Drawing on My Art

What does it take for me to be creative?

  • Perseverance. Persistance. A little perseveration.
  • Perspective. New perspective.
  • For my specific work: Pencils, Pens, Pastels, Paper.
  • Curiosity and commitment.

I’ve been working with two different coaches lately: a drawing coach/teacher, and an art- marketing coach. Both, in essence, have been saying the same thing: know your authentic self and know where you want to be.

Steven, my drawing teacher,  introduced the term “teleology” in class the other day: the doctrine of design and final determination, knowing the connection between means and the ends . . . and that it is the ends that have determined the means. We drew feelings in class: sadness, joy, bliss, curiosity, femininity, possibilities. It is an exercise I have been experimenting with every time before starting a new painting, and an exercise I’m beginning to incorporate every day when I wake up. Keeping the end in mind . . . in part by starting with the end itself. A fabulous idea to incorporate into my coaching . . . and to suggest to those I coach.

Cory, my art-marketing coach, talks about knowing your audience:  Who do you want to appeal to, sell to, attract? How do your core beliefs relate to the people you interact with? Turning it around, teleologically, how do their core beliefs affect what you do . . . the designs you make in your own life? Who do you really want to “sell yourself” to? What relationships and events do you want to create in your life?

Of course, this goes way beyond being an artist . . . has nothing to do with being an artist, but everything to do with leading a creative life.

Try this: take a piece of paper and divide it into eight squares: choose 8 feelings and draw each of those feelings using no figures, no symbols, no preconceived ideas. Go to a memory of that feeling and put it on paper using a pencil or a piece of charcoal. See what appears on the paper.  Find out what you see. Find out how quickly you can shift. How quickly you can go from dense and dark to light and free. And find out how going straight to that memory then touching that memory can shift that memory and open space for something new.

Create what happens; create what will happen.

What happens when you go bravely into the dark? What light appears?
What happens when you go bravely into the dark? What light appears? (see: debrablakearts.com)

(A fox just ran across my yard: bliss! Now, what can I do with that?)

Core Training

I was stretching on the dining room floor this afternoon, raising my legs in the air, straight at the knees, and lowering them down as far as I could go while focusing on my experience of every vertebra touching flat on the floor, keeping my core tight. I heard myself say, “This is all I have to do. I’ll have everything I want then.”

I laughed. And then it hit me: core training. That’s exactly what I need: to strengthen the core of my being; strengthen my integrity, my will, my authenticity, empathy and compassion, my capacity to live according to what I believe, my capacity to communicate from the heart and the mind and the gut. Core being. Core capacity. Core strengthening. Core training.  And art!

I’m feeling confident it neither gets simpler than that, nor more complicated. I’ll know more tomorrow.

(Shout out to one of my favorite BuJu/JuBu psychiatrist/psychologist writer, Mark Epstein;  I’m pretty sure Going on Being is all about core training.)


You have the right to not bear arms against yourself!

A person who doubts himself is like a man who would enlist in the ranks of his enemies and bear arms agains himself. He makes his failure certain by himself being the first person to be convinced of it.

Ambrose Bierce

via A person who doubts himself is like a man who would enlist in the ranks of his enemies… – Ambrose Bierce at BrainyQuote.

Emotions in Motion: The Wise and the Unwise

In my last contract position, I found myself — happily! — surrounded by highly intelligent and — less happily — very tense  and competitive co-workers. Daily interactions were charged with complexity and tension; people felt fearful, distrustful, unhappy, and exhausted  . . . often despite having had extraordinarily good leadership training and the most noble goals. At the same time, I can say with utmost confidence that everyone wanted to succeed and that everyone wanted “us as a team” to succeed.

So what was missing? Emotional intelligence — the capacity to be aware of and manage one’s emotions and to wisely  handle interpersonal relationships  — may just be the single most important factor in both personal and professional success. We all know that domain knowledge alone won’t cut it, and that good intentions frequently go nowhere.  Mere mouthing of positive affirmations won’t make a difference either. And all the training in the world won’t lead anywhere if individuals and teams aren’t motivated, committed and even held accountable for serious behavioral and emotional changes in practice.

What’s your own experience with the use of “emotional intelligence” at home or in the workplace? Do you practice empathy when you listen to others’ ideas? Do you react defensively when you receive feedback? Do you — and others — consider the head and the heart when making decisions or taking action?

You, as always, are the first step toward change, so consider:

  • How do you define success at work or at home?
  • How adept are you at naming — and taming — your own feelings?
  • How extensive is your emotional vocabulary? That is, how many words do you have for sad, happy, frustrated, or upset?
  • How easily do you receive well meant feedback?
  • How quickly do you get back to normal after an emotional upset?
  • Do you trust your colleagues? How judgmental are you of others? Have you considered other options?
  • How committed are you — head, heart, hand —  to making positive changes?

I’d love to hear more from you about your experiences with “emotional literacy.” Be in touch!


Conscious Wisdom: Your Three Brains

How do you know when you’re truly acting from a wise, authentic state of being? Simple: check in with your three brains.

Researchers and leadership consultants Marvin Oka and Grant Soosalu (www.mbraining.com) use Multiple Brain Integration Techniques (mBIT) with their clients, incorporating these three brains: the head brain (cephalic) the heart brain (cardiac) the gut brain (enteric). Each “brain” not only has extremely high concentrations of neurons (core components of the nervous system that process and transmit information) but each one also seems to provide different information; creativity seems to be the domain of the head brain; compassion and values identification reside with the heart; and the gut brain provides data on identity, self-preservation, action and courage).

Putting a mark on paper always takes courage. This painting reminds me that when we're in overwhelm, we really can't see the forest for the trees. Or the trees for the forest.
Putting a mark on paper always takes courage. This painting reminds me that when we’re in overwhelm, we really can’t see the forest for the trees. Or the trees for the forest.

We’re able to respond most adaptively to complexity, it seems, when the three brain centers are in good communication, aligned and congruent in purpose, being and response. That is, when we’re not in the state of conflict and overwhelm we often experience when faced with complexity and change. You know what overwhelm feels like: sadness, despair, anxiety and fear. You also know that when you’re in such a state, you probably don’t make the best decisions, at home or at work.

So how do you ensure you’re in alignment before deciding to quit your job and start a farm in Vermont? First start with breathing from the diaphragm: six seconds in, six seconds out should return you to homeostasis, say Oka and Soosalu. And now you’re ready to start.

Here’s what O & S recommend.

  1. Start with your heart: just yesterday one of my clients found tremendous value by actually placing her hand over her heart while asking herself what was truly important to her and how she wanted to relate to her particular situation at that particular moment. She kept her hand there and sat with that for a bit before the second step.
  1. Breathe your heart “information” into your head (I know you can); now consider the situation again using this values-based information. Has your perception changed at all? Even if it has, it’s still not time to make your decision.
  1. Send the information from your head back to your heart brain for appreciation and then breathe that appreciationinto your gut, this time resting your hands on your belly.
  1. Let the gut digest the new perspective as it provides its own information on acting and being. Prime yourself by getting curious about your deepest sense of who you are or how you need to be in relation to your situation; do you need to open up or shut down? What does your gut instinct say on the matter?
  1. Send this back to your heart for more appreciation and compassion and finally,
  1. Send it all back to your head – this time as a holistic package rich with the wisdom of your whole body. Now, given the information that your heart and gut have provided you, reconsider the issue at hand. What action do you really want to take and who do you want to “be” when you take it?

There you go . . . conscious wisdom.

(All coaches know that learning doesn’t happen without doing. So try this out next time you’re feeling unsure about how to respond to a situation. And let me know what you find out!)

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. (2005 Stanford Commencement Address)



My Word of the Week: Intentionality

I’ve been practicing intentionality lately, thanks to my new friend Mary, whom I met at a recent coaching conference.  Proof? I’ve consciously chosen to sit down and write this afternoon instead of gardening even though it’s finally not raining and I could actually be outside. I also chose my meals carefully today instead of just winging my way through a spoonful of almond butter and some apricots. Up until recently, I wouldn’t say I’ve been much of a chooser of anything; as it is, I’ve been feeling better about myself at the end of each day.

Mary, who has been a coach for far longer than I, told me that she chooses three guidewords every year. And then she pays attention. If one of her words is patience, she reflect on the concept before events that might trigger her  . . . or she reflects on it later when her patience utterly flew out the window. Her goal is to increase her self-awareness and to practice her emotional intelligence (defined variously as the abilities and/or traits that affect how we process emotional information and how we use it to navigate social interactions.) Practice. Makes sense.

Three simple words that you can pull out of a hat. Maybe even one word. And for what? To be more in charge. To experience less stress, a greater sense of personal power and a stroger  ability to sustain effective relationships.

How self-aware are you? What’s the state of your own emotional intelligence?

  • Do you see yourself as a leader in most situations, or do you often feel victimized by circumstances?
  • Do you feel in charge of your responses to challenges that arise?
  • Do you find yourself falling into the same negative emotional patterns repeatedly?
  • Are you aware of the triggers that throw you off balance emotionally? Have you been able to monitor and manage your response to those triggers?
  • Is it easy for you to apologize when you act in a way that hurts someone else?

My goal this week is to choose rather than wander. I’m choosing to get things done: work on my business and on my art. Play less Scrabble.  For now, one word is helping me accomplish all that.

Thanks Mary.

Easy as . . .
Easy as . . .

For more information about emotional intelligence,  check out these links:  http://www.danielgoleman.info/topics/emotional-intelligence/


. . . and for a different take, here’s an update: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/01/the-dark-side-of-emotional-intelligence/282720/

Living on purpose: a few new thoughts

Before becoming a coach, I’d never thought about life purpose. Wait! Not true! I remember being terrified in the fourth grade when I heard that the sixth graders had been asked to write about their “philosophy of life.” Somehow I made it through school without ever facing that particular assignment, but the prospect horrified me for years. What was my philosophy? What did I believe? What was my perceived purpose? The only thing I knew – and I wasn’t sure it qualified – was that I was hungry and curious. So I read and read and read, consciously hoping (as I recall it now) that every book I opened would finally hold the key to the universe. The key to the universe! Clearly, I was a human being in the making . . . looking for the meaning of life via the Scholastic Book Service.

My life partner, a custom cabinetmaker and detail-obsessed home remodeler, surprised me the other day by saying – out of the blue – that he felt incredibly satisfied by his work, knowing that in the end, he’d be “leaving a legacy”. I myself felt this firsthand at a dinner he and I attended last year at a friend’s house: Rick had just about finished building the room we were sitting in and it struck me how extraordinary it was to create lasting spaces for people: spaces that would accommodate a Passover Seder, a wake, a birthday celebration, or a quiet space for untold hours of reading. I was – am — awed by the simple grandeur of his vocation.

Knowing one’s life purpose seems to be a precious, even crucial part of living a satisfied, distinctly human life. Robert J. Weber, writes in The Created Self, that “being purposeful is our natural state,” and that living without purpose creates “a state of listlessness and dissatisfaction resulting from a lack of interest, a state of boredom and tedium.” Conversely, when we have purpose we have forward direction, clarity, excitement about how we can make a difference in what comes next. “No other organism,” Weber writes, “has purposes that range from the biological aspects of reproduction to the sport and thrill aspects of bungee jumping and hang gliding to building a nation or founding a faith.”

I’ve always been awed by those who seem to have known their purpose early or who have pursued a single passion in their lifetimes. Not all of us are so single-minded, and some of us are what Weber calls “serially” purposeful: planting a new spring garden, learning to paint, perhaps discovering over time that becoming a coach or a teacher provides the clearest lens on a purposeful life. Weber suggests that whether we focus early or drift between the states of broadly receptive experience and narrow pursuit, all of it “is done with the idea of being as complete a person as possible . . . where all parts work in concert and grow together in a more unified way.”

Journalist Hunter S. Thompson seems to have figured out early in his life that while purpose might seem to be results oriented, something far more important is at stake:

To put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES. (See http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/11/04/hunter-s-thomspon-letters-of-note-advice/)

What gets you out of bed on a sunny Sunday morning? What pushes you to cross those T’s and dot those I’s? To take a daily walk in the snow? To keep trying to make things better with your family? To post your pictures to Facebook? To join your neighborhood book club?

Dig deep for the answers . . . and let me know!

Pastel and shade, DB
Pastel and shade, DB

Our gonzo search for meaning

In contemplating life purpose and legacy, I found this — again, and yet again for the first time — by Victor Frankl (in Man’s Search for Meaning:

“[E]verything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

So simple, profound and challenging. Years of Buddhist meditation? Countless sessions of coaching? How do you choose your attitude?

And this, from Hunter S. Thompson, at a very young age:

To put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES. . . But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors—but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. (see http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/11/04/hunter-s-thomspon-letters-of-note-advice/)

Gonzo journalism, gonzo coaching, gonzo life, gonzo legacy. Oh yeah . . .

A Curious Life

Copley Lane

As a self-taught visual artist, I have always been intensely curious about the world around me. I look for what comes forward and what recedes into the background. I squint hard to see the common line that divides two objects and joins them together. I scrutinize landscapes to see what colors bind the big picture into a single whole despite and because of differences in angles, planes, and surface textures. Over time, I came to be curious about the fundamental importance of light: where it falls, how it helps to define hard and soft, warm and cool, and how it morphs into shadow to create multiple variations on the same basic hue. I’m curious too about my touch (more or less pressure here?), my stroke (flowing or short, staccato lines?), and the media I choose (Soft or hard pastel? Ink? Pencil?). Each choice I make affects the result. And then I get curious again. And again.

Curiosity runs through my life, well beyond the walls of my studio. As a coach, my very role is to be curious about the inner lives and dreams of my clients: What, for example, is the line that binds a client to others in her life, and separates her from others? How does one perspective or another shed light upon an area of her life now in shade? How would walking to another place in her room shift her viewpoint on her circumstances? What is the one thing that she could change today that would make a huge difference in the way she wakes up tomorrow? What would happen if she made this choice? What does fear feel like to her?

Nurturing a client’s curiosity is part of my own dream of being an excellent coach. Coaches are temporary fixtures in a client’s journey, but if I can help my clients strengthen their own curiosity, if I can fan the flames of their own hunger to truly know themselves, then I know I’ve done well. That they’ll do well.

That’s it! Get curious this year!

(ps: In this pastel drawing, I was exploring space and light. It made me see my own street in a very new way!)