An Incredible Lightness of BEing

play, peace, powerPeace, Play & Pleasure, Visual Journal Page, ©Linda Hough 2015

Today, as I sat on the couch with my morning cup of coffee, I noticed something different.

I have changed.

Instead of thinking about all the things I’m not doing, the food I’m not eating, the person I’m not becoming, I was thinking about the opposite.

And I was noticing that this change is not a momentary blip in an otherwise ordinary morning, but something deep down that has actually transformed.

Having a daily creative practice has lightened up my life. When I’m working in my visual journal, I am having a personal conversation with myself. Not the self that is enjoying this beautiful Sunday morning. But rather the deep Self that doesn’t often get a chance to speak.

When I’m sitting at the table, my journal in front of me, I never know where I’m going. The colors beckon, the images delight and suddenly one is chosen. There is paint involved, glue and often, colored pens and markers. I feel myself gently enter the flow, where nothing else matters but that which is before me. My whole BEing smiles.

Sometimes it is in the middle of the journey, or sometimes not till the very end, that I know or understand what it is I’m creating.

Sometimes the journey is rough, confusing and unclear, as nothing makes sense. Through persistence, through patience and sometimes a night’s rest, the next step always emerges.

Thus far, the journey has taken me on the ride of my life. Literally, I comb the depths of my soul for information that leads me to discover more of who I really am.

As this is happening, I realize I’m significantly more content with almost everything.

I no longer have the desire to numb myself with meaningless distractions. After years of struggling with food cravings, I find that I can easily sit next to my husband as he crunches on chips, or enjoys French bread and pastries. I’m not even tempted.

When I feel troubled or the desire to explore something, I know exactly where to go. I sit down and lose myself in my visual journaling, only to find the most precious of gifts.

I take the first steps into the unknowning and trust that the process will do as it always does, show me the way. I pour out my deepest emotions and receive the grace of understanding and wisdom.

The most amazing gift of all is that everything I experience in my journal, I can take into life. The creative process transfers directly to life, making life a whole lot more fun.

Simple color and interesting shapes make up stories that emerge out of nothing. As I look at my table even now, I know the joy will never end because there is always something new and different to discover. Always a mystery to unveil or a question to be answered.

Here, in the pages of my journal, I’ve found my sanctuary, my soul space, my heartbeat. And I’ve found this most incredible lightness of BEing.

When Your Heart Is On Fire

My heart is on fire this morning with the beauty of images and words and the human spirit.

On my way home from an in-person coaching session yesterday, I suddenly felt like not going home at all. The sun was shining, people were out, I didn’t have anything scheduled or pressing to do.

I decided to follow this feeling I can only describe as the desire to experience something new.

I stopped ‘thinking’ and let myself wander. I began walking towards the side of town that I don’t often frequent.

Books Books BooksBeautiful Beautiful Books! ~ Librairie de la Basse Fontaine ~ Vence, France

On a corner is an old bookstore that specializes in art and antiquity books and has been there for I don’t know how many years. Every time I look at this store and the wealth of knowledge and beauty inside, I am overcome with a feeling of deep satisfaction knowing that places like this still exist in the world.

This time around, I discovered that the owner had put in a small gallery space on one side of the shop where, among other pieces, he is displaying small drawings by Chagall.

Chagall who lived and WORKED here for God’s sake.

chagall drawingsChagall Drawings ~ Librairie de la Basse Fontaine ~ Vence, France

As I stood in admiration, I imagined Chagall doing these very personal drawings on the spot.

I then wandered around in the old town, looking at the shops and galleries, noticing how some had come and gone. Though the walls are ancient, the old town is always alive with change.

My artist eye became attracted to some interesting spots on the wall. Out comes my iPhone to take photos.

Vence Wall ArtVence Wall Art ~ Vence France ~ Photo by Linda Hough

I am now reminded of the idea of taking yourself on an artist date as Julia Cameron describes in The Artists Way. What she suggests is regularly scheduling a time where you go out and do something that inspires you creatively.

Suddenly a whole new area of my brain is lit up and my awareness increases. This day is bringing about some unexpected insight. 

My walk-about continues, taking me past a popular bakery where earlier this month, I had discovered some bits of delight that involve pralines, chocolate, cream and almonds. Yum!

I didn’t stop because I found myself heading more intentionally towards the Tabac where they sell many items including magazines.

There, I let my eyes feast on the bounty of images before me.

I looked at an article on the Matisse collage exhibit in New York. He too lived and worked in Vence. Every day, I look out at the Chapel he designed and built in the later years of his life and am reminded that beauty and inspiration are always here if one has the desire to see.

Then my eyes fell onto a cover with delightful spots of color. I saw that it is a new magazine called FLOW. I picked it up, took one look inside and fell in love immediately.

Flow MagazineFLOW Magazine ~ French Edition #1

When I got home, I discovered that FLOW is the product of the vision of three Dutch women.

I’ll let them tell their own story: We dreamed of a magazine with which we could explore our love of paper. A magazine of unhurried time, all about doing things differently and making new choices. Small happiness, daily life and the beauty of not always managing to be perfect. That is how Flow began. Flow is all about positive psychology, mindfulness, creativity and the beauty of imperfection. We love illustrations and in each issue there is a gift made of our much-loved paper. We print the magazine itself on different types of paper.

That did it for me. They had me at love of paper. Bingo. I’m hooked.

They first published in Dutch, then English and now the first edition in French, which is what I’m clutching in my hands. And true to their word, there is a lovely notebook included inside.

Even now, I feel so alive and inspired by their creation that I can barely type.

This is what it means to have a vision and carry it through to fruition.

Imagine yourself and two of your friends talking about whatever it is that is inside YOU to do.

And then you go home and do nothing.

These women took their vision, their dreams and desires and created something that affects the world. Here I am, sitting in France, completely captivated by their end product.

What if they had just kept talking and done nothing?

There would be no FLOW in the world.

Queen + Adam Lambert with QuoteQueen + Adam Lambert in Concert ~ Paris 2015 ~ Photo by Linda Hough

What vision or dream are you holding inside that wants to come out and be part of the world?

What desire do you have that you are afraid to follow?

What creative expression lies inside waiting to be seen, even if only by you?

This week, take yourself on a date of discovery. Wander about in a place that has a special attraction for you. Use ten minutes of your lunchtime to go someplace new. Or drive or walk a different route than normal.

You might find some unexpected inspiration.

You might find a new insight.

You might just find that thing you didn’t even know you were looking for.

Click here to check out FLOW Magazine in English
I have no affiliation with the magazine.
I do love to pass along inspirational resources and tools that work!

In Memorandum…Reflections on Living, Dying and Creating

Saturday, September 15th began like any other day. With a full cup of coffee, I settled in to read my emails and the morning headline news. But within moments, my heart was on alert. I saw the name of a dear friend in the subject line of another friend’s email.

As my breathing got deeper and faster, I opened the email.

My eyes could hardly take in what they were seeing.

Over and over again, I read the email telling me that one of my dearest friends in France had died suddenly from injuries sustained from an accident. She had been mowed down by a reckless, intoxicated young man on a motor scooter while crossing the street in a crosswalk.

Those of you who live in France and Monaco know exactly what hazards these guys can be.

Even now as I type, so many days later, I can hardly believe that this femme extraordinaire is gone. I’m sure I went into shock.

Later that day though, a very strange phenomenon began to occur. Instead of tears of grief or sorrow, as I recalled random moments we had shared, my spirit soared with joy.

I’m not talking about being happy. I’m talking about unequivocal, absolute, unrestrained JOY!

This was not what I would have expected.

When I dug deeper, I came to understand many things. I wrote the following letter to be read at a gathering in Vence in her honor. Hopefully, it will shed some light on my bizarre reaction and also serve as inspiration to live life as if every moment counts. Because it does.

No doubt, she too began her day like any other day. I imagine some of the things she may have done before approaching that crosswalk. Things she did on a regular basis. No matter what they were, I can pretty much guarantee she was engaged in maximum enjoyment, walking along with a smile on her face and that familiar skip in her step.

Dear Karen:

Like many of your friends in Vence, I met you at a French Conversation class. You were standing in front of me and turned to comment on something that was being said. The first thing I noticed was how beautiful you looked. You always looked so beautiful. More than anyone I know, you had a gift for creating beauty: in what you wore, in where you lived and most certainly in how you lived.

The many hours we spent talking, laughing and even crying on your terrace, in the cafés and during our travels showed me a wise woman who had taken life on as an adventure, with the full intention of pushing her level of enjoyment to the max.

I will never forget the day you talked me into parasailing. We were walking along the Promenade in Nice and stopped to watch the boat pull yet another two people up into the air and out over the sea.

You suddenly turned to me and said, Let’s do that! I thought you were joking. But I quickly realized you were not. I came up with a litany of excuses about why this was not such a good idea. But in the end, your sense of fun and desire for new experiences prevailed.

The very next day we were back on the Promenade in our bathing suits. My heart was beating a mile a minute. You just had a big smile.

As the boat pulled away from the beach, we took our running steps and then up, up and away we went. You kept pointing in different directions, saying, Look at this…Oh look at that, with absolute delight. I couldn’t see a thing as I was not allowed to wear my glasses.

But just hearing the joy in your voice was enough. It was pretty spectacular up there.

Then when we landed, in true Karen-fashion, you had yet another brilliant idea: champagne and baked Alaska on the terrace of the Negresco. Hotel. To celebrate, of course, a toast to the momentous occasion.

This is the legacy you leave etched in my heart: life can be a delight if only you decide to make it so.

I will miss you dear friend. But I know you are already creating even more beauty wherever you are now.

I raise a glass to you, cherie. Tu vis toujours dans mon coeur, (You live always in my heart.)

~ ~ ~ ~

Now I’m not suggesting Karen lived a life without pain. She had her share of heartache and sorrow.

But what I experienced with her time and time again was that when I allowed myself to cast off my (sometimes unconscious) restrictions on pleasure and say YES to the moment, I would often feel the rush of unrestricted joy throughout my body.

This was her gift and she modeled it beautifully: encouraging us always to take delight in every moment.

I shall always remember her as a frequent creator of joy-filled experiences. And hope that I can carry on as she would insist and always supported, as one who is open to what life offers and who creates what it doesn’t.

Nice Surprises or Intentionality at Work?

Since coming back from France, I’ve been assembling a studio space. I bought the black metal easel above originally thinking it would suit my purposes perfectly. I wanted something to fit the space I have, fold up if needed and be sturdy enough to hold the 30” x 30” canvases I envisioned working on.

It does fit my current space but I quickly found that it is not as sturdy as I’d like for the larger canvases. I’ve been trying to make it work, make it be okay but it is not.

So I went on a quest for an H-frame wooden easel that would fit the above requirements. I was also interested in not just going to the store to buy one but experimenting with the idea of attracting what I want or need into my life.

I did some online research regarding various easel brands and prices. I decided what I wanted. I decided how much I wanted to spend. I then checked out various sources such as Craig’s List and eBay.

The first couple of ads I checked out were not at all what I had in mind. Time was passing and I was getting more and more impatient with the metal easel. I was about to place an order online when another possibility landed in my Inbox.

On one of my online artist discussion boards, there was a post from an artist who could have been anywhere in the world but was only 30 miles from me. She was moving and had no room for her three huge easels. At first, I thought: no way. This was much more than I had in mind, both in size and price.

But then I began to think about the future and growing into it. I made her an offer for one of the easels, the exact amount I was about to spend online for a new one.

Here it is: an absolutely beautiful, highly professional, extremely sturdy and slightly overwhelming piece of equipment that takes up a lot of space but is a dream to work on. WAY more easel than I had imagined.

When I got home with it, the previous owner called to tell me that shortly after I left, someone offered her twice the price I had paid, so she hopes I enjoy it. I certainly am!

I then went on to ‘request’ a tabouret, a table that goes besides the easel that holds paints and palette. Again, I wanted something to fit my space and my budget, something on wheels, something that I wouldn’t have to worry about getting paint all over. I scouted a couple thrift stores. Then went to the beach on vacation.

While walking in town, still with my tabouret in mind, I wandered into an antique store. There, way in the back, way different that anything else in the store and underneath a plastic cake was my tabouret. PERFECT for my needs, complete with a glass top that I can use directly as a palette Voilà. My studio is taking shape.

And then an unexpected ‘surprise’. When writing about Georgia O’Keefe last week, I had a deep desire to look at more of her work. I have a few of her books but none of the big picture books that really show the wide scope of her painting. Just a few days later, a friend drops by with a stack of books she had just bought, one of which you see on the tabouret. Another ‘wish’ granted.

I write of all this for a couple of reasons. First, having the right environment and tools are so very important. It may not have been logical or reasonable but that metal easel was just bugging me. To feel really good about where you spend your time and the tools you are using adds immeasurably to your experience.

Second, this idea of intentionality, of getting crystal clear and focusing on what you want, then taking action expecting to get it is where life can really surprise you.

Full Disclosure

The Decision (detail) ~ Oil on Canvas ~ ©Linda Hough 2002

OMG, what was I thinking??

My 10 in 10 challenge was a complete F-Bomb.

F as in Failure.

My brilliant, though ill-conceived, idea was that by giving myself the challenge to do the 10 paintings in 10 days, I’d breakthrough some invisible barrier, establish a rhythm and find my theme.

Yikes! This is a perfect example of the theory that setting goals does NOT work for everyone. It is also a perfect example of not asking the right question.

The inspiration for this challenge came about because I wanted to try something different, something I thought would shake me out of my rut.

I remember reading that Georgia O’Keefe reached an impasse early on in her painting. One day, she looked at each painting in her studio and readily identified which teacher had influenced each painting.

She wanted a style all her own, her unique voice on canvas. So she created her own challenge: to strip away all that she knew about art and begin again at the beginning.

Abstraction ~ Charcoal on Paper ~ Georgia O’Keefe 1915

She used only charcoal and paper and began to express what was deep inside. Out of these explorations came some of the first abstract works ever done in this country.

When Alfred Stiglitz, renowned gallery owner and her future husband, saw these works for the first time, he exclaimed: finally, a woman on paper.

This idea of exploration was what I had in mind when I set myself the challenge. But you can see how very different the process was. Rather than allowing the natural unfolding of something new and authentic, I somehow posed a challenge that I was unconsciously hoping would rip my insides out. Clearly a more violent and unnatural approach, one that goes completely against my very nature.

So rather than experiencing my intended outcome, I retreated even further away from the direction I want to go. I stopped painting altogether. And then went on vacation.

But in true coaching fashion, rather than looking at this experiment as a failure, I am taking a look at what I learned about myself and my process.

• The very first thing is that forcing myself to paint is NOT the answer.

• Try as I might, I am not a fast painter, nor a direct painter.

• I prefer to draw or rough in the composition before starting to paint rather than using the paint to compose.

• Glazing is still my favorite way to paint. It gives me no end of joy to watch each layer influence the one below, creating glowing light and color.

• I prefer working on more precise, realistic images with a bit of mystery or fuzziness to them.

• I work best when I have several paintings going at once, not one at a time.

• I also took a look at all the self-talk I had about quitting and failure and more about expectations. Was it a failure to stop something that clearly was not working just for the sake of completing the goal? I think not.

Georgia O’Keefe at Ghost Ranch ~ Gelatin silver print ~ Todd Webb 1905

So, in true Georgia fashion, and in a way that is much more natural and authentic to my own nature, I am now officially letting go of all but one expectation: I’m going to show up and paint. That’s it. No expectation of perfection. No time constraints. In fact, no constraints at all.

I will carry on with my 10 panels but this time with a conscious awareness of exploration, emphasis on being present, and a desire to create something beautiful, something from my heart, something I’ll be more than willing to show others. 🙂