words are an unconscious habit that can be difficult to change. That is the challenge this week. Eliminate filler words.

Reflection: I think you’re all enlightened until you open your mouths. Zen master Suzuki Roshi


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A Year of Mindfulness: Leave No Trace

Each Monday I am posting a mindfulness practice based on Jan Chozen Bays book, How to Train a Wild Elephant. To read about last week’s practice, visit here.

How did you do with the first practice, using your non-dominant hand? I found that eating with my left hand was not too troublesome, though I did the practice primarily at breakfast which is usually a less challenging meal. However, when it came to brushing my teeth, ugh!

Using my non-dominant hand to brush my teeth required that I slo-o-o-w way down. I felt like a little kid learning a new skill. After some time, big brother right hand wanted to take over and “get the job done.” And I think that was the point. To slow down, to take notice of the experience, and to feel the movement & sensation of the activity.  Something we take for granted these days because we’re always rushing around, moving from point A to point B, and not paying a lot of attention to what we’re doing.

Pretty neat trick.

This week’s practice: Leave No Trace.

The goal of this week’s practice is well, um, to clean up after yourself. Pick a room, like the bathroom or kitchen, and leave no trace. Instead of putting off the picking up of stuff (your dirty clothes, doing the dishes, etc), do it sooner rather than later.

Reflection: Each time we bring to routine activities an awareness of ‘now,’ we raise our vibratory frequency and cause the freshness of the moment to fall upon us. -Dr. Michael Beckwith


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2012 Word of the Year: Reflect

In my last post, I wrote a review of my 2011 word of the year.  I had a hard time deciding on the “right” word in 2011. This time, my word for the year came to me before 2011 ended. I sat down for a little meditation and poof, there it was. I literally saw it written in front of me.

And that word is….

Reflect

Reflect? Huh? Could this really be the correct word? Where did that even come from?

When I finished meditating I had to look up the word reflect in the dictionary because the only definitions that came to mind were something shiny that reflects, like a mirror, or to look back (in reflection).

Reflect: (verb)- to throw or bend back (light, for example) from a surface. to form an image of (an object); mirror. to manifest as a result of one’s actions.

There it was, the third statement in the definition:

To manifest as a result of one’s actions.

Oh yes, this seemed like a very good word.  A verb. A doing word. Now I understood why this word came to me.

I immediately pulled out an index card, wrote the word reflect on one side and the definition on the other side of the index card and put the card on my desk where I’ll see it every day. I want to make sure I see the word all the time.

The more I think about this word, the more I realize that it serves as a reminder that I need to take action in order to get things done. Writing down goals is all fine and dandy, but if I don’t act on those goals by taking the small steps or big leaps, the only thing I’m going to manifest is good ideas with nothing to show for it.

It also reminds me to get clear about what I want to do. That part about “manifesting as a result of one’s actions” is a little intimidating. The flip side of that could be “be careful what you ask for.” However, this word may help me get over some of my fears in tackling new projects.

Manifesting Begins

Much like last year at this time, an action I took late in 2011 manifested itself this week. Last month I submitted some pictures of my art for possible inclusion in a newsletter. This week, I received word that my Fire Spirit Messenger was the featured artwork in Jennifer Hofman’s Inspired Home Office newsletter. (The newsletter is only available to subscribers. However Jen’s site & blog are great so give it a visit and maybe you’ll sign up for her newsletter too.)

Fire Spirit Messenger, Amy A. Crawley

What a great way to start off the New Year!

Moving Forward

This month I’m focusing on the business side of being an artist. I’m taking an online web design class, I need to order business cards, and I’m creating a video for marketing my Polymer Clay Bootcamp 1 Workshop. I also have some ideas bouncing around in my head for future artwork. It is also time to look at those goals I put together in the last quarter, reflect on where I’m going, and start taking action.

What word did you choose to guide you though the year?


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2011 Word of the Year Review: Thoughts on Being Big

Last year I chose the word “Big” to guide me through 2011. You can read how I chose that particular word here.

I had to re-read the post as a reminder of what lead me to choose the word. Ironically, I didn’t mention the one thing that I thought was the driving force behind this word choice. That would’ve been developing my business plan in 2010 and diving into teaching polymer clay mixed media workshops. I remember having grand thoughts of teaching several workshops in 2011.

The Year Begins

January 2011 was a BIG month in terms of events that marketed my art. I get where my head was at back then. I was also embarking on a new series of artwork that was manifested by my health issues. I did have BIG ideas.

So did Mother Nature. Winter in Massachusetts was BIG in 2011. So big that it took a toll on our roof which led to ice dams, leaking, and water damage. That meant moving in and out of my studio several times throughout the year because of damage and then repairs. These were BIG challenges I had not envisioned. I had to cancel my spring workshop given the state of the studio.

I progressed on my new series of artwork, Glimmer of Hope for a little while (here, here, and here.) Then I think I got too close to the work. Using a health issue to create art is nothing new. However, it can also bring up lots of dirt and emotions. The deeper I went, the less I wanted to see. So I stopped creating these sculptural pieces.

At the end of March I had surgery. Another BIG event that corrected the BIG problem. I left behind the sculptural pieces and started experimenting with encaustic medium and creating abstract pieces like this. Two BIG changes here for me to work with a new medium and play with shapes.

The next couple of months I flopped around. Not a lot of blogging. Still experimenting with art.

A Mid-Year Wake Up

With June fast approaching and a trip to La Cascade in France on the horizon, I decided, with some encouragement, to commit to a new series of artwork that would be inspired by our trip.

Before we even left the country I notified my customers and collectors of my plans to create this new series. I had no idea how many pieces would be made or what exactly the pieces would look like. I only knew I was going to make a new series using ATC encaustic boards as my substrate.

Now this was being BIG. When we returned I chose the date for my open studio where I would debut the new series. Then I worked backwards determining how many pieces I would make and how many pieces I could create per week, when I had to send out postcards and e-newsletters with updates on my progress. This was an entirely new experience for me.

On September 25, I debuted Snapshots & Memories from Languedoc-Roussillon. The series had 15 pieces in it; 3 of which have since sold. You can see the entire series in this video on my YouTube Channel.

I finally felt like I was having the BIG year I originally envisioned.

More Big-ness

Coming off the success of the Languedoc-Roussillon series, I decided to return to sculpting and created my next series of artwork called Ornimals: Animal sculpted ornaments that capture the humor & joy of life expressed by our pets.

With this series I made an active decision to focus only on animals. This was a BIG challenge for me because my artwork has been a bit scattershot over the past couple of years. However the focus on one topic, animals, has paid off. The Ornimals made their debut at a holiday art/craft show in October. By the end of the holiday show season, I had sold 23 Ornimals.

When I decided to create the Ornimals, I also decided to donate a portion of my total sales to Baypath Humane Society of Hopkinton. At the end of December I made that donation in the amount of $65.00. It was a great feeling.

In writing these words, I see the year was, indeed, a BIG year on many fronts. Perhaps it wasn’t the BIG I intended, however, it still turned out fine. I survived challenges that were out of my control. And I survived the challenges that I gave myself. I’ve also realized that although I choose a word to guide me each year, I don’t always stop to think about the word throughout the year. After the way 2011 started, I’d pretty much given up on having a BIG year. What I didn’t really consider is that the intention of the word can change. So I didn’t have a trumpets blaring and confetti falling BIG kind of year. But I did have a glittery, hand clapping BIG kind of year.

And I’m fine with that.


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A Year of Mindfulness: Use Your Non-Dominant Hand

Around Christmas I started reading the book How to Train a Wild Elephant  by Jan Chozen Bays, M.D. This book had crossed my path a few times over the past few months, showing up in email newsletters and catalogs. When I saw it on the shelf at Willow Books, a locally-owned bookstore, I felt like the Universe was telling me to finally buy the book.

The premise of the book is to use mindfulness as a way to reduce stress, improve health, and improve quality of life. Jan Chozen Bays, a physician and Zen teacher, developed a series of practices to help us cultivate mindfulness in our daily lives. These simple practices, one for each week of the year, are presented in this book.

Chozen Bays defines mindfulness as deliberately paying FULL attention (my emphasis) to what is happening around you and within you-in your body, heart, and mind. Mindfulness is awareness without criticism or judgment. She then explains the importance of mindfulness, the benefits of mindfulness and some misunderstandings about mindfulness.

The Benefits of Mindfulness

1. Mindfulness conserves energy by reminding us “not to fritter our mental energy away in trips to the past and future, but to keep returning to this very place, to rest in what is happening in this very time.”

2. Mindfulness trains and strengthens the mind because it helps us “become aware of the mind’s habitual and conditioned patterns of escape and allows us to try an alternative way of being in the world.”

3. Mindfulness is good for the environment. “Mindfulness involves resting our mind in a place where there is no anxiety, no fear….Relaxed, alert awareness is the antidote to anxiety and fear, both our own and others’. It is an ecologically beneficial way to live a human life; it changes the atmosphere for the better.”

4. Mindfulness creates intimacy because “mindfulness is a deceptively simple tool for helping us to be aware. We have to open our senses, becoming deliberately aware of what is going on both inside our body and heart/mind, and also outside in our environment.”

5. Mindfulness stops our struggling and conquers fear because it “helps us stay present with experiences that aren’t pleasant.”

6. Mindfulness supports our spiritual life. The tools of  mindfulness “are an invitation to bring attention to the many small activities of life.”

Week 1: Use Your Non-Dominant Hand

As I work through this book, I will share with you the mindfulness practice for each week on Mondays. Some may be easier than others. Some you may already practice. I invite you to try each practice or those that speak to you. Share your thoughts about the practice if you like.

To start us out, the first practice, as mentioned in the subject of this post, is to use your non-dominant hand each day for some ordinary task. Examples include: brushing your teeth, eating, or writing.

Reflection: To bring possibilities into your life, unfold beginner’s mind in all situations -Jan Chozen Bays

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