IN HASTE

WE all do some things a bit too quickly. Our timing is “off” … we rush to complete something, to get somewhere, or maybe we speak so fast a genuine conversation is impossible. Examples abound; it’s not difficult to see this dynamic at work, is it? I notice myself doing this when I’m overly focused on getting to the “next moment,” as Eckhart Tolle often calls this subconscious rush to the future. Once you pause to consider how this subtle force works in your life, you may decide to slow things down.

Consider the moments you don’t really “see” because you’re already halfway to the next moment. How about the people you don’t actually “hear” because you are locked in your own mind, pushing the moment to complete itself so you can rush forward … once more?

Going to an art museum or spending time with nature are great ways to test yourself on this dynamic. Feel uncomfortable with a slower pace, running to-do lists through your head at the same time, checking your phone? Looking for a few brief seconds then “moving on” or skipping entire sections of the museum or the garden so you can quickly get to the next thing you want to say or do?

But … you may wonder … what’s the real harm in this? Isn’t life a race that requires selective attention and effective time management? Sometimes, yes, we simply have to hurry. No way around that. However, accessing the deeper side of life (the very mysteries of existence) and possessing an ability to reflect, meditate, and contemplate are linked to the ability to stay in the moment. FULLY.

While haste can feel natural to us because of the world around us, dare to challenge this. Dare to walk a path that creates an opening in your awareness, allowing for fresh insights to emerge. Otherwise, the race we’re quietly running may end badly. Otherwise, and probably. There is no medal for getting through life more quickly than the next guy. There is only a final breath waiting for all of us. That’s it.

So drag your feet a bit more. Don’t let subtle pressures to hurry impact your peace of mind, your sense of purpose. Imagine a world that isn’t half-crazy with visions of “getting to the future” just as quickly as possible. Experiment a little, see what happens. When I’m writing I can feel myself wanting, for example, the “complete the project.” The book, the article, the story, the poem. But I try to catch myself. Remind myself that a belief in time is at the root of this strange dynamic.

Spring is a good opportunity to let go of false notions. To see what life feels like without time calling all the shots. It is an illusion. And there is much to be discovered right here, right now. Thanks for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits. See you again in a few weeks!

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SPEAKING OF INSPIRATION

“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious.
It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”
Albert Einstein, The World As I See It

I’ve always been drawn to visual images. Photographs. Paintings. Sketches. Even doodles that take on a life of their own. The collaboration of images and words … well, it’s pure magic, of course. And since we all could use a dose of inspiration in January, why not focus on this very combination? Here’s a photograph by Mary T. Hercher, for instance. I love the color contrast, the “electric blue,” as she put it, against the steadfast evergreen. The picture points to many things: the bounty of nature, the insistence of creation itself, the importance of protecting and appreciating the environment, awareness of the natural beauty that readily flows from something organic and lasting.

What do you see in Hercher’s photograph?      

“Feeling a little blue in January is normal.”
~ Marilu Henner
MANY great poets have written about the poetry of nature. Trees, in particular. Personally, I can’t imagine a yard without plenty of trees. I grew up seeing plenty of cottonwood trees along the Missouri River, and scattered elsewhere on the prairie like afterthoughts. But the evergreen, it’s year-round beauty, is especially rewarding to gaze upon. Most, tall and stately, seem oblivious to everything going on around them, as they insistently stretch skyward … with a touch of inspiration for anyone who cares to notice.

 I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees,
and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.
~ e. e. cummings
THEN there is the phenomenal artist, Paul C. Jackson. I couldn’t mention inspiration without mentioning Jackson (AWS, NWS American Watercolorist) in the same breath. A prolific artist and ambitious world traveler, he is one of today’s most versatile and visible contemporary watercolorists. Whether his subject is landscape, cityscape, portrait, architecture, still life or abstract, Jackson captivates his audience with genuine emotion, intensity and finesse that energize each of his creations.

Music is often the focus of Paul’s art. Here, for instance, is “Lovesong” (20 x 26 watercolor), a new painting from Jackson.
Inspired by a series of Adele performances that Paul and friends enjoyed at Madison Square Garden in New York in September 2016,
this painting was selected for inclusion in the American Watercolor Society’s 150th Annual International Exhibition (Salmagundi Club,
New York City April 3-22, 2017). Paul notes that “this is the most prestigious exhibition for a watercolorist.”

PAUL was also the artist behind my recent book cover for The Silence of Morning: A Memoir of Time Undone. I needed artwork that depicted a depth of emotion for my memoir that studies the dynamics of sudden loss while seriously venturing into the spiritual realm of life’s deepest mysteries. After looking at several of Jackson’s paintings, I knew the one he also decided to name “Silence of Morning” was a perfect choice. The words, the overall sentiment of the book, truly could be “seen” in Paul’s painting. Not only was the artwork beautiful, but Jackson has always valued collaboration with other artists and can find a viable creative edge for nearly any project no matter how far afield it may seem from the world of watercolors. When words and images come together … the possibilities are endless.

I must mention, however, that Paul may come by his tremendous creative spirit somewhat naturally. Nancy Jackson, his mother, recently completed a handmade quilt that features the names of authors she’s followed or admired or read. Included: William Least Heat-Moon (of Blue Highways fame), Paul Jackson (as he is also an author), and my name, as well. Nancy gathered the individual quilt blocks over a span of years; each author personally signing his or her name on each block for inclusion in her project. I was honored to be asked. The end result is outstanding! Amazing! Following the work of Jennie Doan, the quilt pattern author, Nancy has created a true work of art. I hope it is displayed in a  prominent place one day soon. Here then is the Nancy Jackson piece that beautifully illustrates that expansive and magical merger of words and images.

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.” ― Leonardo da Vinci

INSPIRATION is also important to another artist I admire a great deal. Canadian contemporary artist, Terrill Welch, is an impressionist painter and photographer who seems to find tremendous joy in her work. A lovely commonality among all of my featured artists, actually. There must be something intrinsic to the artistic soul that moves universe itself. 

“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.” ― Vincent Van Gogh

WHEN you visit Terrill’s website, you’ll find this: British Columbia artist and photographer Terrill Welch’s quick sure painting strokes, and photographic images capture forest, sandstone, sea and sky.  They remind us that there is only one moment – this one. Since 2010, more than 80 of Terrill Welch’s paintings of various sizes and significantly more of her photography prints have found their way into private collections. Many of these paintings have sold while still work-in-progress or resting wet on the easel.

I have been following her work for at least seven years now. Though unsure how I first spotted her artistic hand and upbeat presence, once you gaze at a Welch landscape, it’s not easy to stop thinking about where you would hang a piece of her artwork if you were lucky enough to have such a worry. Artistic work that hangs in our memory like a an endurable feeling, like a source of lasting inspiration, is a sure sign of something authentic and true.

  Catching Waves at Georgina Point Mayne Island BC 
Oil on Canvas 30 x 40 x 1.5

SINCE I was specifically looking for the magic of words and images, I thought this description from the artist was interesting. “There is a brisk northwesterly wind stirring up the Salish Sea in the bright autumn sun. I step carefully down the sandstone trail to the shore below the lighthouse at Georgina Point. Looking out across the Strait of Georgia, it seems that the best thing to do is to catch a few waves. Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada.”

SOMETIMES when I spot a new piece of work from Welch, I have fun playing with words to see what title the image provokes. Inspiration. It’s always there if we are open to it; if we seek it out. I can’t imagine a world without art … can you? But the individuals behind the work are usually equally fascinating. What brought them to the world of art in the first place? How do they sustain their energetic enthusiasm for their work? What do they want to communicate to the world? To you, to me?

If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you:
I am here to live out loud.
Émile Zola

Born in the village of Vanderhoof in north-central British Columbia, Terrill’s art training came at an early age and continued more in the European style of mentoring and tutoring. Terrill Welch’s work, in water mixable or walnut oil paints and photographic canvas prints, showcases the beautiful, mysterious and rugged southwest coast of Canada. Though locally appreciated, Terrill Welch is internationally recognized.  Her paintings and photographs are sold to art collectors throughout Canada and the United States as well as in Australia, England, Norway and Switzerland.

AND NOW I’d like to return to Mary Hercher, the photographer I began this blog post with … here again is her wonderful red bench that I featured in SunnyRoomStudio last year. It’s an invitation to stop for a moment to gaze out at the world anew. Look at something with the eyes of an artist … how does this vantage point change your overall perception? Can you describe this dynamic or paint it? How do you feel when looking through an artistic lens instead of through the dull eyes of routine and conformity? A whole new world is born in this way, in this context. SO make the shift! Regardless of what you do each day in your life, try opening your eyes to the beauty of whatever is right in front of you. Study the colors, the texture, the expression, the eyes. This alone, I would wager, could change our world.

Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.
Edgar Degas

  “I have one image of myself that I like, but it is a ‘soft’ image, one full of joy.”
Mary T. Hercher @ Wind Spirit Photography
Rapid City, South Dakota

I have a feeling this is going to become one of my favorite blog posts for 2017. Certainly, it’s one way to express my profound gratitude to those who are such bright lights in the universe. As an author, I could never find the words for an entire book without the incredible work of others around me to provoke and guide and inspire. I wish all of these individuals an abundance of creative energy and joy in the upcoming year, and thank them again for their profound contribution to creating a world that looks beyond the surface of things for the deeper meaning. As Mary is doing above, keep looking up and out and around! Do this as often as possible. Seek the unknown, seek to finally see what is just beyond your awareness and grasp. THAT is where the true magic of life can be found. Best wishes to all for January and beyond. ~ dh

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.
Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

See you again in a few weeks!
Thanks so much for stopping by this creative sunny space for kindred spirits.
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THE SPIRIT OF SUMMER

THERE is something about summer that frees our spirits. Something that insistently beckons us to look at life and nature more closely, more intently. And, indeed, more extensively. The lake we’ve never visited. The trail we’ve never walked. The plant we’ve never grown. The important project we’ve managed not to “see” or acknowledge. The book we’ve never read. The artist we’ve overlooked. The recipe we’ve wanted to try for the longest time. The daring article or poem we suddenly want to write. You have your own examples, I’m sure.

1001011009bTree

Feeling freer, less confined and withdrawn, we seem to almost merge with the spirit of summer.

Growing … doing … exploring … experiencing … creating.

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees,
just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning
over again with the summer.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

But sometimes things happen that dampen our spirits, and we struggle to find our usual enthusiasm for summer’s endearing vibrancy. It can make us feel pretty miserable to want to do the usual things (or new things) without the energy or desire to make it happen.

Who hasn’t been there?

Unless you live a one-dimensional life on a one-dimensional planet … you’ve been there.

We lost our beloved schnauzer, Noah, in June of 2015. My beloved son, Matthew, in June of 2007.

So I’ve been wondering about this fanciful month of June. Why has it delivered such harsh blows amidst the greens and blues and pastels that flow like rain during a month when many parts of the world seem reborn. Promising, comforting, and certainly pleasant. And then I noticed a quote on a good friend’s (thanks, Cynthia!) Facebook page that gave me pause yet again.

  • “I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June.” ― L. M. Montgomery
IMG-20121117-00600
NOAH … the Zen master
SRS
NOAH                                                                       

If the world was always June … yes, there would  be the magic of nature … but, for me, there would also be poignant and powerful reminders of loss. Days very difficult to peacefully, and fully, remember; days when beating hearts grew still: the silence deafening. But June takes me there anyway, even as I resist, cringe, try to run away.

So do I turn away from the lovely month of June, or embrace it?
What would you do?

“It was June, and the world smelled of roses.
The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside.”
Maud Hart Lovelace

To say I have mixed feelings about June would be true. The calendar, the season, draw me closer to events that feel “outside of time” … but the days of June also sharpen those painful memories anew, serving them up like a sad story ending one can never quite escape. Matt_FruitFarmOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA_Matt_Lake

I guess the only thing I can do is broaden my view, allowing June to merge with my memories of summer, in general. By acknowledging the month of June as intrinsic to summer’s spirit, I can consider it from a slightly different vantage point. Reflecting on this … I am also reminded that summer’s spirit is not entirely blissful. When summer ends, it takes with it warm, carefree days, and announces the arrival of a new season. Cooler weather, a more subdued season, less fresh and invigorating. By framing June this way, it becomes part of a bigger story—one less focused on daily events, specific time frames, and so on.

  •  ” … the final twist descended like a malicious fire. An unyielding weapon and an uncompromising shot shredding time, and all variations of hope, as it penetrated and absorbed the utter fragility of a precious human life in a secluded meadow on a faded summer night. An unbearable image. An anguished landing during the seductive month of June–nature in full bloom–made death even more startling, incongruent. I wanted to hate the sixth month of the year.” —D.A. Hickman, The Silence of Morning: A Memoir of Time Undone

When painful memories surface, try to frame them anew … bring them into a slightly different light, look at them from a perspective that isn’t quite as personal. After all, nothing happens in isolation and everything is connected. Dreaded days on a calendar can be looked at in a broader context … allowing for space around the event, the moment, the feelings we instinctively shy from. So here’s to the breezy days of summer, the tantalizing mix of life and loss the season ultimately delivers. Matt and Noah, for me, you ARE the spirit of summer. ~

How do you feel about June, about summer?
Any complications around this particular landscape of time?
What memories do you shun, or treasure … or simply not understand?

Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.
See you again Friday, July 1st.

“Drugs and guns aren’t the real problems; they are only symptoms.
The deeper issue is the human condition, the trauma of life on this planet.”
9780990842361-Front-TheSlienceOfMorning13_RGB_300dpi_6x9“Despite a crushing loss … here we have a warmth of spirit,
understanding and compassion in a distancing world.”
Madeline Sharples, Leaving the Hall Light On
My recent book interview on Richard Gilbert’s blog,
can be found here
WE NEED MEMOIR.
Thanks again, Richard!

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EYES OF NATURE

Nature quietly teaches us < Happy Earth Day > that nothing is as complicated as we try to make it. And yet, given the paradoxical realities of life, everything is more complicated than we assume or imagine. How do we navigate such treacherous waters — avoid the extremes, the habitual reactions, the angst and anxiety that flow from ineffective and counterproductive personal patterns?

Acknowledging paradox is an excellent initial step, but that takes awareness and presence and mindfulness, doesn’t it?

If we don’t realize that we’re always standing right in the middle of the yin and yang of things … how can we hope for insights or change or anything more than the status quo?

Each time dawn appears, the mystery is there in its entirety.
— Rene Daumal 1908 – 1944

We started this year focusing on smallish changes with life-enhancing potential. So here’s another idea along those lines — observe the paradox of any challenging situation before doing anything else. Sense the dynamics at work around you that aren’t remotely personal. Pause deeply. Step back. Reflect. Consider. Accept contradiction, confusion, the pull of opposite yet, complimentary, forces.

Just this can make a big difference in our perceptions, our judgments, and our attitudes. Even in how peaceful we feel.

  • Nature can be extremely helpful in this context. Look away from what is troubling you, annoying you, distracting you … and look into the eyes of nature instead. A budding tree. A flower in bloom. A breeze against branches. A sky that looks like infinity. When we step away from the conditioned mind, it’s easier to acknowledge a deeper reality … then paradox becomes more obvious. And we can see into situations and challenges and opportunities with a fresh sense of creative possibility. Perhaps … with greater wisdom, acceptance, and understanding. Maybe even compassion.

A good friend of mine shared these lovely spring pictures recently. She referred to them as the “night and day of tulips,” which seemed to fit this blog post quite well. The yellow ones, nearly three feet high, seem filled with light and spirit; the purple ones (queen of the night) are intense, moody, compelling. One gardening site described this variety of tulip as velvety, deep maroon-black blooms on sturdy stems.

  • However you describe themthe key is to pause long enough, look deeply enough, to describe them at all.
lynneapril2016tulipred
©dacotahkromes
lynneapril2016tulips
©dacotahkromes

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” — Jack Kerouac

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair. C. S. Lewis

IF… you’ve noticed the repetitive nature of most conversations, along with the habitual way of perceiving the world, you’ve probably wondered how any of this ever changes. Only when there are internal changes … does the world begin to “look” different. Only by deepening our life experience can we see the paradox that is always before us. So whatever you do … try not to let a dysfunctional, malcontent culture define you. Your own innate sense of life meaning is a far better guide than a hyped up, heavily glamorized, artificial (and struggling) society. Choosing to tune it all out and look within … is the gift of a lifetime. –dh

Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.
See you again Friday, May 6th.
I will always be a student of society looking for the deeper story and the universal message
to derive a better understanding of the human condition.
— D. A. Hickman, The Silence of Morning
If you missed my recent interview on Richard Gilbert’s blog,
here is the link to
We Need Memoir.
Thanks again, Richard!

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JUST A FOGGY MORNING

WE’VE had some foggy mornings recently when everything seems hidden by a thick winter blanket. Looking out a window reveals familiar landmarks still recognizable despite a shroud of white-gray fog. How do you react to foggy mornings? Or do you really notice them?

We know they are temporary. The sun will burn through eventually, the fog will lift. Yet, somehow it’s easy to let a dreary morning seep into our veins … when we aren’t mindful.

I began this shiny new year in SunnyRoomStudio by considering how smallish changes can deliver significant impact, often in ways that surprise us with their staying power. And already we’ve considered a couple of things that fall under this lovely umbrella: taking frequent sky breaks and giving something away as often as possible. Small changes really are the magic of our lives.

JewelsPhotography2016
Photo, Julie Kingery-Conner *

So today I wanted to suggest yet another smallish change that came to me when I woke up to the fog of a mid-February morning that included a dense-fog advisory from the weather channel. Instead of pining for spring flowers or a bright summer sky … let “what is” become a welcome point of surrender, in a deep kind of way.

“If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees.” ― from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Book of Hours

We waste so much energy “wishing it otherwise” … so much energy pining for a different reality. Something we are certain is “better than” whatever is right in front of us. But when something is deeply accepted, without reservation, a degree of emotional liberation is attainable. Some call it liberation from suffering … even from smallish things that simply drain our energy.

So the third smallish change for 2016–something we can easily build into our spiritual practice–is just this: stay mindful, peaceful even in the face of what seems “negative.” Try to allow “what is” to be enough, and to be okay. When we remember to do this we are less likely to cut ourselves off from the very life force that is inherent to each breath, each ray of sunlight, each moment in time.

And if it helps … consider what is still possible given the circumstances. If it’s the dead of winter, for instance, there are still great photographs of flowers, green grass, sunny skies. Seek them out. Enjoy them fully, not as “it’s just a picture,” but in terms of “this is beautiful.” The colors are vibrant and full of life; there is “completion” of something glorious right in front of me.

Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light.
— Theodore Roethke

When you try this, let me know how it goes. I’ll be back Friday, February 26th with another smallish change that holds the promise of something more. And if you have ideas along these lines, please share them. Thanks so much for dropping by!

I’ve always loved taking pictures growing up in South Central Illinois, but the love of photography came to me after transplanting to Sioux Falls. I became inspired with the state, and claim it as my own now.” — Julie Kingery-Conner, Jewels Photography 

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