Tag Archives: art

Of autumn leaves and asking the right questions

Back in June, I had a sudden epiphany about how what we chose to do, or not do, affects our sense of well-being, and I wrote an article about that. After paying attention to mood and productivity swings over several days (alright, over several months, maybe even years), I came to this conclusion: “… I’ve recently identified the three instances when I feel perfectly at peace, and quite uplifted actually: After a good conversation with someone positive, when I help someone and after I’ve completed a project I had been avoiding. And THIS, I know now, is the secret to happiness, since happiness depends not on outside circumstances, but on how we feel about ourselves.”

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There are hundreds of gurus out there who repeatedly warn us, in books, conferences or merely by example, that procrastinating is a) a self-fulfilling prophecy and b) harmful to the procrastinator more than to the avoided task. They break down for us the mechanics of procrastination and provide step-by-step, idiot-proof strategies to be rid of it. Everything they point out is true. Every trick they suggest beams with common sense. Most of us who choose to make the effort to change our ways fall back to old patterns before we reach the last page of those books we had promised ourselves would change our lives.

We know how to not put things off. Each of us can make a mile-long to-do list and pledge allegiance to it, our hearts filled with certainty and dedication. Still, we stumble.

There is another side to this. It arises with the notion, also proclaimed by many influential authors and gurus, and by accomplished entrepreneurs, that the secret to their success is this: “I followed my heart. If you do what you love, you will have success. You have to do what feels good.”

Following a passion is indeed a key to success, and by this I mean personal success. We need not become Fortune 500 executives to have success and we do not need an audience or recognition. Success is an internal feeling, a personal stepping stone, or rather a series of stepping-stones. We know, we feel it, when we get there. That’s enough.

Success is incremental and it begins with choice. When we ask, “What would feel good?” or “Where is my bliss?” we miss part of the equation. It is as though a master gave this formula to his students, hundreds of years ago, and some of the words he spoke then were lost over time, and now the lesson is incomplete. This is why we do not know how to apply the “follow your bliss” method.

Making things, art, is part of my bliss. Yet I get stumped. Even as a hermit with little interaction with the world outside of my work and home, I can find hundreds of distractions from the task at hand. Take these new leaf pouches, for example. I started working on this new design well before foliage season. I just felt stumped every time a prototype did not turn out quite as I envisioned, so I found excuses to avoid this, convincing myself that I was following my heart by allowing more time to pass, but this only added guilt to the equation. Then it hit me…

The profound and more accurate question to ask, every time a task or choice is at hand, is not, “What would feel good now?” It is, “What would make me feel good about myself?”

I’ve played with this new strategy over the past several days and I am stunned. The moment I decided to ask, “What would make me feel good about myself?” putting this aside was no longer an option. Not only that, but something shifted, a burst of certainty boosted my confidence. I finished two leaves in a few hours, and the outcome exceeded my own expectations.

Approaching the daily to-do list with this new question (whether the list is merely a thought or we actually put it on paper), changes everything. You cannot ask, “What would make me feel good about myself?” and then choose to watch just one more TV show before getting back to a project that truly impacts your life. You cannot ask, “What would make me feel good about myself?” and then eat an entire pizza to comfort insecurities. You cannot ask, “What would make me feel good about myself?”and avoid a career move that could change everything. You cannot ask, “What would make me feel good about myself?”and ignore a neighbor who needs help. And I suspect that you cannot ask, “What would make me feel good about myself?”and then take anything from someone else or cause any harm.

Precisely. You cannot ask, “What would make me feel good about myself?” and then take anything from or cause any harm to yourself.

This does not mean we avoid restful and playful interludes, or special treats, at all cost and it does not mean we never get angry or sad either. It means we sharpen our ability to map a constructive and satisfying course.

The new Leaf Gift Pouch is available at Ornament Studio.

Related Article: Why we feel like crap

Falling into place

I thought I should check in, just to make it clear that I have not abandoned this blog, our my creative ventures.

The last couple of weeks have been busy, and as time goes by I discover an ongoing pattern in my story. Work shows up that is suited to my skills and interests. It is as though I walk through a door just when there is a need. This is fortunate, of course, and I am grateful. It is a persistent scenario, also, and I have stopped believing in coincidence.

So what fell on my lap this time was the maintenance of the website for Brown & Jenkins Trading Company, the Cambridge Coffee Roaster for which I was initially hired for a bit of Facebook marketing.

Here I go again, jumping in head first, realizing in the middle of one evening after another that I still have my eyes glued to the screen and that I am taking my assignment to heart as a natural extension of myself. The word serenity comes to mind. My work becomes an act of meditation.

When I think of this, it is beyond me that no one has figured out that this may be exactly what we must encourage in school; this passion for the fulfillment of a skill or interest. There are schools that focus on this, but they are rare. General knowledge is important, of course. In fact, it is very important, because it opens our minds. But where is knowledge of self in this?

Then again, perhaps knowledge of self can unfold only in the course of living. You can’t graduate from school and know who you are and what you will contribute to the world; at least not completely. You don’t really come out of school and enter the job market either. That is an old model, perhaps from back when masters had apprentices. Education is not really an apprenticeship; but life is. In fact, life is the most difficult apprenticeship there is, because the teacher is whispering, the task is unclear and the tools are scattered. We pick up our tools as we go.

Perhaps the biggest error is not how we approach education, but what we expect from it.

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Lately, I think mass media truly do not help with this. Fame and recognition have become measures of self-worth. I think about this sometimes when I contemplate the simple artwork I create. I may never be on the news and does it matter? I may never make a piece of such significance that it leaves its mark in history in any major way, and does it really matter?

We implore, “buy local,” yet we value glamor. There is nothing local about glamor. We forget the significance of our microcosm; how one small painting offered as a gift can change a life; how one simple sculpture placed on a shelf can turn depression into hope for one person. It is impossible to create without a ripple effect.

The artist is not the stone, however. This occurs to me just now. The artist is not the source of the ripples. Anything we do is never the actual source of the ripples. It cannot be, for we ourselves stand in the ripples of our own work, of our own doing.

This is what we do not learn in school, and perhaps we must indeed learn it in life: Glory is not in recognition. Glory is in allowing our story to fall into place. Learning to do this is the greatest lesson.

Emily Dickinson said it best…

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Pictured above, a few bracelets. A reminder to myself that I am continually weaving something.