Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Seeking balance

“The most important human endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and even our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life.” ~Albert Einstein

Okay, what I am about to say here goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: seek balance in your life.

The Greeks, specifically Aristotle, were really on to something when they talked about the "golden mean". They believed that anything in excess produced imbalance and disharmony. Their philosophy centered around the concepts of beauty and truth primarily but we can apply their thinking to everyday principles and the way in which we choose to live our lives too. We need not be a Romantic poet either to appreciate the benefits of nurturing these qualities within us.

We all have a natural homeostasis...a plumb-line of optimal health if you will. When the weight shifts to one side we get sick, flounder, fail to thrive. If we veer too far off the path, whether it be through an addiction, a distorted way of thinking or anything at all that swings the pendulum off course we experience negative consequences. Sometimes we realize when this is happening, sometimes we don't. Sometimes we WANT to escape, to be somewhere else, to remove ourselves from the path of certainty. However, as time passes the effects will catch up with us.

Perhaps I am rambling here but my point is that seeking balance really is the path to health and happiness. I can only speak for myself in these blog entries but perhaps what I have to say might resonate with you as well. When the health of my family was in jeopardy a couple of years ago I fell into a pattern of disharmony with myself and the world, all the while trying to make my way creating paintings that chronicled this difficult time. I got sick as a result and it took me awhile to get back on track, but I did eventually get better, healthier, and am now thriving. We are amazing creatures; our bodies and minds really are our temples, places to appreciate and to never take for granted. Our physical bodies are very forgiving but we must treat them with respect too. We must nurture our entire beings, and in turn we will have the energy to do great things.

Imbalance can occur externally too. We can fall into unhealthy patterns with others, with food, with anything that is taken to the extreme, even exercise, which is good for us...must be done in moderation! I try to focus on positive friendships and relationships and pare away associations that are not fulfilling, that sap my mind and body of energy and thus impair the flow of creativity.

The key is knowing when the compass is spinning, when we are off course, when to regroup and prune away unhealthy areas of our lives. We are all amazing works of art...each one of us. We all deserve respect and happiness. It is easy to undermine optimal health by letting ourselves fall into negative habits. Fortunately our bodies and minds give us clues: we get a cold, the scale goes up , our mood is down consistently. When this happens check yourself and make changes. Sounds easy, but often it is very difficult. Chocolate just tastes too darned good...yet in excess..well, you know the answer.

I think that fundamentally we know in our hearts when we are out of our natural homeostasis. We can sense it in it's more subtle forms, and of course it slaps us in the face in more pathological manifestations. We all have the power within us to make great changes, to self-actualize, to find the sweet spot of effortless effort within our lives. The time is now, anything is possible and when we are well balanced, health and happiness will follow.

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving”~Albert Einstein

Monday, July 14, 2008

Be Here Now

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

It's the truth: we cannot change the past. However, the present is ours to meld and do with what we choose. I am a ruminator by nature and thus is so easy, especially when working in solitude at the easel, to drift into "what if" scenarios... to revisit past choices and decisions that seemed wise at the time but in retrospect become overshadowed with doubt. I have to continually, persistently, fight to stay in the moment.

My point is that as we all know, the past is finished, the future will never arrive...we only have the present moment. In our helter skelter lifestyle the invariable stresses brought on by technological advancements displace us from the present moment and we are relegated to a state of chronic, elevated stress. I am a caffeine addict and thus my adrenals are probably already burned out. However I take solace knowing that right now...at this very moment, anything is possible. It is a very liberating feeling to realize that each moment is ours to do with as we choose.

I am house sitting for a friend of mine and madly biked across town today to get my heart rate up and also to make sure his place was secure. I thought of him hiking out on a glacier in The Yukon Territory and had to fight feelings of envy. I take an iota of comfort in knowing that I will be able to view his pictures upon his return. I also buoy my spirits with the positive thoughts that I too one day will get up to visit the northern areas of North America. The beauty of generous friends with good hearts is that there are often people ready to extend some hospitality and help in the process of exploration. Until then however I am focusing on inward exploration.

Setting goals for oneself is healthy I believe. To set goals and not shy away from their seeming unattainability is wise and helps to bring them forth in the world. The latest addition to my list of things to accomplish within the next five years is to write a book. It will be a travel/art book with a focus on paintings of remote locations in Canada with accompanying journals and reflections during and after the sojourns. I am going to travel to two locations on each coast of Canada within the next year. Newfoundland, as I have mentioned previously, is happily crawling closer with each passing day. The rocky crags and warm, generous folks from Newfoundland will surely make for some exciting paintings which I will work on over the next year. In addition, I am traveling to an isolated little 3 acre island off the coast of Salt Spring Island next spring. There is a small cabin, an outhouse, a lovely copse of trees, a beach and most importantly, no power. I will probably stay on the island for up to two weeks. I will sketch, write and collect reference for another body of paintings that will try to capture the overwhelming beauty of that little pocket of British Columbia. I have included a couple of pictures of the cabin and island. When the large body of paintings are complete and I have compiled my notes I will attempt to get it published. This is all in my mind but it is a goal nonetheless....and I am all about trying my hardest to attain what I set out to do in this life.

I wonder if people would find this idea for a book of interest. If so, please send me an email or comment if you are so inclined. An idea has to be viable in order to work. I has to offer something of value to the audience. I hope that my idea will come to fruition and I really believe that with enough energy and effort anything is truly possible.

I do not care for tattoos usually. While they can be beautiful I have never been inclined to get one...that is until my final year of university. I adore William Shakespeare and more specifically, his tragedies (no big surprise there). Hamlet is his greatest work I believe and Polonius' words to Laertes have always hit a chord with me: "The above all: to thine own self be true". He speaks the truth indeed. What good are we to family and friends if we possess a counterfeit attitude or intention to ourselves or others? Aren't we diluting our true potential if we are less than genuine to ourselves, however unconscious? As my friend Conrad says "bring it all to the table". Hide behind nothing, regret nothing, and let the chips fall where they may. I had Polonius' words tattooed on my inner arm, a place that I look often, so that when I err in intent, waver in my resolve for any reason, I will see its wisdom.

My prescription to you for your day tomorrow is to bring it all to the table. Have a coffee, fire up those adrenals and remember : to thine own self be true-always.

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in, forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You will begin it well and serenely” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, July 4, 2008

Encounters At The End Of The World

"The kinds of landscapes I try to find in my films...exist only in our dreams. For me a true landscape is not just a representation of a desert or a forest. It shows an inner state of mind, literally inner landscapes, and it is the human soul that is visible through the landscapes presented in my films."~Werner Herzog

I took a trip to Toronto today to see Werner Herzog's newest film, Encounters At The End Of The World. It is playing at The Cumberland theatre, a great theatre that always seems to be playing the movies that I want to see the most.

I really enjoy Herzog's films. He possesses this wonderful quirkiness which comes across in his work. They are quite idiosyncratic...lovely long shots of grass blowing, rivers flowing or subjects of a documentary just looking at the camera for an extended period of time. They are thoughtful films, careful without being precious, emotional without being saccharine. Besides, anyone who can be shot during an interview and continue on with the interview is a cool guy in my books.

Encounters At The End Of The World takes a look at the intrepid people who call Antarctica home. We also learn about the geological aspects of the land, it's enormous active volcano that can unexpectedly spew magma at any time, its icebergs, and a host of indigenous flora and fauna as well. Herzog maintains that he stipulated to his sponsors that he was NOT going to study penguins or make a 'penguin movie'. He does have a brief look at them of course. One moving scene has a penguin who breaks off from the group waddling to the ocean many kilometers away. The little bird embarks on a fatal journey by himself, towards the mountains which lie hundreds of kilometers away. To see this small bird, a spec of black dwarfed by the landscape, heading off to his inevitable demise, broke my heart but I had to realize that it was another cog in the wheel of nature and to try to accept its sadness and move on.

Herzog also interviewed dozens of people who work and live on Antarctica. From scientists to dishwashers with PhDs, all have a story to share. Philosophers who work as truckers, world travelers all, they are a unique bunch who choose to live at the end of the world. Werner Herzog seems to be attracted to those that flourish on the margins of society, people who shun convention and make their mark on society's fringes. He also seems fascinated by impossible, sometimes doomed journeys. Aguirre: Wrath Of God was very disturbing for this reason. Plus, Klaus Kinski just petrifies me-period. His unpredictable behavior in the wake of a failed pilgrimage to find El Dorado will resonate with me for a long time.

We are pulled into these adventures with Herzog's infectious inquisitiveness. The scientists in Encounters At The End Of The World love what they do and are humbled by the world in which they live. I too was blown away by the beautiful creatures who live in the frigid waters of the Ross Sea.

I recently rented Grizzly Man again. This is another documentary style film by Herzog that examines the life and tragic death of Timothy Treadwell, an eccentric naturalist, bear enthusiast and filmmaker in his own right. Treadwell lived in Hallo Bay on the Katmai coast of Alaska every summer for over a decade, studying and living with grizzly bears. Even after a second viewing I shake my head and smile when I see footage of Treadwell. He was a singularly unique individual with a passion for bears that unfortunately, ultimately proved fatal. As a longtime friend of Treadwell's said, Timothy would have wanted to die that way, doing what he loved to do. It is individuals like Werner Herzog and Timothy Treadwell that make our world a more interesting place. They are the wheat cleaved from the chaff. There are some lovely shots in the film, with Herzog almost steering the film lightly, letting Treadwell helm most of the direction, or so it seems. Werner Herzog opens the door for us to step into these epochs of time and place, these far flung lands that hold the promise of the untrodden path. I think that we are fascinated by those who have the courage to step off the grid of map and mind. I know I am.

"It is my firm belief, and I say this as a dictum, that all these tools now at our disposal, these things part of of this explosive evolution of means of communication, mean we are now heading for an era of solitude. Along with this rapid growth of forms of communication at our disposal — be it fax, phone, email, internet or whatever — human solitude will increase in direct proportion." ~Werner Herzog

Listening to: Coverage of Wimbledon as I work at my easel
Reading: Under The Banner Of Heaven by Jon Krakauer