Category: flow

What I want to say I can’t even put into words today….  But I’ll try anyway and probably lose a few people along the way.  So let me get some great stuff to share off my chest first!

In a photography forum, I found this great photo of Pyramid Lake in Nevada.  We pass it going to and from Burning Man, and last year we spent the day swimming there to wash off the week of dust on our way home.  I asked the photographer, Scott Thompson (no relation) for permission to post it here…

(Side note! Since I’ve been studying up on photography, I’m going to crack down a lot more on making sure people understand copyright protection and photographers rights. If you want to use ANYONE’S photo but your own, and it’s not publicly listed with a Creative Commons license or a statement that you can use it, ASK FIRST! And always credit/link to them! I’m no expert, but if you have any questions about what you can or can’t do and don’t have time to look it up, you are welcome to email me and I’ll do my best to help you find an answer.)

Copyright Scott Thompson. Click for larger image!

I also need to share this blog post by Amanda Palmer on Lady Gaga, freedom, and authenticity.  A must read!

We celebrated July 4th at the second annual PEX Fest – I worried as we were on our way that my expectations were too high, based on the amazing time we had last year.  I had nothing to worry about as it was blown out of the water again, and it was definitely one of the best weekends of my life.

Despite this time being bittersweet – my Grandma Betty who passed had annual July 4th gatherings – I know that divine intervention or whatnot had a role in how things turned out.  I never had to risk her wrath for missing her picnic for PEX fest (or, more likely, miss PEX Fest), and the first summer that the picnic didn’t happen after she died, I was surrounded by my second family and felt so full of love.

PEX fest is summer camp for burners.  It’s a little like Playa Del Fuego (PDF) but it’s completely different.  It’s not community run, but PEX has wonderful vision and core values that overlap with Burning Man’s principles.  There’s a little commerce, but mostly just for food/ice (except for an unfortunate vendor agreement with the camp property, which had a tie dye t-shirt vendor on site – I went from being annoyed to feeling sorry for them because this was NOT going to be a killer sales weekend for them with mostly burners in attendance!) (And I’m tie dye loyal, I ONLY get mine from my awesome friends in Reno!)

As usual, the schedule was chock full of amazing workshops but despite best efforts, I attended 2 and Random attended 3.  Quality outshone quantity, as they were absolutely amazing experiences.

Random attended Lucky’s contact staff workshop, and we both attended the Porno Jim Show (hysterical, shows the best and worst of porn and talks about how bad porn is bad for expectations/sexual practices in real life) as well as a class from Camp Chemistry.  And without going into any details too embarrassing for the general public of the internet, the class was life changing.  Really!!!!!  I was a bit nervous going in, but knew that it was a safe and respectful space and that we could leave at any time.  We stayed through the whole class, and it was definitely worth it.  If it sounds intriguing to you in any way, please consider checking out their events and classes.  They are good people, and no matter how much you think you know, you’ll learn something new!  And that’s all I have to say (publicly) about that 😀

Between sunny days in the pool and long nights on the dance floor until sunrise….  Living on an angle and having a constant beat 24/7….  PEX Fest is a place of love, beauty, joy, creativity, fire, sensuality, music, dancing, authenticity, acceptance, laughter, family, and more.  There’s no better place to celebrate freedom than here.  I am STILL on cloud 9 and loving it!  See you all next year!

On Creativity and Compassion

Inspiration of the day – my friend blogged about artist Merce Cunningham who passed away, and it highlights several artists who helped re-define what art is.  My favorite part is the last sentence, but had to quote the entire section –

It was their relationship of the creative life to all life that has drawn me into their work.  They would focus on bringing the creative process into what are often times considered “non art” activities….they would have festivities in a moment’s notice, carry with them a feeling of always creating something, of everyday adventures.  They believed in living out loud in front of others so the world would wake up and see that the smallest things in life can be a celebration.

That is how I choose to honor Merce, to continue to live my own life with that kind of imagination and authenticity, and to encourage others to do the same.  We are ALL artists, constantly creating.  No matter what our medium..even if we don’t have a definable medium…it’s the way in which we author our lives that is so important.  Art is not to dazzle others as M.C. Richards, a contemporary and friend of Merce, once said. “It is to reveal the secrets of our hearts so that others seeing that witness, will have the courage to reveal the secrets of their own hearts.”

This is the path I’ve been on as well – while I’ve always loved doing creative things, this way of looking at art, how we live, and how we express who we are really started at Burning Man for me.  I was always drawn to it, but never found it in such abundance until then.  And I’m still struggling to do this, as lately it seems not much that I do is very creative.  Lately I’ve been absorbing inspiration, but it’s just kinda sitting there building up.  But to figure out exactly how to put this inspiration and energy to best use is challenging, and I feel like there’s never enough time in the day.

However her post reinforced in me that it’s a 24-7 thing, even if I’m not creating a tangible piece of art.  I just need to remember that.   And when we are tapped into that realization, and live with intention, I think that’s being in the flow.

ETA:  Excellent timing, universe… a friend just linked to this on facebook.  Great video, but stay for the end credits and story!!

The past week has also had an emotional journey.  A man went missing, and I followed the story on facebook as I know someone who is a close friend of his.  As I reposted messages from friends and family, asking for prayers or help with the search party in California, I learned a little about him and his life.  But the message that touched me was one that was related to his mother through a psychic.

If you do not generally believe in such things, I dare you to just suspend those thoughts and listen to the message.  Just for a moment think about what it would mean to embrace it and make it part of our lives.

Elias says repeatedly that what happened was like an unfortunate accident. It shouldn’t have happened. The person involved needs compassion.

Elias is adamant that he wants everyone to react with love and compassion. He wants a circle of people, whoever is capable, to hold space at the same time every day for compassion meditation and to let him know what time that will be so that he can join us.

He does not want so much energy put on what happened. Put energy into love and compassion. People are digging, he says, seeking with too much frustration to find out what happened. Surrender and allow it to be revealed. Taking action is good, but don’t focus too much on seeking.

He says that this whole event is a lesson. He wants us to learn the lesson! If we focus on the wrong things we may not learn the lesson.

He is grateful that I am open to allowing this lesson to be learned. He wants us to show love for all – not just him. And to have no vindictiveness. He wants there to be complete forgiveness.

Elias wants us to proceed with compassion every step of the way.

Emotions need to be released, to be honored and allow them to flow through like a stream, but don’t let them constrict you. So the key is to honor your emotions without holding them inside.

He wants to raise the vibration. Use less intellect. Keep returning to the love or we will miss the lesson. The lesson is about love.

(excerpts – for full text see here)

At a time where you can imagine his friends and family are frantically searching for him, hoping he is still alive, full of fear…  His main message is of love and compassion, not for him but for those who did this to him.

I know most of us hold grudges for far less serious offenses.

I don’t know if I can have love for those who did this, but looking at the faces of three men arrested in association with this case, I tried to hold compassion.  I wondered what happened in their life that led them to where they are today.  Was it an accident?  Or, had they been hurt so badly that they only know how to hurt others? Were they even the ones who did it?

Lyrics from a song by Kristin Hoffmann called “No Love” run through my head – she ponders what hell someone went through to get to the point where they abuse (or do worse) to someone else.  “there`s no right or wrong to decide just the cause and effect of life”.

The mystery of Elias’ disappearance is still unsolved.  Police are treating it as a homicide although his body has not been found.  While I hope anyone found guilty in the investigation is charged and serves an appropriate sentence, the message of being open to all possibilities has stuck with me.

Elias (through the transmission) asked his mother to choose a Sufi poem, and she shared the following.

A poem of Hafiz

The violin
Can forgive the past

It starts singing.

When the violin can stop worrying
About the future

You will become
Such a drunk laughing nuisance

That God
Will then lean down
And start combing you into
His Hair.

When the violin can forgive
Every wound caused by

The heart starts

So yeah.  The dance continues.  Love and compassion.  Creativity and authenticity.  Intention and celebration.  Heavy thoughts for a Monday, but then Mondays when you are stuck somewhere that is the opposite of many of those things need this sometimes.

I may have posted this quote before, but want to post it again…  and upon doing so I realize that “art” (the kind of art discussed up top) could replace the word “faith”.  I’m trying to embrace this fully – as well as exploit it as a reference that nowhere does “clean house” or “laundry” appear on the list…   😛

This is my living faith, an active faith, a faith of verbs:
to question, explore, experiment, experience, walk, run, dance, play, eat, love, learn, dare, taste, touch, smell, listen, argue, speak, write, read, draw, provoke, emote, scream, sin, repent, cry, kneel, pray, bow, rise, stand, look, laugh, cajole, create, confront, confound, walk back, walk forward, circle, hide, and seek.
To seek: to embrace the questions, be wary of answers.
~Terry Tempest Williams

And so I leave you with this tribute to the lives of those who affect us, and may we remember that how we live each day is the message we’ll leave behind us as well.

Photography and Flow

Sculpture - Frederick Franck  Quote - Hui-neng

Sculpture - Frederick Franck, Quote - Hui-neng

There has been an ongoing battle in my head/soul about photography.  Without a doubt, I’ve experienced times where taking snapshots or trying to get the right settings for a shot completely seperate me from truly experiencing what was in front of me.  The camera CAN be a barrier, putting you outside the action instead of being part of it.  It can interrupt the act of being in the present – because you are usually focused on the future, the photo you hope to have a result or souvenir of your trip.

There are times I’ve seen some photographers as hungry energy sucking vortexes, anxious for a scene with topless women to provide someone with material to jerk off to.  They don’t see the people in front of them as people, but a meal ticket or a titillating image.

I’ve also witnessed photographers who create amazing art, manipulating light and shadow to evoke visceral memories and touching thousands of people.

As well, I’ve noticed how once you spend more time behind a camera, your eye sees things in the everyday that otherwise pass unnoticed.  The brickwork, murals, and chipping paint as I drive through Philly on I-95 make me want to stop the car often, though it would be a hazard to do so.

Philly from the passenger seat

Philly from the passenger seat

I’ve blogged about this once already, and while I’m not much closer to a definitive answer, I am feeling instincts/intuition and synchronicty pushing me in the direction I’m supposed to go.

This past weekend was absolutely one of the best I’ve ever experienced.  The visual beauty and creativity was only outdone by the auditory talents of the DJs and performers.  I brought two cameras.  I didn’t touch either a single time I was there.  In the moment – I didn’t regret it one bit.  A workshop on presence helped set the tone for the rest of the weekend, and I was there to experience and immerse myself fully, without analysis or thought.

Now I’m home, and I miss that there are not many snapshots of myself and my friends, that I didn’t push my creative boundaries with the numerous opportunities of unique subjects.

And I’m really questioning myself on whether photography HAS to distance you from the experience, or is there another way?

I spent some time googling things like “mindful photography” “meditation photography” “zen photography” and found many resources out there.  While I’m reading, it hits me like a ton of bricks.

The concept of presence and flow were the overwhelming themes to this past weekend.  My love got a taste of the addictive flow of skill toys that goes beyond the initial thrill of learning a new skill or even adding fire to it.  One night, I witnessed him dance like I’ve never seen before – we both don’t know where it came from but it was amazing to experience.  I hooped with closed eyes to the Gamelatron, and I felt the flow when I borrowed a friend’s glow poi (as mine were too far away) and couldn’t stop dancing/spinning.

The flow we’ve experienced comes some time after learning the basics of the “how to”.  At some point, our monkey brain manages to turn off and we stop thinking “Oh I’ll do this move next”.  It’s about being purely in the moment and not a millisecond in the future on where we go next.

The reason I’m struggling with photography is that I’m still learning the skills.  I’m still hitting myself in the head with the poi, I’m still dropping the hoop.  Flow is possible, and it will happen, but it most certainly cannot be forced.

Flow is the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.

It has nothing to do with the subject, or whether other photographers are shooting the same scene.  It’s an internal process – which is great, as that’s the only thing you can choose to control!

by John Suler (Click to view on flickr and read a great essay)

by John Suler (Click for a great photo/essay series on flickr)

From now on, I am giving myself permission to decide to not take photos because of the sheer number of other photographers.  But I’m also not going to let that stop me if it’s something I really want to shoot.  I will still take snapshots – of course, they are fun and great memories of times with friends.  (To me, snapshots are separate but related – lighthearted and more about capturing memories than creating art.  Doesn’t make them any less meaningful, they just serve a different purpose.)  But I am also going to work on taking more shots with the goal of improving my skills so I can get to that flow zone more often, and try taking time to make photography a meditation.

It makes so much sense.  This may not be a dramatic change in where I am now with photography, but it definitely helps define where I am going, and reminds me to listen to my intuition.

The goal is not necessarily to produce art that moves others, but primarily to move myself during the process. Is this a complicated way to state I’m finding my “voice”?  It could be – but this simplifies things for me.

The flow is possible in anything we do, really – especially you combine the traditional definition (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi first coined the term) with the spiritual concepts of presence, zen, whatever buzzword you want to give it.  I know you’ve felt it at some point.  To cultivate it, we can’t go chasing it around but we have to turn inwards and quiet ourselves.  To surrender to the magic within and around us.

Mind is the camera
memory the film
Previsualise, store memory.
In order to see you must first learn how
to look.

Ttebroc Yrrag (1954)

Related Articles:

On Photography as Mindful Seeing

Introduction To Photographic Psychology

Snapshot Photography vs. Mindful Photography

The Zen of Photography

Zen and the Art of Photography

Writing and flow

In the Zone

Related Blogs:

Meditation Photography

Zen and Photography – Blog

Related Books:

A Presence Behind the Lens: Photography And Reflections by Nicholas C. Hlobeczy

Tao of Photography: Seeing Beyond Seeing by Philippe L. Gross, S.I. Shapiro

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Spinning in Circles

Through my travels to Burning Man and regional events, I’ve been exposed to a lot of new hobbies.  I started with poi – never imagining I would one day set them on fire.

Poi is a form of juggling one might say, that consists of balls or weights or wicks (for fire use) attached to chains or in socks (for practice only).  You spin them around you in various patterns, which all look extremely complex but break down to basic movements that most people can learn.  Some performers will always blow your mind with their creativity and flow!

I also met a lot of hoopers – hula hooping, or more accurately hoop dancing, has come a long way from the Wham-0 days.  I started trying to learn that as well, not so much out of a love for it but it was the most fun I had getting tired out (or, that evil word – “exercising”).  Until one day, when goofing off to some really amazing music, I started to feel it.  The magic within the hoop when it truly becomes a dance and the hoop is your partner.

Since then, I’ve been practicing more and taking a workshop when I can.  I am not in it to perform.  The exercise isn’t the only reason I pick it up, but it makes me feel better afterward.  It’s about having fun, and sometimes just a meditation while spinning, getting lost in the movement and rhythm of the music as the Sufis do.

Recently hooping is less restricted to festivals and burners, and it’s becoming a trend as a fitness regime and hobby.  The local community is growing, and while it’s more difficult in less urban areas to gather because we are spread out, hoopers are always looking to gather and spin together.

Morristown is usually central to a lot of people, and I decided to start a public gathering here.  It would be open to the public, and all forms of “skill toys” would be welcome – poi, hoop, devil sticks, contact juggling…  I figured if I started a regular thing, it would continue on even when I couldn’t attend.

And so Morristown’s first Hoop/Poi Jam was held last night on the Green.  The call went out online to hoop communities, New Jersey burners, and emails to friends.  I had no idea who would come, whether we would have people interested or annoyed at our presence, or what would happen.

I was thrilled that my friend Danny and his dog Bo would be driving up – his Traveling Piano project brings a great energy to public areas as he creates amazing music, allows anyone to jump on the truck and play, and talks at length with everyone who stops by.  It’s not the typical music most hoopers or poi spinners listen to, but it has it’s own beauty and flow that is a unique experience and I know I enjoyed those moments I got lost in it.

Photos by/compliments of Danny Kean:

Danny has been playing so long that he improvises pieces you would swear took ages to compose, but as I overheard him telling others – it’s not about the notes, or if you miss one or hit the wrong one.  It’s about the journey and how you get there, and being in the moment.

He’s talking about the musical “flow” – the same flow I felt for the first time in the hoop last summer, the flow that beginners of any skill toy struggle with as they try to learn the basics (or the notes).  Learning the basic moves uses a different part of the brain, and it’s necessary.  But once those moves start to feel comfortable, your muscles remember them and you don’t have to concentrate as hard.  And one day, you start flowing and improvising – when someone asks what/how you did a move, you don’t even remember what move it was, you just remember the feeling of being lost in spinning circles.

In the end, several good friends of mine came, some online friends who I hadn’t met in person yet, and we met some amazing people passing by – many tried either to hoop or the piano or both!  The night chill and our empty stomachs drove us to end the night and look forward to future jams, as the weather gets warmer and evenings get longer.


Want to join us?  Come by on the First and Third Thursday of each month at the Morristown Green.  I don’t get there until 6:30 or so, but everyone is welcome to arrive earlier if they’d like.  Next one is May 7 – I may end up adding one between now and then since it’s 3 weeks away.

To know the latest about these spin jams, please sign up on the yahoo group (free to join and we are only using it for group email):

We will usually have extra equipment to share, but please ask before using anything and be sure to leave it with us when you go.

Musicians welcome!  Danny can’t always be here, so feel free to come hang out with us if you’d like to play!

Note, we do NOT use fire at these events!  (and do NOT attempt fire performance without being trained by a professional artist, for the safety of yourself and those around you!)

To get started in learning some of these hobbies or find places to buy equipment, here are some good links: