Saturday, March 31, 2007

His Majesty King Bhumipol Adulyadej of Thailand

My latest painting. I may tweak the background a tiny bit more, but it's basically complete. It's amazing how some of these youngsters just creep into my consciousness and the painting comes out so easily. Other times it can be quite an effort of endurance. This one just took a couple days... Such an enchanting expression in his eyes - quite hard to read.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Secret of Vulnerability

Some thoughts on vulnerability & intimacy... which have surfaced in the last few days:
Do you know that feeling of when you first try to shift the tone of your relationship with someone? Like when I first started talking to my parents about my yoga practice - it required me to have a tone of voice and an emotional quality that I was not used to having in their company. Now, it is natural and comfortable to share that space with them... but that first move is always risky. Yoga has been a guide for me in this way, because it is so important to me that I feel compelled to honor it - with my tone, my language, and the quality of my presence. This sense of importance and sacredness helps me find the courage to take the risk, and share this vibration of myself with others.

Yoga has opened my heart to a different way of being - a way of being intimate and honest and present. At first, in the early years of my practice, this felt like a VERY private space - and I was very protective of it. Almost like nudity. On occassion, a teacher would ask our class to do a partner pose - helping one another in a pose - and this was the first time that I was called upon to actively maintain this heart quality in the company and contact of others. It was easier with some of my classmates and quite difficult with others. I also found working in a large office to be a fine opportunity to apply the principles and qualities of yoga... with all the various personalities. In the last 5 years or so, my experience teaching yoga has been an especially good guide in learning to share this space with others.

Recently a study was released, in which three situations were created:
1) two strangers were introduced, and told that they both liked a certain person
2) two strangers were introduced, and told that they both disliked a certain person
3) two strangers were introduced, and given no guidance on what to talk about

Who felt the closest bond? Those who liked the same person reported some new sense of kinship compared to those given nothing to go on, but those who shared a dislike for someone particular felt the strongest bond of the three groups. "The common enemy" theory.

We all know that pain and tragedy create bonds. Here in Santa Cruz, when the big earthquake of 1989 happened, our community felt a strong sense of cohesion and connection. In early phases of a romantic relationship, partners will often share their various stories of pain and suffering as a way to build intimacy and connection. I recently overheard two people doing just this, while on a date together.

I realize, in retrospect, that I have in the past connected these phenomena of pain and connection - unintentionally and unconsciously. When I felt a lack of connection, I created painful situations in a desperate attempt to build bonds again. But when I overheard that couple, I realized that sometime in the last few years, I had gradually left that approach behind.

The painful situations do create bonds, because they are real and they help us bring to light the true priorities of our hearts. But now I see that there is a way to build the bonds of intimacy, to enter the space of vulnerability and honesty that is based in the joy of life - not just the pain of life. Even the joy of the pain of life. If that makes sense. The connection is the joy. So, I am exploring this now - creating clear and honest spaces of intimacy that are based in love and courage.

This month, in my yoga classes, I have been discussing the theme of "sukha" or "joy." I selected this theme, because I was feeling a need for more joy in my practice. Sometime last week, as I was practicing, and thinking on this idea of joy, a new "mantra" occured to me: "Freedom & Fearlessness." With each breath I repeat this silently - "Freedom and Fearlessness." These are the qualities I aspire to in my practice and in my life.

Freedom in the body, in the joints. Freedom in my heart, freedom from the weight of the ego. Fearless from the fear of humiliation, failure, appearances, projections, masks, expectations. Freedom to be in the moment, fearless of what it might bring.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Connection to Nature

Today I was very lucky to attend a workshop with Shiva Rea, a yoga teacher based in Southern California. I've taken workshops from her before, which planted some very important seeds in my life, but it has been quite a few years.

The journey of her teaching took me on such an interesting path - one that I have really been yearning for, but lacking the guidance. It began with very intuitive movement, which felt so unfamiliar to me - which made me feel vulnerable - which I decided to embrace - which made it feel natural again. How interesting, to travel through the realm of the unfamiliar, into the realm of vulnerability, and back into a sense of being at home in myself. Ahh.

Tapping into the pranic energy, the natural waves and rythyms of the body puts me back into a state of connection with the waves present around us all in nature. I think it was especially powerful to do this practice in early spring. Spring is always a time when I feel so connected to nature... when all around the trees are blossoming, the leaves are sprouting, the grass is fresh and new - It's a time of shedding the old and new emergences.

So, it was a wonderfully harmonious feeling to shed off the hardened resistance to spontaneous movement - and celebrate the emergence of new vulnerabilities.

Now, I look forward to carrying this forward with me into the studio and into my teaching... so light and fresh.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


A recent post of Ashes' about cynicism got me thinking about a recent understanding...

I was quite embarassed to realize that I am more defensive about things that I am less sure of. The more established my conviction and faith in something, the less I am prone to feeling defensive about it. The less established my understanding or conviction, the more likely I am to get defensive if someone says something negative or contrary to it.

To be defensive means that I'm actively defending something... Sometimes I feel defensive about ideas I like, but that I haven't yet fully understood or embraced. I enjoy liking those ideas and counting them as something that appeals to me, and don't want anyone to change my mind or shake me from my comfort zone. Defensiveness seems to come along with a stubborn desire not to change, to not be wrong, to not learn. It's such a gross feeling.

So then, how to be aware of these latent tendencies, and try to curb the ferocity with which they might rear their ugly heads? I guess it's a matter of affirming that change is good - including a change of mind; that learning is good; to ask questions instead of supply answers. To do all this with the intention of transformation. And to do all of this on the canvas, on the yoga mat, and in life at large. I'm always so relieved when I manage to shift that feeling and put the armor down again. It takes so much mindfulness to resist building up layers and layers of subtle resistance.

It's also interesting to me to think about how these intimate issues of defense parallel larger, national/international issues of defense. The principles MUST be same, mustn't they?

Queen Elizabeth

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I give you the queen:

I waited so long to find a picture of one of these youngsters with a dog. I love painting dogs. It is seriously restorative for the soul.

Here's my palette at the end.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Well, my foot is back in the water. I've been off blogging about all my vegan meals for a while... fun, but rarely so thought provoking as my fellow art bloggers. So, it feels good to step back into the pool. Thanks to an online converstaion with Art Powerlines for spurring me on.

I took a little break from making art, to focus on the expression of teaching yoga. As the Bhagavad Gita says "no effort on the path of yoga is ever lost, and no obstacle can hold you back forever." Art and yoga and teaching yoga are different expressions of the same pursuit for me. Namely, learning to love.

How grateful I have been to discover bell hook's recent book "All About Love: New Visions." This is what I have been wanting to read for some time now. This phrase "learning to love" has been stewing in my thoughts (and heart) for over a year now. A recognition that I often hold back from loving fully - whether it's toward myself or others. A recognition that "how you do anything is how you do everything" - thus, this reluctance is manifested in all aspects of my life. A recognition that the bullyish, aggressive, & excessively defensive nature of our national politics reflects the same lack of ability to love.

When I started my series of world leader portraits, I had something very specific about empathy and shifting one's perspective that I wanted to say. So far, I've exhibited the series twice and it's gotten a great reception. A few things in particular have suprised me:

One, I learned a real lesson about "saying something specific" - and that is the importance of saying something in a way that people want to hear it. Even in day-to-day interactions, we learn to use "please" and "thank you" so that people will be more receptive to our requests. I was surprised to find that the gentle tone of these paintings helped people soften to the message. Even better, the viewers felt like the message of the paintings was their own idea, that the message was not so blunt - rather that while looking at the paintings the understanding of the message rose organically inside of them.

Secondly, I learned something about the making of art. In the past, the majority of my artwork was generated by a largely unconscious process of vomiting forth the contents of my subconscious mind. (Sigh!) This series was the first time that I started with an idea, with the thought "How can I possibly express what I need to express - because I feel it is so important?" So, it started as a means of communication with OTHERS. (not as an expression of self). The lovely and amazing discovery though, was that the process of painting these paintings has been unlike anything else for me. While painting these portraits, I feel my own heart softening. I feel my own empathy expanding. I feel the sweetness in my subjects - such that when I see their adult selves in the news I see them more fully as complex beings. So, the act of making art can be a prayer of sorts, the actual act of painting is also the act of learning to love.

I felt maybe I should try some other ideas... but thus far nothing has been granted to me. So, I've picked up the brush again and I'm back at work on the world leaders series.

There's more to say, but I'm quite sure I've rambled enough for this time around.