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Spiritual Nourishment for the Holidays
,Hello all! It’s been a while since I have written and I have missed you all. I hope this past few months have been treating you well. Life has pulled me in various directions that have distracted me from writing this newsletter, but as the year draws to a close I am inspired to write again. I wanted to share with you some resources and inspirations that I have come across over the past few months, including some artists that I have been following.
And I wanted to tell you about some upcoming events and workshops that I will be participating in. If you are local, I hope you can make it to the biannual Open Studios at the Jackson Art Center, on Sunday, December 8th. The building looks great inside with a brand new coat of paint on all the inner walls and also with structural reinforcement of the brick walls surrounding the perimeter of the building. And last weekend my husband Peter came to my studio to paint the inner doors that lead to my studio a beautiful bright blue.
I will be offering a couple workshops in the spring again at Halcyon, Alter Ego flip dolls, Saturdays, March 14 and 21, 10-3 PM and Self Compassion Wrap dolls, Saturday and Sunday, April 18 and 19, 10-3 PM. They will build on the ones I offered this spring but at the same time, if you are new to doll-making, you will still be able to participate without having been to the last ones. I’ll be posting more about these when it gets closer to the date. NOTE: corrected date, March workshop is the 14th and 21st, two consecutive Saturdays.
If you live anywhere Richmond, Virginia, I will be in a wonderful exhibit there called Black Doll Magic and will also be giving a talk, The History of the Topsy Turvy Doll at this venue on December 6th.
Antidotes to the Stresses of the Season
How to nourish one’s spirit during challenging times?
Lately I’ve been feeling the need to nourish my inner self, trying to find ways to manage the weirdness of the current state of the world. This can be particularly challenging because we live in DC. The last few months have been a time of exploration and expansion and I have been letting myself be open to a wide variety of methods of self-care. I don’t know about you but my life seems to be cyclical, with some times being more outward focused and some times being more inward. This past few months has been one of those inward times. What’s interesting too, is that these inward periods are a source, almost like the inner work becomes the compost that is the source of my ideas and my creativity. Seeds get planted and sometimes it can take many years to see the fruit of each particular seed.
It feels good to reach out to all of you and share some of the meditation and other self-nourishing methods I have been looking into these past few months. I hope that they prove to be useful to you and I would love to hear your thoughts.
1. Self Compassion: First is a new on-line class on meditation that I found at Sounds True, a wonderful website that offers tons of free healing resources and also sells books and on-line classes. I had heard about Kristin Neff, who is basically a guru of the self-compassion movement of the past ten or so years. Her new class is called The Yin and Yang Self Compassion: Cultivating Kindness and Strength in the Face of Difficulty, In this series, Neff addresses the ways in which self-compassion is sometimes misunderstood and discounted. She expands the definition of self-compassion to include a tougher, “mama bear” yang compassion, which is more active and forceful than the traditional gentler, yin compassion.
Yang is the compassion that helps firefighters to run into buildings to save people, that allows teachers to make sacrifices for their students, and parents to work long hours to provide for their children. She references some very interesting research that shows the power of yang compassion, and counteracts the criticism that compassion is “weak.” For instance, in a study that looked at the effects of trauma among Iraq war veterans, she discovered that the ability to have self-compassion actually was a more accurate predictor of PTSD symptoms as compared to exposure to traumatic combat experiences.
She makes an interesting point about yin compassion, as well, that in contrast to a commonly held belief that compassion is “selfish,” in fact self-compassion increases the ability to be there for others. In other studies, she and her colleagues found that those who have higher levels of self-compassion are more effective teachers, care-givers, health professionals and get higher marks from their partners on their ability to be present. My experience with this class has inspired me to offer a workshop in the spring centered on self-compassion, (click for Halcyon workshop schedule if you already know you'd like to sign up. Scroll down to April for the self compassion wrap dolls workshop) Neff talks about is how helpful it is to have a symbol that you can use as a reminder to connect with your own self-compassion. In the workshop we will be creating self-compassion wrap dolls, which can serve as such a reminder.
2. Living with Uncertainty and Managing Difficult Emotions: Pema Chodron, Tara Brach and Tsultrim Allione, mindfulness and Buddhist meditation.
I don’t think of myself as a Buddhist and yet I am drawn to many of the tenets of this approach to spirituality. I’ve loved Pema Chodron and Tara Brach, both Buddhist meditation teachers, for so long. Tsultrim Allione is someone I have discovered more recently. I have this year been developing a daily meditation practice and have used Pema Chodron’s books link as inspiration. My favorites right now are: When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times and Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change and I must have read and reread both of these books at least 5 or 6 times! Chodron has an amazing ability to wake me up to the reality of what is important in life. It’s not the outer world with its ups and downs that matter-in fact what is most certain in life is that there is no certainty at all. The more I can let go of the need for control and instead rest in the flow of life, the more I can begin to find stillness and peace.
I have known also about Tara Brach for a long time, ever since we lived in Boston back in the beginning of the 1990’s. When we moved to DC I knew she had a meditation center here but never went to it. So finally this fall I have begun to go to her meditation center. a wonderful, healing space for a weekly sangha or communal meditation and inspirational talks. She has free resources such as videos and writings on her website link and has also published a couple books that focus on her unique method of witnessing and accepting ones own difficult emotions. She has a new book coming out soon, Radical Compassion, see her website to preorder. It's also about compassion!
Tsultrim Allione comes at Buddhism from a different perspective and I have just begun listening to a book that has to do with a particular form of healing from inner pain called (I often listen to, rather than read books these days. I find I absorb the material better and also I can do this while driving or working in my studio.) Feeding Your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict. Whew, this is a powerful book and it might not appeal to everyone. But her method of transforming difficult thoughts, feelings and emotions into “demons” with detailed imagined physical presences that you then work with through an interactive meditational conversation really piqued my interest. If you know my work, you might understand this. Many of my dolls have to do with demons of sorts, for instance, my Taming the Dragon Within.
Allione came to this method as a way of healing from some painful experiences of her own and the book is her adaptation of an ancient meditation technique, called Chöd, first developed by an eleventh century female Buddhist teacher named Machig Labdrön (1055–1145.) She simplified this technique, which involved the use of ancient musical instruments, elaborate traditional meditation images, into a series of steps through which you visualize, ask questions of, “feed” and then transform your “demon.” I look forward to exploring this one more and using it as an inspiration for doll making.
Click on the above image for an interesting article in Lion's Roar that summarizes how her technique works.
3. Expanding Your Capacity for Joy and Connecting to Nature and the World of Spirits:
I just started taking another on-line class, also at Sounds True, with shaman and teacher, Sandra Ingerman, called Healing with Spiritual Light. I first heard about Sandra Ingerman from an amazing boss that I had in my first job as an art therapist. She took me and a colleague on a trip to the town of Woodstock, New York. We stopped on the way and Linda, my boss, had me and my colleague lie down on blankets in the grass while she led us on a shamanic journey. All I can remember now is that I saw a deer as my power animal. Linda told me about Sandra Ingerman and ever since I have been following her work. The Healing with Spiritual Light class is wonderful! So far we are into the third week, you could still join! and were are connecting with nature spirits, learning to “transfigure” into beings of light as a way to remember our capacity for joy. Through informal talks, journeys and journaling we are inspired to remember how we are all connected to each other and to nature.
Inspiration from other artists:
Some artists I have been following, please take a look:
Sybil Archibald: I don’t know how I first heard about Sybil Archibald, but I have been following her work on Instagram and Facebook and find her very inspiring, things like the fact that she studied medieval mysticism in college and then soon after graduation was diagnosed with a scleredoma, an autoimmune disease that made it difficult for her to walk and impossible to sleep because of the pain. She was given five years to live. She turned to art to help heal herself and it was some of these earlier sculptures of medieval figures all with openings in their heads or backs to allow the light of God to enter them, that combined her interest in medieval mysticism and her need to heal that first drew my interest. Though her disease makes it difficult to work, she has an incredible drive and enthusiasm and it is now 25 years later and she is still working and thriving. For instance she has been making a monotype a day for almost two years now, even bringing the printmaking materials into the hospital during complications in her disease, so that she could continue to work. I have never met her but I just love her!
The image is of St Theresa: The Interior Castle, acrylic paint on wood and clay,
Kathy Ruttenberg: I think I have written about Kathy Ruttenberg before but she is another one of my inspirations. Her large-scale figurative and fantastical ceramic sculptures are difficult to describe but truly blow me away. Recently she had a series of sculptures, In Dreams Awake, commissioned for various parks and plazas throughout New York City. The other cool thing about her is that she lives on a farm in upstate New York with the pigs, dogs and other animals that inspire her and often show up in her work.
The image above is Overgrown, ceramic sculpture, 2010.
Chris Roberts Antieau: at Antieau Gallery in New Orleans and now also New Mexico. When I was at the Torpedo Factory, another artist at the factory told me about this artist and her gallery, thinking that my work would fit in there. Well, that hasn’t happened yet but I love this self-taught fiber artist’s work and find her inspirational as well. It was wonderful to be able to see her works in person recently at the Superfine Arts Show in DC. Her humorous and dream-inspired stitched “paintings” are full of the joy of living!
Image is The Physics of Sunken Ships, fabric applique and embroidery.
The above four images are from the Kalili series: Kaili on Flootnern Mountain, Kalili's story in Twelve books, Books Five and Six from a series of twelve tritychs from the Kalili story
What I’ve been working on in my studio:
I’ve been in my studio over these last months, working on one or the other of two themes, Kalili’s Journey (see above images) and my ancestor series (see below images.) I think I’ve written about these in past newsletters but will write more in the future. I have been posting about these on Instagram so if you want to get a glimpse of this, please visit my Instagram page, my tag name is erikacleve.
Above are a couple of the dolls from my on-going ancestor series. Both are flip dolls about my grandmothers. The one on the left is a family tree of my maternal grandmothers and great-grandmothers. The one on the right has both my maternal and paternal grandmothers-one on each side.
Flip Doll Book in the works…some day:
Whenever people write to me at my website, it is most often related to the flip dolls that I make, teach workshops about and write about. I am thinking about writing a book about them, based on what I have done with them so far. I could use some feedback about this so if you are interested in hearing more, let me know. I will give you updates and will be looking for someone to test out chapters as I write them.
One of the people who contacted me about flip dolls was an artist, Priyah Bhagat and she was interested in having me give a talk about flip dolls for a show she is organizing called Black Doll Magic in Richmond Virginia. I said yes and so will be giving a talk, and also showing some of my dolls in her show. See above for more information about this show.
Image is Transforming Fear side of Facing Fear/Transforming Fear flip doll, soft sculpture, sculptural needle felted and mixed media.
I've been making dolls for about ten years now. I believe that dolls serve as representations and reminders of the best part of ourselves. I am excited to share with you here my learnings about new methods and techniques for doll making and healing. So glad you are here!