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My Beloved Dead

Artist journal page created by Connla Freyjason for an Artist Journaling group in which he was formerly very active. The theme for that day? Lies he has told…..Features elements from the January Gathering: Winter Time (available by clicking this image) by Duncan.

It’s that time of year again: the time of year when even the Muggles don’t have troubles talking about the Beloved Dead and actively seeking them out.  Halloween (Samhain) has been my favorite time of year since I was a child because it is the one and only time of the year where I, Michelle Iacona, get to “put my crazy on the front porch”, as they say down South.  It’s the one and only time of the year when people like me, who can do what I do, are even semi-accepted by the Muggles. It’s the one and only time of the year when I feel like I can be completely myself.  The rest of the year, I have, for most of my life, been forced to live inside the shell of a firestorm of lies, and so have my Beloved Dead. You see, I bring most of mine with me, everywhere I go.

For the past twenty-four years, I have literally given over my life to being a shamanic trans-medium.  When you say the word medium to most people, it either conjures images of some wizened old gypsy-woman, sitting in a trance in a very controlled environment, while the dead speak through her in her voice, or of some young, hip whipper-snapper who is constantly spot-on, but defines mediumship simply as relaying the messages of the dead to the seeker(s) (ala Hollywood Medium).  Neither of those is what I do.  I’m not that kind of medium.  There is very little that is “controlled” about my environment–sure, we have wards on our house, and I have wards on my person, and I have a few in my “ranks” who actively act as guardian or warrior figures; that’s pretty much where any of the normal definitions of “controlled environment” begin and end.  I can literally “switch off” with any of the members of my “ranks” at the drop of a hat, and with some of them, most Muggles would have zero clue that “Mishy has left the building”.  I patently do not “channel on cue”; I don’t “take requests”; I’m not a deejay.  What I do is not a “parlour trick”, nor is it a service I perform for the living.  No, this is a service I perform strictly for the Dead. And these Dead have, over the past twenty-four years, become Beloved.

I’ve often been asked by those who actually understand what I do–such people are few and far between–precisely why I do it.  I give up a lot of my time to do this; I have literally risked my lifemy livelihood, and my relationships with other living people to do this.  It would be so much easier simply to be the priestess, the Druid, the writer, than to do this.  In fact, because I do this, I actually have very little time for all of those other things that I can do, and do well.  So why would anyone choose this life?  Because I love them.  I love them with a love that is completely selfless, and very few people ever get to know love like that, much less express it themselves.

I certainly don’t do it because of what the Dead might teach me.  Trust me, I’ve been “at this” long enough to know that just because they’re dead, doesn’t mean they’re smart! Contrary to apparent popular belief, death is not the sort of spiritual awakening most people seem to think it is.  Does it clue you in, often quite suddenly, to what’s really going on in the Universe? Sure.  It’s definitely a crash course in cosmology, not unlike being thrown into the deep end of the largest swimming pool imaginable.  Most of the Dead I know and have met have been shocked by that, most of them to the point that they honestly need therapy: someone who can actively listen to what they’ve just experienced, and then help them make some sense of it.  In fact, the “cosmic newsflash from the Great Beyond” that is that sudden dip in the “cosmological pool” is often so overwhelming that the Dead actually need a break from it.  Luckily, I’m here, to give them that break.

Which works out nicely, because given my disability, I could also really use a break from my own body.  Lots of people have psoriasis and/or psoriatic arthritis, and live with it every day.  Very few people have psoriasis and/or psoriatic arthritis on the level that I have it.  That’s not just my opinion: that is the very informed official diagnosis of the former head of Pediatric Dermatology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC).  If you are not actively living in my skin–as my Dead do–you cannot fully understand what I live with, on a day-to-day basis.  Imagine your own body attacking you.  Pretend your skin breaks open and secretes acid whenever it takes a notion to do so, while at the same time your bones are eating themselves and erroding.  That is what I experience every day.  So, yeah, I need a break.  Thankfully, my Dead love me back with that same selfless love, and are willing to step in and give it to me.

It’s rare that I get to use the personal pronoun “I”; most of the time, you will hear me refer to myself with what my Dead and some of my dearest live friends, relatives, and lovers have jokingly come to refer to as “the royal we”.  That’s because the instant I stepped foot on this path, my life ceased to be merely about me.  Suzanne jokingly referred to me today as the MDTA–Mass Dead Transit Authority–and she’s not wrong!  My life has become the paragon of that famous quote from Star Trek II: The Wrath of KhanThe needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.  Wherever I go, whatever I do, the Dead are not far behind. What happens in my life reverberates in their afterlives, and vice versa, when they are here on the physical plane, “riding” me, or “horsing” me, or however you want to describe them inhabiting my flesh and blood person.  I have a responsibility to my Dead, and my Dead also have a responsibility to me.  We keep each other safe; we work to better each other’s welfare.  If you ever needed a real definition of what a symbiotic relationship actually is, take a look at our life, and you will find it.

Experiencing life (and death) in this way has taught me lessons in loyalty that most people never get to learn. The quickest way to end up on my shit list is to hurt or offend one of my Dead.  I have both ended relationships with the living and had relationships ended for me by the living due to my ardent defense of my Dead.  The Celtic Value of Loyalty informs everything I do in my life, and everything my Dead do in their afterlives, in relation to me, and this has been the case for twenty-four years between myself and Connla, twenty-two years between myself and Taliesin, and soon-to-be twenty years between myself and Michael.  “Newcomers” (whom we lovingly refer to as “Newlydeads”) quickly learn the value of loyalty within the scope of this relationship, too.  In the end, I don’t care if one of my Dead has been with me for two years or twenty:  they’re already dead, they’ve been through enough; hurt or offend them at your own peril. I will become the protective mother (think: Kali-ma), when it comes to them, and that is a side of me nobody wants to see! They reciprocate that loyalty: hurt or offend me, their “vessel” or “conduit” (and also, more importantly, their new family), and be prepared for a reaction equal to someone defending their child, spouse, or mother from an arsonist.  

These lessons in loyalty that I have learned in relationship to my Beloved Dead have often made it very hard for me to socialize with the living.  In fact, for the most part, up until four years ago, I had reached a point where, apart from a very few live people, I honestly preferred the company of the Dead.  The Dead don’t tend to stab you in the back as often as the living.  Perhaps that’s because they can more clearly see all they stand to lose by doing so.  The Dead don’t take a look at this particular situation and decide “oh, wait, I don’t believe in that”, or “I don’t believe in you”, or “I don’t believe this is actually happening”.  The Dead don’t point their fingers at me and call me a devil worshipper or a fake.  No, they are quite aware of what they are experiencing and what we are going through.  The Dead don’t demand “prove its”.  Live people tend to do all of that and more.

Which is why, when we moved North four years ago, and suddenly found ourselves in a whole new world (cue that song from Disney’s Aladdin), surrounded by people who actually understand what I can do, and what we are doing, we still didn’t tell those people what’s actually “going on” here.  We finally found ourselves in a position where we were meeting people who we honestly wanted to keep in our lives, which is rare for all of us, myself included.  We’ve lost more people than I care to count over the past twenty-four years because we were honest: because we told them what was “going on”, and they either:

  1. Decided they needed a “prove it” (in other words, they wanted us to treat our lives like some damnable dog and pony show and somehow prove to them that this is actually “real” or authentic)
  2. Decided they could dictate to me and my Dead who is in-body when (I’ve actually had at least one person turn to me, sitting here, spending time with them, as a friend, in my own body, and ask “when is Michael coming back, because I miss him, and really want to spend time with him instead”)  
  3. Stated they “believed in” all of this, until such time as said “belief” became somehow inconvenient to them  (this one most often happens when the person in question has definite pre-conceived notions about precisely what kind of personality the specific Dead person involved ought to have, according to them.  I often wonder what would happen in the world if we treated living people that way?  It’s because of this one that every singly one of my Dead now introduce themselves under their taken names, and to most people never reveal their actual given name–and, therefore, their true identity–from birth and in life.)
  4. Challenged me and my Dead to a face-off over afterlife cosmology, based on their own personal gnosis as a living person who has never actually been dead (Yeah, this one happens often, yet it never ceases to boggle my mind and theirs.  I mean, if you’ve only read books and seen movies about Iceland, for example, you wouldn’t try to tell a native of Iceland that either a) Iceland doesn’t exist, b) is nothing like what they say it’s like, or c) that they are the tourist, and you’re the aficionado, would you? This is genuinely the exact same thing! Yet it happens to us. Regularly.)
  5. Refused to obey our rules. (Look: our rules are simple, and really the same as in any other friendship with any other live person.  Things told in confidence should remain in confidence. If you wouldn’t go around spouting to everyone within shouting distance a secret told to you by a live friend, then why the hell would you feel motivated to betray the confidences of the Dead?  If you treat other live people with respect, not expecting them to jump through hoops or otherwise “perform”, why the hell would you do that to the Dead?)

It is still terrifying, every single time we “come out of the coffin” to someone we care about.  It’s one thing, to be “out and proud”, here on this blog, where we’re speaking largely to strangers who we hope will become customers who we hope might become friends.  It is another thing entirely to be face-to-face with someone you’ve come to know and love and worked hard to build relationship with and have to finally say “oh, by the way, all of the time that we’ve been growing attached to each other? Yeah, some of that time it was one of my Dead, not me, and they really care about you a lot, so please, don’t be one more person that we lose because of this….”   

Inevitably, in the sorts of circles in which we now travel, there will be those people who will ask “but I, myself, am psychically aware, so how is it that I couldn’t tell this is what’s happening, if this is really what’s happening”?  My response to those people is two-fold.  First, if you have actually spent time around me, and then around Connla, Taliesin, or especially Michael, how could you not tell the difference between me and them? I am a girly girl with a fairly strong Southern accent (especially if you are hearing me for the first time and are not from the South), who enjoys dripping with jewelry and wearing long, flow-y skirts, and generally “being a chick”, versus Connla, who speaks with a deep voice (although he has, admittedly, and much to his chagrin, picked up a Southern lilt courtesy of living in the South for twenty years), dresses in a very masculine style, and saunters everywhere he goes like some action hero who just got kicked out of the comic books? Or Michael, who is obviously Australian.  Second, after a decade or so of scaring the holy bejeesus out of small children who can most definitely see who is in here, whether they want to or not, my Dead have grown very skilled at cloaking themselves from “prying eyes”, willing or otherwise.  The first hundred or so times that you have to turn to the parent of a suddenly-screaming child and say “I don’t know what I did to frighten your child, but I’m really sorry” teaches you to keep your guard up, and never let it down.  Those first few hundred times when a kid calls the person in-body out as a dude, in an otherwise apparently female physical form, in the middle of Walmart also quickly puts the kibosh on not putting up a protective shield, lemme tell ya! Finally, and perhaps a bit too simplistically, my response to such people would be: “They’re people inhabiting a person.  Do your psychic bells and whistles always go off, every time you’re around people inhabiting people?  If so, that has got to suck for you!”

Most live people fear the Dead, and fear Death even more.  I feel profoundly blessed that I no longer do.  The Dead are just people.  If you aren’t afraid of other live people, you shouldn’t fear them, either.  Sure, over the years, I have had encounters with the angry dead, too.  I don’t enjoy the company of live angry people–they, quite frankly, scare me–so it’s pretty natural to feel the same way when it comes to dead angry people.  My solution, when it comes to them, is simple: they aren’t invited to “hang out”.  Most people feel a certain sadness when it comes to speaking of the Dead, or dealing with Death.  I’m not a stranger to grief, even though I know in my heart of hearts that it’s not like we “can’t keep in touch”.  I’ve seen what the Dead themselves go through upon crossing over–how they miss their living friends, relatives, spouses, children the same way those living friends, relatives, spouses, children no doubt miss them.  The Dead grieve the living, the same way we grieve the Dead.  And that is painful to know and to watch.  If I can afford them a momentary happiness, by letting them briefly “live” again, in the midst of all of that, I am honored to do so.   But they are absolutely not allowed to ever make contact with those living friends, relatives, spouses, children, because I understand, and they have to come to understand, that the pain of such encounters would be debilitating for both parties involved.  Why? Because of “prove it“.  Because this is not the “Mishy Dead On Demand Network”.  Because pre-conceived notions define belief in existence too often when it comes to this.  Because the absolutely unavoidable debate on cosmology that is destined to ensue will do more to build sadness and anger than it will to quell it.  Because, quite simply, these are our rules

Long before Samhain became a time for me to honor the Beloved Dead, Halloween was a time when this little Southern girl could actually whip out the Ouija board and the Tarot cards and dress the way she wanted to, without anybody threatening to burn her at the stake (which actually happened to me in high school: a group of boys decided that because I was actively doing spellwork for my friends and reading Tarot that I should burn for that, and they meant it.  While they never actually went through with attempting to carry out their threats, that did not make them any less real, nor any less terrifying).  Over the past twenty-four years, Halloween also became a time when I could “let my Dead out in public”:  they could actually go to the “redneck bar” dressed and behaving as themselves, without fearing any sort of backlash apart from “wow, Michelle always has the coolest and most authentic costumes! She even acts the part!”  

As an ordained Druid and medium, however, Samhain has brought a much larger view of this time of year into my life.  It is the Celtic New Year: a time when we let go of the old, and welcome in the new.  It is also, obviously, the time when we Pagans pause to actively honor our Beloved Dead.  Three-thousand-words-into this blog post (and thank you for sticking with me this far), that is why I am writing here today, rather than Connla or Frances or Taliesin or Tobias, or any of the others of my “possee”.  I am here, writing this, because I am sick and tired of having to live behind a veil of lies, and so are they.  Being forced to live our lives that way does not honor my Beloved Dead; it lessens them.  So this is my “New Year’s Resolution”, of sorts:

Believe whatever you choose to believe; my Dead and I will continue to know what we know.

This is who we are.  This is who I am, and what I can do.  I love and honor my Dead, for I know that my Dead love and honor me.  And for all of you out there who have loved and honored us in the same way:

Thank you.  We also love and honor you.

 

 

 

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Hanging On The Tree

All elements from Iaconagraphy’s upcoming Imramma, by Connla and Duncan.

Do you ever feel like you’re just “hanging out”? I don’t mean in the good sense of those words; I mean in the sense of that desperate kitty cat on the poster, just clawing his way to hold on so that he doesn’t fall off the rope!  Saint John of the Cross (Catholic/Christian) described such periods in our lives as The Dark Night of the Soul.  The Christian Bible tells us of Christ crucified, just “hanging out” on the cross, between murderers and thieves, to save the whole world from its sins.  And in the Norse Tradition, we have the tale of Odin hanging himself upon Yggdrasil: the ultimate shaman’s death experience.

For those unfamiliar with the story of Odin (or Norse Mythology at all, for that matter), the All-Father (roughly cognate to Yahweh/Jehovah in Judeo-Christian tradition) went to Yggdrasil, the World Tree, to seek the power of Knowledge and Wisdom.  He climbed that great tree, cut himself with his own spear to feed its hungry bark with his blood, and hung himself upon the tree for nine days and nine nights.  Much like Christ on the cross, Odin’s self-sacrifice is believed to have torn open the fabric of Creation (remember that part in the New Testament where it says that the curtain in the Temple was torn in two? Same thing.) and allowed the Rune Spirits to appear to him, and teach him the runes (written language, as well as a divination and magickal tool).    The end result of Odin “hanging out” was the beginning of True Wisdom for All.

“Hanging out” wasn’t pleasant for either Odin or Christ, yet for some reason, we humans have the gall to think that it should be pleasant for us.  That it should be easy somehow; that instead of desperately clawing our way up the proverbial rope, like the little kitten in that popular poster, we should be joyfully swinging from said rope while we “hang out”.  What gives us the audacity to think such a thing? If “hanging out” was that difficult for gods, why in the hell should it be a joyride for us?

In The Dark Night of the Soul, Saint John of the Cross writes:

“Spiritual persons suffer considerable affliction in this night, owing not so much to the aridities they undergo, as to their fear of having gone astray.”

From an early age in our society, we are unfortunately taught that if something is difficult or unpleasant, it means that “whatever it is” is likely punishment for something that we’ve done.  Some of that, I think, can be pinned on how pervasive the assumed Christian worldview has become in our society, but not all of it.  Let me be clear on what I mean by “assumed Christian worldview” before I move on to what other factors make us think this way:  that whole “eye for an eye” thing in Christianity?  The whole “if you go astray you will be punished in equal portion” thing? Yeah, that went out with the Old Testament!  Too many Christians seem to be missing the entire point of Christ “hanging out” on the cross in the first place!  Okay, so what do I mean when I say that not all of our “if something is unpleasant, clearly I did something wrong, and it’s punishment” worldview comes from that assumed Christian perspective?  The concept of karma and karmic repayment in Hinduism, Buddhism, and even modern Neo-Paganism is also responsible; we can’t pin this one solely on the Christians. Now, please don’t take that as me saying “there’s no such thing as karma”;  karma is, as they say “a right bitch”, and definitely exists, but it’s a slippery slope at best, when it comes to the idea that if something is difficult or unpleasant, then obviously we’re being punished for something else we’ve done previously.

No, Saint John of the Cross got it right: the difficulty and unpleasantness we experience when going through the Dark Night of the Soul are patently not punishment, they’re tempering to make us stronger and wiser, in exactly the same way as one tempers steel in fire, but it is our fear that they are somehow punishment for our having gone astray that makes us believe that “hanging out” should be easy for us, when it wasn’t even easy for gods.  Being tempered isn’t pleasant, anymore than harsh instruction from a parent–designed to help a child grow and learn–is pleasant.  Priscilla, an early female leader in the Christian faith, puts it this way in the Epistle to the Hebrews (yes, that was written by a woman!):

Others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through–all that bloodshed!  So don’t feel sorry for yourselves.  Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as His children?

My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline,
    but don’t be crushed by it either.
It’s the child he loves that he disciplines;
    the child he embraces, he also corrects.

God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out.  He’s treating you as dear children.  This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children.  Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves.  Would you prefer an irresponsible God?  We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? …At the time, discipline isn’t much fun.  It always feels like it’s going against the grain.  Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.  –Hebrews 12:4-11, The Message

Sometimes when things are difficult and unpleasant–when we’re forced to “hang out”–it’s because we did something right enough to deserve deeper wisdom and greater maturity, instead of because we’ve done something wrong.  “Hanging out” makes us grow–that’s what Priscilla means when she speaks of a mature relationship with God.  It deepens us as humans; brings us closer to the gods (whichever ones we favor).  While it may be hard to see such dark times as an actual reward, exercising such discernment can make all the difference between whether we put our head in our hands, cry buckets, and shout to the Universe “I freaking give up!”, or not.

I am, admittedly, “having a day” today. Today, I feel like I’m “hanging out”: like my whole life just ground to a halt in some sort of unasked for pregnant pause.  

All elements from Iaconagraphy’s upcoming Imramma, by Connla and Duncan.

My usual response to a day like this one would be to honestly either sit around and cry about it (yes, I’m that guy!), or sit and stare at the walls and feel sorry for myself, or stomp around the house like an angry spoiled child, but not today.  Why is today different from all the other days in the past just like this one? Because today I realize that “hanging out” isn’t punishment for something I’ve done wrong, but instead a reward for everything I’m doing right.  Now, I’ll grant you, in and of itself, it’s a pretty sucky reward, but I have faith that what I’ll gain on the other side of it is worth this feeling.  “Hanging out” has forced me to “take a break”, and review what I’m doing, as well as what I’m not doing, and look around from this height at which I presently find myself hanging at all of the other possible directions I could be doing in.  This “pregnant pause” has reminded me that ultimately, all that I do, am doing, and will do is not solely my own, nor is it solely up to me: ultimately, I am just the messenger, and I need to “get out of the way” of Those who would speak through me. At risk of potentially offending any of my more “hardcore” Heathen or Pagan readers, there is definitely great Truth in this passage from Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, so please humor my “Paganizing” of it:

Now the Gods have us right where They want us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us.  This instruction is all Their idea, and all Their work.  All we do is trust Them enough to let Them do it.  It’s Gods’ gift from start to finish!  We don’t play the major role.  If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing!  No, we neither make nor instruct ourselves.  The Gods do both the making and the instructing.  They create each of us to join Them in the work They do, the good work They have gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. –“Paganized” from Ephesians 2:7-10, The Message

I am ready to join Them in the work They have gotten ready for me to do. In the meantime, I’ll just be here, “hanging out”…..

 

 

 
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What I Learned Yesterday….

Base paper, elements, and word art, all from the January Gathering: Winter Wonder: A Winter’s Tale, by Taliesin. Layout by Connla.

Normally, if we were going to blog today, it would be written by one of the artists who worked on this quarter’s Gathering–Duncan, Daniel, or Taliesin–but after the twelve-plus-hour-day I (Connla) pulled yesterday, I felt it was a little more important to talk about what I learned from that experience, and maybe talk a little bit about how it relates to my own personal process (because your personal process is important, and maybe introducing the concept, and talking about how to work on it will help some of you).

Let’s talk about the concept of process first.  The dictionary defines it as “a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end”.  Bruce Lee, who I celebrated as my hero in my artist journaling page today for Determined to Shine’s 30 Days of Artist Journaling, described being in one’s own process like this:

“The truth is that life is an ever going process ever renewing and it [is] just meant to be lived but not lived for. It is something that cannot be squeezed into a self-constructed security pattern, a game of rigid control and clever manipulation. Instead, to be what I term “a quality human being” one has to be transparently real and have the courage to be what he is.”

Now, a lot of us live by the standard of “I am a work in progress“, but what if, instead, we lived by the standard of “I am a work in process“? Let’s look at the definition of progress, and then I’ll get back on track with what I learned yesterday (which is what I promised to write about in the title of this post).  

Progress: forward or onward movement toward a destination.

And that, my friends, is what yesterday definitely was for me: constant forward or onward movement toward a specific destination, that “destination” being completing the official public release of The January Gathering: Winter Wonder.  Yes, there was a process to getting that done, but by about 3:30PM yesterday afternoon, I was no longer in process, but I was in progress,  and believe me: there’s a definite difference between the two, and the latter one (progress) sucks!  I started my day early–7:30AM, which may be a little hard for those of you who know me best to even fathom–and I worked diligently, running pomodoro after pomodoro (for more on that, please do check out the work and offerings of Racheal Cook ), so it wasn’t like I didn’t “schedule well”.  I had my “eyes on the prize”–getting all of this published and out to all of you, and available for sale; my final specific destination–from before I even went to bed on Tuesday night!  But about five minutes into trying to publish the first set of Word Art, I realized we had absolutely nothing for the gallery on that product that actually showed the word art being used, and I suddenly had to switch from progress to process,  and that basically threw off my entire day: to the tune of I finally reached my specific destination at 8:45PM last night, and I was not at all pleased about that!

So, what did I learn yesterday, apart from the important lesson of “check your CT inventory before you start trying to publish assets”?  When I was actually playing with the assets, and using them to create examples of what could be done with them, I was in process, and time seemed to slip past me, effortlessly.  Once that work was done, and it was back to the grind of actually creating the listings (which is a very slow process), I returned to a state of being in progress, and the work became tedious and exhausting.  Yesterday, I learned to either do everything in process, instead of in progress, or don’t do it at all.

This goes along with another recent personal epiphany: planners make me feel icky.  Planners are certainly all the rage right now, especially in the papercrafting/digi-crafting world, and I have really, really tried to hop on that bandwagon, but every time I start trying to tediously plan out my life with one, I get butterflies in my stomach and I just feel this sense of general agitation. And yesterday helped me figure out ultimately why that is: planners force us to live our lives in progress, rather than in process, because every deadline we write down becomes a destination we’re working towards, and we focus on that (those specific destinations in time) instead of on the steps we take to get there (the process).

I’ve really tried to start off 2017 in process, rather than in progress: Allyson Bright’s offerings over at Determined to Shine have really helped me with that, and so have Leonie Dawson’s Shining Life Workbooks, but yesterday put me back a notch. I got so focused on my destination (read: deadline), that the process of getting there sort of fell by the wayside, and that was literally painful.  My day more or less became this determined, slothful plod, instead of an excited, triumphant race to the mountaintop, and nothing successful/good ever happens to us when we get in that place; when our minds and spirits go there.  It’s like another famous Bruce Lee quote (this one from Enter The Dragon, which maybe you’ve seen): 

“It is like a finger, pointing a way to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger, or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”

Yesterday, I reached a point where all I was focused on was the finger–on the deadline (the destination); and literally on my fingers typing, typing, typing, clicking the mouse, and hitting publish–so that by 8:45PM last night, the only “heavenly glory” I could even see anymore was “whew, that’s done”, when where I should have been mentally/spiritually was in a place of pride that this glorious set was now out there and available for other people (meaning you) to express themselves with it, too.  So, short of more effective scheduling (which puts us right back in that planners-are-my-life-mindset, which is precisely where we don’t want to go), how does one avoid getting in that place of being in progress, rather than in process?

Be mindful, my friend. (Yes, that may sound a bit like Master Bruce, but that’s me talking, not him. hehe)  What does that mean?  To be mindful means to be fully conscious or aware of what you’re doing: not where you’re going; not your final destination; not the moon or the mountaintop, but the steps you are taking to get to that destination.  The deadline to publish yesterday is but one of many “destinations” I tend to focus on on a pretty much daily basis. Others include the deadline for newsletter each week, the deadlines for paying my bills, and the deadlines I have set for myself, in regards to such things as guest-blogging, effectively networking, and generally becoming my definition of “successful”.  I’ll confess that up until the start of 2017, I’ve spent far more time focused on those destinations, than I have on the process of the steps taken to actually reach them.  The consequence of that? I’ve spent a lot of time honestly depressed because I haven’t reached the destination yet: it’s about as useful as being homesick for a place you’ve never actually been.

Regarding mindfullness, Bruce Lee said:

“Discard all thoughts of reward, all hopes of praise and fears of blame.”

Reward is just another destination; so are hopes of praise and fears of blame.  If you live your life doing anything because of what you’re potentially going to get out of it (financial gain, hope that other people will think what you did was good and lay praise on you for it, and/or fear that people will think what you did absolutely sucked and will be totally willing to tell you that, too), you are going to live your life in a constant state of worry, depression, and anxiety.  Let me say that again, more succinctly, so you will remember it and take it forward with you, in your own life:

If you live your life doing anything because of what you’re potentially going to get out of it, you are going to live your life in a constant state of worry, depression, and anxiety.

Ultimately, I make art not because it might get me to any certain destination (whether that be financial solvency, self-worth gained via the praise of others, or my own particular definition of success), but because I literally have reached a point where I just can’t help it!  Where things “go wrong” and switch from in process to in progress is when the feeling goes from “I just can’t help it; I need to create” to “I have to ___________”.  “I have to” is destination-focused; it’s progress-oriented, rather than a process.  Which brings me to the other very important lesson I learned yesterday:  When art becomes something someone else is doing, that art often becomes “I have to” instead of “I need to”.

Now, I have total faith that everyone who is working here at Iaconagraphy is here, designing, because they need to make art, the same way I need to make art.  If they weren’t, they simply wouldn’t be represented here.  So don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to remotely imply that anybody here at Iaconagraphy is here for any other reason besides the self-same reason that I’m here, which is because we all have a need to make art; we just can’t help it.  What I am saying, as the person “running the show” (note: I really am not comfortable with that term, but it’s the best one I can come up with right now), elected as the spokesperson for the whole of Iaconagraphy, is that I, personally,  have a tendency to switch the focus from process to progress when faced with not publishing my own work, but instead someone else’s. Which is part of why we’ve reduced the releases of upcoming Gatherings to quarterly, rather than monthly, but how else to avoid this ongoing dilemma? I mean, we’re a conglomerate of artists, all of whom need to make art, and therefore, deserve to have that art made available at the end of the day so that those of you who also need to make art have resources available to do just that. This isn’t just “my gig”….

Which brings me to the last (and maybe most important) lesson I learned yesterday: I need this to be my gig right now.  That isn’t to say that there won’t be some very valid “guest spots” coming up in future weeks and months, but that is to say that I have at least one “bundle” that I’ve back-burnered at least three times since December, in favor of releasing other people’s work, and in favor of meeting other deadlines, and it’s starting to burn a hole in my brain–and in my soul.  Every ounce of creation that I have done since December has been self-expression (i.e., artist journaling and digi-scrap) with things others have created, when what I really want to be doing–and what I need to be doing, the way most people need to breathe or to eat–is creating the assets to say what I need to say (and to give you all what you need to say what you need to say).  When I leave that process up to everyone else, or even when I give that over to everyone else, art becomes a destination; a deadline; art becomes progress instead. And right now, I need that to stop happening.

Thank you for taking the time to read (what wound up being) a very long blog entry.  If it helped you learn anything about your own process vs. progress, I’d love to hear about it!  Feel free to comment below, or come on over and respond on our Facebook Page.  Or, better yet, take a dive into art journaling, and make a page about your own process vs. progress, using the awesome assets in The January Gathering, and share that with me and the world!