Monthly Archives: December 2011

A New Year’s Tradition for Growth

 

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I can’t believe how fast a year can go by. The days are long, but the years are short.

Today, before I take my Christmas tree down, make a pile of dip, and scoot off to a New Year’s Eve party, I’m going to take some quiet time for a special tradition that I started on a whim last year, and hope to continue for years to come.

Since I was a teenager, I’ve enjoyed writing letters to my past and future selves. As kooky as it sounds, it really helps me with perspective, closure, goals, and self-love. You can read my letter to my 13-year-old self here and a self-love letter here. When I was 14, I wrote four letters for my future self to open and certain times: One for the end of ninth grade, one for college or high school graduation (can’t remember which), one for my wedding day, and one for the birth of my first child. That one still lives in a folder in my filing cabinet where my New Year’s letter will live for the next year.

I just read the letter I wrote to myself last year, and it’s amazing to see how far I’ve come. One year ago today, I was under a mountain of stress and beginning to feel the signs of burning out. My poor adrenal glands were pooped, my creative output was nil, and I was completely out of control around food. In fact, I just noticed that on that day, I wore the same jeans that I wear right now. They’re comfy now, but back then they fit like a sausage casing, and a few weeks later I couldn’t button them at all.

I was in a very different place, and I knew from reading that letter that I was reaching out to my future self out of desperation. I clung to the hope that the future held joy rather than the stagnation and depression I experienced. Here’s the last paragraph:

I read The 7 Habits o Highly Effective People and I imagined I met you. I don’t know if it was exactly you, but I hope you’re wiser than me. I hope you’re happier, stronger, and…I don’t want to say “better”, but I can’t think of a more accurate word. I write this because I want to somehow bridge the gap between us. I’m sure there’s quite a trek ahead of me and that you’ll be waiting for me at the other side. I’m still scared. 

See you there. 

When I leave you today, I’ll write a new letter. Though I have a clear vision of what I hope my life will be like in one year, I know that plans can change  in an instant and nothing goes according to plan anyway. I accept whatever changes I make , welcome the opportunities and challenges of the new year, and open my mind to the lessons 2012 holds. I’ll tell my future self where I am now so that then, no matter what happens, I can see how far I’ve come. I hope to grow as much in the coming year as I have this year.

You might think this is a fabulous idea, or you might think I’m a loon. Either way, why not give the letter thing a try? If nothing else, it’s fun. It’s almost like time travel.

I am grateful for the growth and joy I’ve experienced this year and  I welcome the challenges and opportunities 2012 has to offer.

Be safe tonight, and have a happy new year!

Painting-Contemplative

Modern life requires us to go fast. Rush from errand to errand, work hard, play hard, sweat at the gym, crunch those numbers, go go go!

We all know the importance of rest (who wouldn’t crash  after all of that?) but sometimes we neglect the need to contemplate.

I painted this in August, but I haven’t talked about it here yet. In fact, this is the first piece I ever painted with the intention to sell.

"Contemplative" acrylic on canvas 24"X24"

Back when the grass was green and I still lived in tee shirts and cargo shorts, one of my favorite things to do was to walk to the park down the street, cozy up to one of the trees and watch the world around me while I processed my thoughts and fished for ideas. Sunset was my favorite time to do this.

I was always amazed at the thoughts that would run through my head as I sat under that sky. Everything from “That is the most vibrant pink I have ever seen” to “I hope my kids aren’t into sports-I wouldn’t know what to do” to “I want to paint the sun.”

I’d always bring an notebook or a sketchbook, but most of the time I’d just think.  Just thinking is one of my favorite things to do, and I find that it’s a critical part of my artistic process (aka My Life). It’s how I recharge, it’s how I refine ideas to the point that I can start making them real.

I also get some great thinking done in the car, but that’s not nearly as fun to paint.

This piece is available for purchase here.

Where’s your thinking place?

Wise Words: How to Be At Peace

If you are depressed, you are living in the past.

If you are anxious, you are living in the future.

If you are at peace, you are living in the  present.

Lao Tzu

I really don’t need to add anything to that, but haven’t we all spent some time in all three places?

I’ve  struggled with both depression and anxiety, and the only way to let go of them was to learn to live in the present, which requires a great deal of trust. When we trust, we can let go of the future and focus on  now, because we know that things will work out.

When we don’t trust, we live in fear and scramble around trying to put the future together rather than let it come together the way it needs to.

I’ve thought about this quote many times lately as I constantly rein myself back into a mindset of love and trust instead of freaking out about what the future holds. Yes, the unknown is scary and overwhelming. Yes, we need to lay a foundation for a good future, and we absolutely should do a little planning ahead to help things run smoothly.

But anyone with any experience  know that things don’t always go as planned. In fact, they rarely go as planned.

So why try to force them?

Let go. Go for a walk. Watch the sun go down. Notice the abundance  and joy that exists in this moment, and know that things will always work out the way they need to, and that your job is to trust and love everyone.

It’s that simple.

Painting-A Fire Inside

Although this is one of my favorite paintings, I haven’t yet discussed it on the blog.

This piece was born of fear.

"A Fire Inside" 24X30 Acrylic on Canvas

We all know that feeling of being held back, whether by someone else’s expectations or rules, living or work situations, or someone telling us we can’t.  I was frustrated because I’d just started creating work to sell, and I knew I had a battle ahead of me. I had the “starving artist” myth to contend with, for starters. I had to start an art business from the ground up. I had to get people to notice me, let my work be judged, all while still maintaining my passion and creative flow so that I could produce the best work possible.

I was overwhelmed. It’s still overwhelming now, as I’m in the throws of that battle. I was frustrated that things are the way they are and that it’s so difficult to start doing what I love for a living. It felt like I had so much working against me, and that it was unfair that I had to fight so hard just to do what I love.

Then I realized what a useless attitude that was.

I could moan and whine about how hard things are, or I could let my passion lead me, find joy in the journey of connecting my work with others and cultivating my career. I could dance in that fire of fear and opposition.

The process of creating the painting reflected my thinking process, because they happened at the same time.

I began with a fiery, chaotic background of red, yellow, and orange smeared around with my husband’s old library card (I knew it would never get used) and I added the string, a motif I’ve used for years, because I felt bound at this point. As I worked things through in my mind, I stamped and painted the orbs, which are my representation of celestial bodies, hope, and joy. My trees are just as human as my figures, so I added one of those two. What would my work be without trees?

It took me a long time to decide on a figure, but eventually I settled on a dancer. It’s funny that I paint dancers so often, because I can’t really dance. The movement expresses my feelings  so perfectly though, how this girl just  leaps into the unknown.

There’s such beauty and discovery in letting go.

This piece is available for purchase here.

Am I Living in Love or Fear?

Over the past few months, I’ve observed that at any given time, I’m living in one of two mindsets: Love or Fear.

Love is a mindset of trust, joy, gratitude, patience, passion, and caring.

Fear is a mindset of worry, want, insecurity, judgement, impatience, and obligation.

Where would you rather be?

I think this is true for everyone.

When we’re living from a place of love, we are happy, our creativity flows, we appreciate what we have, we live in the moment, and good things seem to happen to us.

I know when I’m living in love, because I spend a lot of time writing and painting, I have to scribble down ideas in the checkout line or at red lights, I only think about food when I’m hungry and I even put off eating because I don’t want to stop what I’m doing, I’m patient with myself and others, and I feel adventurous. I trust that everything is and will be ok, and that I have everything I need. I feel grateful.

When we’re living from a place of fear, we worry a lot, spend a lot of time planning, think in terms of “should” and “have to”. We get frustrated with other people and ourselves, and we live in the past and future-anywhere to avoid the present.

Sometimes it takes me a while to accept that I’m living in fear, but it’s not hard to identify.  I can usually tell because I don’t feel like making art and I spend a lot of time planning, budgeting, making lists, crunching numbers, and thinking about food when I’m not hungry. I munch a lot and feel like I need to sleep more.  I feel insecure on many levels, whether it’s with money, career, or something in my body feels off and I panic.

I lose my trust in life and feel that I have to force things, because what if it won’t be ok?

Fear isn’t a fun place to live.

So if we’re living in a mindset of fear, how to we switch gears?

  • Gratitude: Look around you and notice the beauty, the abundance, and the joy. Look back on your life and remember the time that seemingly bad things worked out for the better (they might still be working out)
  • Have faith: Whether you believe in a higher power or not, know that God, life, the universe or whatever has a way of guiding you to what you need. Knowing this is the key to trust, trusting is the key to letting go, and letting go is the key to being open.
  • Be gentle with yourself and others: To borrow a quote from the amazing Tara Wagner aka The Organic Sister, “Everyone does the best they can with the tools they have.” This also applies to you. You aren’t lazy, stupid, or weak, and neither is anyone else. While this doesn’t justify things that are wrong, just realize that mistakes are a matter of not having the correct tools, not  that something is inherently wrong with you or another person.
  • Know what makes you happy, and what doesn’t: I love art and writing because they open up a part of myself that I can’t access otherwise. I love walking and yoga because they connect me to my body and free my mind. I love good food, animals, spending time with people I love, and reading. Worrying, planning, and making endless lists doesn’t free me. It just works me into a mess of obsession that takes me away from things that truly bring me joy.  While life does require some planning and organization sometimes, those things will never fill me.
  • Love someone else: We’re all in this “life” think together. We all move back and forth between these two places of love and fear. Help make someone else’s day better, and you’ll feel good too.

Learn your own signs that you’re living in love or fear. Learn to make the shift if necessary, and life will be amazing.

Sick Days

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I hope you all had a lovely holiday! I had a fabulous post planned for you today, but my usually cast-iron digestive system is on vacation and I’m down for the count today. I rarely get sick; in fact, the last time I was stomach-sick was ten years ago to this very day. I guess I can’t complain.

Well, I’ll just say that I’m grateful for my typically strong digestion and immune system while  I take the day to recover and let my body work through this.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a new post!

-McKella

A Different Kind of Magic

Somehow it’s Christmas Eve already.

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This has been kind of a weird Christmas season for me and my family. It’d be easy to feel sad or let down because the season hasn’t been quite as “magical” as I’d hoped in a lot of ways. I never got around to making a lot of the crafts and treats I’d planned on or watched all my Christmas movies or listen to all my favorite Christmas songs. No snow yet, so it doesn’t look like Christmas. I’m also living in a new city that holds no Christmas memories for me.

But I’m not sad. It’s Christmas, and I’m with my family. It’s ok that it’s not perfect. I’m still grateful for it and I welcome this holiday season and all and all it has to offer. Fun, weird, goofy, hodge-podge, whatever.

Peace, joy, love, and fun are unconditional. 

But Christmas has a way of being magical somehow, even if we never got around to putting up Christmas lights or if there aren’t many presents under the tree.

One of my most magical Christmas memories was when I was 9 or 10. Every winter, a giant ice patch used to appear in our field. I don’t know whether Dad flooded it or if the well did it on it’s own, but that Christmas eve at sunset, I took my little brother out to slide on the ice.

The neighbors across the streets had just turned on their traditional configuration of lights, and as the sun went down, I witnessed that moment when the sky finally darkens and the lights become brighter than the last colors of the sunset. I can’t explain what happened that moment, but the air just crackled with magic.

The snow, the lights, my pink-cheeked toddler brother, and the faint echoes of Christmas music from my house filled my soul with some of the purest joy I’d ever felt. Not  the kind of joy that makes you want to dance around your room laughing and giggling, but the joy that nearly brings you to your knees in sheer gratitude of being alive.

That’s the kind of joy I try to express in my art, and that’s the feeling I strive to allow into my heart each day. 

I wish you a holiday full  of peace and that special joy.

Wise Words: Life is Art

I think everything in life is art.  What you do. How you dress. The way you love someone, and how you talk. Your smile and your personality. What you believe in, and all your dream.  The way you drink. How you decorate your room, your home. The way you manage your daily activity. The food you make, the food you eat. How your writing look. And The way you feel.

Life is Art.

-Unknown

Does anyone know who said this?

Winter Solstice and Winter Self-Care

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Although it’s been freezing and frosty for weeks, today is the first official day of winter, or the day the Winter Solstice occurs. Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are the furthest we’ll ever  be from the sun, that life-giving source of heat and light.  Today, the gradual shortening of the days ends and many cultures around the world celebrate rebirth. Today is the shortest and darkest day of the year, and time seems to stand still as nature lies dormant. The trees have shed their leaves, the sap has frozen, the birds have migrated. All is silent.

I was going to create a painting to celebrate this special day, but my spirit and body seems to have aligned with nature because I too have slowed down. I’m ok with this, because I think it’s what my body needs.

My big goal with winter and winter blues this year is to make peace, while giving my body and spirit the best support I can. Dark days are hard for me. I’ve been fatigued and melancholy lately. Not depressed, just less enthusiastic.

I’ve also been reading all I can about the effects of winter on the body and spirit.  Though it seemed a little “woo woo” at first, I’ve really come to understand the concept of yin and yang, the two complementary energies that govern the universe. Yin is slow, cool, wet, feminine energy while yang is fast, hot, dry, masculine energy. Winter is yin, while summer is yang. These two energies exist within us and we feel better when they’re balanced. Makes sense.

Today is the slowest, most yin day of the year.  During the winter, we have very little yang energy to spare and quite a bit of yin energy. This can look like we have no energy, but yin energy is just slower and more  contemplative.

In the winter, we can balance these energies by building and conserving what yang we have, and releasing excess yin. Do yin exercise, like restorative yoga and walking while avoiding strenuous yang activity like running and aerobics. Eat yang foods (warming spices like ginger, garlic, cayenne, cinnamon and tumeric) and avoid cold yin foods like cucumbers, lettuce, and mango (i.e. “summery” foods).

This concept was galvanized for me yesterday when I felt kinda bla and attempted my favorite exercise DVD, hoping to gain some energy. I made it about ten minutes in before feeling like I was going to keel over. However, I was all warmed up for a walk, so I bundled up and took a stroll around the block instead. It felt great, then I for a yummy, yang-building lunch I had eggs scrambled with onions, tumeric and garlic salt.

So instead of burning yang energy that you don’t have today, try slowing down. Trade your kickboxing class for some gentle yoga, have a spicy stir-fry for dinner, and enjoy a quiet evening rather than running around Christmas shopping, preparing for parties, or doing chores.

Take the hint from nature. This is a time to slow down, focus inward, and renew.

Wise Words: Let your Passion Guide You

On this freezing December morning, I’d like to share with you a little Rumi. When you find yourself disconnecting from your spirit, when you don’t know what you want or where to go, remember this: