The Shining Bridge to Reach Your Dreams

The Shining Bridge to Reach Your Dreams

Here is what I have discovered. There is a shining bridge between willpower and enthusiasm: Commitment.

Commitment is a tool we all need in order to realize big dreams, visions and aspirations for ourselves and our world.

Yet, commitment, is often misunderstood. In today’s post I will clear up some misconceptions and show you how to connect with your own commitment.

[This is the 2nd installment in a series on Enthusiasm vs. Willpower and how to realize your life dreams. If you missed the first post, you can read it here.]

Scottish mountaineer W. H. Murray said:

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: ‘Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.’ Begin it now.”

Commitment, once made, must be repeatedly renewed in the heart through the power of re-committing.

The Most Powerful Tool on the Path to Our Dreams

Woman on top of mountain

by Ruthie Martin

Recommitting is probably the most essential tool on the path to realizing our dreams.

On the path to our big dreams, we will encounter many setbacks, disappointments and challenges. We will meet our own resistance and faltering self-belief. We will get thrown off by unexpected life events and unanticipated challenges, by enticing distractions and the allure of comfort.

It is completely normal to fall off along the path to our dreams. It’s what we do next that matters.

Recommitting gives us a way to get back on the proverbial horse and ultimately realize the fulfillment of our great aspirations.

Commitment Must Come From the Heart

If we attempt to be committed to a dream, a project, a relationship, from the mind alone, our commitment will be dull and hard to maintain. To be a true commitment, it must arise naturally, without force, from the love in our heart.

The paradox of commitment is this: We cannot manufacture true commitment in the mind. But we can and must be conscious of our commitments and renew them consciously. We must make a conscious choice to recommit to that which matters to us, to our highest aspirations and deepest values.

We do this by reconnecting to our love for that person, place, dream. We reconnect to our vision for it, what it means to us, what it gives to us and others, and/or what it can give.

In reconnecting to our vision, love, and what has meaning for us, our commitment naturally rekindles.

Accessing a New Kind of Will

From this heart-centered commitment and conscious choice, we can then access the energy of will in a positive way to help us move past resistance, discomfort, doubt and fear and actually take the next step on our path of dreams—whether that next step is picking up a paintbrush, going to the gym, or calling a prospective agent.

Once reconnected to vision and love, to our deep why, our will is energized and not forceful. We know why we are doing what we long to do, and we are motivated from a deeper place than just thinking we should do it.

Then, we aren’t beating ourselves up to do it. We don’t have to battle ourselves and be at war with ourselves, which is stressful, exhausting and doesn’t work. Instead, we use the positive energy of commitment to empower us to take another step in the direction of our dreams.

by Luis Davila

And, we use 30-second bursts of will to move past the initial resistance every creative person feels before beginning to create or do anything difficult and meaningful.

We use will to set clear, helpful boundaries that protect our creative time, space and energy.

We use commitment to pick ourselves up after a disappointment and continue on our path of dreams.

But that will and commitment come from love.

In my next post, I’ll talk about two different types of will and also about the inner taskmaster and the rebel. And I’ll give you a radical assignment I think you will love.

Stay tuned!

To your dreams,
Maxima

P.S. Remember, if you sign up in December for soul-based creativity coaching with me you get 40% off my regular rates. Save $300 and give yourself this profound gift to help you create your bold, beautiful visions now. Find out more here.

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Enthusiasm vs. Willpower: Surprising New Discoveries

Enthusiasm vs. Willpower: Surprising New Discoveries

Maxima age 3 with dollhouse

Maxima at age 3 playing

You have a dream to write, paint, dance, sing, build a house, start a business, travel the world. Do you use willpower to get you there, or do you rely on the energy of enthusiasm to realize your dreams?

Perhaps you think enthusiasm is shallow and limited, comes and goes, and you will have to resort to willpower. Perhaps you feel you have no willpower or it always fails you.

For years I argued for enthusiasm vs. willpower. I am coming to appreciate now that we need both, but I have made several important discoveries about this:

  • The vital bridge between willpower and enthusiasm.
  • The two kinds of willpower—one is a disaster and the other a boon.
  • And most essential of all, the deeper power that moves worlds.

Enthusiasm Comes From the Gods

“Nothing great was every achieved without enthusiasm.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

In my work helping artists and dreamers to realize their dreams, I have maintained that willpower is a weak force, especially as compared to enthusiasm. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron has a compelling essay encouraging artists to draw on enthusiasm instead of discipline.

Enthusiasm (from the Greek roots for “the God within,” or as Cameron translates it, “filled with God”) is an extraordinary power that naturally inspires and motivates you in any project, activity, or life dream.

When we are filled with inspiration and passion for our art, we don’t have to force ourselves into the studio. In fact, almost nothing can keep us out of it.

When filled with enthusiasm, we are unstoppable. We are also magnetic to support from others towards our dreams because enthusiasm is contagious.

Willpower Is Weak

Willpower, on the other hand, as anyone who has attempted to overcome an addiction can tell you, is weak. When not backed up by a deeper motivation, vision and love, willpower quickly loses steam. That is because it usually comes from ego, not from heart.

Many of us fall into the trap of see-sawing between trying to enforce a military discipline on ourselves and then falling off the wagon and beating ourselves up mercilessly for it. Take note: This only ensures another repetitive cycle of the same.

This use of will is destructive, an attempt to bully ourselves into doing what we say we want to do, instead of loving ourselves into it.

Cultivating self-kindness creates a soil from which all manner of good and fruitful things can grow.

Anything built on a foundation of self-violence, rather than self-kindness, contains the seeds of its own ruin and our own ruin. So, let me be clear, this is not the kind of willpower I encourage you to use.

But, There Is a Time and Place for Will

I have recently come to appreciate that we need a little willpower, as well as enthusiasm, to reach  our dreams.

Those without any willpower struggle mightily to realize their big life dreams.

The key is to be in right relationship with our will.

Otherwise, we end up in repeating cycles of striving and exhausting ourselves, of accomplishment and burnout, of progress and collapse. Sound familiar?

Will without enthusiasm is dry, hard and loveless, making our work joyless and dull, a drudgery at best, incredibly difficult at worst.

On the other hand, enthusiasm without any willpower can peter out, having us jump from project to project, never completing anything, having too many interests at once, always distracted by the next shiny object.

As a person who has always had a tremendously strong will and a lot of ambition and discipline, it was easy for me to overlook the important role these qualities play in being able to realize our dreams.

Passion Led Us Here

by Ian Schneider

You do need some willpower, especially when the thing you want to do (sing, write, make films. . . ) conjures up fear, past hurt, self-doubt.

Or when you have to take a step towards your dreams that is uncomfortable in order to make the time and energy to engage with your art, such as get up a half hour earlier or step out on a stage in front of an audience.

Or when you need to move past an addiction, such as staying up too late watching TV or reading Facebook compulsively or listening to the news before beginning to create in the morning (bad plan!).

Willpower alone will not get you over these hurdles, but you’ll need a little burst of it.

30 Seconds of Willpower to Realize Your Dreams

You need some will to overcome inertia, fear, bad habits, resistance. In most cases, you only need short bursts of will, 30 seconds at a time is enough. Just enough to overcome the temptation in front of you and get yourself into the studio or to bed on time so you’ll have energy to go into your studio the next day.

But you will need these short bursts daily.

If you think you don’t have any willpower, that is just an old lie you have told yourself. We all have inner strength.

playing saxophone

by Jens Thekkeveettil

If it were a matter of life or death (which doing what you love is), you would find the motivation. If I told you that you would be dead in a week unless you create every day for an hour, you would move mountains to make it happen.

That is will, but it is deeper than the inner taskmaster (who is not your friend or ally). The will energy I’m talking about here draws on a love for your life, and that love is powerful.

Both willpower and enthusiasm come and go. But there is a shining link between those energies that lasts.

In my next post, I’ll share with you what that magic power is that is vital to reaching your dreams. I’ll also share what’s behind it that is the power that moves worlds.

Stay tuned!

To your dreams,
Maxima

P.S. If you would like expert soul support in creating a life of passion, purpose and deep play, sign up for coaching with me. Get 40% off my regular rate when you sign up in December 2017 (for new clients). Two steps you can take now:
1. Find out more about my coaching here.
2. Email me here to set up a free Discovery Session and explore if this is right for you now.

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Gifts of Gratitude

Gifts of Gratitude

This Thursday in the United States is Thanksgiving Day. Wherever you are in the world, every day is a good day to practice gratitude and appreciation.

Why Gratitude?

Gratitude is the gateway to true abundance of all kinds.

Gratitude is a magic power that invites blessings to flow to us. But more importantly, it opens us to the blessings and abundance we already enjoy—to the more than enough that is here now.

Gratitude deepens our enjoyment of those blessings.

Gratitude opens our hearts, brings us joy, helps us slow down and taste our lives richly, and attracts abundance of all kinds, whether love, friendship, prosperity, health or other blessings. A grateful person is magnetic to good.

I invite you to spend some time in real gratitude this Thanksgiving.

A Gratitude Practice

Spend time writing in your journal, or at your altar, focusing on what you are grateful for and why.

Don’t just make a list, but tune into the feeling of gratitude or appreciation and be specific about what is you love, appreciate, are grateful for about those things.

Write a love letter to those things and feel the grace of gratitude blessing you.

I Am Grateful For You!

Today I want you to know how very grateful I am for you.

woman painting outsideI am grateful to share this tribe of creative souls with you. I am grateful you are walking your heart path, that you care about soul, beauty, creativity, art.

I am grateful that you dare to dream and follow your dreams. I am grateful for your beautiful, sensitive heart and your questing, vibrant spirit.

I am grateful that you read my Creative Sparks posts and partake in my offerings, that you care for your own creativity, unique gifts, vital soul.

I am honored and grateful to share this journey with you. Thank you!

Gifts of Gratitude for You

As my way of saying thank you, I have a few gifts for you today.

I wrote a short piece called 3 WILDLY HELPFUL TOOLS TO SUPPORT YOUR CREATIVE LIFE which was published on a site called The Artist Unleashed last week.

I have another Autumn poem, California Fall, to share with you.

One of the most beautiful pieces on gratitude I’ve ever experienced is this gorgeous, moving 5-minute video by Brother David Steindl-Rast. Watch it here, so yummy! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Zl9puhwiyw

May you be grateful. May you feel blessed.

 

 

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How do I find my authentic voice?

How do I find my authentic voice?

How do I find my most authentic voice? Many writers and artists ask this question. Yet, perhaps there really isn’t just one voice.

Questions of voice trouble writers and artists throughout their creative lives, as each creative project may ask for a new voice, a new expression, and as we grow in our creative desires and pursuits.

In my own writing I am grappling with questions of voice these days. I thought I’d share what’s coming up for me.

The Questions That Won’t Let Me Be

How can I merge the voice of the poet, mystic, priestess, firekeeper in me, the daring, inventive artist who loves brilliance, dazzle and leaps of imagination, with the voice of the teacher, guide, muse, friend I have used so often in this Creative Sparks blog/e-news?

How can I speak from all of who I am here and all of what I have to share—my questions and my answers, my fear and my courage, my doubt and my faith?

How do I honor the mystery, the not knowing, that fertile darkness I love so much? Could I write from not knowing instead of from authority and would anyone want to hear? Can you be an “author” without “authority”?

Can I write from the mystery and be met there?

Where are the sisters and brothers of soul who long for poetry, magic, spell-casting and how do I find them?

What if I no longer tried to prove, persuade, convince, be liked, be acceptable? What if I no longer sought to please or to hide or be so darn useful? In my poems I don’t do any of this.

The Voice of My Poems vs. The Voice of Creative Sparks

In my poems (and poetic essays) I write from the deepest parts of myself and my connection with Life. I write the truest words I know. I write the most beautiful, eloquent, finely-crafted words I can find to meet what I am writing about. I work to make a piece of art. In my poems I am challenging, raw, metaphorical, mystical, imaginative, and most of all, lyrical. 

But something different happens when I sit down to impart some knowledge or experience that I believe to be helpful in these Creative Sparks essays. My focus is on clarity, helpfulness, brevity, a certain simplicity, inspiration, encouragement. My focus is on you.

Now I begin to question that voice as I seek to find a voice that is closer to my poet self, closer to home, and yet still in service to what I perceive the needs and desires of my readers here to be. Creative Sparks is a different endeavor than my poems, so the voices will never be identical. Even in my poems, there are different voices. Yet. . .

Can I share my poetry, artistry and self more and still be in service to the “how” and “why” and “what” of the creative life, the path of heart, the process of bringing our heart’s dreams to life?

The Sanctuary of a Notebook

writing in journal

by miller mountain man c 123rf

I sit in my studio on a rainy morning and write in my notebook, one of so many I have filled over the years. My notebooks are sanctuary, a place of wholeness and welcome where I can say and be anything.

In my notebooks I stand in the open space and try on my hats, my selves, my wounds and wholeness, my fear and rage and wisdom. And I don’t have to shelter or protect, hide or dumb down, any of it. I can scream and cry, rend my clothes, be crazy, wild, dance on the page. I can be messy, be brilliant, experiment, fail, succeed gloriously.

And when I’m done, I close the covers on a privacy absolute, unless I choose to share from it. This is profound sanity and blessing for me. In the sacred aloneness of my notebooks I find release, healing, self-knowing, wisdom, beauty, freedom, grace.

How can I share more of that with you? Honoring my privacy yet also willing to show up whole and multi-dimensional, shadow and light, complex and real.

My Questions For You

Would you want to read that?

This essay is an example of bringing my poet self more to the fore and I’ve been experimenting with that some lately here. It is written more from that place of heart, honesty, vulnerability, lyricism.

Is it welcome? Do you want more of this?

  • What is it you are longing for, most hungry for, most in need of as a reader?
  • What do you come to Creative Sparks for?
  • What do you desire more or less of?
  • What have you enjoyed most, found most valuable in my posts?

I’d really love to hear because this is all new for me and quite vulnerable. Would you post your responses here, or if you are too shy to do that, email me?

To your own true voice,

Maxima

My Deep Why

My Deep Why

Last week I sent you a beautiful, inspiring, 10-minute exercise to discover your “deep why,” what you are here on earth for, what you’re all about.

This process is a way to tap your deep heart-knowing of what lights you up, inspires and moves you, what matters deeply to your heart and soul.

One student asked me: Why bother asking these questions? Why bother doing these exercises?

Because this is your guidestar to creating a deeply fulfilling, soulful life. A life that matters to you and makes a difference to others. A life of joy.

Practices like this one tune you into listening to your deep heart wisdom, your heartsong, so you can steer your life by that song. To me, nothing could be more important.

If you missed that post, you can read it here and try the exercise yourself. It’s fun and easy. It takes only 10 minutes. And it just may astound you!

Last week I promised to share with you what I got when I did the practice myself. Here it is, off the cuff, unedited:  My deep why, what I’m here for.

I, Maxima, Am Here To. . .

I am here to write, to be creative, to celebrate and honor life, to care, to live from heart, to give and share.

I am here to have joy and spread joy, to love, to be playful and silly, to heal, to grow, to play, to be in wonder, to touch and be touched, to dwell in grace.

I am here to be an artist, to make beauty and magic, to dance, create, sing and make music, to imagine.

I am here to praise God, Goddess, Divine, One, and embody that, dance with that.

I am here to tend to the beauty of the world, to care for growing things, to walk the path of Heart, to walk in the footsteps of the Divine, to honor the Sacred in others and in all things and call it forth, to conduct ritual, ceremony, to be a leader, a healer, a magician, a teacher, a lover, a mystic, a muse.

I am here to give thanks for the creation and work to mend the tears and injustices. I am here to gather the divine sparks.

I am here with my love, my vulnerability, my heart, my spirit and spark and light and fire. I am here to not be ashamed, to love and be loved, to stand in the light and the darkness, to love it all.

I am here to listen to the wind and the ocean, the rocks, trees, birds, streams, animals, plants, to sing their songs.

I am here to elevate, to inspire, to make music, magic, art, song, to be one with the One, to come home, to belong, to help others belong. To believe, dream and reach for the stars.

**************************

It’s empowering to know your Deep Why, to stand in it, to proclaim it and live it.

Share some of your Deep Why in the comments below. And/or share what comes up for you as you read this. Let’s inspire one another!

Why the Heck Am I Here?

Why the Heck Am I Here?

In this post, I share a fun and inspiring practice to help you discover your “life purpose” by tapping into your own deep wisdom and intuitive knowing.

That way, you can live in alignment with that which brings you deepest meaning, joy and fulfillment in your life. Sound good?

Let’s begin.

I Am Here To

  1. Get a pen and paper. (Many studies have shown, writing long-hand is way more beneficial and powerful than typing on a computer. Writing by hand connects you to your heart and body wisdom in a way that typing on a keyboard cannot. If you are physically able to do so, I strongly recommend you do this practice by hand.)
  2. Set a timer for 10 minutes.
  3. Start with the words “I am here to.”
  4. Write everything and anything that comes to your mind in response to those words. Keep returning again and again to “I am here to” to begin many of your sentences.Some ways you may interpret the question include (but are not limited to):
    • What are you here on earth for? Why did you come?
    • What is your life purpose, your passion?
    • What are your gifts?
    • What do you love?
    • What matters to you? What do you stand for?
    • What can you give with joy? What do you already give?
    • What do you want your life to be about?
  5. Keep your pen moving as you write in response to the words. Don’t pause to think, plan, question or edit. Don’t worry whether what you are writing is accurate, true or complete. Don’t worry if it’s nonsense. Don’t worry if it’s terrible writing or great writing or whether you’ve wandered too far afield. Just write. Let it all flow out.

Write From Your Heart

Young child with airplaneGive yourself permission to be grandiose, to dream, imagine, play on the page. To say what you think you’re not allowed to say. To speak with authority and wisdom, humor and grace and heart. Resist the urge to belittle yourself, to say “I don’t know.” What if you did know?

If you have more to say than 10 minutes, keep going. If you think you have said everything before 10 minutes is up, keep going until the timer sounds, even if you have to repeat yourself. Let yourself be surprised by what else comes when you think you’ve said it all.

If there’s something you write that you find helpful or inspiring, you might want to post it where you can read it from time to time and remember why you are here.

I’d love to hear your responses to this practice. Post in the comments here.

Next week I’ll share some of what I wrote when I did this exercise.

To your shining being,

Maxima

To read more on the topic of “life purpose” and finding your unique brilliance, start here.

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Scenes from the Past: A Creativity Prompt

Scenes from the Past: A Creativity Prompt

In my post last week, I shared with you how to get inspiration and training by copying the masters of your art form and translating what you learn to your own unique style. If you missed that, click here for Great Artists Steal or How to Learn from the Masters.

This week, I promised you a new creative “prompt” or idea to jumpstart your own inspiration and creativity.

What the Heck is a Prompt?

A prompt is an idea or jumping off point for creating new work. Its purpose is to get the creative juices flowing and open you to new directions that may prove very fertile. A prompt may inspire, challenge, delight or motivate, or all of the above.

Many artists share that their best work often comes from prompts given by others.

Using prompts is a great way to:

  1. Move past artist’s block and get started creating anything.
  2. Get inspired.
  3. Expand your creative possibilities.
  4. Discover new tools.
  5. Create new work that may surprise you.

A New Idea for You Today

Master of Disguises book coverI have been reading poet Charles Simic’s recent book, Master of Disguises. Simic is a Pulitzer-Prize winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate. Despite that, I don’t really love his writing, though I can appreciate its artistry. It’s just not my style. In fact, it’s about as far from my style as you can get. And that’s one reason he can be a good source for me to learn from, a good master to copy.

Here’s the prompt I created for myself from reading one of his poems. First the poem that inspired it.

Scenes of the Old Life

Washing hung from the fire escapes.
Boys threw cats from rooftops. 
War veterans hopped on crutches,
Pitching pennies and smoking reefers.

Writers destined to remain obscure
Wrote late into the night
Using a pencil and the kind of notebook
Their children took to school in the morning.

Outside a club advertising exotic dancing girls,

A man in a crumpled white suit
Staggered with a knife in his heart,
One dark eyebrow raised in surprise.

In winter, rain fell as if it meant to fall forever.

We kept the gas oven lit to warm ourselves,

While mother cried and cried chopping onions

And my one goldfish swam in a pickle jar.
—Charles Simic

Your Assignment, Should You Choose to Accept It

Copy Charles Simic’s poem “Scenes of the Old Life” formally as exactly as possible. Here’s how.

  1. Start simply by making a list of strong images that are memories from your childhood. Get a good sized list. Notice how Simic chooses images from his environment and then narrows down to one that is quite personal at the end of the poem.
  2. Choose the strongest of the scenes or images from your list, paring them down to ones that create a cohesive or similar mood throughout the poem, as Simic does.
  3. Make a poem that follows Simic’s form exactly. You may need to choose images/scenes that work best to do this.

To follow his form, your poem will:

  • Be made entirely of striking images/short scenes.
  • Express each image in a short pithy line or a few lines. If you want to completely follow his form, you might use the same number of lines for each of your images or scenes that he does. In Simic’s poem, the first line is one image, the second line another, and the last two lines of the first stanza are a third image. Are they all one scene? That’s for you to decide. The next stanza is clearly one scene.
  • Be a poem of 4 stanzas made of 4 lines each (called a quatrain).
  • Use simple, straight-forward syntax and language, be made of complete grammatical sentences.
  • Contain many “end-stopped” lines (though not all of them), meaning the line ends with a comma or period.
  • Mention the season at some point (as he mentions winter).

Once you’ve created a first draft, feel free to edit, revise or stray from the form in some ways to make the best poem you can.

Translate the Same Prompt to Other Media

modern dancer

photo by Olena Kotyk on Unsplash

If you are not a poet, you can start by making the same list of potent images from your childhood, including one set in a particular season. Then, make a painting, drawing, sculpture, musical piece or dance piece, based on a collection of those “scenes.”

You might make a rule for yourself that you have to use the same number of different scenes or images that he does. Or you might decide you are going to make a painting divided into four equal squares, each with a scene in it, as he has four stanzas in his poem.

If you feel stumped, start small. Give yourself the assignment to make a 1-minute dance piece or to do a 10-minute sketch based on one particularly striking scene. If you don’t make representational art, make something that conjures the images or feelings evoked by the list of scenes.

The idea is to stretch yourself and see what you learn and discover.

I’d love to hear how it goes for you.

 

 

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P.P.S. To learn more about poet Charles Simic and read more of his poems online, click here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/charles-simic

Great Artists Steal or How to Learn from the Masters

Great Artists Steal or How to Learn from the Masters

T.S. Eliot famously wrote, “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.”

What did Eliot mean by this seemingly outrageous assertion? He wasn’t talking about plagiarism, which would be directly quoting or copying exactly another artist’s work. What he was talking about is recognizing great ideas, great techniques, great tools and making them your own.

When you borrow something, it doesn’t belong to you. When you steal, it becomes yours, a part of your unique artistic style.

How To Steal and Make It Your Own

  • You observe closely. Take note of exactly what the artist is doing that makes their work so powerful and effective. What is the shape and weight of the line? How do they create that shading effect? Where are the line breaks in the poem? How is metaphor used? What is the structure of the musical piece? What is unusual about the harmony, the melody? Most of all, what is it you like so much about it?
  • Man playing piano

    by Francisco Gomes on Unsplash

    You start by copying. Many student artists are given the assignment to reproduce a great work of art. Many musicians learn to play note-for-note the solos that great performers improvised. This is phenomenal training. If you can pull it off, as closely as possible, you will learn an enormous amount about how to make a great work of art.

    And, significantly, you will learn it in your body. As your hand attempts to create the exact curve and delicacy of line of a Michelangelo sketch, your body engages in deep learning about beauty, art and drawing. When you learn something in your body, as opposed to just consuming information in your mind, you truly learn it. It becomes a part of you.

  • You adapt what you love to your own art. Once you’ve learned the techniques and embodied them, you return to your own voice and aesthetic, your unique expression, enriched with a powerful palette. Now, your job is to find exciting, inventive, imaginative ways to use those tools and techniques to express what is uniquely you. Now it is time to be authentic, to say what you need to say, while using what you’ve learned works to make extraordinary art.

    The brilliant editor Shawn Coyne [visit his site Storygrid.com for loads of free, useful information] talks about the importance of including in your writing the “obligatory scenes” and “conventions” of whatever genre you are writing in. He stresses that a story won’t “work” for readers without these scenes and conventions. For instance, the thriller genre must include a scene of the “hero at the mercy of the villain.” And yet, he adds, the challenge and the art is to create those obligatory scenes and satisfy those conventions of the genre in new and surprising ways.

Learn By Copying

I once typed up all of Salinger’s masterful short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” so I could feel what it took to write a great short story. I learned so much about how the story was made, even though I had read it many times before. For example, I was surprised to discover how much of the story is dialogue.

I got the idea to type Salinger’s story from the great Hungarian composer Bela Bartok. Bartok copied by hand all of Beethoven’s string quartets before writing one of his own, so he knew what it would feel like to write a great quartet. Time-consuming, painstaking work. The result:  He wrote six magnificent string quartets of his own that sound nothing like Beethoven.

When You Need Inspiration, Look Around You

Artist at desk

by Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash

As a graphic designer, when I needed a great idea for a new client or project, I would start by looking at other designs—on book covers, coffee cans, posters—and also in nature and all around me. I would look for colors, shapes, ideas that jumped out at me. And I would steal: That use of layout, those wonderful colors, that arrow highlighting an important element.

Sometimes I practiced reproducing a layout exactly, so I could learn how to do it. I’d often have to discover new uses of tools on my computer.

But my designs were my own. I stole elements and great ideas from other designers, but not whole designs. In this way, I expanded my palette as a designer and didn’t get stuck in ruts.

I often practice writing poems and stories, modeling the style, voice and/or exact forms of other poets. This is a way of apprenticing myself to them and getting new ideas, new possibilities.

My students worry that if they do this, they will sound too much like some other writer. My feeling is that you would be very fortunate indeed if you manage to create something truly reminiscent of some famous writer. In the process, you will be becoming a better writer. And then, you can use that knowledge to sound more like yourself. 

Become an Apprentice

If you want to be great, study the masters. Artists apprentice themselves to great artists in order to learn, to grow, to study their art and craft. David Levine wrote about this, “Shakespeare routinely stole plotlines and even whole scenes from other writers for his own plays.” Remember, stealing means making it your own, not just direct imitation.

Austin Kleon wrote a wonderfully inspiring, helpful, wise and fun book that leaps off from this idea of theft as being important to the creation of art. His book is called Steal Like An Artist. I recommend it highly.

What artist will you commit to studying in depth and stealing from today?

In my next post, I’ll give you a specific “stealing” assignment, a creative prompt based on the work of another artist, for you to use as a jumping off place. Stay tuned!

A Return to Heart

A Return to Heart

Fires, floods, earthquakes, violence, intolerance, divisiveness, greed. It’s easy to see our world is in upheaval. These are intense, challenging times.

We are being called to return to heart.

As a human race, we have been living in severe imbalance for so long that the re-balancing is requiring some radical and painful shifts in our world.

We cannot continue living as we have been—ignoring and dishonoring the livingness of our world, disrespecting and doing violence to the creatures, the waters, the earth, the air, to women and children and people of color, people of all kinds.

We cannot continue to promote the values, the way of life, the beliefs that have brought us to this crisis. We cannot cling to our possessions, our security, our fear, our cynicism, our isolation.

All of Life is Alive

Autumn scene

by Aaron Burden

All of life is calling to us. The wind is alive. The trees are alive. The rocks are alive. The clouds are alive. All of life wishes to be in deep, sacred relationship with us. In holy communion. In partnership. As it was always meant to be.

The original peoples of all cultures were given instructions in how to live in right relationship on the lands and waters where they dwelled. Rituals, ceremonies, prayers, practices, offerings, recognition of the cycles of life. These kept the peoples living in harmony and balance with the world around them. These kept the people in balance within themselves.

When they forgot these life-giving ways, either temporarily or later completely, trouble occurred. Not as a punishment, but as a reminder of the natural order of life, as a call to return.

Life has an order that is inherently good and whole and workable. When we move with it, our lives tend to flow well. We find acceptance and peace, even in challenges. We find true joy.

We Must Live From Our Hearts

Nothing is more important than that we live from our hearts now.

We need to quiet our incessant minds, our clamoring egos, our false sense of separateness from others. We need to tune into the still, small voice within.

Meditating person

Photo by Dingzeyu Li

We need to learn to calm the voice of fear, the addictive habit of fear, that has been built up in us by our contemporary culture and listen instead to the voice of heart, of love, of peace. We all carry this voice. All of life carries this voice. The ocean carries this voice. The flowers do. The animals do.

Sacrifice and Surrender Will Lead to Joy

This is going to ask a lot of us. We will have to sacrifice cherished comforts, ways of tuning out and disconnecting, our sense of superiority, and much that is familiar or once felt secure.

We may have to leave the 9-to-5 job and follow our passion for art. Or take a steady job in order to support our art. We may have to downsize and band together. We may have to reach out and ask for help, instead of trying to go it alone.

We will not be able to rely on how things worked for us before. We will not be able to hide out and play small. It simply won’t work. We will meet with more chaos, disruption and suffering. Until we relent.

Now, we are asked to step beyond our wounded selves, our limited desires and preferences. To step into our extraordinary gifts, cultivate our capacities, and shine in our full Beingness.

Nothing less will do.

If you have a calling in your heart that you’ve been ignoring or neglecting, a calling that comes from love, it is time to follow it. If you have a longing to reach beyond the pain that has held you captive, it is time to heal it. If you have been ignoring the livingness of the world around you, it is time to get into right relationship with it.

Life is calling. Let us join together and answer the call.

To your Beingness,

Maxima

On Devotion to Creativity: A Life, A Path

On Devotion to Creativity: A Life, A Path

I Am Devoted to Beauty and Creation

Some days all i can truly do is write. It’s all i can do truly, with a whole heart, with devotion. This is what’s given to me, and it’s a lot.

What jewels have been laid in my hands—I am awestruck, fascinated, dutiful, grateful. How could i possibly organize my life any differently than around these jewels?

Writing is my listening, how i tune my ear to the worlds, all of them—or whichever chooses to haunt me now.

Beauty is incredibly important to me. To actually capture beauty in the hand for a moment, more than once, more than just a lucky break, that takes deep work, to devote your life to something.

I’m interested in devotion, that profound movement of the heart—offering, sacrifice, surrender. How much it takes and how much it gives us in return. You can’t force it or fake it. It has to arise organically in the heart. But you can commit yourself to it consciously, once you feel it start.

Devotion is like a small, worthy boat that holds and carries us across waters now stormy, now calm, so that we can see astonishing lands, become salt-worn, washed whole, a part of sea and sky.

Creativity Is Not a Chore

by Averie Woodard

Creativity is not something i make myself do. It’s something i open myself to do.

I tend the garden, create the right conditions, the proper soil, show up lovingly, and work with my hands in the dirt, grateful for rain when it comes, grateful for sun, for blossoms and ripe fruit. I’m happy to tend to the slow care of picking caterpillars off the stems, cutting away the dead heads and stalks, mulching with the unused portions, watering daily. I know the seeds will flower in time.

Why would i complain about the work of creating? I’m honored to be given these seeds, this plot of ground, this longing. And entranced by the miracle of growth, new life—every time. Entranced by the process of growth and the care it takes to create art. Entranced to be in my garden of creativity, feet muddy, knees in the soil, dirt under my nails.

This is the place i feel most home, most right, at peace, one with all, belonging—even in the struggles. Outside my garden of creation there are precious few places i feel as well. Ritual is one of them, any kind of communion with the All, being in nature, around a fire, and often when i am teaching.

But, that garden of creation and communion is my first home, my path of devotion, my sacred work, my divine play.

Explore Devotion, That Magic Power

What are you truly devoted to in your life? What do you give your whole heart to, sacrifice time, money or other opportunities to follow?

What are the rewards of that devotion?

What do you care about or want more of in your life that you could be more devoted to? How would you express that devotion?

You may wish to journal about these questions, to dive deeply into them and see what arises for you. Remember, devotion is a movement of the heart. It’s not another “should.”

Please share your responses in the comments below, so we can continue the conversation.

And if you liked what you read here, share this post with a friend using the share buttons below. Help me spread the love.

To your devoted life,

 

 

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