Archive for the ‘creativity and empowerment’ Category

My Favorite Photograph

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

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Light.co, a camera technology company , recently posed the question: what is my favorite photo among all I’ve taken? This is like asking me what my favorite experience is. I absolutely cannot choose. But, I’m selecting a recent favorite from a wonderful adventure in Alaska.

This photo was taken on that cruise that so many have taken through the inland passage, where the views of glaciers and the big, big landscape of Alaska are so stunning. This scene appeared to me when we were on our way out of Glacier Bay, the most dramatic views of calving ice behind us, and the day almost done.

For me the beauty and power of photography is not about the technique, but is always about the gift of new sight. After about 40 years of serious photography, I am still stunned when something appears to me in a form that looks new.

In this case, the mountainside appeared to be curving up and around the valley like an enormous wave. The patterns of ice swept grand across them like clouds in a windswept sky. How could I capture this in a two-dimensional format?

It had to be a matter of framing. I tried enclosing just the ice patterns, and the effect was lost. But when I included a hint of earthy colors below, it gave just enough context. Still, I find viewers have trouble deciding whether they are looking at mountains or sky, ice or clouds.

I love any landscape that appears on its own to be painterly. I try to manipulate as little as possible, just accentuating the contrast our eye sees but the camera misses, and making the colors as deep and rich as they appeared in the moment. I’m after the same feeling I had when I saw it.

It was a thrill to be debuting my new equipment, and okay with me that the photo is a bit soft because of the movement of the ship–in spite of the image stabilizing lens.

I probably will never encounter a photograph that qualifies as my all time favorite. What I really hope is that the candidates will just keep on increasing. In that case, I’ll know I am growing as a seer—someone who pays attention enough to be present for the world’s incredible array of visual moments. They make me grateful every day for my eyes, and for the part of me who responds passionately to what I see.

 

 

Healing vs. Curing

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

mesaBreast Cancer Awareness month is October, and so this month I’ll be focusing on how any of us facing illness can take steps to explore more than repairs and curing. We want healing as well!

Allopathic medicine focuses on repairing what is broken and on fixing symptoms and altering structures that cause disease. I am very grateful for our advances in these areas, since I feel that allopathic medicine is responsible for at least half the reasons why I’m alive today after my two bouts with breast cancer.

And, I’m grateful for my training and experience in the other half of the story, which is about healing. The word “heal” means to make whole again. (And my birth name, Hale, comes from the same root as “heal,” and means strong and hearty. This is why I use that name as my author and professional name. I am becoming more and more “Hale.”)

When we “get” or “have” an illness, there are some steps we can take to make ourselves feel whole again.

 We can remember that it’s “both…and.”

On one hand it’s horrible, frightening, evil, a bad sign, and all the other things we could say along those lines. And, it’s still true that the way the shadows of the mesquite trees are dancing on the wall outside my window is beautiful. Can I hold both the horrifying and the beautiful? Actually, I can. And so, I’ll bet, can you.

We can feed the white wolf.

Remember the story about the man who is followed by a black wolf and a white wolf? He visits the village shaman and tells him how these two wolves fight and follow him, and asks which one will win. “The one you feed,” is the answer. How can you feed the white wolf of beauty, truth and meaning right now?

We can decide to be the well ones.

There is plenty of toxic, sick, fearful, angry energy in our world. We are all tempted to join in, and when we do, we feed that black wolf. So we can decide to say Yes to life, even with its pain and imperfection. We can decide to be healthy emotionally and spiritually even when our body is suffering, and to have well-being.

How do we accomplish these three things? I think we draw on the creative energy within us. For creativity isn’t limited to art; it refers to the ability we have to decide, to make choices, to change and shift things in ways that affect our destiny.

The Divine One isn’t the only Creator; we are co-creators.

Healing involves our claiming our role as co-creators.

We stepped into a world that was already formed, but we create our own experience every day. We create the world within. We create the lens we use to see ourselves and our lives.

How will you create wellness and wholeness for yourself today?

 

This post was adapted from the original, which appeared as Creativity & Healing on theSpiritedWoman.com.

5 Lessons From Living With Limits

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

89591-PH-SS-043I’m getting a graduate course in living with limits while recovering from my foot surgery. Since I can’t put any weight on my foot for six weeks and am getting around on a scooter and crutches, the lessons are varied and deep.

I’ll bet many of you know the drill. If you’ve broken a limb, had a knee replacement or been otherwise disabled, then you know the lessons appear to be mostly physical. I’ve learned to sleep propped up, with my foot elevated. I’ve had to learn to maneuver my scooter, and carry things in a tote bag I put on the handlebars, carry liquids in screwtop containers and bathe in a plastic chair in the shower with a showerhead on a hose.  My “nest” in the living room contains everything I need to keep occupied and pretty happy.

Of course there are other learnings I’ve generalized from these limitations, lessons I hope to take into my “regular life” as a lucky, normally able-bodied person:

1. We are adaptable beings! I’ve watched myself invent creative ways to get around restrictions. Like figuring out how to make chicken soup without burning or cutting myself, or falling. I want to remember how adaptable I am and approach what I used to call “problems” as a chance to be creative.

2. Time is relative. When you can’t do much and have stripped life of driving, errands, household chores, hours pass much more slowly. I want to remember this, since in my old life I kept convincing myself that rushing and pushing would somehow create more time. The opposite is actually true.

3. Slowed way down, I notice more. The land around me is even more precious than before, so I keep binoculars in my nest. Really looking and noticing wildlife is my way of traveling outside my “confinement.” I want to continue to heighten my powers of observation and seeing.

4. Dependent on others, I am full of gratitude. My husband bringing me the mail and a drink from Starbucks feels like a major event. Dear friends who call or visit are heroines. I see how much I normally take for granted, and want to remain grateful and receptive.

5. My limitations show me what is really important, and I see that all I care about is what has heart and meaning. I could watch junk TV or eat junk food, but I do almost none of this. I want to walk that path of heart and meaning and just let everything else fall away.

All these lessons are so clear and easy to take in now. The challenge will be to live them when once again, I am on the move. Why is it that we seem to need hardship to really learn? And then back in ease, we forget so easily.

A lot of that return to old habits is just that: habitual behavior. To break a habit and replace it with new behavior takes repetition, rewiring of the brain. Will this recovery period be long enough?

What are the habits that hardship has inspired you to break? What have the lessons been that have come to you when you’ve been limited?

Recalling those lessons now, how can you form a new habit, new actions that will form the life you desire? So many of the patterns we blame on the outer world are really our coopting, our trance behavior where we give up our will. We give up what we say matters, just because it’s easy and familiar.

If you could pick one habit that you think falls into this category, what would that be? And if you could pick one practice to change that habit, what could you begin doing?

For example, if you want, as I do, to choose activities that have heart and meaning, then you could begin the habit of asking yourself every time you’re choosing to watch TV or take a walk or get a snack or pick up the phone…Will this choice bring me heart and meaning?

That way, even though every life has some limits, you might just find you’re freer than you thought!

Gross National Happiness

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Bhutan

I had the privilege of traveling to the little kingdom of Bhutan recently, and one of the many gifts I received from that visit was the inspiration to spread the word about GNH. For Bhutan’s policy-making is guided not by the GNP (Gross National Product) but by GNH–Gross National Happiness.

It’s more than just a cute-sounding idea. There are documents outlining the four pillars, nine domains, and metrics for weighing and measuring progress. (http://www.grossnationalhappiness.com/) This little country of only 750,000 people is a model for a self-chosen set of values based on something we all chase: no, it’s not money; it’s happiness!

Thanks to our trip organizer, Narayan Shrestha (founder of the non-profit, Helping Hands), we were privileged to have a private dinner with the mayor of Thimpu, the national capital. Kinlay Dorjee seems humble, sincere, and clearly devoted to increasing the GNH in the capital and throughout the country. He spent some time introducing us to the four pillars, which are:

1.  Good governance

2.  Equitable and sustainable socio-economic development

3. Preservation and promotion of cultural heritage

4. Preservation and promotion of the environment

Pretty wonderful measures for policy-making, right? Let me backtrack to the inspiring back story.

In the 1970’s His Majesty the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck observed that economic growth had become the measure of growth and success across the world and at both collective and personal levels. Given the costs we are paying for this ideology, this enlightened king decided he would focus on a different set of values.

He came up with GNH, based on the belief that collective happiness of a society is the ultimate goal of governance. His legacy to his son, the current fifth King Jigme Kheser Namgyel Wangchuck, was the job of creating an operational framework for the growth of GNH in his country.

Finding that the four pillars were not complete enough, the Royal Government of Bhutan initiated the Good Government Plus (GG+) in 2005. Then the Centre for Bhutan Studies and GNH Research worked on indicators that now classify the values into nine domains. They are:

  • Psychological wellbeing
  • Health
  • Education
  • Time use
  • Cultural diversity and resilience
  • Community vitality
  • Good governance
  • Ecology
  • Living standards

Can you imagine a day when your government might ask if these nine domains are being addressed before deciding on a policy? For example, what if deciding on a policy for immigration involved asking, “What policy will increase cultural diversity and resilience?”

Can you imagine a day when corporate boards and executives might ask themselves how happy they and their employees and customers are, using these nine domains? How are corporate policies affecting the health domain, for instance?

And can you imagine a day when you might ask yourself if the decisions you’re making in your own life are taking these nine domains into consideration? Is that decision you’re considering going to affect the ecology of the planet? Your relationship to ecology will actually affect your happiness.

Some evidence I saw that these measures are working in Bhutan: the clean, sparkling rivers, which were like something out of a dream. Plastic bags are illegal; stores give out fiber bags. Tobacco is illegal and you cannot bring it into the country. People wear traditional dress–the men wear elegant robes over dark or argyle socks and dark shoes. The women wear lovely long skirts topped by jackets with a shawl collar often in a contrasting color. There is only a small military presence. Buddhist temples and other historical and cultural sites are beautifully preserved, and prayer flags fly everywhere there is a holy site or particularly stunning view.

Of course the country still faces challenges. But I was struck by the spiritual underpinning or energy, if you will, that was palpable everywhere. I felt an air of kindness, an atmosphere of reflection, an attitude of appreciation. This doesn’t stem from isolation; even monks were talking on cell phones. But it felt as if people had it straight that technology was not the end point. What they’re after is working with nature and with our own gifts, promoting what every human longs for: happiness.

 

 

 

What Kids Taught Me about the Active Imagination

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

 

Since I was in love with photography, I wanted everyone else to be as well (nothing like the fervor of the converted.) So,I decided to teach small group photography classes in my living room.

Right away, it was clear to me that I raced through the part about f-stops and dove into explorations about light, the energetic nature of matter, and the spiritual elements of photography. After listening to me for one lesson, an adult student approached me and said she thought her son should study with me.

Billy was learning disabled, though in those days there was no label for that. Frustrated by school and in need of a success experience, Billy would “get’ the right-brained way I taught photography. Would I give him lessons?

I had another close friend with a daughter Mary, who was also having learning problems. So for $5 an hour, I worked with the two of them every week for 1 ½ years.  As a former classroom teacher, I had already formed a strong curiosity about why certain kids weren’t learning. Now I was studying all I could find about the new discoveries about the right and left brain. I felt I was being led on a treasure hunt.

The exercises I designed for Billy and Mary became the basis of curricula I would design and teach in both public and private schools. As an artist-in-residence for the South Pasadena, CA school district, I had the privilege of doing a photography project with 60 5th graders. It was called “Seen one Rock, Seen ‘Em All,”( a brazen slam at Ronald Reagan, who had made that comment about national parks.)

I gave each student a rock, and led them through a guided imagery exercise where they allowed their active imagination to play with the inner picture of that rock, allowing it to become part of a larger scene and story. I had them draw the scene and write the story.

Now the fun began. Their next challenge was to figure out how to make a photograph of that drawing, using the rock and other objects. “That’s not fair!” some of them began to protest. “You didn’t tell us we’d have to make this into a photograph! I wouldn’t have thought of something this complicated if I had known!” said one.

The student, Jack, showed me a drawing of a rock that had become an island surrounded by water, topped with trees, and blown by a strong wind causing big waves. “How am I going to do this?” he said as if it were obviously impossible.

It was a class in problem-solving, so I hinted that he might think of movie sets and dioramas. I teamed the kids up and gave them a week until the day we’d set up a simple photo studio and make the photographs, which they would then print themselves later in the studio I had now rented.

The photo above is an example of the student work, which became a school exhibit. Anna “saw’ her rock (at the top of this article) ‘turn into” her ballet slipper, well-worn from all her attempts to make it into a toe shoe, successfully poised on top of the rock it resembled. The hardness of the rock matched her hard work. The beauty of the shape matched the beauty she captured in her treasured slipper. Beautiful, I thought, and a deep message about how important dance was to Anna.

As for Jack, I couldn’t wait to see how my biggest protester would solve his problem. And so I grinned proudly when, on the day of our shoot, he walked in  with his partner, holding a plastic tub he would fill with water, tiny trees he’d made of paper, and a hair dryer.

Seen one rock, seen ’em all? Sorry, Reagan. I don’t see them that way. And neither do kids, who can see more than we think, when we give them a chance to keep their imaginations alive.

Passages

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

 

In my 30’s I began to photograph in earnest. Now that was back in the ‘70’s, so picture me stepping out in a safari-like photographer’s vest and smoking brown More cigarettes. (The More bohemian and rebellious, the better.)

I set out to explore the other side of the tracks. Mind you, I was raised in San Marino, CA, bastion at that time of white privilege, the John Birch Society (sorry if some of these references are too representative of another generation) and suspicion of “others not like us.”

I feel shame as I write this, but it’s my history.

I had lived in NYC and taught public school there for three years, so I was well “over” San Marino. But now in my adult, parental state (and back in the state of CA) I had only moved four miles away, into South Pasadena. Lawns still looked green, houses gentrified, and attitudes were changing slowly. I was in the mood for a rebellion.

I went north, into the “ghetto” of Pasadena at that time, an area full of lovely old Victorians neglected because of poverty and segregation. My camera was my passport. And architecture was my proof that I was documenting unappreciated treasures. I gained entrance into a new neighborhood and a new form of education.

What was valuable about “the old architecture” in society and in my own being that had been neglected? And what needed tearing down and renovating? What was family about? What if all the races lived together and formed one? I photographed these questions.

It was a time of great opening for me. My Victorian grandmother had passed on, and so had her way of life and viewing the world, graceful as it was. My parents appeared confused: pleased to offer me two lamb chops for dinner at the mahogany dining room table, and willing to work hard for my excellent education…yet mired in the ‘50’s view of life. I was just now trying to emerge from it.

The photograph you see is just one of the many photographs I took during that period. I had a show at a hip Pasadena gallery, showcasing several years of 35mm architectural photography. I considered it a tribute to a history that was passing, evolving.

I chose to show you this photograph because I took it in a beautiful old Pasadena classic house that I admired. On the chaise, upholstered in the perfect fabric for that period, lay a book that had been seminal for me: Gail Sheehy’s Passages. After all, I was in one.

Out the window lay some other land, one that was natural and still impressionistic and undefined for me—but one that was beckoning me. So I colored it with Marshall’s Oils, to represent new life. The path ahead.

What is your ‘old world’ now that you wish to honor as it passes and evolves? What would you photograph to represent it? And how does the new one look? What will be your passageway into that new way of seeing, that new life?

The creative wellspring

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

 

When I was about 30, I entered therapy, thinking that what I wanted was a better marriage, but unconsciously beginning a long journey into becoming more of my real self. I wanted wholeness, the real meaning of the word “healing.”

During that same period, I bought my first 35mm camera and began taking pictures of my two adorable daughters. And then, photographing in a much more serious way. A symbolic way.

One of my photos was of a cutting from a houseplant  The photo was of slender roots emerging into the water contained in a Mason jar.

 I made a print of my photo and gave it to my therapist, explaining that it was a self-portrait. I was like that cutting now—severed from my past and growing my own tentative versions of new roots. When I finished therapy years later, I gave my therapist a tree! I had grown, and now identified as not just the tree, but also a bird whose nest was in the tree. I could fly and also had a safe home. (And, I later wrote Flying Lessons!)

All of this was expressed best by my creative self, who also took up the guitar, filled numerous journals with bad poetry, and played the piano and sang sad old standards. She (that creative self) had come out of the closet, and the observer in me wondered why the explosion of self-expression.

Along with that creativity came a flood of sexuality (I’ve always been a late bloomer) and a deep dive into spirituality. I began to ask myself, “Do creativity, sexuality and spirituality all emerge from the same wellspring?”  And, “What is their connection to my healing journey?”

I’ve had plenty of opportunities to pursue those questions as a writer, photographer and two-time breast cancer survivor. And, I’ve watched many clients now over the years. And here’s what I think:

1.     Creativity, sexuality and spirituality are all forms of the Life Force, and so they do all emerge from a deep wellspring within us, and within the Universe as a whole.

2.     Healing happens from a deeper place than the mind, which understands little of the Creation and its miracles.

3.     When we begin to heal, Life Force is released, and we can’t help wanting to express the joys and sorrows we experience when that happens.

 

4.     When we express ourselves in any creative form, the life force has a place to be seen, appreciated and anchored in our system.

5.     And so, creativity begets more healing. It’s a positive cycle

So here’s the takeaway for you:

1.     What form of creativity is YOU, right now? Remember, it doesn’t have to be art. Cooking, gardening, decorating, creating something beautiful…these are creative acts.

2.     What does it feel like in your body when the life force is moving through you? Call on that feeling and trust that it is healing you in every way.

3.  What if you trusted that just giving yourself time to create might heal all that does not feel well or whole or right within you?

Even if you’re in a period of your life where you feel cut off from your self or your past, you may be growing the roots of a great tree. See if you can trust the life force within you to show you the way.

An Audience with Ansel

Friday, April 12th, 2013

 

It was the summer of 1983, and I was soaring. Griegs’ pianto concerto was blaring in my brown VW bus, and I was heading up Highway 1 to Carmel. I had a date with Ansel Adams.

 I had taken all the photography courses my community college offered, and had moved through a “Masters’ course” at UCLA. So, feeling pretty heady, I applied for the Master’s Class Ansel Adams would give in Carmel for his last time.

It was now or never. My work wasn’t anything like his, so I doubted I would be accepted. Among the slides I submitted with my application, not one was of monumental scenery. Mine were architectural or landscape details and portraits of women,  and none of them demonstrated any of the darkroom expertise for which Ansel was famous. But I had been accepted, and was now on my way to join 59 other students and to meet four other artist/faculty members. I was thrilled.

The 60 of us were divided into four groups of 15 each. Every day for five days, each group would work with a different artist. In the morning, we would see the artist’s work and hear about their experiences, techniques and artistic influences and theories. In the afternoon, we would show our portfolios and get the artist’s critical guidance. Exciting and somewhat terrifying.

I got to eat, sleep, talk and dream photography for five days–the complete opposite of my life as a mother and part-time photographer/teacher at home. My favorite faculty member was Barbara Morgan, who was in her ’80s. Every time she looked at our work, she turned our prints upside down. “I think we should turn everything upside down,” she explained. If it didn’t work as a balanced design, it didn’t work.

On the final day, our group went to Ansel and Virginia’s house for our day with him. He held court in a gallery room with skylights above, his grand piano in the center, and his famous prints ringing the walls. (In my grainy snapshot, you can see the before and after versions of Moonlight Over Hernandez.)

In his 80’s, Ansel was getting ready to retire. Virginia was his charming hostess, showing us the house and serving refreshments. His darkroom assistant, John Sexton, now a renowned photographer/teacher, showed us the famous darkroom and shared some secrets.

Ansel, the Elvis of the photographic world back then, joked, told stories, and wasn’t that much into teaching. But as the inventor of the Zone System and the technique of pre-visualizing a finished print with just the gradations of black and white one wants, he left me a basic and enduring legacy: photography is all about chasing the light.

And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since: chasing the light. Ansel cared about light more than his “school” of photography over someone else’s. I took it as a supreme compliment when, at our student exhibition the last night, he pointed out one of my “Women in Hats,” a color print with layers of Marshall oils (not his style.)

I figure that even though I’ve taken “chasing the light” to a spiritual level, he wouldn’t judge my “school,” and might appreciate how he inspired me.

Every time I walk down the hall to my home office, I pass a framed poster of his Aspens in Northern New Mexico,which he signed for me that night. Ever the flirt, he punctuated his autograph with a wicked smile and an unmistakable wink.

If you were to look at it, you might not see the wink. But for me, the light in it is still there.

Out of the Dark Room

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

The first photo I ever printed in a darkroom was at summer camp in the 7th grade. The photo was of a girl  pouring a bucket of water over another girl’s head. Hilarious, right? (Remember 7th grade humor?)

My career as a comedienne ceased abruptly, but I would return to photography as my passion and art form. In college I studied in France and returned with eight boxes of slides. Remember slides? Eight rolls doesn’t seem like much for six months nowadays, but they were enough to hook me for life.

In my ‘20’s when I had children, I knew I wanted to take good pictures of them. Serendipity struck when my husband bought a used Nikkormat (another historical reference) from a friend. Just at the time when I needed to learn what an f-stop was, I won a raffle at a local arts center. The prize was a photography course.

I was in love. The teacher held class at her house, which was full of pillows and padded sculptures covered in fabric that had been silk screened with black and white photos. It had never occurred to me that photography was an art.

I took every course my community college offered. I learned how to lock myself in my closet at home so I could take exposed film out of the camera and load it into a developing tank. I studied the masters, determined to become one.

I had a darkroom in each house. When the kids were little, I set an enlarger up in the garage or the laundry room at night. When we moved to a house with a basement, I could leave everything in place. The family got used to my disappearing down the stairs to do magic with only an amber light on.

Maybe what finally drove me to rent a studio was my habit of leaving bottles of developing solution on the kitchen counter next to the olive oil. It became evident that I needed some separation between my growing profession and my personal life.

In this blog I’m going to share some of the things that developed in my darkrooms and in others I set up in schools, in my studio, and in my head, where I processed images from my active imagination. Images, I found, had power. And I had power to create them. Which meant I had power to see things…through a different lens.

That was the adventure. And it still is. I want to share with you what seeing differently has meant to me and to those I’ve worked with—and how photography led me into healing work and eventually on to the shamanic path. It’s really about creativity, and how that part of us is hooked up to the Exit sign in those dark rooms we inhabit sometimes. Creativity can get us out—into the light.

Stay tuned.

Photographing the Unseen

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

Most people approach photography in a documentary way photographing an event, a person or an object in order to remember it, or to say, “This is how it is.” We tell a story of what we see. But another way to approach photography is through the question, “What have I not seen?”

Now we’re on a treasure hunt! And rather than thinking of “shooting” something with the camera (or phone,) we might think of opening the lens to something new. Just writing that opens my heart to the possibility of a magic moment where I might discover…anything.

Instead of “capturing” a moment, I’m willing to be more passive and let something new present itself to me. It’s the difference between a reporter covering an event and two friends of lovers having an intimate conversation. I’m open today to having a heart-to-heart with the Creation.

This kind of experience opens our inner eye. We find that what was formerly unseen was there all along, but we weren’t seeing it. Maybe we weren’t slowing down enough. Or maybe we weren’t broadening our vision. Or getting close enough. Or maybe we were being too literal and saying to ourselves, “There’s a leaf.” Instead of looking at that object as a way for us to see how light acts.

And what happens when our inner eye is opened? Well, my experience is usually gratitude. Appreciation. That wonderful expansive feeling that comes from being opened to the beauty of something or someone.

So here’s an assignment for you:

Go out for a medicine walk using your camera. The kind of camera makes no difference. Set your intention by asking the Universe to reveal to you something you haven’t seen before. It could be small–like the inside of a flower or a curve of the mountain, or the way your friend’s nose looks when she laughs. You aren’t after masterpieces; the purpose is to open your inner eye.

Share what you find–others would like to see! And tell us how your inner eye opened. That is, when you saw what you saw, what did you see about yourself, or the world, or a way you could be? You can post photos at Facebook.com/PamelaHale9.