Category Archives: Art and creativity

Unapologetically Me

Bird of Contentment Mixed Media 24" x 30" Louise Gallagher 2014
Bird of Contentment
Mixed Media
24″ x 30″
Louise Gallagher 2014

I created on the weekend. Spent time in the studio splashing paint and ideas and feelings onto a canvas that had hung around as something else waiting to emerge as what it was always meant to be.

It is the thing about creating.

Within every creation there is that moment where what is apparent is not what appears. Where what was becomes simply the path to what is.

The Bird of Contentment started out a couple of years ago as a landscape. Dissatisfied with where it was at, I applied a layer of cheesecloth and painted over and into the surface. A forest standing silent under a moonlit sky appeared. It hung around for while until this fall when the dark forest asked to become an autumn woods replete with riotous splashes of gold and red and ochre shimmering on the edges of a stream burbling merrily along its way.

I let it happen.

And still, it wasn’t fully expressed. It didn’t feel like my voice appearing on the canvas but rather, more like what I felt my voice should be if I was painting what I thought was easy, expected, common.

On Friday afternoon, I stepped into the studio and let my voice call me out into expression upon the canvas.

A thought had been forming for awhile about what wanted to be expressed on this canvas. I had heard it some weeks ago and let it simmer, let it percolate and coalesce into a calling forth from within me yearning to be released. Rather than just ‘painting over’, I allowed what was waiting to become apparent to give itself expression using what was already there as the foundation of what was looking to appear.

The expression of the Bird of Contentment evolved from the inspiration of a comment my eldest daughter wrote in her birthday card to me.

“Thank you for being so unapologetic about who you are, and what you stand for,” she wrote.

Birds are so delicate looking, so tiny and innocent and fragile and yet, so strong. They hang around the birdfeeder, sit on wires, soar above or float on the calm surface of a pond and are simply present to what is in the world around them. They squawk and tweet and sing and whistle and make themselves heard because that’s what they do. Birds are unapologetically who they are.

Birds naturally do what I have always dreamt was possible — fly.

I have always dreamt of flying yet, for many, many years, I kept my wings tucked into my body. I was fearful that if I let them out, I would not fit into the world. I truly would be the deep, dark secret the critter within whispered to me in moments of unease. “You are a misfit. You don’t belong. You don’t fit in.”

And, because I so desperately wanted to be liked, to be like others, to be part of the whole of the world I saw outside me, I tried to be who others thought I should be, the someone I believed I needed to be to get along in the world without letting my wings show.

And in my unease, I created a lot of ripples.

I like making ripples.

I like creating waves. Of love. Harmony. Peace. Joy.

But, because I was struggling to keep my wings tucked in, I often, unintentionally, created discord. Sometimes, I hurt those I love. Sometimes, I did things that didn’t make sense, that created bumps in the road and upended smooth sailings into tumultuous rides.

It is still possible to do these acts of discord – but in becoming free to express my voice, unapologetically, I am more adept at seeing when my actions create that which I do not want to create in the world. Discord and unease. Tension and pain.

It is the gift of time. When I see that I have created is not creating better in the world, I must breathe deeply into my unease, acknowledge the discord I’ve created and commit again to the path of creating more of what I want in my world. Love. Harmony. Peace and Joy.

It has been the evolution of my voice. The letting go and surrendering to my heart calling me to live from and through my own unique  voice. To be unapologetically me.

And it has been the evolution of this painting.

From silent dark forest to tumultuous autumn woods to the Bird of Contentment.

I have splashed and sprayed and covered up and over. I have dug into and scratched the surface, I have wiped it clean and coloured it up.

And through it all, I have reached moments of discord. Those spaces where what is happening feels too raw, too real, too revealing, too vulnerable that I just want to stop. Step away. Forget it. Let it go and move on.

And still, I have persevered and persisted. I have kept digging into it. Keep moving through the discord to find the harmony and joy of being real and revealed.

There was a moment on Friday where it was very apparent to me that this painting was going nowhere. Where everything looked discordant and so jumbled up and ‘blah’ that I thought the only answer was to just throw the whole thing out.

I wanted to quit.

But the voice of my wings calling me to fly free persisted.

Don’t give up. You can do this. Be present. Be patient. Be open to letting it happen. Trust.

And so, I trusted in the process and let my wings appear through the messy globs of paint yearning for expression on my canvas.

And in their appearance, the Bird of Contentment arose.

And that’s the thing.

I couldn’t see how the final painting would appear until I got over my resistance to letting go and gave voice to my fear of flying.

In the freedom to be unapologetically present as who I am in front of the easel, what was always there waiting to be revealed appeared and in its appearance, my voice sang out loud and clear.

I am free to be me!

I am content.

And….

Announcing my first ever art Calendar!

I also created a calendar over the weekend of some of my art and words.  It was a fun and joyful way to express myself.  I’ve decided to take a step ‘out there’ and offer it for sale. There’s still time to order a copy before Christmas!  🙂

You can preview and order it here:  2015: A Year To Dare Boldly

The complete expression of me, myself and I.

Soul Dance Art Journal - Watercolour
Soul Dance
Art Journal – Watercolour

In meditation yesterday, a thought scampered through my mind. (I know. Meditation is about no thoughts but there it was!)  It wasn’t so much a thought as an image with the idea of my soul dance and what it knows.

On a comment to Di yesterday, I wrote what I thought the words were and then, last night, I let them find their true expression through painting them.

My soul knows the dance of life is a return to Love.

It is what I love most about the creative process. It is holistic. Organic. Self-fulfilling. It arises out of the quiet to find its expression in ideas and words and images. It is the complete expression of me, myself and I.

Haiku for peace

I have been saddened, sickened, worried about the acts of war erupting around the world.

I have been immobilized by my fear, traumatized by my worry, sickened by my helplessness.

I have been consumed by my belief, there is nothing I can do, and my spiralling thoughts of how does this leave the world a better place for my daughters and their children yet to be born.

How does war create peace?

For every bullet that pierces a mother’s child’s body, a seed of rage, anger, regret and loss is sown within the hearts of all humankind.

Where does war end and peace begin?

How do arms held out in battle become arms outstretched in compassion for one another?

Can I find compassion for the warriors and the peace-makers? Can they co-exist on the battlefields of hatred, fear, judgement? Can they find common ground beyond the boundaries of their distrust of one another? Their belief in the righteousness of their cause versus the others?

I have been wrestling with these thoughts for many moons now. Struggling to find calm in the onslaught of violence that erupts everyday from newspaper headlines written in ink bleeding across reams of words claiming the righteousness of our right to carry arms against their wrongful doing.

Where is the right and wrong of war when no matter what side of the battlefield you stand upon, lives are lost, families are torn apart and young men, and now women, carry weapons of mass destruction rendering peace unassailable?

Where is the peace in war?

And so I write. I paint. I create.

I move into that space where loving acceptance of what is consumes me and I become conscious of my capacity to create peace in my world, to light up my world with loving kindness and compassion.

Peace Tree
Peace Tree

Haiku For Peace
©2014 Louise Gallagher

Dawn stalks night’s passage
a morning bird sings hopefully
the new day will awaken.

Night mourns day’s passing
calling for peace to rise up
bombs light up the sky.

Bullets pierce flesh
death falls indiscriminately
mothers cry together.

The morning bird calls
the light of day to awaken
a bud of hope opens.

 

 

Taking time for inner-balance is not a waste of time

The Love Bird Mixed media on canvas 12 x 24"
The Love Bird
Mixed media on canvas
12 x 24″

Ian Munro, at Leading Essentially, writes a provocative post this week about restructuring his “Inner Board of Directors” and how that has helped him to focus on his strengths. One of the exercises Ian gives is to assess your response to a given situation by determining if it drained your energies or pumped you up.  And then, he gives practical advice on how to measure the outcome.

Yesterday, I spent several hours working on finishing a presentation I am giving on Tuesday morning. For me, the quiet and comfort of my office at home provides a more creative space to think in and to imagine. After six hours, I felt I had the framework for a strong presentation (it’s on Community Engagement) with the powerpoint slides created, but not ‘prettied up’. I like the task of creating the presentation. I’m not strong on making it look all pretty. But, I do have a team member who is really, really good at it so I sent it off to them to have the final product polished up when she’s in the office today.

A win/win. I used my creative strengths to build the presentation and today, she’ll use hers to create the actual powerpoint. I did what I love and she gets to do what she loves.

In the past, my IBOD might have been more tyrannical in its insistence that I can do the prettying up of the powerpoint. In the past, I might have listened. I might have believed I needed to do it all. That my worth was based on my ability to not only create the presentation but to do all the work of making it look good.

In a cost/benefit analysis of the presentation, it probably would have taken me an additional six hours, or more, to create the final powerpoint. a) I am rusty on powerpoint creation and all its intricacies and b) I like the ‘telling the story’ part of presentation preparation, not the creating the materials part. In recognizing my strengths and my limitations, I was able to minimize the time I spent doing something that might have drained my energy and left me feeling tired today.

Instead, I feel energized.

Not only did I finish working on a presentation I think will get my message across clearly and inspire others in their community engagement work, I also rewarded myself with several hours in the studio when I was done.

And in that time, I recharged and centered myself in that place where I can once again see, who I am is not measured by the work I do, or even how much I do. Who I am is measured by the passion, love and commitment I bring to whatever I’m doing. When I give my best in the moment of doing, I create my best and that is good enough for me.

It is something I’m becoming very conscious of as I immerse myself once again in the Way of the Monk. Path of the Artist course I’ve been taking with Abbey of the Arts.

When I do not balance, ‘out there’ time with inner work and creative-making space, I am prone to feeling more tired, anxious, despairing even. My thinking runs the gamut of  ‘why bother?” with lots of chatter about my own self-importance rubbing up against thoughts of how unappreciated I feel and other inner nonsense running havoc. Get the gist? I become defeatist in my thinking and narrow-minded in my outlook.  When I am detached from my creative core, my IBOD becomes more anxious and volatile. And then, who knows what kind of all hell breaking loose scenarios I can create?

Yesterday, when I was finished the work I needed to get done to know that I was prepared for my presentation Tuesday morning, (and not feeling anxious about it), I went down to the studio and set myself free to create without any agenda. And The Love Bird appeared.

What a gift. Of time. Of renewal. Of re-charging and inner-balancing.

What are you doing to keep yourself in balance? Where do you need to let the outer doing go to create some inner peace?

 

Prayer for the Hours

Art Journal Page Praying the Hours Collage
Art Journal Page
Praying the Hours
Collage

How was your day, my daughter asks when she calls.

Fabulous! I exclaim.

What made it so fabulous? she queries.

I laugh. I’m in the studio.

Ahh, she says. You listened to your own words.

And I smile.

I listened. From the ears of my heart. Within the depths of my soul. I listened and heeded the call of the muse calling me to come, let loose, release, be present.

I am a layerer. I begin a painting, allow paint and image and colour and design and texture to merge and blend and create itself. And then, I layer over. And over until what becomes revealed is not at all what I first imagined.

It is always a mystery to me, that space where the ‘art’ emerges from the layers, that place where I trust in the process enough to allow what is forming to become what appears. To allow the incubation of an idea to become its illumination of the mystery.

In the course I’m taking with Abbey of the Arts, (The Way of the Monk, the Path of the Artist) we are invited to “Pray the Hours”, an ancient tradition of praying hte Liturgy of the Hours with its seven holy pauses throughout the day.

This is not foreign ground to me as much as uncomfortable terrain. It brings back memories of childhood. Of kneeling beside my mother in church desperately wanting to escape outside into the sun. Of reading Holy Scripture, searching for understanding and fearing the hand of God would strike me down if I did not attain the perfect posture of penitence.

What I resist persists.

I have confused religion with spiritual presence. I have confused the past with the present.

Last night, I spent time in the studio and delved into Christine Valters Paintner’s (the Abbess of Abbey of the Arts) invitation to grow in the awareness of the rhythms of the day.

I am grateful.

For the evening spent amidst the hours waxing and waning in creative flow.

I am grateful.

For the time and space to be present with the muse shimmering on every breath.

I am grateful.

For the hours. The rhythm of my day. The ebb and flow of earth’s heartbeat illuminating the space for me to flow in time.

I am grateful for, as Christine writes in The Artist’s Rule, Nurturing your creative soul with  monastic wisdom, “The artist’s task is to remind humanity that we’re part of a great family of being, that we are included in a cyclical process of companionship, disappearance, and reemergence.

The sun disappeared at the end of day. I held communion in my studio, basking in the glow of creative expression illuminating the page over which I toiled. And in time’s prayerful passing, the hours merged into the moment and I awoke to the joyful essence of my being at one with the Creator, the goddess, the divine.

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To read my Prayer for the Hours, please come visit me at my poetry blog.

Safe in this moment of possibility

Walking into the studio to simply be present in its space has been a challenge for me this past week.

Fall has settled in and I have been building a nest to hibernate within, letting go of the possibilities of what comes next.

I resist that walk. I hesitate, tell myself I have other things to do, I’m too tired, too edgy, too anything other than present.

I lose myself into a novel. Turn on the television. Convince myself it’s okay to resist and tumble into that rebellious state where doing what is good for me, what is nurturing and supportive falls short of my conscious decision to not do what I know feeds my spirit.

I have been here before, in this space of rebellious resistance to the things that bring me pleasure, joy, peace, contentment. This place where I resist what opens my heart wide, sets it to beating fearlessly as I move into the flow of creativity coursing through my veins.

I am in my head. Walled up in rebellious denial of my power to walk through the barriers I have placed to keep me out of the heart-space of creativity where I am free to flow in all directions without needing a map, a guidebook, a plan.

In this space I ask myself questions that don’t have answers. They just have rabbit holes down which I slide into perpetual cycling in and out of rationalizing my state of being.

There is only one way to stop spiralling into resistance. Breathe and allow.

Breathe and allow.

Allow what is present without judging it or believing it will be forever.

Now is not forever.

And in the now that is not forever, I find the grace to allow myself to shift from inaction into action.

To turn away from the voice of resistance I must breathe and allow myself the sacred connectedness of sitting in front of a blank page, a white canvas and being present to my fear that what I create is not good enough or not right or that the timing is wrong, that I am not meant to create, or that I am too small to change, or too weak to deal with this state I am in.

There is no right or wrong or enough in creativity and I am never too small, to weak, to nothing. I am all that I am and there is only the act of creating exactly where I am at.  There is only the act of casting words upon a page or throwing paint at a surface upon which I have already begun to tell its story if only to change the story that was present when I walked away from the space of believing in all things are possible.

It is sacred ground this creative space. And I have been holding onto the fear I will fall if I believe in it.

I breathe and allow.

Now is not forever and in this not forever place I let go of my fear of being stuck, of falling and of flying.

I breathe and lovingly acknowledge I have moved away, changed, shifted and am holding onto the fear that nothing is possible. In the nothingness of standing in fear with my eyes closed, I cannot see the light shining.

It is in the fearlessness of those moments, those tender, fragile moments where I fear what might be revealing itself upon the canvas or the page that I must let go of my fear and simply stand confidently and unafraid and do that which I fear the most — trust.

Trust in myself. Trust in being present. Trust in the muse, in creativity, the Universe.

When I trust in what is, in where I am, no matter where I am standing, Love is with me, creativity abounds and possibilities open up in endless gratitude for my being present to each moment unfolding.

I have been amusing myself in the land of darkness. It is time to open my eyes and breathe into my fear. It is time to allow possibility, creativity, hope and joy to surface. It is time to let go and trust, no matter what appears, I am safe in this moment of possibility.

Zackariah and the Non-Profits

In the minutes and hours and weeks following the tragedy, they huddled together on the corner of the street where it happened, in coffee shops and living rooms, and any other place where one or two or more were gathered.

They cried together, leaned on each other, held each other up and caught each other in those moments when their grief overcame them. They shared stories of their friends, laughed at their remembered antics, shook their heads at some of their escapades. They honoured their names, their memories, their lives intersecting.

And time moved on as they struggled to make sense of what they could not make sense of. How could five of their own, five lives whose promise was just beginning to unfold as they travelled through University classes, art college, band practices and sporting events and the plethora of minutiae that make a life, that made these five lives so precious, how could they be gone? How could they be killed in such a brutal fashion?

It was if a giant unseen hand swept down from the north and wiped away the space these five young friends held on earth. One moment, they were laughing and celebrating the end of another school year, the next, they were gone.

Last night, C.C. and I along with hundreds of others came out in support of the efforts of two surviving members of the Zackariah and The Prophets band.  Organized by Kyle Tenove and Barry Mason, the evening featured The Fox Who Slept the Day Away, The Ashley Hundred, Windigo and Jesse and the Dandelions, as well as a moving and emotional tribute performance of Zackariah and The Prophets.

And while nothing can make sense of such a horrible loss, the evening, called, High Hopes, did just that. It reminded all of us that no matter what happens in the world around us, we cannot let go of hope for a better future, hope for a kinder world, hope for peace. And we must take action to keep hope alive in all our hearts.

As C.C. and I sat and listened, tapping our feet to the rocking beat of the Prophets, the many young people in the crowd leapt up and hurried en masse to the front of the performance hall to stand as one body, shoulder to shoulder, arms around each other, singing and waving their arms and moving their bodies to the music.

And as they did in the moments following the events of April 15, they held each other up, they supported one another and moved as one body united in memory of Josh and Zacharia and Kaiti Perras, Jordan Segura, and Lawrence Hong, all of whom lost their lives on that fateful day.

And when it was over, when the music quietened and the last thank-you spoken, there was one thing remaining that carried each of us out into the night — the High Hopes that we can make a difference that Barry and Kyle so desperately wanted to instill in everyone.

Proceeds from the event will go to the Zackariah and the Non-Profits (ZATNP) established by the two young men which will then be distributed among the five scholarships and/or trust funds established for Joshua Hunter, Zackariah Rathwell, Lawrence Hong, Jordan Segura and Kaiti Perras.

Their dream is to make a difference in the world. To ensure that the lives of their friends continue to make a difference in the world.

And they are.

I’m sure their friends would have approved and while it doesn’t make sense of what happened, it does create better in the world from a tragedy that has impacted so many.

We can learn much from these young people about what it means to honour and celebrate the lives of those we love — no matter where in time their stories end.

A gift from the quiet hours before the dawn

coyote

In a burst of exuberance, the wind swept down from the mountains 
whispering stories of faraway places.

“Runaway with me and I will show you the world!” the wind called out and Coyote laughed.
“Here is where I run free,” he told the wind. And the wind blew on and Coyote ran free.

Art Journal Entry, August 26, 2014

There was a time when she believed if she could just be somewhere else other than where she was, everything would be okay.

There was a time when she wished for nothing more than to be someone else other than who she was.

What she couldn’t see in looking for another way of being is that no matter what she wished for, she could never be anyone else other than who she was.

What she couldn’t see was that the parts of her that didn’t fit her well in this place, would not fit her any better in another.

Fearful that she would never find her way, she attempted to jettison her past, extricate herself from being herself to become someone she thought others wanted her to be. “Perhaps if you change directions, or even just your clothes, you’ll find yourself another way,” her nimble mind whispered like the wind blowing down from the mountains, calling her to run away.

And she ran, and ran and still she found herself where ever she was at, trying to run away from the one she could never leave behind, herself.

“Perhaps if you simply stand true to who you are, stay present to what is here in this moment, you’ll find yourself right where you’re at,” her loving heart whispered into the howling of the wind.

Frightened by her heart’s calling and tired of constantly running away, she fell to the ground and rested right where she was at. And in her sleep, her heart beat strong, and her mind grew restful as the truth of who she is set her free to run wild like the wind through her dreams.

“There is nothing to fear in being you,” her heart whispered. “Who you are is who you’ve always been. Perfectly human in all your human imperfections. Beauty and the beast. Loving and loved. A child of the universe, seeking her way into the light of her own brilliance shining brightly on the path of her creation.”

Like coyote and the wind, there is always a calling to venture into another space, some distant place where what is here will not be there. It isn’t until I quit searching for somewhere else to be that I discover, everything I need to be free is here right now, because, no matter where I go, I am where ever I am at.

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The painting and story above came from my meditation. Like the caterpillar story yesterday which came from a dream where I awoke with the image of the unhappy caterpillar and his desire to be anything other than himself,  the image of the coyote slipped through my mind as I sat in silence.

I was seeking a peaceful mind and still the wind blew in.

I tried to push it away. Instead, it insisted on leaving its mark in the form of a coyote, the trickster of Native American lore. I asked coyote what he had to tell me, and the image and story were born.

In my practice, both here on the written page and on my art journal page, I have learned to trust in the process. To allow the words, and images, to appear without trying to discern them before they flow.

It can be challenging. I like to control. I like to dictate, to organize, to force and cajole things into being, just so. I also like to judge what I create. Measure its worth against some unseen yardstick in my mind.

Learning to trust in the process without judgement means, learning to trust in me.

A big leap.

Which is probably why, when I awoke at 3:30 this morning with the image of a cliff in my mind, the words appeared, “Leaping off the edge of what she knew to be true, she found herself believing in the possibility of flight.”

What a lovely gift to find upon awakening in the quiet hours before the dawn.

The spaces between

I spent the weekend in my studio.

I am content.

It was a great way to spend a rainy Saturday and even though yesterday the sun snuck out from behind grey clouds, I couldn’t stop what I was doing. I was immersed in the process and having too much fun! Plus, I was using the collage technique I learned at Jonathan Talbot’s workshop — and what can be more fun than using new knowledge to create?

August 30th is my mother’s 92nd birthday. I would like to say that she is strong and happy and doing well, but that would not be true. Her mind is sharp as a tack but her body is frail and fragile and failing. Quickly.

Other than arthritis, and the fact of age, there is no medical cause for her faltering well-being. It is more an ennui born of everyday sadness, losses she has never been able to comprehend, and the fact she has basically stopped eating.

My mother is sad and neither my sisters nor I are powerful enough to lift the sadness that envelops her.

Which is why I spent the weekend creating something I hope will put a smile on her heart and give her some happiness.

Like mother’s everywhere, my mother loves to show off her family. To tell people of what her children and grandchildren are doing, to demonstrate how accomplished in the world we all are, how our lives have turned out well.

In the past, I created a shadow box of her life. It hangs on the wall of her room which means, she can’t carry it with her. S0 this weekend, I created an accordion book of  her life. Something small and compact that she can put in the basket of her walker and can carry with her where ever she goes if she chooses.

And here’s the thing. In putting photos of her brother’s and sisters, parents, as well as my sisters and brother, I had to decide whether or not to include photos of my nieces, my brother’s daughters. I wanted to. She loves them dearly, but since my brother and his wife’s death in 1997 there has been little to no contact between my mother and her granddaughters. Eighteen and nineteen at the time of their parents’ passing, my nieces were in no shape to comprehend my mother’s grief at the death of her only son. And my mother was not emotionally strong enough to put aside her tears to be able to help them through theirs.

A gap appeared between them. Over the years, it has turned into an abyss and for my mother, that abyss is a deep dark wound of loss and grief and sorrow.

Do I or don’t I include their photos? I asked both my sisters.

We all agreed that to do so would only cause our mother pain. She cannot talk of her two lost grand-daughters without crying and if there is one thing my mother doesn’t need more of in her life, it’s tears.

And so, I left out these two beautiful young women who are part of the warp and weave of our family.

I didn’t want to. I am not particularly good at ‘pretending’ something isn’t what it is. They are part of our family and to leave them out doesn’t change that fact.

I’m also a realist.

To include their photos in a book she will want to show everyone will only leave her open to having to talk about her grand-daughters with whom she has no contact. And that will make her cry.

It was the loving thing to do for my mother and the right thing to do for her heart.