Tag Archives: Inspiration

I Just Want To Have Fun!

In his 1991 pre-TED Talk  “talk”, John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, delivers countless “light bulb” jokes, all while detailing ways to foster creativity. The main take-away for me is that creativity is not a talent or ability. Creativity flows, Cleese believes, when you are in an open, expansive and relaxed state. And the more playful you are, the longer you can maintain this state.

To get into this “Open Mode” Cleese recommends these conditions:

Space: a secluded oasis of quiet where you are sealed off from the pressures of daily life
Time: limit the time in your space to a pre determined beginning and end
Time: allow yourself enough time to ponder before accepting your creative choice
Confidence: while you are experimenting, nothing is wrong.
Humor: humor is an essential part of spontaneity and helps get you into the Open Mode

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John Cleese also spoke of another condition that resonated with me. He recommends that your “play friends” be people you like and trust; individuals who will support and encourage you during your unedited exploration. Which brings me to Karen Lorre, actress, love goddess, and founder of Yummy Meditations. I met Karen serendipitously two years ago in a Santa Monica restaurant and immediately felt a divine connection. Several days later, an Aphrodite portrait emerged from the foamy waves of Malibu. (You can read about the making of her Goddess on Earth Aphrodite portrait here!). Karen inspires me deeply; she lives life with an abundance of joy, unconditional love and vibrant spontaneity. Her trust in me always fosters my creativity.

On a recent trip to Los Angeles, Karen and I mused about making another Goddess portrait. The result of our play time together is “Lila.” In the Hindu tradition, Lila is a way of describing our human reality and the result of spontaneous, divine play.

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On portraying Lila, Karen wrote;

When I look at the wildly innovative creativity that is in nature, I see how much this divine universe loves to play in new and fresh ways! Being playful allows me to be an open conduit for this unbounded, novel, ingenious divine, and feels fun, effortless, exciting, and full of laughter and wisdom! Being playful makes everything easy. Being playful brings out the best in me and in everyone I encounter. I love embodying the essence of Lila! I love you! ”

During the process of creating Karen’s Lila portrait, were John Cleese’s conditions present? Indeed they were. Our creative space was nestled in the magical Hollywood Hills, perched high above the din of Sunset Boulevard. The end time was pre-determined; we were going to a dinner party together AND the sun was setting! We gave ourselves extra time the next day once we had a clearer concept of the Lila image. Karen’s unconditional love and support gave me the confidence to try anything. And humor? Adorned with a tutu around her neck and a Mad Hatter’s hat floating on her head, our sense of humor was in full throttle.

Which reminds me; how many Goddesses does it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer: None….. they are already enlightened!

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Women, Power and the Rule of Three

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My personal relationship with power is fraught with anxiety, self-doubt and fear of conflict. As a woman, I doubt I am alone in this, yet as I struggle with this confounding reality, I wonder what my ideal relationship to power should be?

As an artist with ancient mythology embedded in my DNA, I have examined this issue before. I have photographed prominent feminist leaders such as Gloria Feldt, (who portrayed the strong-willed Lilith, Adam’s first wife), and Starhawk (who portrayedMaeve, the Celtic Goddess of Sovereignty). Both women advocate re-envisioning women’s connection to power.

Other ancient myths reflect our contemporary relationships to power as well. Durga is a fearless Hindu Goddess who symbolizes power in all its forms. Durga — whose name means “invincible” — is a ferocious protectress against injustice and all human suffering. Traditionally she is depicted astride a tiger or lion: symbols of her unlimited power. Often illustrated with eight arms, her capacity for action speaks for itself. Durga also has three eyes: her left eye represents the desire to act, her central eye the capacity to follow through with one’s desires, and her right eye, action itself.

 

DURGA’S LEFT EYE REPRESENTS A STRONG FEELING OF WANTING, OR THE DESIRE TO ACT.

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I was introduced to Francesca Kelly this past summer on Martha’s Vineyard, and returned to photograph her several weeks later. Francesca is a pioneer rescuer of the Marwari, a rare and indigenous Indian horse breed. After a twenty year battle with the Indian Government to lift the export ban of the Marwari, Francesca and her partner Raghuvendra Singh Dundlod have helped resurrect this threatened breed.

 

DURGA’S CENTER EYE REPRESENTS THE CAPACITY TO FOLLOW THROUGH WITH ONE’S DESIRES.

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Francesca quickly identified with Sherawali, the warrior incarnation of Durga, and chose to portray her for the Goddess on Earth series. Surrounded by marshes on Chappaquidick Island, we created a commanding image of Sherawali. To accompany her portrait, Francesca wrote:

“It has been my privilege to be a key protagonist in the renaissance of the Marwari. The confidence to actualize ideals, to remain unimpeachable, to incorporate if you will, at the best of times, the qualities of Sherawali, is a battle and sacrifice all must experience.”

 

DURGA’S THIRD EYE IS ACTION ITSELF.

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Francesca’s embodiment of Sherawali in the photographs we created portray the symbolic trinity of Durga’s spiritual stages of power.

Far from being archaic, ancient symbolism continues to influence the necessary re-envisioning of feminine power. Durga demonstrates how modern women can use power in its multiple, generous forms as the manifestation of reflection, intent, and capability. Sherawali and Francesca are role models for contemporary women warriors (my conflicted self included) who are looking to add layers of empowerment to their lives. With mythical and ancient symbolism to guide me, I will continue to nurture my passions, practice and embrace tools for empowerment, and take action to achieve my desires.

(Francesca Kelly is seen with Sushil Kumar, a horse trainer and tent-pegger from Dundlod, India.)

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Embracing the Darkness of Winter Solstice

Darkness comes early as Solstice draws near. Lights are lit in windows, on trees, inside houses and along streets. We seek their comfort and warmth during these short days and long nights. The last month of the calendar is here and we eagerly anticipate the rebirth of a new annual cycle. We make merry during this time and yet, there is also an opportunity to acknowledge and honor the darkness: the darkness outside and the darkness within.

Love, bliss and joy. Fear, anger and rage. All of these are part of being human. Positive and negative make a whole. Without our darkness, we are incomplete.

“I must also have a dark side if I am to be whole,” Carl Jung wrote.

Susun Weed, shamanic herbalist, author and teacher, doesn’t run from her dark side — she embraces it, using it to help others make changes in their lives, to become more authentic and more powerful as women. For 35 years, Susun has been a ferocious advocate for women’s health. Her five books, the Wise Woman Herbal Series — including titles on childbearing, menopause, breast health and sexual/reproductive health — are treasured by millions of women worldwide. Susun shares her encyclopedic knowledge of herbs and health through her website and workshops at her Wise Woman Center in Woodstock, New York and throughout the world.

Little did I know that when I contacted Susun to participate in Goddess on Earth, I was to also learn a powerful lesson.

The Goddess does not only embody light, joy and nurturing love. In her other aspects — as Durga, Ereshkigal and Guabancex to name just a few — she is a Goddess of unbridled rage who follows no rules. She is a warrior who takes no prisoners and who demands that we confront the darkness within, the parts of ourselves that are not kind, pretty or nice.

For Goddess on Earth, Susun chose to portray Baba Yaga, a terrifying female shaman from Slavic mythology. Ancient, wise and fierce, Baba Yaga lives in a hut that stands on chicken legs and which twirls like an ecstatic dancer. Baba Yaga flies with the wind and frightens many, but she helps those who approach her with courage and truth. In the book Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes, “Baba Yaga is fearsome, for she is the power of annihilation and the power of the life force at the same time.”

Susun and I met in upstate New York on what turned out to be a bitterly cold, wintery day. During the photo session, her uncompromising stance and piercing gaze brought shivers down my spine. Like Baba Yaga, Susun is a formidable life force.

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“I have nothing to lose: age has taken it all from me and revealed my true treasures… I am surely the most fearsome thing ever seen, ever imagined. A powerful old woman at home with herself,”

Susun wrote to accompany her Baba Yaga portrait in Goddess on Earth.

In this season of dwindling light, let us turn inwards and connect with the most enduring parts of ourselves: the parts with the courage and tenacity to weather cold winters and all of life’s challenges. Age-old, unapologetic and fierce, Susun and Baba Yaga are inspiring figures who remind us that there is no time for petty distractions like Being Pretty or Being Good or Being Nice. It’s time to get on with the real work of becoming real, becoming women of power, becoming complete. We are not just light but dark, not just pretty but awesome, not just smiling but weeping, shouting, raging, fearsome. Baba Yaga reminds us to reclaim those dark places where our real treasures lie. In this way, we become whole.

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Kathy Eldon: From Chaos to Creativity

Kathy Eldon Goddess KhaosAnarchy. Pandemonium. Disarray. These are just a few of the synonyms for the word, “chaos.” But buried even deeper in chaos’s etymology is a sacred myth — that of the Goddess Khaos. Khaos (or Chaos) was one the Greek primeval goddesses and gods to emerge at the creation of the world — her name literally meaning, “the gap, the space between heaven and earth.” The universe was born, this story tells us, out of a chaotic mix of primeval elements. Perhaps it is this fundamental commotion that Friedrich Nietzsche referred to when he wrote, “One must still have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star.” He could equally have been channeling the forces that have inspired the life and work of activist/journalist Kathy Eldon.

I was made aware of Kathy’s work by watching a video of her addressing the Forbes Women’s Summit of 2013. She spoke of the period of time after her 22-year-old son Dan, a photojournalist working for Reuters in Somalia, was stoned to death by an angry mob. She was broken. But from this dark place of anarchy, she found the strength and power to establish, in his honor, the Creative Visions Foundation — an organization that fosters activists and artists who shine light on social causes. It’s not about the individual, she said in the Forbes talk, it’s about collectively coming together: “When we listen, we cooperate, we collaborate and we co-create.”

Kathy’s boundless energy, vibrant passion and deep reservoir of humanity radiate out of every pore in her body. When I later heard her speak at The Herb Albert Educational Center in Santa Monica, her authenticity brought the audience into a cohesive tribe of creative brethren. Kathy’s ceaseless excitement for life has helped enable, with Creative Visions, the realization of over 200 trailblazing projects through the provision of resources and critical guidance.

We met to co-create Kathy’s goddess portrait at a beach near the Creative Visions offices in Malibu, California. On choosing to portray the Goddess Khaos for Goddess on Earth, Kathy wrote:

To the distress of those around me, I often appear to be surrounded by chaos. Until I read the Nietzsche quote, I thought this was a terrible thing. Now I embrace the disorder as a vibrant space of pure potential, perfectly suitable for birthing a dancing star.

In the Heart of Life is Kathy’s new, soon-to-be-published memoir. Comedian and actress Rosie O’Donnell writes of the book: “Kathy inspires women to believe that they can do more than simply survive: they can thrive and passionately create the lives of their choice.” Indeed, let us all be inspired by Kathy’s vision and the powerful Goddess she has chosen to embody — and hold a space for the potential that lies within disorder and chaos for unbounded creativity, inspiration and transformation.

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Creativity and the Three Graces

Creativity is like a spark of electricity. In ancient Greece this catalyst was believed to have been a wondrous gift from the Gods and Goddesses, the Muses in particular. The Three Graces were ancient Rome’s artistic benefactors. Today, it’s generally believed that our creativity lies within ourselves rather than being a gift from outside. Scientists studying the brain call this powerful force, “fluid intelligence” or the imaginative ability to solve new problems independent of previous knowledge.

Steve Jobs, in Wired Magazine said: “Creativity is just connecting things”. True, but these connections usually come after tirelessly working at one’s craft. In Meredith Moran’s new book Why We Write, the Chilean writer Isabel Allende shared her philosophy on inspiration; “Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too. If she doesn’t show up invited, eventually she just shows up”.

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Sometimes these muses, or connections, occur when we take a break from our routine and let our minds wander freely. When I was a dancer in my twenties, the choreographer Twyla Tharp was an inspiration to me, so it wasn’t surprising to connect with the wisdom in her book The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. She wrote; “Reading, conversation, environment, culture, heroes, mentors, nature – all are lottery tickets for creativity. Scratch away at them and you’ll find out how big a prize you’ve won.”

For my friend, the painter Natasha Rabin, an inspired moment occured at an art exhibition which included her work, as well as that of the artist Grace Knowlton, known for her earthly spherical forms. From their chance meeting, a connection was made and Grace became a muse for Natasha’s new series ” States of Grace”. When I saw Natasha’s vibrant new paintings, I was inspired by her inspiration – and the electricity flowed.

On a recent, chilly winter afternoon, the three of us met at Grace’s magical home. Clay, concrete and painted steel spheres dotted the landscape as though they had rolled down the hill in some prehistoric era, settling in gentle clumps. We gathered, Grace, Natasha and I amongst these organic forms, contained, protected and joined in spirit. Entitled “The Three Graces” this image expresses the interconnectivity of inspiration and how we feed and nourish one another in our creative pursuits.

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