Monday, December 31, 2012

Life and Art: Powerful Principles and the Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke

I have decided that today I am going to have a guest writer, (well actually 2, but you'll have to read on to see why.....), fill in for part of my "Positive Insights" post, so let me introduce him.

His name is Rainer Maria Rilke and he was born in Prague in 1875 and died of leukemia just after reaching his 51st birthday at a Swiss Sanatorium in 1926. He is considered one of the most significant, if not the greatest, modern poet of the German language and his work focuses on the joining together of minds and spirits in an age of rampant disillusionment and isolation. Rilke's vast understanding of the anxieties of the era he was living in led him to write incredibly haunting lyrical prose and verse, but it is his letters to a young poet that I would like to focus on.

In 1903 Rilke received a letter from a fledgling poet, known only as Mr. Kappus, who was deeply enmeshed in self-doubt and seeking his advice. He responded and thus began an incredible relationship which lasted intermittently over a period of 5 years through a series of intensely introspective letters. There were only 10 total and they have been bound together, published and are now collectively known and as "Letters to a Young Poet." At the time Rilke was writing these letters he himself was still struggling, (albeit, he had found some measure of success), and it was through his own observations and perceptions of these fortunes and failures and the society that had brought them that were the cornerstone of his letters. Rilke's prose positively sings and it speaks to integrity, idealism and the beauty of creativity, and what is so amazing is that the Principles he outlines in his letters are as relevant today as they were 100+ years ago when he wrote them seeking to help another struggling artist.

When I first read Rilke's letters 20 years ago, I was so overwhelmed, astounded and moved, that I experienced what I can only describe as a "deer in the headlights" gut reaction: how do I process all this incredible insight and incorporate it into my life? I think I was too young then to accomplish this and so it wasn't until I recently reread them that I was able to distinguish some of the concepts set out in each letter. The only way to share Rilke's thoughts and wondrous observations is to offer a condensed version of his letters and I unfortunately did not have an extra 3 weeks to achieve this, so I have found someone who has. His name is Robert Genn and here is his incredibly accurate, inspired and accomplished summary of Rilke's letters:

* Your work needs to be independent of others' work.
~ You must not compare yourself to others.
* No one can help you. You have to help yourself.
~Criticism leads to misunderstandings and defeatism.
* Work from necessity and your compulsion to do it.
~ Work on what you know and what you are sure you love.
* Don't observe yourself too closely, just let it happen.
~ Don't let yourself be controlled by too much irony.
* Live in and love the activity of your work.
~ Be free of thoughts of sin, guilt and misgiving.
* Be touched by the beautiful anxiety of life.
~ Be patient with the unresolved in your heart.
* Try to be in love with the questions themselves.
~ Love your solitude and try to sing with its pain.
* Be gentle to all of those who stay behind.
~ Your inner self is worth your entire concentration.
* Allow your art to make extraordinary demands on you.
~ Bear your sadness with greater trust than your joy.
* Do not persecute yourself with how things are going.
~ It's good to be solitary, because solitude is difficult.
* It's good to love, because love is difficult.
~ You are not a prisoner of anything or anyone.

Through this list Robert Genn has given all of us an amazing connection to the heartfelt guidelines set down in Rilke's letters, concepts to consider, to digest and to incorporate in our daily lives. I think I'll choose one, reflect on it awhile and start today....
Will you join me?

Thank you to both of the amazing artists for letting me feature their work as examples of one of the essentials of Rilke's writings, which is forming a style and individuality independent from others work. I chose these 2 pieces because they are very similar in many ways despite the different mediums, yet totally unique and diverse in their respective art forms. In other words, find your own artistic voice singing in your soul and share your personal vision with the world!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Inconsequential and The Sacred

It's a strange word, and probably calls to mind a woodwind instrument of fleeting description and hard to recognize sound, which is really an Oboe. Obos is actually a Japanese term referring to a pile of rocks, for lack of a more eloquent description, and in English they are often referred to as Cairns. A stacking of stones, one atop the other and often only 3, they mean nothing to almost everyone who sees them but have a deep and resonating meaning to the one who builds them. Why? Because they create a focal point, even if placed amongst thousands of similar stones on a windy beach shoreline, they are something that comes from someone's hands, a flourish of imagination that says "I was here".

Obos can be built anywhere from an abundance of natural resources just lying about: stones, rocks, pebbles, boulders, I've even seen them made with broken concrete blocks and old bricks. Placed on top of each other they become more than just 3 or 4 or 10 rocks in a shaky pillar, they become a sanctuary for our thoughts and our minds, sometimes only for a few minutes until we move on. Beside a ramshackle house, along a garden path, in a meditation labyrinth on someone's desk, next to a gutter on a busy Manhattan Street, riding the crest of a craggy mountain trail, there they are: shrines to the indelible human spirit of imagination and individuality. The insignificant is elevated to a different level, a tribute to something higher, a deep need to create.

Obos may be used to commemorate an event, like reaching the end of a long hike, or marking a particular patch of ground for it's importance in one's life. Perhaps they are simple homages in reverence to something grander in the natural world surrounding them or just a playful gesture without seeming thought, a doodling with rocks. But we are builders, we work with our hands and our minds, consciously or not, and what we build is sacred if only for us, privately, for a fleeting second. Obos, by their very nature, are towers of serenity even if only 2 inches tall. They give one pause, whether in their building or the contemplative eye upon them. They lend respite from the cluttered world and stand as an affirmation to the value of our personal efforts and our individual dreams.

3 small stones, found nearly everywhere.
Inconsequential parts in nature, lovingly placed one on top of the other by our builder's hands, given life by our visions and transformed into a unique, beautiful and sacred whole.
Art that leaves no footprint.
"I was here."

The incredibly powerful Beach Stone Cairn Pendant seen above was created by Sue Davis who has a wondrous Shop on Etsy: ...Thank You!
I wish you all an amazing week. Perhaps we should all take a few moments and build an Obos, reflect on what it means to create and say "We were here."
My love to you all...

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Gift of Time

"Every moment in Time is a Gift and a Blessing, not a Threat."

I don't know about you but I am my own worst enemy when it comes to time. What I mean by this is that I am forever treating it like it's the traitor in my life, when in reality it is really all I have, and how much I have is a mystery. Perhaps that is why it is so easy to not live in the present time, but in the past or in the future. I read that 90% of our brain space is spent everywhere but in the "now", eclipsed by nagging feelings of regret and fears, resentments and questions, and the words "WHY" and "IF" are major contributors in this story called Time:
"If only I had done this instead of......."
"Why did this happen..........."
"If she would change, then I ......"
"Why can't I......."
"If I just had a little more time...."

WHY this.
IF that.
The 2 words that were put in people's vocabulary to drive them insane. These 2 words alone are enough to keep me out of the present tense of my life for decades. Those 2 words were paramount in the vocabulary of my thoughts until somewhat recently when they were banished, for the most part, by a lot of positive Present action on my own behalf.

The number one reason I needed to outlaw those words from my inner lexicon was not the obvious acumen of too much living in the past and the future, although that certainly was a part of it. The main impetus to remove these 2 words was part of a greater picture of how I was living in my Present time. These 2 words were indicators that I was spending a whole lot of wasted moments in the cacophony of trying to change things and asking questions about circumstances of which I had no control over. My head was a constant ticker tape parade of everything but myself, everything that was outside of me, and a veritable world full of people and situations in which I had no dominion. Of course the crowning achievement of all of this was that I would get upset at myself because I had wasted so much time........

Where are my feet?
Right Here.
Right Now.
One Step at a time. This is how I learned to stop the endless noise in my mind, look around and be present in my life. When I'm here in Today, I am most happy. The dark chanting of the "Why's" and the "If's" is no longer clouding my life with things that are none of my business. I can walk through my days with the sunshine of the spirit that is all of our positive energies and be in silence and not feel alone. And Time, once my enemy, has become my Best Friend.

I have come to believe that it is a blessing to be present on this earth and that every moment, every day, no matter how good or even how bad, is essential to everything that makes up who I am....who WE are. Interacting and contributing, laughing and loving, wide awake in the Now and receiving the invaluable Gift of Time, now that's what I call Living!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

New Roads to Travel

“Let your mind start a journey thru a strange new world. Leave all thoughts of the world you knew before. Let your soul take you where you long to be...
Close your eyes let your spirit start to soar, and you'll live as you've never lived before.”
Erich Fromm, Philosopher

The incredible destination of any journey is not the place we come to, but the road we have traveled to get there. This concept has been written about, in many ways, by many different people, and yet whenever I see it somewhere or hear it spoken, it never ceases to amaze or to move me. And I found myself contemplating these words over and over as the miles passed underneath my car and the landscape of the West unfolded before my searching eyes.

When someone leaves to go on their next journey, the unknown one, the one spoken of in whispers and referred to more often than not as a "passing", they leave an empty place, an echo of themselves and a scent of someone missing. I do not know where they go. I only know that as I traveled the physical miles on my own road home I set out to discover some remote territory in my mind and in my soul.
I thought: "Why, I can be quite an exotic mystery even to myself." And I had to smile at that and wonder aloud...."Who am I? What words do I use to define myself?"

Woman. Artist. Wife. Daughter. Lover. Giver. Taker. Writer. Reader. Gardener. etc, etc, etc....
All nouns.
All cubbyholes.
Where are the glorious adjectives I use freely everywhere else, describing objects, scenery, other people?
I use the words "Awesome" and "Beautiful" and "Wondrous" often but I have never used them to define myself. And yet, why not? Am I not these adjectives personified on this planet? Aren't we all? Don't we all move through immeasurable and difficult periods in our lifetimes, do what is necessary to survive and come out the other side, still breathing, and with a larger understanding and appreciation of who we are? And if we don't, why not? I started to venture forth and look into the possibilities of defining myself with expansive and striking adjectives and I froze. I stopped as if on glacial ice because this self praise and seeming limitless celebration of ego was not only vast new territory but it had brought me to a place of fear.

And then I remembered. It came to me on the lightest of whispers, a sigh of my Father's voice: "Don't ever forget that you know no bounds except those you place on yourself. You are beautiful, talented and full of love. Just remember that sweetheart."

Aren't we all, in those unsung places of our souls, huge people overflowing with fearless and breathtaking passions, needs and an incredible desire to give, love and be loved? Traveling far and wide, sometimes through endless green fields covered in brightly colored flowers and other times on dark, desolate highways, aren't we all in search of something familiar, positive connections, people like ourselves? I think we are, and that this searching journey is how our spirit soars. This is how we move freely through the strange new world of who we are: by recognizing our strengths, our beauty and our endless capacity for love and being with others who see it as well. This is how the person who has passed and who now travels in mystery lives in us. And this is how we love, carry and live with them.

We are all on a fabulous new road, an uncharted, strange and astonishing new journey through the territory of ourselves.....and aren't we all wonderful?

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
Marianne Williamson

 "Don't ask so much what the world needs.
Go out and do what makes you come alive,
because what the world needs most
are people who have come alive."
Howard Thurman

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Silent Sentinels of Strength

{i am reprinting this with a few changes and it seems somehow appropriate to be my first blog post. i wrote it almost 2 years ago and it seems important now as the anniversary of my Dad's death from the complications of cancer is upon me.}

The landscape stretches out before me, rugged, dry and desolate, an endless sea painted in the worn and rustic palette of washed out sage greens, warm reds and soft sand. The timeworn and stark beauty of the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico renew me. I have never looked upon this land with anything except absolute awe and respect mixed with a sense of wonder at it's tenacity and spirit. The desert embodies not loneliness to me, but a sense of solitude and stately pride in it's wondrous achievement of renewal in the face of what has always seemed to me like harsh adversity.And standing watch over all of this is the regal and serene Saguaro cactus.

I never thought I would find comfort in the thoughts, meditations or sight of a cactus, but that is how I felt yesterday when I saw the first Saguaro ceremoniously rising up from the parched desert dunes, solemn and noble. A deliberate and silent sentinel of strength. A watcher and a record keeper of life in this seemingly barren land, as if it's outstretched arms held all the secrets in the world to survival in this arid wilderness of vivid light, low scrub brush and endless sand. And then I saw another and another and one more, until there were seeming hundreds, marching off into the shimmering desert horizon line of blinding sun and diluted blue sky miles and miles away.

A resilient and stalwart Survivor, the Saguaro endures an endless array of hardships with attentive dignity and a solitary majesty unsurpassed in the desert landscape. From extreme temperature changes on a daily basis, a pittance in water rations per year and a constant home to burrowing creatures of wing and antennae, the Saguaro thrives and grows, for many many decades, sometimes even reaching the ripe old age of 180 years and a height of 45 feet or so. The flowers of this glorious desert guardian bloom at night for safeties sake, and contain thousands of seeds in order to ensure survival in this uncompromising environment.

"That's US", I thought with a sudden smile as I gazed upon a veritable army of wondrous and courageous giants. "Those gallant and gracious cacti, each one, is symbolic of all the people who have had cancer or known and loved someone who has."

We are quiet and vigorous wellsprings of stability, determination and hope in the hard, relentless and seemingly endless desert that is cancer. We bloom and give forth seeds of light, energy and faith in the darkest hours of people's lives as they cope with this disease. We are a comfort and a secure home to those who have a family member or friend who are fighting this battle. We are the record keepers and long memories of those who have left the desert on a different and infinitely more beautiful journey.
In this unflinching, barren and arduous landscape no-one with cancer ever needs to be alone. All they need to do is walk awhile and they will eventually see one of us, rising tall, steady and sure above the desert floor, silent sentinels of strength.

I love all of you......


{the gorgeous flowering saquaro photo is from haven't figured out how to link the picture to the page yet!}