Friday, December 7, 2012


I have always loved Advent calendars with their little doors and hidden images. If you are not familiar with them, they are put up during the month of December to count the four week leading up the birth of Christ. We have just begun Advent in the Christian sense, and it got me to thinking about what it means in regards to one's life. Pregnancy is an Advent season, for example. We go through other obvious Advents like waiting to move into a new house or apartment.
Advent is a time of anticipation and expectancy, it is also a time of preparation.
What are you anticipating? What are you preparing for? Or what could you be preparing for? What would be an exciting event for you to celebrate in the coming year?
I know it is customary not to start thinking of the new year until after the Christmas holiday, but then there is a lot of pressure to come up quickly with some clever or obvious declaration for a "resolution". What I am thinking about is not a resolution, but a new "thing". It could be a new attitude or an addition to your routine that is 'just worth a try.' A resolution suggests a commitments to something even before you know if you're going to want to keep it. So this season, think about the holidays as a period of Advent. What is dawning on your horizon, and how do you want to prepare for it? Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sisters of Clouds

October is a memorial marker for me, like a temporal headstone in the year. It's not because of All Souls' Day or Dia de los Muertos, it's because I always seem to lose loved ones in October. It is the month that took my  grandfather, then years later, my grandmother. It was also the month in which I lost  my father. So when I see its balloon-like O come up in the calendar, I take a deep breath and grit my teeth.
     The older I get the more loss I face. That's life, I guess. I know their is an adage that says 'time heals all wounds', that's a bit of a distortion if you ask me.  Time forces us to step forward unceasingly, well, until our own denouement. Most of us are pretty "scarred up" by the time we reach 50 or 60, but having survived our losses, we've also learned some essential lessons about life.
I've learned to use October as a time to give thanks for those I've lost. It's a time to remember the sound of their voices and special things they said to me. I remember the best things we shared and replay memories of them as clearly as possible.
I can't count how many wonderful memories I have of my grandparents. They taught me to speak Spanish from the time I learned to speak. They taught me about my ethnic identity and about our culture. It didn't matter to them that I was born in the U.S., except that it meant I didn't need to earn my American citizenship. Papa taught to appreciate the flamenco. Mama taught me about Spanish food. Abuelo taught me about orgullo: pride, and the importance of doing well in school. Abuelita, who died when I was seven, taught me that a woman could meet the demands of anything asked of her. My father, who did not believe in God, gave me a sense of the whole world as a mysterious and sacred phenomenon. Their legacy is an enormous part of who I am.
I've also been forced to face the loss of friends and colleagues. People my age. Somehow their passing brings death closer. Once the tears have subsided, I realize that the only thing to do is remember and give thanks for the time we had together. This year I give thanks for Peg and Karen, two redheads who never knew each other, but were always the life of the party. They had a way of surrendering to fun, that I always admired. And Ann, who read so many paperback books that they practically lined her walls like wallpaper. (We bought a memorial tile for her at the library.) I give thanks for Robert, who was as elegant a dancer as Fred Astaire and as sweet as a boy of six his whole life. It's still hard to put Felix among these memories, he just died on Labor Day. He was one of the most talented cartoonists I've ever known. And he proved to be as courageous as he was creative when his biting cartoons critical of the junta were published in a well-known Argentine political magazines during the Dirty War.
I remember my mentors with special gratitude. I was so fortunate to have been in the path of their very unique lives. Mary Caroline Richards was a poet, potter, and internationally known educator.  Though she lived well into her eighties, she always met the world with the wonder of a child, and the grace of an angel. Her books of poetry and her brilliant essays are still available. Sr. Jose Hobday, a firecracker of a nun, was half Irish Catholic and half Native American. She was outspoken and fun-loving, and most of all, wise. At the University of Creation Spirituality we displayed photos of her in a public dialog with the Dalai Lama.
The painting I've included with this post is called Sisters of Clouds. I painted it from an improvised meditation prayer that came to me some years ago with my friend Ann Hawthorne as she lay in Stanford Hospital in the final weeks of her life. My prayer took us into the sky where clouds change shape without pain or fear. We are just like clouds, I said, shape shifters, and sometimes we even disappear. But our nature to love and to remember never changes. Our humanity unites us and keeps us united. We age and we move on, yet we can see each other in the transparency of memories.  We are connected by the nature of our being, just like clouds. And from that prayer came the painting. Not long ago I saw a woman in a department store who looked so much like Ann, it was hard to believe that my friend had not come back to life. Then I thought about our prayer and about the painting. I smiled. She had come back to say hello, I thought. It didn't have to be her person, her spirit was certainly there, evoked by the resemblance of a stranger and the power of my memory.

I hope my reflections have inspired your own beautiful memories. You don't need to paint them, but spending time in the realm of remembrance can be a powerful meditation. In Mexico families gather at cemeteries on Dia de los Muertos. They bring the foods that were favored by the deceased, sing their favorite songs, and really celebrate their life. But we don't need to get that elaborate to appreciate our departed ones. A candle next to a photo, or a small vase with some flowers can suffice.
And this simple practice can introduce a profound dimension of gratitude to our daily life.


Friday, September 21, 2012

At a Loss for Words

This Human Life
It seems that no matter what we accomplish in our life, we seldom give ourselves the credit or praise we readily gift to others. It's been a while since I've posted here, my thinking being, 'Well, no one reads it anyway'. But thanks to the Blogger Stats, I see that over one hundred and fifty people read this blog last month, and while that's nothing by web standards, for me it's quite amazing. So thank you for reading, and if you'd like to drop me a note every now and then, it would be great to know something about you.
The painting to the left is one I have posted before, and it is the only one that's been requested to be re-posted. It's also one of the paintings now on view in the Addison Street Windows Gallery on Addison St. in Berkeley, California. It will be on view until November first. You can stop by any time, the windows are also lit at night. They are located between Milvia and Shattuck, next to the new venue for the performance space, Freight and Salvage, and across from the Berkeley Repertory Theater. I'm giving a little sidewalk reception on Sunday, Sept. 30th. Stop by and say hi.
The title of the Addison Street Windows is Land and Language. The paintings on exhibit reflect the work I've been doing for about twenty years, following an impulse to mark and create paintings that move out of the body.  People seem to think that artists act from certainty, always knowing what we're doing and why we're doing it. Maybe some artists work that way, but for me the studio is the only place where I can lean into my intuition and act without reason.
Human experience is a mystery. Art reflects and celebrates that mystery.
Did you ever stop to realize how much of life is invisible? The illnesses that come at us, the emotions we feel, the thoughts we have: they are all invisible forces working through our lives. In a way, the marks that come into many of my paintings are the language of invisible forces. The earth holds, as if protecting, languages that are just as mysterious and undecipherable in it. They are the elaborate patterns of expression devised by humans before us, and they are literally part of the terrain of our world.
I hope my paintings and these thoughts are catalysts for your thoughts and your work. And again, thanks for reading.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Spirit to Endure

I’ve never written a 
blog entry about a movie before, but recently I experienced a film worth reflecting on (and no, I will not tell you
how it ends). 
            The Beasts of the Southern Wild digs into the viewer, touching each of us in a primal and discomforting way. Its opening scenes carry us along the delta and bayou terrain of Louisiana 
to a fictitious town called The Bathtub. The world of The Bathtub is paradoxically both grimy and magical, and through the machinations of child’s mind it takes on mythological proportions.
            I didn’t know, until the next day, when I did some online searching, that the brilliant director of the film, Benh Zeitlin, is only 19 years old. Here’s what film critic Roger Ebert had to say about Zeitlin’s film: “Sometimes miraculous films come into being, made by people you’ve never heard of, starring unknown faces, blindsiding you with creative genius. This is such a movie and one of the year’s best.”
            Central to the story line is the relationship between a little girl and her father. Both characters are played by people who never acted a day in their lives. Dwight Henry, who plays the father, is a baker, and Quvenzhané Wallis, a six year old with a spirit and power of self-expression seldom seen in people of any age. Go to YouTube to see their interviews after you’ve seen the movie. The complex nature of their relationship is nuanced and changing to the last moment.

            Aside from the story, the filming, and the grit, Beasts of the Southern Wild focuses attention on the Louisiana delta, showing us the vulnerability of humans and wildlife in the region. In showing us the aftermath of just one storm, I felt as if Zeitlin was shaking every one of us by the shoulders begging us to wake up and do something about the crucial care Louisiana needs. With the destruction of one levee, with the impact of one storm, ocean water can mix with fresh and kill off all manner of plants and animals.
            Even from the beginning of the film, there is a sense of the people of The Bathtub living in the aftermath of a calamity, like sci fi flicks set in post atomic Earth. And there is no pretention that things will get better. Yet all the while the people of the Bathtub keep singing and playing the blessed spirited music that Louisiana gives the world.
            It’s a mystery how such infectiously happy music comes from a place so challenged by poverty, natural disaster, and all the requisite evils of modern society. Nevertheless, in The Bathtub, in Louisiana, old and young, white, black, and every color of people live together hand in hand, in solidarity, singing and dancing as they go.
            Beasts of the Wild South packs an emotional wallop, and symbolically, it would have kept even Carl Jung watching his dreams.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Question

       In this new blog format, I was given a survey option. So I wrote in the question: "What do you most like to read about in this blog?" But no matter what I do, I do not see the questions, only the answer options. So please feel free to let me know your answer.
       The painting here is titled "Consonants". It is part of a series I did about the nature of language. I still find new alphabets showing up in my paintings from time to time. I try to allow them to form rather than consciously shaping them.
         Thanks for reading my blog.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Are you locked out?

One of the most important items in a Coach’s Toolbox is a good question. Honestly, listening to my mentor coaches during my certification program made me realize that questioning can be an art form. A question is like a key. When you’ve locked yourself out of your car, you call a locksmith who has the equipment and know-how to find the right key shaped to unlock your vehicle. Coaches are a little like locksmiths. When you are locked out of your own wisdom, a good coach will present you with questions to open doors to your inner knowledge.
A coach has all kinds of questions. Some are sleek, designed specifically to slip between that rock and the hard place where you are stuck.  Others open like an umbrella to cut down on the glare that impairs your vision. Some questions get their power from the moment in which they are asked, others are constantly challenging.
What’s keeping you from getting exactly what you want and need? This question can be applied at the beginning of every day, or to the big screen of your life. Life puts hurdles in our path. Some hurdles are easy to clear, while others stop us in our tracks. Sometimes we can’t even name the toughest hurdle, but our body reacts so strongly, that we are metaphorically “locked out of our car”: we can’t move forward and we don’t know what inner resource has the power to free us. 
Asking yourself, “What’s in my way?” can help to name what you need. If you want your child to see you as an ally, for example, the question can lead you to naming the things that have come between you in the past. Maybe old resentment is in your way, or maybe it’s judgmental behavior. One good question can open a door, get you over a hurdle, and lead you to empowering answers.
How will you know when you’ve unlocked the door? How will you know you’ve asked the right question? The only insurance policy is having a coach to walk the path with you. Sure, you say, she’s selling coaching. But just ask yourself: how many questions can you come up with? How long will it take you to think up new challenging and empowering questions? And will you know how to use them? Just like the person who tries to get the car going without a locksmith, you could struggle through a dozen ill-fitting questions and still not find the right key. Working with a life coach saves you a lot of time, and yes, even money in the long run.

Don't forget: You can have a free sample Coaching session! Reach me at 510 530-4182

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Dent in Self-Identity

Last month’s post opened the topic of finding and maintaining a solid self-identity in the world of mass commodification. While we’re fortunate to live in a time when medicine and health information allow us to live longer than ever before, mass media reaches into even the most intimate corners of our lives fomenting self-doubts and undermining balanced personal dynamics. For example, we are all aging, yet the media message to anyone over twenty-three is that we should look younger than we are. Everyone is a package to be designed and polished for a market place. With 50% of marriages failing, there’s a huge market place for romance. With unemployment at record highs, there’s another market place for work. Then, and this is especially true for the very young, there is a market for popularity and another for style. We’re no longer trying to negotiate the messages from Madison Avenue, now social media tugs at our desire for acceptance and popularity. 
Way back in 1992, when my book, Freeing the Creative Spirit was published, it included a reflection page with a quote from the psychologist, Otto Rank. (Please excuse the anachronistic gender reference.) “Man’s eternal conflict,” he said, “is the struggle between his need for likeness and his desire for difference.” At any age, it seems, we want to stand out, to distinguish ourselves in some way, and yet we want to be well-liked and widely accepted so that we can fit into our ‘tribe’. So we want to be our own person, but also belong to our special group.
How do we do this? If we are overweight, we can lose some pounds. If we look dowdy, we can replace our old wardrobe with a few new clothes. These can be simple solutions, and mostly they impact the way we see ourselves. A sense of renewal can come as easily as a new haircut or a new shade of lipstick. But what about changes that need to go deeper?
As a life coach I exercise a good deal of intuition. Someone may come to me talking about needing a new kind of work, and inside their words I sense a spiritual hunger they cannot yet express. In just this way, a quest that begins with a membership at Weight Watchers may really take hold in a deeper excursion into self-identity and self-understanding. The term ‘mid-life crisis’ has been tossed about for decades, used to signify aging. But any period of self-examination is really a sign of growth and maturity, not age. Age is chronological, personal development is multi-dimensional, it is not calculable. You can’t weigh it, or count it out on a calendar. Without self-examination human beings just get old. Like fruit, their chronological measurement simply leads to slow decomposition. But humans, while their bodies may decline, can continue to blossom and give fruit right up to the moment the spirit departs.
Recognizing the potential of your inner life force is the first step toward celebrating a unique self-identity. This is especially important during times of drastic change. You might lose one hundred pounds and need to get reacquainted with the person in the mirror. You may find yourself alone after 30 years of marriage. You may survive a life-changing cataclysm. A brush with death, or the challenge of living with a physical disability can seem devastating, until the future can be seen through the eternal spirit within. Get in touch with your inner flame! It's that thing I call the inner pilot light. Through the coaching process we can access the power waiting to be summoned. It’s your power, even if you can’t see it, I can. I can call it forth, and guide you to the next level of discovering life anew.
            In the photo included with this post, titled “Self-Portrait in Grass”, I photographed my shadow bearing witness to my presence on the planet. It’s not a great photo, it just captured one of those moments in life, where everything shifted just a couple of degrees. I saw my shadow on the ground, and suddenly recognized myself in a totally different context, literally as part of the earth. The image gave me a distance from my ego-self. The camera was aimed at the grass and dirt, the ground of the park, and suddenly I recognized myself, and it became a self-portrait. It’s an example of the multi-dimensional way of comprehending being. The experience and image stayed with me as another level of self-identity as Earth.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Brand New You?

I grew up thinking that “branding” was something Rowdy Yates did to a herd of cattle. I never planned to have a ranch, so it never occurred to me that I would have to design a brand. But here we are in the new millennium and branding is something we do to people and companies and products, and if you don’t brand yourself cowboy, you’re nobody.
To survive the fatal virus of anonymity we are encouraged to swallow the medicine of constant self-promotion. Some of us are better at this than others, of course, but this daily push toward fame and acceptance has an inner impact on all of us.
We are living in a time of mass commodification. Everything and everyone must be part of the market place. Whether you want to succeed in business or love, you’ve gotta have a good head shot and snappy copy. My question is: what’s happening inside of us with this continuous push to expand our number of “friends” and contacts? We are bombarded with the message that we are not enough, and we are not doing enough. If one is an adult meeting this new age of marketmanship, then a sense of pre-existing inner equilibrium could help counter balance a healthy identity and sense of innate value. But imagine being thirteen!
Between mass media and social media young people and women, especially, are taught to  be thinner, younger, and/or sexier. Everything from mascara to face cream is sold as the magic elixir or potion to ‘make you shine’. Men should be “winners”, a goal that apparently counteracts both age and girth.  
We all want to look and feel our best, but with the constant professionally-powered force of Madison Avenue, it takes an extraordinary personality to maintain a fully self-determined identity. Even the most polished players in the fame game are criticized and dissected, in fact that dissection is big business, too. “The 10 Worst Dressed.” “Who’s got cellulite in Hollywood?” Who are the top A-Listers this year? The Ten Wealthiest in the World? The Sexiest Man? All these meaningless headlines will reach you even without a television, unless you grow all your own food, wash your clothes at the river bank, and don’t have access to a computer.
I’m not against fashion trends or Hollywood headlines, I just want every person to be optimistic and joyful, to find their own style, and to express themselves without bashing or being bashed. We can look great, we can be healthy, we can even be ‘fashionable’ on our own terms. But in this mass media driven society, that’s not just a choice, it is a process. Look forward to my next blog to learn more about it!