December 4: RED
Red is one of my favorite colors, mostly because of its potency and boldness. There is no mistaking red. Red knows that she’s powerful. I created this art piece above our mantle over a year ago, and I am still struck by how people see different things in it. Some see a moon on the water as the surf froths up and some seem rain falling down. What do you see?
December 5: SACRED SPACE
When we moved into our new place in Bellingham this fall, it took me a while, but I did my usual space clearing and energizing ritual. This year, my cat Selkie wanted to be involved and he was very curious by the smells, sounds, and shifts in energy.
December 6: BEST BOOK OF 2015
I am quite biased, but I am also a very good judge of a powerful piece of writing. My mom’s memoir Full Moon at Noontide: A Daughter’s Last Goodbye was published in paperback this year after a run in hardback with a different press. This memoir explores my mom’s journey with loss in a lyrical and transcendent way. I am moved each time I read it, not only because this book is about my mom and my family, but because, through writing, my mother is able to let the light shine gently on grief and loss. For more on her book, please visit her website, where there are excerpts, beautiful reviews, photographs, and more.
December 7: BRANCHES
It is very dark in the PNW this year. Our resident weather expert Cliff Mass posted an article about how yesterday was the darkest December day in over nine years in our area! Instead of sharing a photo of branches from this time of year (though barren branches and dark skies can be quite beautiful, too), I am going to share a photo from this past April. These pink puffs of love delight me to know end. And set against a hopeful blue sky, I can almost smell the fragrant joy bursts.
My first photographs for Susannah Conway’s December Reflections 2015 challenge come in a set of there here:
December 1: SPARKLE
I purchased this crystal when my cat Mountie was the process of dying about four years ago. I placed it near him to provide comfort and clarity for his transition. In retrospect, this crystal was more of a comfort to me, since it is hard to know what to do when someone you love is dying. At least I was able to set an intention with this crystal and create some beauty.
Now I hang this crystal in my office. It dangles from a lamp so that it can sparkle any time I turn on the light to remind me of all the passages I have endured — my animal companions, my grandparents, friends, and my father. This crystal reminds me of the light that can be found around the edges of loss when we illuminate it with healing intention.
December 2, 2015: HOT DRINK
I see this view quite a lot in my life — my husband’s hand holding a chocolate brown mug filled with coffee. This is another view of Walter’s groundedness. Even holding his mug, he is geologic. When the winds of anxiety, worry, and sadness surround me, Walter’s steady sip brings be back to the earth.
December 3, 2015: BEST DAY OF 2015
I don’t know how I can possibly choose just ONE best day of 2015, for there were many good days sprinkled about. I will say, though, that learning that my book/card deck BODY CARDS: Insight from the Body, Wisdom for the Soul is going to be released in June of 2016 makes it to the top of my list. The tiny kernels of inspiration for this writing & art project began over 13 years ago in my living room with my best writing buddy Kristen during one of our weekly writing groups. Almost three years ago, Schiffer Publishing accepted my book proposal and now it’s an actual book that’s going to be released next year! This whole process reminds me to stick with my creative projects, but to also give them breathing room. I can’t crowd them or force them to be something too soon. I must nurture them and let them be what they want to be.
Some of you are very comfortable using the word “artist” to describe yourself, but I also know that many of you feel quite uncomfortable.
Some of you may be thinking any number of these thoughts:
“I’ve never been creative.”
“I can’t draw.”
“I don’t think in pictures.”
“I was told not to pursue art.”
“There’s not a creative bone in my body.”
“Nobody wants to see what I might create. It’s not good enough.”
What if I were to tell you that none of the above matters in my world of what it means to be an artist? Would you believe me if I told you that I believe that we are ALL creative and we are ALL artists? I mean it! From the depths of my left heart ventricle, I believe it!
Try on some of these statements:
You are the artist of your life!
Creativity is broad, vast, ever-expanding!
Art-making is about process, not product.
There is no “wrong” or “ugly.”
When you claim that you are the artist of your life, everything lights up, becomes vivid, clear, colorful! You realize that how you dress, how you arrange your furniture, how you sing a little ditty in the shower, how you garden, and how you cook your dinner are ALL acts of creativity and they come from YOU.
Again, you are creative. You are an artist.
Here’s a video from last year in which I explore the “little a” inside each of us:
It’s a paradigm shift for some us to claim those words because we’ve been told (or we’ve been telling ourselves) that we aren’t creative or artistic for so long. Is it time to tell a different story? I think so!
Why? Because your creativity can be an enormous source of healing in your life. Art-making can feel as therapeutic as a massage or a therapy session (though please please, keep those massages and therapy sessions on your calendar!).
When my father died in 2008, art-making was my healing salve. What I couldn’t say in words, I could scribble and paint and collage. What I was afraid to say out loud came out in journal writing — messy, tear-stained journal writing. It feels dramatic to say, but more than once in my life, art-making has saved my life.
And even in lighter times — times without grief and loss, depression, or anxiety staring me in the face everyday — I have found solace, insight, and deep inner knowing through the act of creating.
I can tell when I need to be creative because my body itches for it. I feel unsettled, off-kilter, out of balance and creating is most often on the top of my “help” list — that and dancing to KC and the Sunshine Band. Don’t you feel that twitchiness in your body sometimes? It’s like your body is trying to wake you up?
My new journey as “Queen Bird” of Rising Bird Healing Arts is to infuse what I know of healing from being a Reiki Master and Massage Therapist into the creative arts — and in particular to help others with pain, heartache, grief, loss, depression, anxiety, and any general stuckness to find their own salve in the act of creating.
Here is a video I recently created of how I get unstuck through art-making, and I even include my creating an art journal entry before your eyes!
Now it’s YOUR turn? How are you creative? How are you the artist in YOUR life? Please comment below and share how you creatively move through the universe!
peace and artful delight,
“The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.” ― Robert M. Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
I am learning that a feeling of zen (inner peace, calm, and stillness) can happen anywhere — because I bring it with me. Certainly a serene environment can make a feeling of calm and centeredness more possible, but I have found zen on a crowded subway in Tokyo; at the tail end of a panic attack, just when my nervous system lost its grip on my terror; at hospital and hospice beds of dying loved ones; in traffic waiting to cross the 520 bridge on the way to my CranioSacral appointments; and in front of classes of 30 college students who wished they were anywhere but in the classroom.
I have sensed it inside of me while making breakfast, doing laundry, chugging away at my taxes, brushing the cat, and even, dare I say it, shaving my legs.
Do I always feel zen during stressful moments? No. Do I always feel zen during mundane moments? No. But do I sense it there inside me, as part of me, waiting as a potential, sometimes calming me to the core? Yes.
Can you feel your Inner Zen? Scan your body. Where does it live right now? After you have found where it’s located in your body, sense what it feels like? Is it small or large, still or moving, clear or foggy? Is it a particular color, shape, texture?
Right now I feel my Inner Zen lives in the center of my sternum, close to the surface. It is flat, about the size of a penny, but it’s light in weight. It’s yellow and gold and its light radiates out in all directions. When I focus on it, it calms my nervous stomach.
While it is magnificent to find places of peace and serenity to accentuate your feeling of zen– the forest, a creek, the ocean, a spa, a quiet chair in your home — see if you can also cultivate it inside of you and remember to bring it along with you wherever you go. It’s there. Touch it with your mind. Sense it with your body. Listen to it with your heart.
Here are my TOP 5 ways of cultivating Inner Zen:
1. Take out the trash. Sure you can do this literally (and you’ll probably feel better for it!), but I am really talking about clearing the clutter of your mind. Take out a piece of paper and write any and all thoughts that come to you, particularly the nagging, worrisome, disturbing ones. Get it all out of your head. Put it on paper and leave it there. Know that you have not abandoned your “stuff,” you’ve just given it a home that isn’t inside of you.
2. Scan for it. Find a quiet moment to locate where your Inner Zen lives in your body. The key to this is not to think too much. Just scan your body top to bottom and notice where there is a comforting stillness.
3. Give if form. In order to make our sensations less amorphous, strange, or scary, I like to give them form, shape, and color. What is that stillness inside you like? What color is it? What shape? What weight? Make it real. Use your imagination and go with it. Write down a description of this place of Inner Zen. If you want, make a little sketch of it — even a doodle will do!
4. Active your Inner Zen before you need to use it. As a person who has been challenged by anxiety and panic for the past six years of my life, I have learned to lower my anxiety threshold in general, so the possibility of panic lessons. Before you start your day or before you know you might be in a stressful situation, tap into that Inner Zen place. Locate it, imagine it, feel it, breathe into it. When you’re already stressed it becomes more difficult to access your inner calm because your nervous system is in overdrive.
5. Practice gratitude. Here’s a mantra I use: “Even though I feel this stress, I am grateful for my resilience and inner stillness that resides inside me always.” Thank your mind and body for working on your behalf (and especially when) life feels tough to manage. Find a way to feel grateful anyway. Find a way to thank your Inner Zen even so, for doing so strengthens it simply by your acknowledgment.
Now it’s YOUR TURN. Tap into your Inner Zen. What does it look and feel like? How might activating your place of Inner Zen help you during your times of stress? What do you do to find your place of inner calm and peace? Please let me know in the comments below!
Somehow January just sped on by and now it’s February 1st, a brand new month in a brand new year. When too much time passes between my blog posts, I get a little “blog shy” so I decided I’d drink my shy antidote tincture and post *something* today. Note to self: when stuck, post something, anything. 1, 2, 3, go!
Out of my writing archives I share with you something I wrote close to twenty years ago!
Somehow even today this three-part prose piece still resonates…
I am seven. My pink sweatshirt catches on sticker bushes, my bare feet sink into soft clay. I stand on the mound of earth that guards the entrance to the steep wooded gully in my front yard. I call my hill Fernyland. It is a sanctuary for ferns, dark green ferns that never seem to lose their leaves. They are stationed like an army on my little hill guarding the woods, yet their arms spread open to me. It is fall.
I am thinking about what it feels like to sit alone on the school bus. I am thinking about how hard I listen to conversations of other kids, how much gossip I secretly know. It is on my hill where I can speak. Finally. Open my mouth. Here. I am protected by maple trees and the yellow ceiling they create for this mound. For my body. It is like a cave in this space. Moist and dark and safe. I want a voice, my voice, to surface here. I know the ferns are waiting.
It has rained and the earth beneath me is drinking. Slowly. I can no longer stand on this mound of earth; I crouch down, staining my knees gray and brown, touching the wet clay with my fingers. I dig paths with my knuckles; rainwater slides out of puddles into these trenches. Deep. Deeper. I wish I could fold myself into these creases of cool, moist earth and sleep. But I open my mouth. A bit. I dig my fingers down, down and feel roots. Something smooth and definite emerges. It is my voice.
* * *
I am twelve, blasted with high bangs and makeup. I am hairspray and zit cream and menstrual blood finding refuge here. I enter Fernyland with tennis shoes, careful not to dirty the white canvas and silver laces. I want to leave behind the sounds of television and radio tunes, but discover that clay is loud. Heat is never quiet; it is always snapping and splitting open like dry wood. I listen to my shoes scuffing against the clay powder. I can almost ear the earth cracking in this heat. It is summer.
They have drilled and cut and driven over this mound. They have pushed a water pipe through its heart, cracking the clay, tearing up roots. The army of ferns has been destroyed, but is beginning to surface again. I sit in the center of my hill, filling its coarse skin turning to powder in my hands. There is nothing to smell, nothing to taste. I hate my body. I feel ugly. Dirty. There is something about dryness that makes me want to become stale, empty, starved. In front of the mirror I feel barren. I cannot relate to my own image, so I find myself here on this wounded mound, in the clay dust and dry heat.
I am remembering a story my brother told me about the fox king and the squirrel who lived in Fernyland. He said the fox king chased the squirrel into a drain pipe and died. For several years I checked the spot where I knew the squirrel decayed. When I peered in, I believed I saw him there. I believed. A year ago, my brother told me he lied about the story. Why does it seem a comfort now to know that he lied?
I long to feel cool and moist again, protected by vines and ferns. Dust sticks to my oily face. I am glad I cannot see my reflection in earth. I know my nose would look large, my pimples swollen and red. Exposed. Knowing that a metal pipe runs through this mound makes my stomach sting; I know the small ferns and new growth trees must be stretching their roots down, only to find something metal and hard.
* * *
I am sixteen. Fernyland is holding the weight of new couplets of maple trees. Trains of ivy and vines and sticker bushes twist into braids and knots. Ferns are standing guard. I can feel their leaves brushing against my calves as I trace my way through the darkness. The clay is smooth and wet, like my face. I am standing in the dark, accepting the musty smell of rain, my feet burrowing into the loose earth where I have just buried my dog. It is spring.
Clouds hide stars tonight; rain makes the ferns droop and cry. For the first time since my childhood I crave the taste of dirt. I want to plunge into this moist clay feet first, cool wet life pressing through layers of toes, against skin, into my nose, mouth, and eyes, feeding me.
I am sixteen and I am curling up on his grave, my knees against my chest. The light from the house filters through leaves and vines. I am living only in stringy shadows. The wind is carrying chimney smoke into my cave, reminding me of heat, of being dry. It reminds me of summer, of clay splitting open, splintering like bark. Dry is too open, too exposed, too empty. I am full when I breathe damp air, fog. I hold my breath in intervals, blocking the smoke from my nose and mouth. Why is it that I have come here to breathe, and now I must hold my breath?
I am thirsty. I wonder how long it takes the rain to reach the roots of the maple trees, of the ferns that stand like army brigades, protecting me. I wonder when the rain will reach his body, making him soft and cool. I wonder if roots will ever travel that far down, touch his bones, twist around his body. I grab for the strong arms of ferns, and feel what it’s like to take root and grow.
Courtney E. Putnam, c. 1995
I’ve come to my last day and last post for Courtney Answers Questions Month (CoAnQuMo)! I’m ending with a futuristic question….
Here it is:
How do you imagine yourself as an old lady? What would your ideal 80th year of life look like?
Interestingly, the first thing I imagine is my having long and straight white-gray hair. I’d really like to look like the poet Sharon Olds…
Now Ms. Olds is a young 71 years old, but you get the picture, I hope. Think “Wise Crone Artist Poet Hippie” and you’ve got my vision for myself!
I’ve always loved the word crone and I imagine myself embodying wise crone qualities. I see myself in Maui, Hawaii, living a vibrant life of painting, watching the ocean, walking the beaches, growing my own food, and being a mentor for healing practitioners. I would have a labyrinth, lots of fountains, and Buddha and bird statues galore (hey, this isn’t much different than my life now!). I also see myself writing poems, making healing tinctures, and having a solid personal meditation practice.
In some ways as I am imagining my future, I am transposing my current life onto a life 42 years from now. Things are very much the same in my idea of my future, I’m just more calm, more centered, more abundant, more confident, more successful, more clear, more open, and more grateful.
What a powerful realization that what I have in my life NOW is actually the life I want to have…
with less worry and more joy
with less self-doubt and more confidence
with less scarcity and more resources
with less rain and more sunshine (ha!)
In a way, by looking toward my future I am honoring my present — this very life I have created now. I am grateful, truly grateful.
with plumeria blossoms, poetry, and delicate sags & wrinkles,