The Onion Girl: Peeling Away the Unnecessary

Photo by: ©Beth Ortman Studio

Photo by: ©Beth Ortman Studio

First I took away the label of "artist" and then I thought about what to purge next... This is the idea that came out of the fog as I have been working out defining my quest to pull my dharma out from the shadows. 

My idea of dharma is about aligning oneself with their purpose. What I am here to do. For me, dharma involves merging the micro and the macro, the personal and the universal. I have been looking at the minimalist culture for awhile and in addition to the removal of stuff and excess, I am also looking at the paradigm for how to build each day around dharma. Minimalism can also be about refining and peeling away the layers of the ego, the false self. These layers are like an onion. Each layer represents fear, addiction, personal stories, false selves, etc. Instead of buying things, or looking outward for some level of comfort or internal affirmation, I have been stripping away those notions in order to look inwards at purpose. It is tough. The foundation is unsteady and I am starting to venture into the realm of faith.

When watching TV to numb us no longer works and boredom rears its ugly head, what are we left with? A consumer culture wants to remind us that we are missing things, that we are incomplete. We have stores, Container Store, for example, that tell us how to store our unwanted or unnecessary things. A box store of boxes. And it is a wildly successful place. There are things to buy, successes to achieve, money to make. But if we look around honestly, we can recognize that these make up the very things that make us unhappy.

This is super overwhelming and it is a tough place to be when trying to work out a way that does not involve this stuff. If we look inwards and ask "What am I here for?", there is a responsibility of choice to follow that voice or ignore it. For me, over the last 2-3 years, I have made this a priority. It is not something that happens over night and it is not something that will be a light switch solution but it is a wildly rewarding hardship.

I am asking these questions: What does your day look like when the need to run in circles working for others is removed? What does it look like to work for yourself? What can you remove in order to utilize time and within those hours align with your purpose? What are you doing each day that will elevate your reason to be here so that others are part of that energy? What does a day look like when you remove the "self" and use your purpose in a universal way? There is something really important that comes from this. The idea of personal self opens to universal self. Our actions affect each other. If we are kinder to ourselves, we are kinder to each other. For me, my path belongs to defining how art breeds compassion.

~b

 

 

 

Process & Art: is the still point the artwork produced or the source that produces it?

 

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Nothing like an interesting koan-like question to start the day. The inspiration for this post started with a reading about yoga and its connection with experiencing a still space in a practice. This reading surfaced a frequently debated question about art: What is more important, the process of making art or the product itself?

In meditation and in yoga practice, the body prepares for a state of non-reactivity. The word samskara (Sanskrit for Subliminal activator, imprints left on consciousness by actions and volitions) represents an impression of things from our past, things that leave a type of "groove" in our conscious and unconsciousness. They are like a dip in a road, a rut of sorts. In mediation one seeks stillness, a cessation of these samskaras, these impressions, if you will. This state is called nirodha. Nirodha is a moment where the body and mind are still. What is really interesting is that in this state of nirodha, the body recognizes it as a place of healing.

So bear with me here for a moment... The debate in art is this: What is more important, the process of making art and all that goes into it or the product in its final state? The expression "hand of the artist" sums up a lot of process. It can mean, literally, the physical impressions of a brush stroke style, or other markers that represent a signature style of a poet, writer, painter, boat builder, surfboard maker, sculptor, musician, on and on.... I will argue that it can also mean the process used by the builder that produces the final act of creativity. The readings, research, inspirations, conversations, the repetitive practice, sketching, pulling a melody from the air, the failures, all represent a complex state of creativity. A communicator must take a lot of information from all types of resources, distill it, become familiar with it, push on it like a bruise and develop a personal language to spit it back out. The moment the artwork is complete and ready for the world, it no longer belongs to the creator.

In essence, what happens in this distillation process, like a good scotch, is a voice. When the creator sits back and finds this thread they tap into stillness. This place of stillness is a sense of trust that their hard-won language and vision will be handled with care. The result is a book, a painting, new song. Whatever the output, one could call this a moment of nirodha. Maybe this is the foundation of the creative process. I know that the Yoga-Sutras are not about this process but I find the similarities too close to ignore. We are all creators that are striving to trust in ourselves and our ability to heal and move on. Inherently, we want to communicate our lessons.

I am coming closer to this intuitively through meditation and yoga and it has been a surprising clarification that I want to explore more. A group of my friends have been debating the question of what is more important, the process of making or the product of making for over 25 years. This is an "art koan" that will be debated and has been debated forever.

What does the label "artist" encompass and mean? In our seeking, research, distillation and finally, voice, is it the art we are sharing or the experience of creation? What does it mean to nurture this vulnerable voice in our culture? Once art moves beyond the creator, it becomes universal. Art that moves people finds the golden thread of human expression and sets out to heal others. It no longer belongs to the artist.

I will open the floor to you. What is more important - the final artwork or the process by which it was created?

~b

 

For Reference:

Patanjali's Yoga-Sutra # 2.46-48 states -->

The postures of meditation should embody steadiness and ease.
This occurs as all effort relaxes and coalescence arises, revealing that the body and the infinite universe are indivisible.
Then one is no longer disturbed by the play of opposites.

Samskara: Subliminal activator, imprints left on consciousness by actions and volition

Nirodha: Stilling, cessation, restriction

Not Leaning Forward or Backward

 

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Being present, in the moment and not furiously looking at ways to control the future is so much harder than it seems. What if you are asking yourself, "What is next?" or maybe you are trying to define a new path that is different from the one you have been on. All of the external messages reinforce the notion of being present and/or having faith that things will work out. My nature is competitive. I want to move forward and that leads to a state of discontent. Is there a balance for people that believe action gets things done and the wisdom of keying in to the present? How can we take a step into the now without reaching for the future or leaning into the past?

There is a concept in Buddhism named dhuka and it roughly translates to suffering. As a society we are constantly try to numb an ever present dissatisfaction by turning to things around us or craving things we don't have to silence this feeling. But what if we sit with it? Identify if? Maybe we can poke at it like a bruise and not shy away from it. Numbing ourselves in front if the TV or shopping for unnecessary objects are great examples of dhukha. To dive deeper into that a little bit, dhukha causes dhukha; suffering causes suffering. Once our issues or cravings are identified and explored they start to lose their power. Maybe once that inward journey is activated then we can be more fully okay with ourselves, at peace with how things are, right now. The now is not craving. The now is present.

On the flip side is sukha, happiness not shadowed by craving or aversion. It is a state where we are not confusing emotions like desire or nostalgia. This state of balance is considered enlightenment. It is at this point of realization and this defining moment when after his searching and introspection, Siddhartha Gautama became Buddha. He saw in that moment where he no longer craved. He was no longer reaching, searching and exploring, there was no clinging - no aversion or delusion. This led to freedom and with it the knowledge that it is an inherent state of humans.

Ultimately we strive to be a witness to ourselves without passing judgment. When we sit in meditation there are glimpses of this witness. There is no judgment. No thoughts. It just is. In that moment - whether it be on the hiking trail, sitting at our desk or in meditation, things are entirely OK. We experience more of these moments through meditation and going inwards. These moments that are lacking a sense of unsettling thoughts, a lack of judgment become our freedom. They allow a sense of peace to guide our daily thoughts and actions. Quite possibly, these are the moments that open us up to faith if we have felt that missing.

So in the end, and as part of a daily practice I leave with this: catch the judgments, catch the doubts and the over-thinking and striving for perfection. Slowly strip away the constant anxiety inducing pining for a future that does not exist. You are enough right now. Sit with that. Next time you overreach and try to be the funniest or smartest in the room or the better actor or you sit in judgment of someone just remind yourself that you are enough. Right now.

~ b

 

 

Alchemy and Elusive Desire

 

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When we try to change our reality into desire we lose sight of what treasures we have in the moment. We enter into a fool's quest to turn iron into gold. When we get into those moments of panic, desire, feeling empty or looking for ways to fill a perceived hole, we need to stop, take a deep breath and look around at where we are in the present moment and have faith that things will be ok. This is a hard thing to do, it takes practice and inevitably we will veer into our comfort zones of the way we have always done things in the past. But just breathe into the moment.

In that moment where the deep breath brings us into the presence, we have everything we need. We get in our own way when we constantly push for and construct a future that does not exist or when we live in the past which is at best, fogged through a lens of nostalgia or bitterness. 

One moment. Right now. Tied to breath. This prepares us for what is to come. We can use our past like an intuitive tool set that we reach for to build ourselves into the moment from our subconscious. Just let that concept be and it will stay in the unconscious. If we think of our past and how it should inform our future, we bring it up to the conscious mind which means we are trying influence things that are out of our control. We walk into a wall of desire that can turn into emptiness and longing and feelings of unworthiness. By being present and acknowledging that we are good to go in that moment, the future unfolds naturally. It does not mean that bad things won't happen - but it pushes fear aside which is a construct of our ego as a defense mechanism, and it ensures that when things do come our way, we are mentally prepared to handle them in a more gentle way. Gentle to ourselves and to others.

The gap between reality and perception is where we fall down and cause ourselves anxiety and pain. We can do better for ourselves and in turn for others realizing we have everything we need for whatever is to come next.  When we get trapped into the worry and the fear, we can take a deep breath and look into the present moment knowing that we can just let things be. Our breath is our personal reminder to stay in the moment and be true to ourselves.  

Our own personal alchemy: I create my own reality

~b

Detachment & Surrender are Not Dirty Words, Anymore

 

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I was in the car driving through the beautiful Ojai, California area with a friend recently and I was explaining what happened a long time ago when I got laid off from a very well paying job. I often spent 17 hour days working through crazy deadlines as part of defining what websites should be, their interactions and what a company's presence was online. And when I lost that job simply because the client I was assigned to stopped their work on their website due to economic times, I lost my identity. My friend used the word detached to describe my reactions to this whole moment and it caught in my throat. I never thought of it that way.  I did detach. Bigtime. Severely. In ways that still affect my ability to work for others. If you identify with your job as your usefulness, your contribution, and that is stripped away, who are you? 

As we drove through the mountains, I told her that at the time I really had to reevaluate my place in the world as I identified myself with my work. I came up short and I have been chasing that idea of wholeness ever since. That event brought me to my knees and looking back on that lesson I have realized it was the beginning of learning to surrender. Though, until recently, surrender is not a word that I have even worked into my vocabulary. 

I never really climbed back aboard that "work til you drop / take one for the team" train too often since. I work more efficiently and I define my output as part of the quality that I want to own. I redefined my sense of self and I moved it to the work that I produce and not the job that I am in. Now that I am updating and shifting the balance in my life to creating more art and really trying to find the "whole", I am finding that detachment and surrender aren't such dirty words to me anymore. 

In those months after losing that job I quickly got another job. It was one of prestige in my industry and on paper, a beautiful experience. But I have been looking beyond ever since. I guess looking for some shiny object that does not exist. In Buddhism, the idea of desire and its cause of so much suffering is front and center. Sometimes you just have to run into a brick wall to snap you out of continuous cycles. Buddhists call it samsara, Catholics call it purgatory, but no matter what religion, it is the same. I am slowly eroding this ever present desire for more. A desire to have something else. A need to fulfill a perceived brokenness. A way to fill a hole that never seems to fill. And through this erosion, I am finding a sense of detachment. Not a cold or inhuman place, but an opening into being able to receive more input. It becomes like reeds in the wind on the marsh - you ride it and the effect of the winds are less destructive.

This place of detachment is like a deep breath of acceptance because at the end of the day, it is our reaction to the craziness of life that defines us, not what happens to us. I may even offer the word surrender...

~b