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
I 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!
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.I went back to photograph the original pieces that had inspired my memory.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Why is “love” such a hot button word for so many of us? It seems we remain as divided with respect to this word as we are on so many other issues. There are “hopeless romantics” and there are “anti-Valentine’s” party hosts. There are those who sprinkle the word “love” over every communication with strangers or friends, and there are those who use it sparingly, like precious strands of saffron reserved only for the finest occasion.
We never said the word “love” in our house, so during my childhood, I formed the belief that something was missing from my experience compared to the outer world of suburban midwestern America I lived in. We didn’t talk like the characters on The Brady Bunch. The emotions expressed in my family were much more raw, more volatile, so close to the surface and not easily contained. The love I experienced was unrelenting, filled with the need to protect me from constant imminent danger, and would never let me off the hook.
Over a lifetime of accumulating ideas of what love is – from what I was told, from what I experienced, and from what I imagined – I decided, other-than-consciously, that it was not safe to love fully. Continue reading
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
There is a scene in the movie, The Matrix, in which the main character Neo is offered a choice between the “red pill” and the “blue pill”.
This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.
Does it excite you to imagine discovering how deep the rabbit hole goes? Or do you notice a resistance toward leaving the comfort of your current reality?
In the movie, “truth” at first appears as a chilling image of the planet taken over by machines, living off the energy of human beings who are lying unconscious inside jars of gelatinous solvent. Towards the end of the film, it is love received from his beloved which finally wakes Neo up to the reality of his own illusion. That he has believed in everything within the Matrix, and through that belief he has created his own truth. With new eyes touched by love, he sees everything as it actually is: a construct of his own consciousness, where elements take on only the meaning he assigns to them.
Awakening to choice – realizing in any moment that you have a choice – is a moment of connecting to your creative power. Notice that your power to choose always resides inside you. You choose whether to activate your own power by choosing to choose.
No one, no thing, no place, no circumstance outside you can, without your consent, take your power away. You may have been taught to give your power away in the past. Forgive yourself and choose now to be your own power.
The most powerful choice you have is to awaken to the love that you are. Survival and “getting through life” may have hardened you to this truth. You may have learned to protect your core from fully receiving what you feel. By protecting yourself from what you feel, you have denied yourself love. You have refused to shine the light of love on certain aspects of your experience, while insisting on exposing only the so-called acceptable parts. When you encounter a situation that brings you close to touching what you feel, do you stay or do you run? Continue reading
It has been fourteen years since I graduated from University of Michigan Medical School. I have journeyed far from the field of medicine, and yet my heart keeps hearing the call to return to my physician communities and share what I have learned. I simply cannot ignore my sense that the pain within our health care system – now felt at every level, including patients, physicians, and payors – is a resounding call to wake us up to our next stage of evolution.
It takes only a cursory scanning of the headlines of medical blogs like this one to get a sense for the unrest, the frustration, and the abundance of innovative practices emerging as a result of the rising sense of powerlessness among doctors. I left medicine immediately after receiving my MD, moving into uncharted waters after the Dean of Career Development at Michigan told me, “You’re on your own. We can’t help you with that.” This was when, as a fourth year student, I announced I would be pursuing a career in venture capital.
I volunteered at a private equity investment firm – yes, I worked for no pay – and six weeks later, I was hired as an Associate. Within two years I was the youngest partner-level Investment Manager in the firm. No one told me this was possible. I simply would not accept anyone else’s opinion of what I could or could not do. Especially after what I witnessed in my world of medical training.
One of my most vivid memories was on my Vascular Surgery rotation, where I was absolutely loving the concept of what we were doing – as intellectual masturbation material. But in practice, what I saw was my future laid out in the following scenarios. The second year resident, sick as a dog, showed up to work anyway, and, too weak to stand, lay down on a gurney in the OR while a case was going on. The third year vascular surgery fellow, a gentile Southern man, was in the middle of a lower extremity bypass graft and stepped out of the room. He lifted his mask, vomited into the scrub sink, and then reentered the OR to continue the procedure. This happened two more times within the same procedure before he completed.
Many of you reading this may be nodding and saying, “Yup. That’s just the way it is. Suck it up or leave it.” And my question is, “If you have trained yourself not to feel, what else might you be missing in your experience of other people?”. Continue reading
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.
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.
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