Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Accessing A Meditative State of Mind Through Art

Many of us have heard about the benefits of meditation, but sometimes find it hard to do. Fewer of us know about the profound benefits of artistic expression. Creating art, however, is another way to access a meditative state of mind and the profound healing it brings. Maia Gambis, "Why making art is the new meditation," The Washington Post, August 25, 2015
Nancy Bell Scott
Over the past year I've come upon a most fascinating centering practice. I'd been painting with oils for most of a decade, then experimenting with acrylics and abstract painting, but always especially drawn to the interaction of arts--ekphrastic poetry, for example (poems written in response to visual art), found poetry (a collage of words that refashion existing texts), and art that uses words as part of the design, such as Kenneth Patchen's work.

Last year I discovered asemic writing in art, though Sam Roxas-Chua's Echolalia in Script: A Collection of Asemic Writing and the work of Nancy Bell Scott.

I'd also been following Jane Davies' Facebook page and, when she offered a downloadable workshop called "Text and Image," happily bought it. Some of my consequent text and image pieces included both asemic writing and lines from my own poetry. and I was charmed by the playfulness of this work, still thinking of these efforts as learning a process.

Mary Bast: "A Course of Action"
Then one of my clients went to the Helen Frankenthaler "As in Nature" exhibit and sent me a copy of the accompanying book.

Mary Bast: "Frankenthrall"
Instead of following the work others had done to combine words and art, I played with cutting out new shapes from Frankenthaler's paintings, and collaging them in abstract patterns, using her colors and textures as inspiration, making marks with black pen, frankly enthralled with the results, left.

I learned a lot about this artist, but more important, a new mode of expression had popped up from out of the blue, calling me to a completely centered creative space.

There was no plan, no thought, no judgment, simply free association, playfulness, and joy.

This also drew me to the realization that I knew little about women in abstract expressionism, and quickly discovered I was not the only one. So for many months I studied the works of historically underappreciated artists and created collages as tributes to their work (click here to view collages.).

When I had a pile of shapes, I put on disposable gloves, got down on the floor with a canvas, a big jug of M. Graham Acrylic Gloss Medium and Varnish, a brush, and just let things happen. Once the canvas was covered, and I felt the rightness of colors/shapes, I let it dry, then drew lines, circles, outline with a fine point Sharpie pen. New eyes. . . pure expression:
Contemplative beholding of art - indeed of anything - can lead to the animation of whatever is before us. New eyes, "the right eyes," suddenly open, waking us up, and consequently awakening everything around us. Arthur Zajonc, "Meditation and Art," Psychology Today, January 05, 2011.
A meditative approach [to art] advocates that we would be best served if we focused less on the "self" and more on the expressive part of the creative process. Such an approach is called pure expression rather than self-expression, because one has learned through meditation how to let go of the relentless self-referencing, self-dialoging, self-consciousness, self-criticism. "Art, Meditation, and the Creative Process," Shambhala Times, March 1, 2015.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

We'll See

"Such bad luck,"  said the villagers when a farmer's horse ran away.

"We'll see," replied the farmer.

When his horse returned with three other wild horses, they exclaimed "How wonderful!"

"We'll see," he said.

Then his son was thrown while trying to ride one of the untamed horses and broke his leg, The villagers, of course, offered their sympathy.

"We'll see," said the farmer.

Because of his broken leg, the son was passed by when military officials came to draft young men into the army.

Responding to the villagers' congratulations on his good fortune, the farmer replied, "We'll see."
This Taoist tale came to mind when one of my clients expressed frustration with the lack of growth in his business. "I might have to get a job," he said. "Horrible!"

His anxieties brought to mind my own concerns early in my career. I tested an online version of the John Holland Occupational Themes and found I was admirably suited to be a dental technician!

Seeking a logical solution may be helpful to some, but the failure of logic can be a cue to access your intuition. Maybe you'll only feel a nudge ("Something feels right about this, though I'm not sure why"). I've learned, even through experience that seemed to be a failure, how important it is to keep your vision intact: 
After completing my PhD, I quit the job that had carried me through graduate school to start my own business. Managing to squeak by for almost nine months, I finally reached the point where I couldn't pay the rent, and was getting desperate when a friend called. One of his former students worked for Shillito's Department Store's HR Department, and they were looking for an internal training consultant. The salary was barely a living wage, I regretted having to bypass my vision of independent consulting, but I had no other options.

We'll see.

Among other duties, I was responsible for sales training -- a real stretch for me. During my time there, I also worked on a project for the Director of Executive Development from the parent company Federated Department Stores (FDS), only a block away in downtown Cincinnati.

Three years into the Shillito's job, I was offered a job by a friend for twice as much as my current salary, working as an educational consultant with a software technology firm. I left Shillito's feeling somewhat disloyal, but I was barely making ends meet and couldn't turn down the extra income.

We'll see.

Three months after that, out of the blue, the FDS Director whose project I'd supported offered me a corporate OD job that again doubled my income. He said internal policies were such that I would not have been a candidate for that job if I hadn't left Shillito's.

In the corporate OD role, I gained experience coaching senior executives in Federated's many retail companies who were being primed for key positions in company leadership. Four years later, FDS was bought in a hostile takeover and their OD department eliminated. The severance pay was enough to live on for at least six months, but I didn't see any particular opportunities in my future.

We'll see.

A week later the Senior Vice President of Human Resources for CSX Corporation hired me as a private consultant for senior executive development in their subsidiary companies. I negotiated a contract with CSX that took me all over the U.S., yet left time to develop other business. I would not have known how to close that deal had I not had the sales training experience. And I'd not have been approached by the CSX HR person except for my work with Federated's executive development methodology, which he'd adopted for his corporation.

In the early stages of my new career as an organization consultant, a Cincinnati client introduced me to the Enneagram, which he'd learned in a spiritual retreat with Richard Rohr. Fascinated with how this model gave me useful insights into my clients' patterns, I started teaching it to all of them and taking extensive notes. This was early in the Enneagram's development beyond a small group of seekers, and no one was writing about its applications in business settings.

Intrigued by a request for articles on business applications from Clarence Thompson, then editor of The Enneagram Edicator, I contacted him, he began publishing my articles, became a dear friend and eventual co-author of Out of the Box Coaching with the Enneagram.

I could not have predicted or planned for the wavering trajectory of disappointments and opportunities that fulfilled my vision of having my own business, but on a scale of much greater experience and learning. Nor could I have known that path would eventually lead me into coaching by phone with clients all over the world.

As for what happens next, We'll see.
(An earlier version of this post was part of an article published in Enneagram Monthly, September, 2005.)

Friday, April 6, 2018

Play: The Stick That Stirs the Drink

Life without play is a grinding, mechanical existence organized around doing the things necessary for survival. Play is the stick that stirs the drink. It is the basis of all art, games, books, sports, movies, fashion, fun, and wonder. Stuart Brown, M.D., Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Mind, and Invigorates the Soul.
Early in his book on play, Brown describes his yellow Lab's reaction after a long car trip to a cousin's ranch: In half a second Jake is flying out the door, a blond blur zipping toward the pasture. He races at full gallop one way and reverses, paws tearing up the dust in a skidding turn, then accelerates to warp speed in the opposite direction. His mouth is agape, the corners pulled back in a canine grin, his tongue lolling out one side -- Doggie heaven."

Like Jake, we humans have the opportunity to take in a scene with all our senses and devote ourselves to playing there. Dr. Brown's research has demonstrated that play is not only fun, energizing, and enlivening, it is also a profound biological process that shapes the brain and makes animals smarter and more adaptable. In humans, play fosters empathy, makes complex social groups possible, and facilitates creativity and innovation.

I had a play-date with my friend Davis, arriving at Ichetucknee River State Park at 6:00 AM for a sunrise canoe trip. Eager to get started, we were the first ones in our canoe and thus the first ones to discover the cushions we sat on were damp from the fog clouding the water's surface and rising in swirls all around us. The temperature was 40° F and stayed there without significant change for our two hours on the river. Even though we both wore layers of clothing, we were soon shaking with the cold. We didn't even have the exertion of rowing to warm us because we were floating downstream in a group of canoes and only needed to paddle lightly to change course when heading toward a bank, another canoe, or an immersed tree trunk. 

Yet we were almost deliriously happy, every seemingly difficult obstacle to enjoyment an opportunity to laugh ourselves silly. Both of us are artists and we'd been talking for a year about photographing the Ichetucknee as inspiration for paintings. The river was incomparably beautiful, every element of water and shore made strange and new by the parting mist as we drew closer. 

It was completely different from photos we'd seen or paintings we'd imagined, and that difference was exciting and seductive. Between gasps of appreciation and shivers of cold, we each took photo after photo, our minds adapting to these unexpected circumstances with a playful attitude, no need to predict if it would get warmer or the mist would rise, so completely taken with this river's invitation to open all our senses. Like Jake, our mouths were agape, we were present to an environment over which we had no control, free to bask in awe, the shivering of our bodies irrelevant to the larger experience. The Ichetucknee presented itself to us as it was, not as we expected it to be. 
 
"When people know their core truths," writes Brown, "and live in accord with what I call their 'play personality,' the result is always a life of incredible power and grace." 
I'm intrigued by the idea of "play personalities," because play is the key element in changing our habitual patterns. The last section of my Self-Coaching Workbook, Pattern-Breaking Experiments, emphasizes "how to consciously enact a pattern, but with a small, creative, and often humorous twist . . . if you laugh when you think of an experiment, that's probably a good one to try." When brainstorming with clients about ways to change a pattern, I always know by their laughter when we've come up with something that will reframe their worldview and re-shape their brains. Imagine the difference between approaching a problematic pattern with a playful attitude or anticipating how difficult it will be to change something you've been doing all your life. 

For example, one of my clients described an aspect of himself he had to "watch," meaning he had to try to STOP doing it. Exploring this "do your own thing" part, he realized it was also the seat of his creativity and courage; it could be irresponsible, but also mischievous and playful. He wanted to feel more free to redirect his business focus without taking untenable risks, so I asked him, instead of saying NO to his mischievous part when it showed up, to consider what he might do that would invite its courageous aspect while remaining responsible. He immediately saw a lion "in the Serengeti Plains." This lion was "majestic, knows who I am, is attuned with my nature, assertive." 

So far so good. Then I asked him how the lion would express itself. "It would ROAR," he said, and started laughing. Ah, laughter, our cue that he could approach this change playfully.