The etymology of the word “hiatus” derives from both “gap” and “gasp.”  More dramatic than the word “pause,” isn’t it…!

For now, I am taking a hiatus from posting on this blog: not a “gasp,” but some quiet time to let the well refill…

Published in: on April 24, 2012 at 1:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

Awakening the Heart

Balancing studio work with reading keeps my mind and my muse well-fed!  I want to share a few lines from a book I’m reading:

“What Western psychology has done well is to describe and analyze neurotic behavior — primarily in terms of childhood conditioning and family dynamics — and to develop therapeutic methods to help free people from bondage to their past.  What Western therapists know much less about, however, is how the mind actually works, and how people can either perpetuate or heal their neurosis from within.  Our general ignorance about the sources of health inside us has contributed to the crisis of modern health care (so that hospitals are usually too sterile to provide a truly healing environment, the major form of therapy for psychiatric patients is drug maintenance, many health providers suffer from burn-out…)”

This excerpt is from the Introduction to “Awakening the Heart: East/West Approaches to Psychotherapy and the Healing Relationship,” edited by John Welwood.  And… it was published in 1983, almost 30 years ago!

I did some online sleuthing to see if I could follow John Welwood’s professional development from 1983, and found that he is thriving as a therapist, teacher, editor and writer — and is scheduled to teach at the Omega Institute in April.

Contributors to the book — Ram Dass, Chogyam Trungpa and Jack Kornfield, among others — address “How far can psychotherapy go in awakening the heart and liberating oneself from the distortions of the confused mind?… working with oneself as the ground for working with others… and how the openness of the heart that arises out of meditation practice can influence working with others.”

It’s a very good read.

Published in: on April 18, 2012 at 2:06 pm  Leave a Comment  


If — and this is a big “if” — we are blessed with sound mental health, then in every situation, our options are infinite.  At the very least, even if circumstances may seem to limit our actions, we can choose our attitude.  We can choose, as those with a spiritual practice may choose, to observe our own thoughts and become mindful.  Why is this so important?  Because when push comes to shove in life — and it will —  if we have mindfulness, we may be able to slow down our reaction time so that we can exercise “discernment” (to separate a thing, mentally, from another or others)  in our response.

Push will come to shove.  It will shove us and leave us lifeless on the side of the road.  And what do we do then?  It can be so hard to see that our options are endless.   Discernment is not the same as repression: we feel what we feel; we think what we think.   But our actions are less of a spasm of what follows our thoughts and feelings.  There is an inevitable release in the spasms of anger or of panic: the spirit can only twist so far before it shifts focus.   When we can slow down our reactions so that our actions are in harmony with our most worthy wishes for our selves, there is a sense of peace and freedom.

Discernment is not judgment: I’d say it precedes judgment, as a kind of mental clarification.  One may discern, and then exercise poor judgment anyway.  But without discernment, it might be hard to make good decisions.

What does this have to do with fiber arts, anyway…?   Discernment has to do with taking time, and with a kind of discipline and orientation toward mastery.  Our present culture seems to be good at knowing what it wants and how to get it: traditional counseling practices are evolving into “coaching” practices: faster and more targeted ways of achieving outcomes.  But how about knowing WHY one wants what one wants?   Despite a depressed economy, sales of high-end luxury goods are still strong; while my artist friends grapple with how to price their bowls, scarves and earrings.  How do we focus on our slow art in an increasingly fast world?

In an increasingly connected world, we are prompted, via facebook and other social media,  to respond to a stranger’s misfortune — while right next door to where we sit at our computer,  someone may be dying of loneliness.   How do we choose to share our personal time and energy?  Where does discernment lead us?    We may be so scheduled that discretionary time seems like a luxury we cannot afford: who said “yes” to this schedule?   For many artists, one trade-off of the lifestyle is that we choose freedom over other options that may include status, wealth, convention, cultural approval.  Artists of all sorts spend more time than others, perhaps, in our creative imaginations.   It’s not that we know MORE than other folks, but we know some different stuff.  We continually confront the blank page, the heap of fiber, the mound of clay, the bins of fabric, and we are aware of our need to choose.   We renew that contract each time we enter our studio area.   As a conduit, we breathe in our culture, we synthesize this in-breath with everything we know and are,  and we breathe out a response in the form of our art work.

I believe that the world needs this synthesis, and that as artists we are part of a tradition that has pledged discernment.

Published in: on April 17, 2012 at 3:00 pm  Leave a Comment  


If you are a member of facebook, I invite you to visit the wonderful and inspiring page for “Helping Herd.”

Published in: on April 15, 2012 at 9:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hello Out There

When I looked at my stats for today on this blog, I was surprised to see 160 visits today from viewers in the Russian Federation.

I want to say “Hello!”   And… if you have any questions or comments, I welcome them!

Happy Felting, and thank you for your visits.

Published in: on April 11, 2012 at 6:21 pm  Leave a Comment  


Knowing things about other people — noticing things and thinking about what you’d like to change about other people’s behavior — that’s easy.  Knowing one’s own self, noticing and fundamentally changing anything about one’s own behavior — that’s really hard.

One cannot change any aspect of one’s own behavior in a deep and comprehensive way without causing a ripple effect that changes everything.  This is why those who change their eating/exercise habits to become healthier and more vibrant do not just change their shape or their cholesterol/blood work numbers: they change who they are.

One of the fascinating things about following the evolution of an artist’s body of work is that you can see the development of ideas; and see, in a holistic way, how the artist changes.  Artists continually shed skins: we may be very true to our muse; but we may also be very fickle to pursuits that no longer make sense to our creative drive.   Online glimpses into studios, galleries, blogs, on-line shops, etsy boutiques — these offer front row seats to see how artists figure things out.

The other day, perusing on-line sites about hand-spun yarns, I found someone selling a beautiful scarf.  It looked beautiful in every way.  I can’t remember if the artist had also raised and sheared the actual alpaca from which the scarf was made; but she had dyed and hand-carded and hand-spun the yarn and then knitted it into a neat and interesting and long scarf, in soft, earthy colors that flowed and harmonized beautifully.  It was a beautiful work of art.   One of a kind.  A labor of love, that showed devotion and skill.  It was for sale for thirty six dollars.   The price stopped me in my tracks, and made me feel sad.  How is it possible that such a glorious work of hand-made art should be priced to compete with WalMart scarves?  What did this price say about the value of hand-crafted work — especially of such fine quality?

For sure, the joy of creating is itself a wonderful reward.  Just as a wholesome, home-cooked meal made with fresh, organic or home-grown ingredients does not aim to compete with a fast-food meal, our lovingly hand-made creations are not intended to complete with the cheap, throw-away, trendy items that can be bought at WalMart.  Unless… unless this is our choice.

One of the things I see on etsy is the de-valuing of hand-crafted work.  I’ll see something that took a day to create, and a lot of time to learn HOW to craft, and it’ll be priced at $18.   And I wonder about the artist: is she joyful in her work?  Does it make sense to her?  This seems like desperation to me.

When and if an artist shifts focus from “competing” to “creating,” everything else changes.  You can read this shift in blogs and in online shops and in the work of the artists whose work you know.  As an expressive arts therapist, I’ve helped people hear and respect their own authentic creative expression.  If we cannot know and respect our own self, then we’re at the mercy of a heartless marketplace.   Work from your own heart, and value your work appropriately.   In a world where some folks are stifled because they are surrounded by too much stuff, the value of a beautiful, finely hand-crafted object may not be known.  This does not negate the value of the work.  Conversely — but along the same theme of “figuring out our art” — we live in a world where some artists play a sort of game to see how much money they can get for their work, that will go to the highest bidder, in which high price alone — and not beauty, or skill or effort — seems to create desirability of the work.  To an artist seeking authentic expression that is not at the mercy of the current marketplace, this reality does not matter either.

Work to know yourself.  Work to change, in fundamental ways, things that are not good, healthful or sustainable about yourself; work to express, in a fundamental way, your unique contribution.  Be happy and courageous, knowing that love, bliss, beauty, usefulness and honesty need not be subject to marketplace rules.

Published in: on April 3, 2012 at 3:58 pm  Leave a Comment  


What I had thought would be a minor procedure for our dog, Elsa, on March 23, to remove a cyst near her neck, turned out to be more than minor.   A four-inch line of stitches.  To prevent her from scratching at the stitches, she’s been wearing our old t-shirts, cinched at the neck; and we have not left her alone since March 23…  This morning I took her to the vet again, this time to have fluid drained from the site and a few stitches removed to help with this healing.  And I’m home with her.  I’ll apply warm compresses and keep her comfy.

Keeping watch over our dog while she heals, I haven’t had the kind of sustained focus needed for working on any felting projects — which would necessitate longer studio sessions.  I have been doing some spinning and some knitting: small items.  Usually I enjoy working on smaller projects, but not now.  Maybe like Owl, from the Arnold Lobel stories for children, I want to know what my upstairs is doing when I am downstairs, and what my downstairs is doing when I am upstairs.  And I am at the point of just sitting on the middle step and brooding.  When I have time for big projects, I often long for small and intricate work.  And today — well, I’m looking at the lengths of hand-dyed silks in my studio with longing to be working on an 8 foot nuno scarf.  Soon.

I was reading publisher Arlene Ciroula’s current interview, on her wonderful online publication “Spin Artiste;” and what fiber artist Manuela Brice shared in this interview felt like it came from my own mind.   Manuela was talking about the complexity of trying to figure out the business of fiber arts; about time management and how to price one’s handmade work.  After twenty years of spinning fiber, and efforts to build her fiber-related business, she completed her commissioned/promised work and accepted a full-time job.   Once she had a full-time job, and less time for fiber-related work, she gained a fresh perspective on her past efforts as well as a clearer vision of the work she wanted to do.

In Manuela’s words:  “I was relieved to have full-time work, because it took the pressure off from trying ‘to make it’ with the fiber.”   These words resonated with me: “trying to make it with the fiber.”  Moving from the experience of struggling, how does an artist recreate herself, so that her artmaking makes good sense — so that it is a real-time expression of her skill and her passion; and so that it makes sense economically, however this economical well-being might be defined for her?  I love Arlene’s interview with Manuela, and the honest, intelligent, creative way Manuela navigates through “trying to make it” toward deeper synthesis of her expertise and her passion.

Now, Manuela is focusing on designing knitting patterns that work well with hand-spun (and other) yarns; and she may be creating knitting kits in the future that will include hand-spun yarns.  That’s exciting!

So for today, again, I am home with Elsa as she heals.   We’ll take some long, peaceful walks and enjoy how the cherry tree blossoms are drifting to the sidewalks.  I’ll do the things I can do while at home, and draw on Arlene Ciroula’s and Manuela Brice’s inspiration to help me figure out my own fiber art work…

Published in: on April 2, 2012 at 6:22 pm  Leave a Comment