Archive for January, 2011

 “And the day came when the pain of remaining tight in the bud was greater than the risk it took to open”. ~Anais Nin

I have been interested in understanding how human creativity “works” for years and I have put that interest into action by painting, writing, and being an all-around crafty gal, as of late.

I’ve also been working my way through Jeanne Carbonettie’s book, Making Pearls:  Living the Creative Life, for the better part of 2+ years (!).  I finally finished the book by, well, reaching the end, but also by completing my last art project associated with the book (which we will get into shortly).

The premise of Ms. Carbonetti’s book is that creativity is cyclical in nature and that it often helps to recognize where we are in the cycle at any given moment and… honor it.  She lays out the creative cycle as one mirroring the process of oysters making pearls:

  • Waiting – When instinct tells the oyster the time is right, it cements itself to something stationary and waits.  It waits for noursihment to come to it. 
  • Opening – Then the oyster decidedly opens, taking in water and all sorts of things as it filters out what it wants and doesn’t want.
  • Closing – When it is ready to “digest” its food, it closes its two shells.  It is now that some grain of sand lodges within the shells and the oyster works to integrate it by secreting its mother of pearl lining around it.
  • Holding – As the oyster holds this pearl-to-be, the object rolls around freely within the closed space, which is what allows it to take on its characteristic round-shape.
  • Releasing – Now comes the time of releasing the pearl from the shell.
  • Emptying – Releasing always leads to emptying, everything goes! 
  • Sitting – There is then nothing left to do but sit.  The cycle is complete; the pearl is beautiful.

Ms. Carbonetti notes that “we are always in the cycle of pearl-making, forming out of the stuff of our lives something beautiful and meaningful”.  She presents projects at the end of each chapter that prompt the reader to engage with the ideas inherent in each stage of the creative process by creating a 7″ square of watercolor paper  per phase (Waiting, Opening, etc.).  Each stage is uniquely associated with a color that is meant to symbolize the energy of that part of the process. 

Without further ado, here are my humble conceptualizations of what I resonated with when it came to each phase of the creative, pearl-making process:


As an artist, waiting is associated with the life-blood and root of creative ideas, contemplative thought, embracing uncertainty, groundedness in “just being”, the allure of possibility and anticipation of the unknown.

OPENING (Orange)

Opening, in the artistic sense, is considered the “womb of ideas” phase; associated with listening for and connecting with what you are feeling, noticing, intuiting… and going with the flow of what you find. 

CLOSING (Yellow)

The process of closing for an artist is associated with tapping into quiet power, having patience as the aha! moment of sand sneaks on into the oyster’s shell.  This is the part of the process that welcomes having a sacred space to incubate.  Commitment to the artistic idea completes this phase.


Holding is a phase associated with growth and nurturance.  Affirmation and acceptance are key here as new ideas come up and are welcomed, not judged and scared away.  There is a compassionate gaze eminating from the artist here.

Releasing is associated with expressing one’s truth, raising one’s voice, coming to terms with all that our creation is, and what it isn’t, and giving it to the world anyway.  It is what it is and we surrender it, facing the truth of the moment.


Emptying is associated with insight and wisdom.  This comes from finally stepping back from what has been created and seeing the bigger picture.  This is the phase in which energy is finally withdrawn, this is the final let-go; the artist stops fiddling with the painting and let’s it be a finished work.


Sitting is associated with having faith in what has been created and finding peace at the end of the process.  It is about trusting what has been created and just being now that the cycle is complete. 

Along the way, this proposed process of creativity touches on many of the ideas already espoused here at Soft Animal Wisdom.  I see the DBT-ness (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) inherent in the Waiting, Opening and Holding phases.  I see the importance of generally sitting with ambiguity in the Waiting and Opening phases.  There also seems to be an overall vibe throughout the book that values mindfulness, compassion and being in the present moment… all Buddhist ideals.  I would definitely argue that much of the creative process exists as a liminal space where one has not yet created something and yet is also on the cusp of having created something. 

I have enjoyed the process of creating the squares for each phase and, in turn, enjoyed making the latest pearl that is today’s post… now back to Waiting, I suppose!

current music faves:  tori a. (obsessed right now)

current show faves:  dexter (season 6), breaking bad (season 4)

breakfast today:  veggie crepe from chicago creperie crepes-a-latte, toasted marshmellow latte 

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So, I’ve been watching the TV show Hoarders for a while now.  I am in the mental health field, so perhaps this is not SO surprising… these people are like a puzzle my brain gets transfixed with figuring out!  What is striking is how far “not throwing things away” or “collecting” have often been allowed to go.

People who suffer from the mental illness of hoarding (often with roots in anxiety, depression and OCD) are drowning in material things, STUFF–even if worthless or dangerous– and that stuff tends to get to the point of ruining the lives of the hoarder and the lives of those around them.  Sometimes the stuff is making the hoarder and his or her family members sick, sometimes costing them relationships with spouses or children, and sometimes the hoard itself threatens to make the hoarder homeless altogether.  Hoarding appears to happen at great personal, emotional, psychological, relational and often monetary expense.

But why?  Why would a person choose all this STUFF over their relationships?  Over safety?  Why choose stuff over having a place to live (thereby having no place to even store the stuff… or sleep)?

One answer came to me during a meditation some months ago.  I was doing my whole “as I breathe in/ I breathe in/ as I breathe out/ I breathe out” thing.  This was a long meditation and about 25 minutes into it, I was surprised by tears welling up through closed eyes.  I was breathing in: freedom.  Breathing in: honesty with self.  Breathing in: recognition of the truth that things in life change, inevitably.  Change is natural (sunsets do not last all day, right?).  It is the way of the world for things to never stay the same, whether over the course of an hour, a day, or on the geologic time-scale of 500+ years.  …Breathing in:  the truth that the only “real” moment is the present moment…  Such clarity came to me about… hoarders…  that trying to hold on to the unhold-on-able is at the root of their suffering.


Tears came and… it clicked to me that hoarding is in some ways simply about over-attachment.  Hoarders are attached to the STUFF, yes, but it hit me that they are also defensively attached to the idea that things can somehow stay the same; hoarders attempt to make things remain the same in their homes.  Hoarders live out the illusion of permanence, much to their own peril.  The hoarder is attempting to live out the fantasy of nothing-ever-changing.  They say to themselves, “this is MY stuff, look at it, I control it and it won’t leave me”.  Hoarding is notorious for beginning after there is a major loss (death of a loved one, divorce, when sons or daughters leave home, etc.).  Hoarding seems to be one way of self-soothing or denying painful change by symbolically “holding on” to items in lieu of relationships that were lost or in lieu of other un-faceable pain.  The problem is that all the STUFF hoarders collect piles up– often turning into dusty, moldy, unsanitary, inviting places for pests and their excrement, becoming an obstacle to safe passage through a hallway, door or room.  The STUFF of a hoarder is a symbol for refusing to accept change in their lives as the stuff itself deteriorates with the passage of time.  The stuff itself seems to prove the point that nothing is permanent, everything changes, everything deteriorates eventually.

Buddhism teaches that impermanence, or change, is an essential characteristic of all that exists.

We cannot say of anything, animate or inanimate, organic or inorganic, “this is lasting”; for even while we are saying this, it would be undergoing change. All is fleeting; the beauty of flowers, the bird’s melody, the bee’s hum, and a sunset’s glory.  ~Nyanaponika Thera

To fail to accept the always-in-flux nature of things is to live in an illusion,  denying–or protecting from– the reality of the ever-changing world.  Buddhists would argue that it is suffering that arises when we cling to things.  It is suggested that a non-clinging mind is one way to make peace and find liberation within the world of non-permanence.

The hoarder struggles to accept the reality of impermanence in life by overcompensating, clinging to an arsenal of possessions; clinging to some-thing to control.

Awakening to the impermanence of things, people, even one’s own life— disengages us, even just a little, from suffering.  When we refuse to acknowledge the impermanence of reality it often ends up hurting us more, like when the hoarder’s piles block the paramedics from reaching a loved one or when the hoarder’s piles render the kitchen or bathroom unusable.

Hoarders seem to find some improvement when they are finally able to glimpse the light… that stuff cannot fill the hole of grief, obstructs relationships in the present, cannot stop the passage of time, cannot provide true or lasting comfort, and is not an effective outlet to deny pain… this is the beautiful, obvious truth about the nature of the hoarder that came to me in meditation.  I think there’s something in this truth helpful for those non-hoarders out there, too…

current music faves:  santigold, css, joanna newsom’s “have one on me” album

current show faves:   tabitha takes over, parenthood

breakfast today:  croissant with turkey sausage, cheddar and syrup, danactive, ice water

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Carl G. Jung’s work often centered around the very idea of unifying opposites that we find in the lotus.

Namely, Jung draws our attention to the many polarities within the Self:  masculine-feminine, light-dark, conscious-unconscious, spirit-nature, positive-negative.  Jung also explored the polarities found in mythologies of the world, identifying universal archetypes that are often opposites (example:  The Hero vs. The Trickster).  Jung asserts that a big part of the individuation process is becoming aware of the polarities and opposites within oneself and working to unify or balance them.

Jung goes on to posit that these opposite aspects of self are archetypal in nature and even these qualities of self have light and shadow aspects and so can easily be out of balance.  Jung calls for people to acknowledge these opposites within Self and work towards reconciling them.  The balance of feminine and masculine of which Jung speaks are, of course, distinct and different from gender roles or biological sex.

So how does one go about integrating the polarities of Self that Jung refers to??  I think part of that answer lies in a more modern psychologist, Marsha Linehan, the founder of DBT or Dialectical Behavior Therapy.  In order to effect lasting change, Ms. Linehan suggests we must begin to think dialectically.  Dialectical thinking is all about balancing, or sitting with, opposites; in this case, the opposites of change versus acceptance.


We must accept what is; accept ourselves without judgment.  Freedom from suffering requires we accept rather than resist reality.  If we have a wish to integrate opposites, to change was is to what will be, we have to want that change as well as accept what currently is.  Just as we have to learn to see the lotus as a whole plant and not just the blossom or roots; we have to learn to see the self as a whole being, not just full of all positive with no shadow side, or all feminine with no masculine.

What Jung is asking us to do is to first accept shadow and light that exist within ourselves and then learn to integrate them as best we can.  I believe integration requires the kind of dialectical thinking presented in Linehan’s model.  The lotus is a great symbolic reminder of the polarities in ourselves and how we must learn to grapple with them.

current music faves:  the kills, the ting tings, tori amos (as always)

current show faves:  how i met your mother, grey’s anatomy, breaking bad

breakfast today:  fiber one honey cluster cereal, turkey sausage with syrup on top, hot apple cider

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