Sunday, October 30, 2016

#149 - 156 out of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life - Cultivating Your Dopamine

 "Don't Give Up"  collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.

One thing that makes me a happy artist is discovering that most of my happiest moments have to do with something internal.  Even if I'm delighted with something external like the beauty of the day, it's my attention to that something, that makes me feel happy.  It's the whole brain chemistry activity that is really the source of joy.  That is a freeing observation, that the source of my happiness is right here in my own experience of my life.

Obviously cultivating our positive brain chemistry and hormones can help cultivate our happy artists lives, and reading about simple and cheap ways to do this can be reassuring.  And realizing that we already do a lot to help our dopamine levels is really nice.

I was reading a blog post about 8 great ways to increase our dopamine without drugs, and I realized some of them are embedded in my Morning Pages daily art practice.
Here are  Stephan Gardner's 8 ways to boost our dopamine:

1.  His first one is to stay away from the instant gratification of addictive behaviors. Although this seems fairly obvious, it does seem that many normal behaviors can easily become addictive when we ask them to keep us in a pleasurable state.  And of course addictions actually deplete us of our happy brain chemistry.  Stephan suggests we look for ways to create meaning and inspiration in our lives, to counter the pull of instant gratification and addictions.  For me, that would be my daily art practice.

2. Create check lists of tasks that you can complete and then with great satisfaction, tick of your list.   He suggests tasks that are tied to our highest values are then doubly rewarding.  So guess what, this is actually a check list of cool, simple things to do to make us happy, AND I am checking to see which ones I am already doing, AND I feel pretty happy about the results.

3. Create something.  Well sure, that's a very easy one to do if you have a daily art practice. 

4. Exercise!  It helps relieve stress, achieve better physical health, makes us more productive and of course it boosts our dopamine levels. 

5. Stephen says we should get a streak going.  He describes a streak is a visual reminder of how many days in a row you’ve achieved something.  So create something every day and post it on FaceBook or Instagram, or blog about it.  Then you have your visual reminder of your daily achievement.  So easy!

6. He recommends foods which increase tyrosine, one of the most important chemicals that make up dopamine.  Here are a few foods that increase tyrosine: Almonds, Avocados, Bananas, Beef, Chicken, Chocolate, Coffee, Eggs, Green Tea, Watermelon, Yogurt.  So a little cafe mocha in the morning with my morning pages can get things flowing in the right direction.

7. Listen to music.   Research shows that listening to music increases dopamine levels much like eating our favorite comfort foods or watching some favorite TV series.  Of course adding music to a daily art practice could not be easier!

8. Meditate.  Research on the effects of meditation is a huge field now.  It's found to be a highly effective form of dopamine increase.  (Of course the sages and yogis have known this for thousands of years)  Meditation clears the mind of worries and clutter, and replaces that with a sense of presence and joy at being alive. This is a state of mind that is available for all of us.  It is within our reach.

Try some of the things on this list, see if you can boost your dopamine.


Saturday, October 29, 2016

#148 out of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life - Recall Fifty Wonderful, Happy Memories

"Happy Memories"  collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.

 

The thing about art is that it really can make all the difference between struggling to exist and creating a life filled with wonder and joy.  I particularly noticed this lately, as I struggled with the loss of yet another beautiful Bergamasco.  I found that by incorporating my two furry beloveds into my daily art practice, by creating fun environments for them, I was able to smile.  

The one here, "Recall Fifty Wonderful, Happy Memories" really made me smile, because once I got started thinking about the sweetest moments, it seemed more like thousands of happy memories.  As I played with the image, it became very clear that our lives are in constant flux.  One memory can be heartbreaking and the next 10 can lift our spirits.  We don't have to have perfect moments right now to be happy artists, we just need to create the possibility for good things to happen in our art work and in our lives.  So I get up early, feed the puppy and cat, doing some yoga and art before breakfast and see what the day brings.  Life really has its sorrows and difficult times.   For me, art isn't about plastering over the bad stuff.  It's more like using art to build up my strengths and resilience in order to deal with the difficulties.  Here's to morning pages daily art practice, wonderful memories and to creating possibility for a happy artist's life!
 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Are you attending the Master Class Visual Art Journaling at the Expressive Therapies Summit in NYC?


"Play & Art"  collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.

Are you attending the Master Class Visual Art Journaling: Remembering Who We Are with a Daily Art Practice, Expressive Therapies Summit in NYC, Friday, November 11th, 2016, with Susan Anand and Lani Gerity?

We will be learning how to create a simple art journal from basic office supplies and then actually working in them with a series of very easily adaptable directives. When you arrive we’ll have a link for you to download a “zine” of instructions and directives to keep. 
There will be basic art supplies provided but we highly encourage you to look at this list, prepare ahead and bring some fun collage materials. The thing with learning a new skill is that it is so much easier if you are using images and materials you love.  This will be a time to create and play with your best stuff!

You might think about bringing some of these items:


Gaffer’s tape or hockey tape (cloth tape)


Fabric samples and any favorite paper scraps.

Wall paper samples, scrapbooking card stock, craft tags, blank artist trading cards, index cards and heavier scraps.


Magazine images, photo images, printed images for collage which could include human figures (when collecting human figures it’s an interesting exercise to look for images that match the demographic that you happen to work with), animals, interesting environments, interesting objects that could represent gifts and treasures, maps and of course wings. Let your intuition be your guide.


Interesting text, positive and inspirational words are always good, different fonts can be interesting.


Your favorite fibers and waxed thread is good for the simple binding.


Embellishments, beads, charms, watch parts, etc.


Washi Tape.


Your favorite pens (sharpies, paint, gel, etc.) to include written text.


Any favorite stamps and stamp pads.


And of course your creativity, inspiration, and sense of playful fun (most important).


If you have any questions at all, please contact me: lanipuppetmaker@mac.com

Friday, September 23, 2016

#147 out of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life - Go for the second wind experience

"Send Light"  collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
Art therapist, Edith Kramer used to talk a lot about the Second Wind experience (an athletic idea that Montessori applied to education) in art making.  Her idea was that if we work on a piece and find that it doesn't quite work for us, step back from it to think about what we might change and then go back into it.  She was concerned that perhaps we don't give ourselves (or the people we work with) enough time to experience this. We can push through what runners call "the wall," to suddenly find the strength and inspiration to press on with what feels like a much better performance with much less effort.

In this case I looked at my "Send Light" collage, which I had already posted, and I got a sinking feeling.  Like "the wall."  But I had already posted it so I could have just left it.  But actually I was curious what it was that gave me the sinking feeling.  The "Send Light" theme seemed out of sync with the overly cluttered, messy background.  The two figures seemed out of sync with each other and the elephant didn't seem necessary in any way.  But mostly it looked dark and confusing to me, sort of the opposite of what it would look like if I actually sent "light into the heart."

 So after this exploration I went back into the collage (digitally) and changed things up, pushing past the wall and definitely finding myself working more easily with less struggle.  Encouraging the artist's second wind whenever possible can be a great way to have a happy artist's life.

"Send Light 2 "  collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.

Friday, September 02, 2016

#146 out of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life - Remember times when you have been brave anyway

"Brave Anyway"  collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
This one comes from an art challenge over on 14 Secrets.  The challenge has some nice links and basically was working with fear.  Maybe fear by itself is a little heavy and not not exactly fun or conducive to a happy artists life, or so you might imagine.  So I started with memories of moments of bravery, my own and others'.  I thought of times when I knew fear but faced it anyway.  I thought of family members and friends who faced fearful situations with grace.  And of course favorite stories almost always have this sort of element in them. 

So here's what makes me happy, remembering times when I have been brave anyway, and creating a piece based on bravery.  And appreciating the bravery I see all around me, every day!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

November Art Journaling Workshop in NYC


"Play & Art"  collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.

Registration for the Master Class Visual Art Journaling: Remembering Who We Are with a Daily Art Practice, at Expressive Therapies Summit in NYC, Friday, November 11th, 2016, with Susan Anand and Lani Gerity is now open. 

This class will be a day long intensive from 10 AM to 5:15 PM at
Executive Conference Center - Friday
1601 Broadway (enter on 48th Street)

The class will offer you a way to present art journaling in your therapy groups or in individual work.  We will be using simple office supplies and collage materials to create journals and then using a variety of “directives” we will explore art journaling as a way of building strength, resiliency, and self-care.

Gretchen Miller attended a version of this workshop in the spring and wrote up a nice blog post about it which you can read here.

#145 out of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life - Work on your "vagal tone" with art

 "Abide"  collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.

There's a wonderful blog post from  Feb 02, 2013 Psychology Today by Christopher Bergland, The Neurobiology of Grace Under Pressure; 8 habits that stimulate your vagus nerve and keep you calm, cool, and collected".  It's all about engaging our vagus nerve at times of stress.   Christopher describes releasing Vagusstuff, a a natural tranquilizer that we can self-administer, by taking a few deep breaths with long exhales. This is just one simple way of many that we can consciously tap the power of our vagus nerve to create inner-calm on demand. This knowledge alone should be enough to reduce the fear-of-fear-itself and give us "grace under pressure" next time we need it.  The post is a great little read with so much usable information for when life gets stressful.
He also has his 8 habits that stimulate the vagus nerve, so I thought create a little art based on these 8 habits and see how I feel.  Not surprisingly, the result made me quite happy.
 
1. His first habit is to visualize his vagus nerve, to actually see the lacy winding map of this amazing nerve and he includes a lovely drawing to help us with this visualization.  He imagines asking his vagus for assistance, even.  I like the idea but of course I want to create a character that gives me that feeling of calm, something that I can enjoy working with in my art a little more than his lacy drawing, some inner higher being that I might imagine asking for help from in times of stress. (See above)

2. His second habit is practice. He has power written elsewhere that our cerebellum can store muscle memory and allow us to perform gracefully under pressure. Getting the cerebellum run the show with the vagus nerve helps us create fluidity in our thoughts and actions. This goes well with a daily art practice.  Add in a little restorative yoga before art making and I think I'm practicing this one, daily.

3. His third habit is creating flow by balancing skill and challenge. He suggests we get in the habit of continually nudging against our limits. By increasing the challenge gradually you become more skilled and comfortable with more difficult tasks.  Again, this is easy with art making, always learning something new, trying new things, working with accidents.  It's all helpful and flow inducing.

4. Reframe priorites and values. This one is pretty neat.  He bases it on some research that Geoffrey Cohen, a professor at the Stanford University, conducted in  2006. He asked students to write a paragraph about a topic unrelated to an upcoming exam that was inducing stress such as: “relationships with friends and family,” “religious values,” “athletic ability,” and “being good at art” before the exam. This brief writing assignment significantly improved the grades of students.
So of course before we face any challenge that fills us with anxiety, we can create a little art about what matters most.  Even when the stakes are high, remember that every hurdle is an opportunity to learn. Mastery is a process.

5. Use neuroplasticity to re-wire habits of positive thinking.  We can generate positive emotions and learned optimism in our art making practice that will give us grace under pressure. The vagus nerve picks up on signals coming from the 'top-down' and from the 'bottom-up' and uses these signals to re-wire our minds through neuroplasticity.
Dr. Dawson at the University of Glasgow in Scotland: "Evidence from animal studies suggests that vagus nerve stimulation could cause the release of neurotransmitters which help facilitate neural plasticity and help people re-learn how to use their arms after stroke, particularly if stimulation is paired with specific tasks.”  Interesting!

6. His sixth habit is to seek out ways to create daily physicality.  For example cardio-respiratory activity, strength training and yoga stimulate vagal tone and  harmonize hormones and neurotransmitters linked to grace under pressure.  So once again, a little yoga before art making and I have this one covered.

7. His seventh habit is interesting.  Anxiety is contagious: Avoid anxious people. Christopher described how his father, a neurosurgeon, needed to have a lot of grace under pressure. He understood how delicate the sensors of his own vagus nerve were and would ask anyone in the operating room to leave if he or she was emitting too much anxiety.  If these anxious people cannot be avoided he recommends using headphones with music that creates an appropriate mood and blocks the ability of others' anxiety to affect your vagal tone. So when we are involved in our art making we can also listen to this sort of music and this will add layers of association and help the vagal tone as well.

8. His eighth habit may be the best.  Foster loving kindness. He feels that in order to maintain healthy vagal tone it’s important to foster diverse and rewarding social connections. In a 2010 study published in Psychological Science, Barbara Frederickson and Bethany Kok of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill focused their attention on the vagus nerve.
Their article was titled: How Positive Emotions Build Physical Health: Perceived Positive Social Connections Account for the Upward Spiral Between Positive Emotions and Vagal Tone.They discovered that a high vagal tone index was part of a feedback loop between positive emotions, physical health and positive social connections.
In the experiment Frederickson and Kok used a Loving-Kindness Meditation technique to help participants become better at self-generating positive emotions. However, they also found that simply reflecting on positive social connections and working to improve them also caused improvements in vagal tone.  So include a little loving kindness in our art making and see how that feels.  Guaranteed to support the vagus nerve.

So my #145 way to have a happy artist's life is to engage and stimulate my vagus nerve as much as possible, while creating my daily art practice.   Try it and let me know how it works for you!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

#144 out of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life - Share some totally irrelevant fun!



"Irrelevant Fun"  collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
Over on FaceBook, I post art daily which is really one of my sure fire "how to have a happy life" techniques, but today I had so much fun with this image, this humorous looking kid, that I thought why not let the kid have some totally irrelevant fun outside her box, outside her regular environment.  So if you'd like to play, save her on your computer and see what fun she can get up to! 

#144 out of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life, share your fun.