Thursday, March 31, 2016

Audacious Ekphrasis

In December I accepted the role of Editor-in-Chief for Bacopa Literary Review. Below is a copy of my first post on our Editors Blog:

If you want to know more about me, Googling Mary Bast will first evoke echoes of my other life as an Enneagram coach and related books. But I've also written flash memoir and several forms of poetry including found poetry and ekphrasis, an audacious poetic form that's among many we're encouraging for Bacopa 2016.
You'll find a long history and many definitions of ekphrasis. I like the most open, contemporary version best:
Ekphrasis: the intersection of verbal and visual arts.
I first learned about ekphrastic poetry in a workshop with Melanie Almeder, who drew our attention to two famous poems written in response to Pieter Brueghel's painting, The Fall of Icarus: William Carlos Williams' "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" and W.H. Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts." 

Note that Williams' poem to some degree follows the tradition of describing the visual scene (a farmer was ploughing / his field / the whole pageantry / of the year was / awake tingling / with itself), while Auden's interpretation is a bit wider (About suffering they were never wrong, / the old Masters: how well they understood / Its human position: how it takes place / While someone else is eating or opening a window).

Almeder invited workshop participants to write our own poems in response to the Brueghel painting, encouraging us to range as far as our muses would go. My poem "plummet" (published in Bacopa Literary Review 2012) imagined Icarus as a woman:

there is an Icarus
a woman who flies 

on intricate
feathered web
of covert


she breathes faster
learns to soar

the admonition
do not fly too high

her efforts full
of sky
of wind

her breasts
still flecked with honey
dripped from wings' wax

heavy with her father's
heavier than water

when she dives
no sun's light
scuffs the surface
As a visual artist I've explored other ways to interpret "the intersection of verbal and visual arts." For example, in response to Kim Addonizio's poem "Divine" (Oh hell, here's that dark wood again. / You thought you'd gotten through it--), I created my acrylic painting, "Oh hell, here's that dark wood again." Then I reacted to my own painting with the poem "Backdraft" (again the dark wood. / Guardian of the Abyss hovering above / like a gold flame to incinerate what's left of my life). 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Developing Intuition

In The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals, Gavin de  Becker described a childhood where his ability to sniff out his mother's moods quite literally meant survival. As an adult he parlayed this keenly developed intuition into a world-renowned business -- serving victims of domestic abuse and stalking, evaluating threats to political and media figures, and proposing new laws to help manage violence. His book could be a manual for healthy intuition:
I have gotten great benefits from taking the voice of skepticism I used to apply to my intuition and applying it instead to the dreaded outcomes I imagined were coming. Worry will almost always buckle under a vigorous interrogation. If you can bring yourself to apply your imagination to finding the possible favorable outcomes of undesired developments, even if only as an exercise, you'll see that it fosters creativity. . . Worry is a choice, and the creative genius we apply to it can be used differently, also by choice.
We're all trained to be analytical, and consequently to doubt intuition that isn't tied to direct knowing or experience. In her introduction to Inner Knowing, Helen Palmer admitted that her "anchor in intellectualism made it difficult to accept even profoundly convincing intuition as being meaningful and real." Palmer was referring to several incidents of her own inner knowing, the first of which occurred when she was deeply involved in the East Coast movement of resistance to the Vietnam War: "My imagination became as believable and solid as the furniture in my room." She knew, for example, that a friend must take a route across the Canadian border different from the one planned, and later learned that others who took the original route were stopped and arrested.

Many people describe intuition as a hunch based on experience. In a New York Times review (1/16/05), David Brooks summarized the opening story of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. The Getty Museum in California had planned to purchase a supposedly ancient Greek statue for almost $10 million. A team of experts with state-of-the-art measurement tools had taken more than a year to assure its authenticity. Then several art experts looked at the statue and knew instantly it was a fake. When asked to explain how they knew, one said he heard the word fresh, which seemed odd to him, but on further examination he realized the statue was too "fresh" to be that ancient. Another felt a wave of intuitive repulsion. The outcome? "The teams of analysts who did 14 months of research turned out to be wrong. The historians who relied on their initial hunches were right."

I encourage you to develop trust in your hunches, whether experience-based or seeming to come out of nowhere, the kind of intuition that has served me so well and that led Helen Palmer to found the Center for the Investigation and Training of Intuition. Maybe you'll only feel a nudge. Something feels right about this, though I'm not sure why.

Dr. Michael Ray, author of Creativity in Business and The New Paradigm in Business, offered five truths about intuition.
  1. Intuition can be developed. You have intuition within you. Accept responsibility to develop your individual style of intuition.
  2. Intuition and reason are complements. Reason, experience, information and intuition are a powerful combination.
  3. Intuition is unemotional. It involves paying clear attention to the most appropriate alternative that comes from your creative Essence.
  4. Intuition thrives on action. Follow-through is important to make use of your creative ideas, and intuition is strengthened by seeing its manifest effects. 
  5. Intuition is mistake-free. Sometimes your intuitions will be on target and sometimes not. The more you develop it, the more often it will be on target. Your intuition will grow when you have faith that it doesn't make mistakes -- it just offers new possibilities.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Mindfulness: Experience the Experience

Listening to Dr. Ronald Siegel in a Mindfulness webinar, I was struck by his observation that the common factor underlying all psychological disorders is "experiential avoidance."

Notice how you typically handle painful experiences. Do you tell yourself "I can't stand it" or "If I let myself go there I'll never be happy again"? When we retreat from life this way we deny our own healing resources. When we're mindful we allow ourselves to be present to experience.

Mindfulness is not limited to meditating on a prayer cushion for 20 minutes morning and night. "Many of us are so busy," Dr. Siegel writes, "that the thought of adding one more thing--no matter how potentially beneficial--is just too much. The good news is that mindfulness practice can be taken up in different ways to suit different lifestyles."
Here's an excerpt from "Nature Meditation" in his book, The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems:
Turn your attention fully to the world around you. If you can get to a window or go outside, use the natural world as a focus. If you need to stay in a room and can't go to the window, you can do the same thing with the walls, floor, and objects in the room. The idea is to systematically look at everything in your visual field and describe it. If your mind wanders to thoughts or body sensations, just gently bring it back to the outside world. As with walking meditation, this can be used as a formal meditation practice, replacing breath meditation during particularly anxious times, or as an informal practice as you go about your day.