Paula Swenson

Archive for the ‘Art and Creativity’ Category

Creative Sparks

In Art and Creativity, Uncategorized on May 1, 2010 at 4:13 pm

“Art is the very human act of creating the uncreated.” ~Seth Godin

We’re born to create, as children we create all the time, invent stories, dream up imaginary friends, draw fantastic scenes never before glimpsed . . . we don’t care a whit about ‘getting it right’ we just create.

Gradually, we learn by example to criticize our creations, we start to reject our ideas as well as our execution of the ideas, until we end up living inside a very small box.

If you are ready to crawl out of your box, it’s time to start searching for creative sparks. Rekindle your imagination, book yourself on a flight of fancy! Find mythical creatures in the gnarled roots of trees. Spend the afternoon lying in the grass watching cloud shapes mutate. Pick wildflowers and weave yourself a crown. Drop pebbles in a pond and watch the ripples intersect. Open the yellow pages or the dictionary and look at the paired header words and make up a story about the resulting phrase.

Creativity is highly flammable, the smallest spark can set it ablaze if you let it. Start a fire under your creativity, then grab a brush or a pencil and capture a glimpse of the magic.  Once your imagination takes flight, who knows where it might take you?


the Creativity Switch

In Abundance, Art and Creativity, Business on April 22, 2010 at 11:49 am

I’m one of those people who cannot look up a word in the dictionary without stopping to admire at least 3 other words along the way, so you can imagine what happens to me once I plug into the internet!?!?

However, despite being deeply distracting and fine procrastination tool, the internet often yields up some lovely gems and this post on How to Flick the Creativity Switch is one of them. Joanna Patterson has multiple blogs about writing, and learning and this is her latest endeavor.

I think this post is important for two reasons, it gives a simple approach we can use to help our clients and it applies to other things as well . . . go read it and then think about what “switches” YOU need to turn on in your brain: the productive writer switch? the coaching switch? the money switch? the relaxation switch?

Me? I’m definitely going to turn on the “smart about money” switch as soon as I finish this post!

~peace, joy and prosperity~


Don’t confuse Service with Servant!

In Abundance, Art and Creativity, Business on March 14, 2010 at 4:06 pm

There is a lot of buzz these days about SERVICE. Customer Service, selfless service, active service … the dictionary lists no fewer than 12 definitions for service, but the most basic, in the terms I’d like to consider here is this: work done by one person or group that benefits another

Notice that definition says nothing about being downtrodden, under-appreciated, taken advantage of, nor creating a situation of indebtedness.

Recently my colleague Trish talked volunteering at a Hospice, and Trish mentioned that she always leaves with a very full heart, feeling that she gets even more than she gives. I think perhaps TRUE SERVICE fills us rather than empties us. Which is not to say we don’t get tired, etc, and need to be kind and refill our own wells, but rather that Service provides some intrinsic rewards.

Service, in my view, has an extra value component — it is not just doing for others. I think about Service like Food. Anything you eat will stop you from being hungry (junk food, cold stale vending machine sandwiches, dirt, school paste . . .) but some things you eat also give you vitamins and nutrients, and the BEST foods (like the highest SERVICE) also give you full sensory experience; you enjoy the eating of them, the taste, the smell, the texture in your mouth – eating becomes a sensual meditation and you are totally in the moment, PRESENT and aware of how wonderful food really is! Likewise I think true SERVICE is fully engaging. You are aware of the impact of your actions on others and it brings satisfaction and joy on a very deep level.

It occurs to me that GRATITUDE and SERVICE are linked and that when we truly serve, we experience the true gratitude of others — not necessarily in words or thank yous (although that may be) but in seeing the shift or the change in the other(s): the student who ‘gets it’ , the patient who is resting more comfortably, the child who proudly ties his own shoe, the person smiling at the image in the mirror upon seeing her new hairstyle, the shoulders that relax as a burden is lifted, the coaching client glowing with success!

Nobody wants to feel like a servant — but we all benefit from giving and receiving SERVICE.

The Gift of Being Present

In Art and Creativity, Time and Change, Travel, Uncategorized on February 24, 2010 at 4:29 pm

As a semi-nomadic traveler, I’m often setting off for new destinations. Recently, however, I’ve embarked on a different sort of journey – a quest for knowledge and new tools. I’m enrolled in a ten-week course to learn about new ways to use creativity to help people make the most of their lives. It is interesting to be back in the learning environment as a student rather than a teacher.

Always a believer in lifelong learning, I frequently study up on this or that on my own, but I had forgotten how invigorating it can be to learn in a group setting. This may sound odd coming from a teacher – but observing interaction is altogether different from participating in it.

I’m fortunate indeed to be studying with a group which has a fabulous dynamic. Hailing from 4 countries and spanning 4 decades, these 22 creative souls bring a wealth of experiences, skills, and perspectives to our learning journey.

The interaction is so energizing and the work so full of play, that I find myself absorbed in it for hours on end without realizing how much time has passed. Such a lovely way to be reminded of the joy of being truly, totally present.

* Valentine *

In Art and Creativity, Time and Change on February 14, 2010 at 2:34 pm

I know a lot of people who choose to boycott Valentine’s Day because of the huge commercial and social pressure they feel the holiday has been saddled with.

I’ve always loved this holiday, from childhood when we made our own goofy, gorgeous, misshapen valentine cards with red paper, white lacy doilies, crayons, glitter and glue. There was something magical about that activity– classrooms full of children carefully crafting messages of joy and connection.

I challenge you to reconnect with THAT part of Valentine’s Day– create a message of joy and connection and share it with someone you love!

~LOVE, PEACE + JOY from ME to YOU~

The View from Here

In Abundance, Art and Creativity, Time and Change, Travel, Uncategorized on February 8, 2010 at 10:56 am

It’s February, and although we are still wrapped in a blanket of white, the days are getting noticeably longer and the worst of the cold is arguably behind us. Winter in this climate is an invitation to hibernate and contemplate, and I’ve been doing a bit of both.

When I was a child of about 11, a rallying cry went out amongst the young “never trust anyone over 30!” I was very confused about this as I transited my teen years, because although I had the same tussles with authority figures most teens experience, some of my best, most trusted confidants were much, much older—not only over 30, but over 60! Maybe it was that personal first-hand experience that has made me wary of sweeping statements about groups of people, ANY groups of people.

Two recent conversations, one with someone a generation younger than me and the other with someone a generation older put me in mind of this again. Of all the things that disturb me in our present reality, the one that disturbs me the most is seeing intelligent people abandoning their prerogative to question assumptions and to experience life first-hand; choosing instead to accept a second-hand version of reality from the media, the government, the church, their teachers, friends or family.

Therefore, I do not expect you to just accept what I say here as true for you — but I do urge you to consider if your fears and worries are based on first-hand, personal experience or on the experience of someone else, who may be living a different life with a different agenda.

The following are things I have personally experienced in the past 3 years:

· ~ I lived in Turkey for 10 months, surrounded by Muslim people. None of them tried to kill me. To the best of my knowledge, none of them wanted to. None of them tried to convert me. NO two were exactly alike. People were variously kind, helpful, generous, curious, dishonest, gruff, fearful, argumentative or hostile. Pretty much like being in San Diego or Tacoma, Hamburg, Munich, New York, Athens…but on the whole my experiences fell on the positive side of the equation.

· ~ For the past 18+ months I have been living in and wandering around Europe. Europeans are often outspoken and curious. They often criticize many things about America and American political and social policies, American fast-food and pop culture, but I have not yet met anyone who hates Americans. I don’t doubt such people exist, but I have not met them.

· ~I have friends and family who are quite liberal, some are ultra-liberal. They do not want to kill old people and unborn babies. They do not want everyone to denounce religion and become an atheist.

· ~ I have friends and family who are quite conservative, some are ultra-conservative. They do not want to shoot all liberals and burn all books except the bible. They do not want to lock up my gay friends, nor are they interested in forcing everyone to drive an SUV to church.

· ~ I have European friends who want to live in America, while I have chosen to live in Europe.

· ~I know young people who are writing books, volunteering to help the homeless, the poor and the sick and I know young people who have no interests outside of football and beer.

· ~ I know old people who have locked themselves away in gated communities awaiting the apocalypse and others who are planting organic gardens, teaching life skills to the young, donating time to help the illiterate learn to read or hitchhiking across their countries.

· ~I have learned how easy it is to be misjudged and how equally simple it is to give someone the benefit of the doubt.

· ~ I have learned that kindness is usually more effective than anger; and that, although very few things are actually worth getting stressed about, many things are worth caring about.

· ~ I have learned that individuals really can change the world.

Yes, there are individual people in the world whose ideas are completely opposite from yours or mine (some of my ideas are probably completely opposite for some of yours!) and some of those people with opposite ideas are so fearful, so lacking hope, that they will kill others and perhaps themselves to try to be heard, to “prove” something – BUT THEY ARE A MINORITY.

So far I have traveled in 16 countries, and lived in 6. What I have found is that people are mostly good, mostly kind, and doing the best they can to get by, to feed their families, to work, to enjoy their children, friends and life in general.

I am not asking you to accept my experience as your own, but I am asking you each to think about your own experiences, and to avoid being swept up in gross generalizations about those things, places and people that are different and outside of your experience. Be wary of sentences that begin “Everyone in . . . . thinks/wants/has . . .” and “All .. . . are .. . .” remember to listen with your hearts as well as with your ears.

Be kinder than necessary, for we are all facing some kind of challenge on our journey.

Be happy, be well, find joy where you can.

In Art and Creativity, Time and Change, Travel on January 17, 2010 at 6:02 pm

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

The more I travel the more I adhere to the philosophy of Lao Tzu. I firmly believe that everyone should travel. For some, the biggest adventure they may be comfortable with is an afternoon in the next town or county, for others the further-flung the destination, the better. The distance isn’t important. The important thing is to free yourself from your everyday life, and grab a new vantage point.

Travel is very freeing; it takes us away from our routines and helps us recognize what we truly value, about ourselves, our lives and our world. It matters little if you grab your passport or just take a different route home from the store, if you do it with a traveler’s heart and with eyes wide open, something wonderful will occur, I guarantee it.

Where will you go?

A Gift of Time

In Art and Creativity, Business, Time and Change on November 6, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Remember there is plenty of time, and every moment counts” is a zen saying that I have transferred from notebook to notebook for years now… it is so hard to remember to honor both sides of that “equation” at the same time. When we focus on “there is plenty of time”, we can get lazy and let big swathes of precious time slip away . . . on the other hand, when we focus on “every moment counts”, we tend to fret about not doing enough… it seems to be such a dilemma, but maybe, just maybe, it is not two things at all. Maybe it really is one thing. Time stretches into wonderful fullness when we make every moment count! Maybe the secret is to make the moments count so that we needn’t count the moments.

I’ve recently been energized by some projects that have come into my life and I find I have more time despite being busier, so I’ve been cruising along, be very productive until the other morning, when someone asked me, how do you find time to do all that?? From the moment of that question my day became a train-wreck of colliding priorities and unfocused actions. It took several hours of mayhem for me to realize that when the question was planted in my mind, I started to doubt that I had the time/energy to do everything I had taken on– wow, thoughts really DO become things–and so quickly! So I promptly sat down and gave myself TIME to refocus and resume my pre-question state of mind and sure enough, the rest of my day was quite productive.

When we are in a place of flow, it is easy to see that we have plenty of time. The task I’ve set for myself now, and I invite you to participate too, is to retain the calm and the focus, even when the flow is interrupted. I hope that will make it easier to recapture the flow and make every lovely moment count.

How do you give yourself the gift of time?

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© Paula Swenson 2009

What Would YOU do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

In Art and Creativity, Business on July 16, 2009 at 11:43 am

This question has come into my life in at least 3 different forms in the past 15 days. It is not a new question, I have encountered it before, however recently I have not been able to answer it. I’m not normally a person who has difficulty making decisions. In fact, most of my friends and family consider me not only decisive, but downright impetuous! So I found myself puzzled that I could not answer this question. Had I stopped dreaming? Did I lack a sense of purpose? What had happened to my goals?

The first time the question appeared, I was thumbing through an old journal, I had jotted the question in the margin of a page, in quotes, obviously having just read it somewhere. Further down the margin were a few answers scrawled in tiny, almost illegible print. I squinted at them and saw 1) travel more 2) live abroad 3) ride a bicycle again.

Well, two out of three isn’t bad . . . I have been living abroad for almost exactly 2 years, and taking advantage of my new locations to travel and explore. The bicycle thing hasn’t worked out so well. although I bought a used bike this Spring, the combination of knee problems and a lot of time passing since I last rode a bike (more than 15 years) have conspired against me. After taking a pretty bad spill my second time out on the bike, I rather lost enthusiasm, and courage, for it.

So, realizing I had at least attempted everything on the list, I felt pretty good, and thought, OK what’s next? I drew a blank. I put it out of my mind until a week later, when the question popped up again, in an article I was reading. I stopped to ponder what my new answer would be. Again I drew a blank. Quite odd for me . . . slightly disturbed, I set the puzzle aside.

Then 3 days ago, there it was again, in a book I was using to teach an English lesson. Following the lesson I took myself to a cafe and ordered a cappuccino, got out my notebook, and tried to answer the question. A dozen things eventually came to mind, but none of them satisfied me. I realized that they were all old goals, things I had once wanted but outgrown in some way, as I lived my life. It occurred to me that reaching goals is a tricky business . . . I’m living the life I chose and I like it a lot. In essence I am doing ‘it’ – the thing I would do if I knew I couldn’t fail. Wow.

I still feel I would like to be able to answer the question again, but perhaps my understanding of the question has changed. Perhaps the new question is “Since I cannot truly fail, as long as I make an honest attempt, what I am going to do next?”

© Paula Swenson 2008
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Without Reservations

In Art and Creativity, Travel on May 4, 2009 at 3:42 pm

My husband and I like to travel without reservations, both in the literal sense (no pre-booked hotels) and the figurative sense (go for the gusto!)  This philosophy often leads to the very best travel experiences in the form of unpredictable personal encounters with the culture. 

A recent serendipitous encounter came while wandering the backstreets of the town of Urup in the Gorema Valley of Kapadokya in Turkey.  Two young boys, Murat and Resul, best buddies – aged 10- stopped to practice their tiny bit of English and then asked Steve to take their picture.  As we were trying to use our tiny bit of Turkish to get an address to send the photo to, a neighbor who spoke English gave us a hand.  Afterwards, the neighbor, Naile, invited us into her garden for the ubiquitous Turkish tea.  We sat in this lovely oasis on the hillside above Urgup, enjoying the cool breeze and chatting.  We discovered she and her husband had retired here, that this had been her mother’s house and that after a career as a nurse, she had studied to become an Ebru artisan.  Ebru is the ancient Turkish art of creating marbled pictures, by floating the colors on a thick pool of gum Arabic and using a stylus to ‘paint’ the motifs. 

Naile asked if we would like to see her studio (of course we would!) and then asked if we would like to see how it is done.  We watched in fascination as this very talented woman showed and explained her ancient art.  Steve got some fabulous photos and then she offered to guide me through the process – what fun!  I actually managed to create some respectable looking Ottoman style tulips, of which I am inordinately proud.  Then Naile, who obviously enjoys her work very much, did two more demos for us, one of roses and the other of carnations . . . truly amazing.

It was an enchanting experience for me as an artist and for Steve as a photographer; without our realizing it, two hours sped by.  As we were thinking we should leave, she invited us to see the rest of the house, one of the original Ottoman era buildings of Urgup, so of course we said “yes”.  We got upstairs to find that her husband had cooked Makarania (a sort of pasta) and we were invited to eat with them in their traditional ottoman living room!  How could we refuse?  We had a very nice meal, chatted about modern Turkey and it’s place in the world, the importance of art to life and other weighty topics.  After a final cup of Turkish coffee, and exchanging emails, we said our good-byes and headed out with a lovely painting of Dervishes on an Ebru background to grace some future wall, and my own Ebru creation, which had, by then, sufficiently dried to take along.

If we’d had reservations about accepting a stranger’s invitation to tea, we would have missed one of the highlights of our trip!


© Paula Swenson 2008


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