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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DEGREES OF GRATITUDE

We’re all just walking each other home.
― Ram Dass

THIS TIME of year various themes arise in conversation. Gratitude is one of them. And while there are many reasons to feel grateful, today I want to mention the boundless contribution of spiritual leaders who have graced our planet. The lovely contrast they offer to all things mundane and superficial is a priceless gift. When the world is focused on overworked media stories, for instance, enlightened voices remind us of the “big picture” … the poetic, silent realm that is unseen, undervalued, and underestimated. Like joining an instant spiritual retreat, we can sit down and open the pages of a book by Eckhart Tolle, for instance. Or maybe read a little Ram Dass. There are so many others: Dalai Lama, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, Marianne Williamson, Thomas Merton, and so on. xmasfence2013 Plus there are a multitude of voices not associated with spirituality, per se, that also uplift us with communication that inspires and resonates deeply. Poets, musicians, authors, artists, and all the people out there who see something more, something seemingly hidden from view.

As we approach Thanksgiving, I’m going to be seeking out those voices more than ever before. Even though I’ve experienced a profound spiritual journey myself, written about it in depth in my memoir The Silence of Morning, I will always challenge myself to grow in wisdom. To transcend the daily experience we call “life.” To focus more completely on the underlying story, the one that speaks quite loudly despite the incredible “noise” of existence. As I wrote in my book …

  • Thoughts can be as empty as barren land, but living through hardship connects us to our soul like a laser. We must know pain firsthand. Innocence must be relinquished to grow spiritually.

And once we begin to develop and grow in spiritual ways (often committing to a path of growing awareness and presence), there is no turning back. Even when we feel out-of-step with the world around us, it can’t be helped. We look through a different lens, one that has less to do with the roller coaster of daily news, the glitz and glitter of a ridiculous celebrity culture, the dark and troubling political games of the moment, the warped definitions of “success” that flutter almost aimlessly through the air.

So … I wish everyone, especially during this season of gratitude, the willingness to stretch and expand in the spiritual sense of things. Once we perceive life events and destinations with greater depth and equanimity, we will have more to give others. A poetic cycle of renewal and growth begins to dominate our days. It’s certainly worth a try, right? ~ dh

What spiritual voice can pull you along until you find your own?
What kind of gratitude do you want to know and experience?
What kind of lens do you want to see the world through?

How often do you seek inspiration from within?

cropped-cropped-IMG-20121225-00790-2.jpgWe’re all just walking each other home.
― Ram Dass

Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits. Next post, early December.

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A POWERFUL GIFT

at the end of a long political drama, what can we do to salvage our peace of mind?

Some of the most important distinctions in life are subtle. Very subtle. We sense these distinctions on an intuitive level … when we are aware, mindful, and paying attention to something beyond our own mind chatter. But, sadly, these subtle distinctions are often ignored, missed, minimized. So how can we become more aware of subtle differences that point to something we actually need to know?

For one thing: read. Books often draw on important distinctions — fiction and nonfiction. Even poetry.

The book you don’t read won’t help.

Jim Rohn

Yes, I know. We hear about a world that doesn’t read all that much anymore. We hear about technology and its grip on our time. We also hear about shortened attention spans due to a constant barrage of snippets of information found online, via television or smart phones. But we don’t have to accept this troubling trend. We can continue to read real books, the kind that draw subtle distinctions … make us think … and give us pause. We don’t have to join those who insist there is “no time to read.” Make time in creative ways! Even a page a day … eventually gets us through an entire book.

There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.

–Marcel Proust

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JUST as the trees of autumn only show subtle differences of color at first (eventually the colors deepen, turn bright and artistic-looking), subtle changes in our daily lives noticed early on, before they hit us over the head, can be quite helpful. Perhaps they alert us to something critical in the offing. Perhaps (if our health is at play) we can prevent a major health issue from developing further.

A book is the only place in which you can examine
a fragile thought without breaking it
.
–Edward P. Morgan

Besides reading books of substance more frequently (making it a regular and important part of each day), what else might we do to increase our ability to perceive subtle, but telling, distinctions?

WHAT about tapping into the stillness within, so we can hear or sense more on an intuitive, knowing level? Do you feel it’s difficult to become truly silent, the mind running on like a wild river? Of course. We all feel that way sometimes. But if we are willing to work at learning about the merits of internal solitude and quiet, we can grow in awareness. We can deepen our perspectives. We can begin to discern the subtle aspects of life that are all around us and often pointing the way.

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I’m reminded here of the close of chapter one in my memoir, The Silence of Morning: A MEMOIR OF TIME UNDONE. I had only a day or two earlier learned of my son’s loss … it was dawn, the morning of his funeral, and this is what I wrote: “Dawn arrived as a fuzzy continuum of then and now. Vague resistance was all I could manage, as harsh, unrelenting circumstances penetrated my awareness. Walls, draped in shadows, the cave I never wanted to emerge from. And, across the room, fragile flowers. Their colors sadly depleted. An unspoken mission–to console, to soothe–laid bare by this glaring day of black and white. The silence of morning, a cavernous, mocking echo reveled all of this, and more. Viscerally, I felt its cold, eerie precision: its force. Merciless. Absolute.”
  • Silence speaks to us quite loudly at times, doesn’t it? Sometimes underestimated in importance, it is usually trying to tell us something if we will only tune in. Listen. Try to grow in awareness. 

I saw old Autumn in the misty morn stand shadowless like silence, listening to silence. –Thomas Hood

Have you identified anything in your life to help you stay more alert to silence? Have you experienced profound insights when silent? What have you learned about trying to quiet the ever-chattering mind?

I encourage you during times of stress, pain, and confusion to consider leaning on the silence within. The quiet distinctions may bubble to the surface. The gentle nudge may be heard above the noise of life. Answers may come. Ideas may flow. Creativity is nurtured. Peace of mind may seem possible once more. Perspective may be regained. Your sense of purpose, compassion, and personal strength also can be enhanced. Though mysterious, learning to trust silence is a powerful gift. –dh

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When the oak is felled the whole forest echoes with it fall, but a hundred acorns are sown in silence by an unnoticed breeze. –Thomas Carlyle

Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure. –Henri Nouwen

Even in the most beautiful music there are some silences, which are there so we can witness the importance of silence. –Andrea Bocelli

  • Have any memorable experiences with silence you would like to share here? 
Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits. See you November 4th, when I’ll share my interview with author Laurie Buchanan. Her new book, Note to Self, releases on the 12th.
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NOTICING THE HIGH NOTES

I always start a new blog post with only a whisper of an idea. I could never plan it all out in advance. Nor would I want to. Creativity, for me anyway, demands a certain willingness to allow my subconscious to deliver something unexpected … something I hadn’t even fully considered myself, until  sitting down to put words on the page. Eagerly awaiting fresh insights makes writing its own reward: the unique puzzle that offers endless potential for discovery. Today is no different. Though I began to casually remind myself earlier this week that I would be writing a new post today … I left it at that. No outlines, no brainstorming, no purposeful pondering.

  • So what did I come up with?

Something that seems to fit the month of August — a series of pictures that express summer’s high notes in a way that words might not convey. I’ll let you find the take-away in each, imagining why a certain photo was a high note in its own right. Seemingly small things can be “high notes” when we are truly present for the moment. We are inundated with endless streams of information on a multitude of subjects each day. It’s extremely important to consciously allow more “open space” into our lives. Photos without words of explanation are simply one small way to do this. A breather before we head into autumn …enjoy!

— how often do we miss the “best” in life because we are waiting for the “best” to arrive?

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AND … if you care to leave a comment sharing why you think a certain photo was a “high note” (definition up to you!) … I will send the BEST comment received a complimentary copy of my new memoir (see cover below), THE SILENCE OF MORNING: A MEMOIR OF TIME UNDONE.

Have a little fun with this!  (NOTE: You’ll have until September 1st … ) 

If you already have a copy of my memoir, I’m happy to send you a copy for a friend or to donate to a relevant nonprofit. 

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What high notes have come into your life this summer?
Why do they feel like something a bit out of the ordinary?
How deeply did you notice, and appreciate, the high notes?
Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.
 
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DISCONNECT FROM CHAOS

YES, the world seems a vast sea of uncertainty and chaos. We clench our teeth and hold our breath. We mutter about “how bad things are” and we worry about tomorrow. We wonder if it has always been “like this” or if the world is tilted in a vastly new direction of unseen consequences. And, often, our customary reaction to the next crisis (or shocking development) launches yet another cycle of concern, anxiety, or even … depression. All of this hand-wringing clouds our vision, though. We don’t see the rose in our path. Not really.

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“Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.”
–Alphonse Karr, A Tour Round My Garden                                                               

Yes, we’ve heard this sort of thing before. And we know we shouldn’t let external events fog our inner vision. But … we do, don’t we?

At least most of us do.

I watch the tide go in and out with every new media story hyped beyond reason, and I marvel at just how easily we tend to give up our personal equanimity. And, for what, exactly? We literally have no control over 99% of what the media focuses on; our level of personal involvement is slim to none. Still, we watch, we listen, we react, while squeezing in our own precious lives around the edges. I guess I just don’t get it. Are we so bored that we are willing to pretend the nightly news is “truth?”

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“I feel as if I had opened a book and found roses of yesterday sweet and fragrant, between its leaves.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of the Island

During the month of July … my suggestion is simple.

Refuse to be drawn in. Stay intent on your own life. Let most of it go by, because a reactionary posture is exhausting for one thing. It merely drains the life from your day … from your soul. At least pause long enough to realize that external events will always fall short of our expectations. And if you must turn to external events for entertainment purposes, please limit your gazing, inhibit your ruminating about any, or all, of it.

What good could it possibly do, in the end?

Yes, we need to be informed … to a point. Yes, we are concerned about the human condition … so we want to “know.” And, yes, we have issues that are close to our hearts for various reasons. All of this is understandable. But too often we are simply gazing at life from afar instead of staying focused on what is right in front of us. The cost is enormous. We feel agitated, annoyed, and perplexed. The peacefulness we felt is suddenly gone. We also put useless energy into a constant cycle of reaction. Step away in July. Step back and see if anything changes. 

roses“It’s amazing how confused and distracted and misdirected so many people are.”
–Stephen Covey

When I wrote ALWAYS RETURNING: The Wisdom of Place (first edition, ’99; second edition, 2014), I was already contemplating these things. I’d grown up with open spaces and generous landscapes that seemed “complete” and “life-sustaining” without anything more. This book, my first, resonates with me more and more each day.

“In a place where very little stands between an individual and his or her innermost self, the chances of a genuine encounter are greatly enhanced, and it becomes incumbent on a thinking person to do some soul-searching around the issue of happiness. Contemporary society, with its many bells and whistles, offers a different fare, and while it can create an image of abundance, its impact is faint, more like a mirage.”  —d.a. hickman, Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place

Always_Returning-SmallAnd then when I wrote my memoir, not surprisingly, I found myself returning to my roots — geographically, spiritually, and emotionally. Loss is like that. It shakes us about like a rag doll, drops us back at the beginning of our remembered history. Without the simplicity of open spaces and poetic grasslands standing tall in my memory, I’m not sure how I would have had the courage to confront the greatest life mysteries … the ones that loss seems to suggest and point to. In a chapter called “The Way of the Sage”, I wrote:

“Windows open, we listened for a red-winged blackbird, relished the smell of fresh air, its absolute freedom as it connected with our weary, time-bound faces. Maybe we would spot a stunning blue heron in flight. It was the way of the sage. To perceive deeply, to acknowledge the divine oneness of the universe, our inherent, ever-changing role as imperfect life custodians. The life that we are … in countless forms. Temporary yet timeless. And when I am fully aware, not absorbed, or sidetracked, by the dictates of mind, time, or circumstance, I not only see beyond this paradox: I see into it.” —D.A. Hickman, The Silence of Morning:
A Memoir of Time Undone

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SPECIAL NOTE: The Kindle version of The Silence of Morning will be offered at reduced prices from July 3rd through July 10th. Happy 4th of July everyone! And please remember that while uncertainty and chaos may seem like reality, only our inner dimensions tell a true, personal story. So if you prefer calm and knowing and peaceful, tune out the endless steam of external events for a while. It’s amazing what a profound difference this can make.

Paint the day … stay inspired … look for the deeper story of landscape, art, and daily life. Even the challenge of sorrow and loss can lead us to a deeper life story. –dh

My recent book interview on Richard Gilbert’s blog, can be found here WE NEED MEMOIR.
Thanks again, Richard!
Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.
See you again Friday, August 5th.

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