Monday, October 14, 2013

Having and Being


I’m happy to say that the Focus Group I mentioned in the earlier post did meet again, and again after that. In fact, they’ve decided to continue meeting at 6 week intervals. The deepening energy of a group is a fascinating and beautiful thing to experience.
            In our second meeting, in contrast to the first, (when I asked them to bring something they were ready to give away) I asked them to bring something that they would not part with. We heard wonderful stories, and learned a bit more about each participant. Then, in the next meeting, I prepared them for the group with a quote from Erich Fromm’s book, To Have or To Be, and pointed out that on reflection, we can see that the biggest difference between the object they brought to give away, and the object that is a keepsake is the difference between having and being. The first object had no meaning, it was simply possessed. The second object had meaning which connected it to the quality of being. This is why even the most humble and meaningless things can become valuable in our lives.
            The line demarcating the territories of having and being can become blurred in the fog bank of relationship. Social norms lead us to say, “my husband” or “my wife”, for example. “My children”. These are terms of ownership. Even though we know that our loved ones are not our property, there is a sense of territory, at least. And that territory can easily become the geography of jealousy, assumptions, and misunderstandings.
            To review these territories for yourself, reflect on your relationships. Friendships, marriages, and significant relationships contribute to the quality of our being. Think of how you are with your friends, workmates, or your lover. How do you speak? How do you speak to each other? What do you expect from him or her? What do they expect from you? Try to name the qualities others bring into your being, and what qualities do you give, or hope to give to others?
Each of us begins life mirroring the habits we learn in our home of origin. If our parents quarreled, it seems natural to be quarrelsome with our spouse. Someone who grew up in a quiet household might find the quarrelsome environment to be painfully war-like. 
We all know, that it can be a shocking awakening when in adulthood, someone meets our parents and says, off handedly, “Oh, you’re so much like your mother.” What? No! Yikes! That can set us into a fit of rebellion against every aspect of our learned or inherited behavior.

Being without having in relationships is not an easy way to live. Especially in intimate relationships where the partners become a part of each other and a lot of behavior becomes unconscious. Having an open dialog and constant awareness can allow the relationship to be a big enough container for the individual life of each person, and the life of the two as one joint entity.
An easy place to start cultivating your awareness about having and being is to look at the objects you own, and decide which ones add to the quality of your being, and which ones you can/could get rid of (or gift to someone else).

If you're interested in experiencing group coaching, please get in touch: 510 530-4182

The illustration above is a work on paper titled, “Reflection” ©Adriana Díaz 2009.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Happiness and Aging

Did you know that The United States of America was the first country in the history of the world to mention happiness in its foundational constitutional declaration? I discovered that in a fascinating book called An Intimate History of Humanity by Theodore Zeldin. (I highly recommend it.)
So how does a foundational promise of happiness effect or contribute to the American character? More importantly, how does it contribute to your character, or mine? We Americans live as though happiness were a birth right, but in actuality, only the pursuit of happiness is laid down in our Preamble. The pursuit of happiness may make us miserable, but we hold the idea of happiness as a panacea, a state of bliss, usually just beyond our reach. It is the eternal sweet carrot always around the next corner. The phrase “happily ever after” was tattooed into our psyches from an early age, so understanding what happiness really is requires some serious thought.

     Recently I came upon an essay entitled What is a good life? in the end pages of The Week magazine (2-22-2013). In it, Emily Efsahani Smith reflects on the life and work of psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Dr. Victor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning. I made copies of the essay and sent them to friends. (I’m seldom touched so deeply by a magazine article.)
     The essay and Dr. Frankl, suggest that happiness is a fleeting present-tense prospect. We have no worry about our food supply, for example, so we eat and are happy in our eating. Then, comes a moment when our doctor explains that we have become obese and may suffer from severe arterial blockages at any moment. Suddenly, our happiness is converted into worry. Or we meet someone who makes us feel like we are smart and unique and handsome or beautiful; we spend ever-increasing time with this amazing being, until one day      we are met with “we have to talk”: “It’s not you, it’s me”; “We’re just too different”; “I realize I still love my ex-wife, boss, dog” (you fill in the blank), and happiness collapses into catastrophe.
     Victor Frankl, while surviving Auschwitz, and the loss of his beloved wife and family, watched what was happening around him in the camp. In his book, he revealed that the survivors’ secret was not an ability to find happiness, but to find meaning. Those who felt that life still expected something from them, managed to keep going when others wasted away, fell mortally wounded under a Nazi boot, or threw themselves against the electrified fence surrounding them. One inmate was a scientist who wanted to finish writing his scientific findings, another man had a young child who would need her father when the war was over. “ . . .we had passed the stage of asking what was the meaning of life, . . . For us, the meaning of life embraced the wider cycles of life and death, of suffering and of dying.”
     As we age in American culture of youth chauvinism (that’s my term), we find ourselves no longer part of the 
big spenders demographic‘in-crowd’. We see ourselves reflected less and less in Madison Avenue's high definition advertising mirrors. It’s pretty scary at first. I mean, they were the guys who defined what would make us happy throughout our youth, and now they seem not to care much if we’re happy or not. So the first thought is to keep ourselves young. We may run for a Botox injection, or a little nip and tuck. Then we feel “refreshed”, and that’s not a bad thing, but what’s beneath that? I mean, everyone’s in the same parade. If we don't look old today, we probably will one day in the not-too-distant future. And we’re all headed in the same direction, so everyone will have their moment of confrontation with the need for something beyond the sexy fashion show of pop culture. (And believe me, mass media is an insidious energy, it creeps into everyone’s life no matter how intellectual, pious, or non-urban one may live.)
     Aging and happiness do not naturally go hand in hand. We have to redefine everything for ourselves. What does life expect of you? Happiness and deeper contentment will inevitably come from determining the deeper rhythm of meaning pulsing within.
     My work on aging and self-identity is aimed at partnering with individuals in that search to find the deeper rhythm. The focus group I wrote about in the last blog was part of the beginning of this work. If you are interested in joining such a group, or doing some individual coaching around this or any topic, call me 510 530-4182. Let’s work together to explore the meaningful dimensions of your life. Let happiness be your path, not a destination. 

*The painting in this post is titled "Sisters of Clouds", I painted it in 1994, as a memorial to my friend Ann Hawthorne. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Spirits Now and Gone

            Recently I held a focus group to go more deeply into issues of aging and self-identity.  I’m grateful to the women who took part, we had an amazing evening of unexpected experiences. They had followed my request to bring an item from their closet: an accessory or piece of jewelry (something that could be exchanged despite differences in age or size). I asked them to choose something that had had meaning at one time, and now symbolized a part of them that no longer existed. It had to be an item they were ready to release.
We shared the stories of the objects and how they’d come into their lives. Many spirits moved through the circle. There were children who’d grown up, relatives both living and dead. Occasions and events were named as part of the stories connected to the objects on the altar. We talked about the feelings that come with letting go. There were phrases like, “it’s just not me, now”, “I just don’t wear it any more”, “I kept it because of the connection to the person who gave it to me, but that person is no longer in my life.”
            I talked a little bit about how the things we own, especially the things we wear are the costuming of our movie. And without stopping occasionally to consciously check in with our values and personality, our own reflection can deceive us, when we’re dressed up as the person we used to be. 
            The objects were placed on the altar, and I asked them to write answers to a few questions, one of which was: What does releasing this object open for you?
Then each woman chose one object to take home with her. I asked a few more provocative questions, and after the writing period we opened the discussion and they shared their answers. The connections to receiving a new possession were as interesting as the releasing. One thing that will forever be true, those objects will never be meaningless. They will always vibrate with the stories and energies shared that night.
            One woman, for example chose a hat. When the hat had been placed on the altar she learned that it had once belonged to a woman who’d been courageously  fighting a debilitating illness nearly all her life. The hat seemed to symbolize courage and fortitude. When our group member put it on, I said, “Now you have a power object. You can wear it whenever you need courage.”
Each person revealed things about herself that she hadn’t put into words before, or just hadn’t had the right time to name. We talked about the power of wearing certain colors, and how our tastes had changed as we’d matured.
At the end of the evening, I was surprised that they all said they’d like to meet again. I hadn’t anticipated that. When I asked why, I heard things like: “I feel so supported”, “I hadn’t stopped to think about these things,” “I have so much stuff to let go of still in my closet, and I’d like to keep this consciousness process in my mind.”
Some did clear closets and drawers on the following weekend. Others just cherished the evening’s experience. The work will continue from here. If you feel you’d like to take part, please contact me: 

Being in The Big Movie

         In my website ( there is a page called In Your Fashion, dedicated to coaching as a path toward truthful self-knowledge and self-appreciation. Often, it takes illness or a milestone birthday to stop us in our tracks, realizing that our self-identity is not completely intact. If we don’t reflect regularly on our actions and mental habits, it’s easy to find that life has swept us along, demanding our attention for problem solving, family needs, and work issues, and left us devoid of a solid self-identity. But regular contemplation and time out for ‘soul searching’ seem to be luxuries we can’t afford. Then a son graduates from high school, or a daughter has her first child, and “OMG! Who am I now?” At those moments the clothing we wear informs the way we see ourselves, and it's easy to identify as the person we were five or ten years ago when those clothes were right for us.
When I was fourteen I had a revelation in Algebra class. Suddenly, I knew what I wanted to do with my life: I wanted to be a costume designer. (Okay, I probably wasn’t paying attention to the teacher.) I won’t go into how that vision was washed out of my brain, but recently, I realized that it is still with me. The costume designer’s point of view is still working from the recesses of my mind. I realize that I see life as the big movie, and clothing is far more than what keeps us from getting arrested, it is the costuming of our movie. My years studying Method Acting may be playing a part in this, too, but it's true that when a new character comes into our life, we scan for all available clues to learn about him or her. Take a moment to think of the first time you saw your beloved. How he or she looked gave you a hit, a moment of really seeing someone. (Remember Ilsa when she first walks into Rick’s place in Casa Blanca.) Clothing and grooming are not just part of the first impression, they are part of the overall picture. And it’s not just what is worn, but how it is worn, and what condition it’s in. The next time you watch a movie, pay conscious attention to how you read the characters. The costume designer chose each piece of clothing purposefully, and the actor wears a posture for that character. 
Of course, people read us, too. When we throw on an old pair of jeans for Thanksgiving dinner, or wear a dress that’s fifteen years old, we may be saying something about ourselves that’s very unflattering, or we’re revealing a truth we think we want to conceal: the occasion’s not important to us, or we're mad at our family. Sometimes there’s only one aspect of self-identity that deters us from holding onto old clothes: our weight. If we can’t fit into that dress or those jeans, we're forced to deal with a change, but HERE IS THE POINT: buying a bigger size is not the same as knowing and respecting the new person we’ve become.
            This isn’t about fashion. That’s why the page is called “In Your Fashion”. This is about letting go of the past “you”, and expressing the new “you” through conscious choices. We’ve all had a certain piece of clothing that stands out in our mind because of how it made us feel: self-confident, attractive, smart, powerful, seductive. Imagine having a closet full of those garments. Not that we must have such a wardrobe, but we can eliminate all things that fail to elevate our sense of self-confidence and self-worth. Wear things that connect with all the aspects of who you are. It’s your movie, and we're costuming you for your high school reunion, every day.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Balancing Act

I want to thank all the people who came out to Open Studios. We know that a lot of people are still out of work, so not many have discretionary funds for buying, or investing in art. Nevertheless, many people came out to see the work, to support us with their presence, their interest, and yes, some even with their money.
Since the Open Studios activities, I’ve found myself juggling a number of jobs and roles. This photo may not depict the full drama of the moment. It’s a picture of me achieving victory over a challenging exhibit at the new Exploratorium. What you cannot tell is that the round table holding the blocks is not a solidly supported platform; it is balanced on a small center point, like the point of a top. Also, some of those blocks are weighted with metal. So, I was pretty pleased that I managed to get all the blocks balanced on the platform in my second try. I’m happy to say, as we walked away it stayed like that until the next challenger arrived.

In the time since that day, I’ve reflected on the photo a number of times, as a symbol of my life. Life is like that platter of weights. We hope that our physical and mental health are the stable platform for the things we take on. For a week or more after the two-weekend Open Studio events, I had to pay attention to re-establishing that personal inner balance. I was exhausted. It’s usually hard for me to even recognize fatigue (let alone admit it), so when it’s obvious, it is really time to slow down. But I’m like you, I have a lot of different “balls in the air” all at once, and I have to keep juggling to keep everything in motion.

How’s the balance in your life this summer? Will you get vacation time? How will you use it? If you don’t have a lot of money for a getaway, will you get pulled into the demanding gravity of home improvement and maintenance? Well, I give you permission to play hookie from those things, then go play something else: golf, tennis, dominoes!
Go to the Exploratorium! Let your mind play, it will do you a world of good. Honest.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Exhibit

I probably don't have to explain that time got the better of me in working on new work and preparing for the event. Unfortunately, neither of the pieces I was working on were ready for exhibition. So I curated the exhibit to include older work and new work that was already completed by the time I began blogging about the EBOS 2013 process.
The work I'm showing at 401 26th St., Oakland, on Saturday and Sunday (June 7, 8, & 9, 2013) is an interesting glance at the evolution of my work with the human mark. They are textured abstract pieces on canvas that engage the viewer in a physical, spiritual, and intellectual way.
On Friday night we will have a First Friday evening event from 6-9 p.m. On Saturday and Sunday we open at 11 a.m., close at 6 p.m. I am exhibiting with 19 other artists (jewelers, potters, graphic artists, a weaver, and other painters) so plan to stay a while and enjoy the live music, refreshments, and festive atmosphere.We are at: 401 26th St., Oakland, Ca., between Broadway and Telegraph, at the Uptown Body and Fender. We call ourselves The Uptown Twenty!

Did you ever stop to realize that every other art form charges admission to enjoy it? We cannot attend theater, film, concerts, or ballet without paying for a ticket. But visual artists make their work visible and available for free. So, don't forget your cash, checkbooks, and credit cards!  Come out in support of the visual arts! We'd love to see you!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Time Between

Yesterday I was so frustrated with the big canvas that I painted the whole thing an off-white color and left the studio. 

Now I am ruminating over it. Finally, I have reason to look through the piles of old art magazines I’ve saved over the years. (See, I knew they’d come in handy one day!) I leaf through those magazines, looking for something that connects: a surface, an image, a color. Last night I found something. It was a photo of a prehistoric wall painting.
It makes perfect sense that I'd be drawn to such an image, since my greatest inspiration is the earth and physical surfaces. Those paintings by early humans are consistently aesthetically and scientifically elegant. Our specie was so much closer to the essentials of living. Imagine, for example, how quiet it must have been. Even though the brain may not have been as highly developed as it is today, the sensorial experience of life was a much bigger part of our awareness. When I am locked safely into my studio and I don't have to worry about being disturbed, I relish the time to pick up little things dropped onto the studio floor. Sometimes, I find beautiful pieces of paper stained and marked by the random movement of their life. 
I am a sensualist. I think I paint from the sensations in my fingertips as much as anything. The senses are very important to me. Even line, especially calligraphic line, which can be very cerebral, conveys physical movement in my work. 
Anyway, all this 'thought-talk' is to say that today’s blog addresses the issue of painting when the brush is not in my hand. What is painting in the time between the movements of the brush?
Do not confuse this with that nonsense about creative blocks. I don’t believe in creative blocks. I am simply at a point of reflection and thought. I am not only painting when my brush is in motion. I am also painting when I am contemplating the piece, the process, the intention, and the spiritual receptivity I need to go further.  (Remember: make something happen, and let something happen.) This part of the process demands patience and deep faith in creativity, and its veracity in a largely commercial and violent society.
            If this hasn’t given you enough to think about, I am going to do something I’ve never done before: I am going to publish two posts in one day. This reflective time in the painting studio can be made exceedingly painful, if the painter becomes bogged down by self-doubt. That doubt is actually the nature of what has come to be called “creative blocks”. So when I say I don’t believe in creative blocks, it’s because the 'blockage" is not in the creativity process. Rather, the interior atmosphere darkened by self-doubt becomes a deadly environment for creativity. Self-doubt is about self-identity. The next post addresses the issue of self-identity, using an excerpt from my novel, Persephone’s Tango.