The Art of Living Happy

The Art of Living Happy

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.

~ Ralph Waldo Emmerson

I recently heard this notion that keeping oneself busy meeting friends for coffee, movies, or dinner dates, and shopping, or all the myriad ways we fill our time, may just be a form of distraction keeping us creatives from making our art – that which our soul yearns for us to create, and the world needs.

For the past couple of years I felt like I was living in limbo. I had this intense desire to write, but the words were often stuck inside, all bottled up.

During this time I became aware I had a constant low-grade anxiety (okay maybe more than low-grade). Truthfully, this awareness came when I began to take medicine to manage spinal stenosis and arthritis pain. The realization hit when the immediate benefit was a lack of anxiety. I felt easier in my body. It took the ease of it, the missing of it, to make me see.

This anxiety had become a constant, perhaps throughout my life. I’ve certainly beat myself up enough, certainly put a great deal of pressure on myself, certainly felt not enough in so many ways.

This past several weeks words have begun to flow in the form of poetry. In my last post I wrote about how it feels like I’ve come home – to myself – in writing poetry.

It’s been a release, a transcendent experience, and one of finding a measure of wholeness. In fact, it’s become so therapeutic I decided to experiment to see if the anxiety and pain would flare up if I reduced my medication.

I’m doing a slow, gradual withdrawal so that I can closely monitor things, and so far writing poetry has been winning as a pain and anxiety replacement – for me. (Of course, I can’t recommend it to anyone else.) Yes, even with all our lives being upended and we now live in a surreal world, with the coronavirus pandemic threatening every aspect of life, health, and livelihoods – writing poetry continues to be a cathartic healing experience.

Mind you, at the forefront of all this is being aware my faith in God is being tested, as is the case for all of us.

How much do we trust him?

How strong is our faith?

A book I am currently reading (very slowly for a deep integration) is The Year of Living Happy: Finding Contentment and Connection in a Crazy World, by Alli Worthington. I think there couldn’t be a more perfect time to read a book such as this.

Is it possible to be happy in these current uncertain times, when our ways of living are being uprooted?

I’ve spent several days mulling over and meditating upon what the author proposes just in the first chapter titled Happy Roots. She tells us that if we can live, with our happiness rooted deeply in God, then the temporary trials of the day will not throw us off.

… true happiness comes only from Him. It does not come through our material possessions, our relationships, or our circumstances.

~ Alli Worthington, The Year of Living Happy

Oh wow. How had I not understood it in this way before?!

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,

   whose trust is in the LORD.

He is like a tree planted by water,

   that sends out its roots by the stream,

and does not fear when heat comes,

   for its leaves remain green,

and it does not cease to bear fruit.

~ Jeremiah 17:7-8

It will soon be three years since I became a Christian, but I had lacked that insight. Over the years of my creative life (and life in general) I’ve had many successes and many failures, and upon reflection both aspects left me feeling something was missing and not quite right. Most important to note are how the successes made me feel. My accomplishments should have made me happy, right? The relationship with my wonderful loving husband should make me happy, right? Sometimes they did, but that kind of happiness is fleeting. It lasts only a moment. It’s not a day-in, day-out kind of happiness.

Pondering the idea that God should be the source of my happiness is illuminating, and a little confusing. I mean, how does that work?

I’m trying to take it in. I suppose this is not a matter of trying, but of letting the Almighty integrate this into my inner self.

I have to admit though, it is creating a lightness within, and despite also having been terribly sick with a cold and self-isolating, I am waking more now with a growing hope, a growing happiness that is not dependent on how I’m physically feeling, what I’m doing, or what I have.

It makes me wonder, is it possible to live each day, to write it on our heart that every day is the best day in the year, as Mr. Ralph Waldo Emmerson tells us? I can only speak for me, without God, without hope, without faith – it’s not.

Writing poetry is healing, it is transcendent, but without my believing in God, it’s not inspired.

Here’s a little excerpt from my poem titled The Calling Forth Garden

When you have a big grief…

When you have a big grief…

I came across an author interview on YouTube yesterday, featuring Mary Karr and Helen Macdonald. Mary, I have listened to on numerous occasions, but never before had I heard of Helen. She is the author of H is for Hawk, an autobiographical account of how she trained a predatory goshawk as a way to deal with her father’s death.

It was not a far-fetched thing for her as she was a falconer, and it wasn’t losing her father that intrigued me, it was her extraordinary poetic and sublimely articulate way of describing this period in her life that did. (Please excuse the excessive use of adverbs.)

Having lost my father last year, I could relate to her escapism. Though, far from becoming a naturalist, I dove into the boring job of cleaning, decluttering and reorganizing cupboards and closets in my home. I had such zeal and energy for this – until I didn’t. Then everything came crashing down.

Helen is British and between her accent and beautiful vocabulary, I soaked up the conversation as nourishment for my soul. However, I had to pause the video when she said, “When you have a big grief you can’t be you anymore”.

Those words spoke to the core of my experience and I could think of nothing else until I put some words to it in a poem.  Not caring whether it was good or not, in fact it probably isn’t. It begins like this:

When You Have a Big Grief…

The whole stratosphere shatters

everything is transient

nothing can be trusted

the ground becomes

a gaping hole.

The poem continues for several stanzas and then I went for a walk.

Inspired, I suppose, by Helen’s experiences with training, living and hunting with her hawk “Mabel”, I chose to finally face a death of another nature. One that took place on May 21, 2018. An overnight fire at Sunnybrook Stables in Toronto, taking the lives of 16 horses.

I was a frequent visitor to the stables over the years; watching the horses grazing in the field or jumping in training sessions. When I heard of the fire it sucked the air out of me in shock and grief. My coping mechanism was to shut it out because it hurt too much.

As I watch the news clip, finally, today – my heart flutters its sadness.

I went resolutely prepared to see death in remnants of the barn. I know it’s almost two years, but time collapsed and I thought it was only perhaps one. Regardless, for some reason I expected to see a charred building abandoned. Instead there was only the ground – with a gaping hole.

The Sunnybrook Stables has been a city icon, a heritage for over 100 years – gone now and not to be rebuilt.

A big death indeed.

Grief is a long slow process. It comes in waves and tsunami’s.  There’s pain and sorrow, anger and fits, impatience and burrowing away under covers.

Here’s another excerpt from my poem:

The world shouts to get back on the train

but that within, whispers, no don’t.

 

It’s too soon for hope

too soon for wings

too soon for all the noise

 

but faith with lonely,

now that’s a sacred thing.

The line between life and death is so very thin and most of us never live in that knowing – until it comes for us.

I very much want to live with an open heart, to not shut down when the hard times consume. It takes intentional, thoughtful effort to live a breathtaking life. Writing, journaling and other creative practices help us to slow life down, to take notice, to feel, to think and to reflect on what our living means to ourselves, to others, and to our God.

I feel the pressure to jump back on the train some days, with the push and pull of the world whirling all around, but the sacred does call; the spirit within and the pen and paper. The latter infinitely more enticing.

 

Rehabilitation from the Outside In or is it Inside Out?

Rehabilitation from the Outside In or is it Inside Out?

Imagine for a moment, a woman living inside this broken-down home. Standing slightly back from the window or perhaps even chained to a chair, not by iron but by a damaged body and shattered spirit. Peering out, lost in belonging to what, she wonders.

Her world becomes small and hope wedges itself in the cracks of the brick and mortar. The sands of time crumbling away in the dust.

The ache of it all patched and cemented in the withering and rotting. What life is there left to live in the watching it creep away? What meaning is this to the emptied out and broken?

I can imagine her or him all too well. Can you?

In fact, I’ve been her.

This image spoke well to the haunting of my past. To the mind and thoughts, the heart and body, the lies and false bravado I clung to. All of it manifesting into a body breaking down long before its time. The heart of me desperately wanting… seeking… love and the holiness in the ultimate love.

But it’s not found in the repeating, in the doing of the same thing over and over no matter how hard the work is for different results. Something other must appear – Grace in the wake of pleas and prayers and barrenness.

I was lost in the new age and the more I tried to find myself there, the wider the separation grew from my soul and my body. The bigger and wider I tried to see into The Universe, the deeper I plunged into physical pain and spiritual warfare.

I screamed in agony outwardly and stripped myself inwardly, until nothing was left, and hope seemed elusive. I had it all, yet I had nothing.

Until a miracle occurred. The Lord, he reached out his hand and offered me his Grace, a new way and a new life. I do bow down in worship and gratitude, every morning you can find me there. He rescued me from a broken way of living, in the ruined shell of a house.

This past year has been one of glory and trial, of love and letting go of the past. It’s not an easy thing, the letting go to become something other – the myself in the offering, in the making.

Over my life, I’ve had a couple of back injuries and have a genetic disposition to spinal stenosis, which after twelve long years of living with pain and a walking disability, and numerous tests, it was finally diagnosed this winter.

Too young. Too soon. Twelve years of hope receding, disintegrating and resignation setting in, my world was getting smaller. Like the decaying leaning falling down home.

I’ve learned to pray. And, I know that nothing is impossible for God. My prayers for healing whispered in earnest with the caveat, if this is your will I will endure. The difference now being I live knowing where I belong and to who – so there so much life and living in me now.

There came with the diagnosis a feeling of closure and peace in the knowing. According to the medical professionals there is no cure, but there also came a silver lining and a sliver of hope.

I’ve been off the radar living deeply in a rehabilitation program these past few months. It’s been intense, twice weekly visits to a hospital for therapy and rehab and engaging in a growing intensity twice daily exercise regime, to build strength, flexibility, manage pain, and with hope and fingers crossed (prayers!) that the impinged nerve causing the disability will heal over time.

My body is changing and growing stronger. It’s been hard and exhausting. Where the hope lies, I’ve become aware, is in the healing of old wounds and in the letting go of the past, and the lies I’ve believed.

Yes, the daily exercise regime makes me stronger physically, mentally too and there have been improvements in pain relief and management, but where something spectacular happens is in the moments when I pray, and I see, and I make strides in letting go of the past hauntings and the need for things to be different.

As I give it all up and thank God for the life he has given me, as I learn to see my life, and every one, and every thing, and every situation as a blessed gift from him – then the life that was and all the suffering releases, and it is then I experience moments of ease of walking, of mind and body and soul.

The tension softens with each breath of grace, and all of being is in a twinkling lasting eternity. All striving and wanting something different is forgotten. The sands of grief carried off in a breeze become seeing and being through the eyes of our creator.

And, when life is lifted up, given up, and praised as the gift it is, the moment becomes so very precious.

I’ve given myself to living this physical and spiritual rehabilitation. Turning away from social media and all the comparing and need for validation it conjures up, turning toward God instead.

Learning to lean more and more into him with each trial of faith. Spending time with him where life feels alive – in prayer, in studying the scriptures, and for me in writing. I know I am undergoing big changes from the inside out, though it may look like it is on the outside, the real change happens deep within.

Writing points the way for me. It reveals a living full, in the now and a future. What it specifically looks like is still a mystery. I’m learning there is beauty in the not knowing.

There is beauty in the not knowing.

There is beauty and wisdom and understanding waiting to be found in the resisting and suffering.

Grace is but a breath away.

When life should seem enough, but it isn’t.

When love should fill up everything, but it doesn’t.

When there instead, is a niggling nagging feeling something is missing.

When grief, anxiety, or fear is a consistent presence.

If anyone is reading this, if this is you in any way, take some time away from the world pressing in, from noise and distractions… to pay attention to little (or big) things that are trying to speak to your soul. Ponder what is important, what is truly important. What will fill the deep ache, not on the surface of living, but eternally, infinitely, everlastingly.

Seeking the deeper meaning of life, when I’d finally exhausted all the ways that seemed to take me back to suffering,  helped me to hear God calling my name. Everything shifted. Everything I thought I knew or believed altered, when I heard, and felt the love waiting for me to say yes.

This love that overcomes all and fills every need and desire is real. It calls your name. In the quiet place. In a whisper, the soul hears.

Celebrating Diversity Across Canada… Hooray My Series is Finished!

Celebrating Diversity Across Canada… Hooray My Series is Finished!

It’s been over a year in the making, longer by several months than I had planned, and I had many moments of wondering whether I had anything creative left in me to finish this big project. But, here before the month is out, it gives me such immense pleasure to announce that the Canada Legacy Series of paintings is finally complete!

In a moment of great inspiration in the fall of 2016 I came up with an idea to explore diversity across Canada by weaving together painterly stories of our past, present and potential across territories and provinces to celebrate a full expression of the truth and beauty of Canada.

My plan with the Canada’s Beautiful World project was to take nine months to explore each of the territories and provinces; it’s history, culture, peoples, arts, and stories, and connect with the land and spirit to create paintings dedicated to expressing a voice, values and lessons each of us brings in creating a new frontier.

I had traveled in seven of the ten provinces and looked forward to reconnecting with them and virtually exploring the rest of Canada, as I began though, I quickly discovered that the scope of the project was much bigger and more time consuming than I anticipated.

The first several pieces I dove into a great amount of research and then had to find a way to distill what I learned into my impression of each of the territories and provinces. As time went on I realized that to continue with the amount of research I was doing it would take me more like two years to finish painting these thirteen pieces.

The history was fascinating, the diversity so much more diverse than I could have imagined from the indigenous peoples to those who immigrated from other places far and wide. The landscapes, scenery, arts and culture so abundantly rich and beautiful, sometimes utterly breathtakingly stunning.

Of course, there are the harsh sides, those that pull on the heart and made me want to wail in pleas and protests, which included environmental issues and global warming challenges that are greatly impacting the way of life in many places, though in the urban areas we are so largely unaware.

The making of ‘The Secrets of the Great Bear Sea’ for British Columbia, for example, was dedicated to bringing attention to the threats of the proposed oil pipelines through these waters, and the impact it poses to the whales, birds, seals, fish and ecology along the coastline and beyond.

SECRETS OF THE GREAT BEAR SEA British Columbia

In the territories, I was moved to overwhelming concern about the effects of global warming, as the indigenous peoples are speaking out about, though who is listening. Their winters growing warmer, the ice disappearing, the winds over the past couple of decades have actually changed direction. The winds have changed direction! It might not mean a whole lot to the rest of us, but to them this is a huge concern for survival. They can no longer make accurate predictions in weather patterns or changing seasons, and it affects their tracking and hunting so vital for their livelihood.

The polar bears are forced inland, as I discovered in not only the territories, but also in Manitoba, ‘Where the Polar Bears Reign.’ In Churchill, Manitoba – the thoroughfare to the seas for the bears, there are great numbers of them having to scavenge in the urban areas, in the dumps, anywhere they can search for food that is no longer available to them because of the receding islands of ice where they would normally live and swim and hunt.

WHERE POLAR BEARS REIGN Manitoba

Now, in this place people live with the real danger everyday of being attacked by a bear, so they are forced to change the way they live, having to travel in groups, staying indoors to stay alive. Children can no longer feel free to go outside and play, in fact, for Halloween their trick or treating door-to-door is restricted to a night in at the community centre. Table-to-table instead.

There is so much that is extraordinarily beautiful to behold, but I was also becoming weighted down with angst and depression at times, and with the amount of research going into each piece to prepare me for making the painting, I made the decision to alter my approach.

My research scaled back and instead I kept my ears, eyes and heart opened for what beauty, story or culture would draw me in with a desire to experience it somehow, and then give it voice through brush and paint to abstract representations on wooden panels.

Acrylic paint. Oil sticks. Gold mica flakes. Glitter. Pastel sticks. Pencils. These were the mediums I used.

Brushes. Palette knives. Chop sticks. My fingers. These were the tools I used.

West to East, first from the North through the territories and Nunavut, then through the provinces from British Columbia easterly across the nation wrapping up in Newfoundland and Labrador.

What a journey it has been. New discoveries to memories revisited.

In the making of ‘The Princely Isle,’ (Prince Edward Island PEI) a long-forgotten memory came bidding up unexpectantly when coming across a photo of the typewriter Lucy Maud Montgomery used to write her Anne of Green Gables series of books. I remembered, in a hazy recollection, seeing this very typewriter when I was nine years old, just shy of 50 years ago, and suddenly realizing that there were people who wrote the books I loved reading, loving the slinking away and slipping into other worlds. It might have been in that moment of realization that the yen, the yearning, the calling to write was born. The calling that would seek me and find me time and again, until I could no longer live or breathe without it.

THE PRINCELY ISLE by Kiernan Antares

THE PRINCELY ISLE Prince Edward Island

To finish up the series in Newfoundland and Labrador was pure delight. ‘The Rock Stands Out,’ from ancient metamorphic rocks and glacial fjords to the quirky, slightly off-kilter and many dialects of English, where storytelling is their way, I fell in love and put this place I’ve yet to visit on my bucket list. I swooned in the echoes of their own way of living and the stories being told, so their forgetting never happens.

THE ROCK STANDS OUT Newfoundland and Labrador

It would be a vision fulfilled to see this entire Canada Legacy Series find a building for its home, hung together in celebration for our nation, past, present and future. If you know of such a place or have any thoughts or ideas, please do send me a note.

In the midst of a physically challenging January, with a cold being passed back and forth plaguing our home, somehow the inspiration, motivation, drive and energy compelled me to make my way into the studio, to forge ahead and open the floodgates for the creative flow that would bring the project home to completion.

Despite the artist block that plagued me like no other in my years of painting, I am filled with good measure of gratitude and fulfillment in this undertaking. I am richer for it, for all that I’ve learned, experienced, and created. I am filled. And, I am pleased with the artworks and my growth as an artist and as a writer finding my voice.

I am so very grateful to my husband for encouraging me, helping me to keep the focus, and for reminding me I can do whatever I set out to do.

I am also very grateful for all of you who cheered me on over the past year and wrote encouraging words that inspired me to keep going!

Most especially, I am grateful to God for giving me the gift of writing and painting, to express my heart and soul and all that he made me to be, through the way of words and colour.

May the long-time sun of dreams and purpose and calling be found in each one of us. May our destiny find us willing and ready. May courage strike a chord in all of our hearts that we may be filled to the measure, through our grit, and slings and arrows may our home find us in a deep abiding joy.

With love,
Kiernan

The Rock Where Everything’s a Little Off-Kilter

The Rock Where Everything’s a Little Off-Kilter

I’ve never been so charmed by a people as of those from Newfoundland and Labrador. How can you find them anything but endearing?

Oh the arts, the culture, the storytelling, the landscapes, ocean creatures, land and sky, the whole of it so rich, it beckons to the writer in me to want to escape into and create my own stories. Fantastical stories, sweet stories, whimsical stories, romantic ones too, for I do believe they see all of it, all of the life of it through their heart’s making.

The colour, the stunning beauty, the quaint and quirky, the off-the-beaten-path of living. Their tales with language of their own making. Can I just peak away and live in an imaginative world upon The Rock, just for a little while at least?

Painting The Rock Stands Out didn’t come all at once, no it took some effort, trying this here and that there, adding and pulling back. I nearly gave up on it because I couldn’t see it, then suddenly there it was.

I had colourful inspiration to gaze upon, but ultimately this photo became my muse that I landed on…

In between the strokes, I delighted in watching videos… listening to their lyrical voices, and their living close in that is their paradise. Here are a few to enjoy…

Can you tell I’m a poetic and romantic at heart, swooned by stories?

I’ve done my share of traveling in North America, the Caribbean Islands, Europe, Africa, and until I began this virtual painting journey across Canada I didn’t realize how much magnificence there was across this nation. Places I discovered would be so cool to visit, but the one that captured my heart the most is Newfoundland-it’s become THE  place that I want to put on a bucket list. So, BW if you read this, whether my man is keen or not, we’re coming to visit!

Dreams Coming Alive… in the Remembering Places

Dreams Coming Alive… in the Remembering Places

“Going around by the main road would have been so unromantic; but to go by Lover’s Lane and Willowmere and Violet Vale and the Birch Path was romantic, if ever anything was.”

~ Anne of Green Gables – L. M. Montgomery

I was only nine on the cusp of turning ten, so the memories are perhaps not so reliable, and of course, our memories are always tainted by the limited awareness  and perception we have in the snapshot of a moment anyway.

I might even romanticize, what flashes in the turning upwards of my lips into a smile, what precious happiness there might have been, there and then… on The Princely Isle.

The walk along Balsam Hollow Trail, at Anne of Green Gables. A father’s thick calloused hand, made so by hard labour in a factory by day, and saws and hammers and nails in building on weekends, holds his daughter’s protectively. The ground made smooth by thousands, maybe millions of steps before them. A canopy of green, alluring, beckoning trees, a brook laughing itself in the hollow, vagabonds of the orange spotted Touch-Me-Not’s and Blue Violet’s delighting the senses.

A daughter, happy to be inhabiting her father’s world in this magical place, who takes pleasure in her mother’s arm around her shoulder as they pause and pose for a lifetime cherished photo.

Mum and Me 1971 Anne of Green Gables in PEI

What speaks to the heart, what inspires, what moves, what calls to that holy place where hopes and dreams find a stronghold to draw up, and down, and inward that are destined to burst outward, somehow, this delight, is so very different for each one of us.

Our magical place where we come alive, I think if we dig we can trace it back to a door that opened in childhood… to give us a peek, or to mold us and shape us and steer us back toward it if we’ve forgotten.

When I came across this photo doing research on Prince Edward Island… my heart skipped a beat as a flash, a lightening fast remembrance of perhaps THE moment when the concept of being a writer was set in motion. I was a reader from a very young age, oh yes I escaped in Nancy Drew seeking clues in her mysteries, I reveled in stories, but until perchance THIS moment when we came upon L.M. Montgomery’s typewriter, I had never given consideration to the ones, the marvelous ones who wrote, who dreamed up the stories and made them come alive on the page.

Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Typewriter at Ann of Green Gables, PEI

I’ve had this thing, this fixation, this happiness, this drawing to… anything coastal, anything horses, anything featuring writers… television shows, books, films… if it has any one of these elements in it, I’m there, enchanted, watching or reading… if it has a combination of any two of these things… oh boy! Maybe it all started in that dreamy time in PEI… when I was a young girl.

What sparks in childhood come alive in us? What dreams await for us to remember?

Researching, remembering, contemplating, and painting my piece for PEI in the Canada Series, The Princely Isle seemed to have touched a special place, a special remembering place inside.

THE PRINCELY ISLE by Kiernan Antares

THE PRINCELY ISLE by Kiernan Antares | Acrylic & Pencil on 24″ X 30″ Gallery Wood Panel | #18P-002-138-BW

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It has always seemed to me, ever since childhood, amid all the commonplaces of life, I was very near to a kingdom of ideal beauty. Between it and me hung only a thin veil. I could never draw it quite inside, but sometimes a wind fluttered it and I caught a glimpse of the enchanting realms beyond – only a glimpse – but those glimpses have always made life worthwhile.”

~ L.M. Montgomery

What dreams may come for you, in your remembering places?

Kiernan