O is for Octopus

"Moon-age Dreaming" copyright Debra Myers Woodward
“Moon-age Dreaming”
copyright Debra Myers Woodward

I recently had a dream about going on a train or subway with my son. We had an octopus that we had to put in a plastic box.  It filled the box as we put the lid on.

I have a book on Native American animal imagery and meanings they have for different animals.  Unfortunately, octopus wasn’t included, so I did what any modern-day inquisitor does, I googled it.

It isn’t so hard to discover what associations octopi are likely to yield: creativity, ingenuity, intelligence.  Have you watched videos of their amazing escapes? I read just the other day of an octopus named Inky escaping from the National Aquarium of New Zealand. Now that  requires ingenuity! Swim free Inky!

But this got me to thinking about my dream. Have I boxed in my creativity, my ingenuity and intelligence. I could answer yes, definitely so. I am just beginning to write again, thanks to this April A-to-Z challenge. But I go long stretches without painting. And not because I don’t have ideas!

So one of my intentions this week is to make room for painting.  Are there things you haven’t made time for that you know would be good for you?  Its never too late to create a space of even 10 minutes a day to cherish your well-being by doing what you love. Maybe this small opening will lead to the freedom of the ocean like it did for Inky.

N is for No-mistake

An Irish halo copyright Debra Myers Woodward
An Irish halo
copyright Debra Myers Woodward

I loved reading in “A Thousand Names for Joy” by Byron Katie that when people started arriving at her door saying, “namaste'”, she thought they were saying “no-mistake”.  She said she couldn’t believe how enlightened they all were. She had never heard “namaste” before, so she had no reference for it.

And since Namaste’ means “the divinity within me greets the divinity within you”, doesn’t that indicate that there is no mistake there? No mistake in me, and no mistake in you.  That’s who we truly are. Thats how we were made, “in the image and likeness of God,” as stated in the first chapter of Genesis.

But what about those who do bad or even horrible things? What about when we say and do things we aren’t proud of, things we consider mistakes?  There is no person on the planet who has led what we humans would call a perfect life. Its impossible.  So learning to love one another and stay centered and grounded despite these difficulties is part of our life-long earthly classroom. It softens us, shows us what grace looks like, heals and blesses…eventually. And for each and every one of us, it teaches us patience.

We are all born of and carried with this divinity for all time. So next time you meet someone, look deep within both yourself and them and see our divinity and speak to that.



Note: The photo was a “mistake” taken as I held my phone while waiting in line for the “photo booth” at a wedding I attended. But I LOVE it! No mistake!

M is for Mess-making

In the studio copyright Debra Myers Woodward
In the studio
copyright Debra Myers Woodward

As an artist, there are many ways to go about painting a painting or creating a sculpture or building a pot, but almost all of them involve the willingness to make a mess.  Even if the process is a fairly neat one like drawing, there is a certain amount of messiness to the process, even if its just in the process of going from idea to finished product.

Life is often messy as well.  And like many if not most people, I tend to think that messes are “bad” and clean and orderly is “good.”  But putting those judgments on any given moment in a process is really self-defeating.  If I am not willing to go through messy to get to a fully realized state, whether talking about art or life, then I will often be frustrated and stressed about what things look like. And then resistance shows up. Creativity does not thrive in this environment.

So I am trying to embrace messiness as just a snapshot in time.  Its merely a stage, not a state of being–a stage that comes around again and again and again.  And in making art, like living life, messiness is necessary.  The more we embrace the process, the more we will stay centered and strong through it. We can even celebrate that we are moving forward and stepping into unknown territory (as if we have a choice!)

Each day is new. We have never done this day before, so there is always a possibility of a mess. Lets try on this idea of accepting it and seeing it as part of our journey to peace with ourselves.

L is for Love (although it could also be Late!)!

Morning dew on tiny flowers Copyright Debra Myers Woodward
Morning dew on tiny flowers
Copyright Debra Myers Woodward

This weekend my nephew got married to the love of his life, really of all of our lives. They are a beautiful couple both inside and out!

So this got me to thinking, just what is love?  That may seem like a ridiculous question, right? We all have experience with this thing called love. And yet the word love can be used to describe how we feel about chocolate as well as our sister, or our favorite sports team  and our spouse.

So it seems useful to say that this is something that should be meditated on early and often to find what it means to us.

Perhaps one way to make a distinction in types of love is whether it is selfless or covetous. If your “love” leads you to covet the object of your affection, like chocolate or your boyfriend, maybe that’s not love but desire or possession. On the other hand, a love that is selfless or unconditional is truer to the real thing.

The Bible says that God is Love. And I see this as the truest form of Love. It is spiritual and universal. It heals and redeems. It encourages, uplifts, and comforts. And this divine Love embraces the whole world and all that is in it without condition or requirement. And that is truly a saving Grace.

Love seems to be easier to define by what it does, how it looks, and its effect than by its essence.  What does love mean to you?

K is for Kaleidoscope

Nautilus Shell copyright Debra Myers Woodward
Nautilus Shell
copyright Debra Myers Woodward

Remember the kaleidoscopes we had as a kid that were cardboard tubes with all sorts of things sandwiched between two pieces of plastic probably.  You could shake it and here them, and hold them up to your eye and twist the end to watch them tumble in the fractured, repeated image.

This reminds me of a concept I learned about nature that is pretty freaking amazing.  In nature there are these things called fractals. Fractals are patterns that repeat at every scale.  The pictured nautilus shell is an example, as is ice forming on a surface.

I learned that some trees follow fractal patterns–all the way from their cell structure, to the veins in the leaves, to how the leaves attach to branches, and branches to trunks and even how they grow in the forest.  That was an amazing discovery.

Here is an experiment you can do for yourself.

Take a look at a tree sometime.  Notice how the branches are positioned. Do they come out of the trunk directly opposite one another? Or do they come out all at one point? Or do they come out staggered up the trunk?

Now look at how the leaves are attached to the branches.  Do you notice that they are exactly positioned to the branch as the branch is to the trunk? And look at the veins on the leaves. Don’t they match this pattern as well?

I remember reading that the formation of how the trees grow in the forest (for some species at least) will match the pattern as well! That would certainly make it easier to anticipate where to look for a specific tree if using it for medicinal or dietary purposes.

I bet most people aren’t aware of these patterns in nature all around us.  And I believe that all life is a series of patterns that we miss, because we can’t see the whole picture or we don’t look closely enough. What might you notice if you looked for patterns of behavior, or patterns in societies? Might there be a bigger picture that we just haven’t noticed? And how might that help us live more peaceful and happy lives?

I have appreciated learning more about behavioral patterns through study of the Enneagram. Through this study, I have discovered ways that my personality runs on auto-pilot in specific ways. Seeing these patterns has helped me to alter my behavior toward more healthy ways of relating to myself and others. It has helped me to break bad habits as well.

For more about the Enneagram, check out the Enneagram Institute here.

J is for Judgment

At some point in my life, not all that many years ago, I suddenly woke up to the idea of radically not judging others.

I think the idea was planted the day that someone was driving insanely crazy near me in a lot of traffic.  First they tailgated me, so I slowed way down.  Then when they had an opening they flew past me on the right, cut across my lane in front of me and into the left turn lane at the light we were approaching.  Of course, I blew my horn and probably gave them angry face — you know the one.  But when I looked to the left to see where they were going, my heart sank.  They were pulling into the emergency entrance of a hospital.

I instantly felt childish and inconsiderate.  I had assumed they were jerks, (another J word!) but it turned out that the jerk was me.

After that, I began looking at people differently. I realized that I don’t know the whole story. I don’t know why they act the way they do, even day after day. Who knows what difficult upbringing they may have had, or even when they are my own family members, I don’t know what all they experienced.  I don’t know how they were treated in school. I don’t know what hopes they weren’t allowed to develop.

I am realizing now that I still am challenged by drivers who ride my bumper or cut me off (or heaven forbid, drive slowly!!)  But I can say, that in most areas of my life, I have really learned to judge much less often–not just others, but myself as well.  And my life has a lot less stress and more friends for it.

I is for Indigo!

IndigoLast week I participated in a Shibori dye workshop with a good friend, Magda Dia, who offers workshops and classes at Jump Into Art.  I had a great time meeting new people and learning how to use indigo dye in this Japanese technique.  Here are a few of the things that I took from my closet and refashioned with Shibori.

This process is a resist-dyeing method where fabric is folded, wrapped, compressed, stitched and tied to create beautiful white spaces within the blue.  Almost anything that is water resistant can be used in the process – rubber bands are a favorite, string, wood blocks and dowels, pvc pipe, stones, marbles, and more.  Anything compressed that doesn’t allow the dye in will remain white.

In thinking about a metaphor, I usually consider resistance to be something to overcome.  And eventually, even in Shibori dying, one must unbind the fabric to reveal the beauty. In thinking about this, I can see how resistance does serve us when we can find no other way to stand honestly in our power.

But we can’t continue to resist forever and never unbind those moments where we haven’t allowed in the transforming, healing power of love. We must learn to love who we are, even the bound up version of ourselves that can be so awkward and difficult to work with, just as the tied and bound fabric was often hard to work with.

But look what was revealed! And this will be true for you and me.  The beauty of a life lived, even through binding and unbinding ourselves into and out of knots, will be revealed to be a fuller expression than if we had not lived and grown in such ways. Loving the process is a great step toward the unbinding – in Shibori and  in life.


H is for Hallelujah

River series, Autumn NFS Pastel on paper and canvas
River series, Autumn
Pastel on paper and canvas 30″x40″

When I first heard Jeff Buckley singing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, I was so moved tears ran down my face.  He captures such depth and broken-heartedness. His voice, so intimate and personal, gently floats along like a slow-moving wide river carrying all who listen along with him.  It is a slow dance; a gentle rain on tender shoots of grass. He finishes the ballad by holding an impossibly long note, which you will try to hold too the second or third time around.

And having written the above, I found it interesting to go looking for his life story a bit. I knew he died young, but I didn’t know that he drowned in the Mississippi River near Nashville while swimming alone at night.  For several years I lived near the Mississippi River, and it was this very river I was thinking of as I wrote the first paragraph.  Its interesting to me how writing, like life, knows its way and shares it’s wisdom so generously without our even asking.

Hallelujah, indeed.

To listen to Jeff Buckley’s version of Hallelujah, go here.

Note: The above pastel painting was made during the time I lived near the Mississippi near St. Louis just as the water started to recede from the annual flooding.  The small house is on one of the islands. The stacks in the background have been taken down and replaced with a larger single stack for the electric plant that provides for the communities surrounding it.

G is for Grounded

"Cicada Chorus"Today I will post at this very late hour about Groundedness. There were a lot of words I could have picked for today that all sort of relate to the same thing…God, Grace, Ground.  I find that as I live into any of these, they all find purpose and activity in my life.

For me, being grounded is essential to living out a happy and peaceful life day to day.  Otherwise I spend way too much time thinking about the past and the future.  But staying grounded in the present moment takes effort!

I have several spiritual practices to help me stay centered. Here are a few:

Meditation cultivates real stillness so that I can listen for the divine influence of Universal Love.

Journaling helps me to give words and “talk” out whatever is going on that feels off, irritating or upsetting.  It is also an opportunity to free write or “take dictation” from that spiritual voice that we all have. Some call it an Inner Teacher.  Some call it God. Others might say the Universe.  You know the one, because you can’t ignore it!

I also take long walks almost daily (several times a week anyway) out in a park with my dog.  It exercises my body, lets my dog exercise his body, and breathes in nature. I don’t know any better way to say that.

Do you have any spiritual or centering practices that help you stay grounded?

F is for Found Poetry

I really liked another AtoZ Blogger‘s idea to write a Dadaist poem. And so today when I couldn’t come up with a word for F, I looked up types of poetry that start with F and discovered something called a “found poem” popular many decades ago.

Found poetry is a type of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages from other sources and reframing them as poetry (a literary equivalent of a collage) by making changes in spacing and lines, or by adding or deleting text, thus imparting new meaning. (from Wikipedia)
So when I googled found poetry, amazing artistic images came up of old book pages with loops around words and paintings and drawings in between.  I am so excited at this discovery, I can barely sit still.  So rather than just write out a Found Poem, I will make one!
This comes from the only thing I had with me, a page I had typed up for a meeting last week and colored pens and a blue highlighter.  Work with what you’ve got!  Enjoy.
Peace Spoke
Peace Spoke
                about refugees,
someone       with