change initiative

Mind: Projecting the Shadow

I have been enthralled with the Shadow as of late, and I devoured The Shadow Effect: Illuminating the Hidden Power of Your True Self by Deepak Chopra, Debbie Ford, and Marianne Williamson. The shadow is an idea that keeps resonating with me, and I am continuing the exploration of my shadow and beginning to understand when I am projecting.

I often sleep walk through life, unconscious of the many motives that drive me, and in this state the shadow thrives. I have stuffed down all those undesirable things and have denied their existence. I have covered over my anger, my fear, and my desires, and I have gone on with life as normal. Though buried in the unconscious, the shadow manifests in many ways in my everyday life, and it finds way to sabotage my peace of mind. I just need to pay attention to these moments so that I can begin to embrace and disarm the shadow. Only then can I find peace and bring a sense of wholeness to my life.

How do I know when I am projecting?

Projection is actually quite easy to spot, and I am amazed at how readily the shadow shows itself when you know what to look for. However, when I am not mindful, the shadow easily stays disguised, but I am learning to recognize its disguises.

I am projecting anytime my temper flairs for the littlest reason and I lash out. I am projecting when I get defensive and I make others wrong so that I can feel right. I am projecting when I blame someone else and feel that it’s “us vs. them”. I am projecting when I am repulsed and disgusted by others or when I feel good at another’s suffering.

It’s all too easy for me to see these reactions as justifiable - as merely reactions to bad situations or bad people. But this is how the shadow stays hidden. It cloaks itself in reasonableness. But these outbursts and gut reactions are indicators of my shadow lashing out and projecting my fears and my anxieties onto others. When I get angry and lash out at others, I am really angry at myself for certain failings and certain feelings. When I get defensive and see the world as “us vs. them” I am justifying behavior that is probably hypocritical. I seem to say, “It’s not me. I’m not that way. It’s them. It’s their fault.” But it IS really me. I AM really that way. When I am repulsed or disgusted by others, I am only projecting my own revulsion and disgust at myself. In all of these cases, I see something of myself in others - something about myself that I do not like, something that I am ashamed of, something that I fear about myself. These are the dark and negative aspects of my shadow.

The shadow’s projection, however, is not always negative. As Robert Johnson says in Owning Your Shadow, we bury a lot of gold in our shadow. We bury a lot of our strengths and a lot of our potential in our shadow afraid to be seen as bragging. We have learned it’s better to be humble, it’s better to dim our brightness then to shine. “Who does he think he is?” and “Don’t get too big for your britches!” are the sentiments of society that often echo in my head. So, I bury these strengths in my shadow afraid to shine, and whenever I am enthralled, inspired, and overwhelmingly drawn to another, I am projecting. Like the negative projection, these are times when I see something of myself in others, but it’s a much more positive. In The Shadow Effect, Debbie Ford says, “Whatever inspires you is an aspect of yourself.” If I am inspired by someone’s amazing creativity, then I see a glimmer of that creativity in myself even though I may vehemently deny and downplay my creativity. If I am drawn to someone who is spiritual and compassionate, those are qualities that I, too, possess even though I may feel myself to be cold and apathetic. If I am inspired by someone’s charm and charisma, I have these same aspects buried inside of me even though I may believe myself to be socially awkward. All of these qualities that attract me and inspire me are aspects of myself that I see in others. I may need to coax them out of my shadow. I may need to develop them to their fullest potential, but they are there. I possess them, and I can shine brightly if I can only fully embrace them.

The key to embracing the shadow is to catch myself at those moments when I am projecting. Then I can shine a light into my shadow and begin to recognize what’s triggering the projection - the darkness and the light. Only then can I become whole.

Body: Revelations About Food

I love food. I always have, and no matter how poor we were growing up, we always had food on the table, even if it was only bologna sandwiches. My mom is a wonderful cook and baker, and her food was always such a comfort.

Because of my love of food, I’ve struggled with my weight, and growing up, I was a bit chubby. Then as I hit adolescence and then adulthood, my weight fluctuated up and down like a yo-yo as I lost and gained weight. Needless to say, I have a few self-esteem issues related to my body and my weight, and a lot of my emotional baggage is tied up in body image and food.

So, I’ve come to understand that many people, myself included, use food not as fuel for the body, but as an emotional release or as a way to fill a void. We use food for so many reasons other than to fuel our bodies. We use it to celebrate. We use it to mourn. We use it to offer our condolences. We use it as a welcome to the neighborhood. We use it as an antidepressant. We use for comfort and satisfaction. And we self medicate with food as we try to fill our emotional emptiness.

For me, food has always equated to comfort, and as I have struggled with my emotional baggage, it has been a constant source of comfort in my life. But it’s a nasty cycle. I would eat to feel comforted, to feel satisfied, and then be disgusted with all that I ate cursing my body and the excess weight. I would wallow in the self pity that I didn’t have the will power - that I couldn’t maintain the lost weight. And I would eat more, gain more weight. Feel worse. At some point, I would lose some of the weight, feel better about myself, but then fall back into bad eating habits as life got unbalanced and more stressful. And the weight would come back, and I’d feel bad about myself again. My life has been a lot of self-sabotage.

As I struggle now to bring positive and sustainable change to my life. I need to free myself of the emotional hold food has on me and use food for fuel not comfort.

As I kid, I loved sugary cereal for breakfast, and as an adult, I lived off bagels. Both of which are mighty tasty, but not very nutritional - high in carbs, low in fat, but also low in protein. Not the best way to fuel up at the beginning of the day.

Since I’ve switched to a more whole-food, plant-based diet, I start my day in a much better way. I still eat cereal, but it’s of my own making, and it’s packed with a lot of nutrition including protein. Using old fashioned rolled oats as a base, I add some nuts, seeds, and fresh fruit that I top with a little agave nectar, cinnamon, and vanilla soy milk for a chewy, sweet yet yummy and hearty cold cereal. I mix a big batch of the oats, nuts and seeds in a resealable container and cut up the fresh fruits each morning - blueberries and strawberries are my favorite.

Here’s my basic cereal recipe:

8-10 cups of old fashioned rolled oats
approx. 2 cups of sliced almonds
approx. 2 cups of chopped walnuts
approx. 1 cup of raw sunflower seeds
approx. 1/4 cup of golden flax seeds
occasionally I’ll add some sesame seeds as well

Art: Inspiration

A few of my current works in progress

“Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work” - Chuck Close

I’m always asked about how I come up with my ideas and where I get my inspiration. I keep coming back to this quote by painter Chuck Close. I think inspiration is one of the biggest myths about being artist - one of those mysterious notions that artists like to perpetuate. It makes the artistic process more enigmatic.

In part, I blame the Greeks and their idea of the Muses - divine goddesses responsible for inspiring the arts. This idea of inspiration as a divine and external intervention has been perpetuated up until this day. And it keeps a lot of people, even artists, from realizing that they have something unique and valuable to say. Many of us think of the tortured and tormented artist struggling with his or her demons to bring into being the great poem, the grand novel, or the earth shaking painting. Art becomes a cosmic struggle.

But that’s too simple, too overwhelming, and too paralyzing. Waiting for inspiration to strike is like waiting for lightning to strike - the odds are stacked against it occurring. Not that it won’t happen. People get struck by lightning everyday, especially when they’re holding onto a tall metal pole on top of a hill during a lightning storm. The odds go up. Artistic inspiration is like that. If I wait for it to strike, I sit around for a very long time staring at a blank page, canvas, or paper waiting for this divine idea to strike me from the ether. And nothing happens. But just as I recognize the conditions that increase the likelihood of lightning striking so that I can avoid it, I need to recognize the conditions that will increase the odds of “inspiration” striking. I need to set up those conditions.

But still, I don’t like the word. It’s too loaded. And it’s too easy to slough off the complete lack of making as due to the lack of inspiration. Days, weeks, months can pass, and I am still waiting for the Muse to show. It becomes a convenient excuse to pull out in my dry, unproductive times. It is easier to bemoan the fact that I have no inspiration, that my ideas aren’t good enough, and that my ideas are dumb, stupid, redundant, and unoriginal than to actual shut up and get to work.

But what many of us forget at times is that there is no inspiration. There is only the work. If I show up to the studio, to the journal, to the blank page and get to work, the work leads to ideas. The work leads to more work. Most of the time I have no idea what is going to happen. I may have an inkling about color, theme, or shapes - but no fully formed idea where I know exactly what it will be. If that were the case, why make the work. There’s nothing to discover. Nothing to learn. Nothing to excite me. Nothing to motivate me.

But I start with a mark unsure of where it will lead. I start with a color unsure of what the finished piece will be. But that’s the point - not to get caught up in the product. It’s about the process of discovery. If a piece doesn’t feel like it’s going in a direction I like, I may start again or I may embrace this piece as a challenge to overcome. Often, I start several pieces at the same time as I play with variations on a theme. Not all of my beginnings end in finished pieces. Only a fraction do, but the work leads to work. As I work, the momentum builds, and before long, I have, perhaps, a single piece that is working while the others stall. The individual pieces may stall, but the work doesn’t because I’m always working on multiple pieces. I can jump around and do a little something to one piece and a little something else to another. I can come back weeks or months later to those stalled pieces and find a way of resolving them, or I can leave them unresolved if their not working out. It’s all part of my process, and I still have learned and discovered something.

I do have my slow and unproductive periods, and I have my bouts with self doubt and stagnation. But working through those times in the journal keeps me engaged in the making and not sitting around for inspiration to knock on my door. I just have to remember that there is a natural ebb and flow to the art, but it all works out as long as I stay engaged.

Not only must I show up. I have to get to work.

Spirit: Resonance

In its simplest terms, resonance is the amplification of vibrations, and the smallest vibrations can build and build upon each other and have the greatest effects. Just check out the mere act of wind on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge causing its ultimate collapse in 1940. A similar thing can happen to an individual when he or she is doing the thing they most love to do - small things come together and amplify the satisfaction, the rewards, and the results. There is a resonance of the spirit in those moments. Deepak Chopra calls this “align[ing] with the force of dharma,” and though I most often associate dharma with the teachings of Buddha, in its most general sense dharma is “virtue or right living.” Ken Robinson calls it being in your element, and when you are in your element, you feel that you are doing what you were meant to do. For me, these are the moments when I come most alive - when I feel the resonance of the moment and I feel the most connected to the universe.

What resonates with my spirit? What causes that amplification of vibrations within me? What am I meant to do?

As I have mentioned before, art is my core and I am most in my element when I am connecting to my art. I feel completely present, completely at home, and completely at peace when I am making art and it just seems to flow from me. However another aspect of being an artist is sharing my love, my passion, my methods, my madness. In essence it is about teaching. I see my role as a teacher as an extension of my art. It comes from the same creative space.

But not all teaching elicits that deep satisfaction or resonates profoundly with my spirit. I earn most of my living from teaching art at a public high school in Northern Virginia, and unfortunately, in many ways it dims my spirit and doesn’t resonate with me. It is because teaching school is not solely about teaching. There are so many things that dilute the purity of the teaching experience. My educator friends probably know what I mean. Now don’t get me wrong, there are times when I come alive, when I see a spark in the eyes of a student, when a young artist “gets it.” But these moments are few and far between.

My spirit really lights up, when I am in a pure teaching experience. At conventions, conferences, workshops, retreats, and seminars where I can share my art, my experiences, and myself, I come alive. It is quite evident when I move people, when there is a dawning in their minds, when something that I share sparks something within them. The feedback is quite instant. Dave and I always have excited people coming up to us after a workshop or presentation and sharing their reactions, and fortunately, they have been overwhelmingly positive. We have also received countless emails about the impact that we have had. This makes it so apparent that what I do is having an impact.

But its not about the accolades, it’s not about selling more books or getting more opportunities (though all of that is good and I’m not discouraging it). It’s all about that sense of being in the moment doing what I feel I was meant to do. It’s about that feeling of being in my element and having an impact on the world. Quite frankly, I am out to change the world, and slowly, I am making a difference. I think of the thousands of teachers, artists, and students that I have impacted, and I think of all the people they have influenced. That is real resonance, and all because I do what I feel that I was meant to do.

What I do is simple, but it resonates with me and it resonates with others. These small ripples spread out amplified by what others do - what others bring to it. As the impact and the effects spread, the world changes, and I know that I am a part of that change.

Mind: Owning the Shadow

I’m an angry person.

That might be a shock to those of you who know me. I have been described as boisterous, loud, and exuberant, as well as quiet, to myself, and shy. I’ve even been described as cerebral and outright goofy, but angry is not something that readily comes to mind when others describe me, and that is simply because I hide it, except occasionally when I lose my temper with my students. I hold in the anger, and unfortunately it gets vented when I am by myself as my temper flairs at the traffic around me, idiotic things that I read on the Internet, and even at my animals at times (though I never kick them). But while I’m around people and until that anger can be released, I boil and seethe. Here lately that anger has been a growing part of my imbalance.

Anger and frustration are part of my shadow - the dark side of my persona where I hide the socially unacceptable parts of myself. Carl Jung first came up with the idea of the shadow when he developed his archetypes. The shadow is where we hide the violent tendencies, the sexual desires, the impulses, and the thoughts that society deems inappropriate and taboo. We all have a shadow, but many of us deny and repress it. We push down this darkness and wear a mask that we present to others. This mask is what Jung called the Persona. It is a flat projection, and it is not who we really are. It is how we want others to see us.

My mask is one of joviality, humor, and good heartedness, but in my shadow is a lot of anger, frustration, fear, and resentment. I hide it there. Bury it there. But as long as I deny it, I can never be whole. I will only be the mask while all these negativities bubble under the surface threatening to crack open the mask.

A few years ago, I read Robert A. Johnson’s Owning Your Own Shadow, and it resonated with me. But in my unbalanced state as of late, it is clear that I do not own my shadow as the anger and frustration have been boiling to the surface more and more. It is a negativity that is wearing on me, and it is clear that with such negativity and hostility, I am not happy. I don’t want to be an angry person whose temper boils over, and I need a change.

I have just begun reading The Shadow Effect: Illuminating the Hidden Power of Your True Self by Deepak Chopra, Debbie Ford, and Marianne Williamson, and like Johnson’s book, it is really resonating with me. Though I have just begun, one idea has caught my attention. It is the idea of PROJECTION. In the first part of the book, Chopra talks about the shadow and how we live in a “fog of illusion”. He states that the only way to become whole is to acknowledge and accept the shadow. He describes how the emergence of negative emotions such as anger and anxiety are signs that we are projecting our fears and our anxieties onto others. So, when my temper flairs, usually at the selfishness, shortsightedness, and lack of consideration of others, I am projecting the anger that I feel towards myself for those same things.

And to be honest, I can be very selfish, shortsighted, and inconsiderate of others. I am a very solitary person, and it is hard for me to rely on others. I keep to myself, bottle up so much, and cringe when I am imposed upon. Not the best attributes for someone who, at the same time, longs for connection and human contact. And here is where I seek balance and wholeness. This is what this entire Change Initiative is about - a way to become whole.

In my quest for this balance, I must be honest with myself. I must confront these darker aspects of myself. I must learn to see the signs when my shadow lashes out. It is OK to feel anger, frustration, fear, and anxiety, but if I allow them to dominate my thoughts, I cling to feelings of righteousness and superiority - feelings of “us vs. them”. I give into the shadow and perpetuate my suffering. The shadow takes over, and I forget the joy, the happiness, and only resentment and the feeling that “they're out to get me" remain.

I don’t want to be the angry person. I don’t want to feel the negativity, the contempt, the paranoia. I want to be vibrant and vital. I want to exude joy. I want to be content and at peace. I want wholeness and balance I am tired of the shadow running my life. I want to beam with light - not grow dim with the darkness.

Body: Inhabit the Body

I often move through this world without much thought or notice. My mind is preoccupied with so many thoughts that I often enter a room without remembering the reason for going in it. I often and spontaneously change my direction as I walk as I remember something that I have forgotten or get distracted by something along the way. I am constantly running into corners and doorways as I try to cut them short, and I often can’t remember doing many of the small, routine things that I do everyday. All of these things are because I rarely inhabit my body, and the motion of my body through space is an unconscious act. My mind twists and turns with so many thoughts that I’m not conscious of my body and give it very little to no thought.

I need to be more conscious of my body and it’s movement through the world. I need to be cognizant of it’s positions, postures, and motion. I need to be much more aware.

How do I inhabit my body? How do I become more present with how my body occupies space?

A thought from some Buddhist reading has stuck with me over the last few years. I remember reading some instructions on how to meditate, and it said something along the lines that everything has its proper posture, not just meditation. This makes me think of my horrific posture, the way I slouch, lean, slump, and hunch. No wonder my back and shoulders constantly ache. So, I’ve been thinking about what the proper posture would be for sitting, standing, walking, relaxing, making art, driving, and all those other daily activities and motions. That poor posture is a sure way to keep my body out of balance and invite in those ache and pains. Proper posture brings balance and centeredness, and invited in a feeling of being grounded.

Over the last few days, I have been trying to be more conscious of my body and catch myself slouching, hunching, and slumping. I’ve been stopping several times during the day to see that my spine is more straight, my shoulders are level and slightly rolled back, and my feet are firmly planted on the ground. And, it’s difficult. I’m combatting 30+ years of bad posture. Along with the occasional body check, I need to start some core-strengthening exercises and stretches.

My goals are to become present in my body, to be more deliberate and aware in my actions and motions, and to become more physically grounded.

Art: Show Up

A diptych titled "Hide" and "Seek" that I am currently working on.
“Make a space and show up every day. Get in the studio. Sit down at the dining room table. Clear off the coffee table. Pull out the journal or a small piece of drawing paper when you have five minutes, when you’re watching TV, and when there’s nothing else to do. Show up at the page, the canvas, the hunk of clay, or the pile of fabric. You must be present to win, so show up.”

This is advice that I wrote a year and a half ago in “Eric’s Rules”, and I am amazed at how often I do not show up and keep myself from the studio, the work, the journal. But then I am amazed at how much art I DO make over the course of several months. I guess that I have built in a variety of ways to show up and make art, but I feel like I could do more, especially given my propensity to veg out in front of the TV or distract myself with a variety of electronic devices.

So what are those little habits that I have in place now that allow me to make art? How do I cultivate those habits into a sustainable practice that is balanced with other parts of my life?

The journal is probably the biggest way that I show up and make art. It keeps me engaged in the process and habit of making, and often I find that I work on other pieces of art as I allow wet pages to dry. Regrettably, I don’t always work in my journal, and it often stays tucked in my bag for weeks, especially during hectic times. I need to pull it out more so that I can constantly stay engaged.

Finding five or ten minutes here and there is another way that I cultivate the artmaking habit whether it’s working in the journal or on wall art. Those brief moments add up over time. I don’t need hours of uninterrupted time in the studio, though that’s always nice. I can work at school when I have a few minutes, I can work during the commercials of a TV show, and I can add a few lines or shapes to pieces and pages instead of reaching for those electronic gadgets.

Working small is a third habit. Making small and portable art means that I can work on it anywhere, and I can quickly tuck it into the journal or small folder as a means of taking it with me. I can also relegate the messier media to the studio or the art classroom, and use the cleaner, drier media in the house or at the coffee shop. Having a small stash of easily portable materials makes the studio portable. Small work also is less daunting than large work. It’s too easy to say, “I don’t have time to do that huge painting I want to do.” I work a lot on pieces that art 11”x14” or smaller.

Multitasking is yet another way to make art a part of my life. Now I’m not a great multitasker, and if I am watching a movie or TV show that I haven’t seen before, I need to devote my energy to it because I miss so much. But with shows and movies that I have seen before, I can easily work on my art as the TV blares in the background. My wife and I watch some DVD’s again and again, so this is a very viable strategy. I need to find other times where multitasking can work.

My final strategy (which I need to be better at) is to schedule time, to make an appointment. I find that when I sign up for a class that meets each week, it gives me a structured time each week to make art. I get so much accomplished. So, I need to schedule time for making art even when I don’t have a class. I need to find two or three times a week where I can go into the studio for a set amount of time. I really need to say to myself that from this time to that time on a certain day of the week is studio time, and I really need to stick to it. I show up for work everyday. When I was part of the gallery, I showed up for my scheduled shifts. I need to do it with my studio work as well, schedule an appointment with my work.

My goal isn’t to make art 24/7, but to strike a balance with the rest of my life where I’m not overindulging in any one thing. I feel like I’m getting there.

Mind: Enter the Stillness

I need a time out, a moment to myself, a quiet and undisturbed moment.

I am surrounded by so much noise from chatting people to the beeping, buzzing, and chiming of cell phones, from background music to the flickering images from the TV. So much commotion envelopes me no matter where I go. I need to get away - not a long vacation on a secluded beach (though that would be great). I need a vacation of the mind, a moment here and there to really listen to myself. I need stillness.

I firmly believe that the audible clutter keeps me from connecting to myself, from really hearing that inner voice that keeps me on track and balanced. The noise is a distraction. It’s easier to pay attention to something blaring in my environment than to hear that quiet, inner voice. It gets lost in all the commotion. I also believe that I often distract myself from the stillness purposely when I turn on the TV, crank up the music in the studio, or tune into the conversations of others. And sometimes, I need that distraction. I need a break from my inner dialogue. But at other times, I need the quiet.

Moments of stillness connect me to my inner voice, and allow me to remember the important things and to put things in perspective. These moments allow me to come back to center, and I can be more proactive as I figure out what needs immediate attention, and what can wait a while. When surrounded by the hectic day-to-day, it’s much more about reacting to the loudest thing demanding attention although it might not be a priority. Quiet times also allow me to figure things out and to reflect on all that is going on in my life.

I do take some time for myself, and I have built in some small habits that bring me to a quiet space. But it’s not nearly enough. I need more stillness. In our workshops, Dave and I always use the words of artist Jeanne Minnix, “Get still, get quiet, and go inside.” This simple saying is a mantra for finding the stillness to connect with the inner voice.

So how do I get still, get quiet, and go inside?

I have built in two very simple and purposeful habits into my daily life that are a good start. First, I have a time of about ten to fifteen minutes in the morning where I sit in silence and simply reflect. After I eat my breakfast, check my email, and check through some of the day’s headlines, I close my eyes, sip my coffee, and dwell in the stillness. I do have to be careful not to fall asleep though. This quiet time is not any type of formal meditation, but it allows me to fully wake, prepares me for the day, and sets my intentions. Second, I have the habit of driving to and from work in silence. I don’t carpool, so it’s just me in the car, and I leave the radio off - no talk, no music, no news, just silence. This allows me to sort through my thoughts as I drive to work making a plan for the day, and it allows me to decompress as I drive home at the end of the day. Unfortunately, the quiet is often disturbed by my own erupting temper at other drivers (that is something to tackle in due time).

But beyond these moments, I have very little time in stillness. I need be very deliberate about building in those moments to enter stillness, to sit with no noise, no electronic devices, no TV, no pens, no pencils, no paintbrushes, and to dwell in the stillness. I need to be comfortable with the quiet and with myself and simply listen to my quiet inner voice. I need to reconnect with myself.

Spirit: Proclaim Yourself

Just as with my body, my spirit has been battered, neglected, and abused lately. I feel that some of my life force has been drained. To put it succinctly, I feel lost.

Some how in the rush that has become life, I have lost myself. Life is chaotic and the demands on my time and my energies seem to have become greater with each passing day, and unfortunately so many things are being neglected and forgotten. Much to my chagrin, these are the things that are most essential to me, and I feel that a part of me has slipped away. I am caught up in habits that diminish who I am, and roles and expectations have been placed on me that eat away at my spirit. If I do not proclaim who I am, others will lay claim to identifying and labeling me. They will continue to place the roles and expectations on me. I must shake off these attempts by others to define me. I must find myself.

But how do I find myself? How do I proclaim who I am?

I have to stand up for myself, say no to the things that diminish me, and perhaps step on a few toes. It’s easy to ruffle feathers when you step out of those identities others have placed on you, but I have allowed others to define who I am for too long. I need to shout out, ring out, and sing out so that I can be heard. I must find the courage to reclaim those missing pieces and make the time and the room to cultivate who I am deep down.


There it’s out there. I’ve proclaimed it.

Everyday I need to do this and not forget who I am. I need to proudly say that I am an artist when someone asks me what I do. Too often I go for the easy and comfortable, “I’m a teacher.” I often even leave out the fact that it’s art that I teach like some how art and teaching art aren’t valid. But teaching is only a part of what I do and who I am. Even if I did not teach in a public school, I would still teach. I would still share my art, my thoughts, and my methods. Teaching is just a small part of being an artist.

Being an artist means more than simply making art. Yes, I make art. I draw, I paint, I collage. But these activities do not truly define me. I am an artist deep within. It is my core. I have always been an artist, and I was an artist before I was defined by any roles like teacher, husband, friend. It is the artist that drives me. I am inquisitive. I am curious. I am creative. I experiment. I explore. I think and reflect. I am brimming with ideas and stories that need to be expressed. I see the world as an artist, and everything that I experience goes into my reserves and becomes fodder for making art and expressing myself. And every experience, every relationship, and every moment is experienced as an artist. I can’t go to the theater without marveling at the stage, the scenery, the visual spectacle. I can't go for a walk with out noticing the colors and the shapes and the textures of the world around me.

I make art because I must. When I am not making art, I am sharing my art, teaching about art, and writing about art. But too often when I am not making art, I deny myself, cut a part of myself off, and deny my spirit. Too often I sit in front of the TV or waste time and energy with Facebook, email, and other technological distractions. Art feeds me, and in art I am not LOST. I find myself in every mark, every stroke, every color.

I am an artist, a maker, an expresser of personal things. Now I must carve out that identity. Live it. Breathe it. Stop denying it by distracting myself with so many things that do not matter. It is my core, I must treat it just as vital to my existence as food and shelter.


Body: A Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet

I don’t know about you, but my body speaks to me. It tells me all sorts of things, especially when I neglect and mistreat it. My sore muscles and joints tell me when I over do the yard work and that I’m not really in the kind of shape for such physical exertion. My upset stomach and aching head tell me when I have enjoyed a night out with friends just a little too much. My aching back tells me when I have spent too long hunched over artwork, and my body tells me when I have been over indulging and eating and drinking a lot of junk because I feel full, heavy, lethargic, and just plain blah.

Food is fuel for the body, and here lately I’ve been fueling up with a lot of junk.

I am vegan, but a vegan diet is not necessarily a healthy diet. (I’ll let my chunkiness speak to that.) There are a lot of heavily refined and processed foods that are made as vegan substitutes for meat like Tofurky and Bocca, and there are a lot of foods, especially junk food, that are vegan by accident - potato chips and Oreos are just a couple. It is very easy to rely on convenience and throw a couple of Bocca burgers in the over, serve them with a side of chips, and finish it up with a dessert of Oreo cookies. And though it's not terribly unhealthy, it's not the healthiest, and I’ve been resorting to too much of this kind of eating lately.

As a first step in what I am dubbing The Change Initiative, I am rededicating myself to a whole-food, plant-based diet. I first got into this type of diet a year ago when I saw the wonderful documentary “Forks Over Knives”. You can visit the website here. I had been vegetarian for nearly 9 years at the time, but had constantly been struggling with my weight. Given these weight issues and the fact that I have a family history of cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes, the movie spoke to me.

The key point of the film is summed up in its opening quote by Hippocrates, “Let food be thy medicine.” It goes on to cite the careers of Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and their research on the effects of diet and nutrition on cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. I won’t go into the details, and I strongly encourage everyone to watch the film - it’s even streaming on Netflix. Citing a lot of research, the movie draws the conclusion that a whole-food, plant-based diet is the best treatment for combating these common diseases, and often can completely reverse some of these conditions. It recommends removing animal proteins and the heavily processed foods from one’s diet and switching to a whole-food, plant-based diet.

I left the movie theater, and immediately began eating a primarily whole-food, plant-based diet cutting out all dairy, eggs, refined sugars, oils, and prepackaged or processed foods. For several months, I ate only fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and whole grain breads and pastas. I felt great, and I lost about 15 lbs. I had more energy, felt lighter, and got so much accomplished.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to maintain that diet as travel and convenience have interceded. The junk food has regained its hold on me, and I’ve gained some weight back and feel just really blah. I am ready to change back to the whole-food, plant-based diet.

Now eating in this fashion is much more work with the actual preparing and cooking of food, but I have discovered and developed some very quick, easy, and tasty recipes. The best part is eating the leftovers the next day for lunch. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing some of these recipes.

Today, I’ll share one of my favorites, and it is one of the simplest (see the above picture). It takes about 15 minutes. It’s a simple pasta and vegetable dish using whole grain pasta and frozen vegetables.

Boil the pasta according to the package.
Throw a bunch of frozen veggies in a pot. I love corn, peas, carrots, and broccoli. Cover with water and bring to a boil while the pasta boils.
Drain the pasta when it’s done.
Combine the the pasta and veggies in bowl, season to taste. I usually use salt, pepper, and some italian seasoning.

Notice there’s no oil and no butter or margarine (not even vegan margarine), so the vegetables taste fresh and crisp.

I would love if more people turned to a more whole-food, plant-based diet and embraced a vegan lifestyle. I understand the realities though, and if I can get people to eat more fruits and veggies and limit their intake of meat, eggs, and dairy, I'll consider it a small victory. Also, I'm not a doctor or nutritionist, so please consult your physician before undertaking any radical lifestyle change. But I hope that some of you will consider some small changes in your diet that will lead to better health and well being.