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Art and Listening

 My daughter, Jen Mason , has recently completed her PhD and in an article she's writing, she discusses how self-expression is an important topic that's taught in school. We are taught how to write persuasively, how to speak convincingly and how to argue effectively. But how much time do we spend learning how to listen?  She goes on to say, "Listening is an internal process and like expression, it is a skill that needs to be developed." In my Workshops in Wild Places workshops and in my Stays Home zoom workshops, I try to address not only self-expression through painting, but also how to listen. Because my current workshops are about creating an intimate relationship with Nature and using this relationship as a point of reference for creativity, it's important to learn to listen to nature, not only her sounds, but also to open yourself up to listen with your heart. Photo courtesy Simon Migaj I wrote a blog post about the Importance of Silence in Art several years
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Creativity and Conversations with Nature.

F rom the work of scientists like UBC's Suzanne Simard, among many others, we are learning more and more about the intelligence of the earth, how trees communicate with each other, and the myriad physical and creative benefits humans gain from spending time in nature.  An article in Outside , cites neuroscientist David Strayer’s research which has shown that our "prefrontal cortex is less active when we’re out in a natural environment. When the prefrontal cortex quiets down, the brain’s default mode network kicks in. Think of it as the imagination network: it’s activated when we’re not focusing on anything specific, and instead are allowing the mind to idly wander or to dip into our deep storehouse of memories, ideas, and emotions. W hen the ‘imagination network’ kicks in, sudden flashes of creative insight come to you.  " There are loads of benefits humans receive from nature. But what about a 2-way communication with the natural worl

An Unplugged Home Retreat

Kindness 9  12x12"  Oil on paper © 2020 Janice Mason Steeves I scheduled a wonderful retreat week for myself the week before last. It was a quiet week with long unscheduled days, days that stretch out before you like the vastness of the prairies where I grew up. I'd wake up early, take my dog for a quick walk, have a smoothie and a cup of coffee and settle myself at my studio desk to write in my journal. My desk overlooks  a walnut tree and beyond that, a grassy area and a stand of white pines. At times I just stared off into the trees as the wind gently played in the branches. No thoughts. Other times I'd read some passages from my spiritually oriented books, closing my eyes to consider what these readings might mean for me today. Solitude is something you choose. Loneliness is imposed on you by others."  Hara Estroff Marano, Psychology Today Kindness 8  12x12"  Oil on paper © 2020 Janice Mason Steeves I've done digital detox weeks at home

Finding A Still Place

I'm fortunate to live in the country with woods behind my house. I've walked through them so often that I've formed a path with my footsteps. I find I'm walking in the forest much more than usual these days. In fact, I need it. I need the grounding that it offers.  Do you find you are walking more slowly, noticing more? I used to walk through these woods, thinking about my problems or my work or things I needed to do, often with my head down, focused mainly on the path. There were times I barely looked up. Now, in this time of isolation and anxiety in the world, I'm moving much more slowly, letting the beauty of the forest unfold each day. Staying present. I'm harvesting a few wild leeks, watching the way the sunlight weaves through the trees and lands softly on the moss-covered rocks, noticing the Trilliums as they keep themselves tightly wrapped in their green blanket, waiting until they are certain of warm weather to open up. It's calming here. H

Trees: Helping with Grounding and Loneliness

Dunskey Estate, Scotland  Photo © 2019 Mike Brouse Path to the water at the Doctor's House, Newfoundland I'm realizing how difficult it is to stay grounded in this time when we're constantly bombarded by news that causes panic and fear in all of us. And it's difficult to recognize when we're not grounded. I'm currently leading live online zoom discussion sessions with several groups made up of 4 artists each.  In these groups, I do a grounding meditation at the beginning of each session. I can feel the group energy change as we connect with the earth. Participants have mentioned how important and calming this process is. "Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky."  Kahlil Gibran It can also be a time of loneliness. Even artists who are so independent and truly love alone time can get lonely. That happened for me on Easter Sunday. I normally have the whole family over for the afternoon and for Easter dinner. We play bocci or

Meet the Owners of a Retreat Centre on the Camino

Basia Goodwin, Bertrand Gamrowski, Ami and Izi In the fall of 2018, I co-taught a painting workshop at Flores del Camino, a retreat centre in a tiny historic village in the north of Spain that's built entirely of warm-coloured stone. Located on the Camino de Santiago, the owners, Basia Goodwin and Bertrand Gamrowski are the heart of the retreat centre, focusing their energies on holding workshops with a sacred focus and serving the pilgrims who walk the 750km route. Basia and Bertrand have infused their retreat centre with such beautiful loving energy that I'm returning to Castrillo de los Polvazares in May to teach a second painting workshop. I thought it would be lovely to interview them and learn their stories so I sent them a questionnaire. They have answered it in the form of a conversation between themselves which I am privileged to share here. The small village of Castrillo de los Polvazares Open house at Flores del Camino when we had an art openin

Exploring Awe in Life and Art

1000 year-old tree on Meares Island I have had many experiences of awe in my life: the birth of my third grandchild last summer was a highlight. I actually experience awe each time I see him. But other than that miraculous experience, I felt awe when I taught a Workshops in Wild Places workshop recently in Tofino, BC. Our group went one day into Tofino where we caught a boat to Meares Island, just off the coast. We wound our way past tree-covered islands until we came to the Meares Island dock. The island supports an old growth forest and is designated as a Tribal Park, an indigenous-led protected area. Led by our guide, we walked in single-file, slowly and reverentially on the roughly hewn boardwalk that winds through the forest. At the end of the walk, stands a magnificent, gigantic 1000 year-old yellow cedar. We let out a  collective gasp when we saw it. We  felt humbled in the presence of such a being. I felt awe as well, in my Newfoundland workshop that took place last June