Sunday, September 23, 2012

Meditation, Relaxation, and Healing: Part 1 - Using Tibetan Singing Bowls

As this series goes on I will be adding the tools I make out of metal and clay to create calming meditative sounds.  I have always been fascinated by drums, rattles, chimes, and bells.  Many of the things I make and use today came from an experience about 20 years ago at a peace conference created to assist school age children in conflict resolution.  I absorbed many of these ideas and filed them away in my mind, body, and spirit . . .  and there they stayed  until the day I needed them or was ready to put them into use.  Sometimes it took years to rediscover these concepts and ideas.

I'll continue my journey with bowls, I did not make these bowls, I have done some minor repairs on them, they are - Tibetan singing bowls - A singing bowl is a standing bell with the bottom resting on the palm of your hand for small bowls or on a cushion or rug for larger bowls.

I was teaching a toddler class and looking for interesting things to add to my classroom.  I found a small child sized singing bowl and ordered it.  At that point in time I had no clue why it was so familiar. 

I remember unpacking it at a time when there was no one in my classroom.  I took out the mallet and began to run it around the rim.  The sound began so quietly that I could feel the vibration in the palm of my hand before I could hear it.  The sound became audible, and for me, it was the sound of singing angels.  Immediately I smiled, feeling a sense of peace and calm.

I had trouble making it sing.  I would hit some spots and it would chitter and chatter making some awful sounds.  I used it a little bit, couldn’t make that sound happen again, and sadly put it away for several years . . .  until I needed its comfort and bought it from my school.  I had no clue that my feet would now travel down a completely different path.  It was at this time, as I played it, that I remembered that years ago before the start of the first morning workshop at the peace conference they announced a moment of silent meditation.  We put our coffee cups down,  the mumbling grew silent as a man stood up in the crowd . . . he had a singing bowl in his hand tapped it slowly three times and then made it sing.

Years have passed.  I now have a variety of Tibetan singing bowls . . . some new, some old.  I am including a short video of my teacher, Mark Handler, as we are interviewed during a bowl session. 

May all find their own path to peace, calm and compassion.   

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Creating Broken Bowls -- Choosing the Pieces of Your Life

I have always loved bowls, large, small, plain, carved, thin, thick, any kind of bowl. I love how the clay feels as it moves through my fingers on the wheel or as I coil it, pinch it, or press it into the shape of a bowl.  My journey with bowls expanded with the gift of the book, Everyday Sacred, by Sue Bender.  After reading it I began to make begging bowls (blog -- The Art of Compassionate Intention) and also broken bowls.  I just reread the chapter about Kevin Nierman's cracked pots.  He makes pots, breaks them, and then glues them back together.  It sounded like such a simple, very easy thing to do.

I went through my various bowls looking for one that I wanted to break.  I chose a bowl that had been through a bisque firing and headed to my concrete front steps.  I put a towel on the step below me, adjusted my safety glasses, pulled on my work gloves, picked up the bowl and raised it over my head to smash it on the towel.  I moved my arms down a little, hesitated, brought my arms back up, down a little . . . and I discovered that I could not do it.  It was a lot more difficult to actually, purposefully take something I had made and smash it. 

I have plenty of clay, I can make more, why the resistance.  So I gave myself a little bit of leeway.  I got a paper bag and a hammer.  Once again I headed to the front steps, put on my safety gear, placed the bowl in the paper bag, folded the bag, put it on the step and picked up the hammer.  I took a deep breath, held it, and swung the hammer. 

There is a very distinctive sound created when you break a clay bowl.  Very carefully I opened the bag and began to pick out the pieces.  I felt that some of them were still too large so I put them back into the bag and hammered the bag one more time. 

I decided to pit fire the broken pieces.  I love the look of smoke blacken pottery.  I had buried the bottom half of an old Weber kettle in my backyard for this purpose.  I gathered newspapers, some branches, and larger pieces of wood arranging them around the bottom and sides of the grill.  Carefully, I nestled my broken shards among the chunks of wood, kindling, and paper and covered them with the kettle top.  When all of the vents were closed and it was water tight I hosed down the area around the kettle.  (I did not want to disturb the neighbors with a 3 or 4 alarm fire.)  I lit the fire and watched it color the pieces as the flames created their own decorations.  I put the lid on and let the fire burn all of the oxygen out of the kettle.  I let it cool and then opened it up to pick out the pieces stacking them until I had a small pile of black, gray, ashy white, and pinkish brown pottery shards.  Now I had the challenge of piecing them back together. 

I dusted and scrubbed the excess ash off of the shards and let them dry.  I found two pieces that fit together and mixed the epoxy.  A wooden toothpick worked well for applying glue to the edges. I held them together until they set and then added another.  Just as in the book it was a freeing creative experience . . . and then I took it a step further. 

Questions came to mind such as:  Do I really need to use all of the pieces?  Can I pick and choose which ones I want to keep and which I want to leave behind.  Thinking about the words, "leave behind" brought up connections to living and life experiences.  What experiences changed or impacted my life?  What attitudes and mindsets have gotten in my way?  What empowers me?  What makes me smile?  The shards became the fragile pieces of life . . . my life.  The bowl breaking experience moved from one of opening up creativity and letting go, to one of contemplation and meditation. 

The day that we are born we begin to live lives that will have moments and places that are difficult, that are sad, that are lonely, or that are filled with love, joy, peace, and compassion.  As I glued my bowl together I thought about my family, my art, my life.  I kept gluing on additional pieces until I came to the final three.  I looked at the bowl and I liked what I saw.  It had an open ended energy, and it felt finished.  I decided to stop and leave it as it was unfinished, incomplete, my life was not a closed book, I am still a work in progress.

I now am able to break lots and lots of bowls.  If you would like to have the experience of making a broken bowl it is possible even if you do not have access to clay or a kiln, there are other options.  You will need a clay flower pot or another type of low fired pottery.  This is a great project for those that love garage sales and thrift stores.  The pieces do not need to be pit fired.  You may decorate them with acrylic paints or permanent markers or leave them plain.

You will need:  a clay pot, bowl, jar, etc., a towel, safety glasses, work gloves are also nice, a small broom and dust pan, a paper bag, a hammer, and fast setting epoxy glue.  Break your bowl using either method.  I like to wear work gloves to keep sharp ceramic slivers off and out of my hands and arms.  (Personally, I prefer the bag method which keeps all the pieces in a confined area.)

Please read all instruction on the epoxy and observe all safety precautions while breaking the pot, creating a fire, and using the epoxy.  My best wishes for a unique breaking your bowl and choosing the pieces of your life experience.  May you discover the memories and positive aspects of your life you want to glue and bring together.           

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Art of Compassionate Intention

From the moment, as a toddler, I could sit up and hold a crayon; I have been committed to making marks on paper, in clay, with metal, fibers, cameras, and computers.  I have taught art to all age groups, worked as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer.  I have never encountered an art medium that I did not want to incorporate into my ever growing open ended list of artistic passions.

For most of my life my art was just that my art . . . and then it all changed.  Spiritual intentions began to take on a physical form.  For me, from the ashes of tragedy rose the Phoenix of hope, love, and compassion . . . and my work changed.

It began so very simply by trading my art for knitting needles and crochet hooks.  I changed the focus of my grief to knitting and crocheting prayers of love, compassion, and protection into hats.  These hats were made without patterns, from scraps of yarn, and definitely one of a kind.  I gave these things to anyone that wanted them, and they became lovies, snugglies, and bits of security to help hold all of us together.  I had never heard of prayer shawls and had no idea that it was possible to extend love and compassion beyond my physical being.  As time went on and spirits began to heal, I felt the need to keep my fingers and hands busy by returning to my work in fibers, metal, and clay.  But this time I consciously added healing loving compassionate prayers and chants to everything I made.  I work at making positive intentions visible in my spirit dolls, rattles, and begging bowls.

I'll begin by describing the begging bowls.

Buddhist monks hold out their bowls, with non-attachment, they accept whatever is offered.  I made this bowl by thickly rolling out clay and then pressing it into a net lined mold.  I purposefully made this bowl heavy to remind us of our connection to this world, to the earth, and to the clay from which it was made.  Instead of a smooth interior surface I chose to push my fingers deeply into the clay making my fingerprints, my touch evident.  This is to remind us of the lives we touch and the lives that touch us.  When you hold one of these bowls you can feel the deeply etched marks of the nets.  These nets can be symbols of how nets may hold, catch, carry, entangle, support, or simply give us something to cling to . . . or to the simple symbol of a safety net.  These bowls can hold our positive intentions for ourselves, our families, our friends, and our world.  We all experience moments of loss, stress, anxiety, anger, fear, peace, hope, love, compassion, and joy.  May these bowls be filled with what we really need.  May we find our own path of positive intention.                 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Phtotgraphy and My Photographic Intentions

I have always used photography as a tool to document my artwork.  I'm thrilled to be participating in the Anniversary Scavenger Hunt. I have my list and have already taken and deleted lots of shots.  I am very excited that this will expand my photographic horizons.  I am camera ready with my trusty HP Photosmart M415 in hand.  I will be using my ancient very primitive Adobe Photoshop program on my please don't die right now older than ancient Mac computer.  It no longer burns CDs and rejects my thumb drive.  It will hopefully continue to allow me to email my finished photos to my other computer so that I can upload them.  Techy types tend to laugh at me when I explain that I get attached to my stuff.  I am doing this all with hands on . . . in other words I don't have a tripod . . . I am going bare bones with this.

I know that there are probably some photographers that are now laughing and rolling around on the floor . . . but I have a secret advantage . . . I am a pixel mover . . . I am prepared to sit there and move parts of my photos pixel by pixel until I am happy, cross-eyed, or crazy.  I am going to try to put something I made (a piece of my artwork) in at least half of the photos. 

Now for the update . . . my camera seems to be having some issues.  I took the memory card out to print a few photos… and it sort of erased the things that were on it.  I put the memory card back in and eagerly began taking more shots.  My camera informed me that the memory card was full after I took four photos.  So I have been taking four photos and then downloading them and then taking four more.  I would reformat the card every time I finished a download.  So what is my point . . .  I just pulled the card and put it back in assuming that it was blank from the four different times I reformatted it . . . OK, insert the strange eerie music here.

I turned my camera on again to do another set of four shots and decided to make sure I had remembered to reformat it after the last download . . . all of the 44 photos that were on the memory card first thing this morning when I had taken it in to print the photos were back on . . . sooooooooo . . . I have no clue what is going on with my camera.  I will be completely thrilled if it keeps going.  I just think that all of my technical equipment is just like me . . . we are all getting older, we no longer function perfectly, BUT, we are still plugging away getting the job done and loving it.

I have uploaded nine out of ten photos . . . I now can take oodles of more photos and decide if I want to keep the ones I uploaded or swap them out for something new and hopefully improved.  For all of you out there participating in the scavenger hunt or just loving photography my very best wishes, as for me, I will be snapping my shots with my fingers crossed . . . not the easiest thing to do . . . but . . . I love a good challenge.
Hugs, m