Musings from the Moonroom

Thoughts on Art, Inspiration, Creativity and Spirit


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A Fallow Period-Coming Back to Myself Through Spirituality

It started when I made a small twisting movement that Friday morning. As soon as I moved back to a neutral stance I could feel the muscles in my back tighten from top to bottom. “Oh crap,” I thought. “Well, this has happened before and it usually works itself out by the end of the day.”

So I took some Advil and went on with my day. My back was stiff and sitting for any length of time wasn’t pleasant. I stretched as best I could and put on BioFreeze.

When I got up Saturday morning, my back felt much better. I had been taking pictures of the February blizzard the day before and went up to the studio to take another picture out the window. I bent over to take the picture and when I tried to stand up, pain shot through my back and brought tears to my eyes. “Quick, sit down and catch your breath,” I told myself.

A warm shower, more gel and Advil provided very temporary relief. I was in tears as I slo-o-owly walked to the kitchen slightly hunched-over and looking like Tim Conway’s old man character from a Carol Burnett skit. This flippin’ hurt and it scared me.

I spent most of that weekend on our couch alternating ice packs and the heating pad. At least the snow was pretty to look at. Lord knows I wasn’t about to go very far.

I began to think about why this intense pain had struck me. I’ve had back pain before. I’m prone to sciatic nerve pain and muscle tension. But this was different. It ran deeper. It literally stopped me in my tracks.

And then it hit me. All the emotional upheaval of the past 10 months- the death of a friend, my Mother’s death, my Mother-in-law passing, another friend’s spouse dying, my brother’s terminal cancer-all of it had culminated in that one moment that Friday morning. The Universe missed kicking me in the ass and hit me square in a weak spot. All the emotion, the lack of self-care, the pushing forward, the grief came to rest in my back.

Son of a gun.

Laying on my back, I slowly came to this realization that I had to stop the pushing. I had to allow myself the time to grieve. I had to learn to receive. A large hole was forming inside-a void that needed to be filled. My spirit was being crushed under all this grief and crying out.

The Word He Uttered Was...

The Word He Uttered Was…

Spiritual Community

You know how some things come to you just when you need them? A few weeks before my back pain started, I noticed an e-newsletter appearing in one of my in-boxes. What made this unusual is that this particular newsletter was previously going directly into a designated folder. So much for email rules.

Abbey of the Arts, the sender of this e-newsletter, was offering a class on a 13th century mystic, a woman named Hildegard of Bingen. Never heard of her.

Yet my desire to fill a void in my spirit and to find a spiritually based community was strong. So, without even knowing why, I registered for the class. It was a blessing in disguise.

Each week, we received daily readings from one of Hildegard’s books, followed by questions to contemplate. I learned about Lectio Divina, how to use physical movement to express myself, and found my voice in chanting. One of the best parts, as a component of Lectio, was expressing myself through creativity, specifically mandala-making.

For the better part of 40 days, I created a drawing, painting, or photograph in response to the words I read. It was magical.

As this art came forth, I rediscovered my love of drawing, of painting with watercolors, and of connecting with my spiritual side to express myself.

What had once been a fallow period was now greening with new life.

Bloomed In Your Branches

Bloomed In Your Branches

What I learned during this time is that my spiritual side-reading inspiring words or passages, taking time to meditate or chant, being in nature, being silent-is something I cannot neglect. It is part of who I am. And it is part of what defines my art.

This is why I withdrew from many aspects of my business and why my blog fell silent. I had to find myself again before I could be present here.

Discovery of my Voice

Discovery of my Voice


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A Year of Mindfulness: Awareness of Anxiety

As the year draws to a close, our final mindfulness practice for 2012 focuses on anxiety.  Curious timing.

Anxiety is defined as a state of uneasiness and distress about future uncertainties; apprehension; worry. Though we move into the new year with hope and a fresh start, it may also be a cause of anxiety. With each new year comes potential change-something we cannot predict or control.

Anxiety is a constant companion for many of us.

How does anxiety show up for you? Does your heart race or your breathing become shallow? Maybe your stomach tightens or your hands tingle.

What patterns or events trigger anxiety for you? Do you become anxious when watching the news? Does it happen when you get to work or school? Perhaps it arrives even earlier, as soon as your alarm clock goes off.

As with our previous mindfulness practice on impatience, the seeds of anxiety are often planted during childhood. Was there any particular event that happened when you were a child that contributes to your anxiety as an adult?

Anxiety is often accompanied by thoughts-negative thoughts, worrisome thoughts, fearful thoughts. These thoughts can give rise to our anxiety as well as escalate our anxiety.

When you become aware of anxiety, counteract it with deep breathing. Become aware the thoughts that trigger your anxiety and flip the thoughts for the positive.

If watching the news causes you anxiety, turn it off. Dial down your exposure to the negative.

This week, become aware of anxiety, what triggers it for you, and how your thoughts influence the anxiety. Take a deep breath when anxiety creeps in. Be truly present and let your worries drop away.

Reflection: This we can all bear witness to, living as we do plagued by unremitting anxiety . It becomes more and more imperative that the life of the spirit be avowed as the only firm basis upon which to establish happiness and peace. -H.H. the Dalai Lama


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A Year of Mindfulness: The Tongue

The tongue (n): a fleshy, movable, muscular process on the floor of the mouths of most vertebrates that bears sensory end organs and small glands and functions especially in taking and swallowing food, and in humans, as a speech organ.

This week’s mindfulness practice is rather curious. This week, we are asked to become aware of our tongues. Yep, to become aware of our tongues.

It’s okay. I scratched my head too when I read this practice.

Consider the definition I shared at the top of this post. “A fleshy movable muscular process.” Now how often to you think about your tongue in that way?

But isn’t that what our tongue really is? A muscle that moves around in our mouths. It helps us to move food around in our mouth. It helps us to form letters and produce words and sounds.

The tongue is also a sensory organ detecting the flavors and temperature of food.

So try this. When you’re eating, see if you can stop your tongue from moving. Now try to keep eating without moving your tongue.

What happens? How does it feel?

Awareness of your tongue is a great example of the power of mindfulness. Focusing a quiet mind on anything opens up and reveals a new universe that was always there but somehow hidden. There is your tongue, hidden right under your nose, carrying out many tasks.

You may notice that your tongue operates better when it is left alone. This mindfulness practice reminds us that things often function better when we get out of the way and try not to control them.

For the most part, our tongue functions on its own without us paying much attention to it, unless we hurt it. This serves as an example of the many ways we are supported and cared for in life that we do not notice or appreciate.

This week, become aware of your tongue and the many blessings in your life.

Reflection: The tongue has its own wisdom. Like most things, it operates better when we don’t try to control it. -Dr. Jan Chozen Bays


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A Year of Mindfulness-The Wind

Can you believe we are now entering the last quarter of the year? Welcome October! In another several weeks we will have completed our mindfulness practices and finished Dr. Bays’ book. Remember how awkward this all felt back in January? Okay, some of it still feels awkward. Know that you are making progress.

Last week, we were asked to become more aware of things we might be overlooking, such as sounds, colors, smells. Those things we typically don’t pay attention to because we are focused on one singular event or task in front of us. How did you do with this practice? Did you notice a bell that chimes almost every morning just before 8am? (There is a private school not too far from our home. A bell rings in the morning and we can hear it if we listen hard enough.)

How about a dog barking in the distance? Or a train whistle? With the cooler weather I’m also becoming more aware of the smell of fires burning in fireplaces. And you?

This Week’s Practice-Become Aware of the Wind

Now you might think this week’s practice is rather obvious. Of course I’m aware of the wind, you say. I feel it blow across my skin when I go on a walk. And you are correct. That is one form of this practice.

But what about the less obvious occurrences of feeling the movement of air? In this week’s practice, we are asked to become aware of the movement air, from the obvious, such as the wind, to the subtle, such as the breath.

There are several ways we experience “wind”-by feeling its touch, by feeling a change in temperature, by seeing it move other things, and by hearing it move through other things.

All of these experiences represent change-change in what we see (leaves moving), change in what we feel (cool skin), change in what we hear (a howling sound.) So you could say when you become aware of the wind or air, you are becoming aware of change.

As with many of these practices, this week we are once again called to pay deeper attention to actions in our daily lives. Instead of moving through life on auto-pilot, this mindfulness practice asks us to be present, to notice, and to embrace change.

This week, we are asked to become aware of wind or movement of air. Notice your breathing and how it changes in various situations. Notice temperature changes and how your skin reacts before you feel air move across your skin. Can you feel the air as it moves around you when you walk? How about when you blow on a hot beverage or sniff?

Want a real challenge? Sit quietly and try to become aware of your breath at the nostrils. Can you feel the subtle change on the skin just above your lips? Are you becoming aware of the subtle changes that make up the fabric of life?

Reflection: All things are embraced. Within the universal mind. Told by the cool wind. This morning. -Yamada Mumon


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A Year of Mindfulness-Notice Dislike

How did you do last week with becoming aware of the ground beneath you? Did you practice grounding yourself to the earth?

In the past two years my awareness of the ground beneath me has become greater because it is part of my walking practice. When my sciatic nerve problem flared up a while ago, I worked with a physical therapist who assessed my walking as part of a comprehensive evaluation. One area that I had to work on was walking. Walking with my weight on the big toe side of my foot. Not the baby toe side of my foot which had been my “normal” for, well, my whole life.

This simple act of grounding my feet, literally feeling the ground beneath me as I walked, improved my awareness of the ground and also the strength in my quads. It caused me to be more balanced when I walked. I guess you could say grounding myself to the earth, literally and figuratively, improved my back pain.

This Week’s Practice: Notice Dislike

This week’s practice asks us to become aware of dislike. Not just the big emotions, like anger or hatred, but the minor emotions as well, such as irritation. Another timely practice given our current election cycle and world situation.

When we do this practice, it is common to realize that aversion or dislike is much more frequent in our emotional landscape than we may have originally thought. You may find that you start your day with dislike when the alarm goes off in the morning. You get out of bed and your back is stiff. You have to wait in line at Dunkin Donuts. You harrumph at the morning news (my favorite.)

It is important that we become aware of dislike or aversion because this is the hidden source of anger and aggression. It arises from the thought that if we could manage to get rid of something or someone, then we’d be happy.

Think about it. If you could arrange things just as you want them, so that you’d be happy, this perfection would only last a few seconds because our “perfect” is not “perfect” to anyone else. Forcing perfection on the world is bound to fail because of impermanence. Nothing lasts forever.

This week, become aware of dislike and aversion. Learn to counteract it with appreciation of things as they are. Find the positive in the negative.

Reflection: Anger does not cease through anger, but through love alone. -Buddha


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A Year of Mindfulness-The Earth Beneath You

Hello fellow mindfulness practitioners. How did you do last week in becoming aware of hot and cold temperatures? Here in the northeast we are beginning to experience the shift from summer to fall-cool mornings and evenings. It is refreshing and also a bit sad. I think the sadness comes from my inner child. She senses the end of summer which means the end of lazy days and lots of sunshine.

On the other hand, I embrace the fall for its glorious colors, wearing warm sweaters, and the physical and spiritual acts of turning inward. Fall reminds me of a warm, loving embrace.

This Week’s Practice: The Great Earth Beneath You

This week, we are asked to become aware of the great earth, Mother Earth, below our feet. We are reminded to become aware of the earth not only through touch via the bottom of our feet, but also through sight and smell.

In How to Train a Wild Elephant, Dr. Bays shares a wonderful practice that she used at the monastery to honor the earth: Each morning, after you get out of bed, immediately kneel and touch your forehead to the ground.

In this act of kneeling and touching the ground with our forehead, we express our humility and gratitude to Mother Earth.

Think about it. We walk, drive, and run across the surface of the earth without even thinking about the ground beneath us. Yet what if we suddenly lost touch with earth? What if gravity stopped and we were no longer “attached” to the earth?

The earth grounds us, literally. Yet when we live “in our heads” and are distracted, we are easily pushed off balance. Grounding ourselves to the earth can be deeply comforting. It helps to keep us rooted, feel more solid and less swayed by thoughts, emotions, or unexpected events.

This week, become aware of the earth beneath you. Practice grounding yourself to the earth. Extend your attention from the bottoms of your feet down through the earth and to its core.

Reflection: Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find resources of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. -Rachel Carson


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A Year of Mindfulness-Sensations of Hot and Cold

Namaste my dear friends. This week I am regrouping and returning to weekly mindfulness practice posts. Thank you to everyone who expressed kind words of condolence regarding my Mom’s passing. I appreciate it.

This Week’s Practice: Hot and Cold

This week we are asked to increase our awareness of our reactions to hot and cold temperatures. This includes both physical and emotional reactions to temperature changes.

Why is this awareness important? Because many of us are never satisfied with changes in temperature. When it’s too hot, we wish it was cooler. When it is cold, we wish it was warmer. It’s as if the sun, clouds and Mother Nature have all conspired against us.

Think back to when you were a kid. Depending on your age, when you were a kid you probably didn’t have central air in your home. Maybe you didn’t have a window air conditioner either. When it was hot, it was, well, hot. We dealt with it. Cooled ourselves with hand-held fans. Drank lemonade or ice tea. Jumped in a pool or lake.

Same thing in the winter. It was cold. We bundled up and played in the snow.

When we’re kids we tend not to complain. We go with the flow. But when we reach adulthood we seem to become more intolerant of changes in temperature.

One way to deal with our discomfort is to stop avoiding it. Instead of complaining about the temperature change, we can walk right into it. We feel it with our bodies. We become aware of the sensations. We try to stop controlling external conditions.

After all, the nature of all things is change. If we stop trying to control change, we improve our physical and emotional condition.

This week, become aware of your reaction to changes in temperature. Instead of complaining, feel the heat or the cold. Be present with it. Inhale deeply and exhale the sensations.

Reflection: I don’t get into semantics. The wind will always blow. It’s always going to be hot or cold. You just have to go out there and play. -Dan Hawkins


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Solopreneur Wednesday: Who Said I Have To Be Passionate About My Work?

The topic of “follow your passion” or “being passionate” about what you do pops up every once in a while in the blogosphere. And in the past couple of weeks the topic has reared its head again.

I start to get a little, um, anxious, when this topic is discussed.

Near as I can tell this latest go-round started some time after the World Domination Summit was held in Oregon. Alyson Stanfield asked if this was good advice on the Deep Thought Thursday segment of her blog. The comments were entertaining to read.

Alyson attended WDS. Cal Newport was a speaker at WDS and he “debunked” the directive to “follow your passion.”  When Alyson said “yay” to Cal’s directive, that too generated many responses.

I did not attend WDS and did not hear Cal Newport’s presentation.

But when I read Alyson’s Deep Thought Thursday post and the accompanying comments, I couldn’t help but feel like there was something “wrong” with me. And I realized it has to do with the word “passion.”

Passion versus Making Meaning

This may be more about semantics than anything but when people talk about getting all “passionate” about what they do, I feel like an odd-ball. I start to doubt myself and ask “Am I really passionate about what I do?”

Something about that word conjures up images of people dedicating themselves to one thing for their entire lives, 24/7. They live, breathe, and eat whatever it is they are passionate about. I look at them and say “Wow. Wish I was like that.”

But I don’t think I am. At least not compared to the image that is in my head.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love what I do. But I also like to do other things. I love making my art. I love looking at art. I also love to travel, cook, spend quiet time with my hubby, play with the cats, take long walks, and so on and so forth.

I have many interests and some may rank higher than others at any given time. And I think that is where the whole “passion” thing bothers me.

It seems to conjure up this idea that to be passionate about something means that is the only thing you could be passionate about. That just doesn’t feel right to me. When I’m making my art, I’m focused and enjoying that moment. When I’m traveling, I’m enjoying that moment. When I’m eating a great meal, I’m enjoying that moment.

Instead of being passionate about something, I think I prefer to feel that what I’m doing is meaningful or that I’m at least getting something out of the experience.

And in terms of making art, this has been a biggie for me.

I’ve always had a strong desire to make meaning with my art. This is part of the reason why I got bored with production work. I couldn’t find much meaning in repetitively making wine bottle stoppers, perfume pens, or business card cases.

So I made my Spirit Messengers. These pieces held meaning through symbolism and stories. And I saw how people reacted to them when I brought them to art shows.

Darwin Explores
Amy A. Crawley (2012)

Over time I decided to focus on animal inspired art. It made sense as animals are of great interest to me. I care about their welfare. I donate a portion of sales from my art to a local no-kill animal shelter. But, as I said, it took some time to make this subject matter the focus of my art.

I think the other aspect that makes the “follow your passion” mantra difficult for me is that this art making gig is also my business. Somewhere along the way, when art becomes a business, you learn there are many more things that must be considered if you hope to have some amount of success. It becomes a balancing act to make art and run a business as an artist.

Maybe that’s why some people say “Beware of your hobby turning into business” (or something like that.)

This morning I read Alyson’s most recent blog post on why she doesn’t advise people to follow their passion. She wrote this as a follow-up to her Deep Thought Thursday post, as many people wanted to know her opinion on the discussion.

I really agree with Alyson’s opinion. What do you think?


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A Year of Mindfulness-Awareness of Smells

Well, here we are at the end of July. Time is moving quicker it seems. I’m already seeing sweaters and boots in stores and school supplies as well. One benefit of practicing mindfulness is cherishing time as it is now. Not rushing headlong into an unknown future. Not pining for time long past. Just focusing on what is happening in the present moment.

Last week we were asked to become aware of those times when we define and defend our selves. I mentioned the relevance of this practice because I’ve been working on branding in my business. It also brought to mind the question we’re often asked at gatherings: “What do you do?”

How do you typically answer that question?

The best response I heard to that question was “Do about what?”

This Week’s Practice:

This week we’re asked to become aware of the smells around us. Sounds interesting doesn’t it? If you work or live in the city, you might be quite aware of certain smells like diesel fuel or trash. But what about more subtle smells?

In rural areas it is quite common, especially in the spring, to catch a whiff of manure being laid on fields. But do you notice the scent of wet grass?

And how about emotions that are triggered by certain smells? Does a particular perfume remind you of your aunt and the big hug she’d give you? Or perhaps the smell of oatmeal cookies brings back fond memories of your grandmother.

Odors can have a powerful effect on our mental-emotional state and our behavior. Smells can effect how we react to someone or some thing. In an instant, an odor reaches our nose, a perception is formed, and a reaction is triggered.

This week become aware of smells. The good and the not so pleasant. Breathe deep the odors around you, from the freshly fallen rain to the clean laundry.

Reflection: As you walk down the fairway of life you must smell the roses, for you only get to play one round. -Ben Hogan

Bonus: I was thrilled last week to hear from Wendy, one of my readers and a mindfulness practitioner. Wendy shared a project she started to help remind her of each week’s mindfulness practice. For each practice, Wendy makes a small polymer clay tile. Each tile has an image on it that reminds Wendy of each weekly practice. When Wendy finishes Dr. Bays book (on which each weekly practice here is based), she intends to gather all the tiles together and create a mosaic wall piece. How cool is that? You can see Wendy’s tiles on her Flickr page

And be sure to check out her website & blog, After the Monsoon


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A Year of Mindfulness-Defining and Defending

Can you believe we are almost through the month of July? And that there are only 5 more months left in 2012? How are you feeling about your mindfulness practice so far? I definitely have weeks that are better than others. Sometimes I don’t think about being mindful until Friday; one of those “oh crap, I haven’t practiced this week” moments.

Can you relate to that? I think that is the beauty of this practice. It’s hard. We know it’s hard. And being imperfect is all part of the learning process. I mean, how cool is it knowing that if you blow it one week, it’s okay to just start over again. No guilt. No shame. No wagging finger and a voice saying “tsk, tsk, tsk.”

Okay, so where were we? Ah, last week. Becoming aware of what is above us. How often did you practice “look up” and move your awareness beyond whatever is immediately in front of you?

Well, what I just said about if you blow it one week you can start over? That was me. In fact the past couple of weeks have been challenging with other things being front and center in my mind. I am practicing mindfulness but in other areas not related to our weekly practice. It is still all good.

This Week’s Practice: Awareness of Defining & Defending Yourself

This is another interesting practice. Dr. Bays asks us to become aware of how we define ourselves and how we defend ourselves and our personal territory. One thing she’s talking about here is labeling and how we defend our position. (And with this being an election year, there is a whole lot of labeling and defending going on.)

The timeliness of this practice is curious as I’ve been working on branding in my business. Talk about an exercise in defining oneself!

So how frequently do you define yourself each day? How often are you defending your position(s)? Is this an inherent aspect of human nature considering it seems to start when we are very young?

A good example of this is watching children play with their toys. What sometimes happens when you expect the child to share…the child scoops up his toys and says “No, mine.”  Next thing you know we’re older and still defining ourselves by our possessions. Or we take a position on a particular topic and will argue that our opinion is the only right one. (If you want to challenge yourself some more, go back to the practice on saying yes.)

What is the point of this practice? To become aware that this thing we call “self” isn’t something we can defend because in reality the self is a process of constantly changing sensations and thoughts. How can you defend something that is always in flux?

Reflection: He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened. -Lao Tzu

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