Category Archives: Creativity

Day by Day, Step by Step in Yosemite

It's been awhile since I've posted here. Maybe you've followed me on my Instagram or Twitter accounts (@drlisachu) where I've been posting my daily art practice. If not, I'm here to let you know that TODAY is the first day of my Yosemite series, which will appear for the next twelve weekdays, each day at 10:00am Pacific Time, on my Wild Tomato Arts blog. I recently spent twelve days in Yosemite National Park, six days backpacking and six days as a volunteer with Yosemite Conservancy. I have traveled to Yosemite every year for the past six years. Five out of those six have included both volunteering and backpacking. Back in 2014, my volunteering trip coincided with my 50|50 Art project, making 50 small works of art in 50 days for a group show at Sanchez Art Center. This year, I created 46 sketches or pieces of art in 12 days, and I am sharing all of them, along with mini stories from the trip, in twelve, bite-sized chunks. Go over to Wild Tomato Arts "New and Fresh" page for all the latest blog posts, starting TODAY! You can sign up to receive the posts via email. And at the end of the twelve weekday posts, I will post all 46 pieces, without text, in one project on the front page of Wild Tomato Arts. Come with me and enjoy the illustrated journey in one of our nation's treasures.  

Remember, Celebrate, and Acknowledge…YOU

Snake River sketch, July 2015.

A sketch from my bike ride through Vail Pass in July 2015. Illustration by Lisa Chu.

One way to define love is "sustained, compassionate attention". These words came from John Muir Laws, a naturalist, educator, and artist who inspires stewardship of the land by sharing his practice of nature sketching. When I read these words, I began to see the importance of my own art practice in developing sustained, compassionate attention for myself. I have noticed, in just a few years of deliberately making art daily, that my well of self-compassion has grown wider and deeper. And gradually, my capacity for compassion toward others -- even the ones it would be easy to judge or dismiss quickly -- has become more of a habit. Continue reading

Coming Full Circle

  Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose Medical degree burningI recently returned from a week-long stay in Keystone, Colorado. I was there with a small group of physicians gathered to restore their voice to the practice of medicine. How I got there was through a series of events I can only call synchronicity. What I felt was a profound feeling of "coming home". I showed up as all of me, in full color. My role was to listen deeply and expansively, and I chose to record what I heard in visual form. It was as if everything I practiced was serving me in my service to this gathering. Each morning I woke early and rode my rented bike along the many trails around Keystone. I listened to the Snake River winding its way through the trees. I inhaled with awe each time I arrived at the vista of Lake Dillon. I clawed my way up a steep hill only to be rewarded with the jackpot of a stunning view of Breckenridge and beyond. I had learned from these past few years of practicing self-care that these morning steps were my fuel for being present and thinking creatively. I knew what to do - even in an environment away from my familiar surroundings at home - because I had practiced them into new habits. I had my biking clothes, I was comfortable riding, and all I had to do was explore new roads and read new maps. I also had my daily sketching and art journaling practice in place, something I started only within the last two years. I have experimented with many different formats and media, and I am comfortable drawing outside. On this trip, I brought a small Moleskine Japanese album with accordion pages. It fit in my small travel purse or pocket, and I carried a pouch with pen, markers, and water brushes. On my morning rides, I often sketched a scene quickly in ink, filling in color later in the day or in the evening. I noticed what I noticed. I took note of the stories I wanted to tell. And by the time I got home, there were three or four panels that needed coloring, which I completed within a few days. New experiences, new people, new places -- all of these fuel my creativity and keep me inspired. I am grateful for the daily practices I cultivate at home, so I am well-prepared to stay open when I'm on the road. For a frame-by-frame caption story of my Keystone travel journal, see my post here. For an in-depth reflection on the contents of the physician meeting and its impact on me personally, stay tuned!

A Journey in Sketches

I recently returned from a week-long stay in Keystone, Colorado. I documented my journey in daily sketches created in a Moleskine Japanese album (small size). My tools were Pigma Micron ink pens, Faber Castell Pitt Artist pen, Kuretake Clean Color Real Brush markers, Derwent watercolour pencils, Sakura Koi field sketch watercolor set, and Kuretake waterbrushes. First, the SFO airport. There was an exhibit on Art Deco and I loved the patterns, colors, and shapes in it. Since I had a couple of hours to wait for my delayed flight, I started sketching and painting.DSC06899DSC06900I went back to photograph the original pieces that had inspired my memory. IMG_0857 IMG_0858 Then I looked over my shoulder to see that a large watercolor mural had been placed high up, near the ceiling. I copied the quote on the painting and general feeling of it. DSC06901 Then I noticed the number of billboards in this terminal devoted to issues of network security and cyber attacks. I captured this by placing three of the ones I remembered together.DSC06902 On my flight I read two magazines I never usually read. One had Amy Poehler on the cover as one of the "100 Most Creative People In Business". The other had a headline and article I will never forget (much as I would like to), entitled, "Why Die?". It describes the efforts of PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel's multi-billion-dollar venture fund's investments in biotech. He is focused on "eradicating death" from human experience, envisioning a future in which this "disturbing inconvenience" is made obsolete.DSC06903 I road Colorado Mountain Express shuttle from the Denver airport to Keystone. I captured a few quick sketches of what that ride is like. Flat flat flat, then you're in the Front Range, with walls on either side and endless ranges unfolding in front of you. I-70 from Denver Airport to the Front Range I-70 on the way to Keystone from Denver I-70 Eisenhower Tunnel from Denver to Silverthorne Colorado Continue reading

What Doctors Can Learn From Artists and Entrepreneurs

IMG_0073_2 Since leaving medicine, I’ve been an entrepreneur and an independent artist. They are similar pursuits, and both have taught me about the experience of living in creative rather than reactive mode. How do you know if you’re living in reactive mode? If you define and measure yourself based on external circumstances, and you believe you really are limited by what’s happening outside yourself, you are in reactive mode. Most of our institutions, including the education system, government, mass media, and the medical training system, are based on the reactive mode. These systems teach you to believe that your success is measured by your ability to manipulate external circumstances, so your attention and efforts should be focused on external metrics. You compare your performance to others on a so-called objective scale, and you rely on statistics to know how you are doing. There is nothing “wrong” with reactive mode. It is the way most of the systems in our society operate. Creative mode requires a 180-degree shift in this perspective. Continue reading

Waking Up To A New World

IMG_4215 As the new year begins to unfold, I am waking up to a brand new world. I am aware of a bigger love within me than I ever knew before. And I came to this awareness not through reading but by acting on my heart's desires. I returned last night from a week-long immersion in Asheville, North Carolina, where I was trained in a beautifully powerful suite of modalities based on reading the map of the eyes. I could tell you about the iris being a map of our thoughts, words, and feelings believed in our other-than-conscious world. I could describe the role of our words and language in creating states of consciousness. I could share that we have a sacred body language that speaks when our mind has not yet found the words. What I choose to share is my experience of receiving true love. In the presence of true love, I was able to touch and love and feel a place within me I had preferred to avoid. A place that was easier to relate to when it was "over there" happening to "those people", many miles or many generations away from my "here and now" reality. However, I know from my experience that trying live above our suppressed emotions, trying to get by with a comfortable material existence, at some point gets old. We grow out of the tiring routine. We know in our hearts something is calling for us to see, touch, feel, and love in a way we have never been able to before. With guidance and great love, we can touch what we feel, and love what we feel, and experience healing beyond the box of what seems possible, reasonable, or explainable. I know I was raised with an intensity and commitment of unrelenting love, which sometimes felt overwhelming. I now love my parents for their intensity and their commitment, and for never letting me off the hook, even when it was hard for them. I love what I feel when it is hard for me, and I love myself as I do it anyway. This unrelenting love is the depth of love our world is created from, moment by moment by moment. And this unrelenting love is the love that will heal our own hearts, moment by moment by moment. I am grateful to have the experience and the tools required to touch the experiences in all of us that we did not, in the past, understand how to love. With true love received specifically in the present moment, we begin a new trajectory in fulfillment of our greater mission in life. If you are ready to wake up to your new world, please get in touch with me for an exploration of how we can partner in your process. I also invite you to join me for a free teleclass on Tuesday, January 20th, entitled, "All About Imagination". Expand your current container and discover a new activation of your imagination from the realm of true potential. Details and registration are here.

What’s it like to discover your unique voice?

IMG_4133 When you hear the word "discovery", do you think of the headlines announcing the latest scientific breakthrough, proclaiming that on this particular day, something was finally proven? Do you imagine discovery to be an event? The emergence of my unique voice has shown me that discovery is an unfolding, like the process of a seed becoming a tree. That slow, that gradual, and that relentless. Somehow I've gotten so accustomed to the two extreme ideas of a thing being either finished (in the past) or somehow out of reach (existing only in the future). Perhaps it's the heavily material focus of our existence, or the way we have woven in consuming, purchasing, and owning things as the foundation of our daily lives. The process of making has brought me closer to the experience of the true unfolding nature of existence. That I may have an idea or an image within me, and I may show up to the blank page with materials available to start making, but only in the act of making do I get to see what "it" becomes. We buy so many things as products. Finished, we are told they are, just because they are presented to us and someone has decided they are finished. We wouldn't dream of altering them, either because we don't know how or we don't have the imagination to see them as anything other than how they were presented to us. We take instructions well as consumers. We believe messages about what we need, and we follow directions about when we need them. We are dictated a value system, and we adopt the belief that we have no choice but to live within it. We are saturated with images of performances. People rehearsing a neat and tidy presentation, hiring stylists, graphic designers, and other specialists to bring a theatrical level of polish to the images we consume at higher and higher frequency. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we are also fed gawdy, rakish displays - also theatrical - of the most unconscious of human behaviors, representing us in our basest moments of turmoil and reactive patterns. Yet what we hunger for is an image that connects us with the truth of our own unfolding process. A story that resonates with our own making and discovering, and everything that the process entails. Not merely the "finished product". After all, what is a "finished" human being? Last week I had a birthday. I celebrated by taking myself to the museum, leading a sound meditation journey for a women's group, and seeing Bobby McFerrin in concert with the San Francisco Symphony (not all on the same day!). I was inspired by this quote by him: "I try to not to 'perform' onstage. I try to sing like I sing when I am in my kitchen. I want to invite audiences to feel the incredible joy and freedom I get when I sing." And in fact, we witnessed that in a delightful way during his performance, when, onstage, he missed a page turn and made up lyrics describing his own mistake and telling the conductor to move on. It was a perfect moment illustrating his motto that there are no mistakes, only opportunities to choose again and keep moving. All of it is simply the same process of creating and unfolding. In the past week or so I have been exploring a new process with my video blogging. My own version of "TED talk", only so not a TED talk. The only resemblance may be the approximate length of the talks (usually around 18 minutes, but sometimes more). I have previously made videos when I "knew" I had something to say. I could record them quickly and I used my camera as a kind of note-taking system to jot down the thoughts I had heard in my head and worked out, usually on long hikes in nature. This time, I am just starting with an impulse to observe something about myself that is coming to the surface. And then keeping the camera on as I talk and discover for myself something that is only revealed to me in the process of making the video. Like the blank canvas process of making I described above, the making of these videos supports an emergence. They are not the product but rather an artifact of a discovery process. You can watch the videos here (in blog form) or here (as a playlist). I hope that in sharing the unfolding of my unique voice that you are inspired to find your own and allow it to be born in its own unique way.

What makes you unique?

IMG_4058 In the weeks since returning from Boulder, I've been spending more time with the idea of the Unique Self teaching of Marc Gafni and the Center for Integral Wisdom. For me it was deeply integrating to hear a story that finally enabled me to bring together both the parts of me I had discovered and cultivated during the last five years - namely, wordless presence, connection with the Oneness, and recognition of egoless identity - and the parts of myself I had "divorced" from - namely, the rules of classical training, the linear reductionist thinking of mechanical science, and the ignoring of subjective experience. How refreshing to hear someone say, "You can't meditate your ego away. You can't meditate your story away." This was part of my experience as a meditation practitioner! I wanted to put certain chapters in the past, as "the way I used to be", believing that in order to become who I knew myself to be - both creative and spiritual - I needed to forget who I once was. No matter how many relationships I walked away from, no matter how many new practices I adopted, no matter how many new communities I joined, I could not completely ignore my prior experience and stories, and the curiosity I felt about bringing my new learning back to my old communities. I could not pretend they were not in me. Oh, I tried. But I never felt complete in my expression, or full in my generosity of sharing. It was as if there were problems I knew existed, in distant parts of the world, that I was deliberately ignoring for the sake of elevating myself beyond them, transcending them by trying not to pay attention to them anymore. I kept my eyes forward, visioning my ideal life over and over again. And still I felt there was a connection I was not making. The image of my Unique Self "plugging in" to the infinite mesh of the One via a radically unique shape - not just a generic plug into a generic outlet, but a unique contour fitting in like a puzzle piece perfectly matching in every subtle turn of form - is supporting me to integrate all of my stories, all of my prior and current experiences, and to show up as me. I am now opening my vision to include all the parts of me I would rather hide and avoid, the parts I would rather not have you see, AND embracing my brilliance and light and infinite creativity at a level previously unrecognized....not as opposing sides of a coin, but as different and equally essential points on the same sphere of my wholeness. So what makes YOU unique? What are the points that constitute the unique shape of your piece of the mighty jigsaw puzzle of all that is? The invitation of our times is to hold this paradox: what you think you are is not who you really are, and exactly who you are is all you need to be. When you show up as all of exactly who you are, you heal, transform, and create a world in the way that only you can.

Be Willing to Drop the F Bomb

IMG_3704 When I was a senior in high school applying to college, I remember one university had as its essay question, "What was your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?". I remember considering not applying to that school because I couldn't think of a failure to write about. At the time, I was on the receiving end of a lot of attention and praise for never having failed (publicly at least). But now as an adult, I know the trap of living a life based on avoidance of failure. It's no success to have reached all the goals that have been set for you, to have checked all the boxes other people have laid out as important for you, and then to look in the mirror and not recognize yourself. Or to have your body screaming in pain or exhaustion. Having been there and done that, I have rediscovered the vital importance of failure. Not "achieving" failure as an identity, but being willing to fail. I gave a workshop on Friday to a group of engineers, coaches, consultants, startup founders, and other change agents interested in how groups of people grow and learn. It was based entirely around sound, voice, and music improvisation - in other words, the most common fears of about ninety-nine percent of the population. The name of the workshop was, "Play the Wrong Note: Daring Adventures in Learning, Failure, and Creativity". The title actually refers to a specific moment in my life when everything changed for me. Those four words - "Play the wrong note" - were the four most compassionate words ever spoken to me by a teacher. No one in a position of authority had ever said, "Lisa, I want to see you break the rules. And I'll help you." It turned out to be the most loving instructions I ever received, and the framework for an entire body of work. Continue reading

Exercise Your Write To Be Free

Photo by Jeffrey James Pacres https://www.flickr.com/photos/jjpacres/

Photo by Jeffrey James Pacres https://www.flickr.com/photos/jjpacres/

I rarely share client stories, but a recent experience is birthing a whole new way of working for me. I just finished a 30-day writing experiment with a physician client who is just starting out on a brand new path. Having already found the courage to leave his medical practice and head into the open space of the unknown, we worked on rekindling a secret dream he's held for a long time, maybe his whole life: writing. He always wanted to try writing, but never did because he had a belief it was too impractical and was no way to make a living. Yet he knew he had stories to share, and ones that would help others if he did. I wanted to hear these stories myself. I was curious what touched him so deeply about his experiences in medicine. I knew that in hearing these stories, we could both experience a healing journey. So I came up with this idea, which I had never done with a client before: a writing experiment. The assignment was to write daily for ten minutes a day, thirty days in a row. Then send that writing to me, which I read every day. Mostly we let the process run itself, but we had two phone conversations during the month, once to check in and then again to review the entire process. I knew that a small, daily commitment done over a sustained period of time would lead to something. A new habit at the very least. An awakened sense of hope and creativity I envisioned as possible. What I didn't expect was the vast territory we would cover in those ten minutes of daily writing each day. Not only did I learn from my client's deep minings that occurred from this type of reflection, but I heard accounts of key moments, important feelings, and long-held beliefs that it might have taken months to get to with traditional weekly phone coaching calls. In timed writing, you get to the heart of the matter quickly. You can try to dance around, squirm a bit, but the hand keeps moving and the clock keeps ticking, and something gets said that has juice to it, even if at the very end. And when you have a curious, compassionate witness, who wants to hear more, and will ask you questions and deliver you the next prompt to inspire more writing, it unfolds with surprising beauty. Continue reading