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Friday
May142010

Creative Wandering: A Deeper Service

By Jerry Wennstrom

Reverently tending the spaces between the worldly activities of our lives opens the door for the possibility of something unique and creative to enter the world. In the whirl of more obvious pursuits this seeming “non-activity” is overlooked or worse, not valued. With worldly life moving along at the speed of light, who has time to slow the pace long enough to realize the potential of emptiness?

A tale of Wander

I was feeling the creative stir that often comes just before beginning a new art project. I had no idea what I would do so I wandered the recycle center here on Whidbey Island, WA, searching for something that might inspire a new art piece. I use mostly found material in my work and finding an inspiring object can launch a creation in a completely unexpected direction. In my search I happened upon a large 8 x 4 ft. cedar sign with the words "ANIMAL CLINIC" carved deeply into the face. Seasoned old cedar is excellent for carving and a one-piece slab this size was unusual to find. Trusting my initial impulse, I decided to bring the sign back to my studio.

(Layer 1) AnimaThe sign sat for quite some time as I courted its possibilities. Finally, laying it face down I decided to cut three, six-foot figures out of the slab. I drew them in the most efficient way possible to get the most use out of the large slab without ever considering the positioning of the words carved on the other side.  I had cut out two of the figures and was just finishing the third when the phone rang. To my amazement, it was my first love from 30 years prior! She had read my book and saw the Parabola film made about my art and life and decided to look me up. After a lovely conversation I returned to the task of cutting out the last figure. I was deep in thought as I made the last cut, thinking about how impossible it is when we are young, not to lose ourselves in the overwhelming power of first love. I finished the cut, turned it over and situated perfectly, the full length of the figure was the word "ANIMA." Anima, is a Jungian term. It represents a man’s inner feminine, which he unconsciously projects onto a woman when he falls in love -- I had just spoken on the phone with my first anima figure!

I created an entire multi-leveled art piece out of this small poetic event by incorporating the ANIMA figure and another of the 3 cedar figures I cut out that day. The piece has three layers: Anima (a man’s inner feminine,) Animus (a woman’s inner masculine) and Union (the union of opposites.) I called the piece The Sacred Marriage.

The Sacred Marriage

(Layer 2) AnimusIt is in the spaces between things where mystery resides, and tiny seeds of creative possibility can be discovered. Wandering through the day, noticing the small things, making resonant connections and gathering the shimmering gifts that come naturally, creates the basic substance of original creation. In relation to this formless activity, the strategic and reasonable attempt to control matter is a far grosser activity. By the time original creation takes form some part of it already existed in the DNA stirring in the space of creative possibility. One is naturally awed and humbled by the mystery of this process. The ego, with all of its plans and efforts can never lay claim to the illuminating substance of original creation. What is inspired comes to us as an epiphany. It comes into form as if called into being by our collective hopes and dreams.  Perhaps phrases like “An idea whose time has come” poetically alludes to the preexistence and inevitability of inspired creation. 

Those tending the fluid open spaces are able to reach in and pluck the seeds of possibility for the world at large. Although few of us would admit it, most of us follow the lead of inspired forms that came into existence through someone else’s discovery. We follow for many reasons -- for material advantage or for the safety of being held by “tried and true,” preexisting forms. Many of us, especially when young, intuit the vibrancy of inspired form and follow simply to be a part of something more alive. Those who want to succeed will further develop the ideas of the innovative wanderer who, out of the limelight, can plum the depths and bring back the precious raw material.

(Layer 3) UnionSome follow sooner than others, which has some small advantage. Many follow unknowingly. To quote Lao Tsu, “When the work of the sage is done the people think they have done it themselves.” The commitment of the proverbial sage is to the subtle promptings of formless space rather than to the form coveted by the world. Lao Tsu also says, “The spirit of the fountain is eternal.” Having accessed the source one sees no scarcity, has no need to compete, and allows the changeable nature of water to flow on. For the creative wanderer, creating an intimacy with the source is the only real goal. They do not lay claim to the fruit. From this detached perspective, the great and timely idea – the one the world has been waiting for, already exists in the fluid imagination of the fountainhead.

All cultural breakthroughs, movements, trends, fashions, products, or ideas that take hold, culturally, and move into the mainstream, come to us through the emptiness of space. They come through an individual’s unique relationship with inner space. So the question becomes, how do we dialogue with inner space while existing in an external environment screaming with distraction? How do we hold this paradox? Perhaps by extracting our attention from the external shape of things and reverently holding the space, for formless possibility to manifest. This is not a passive activity.

One’s holy wandering must be able to withstand the external onslaught, even in difficult or dangerous situations or there would be no sustainable reality to the practice. And it is a Practice -- a spiritual practice that benefits, protects and furthers our humanity at al levels. Without the protection inherent in an inspired moment, there would be no heroes or redemptive myths. At such a moment in our universal mythology even death is not a defeat! If it were, unbridled aggression, bigger bombs and a kill-or-be-killed attitude would be the only game in town. Yet, this is not how the mythological story goes.

(Layer 3 Detail) UnionEarly in my life I read all of the personal stories I could find on life and death of those who suffered in the German concentration camps. I could not imagine a more extreme or difficult reality to have to endure, as a human being. I sought to find some deeper meaning in the stories – some seed of redemption. To my surprise, I found stories coming out of the darkest moments imaginable that were so beautiful, liberating and quietly victorious that they made the experience seem almost enviable! I found hope and a personal sense of liberation in the fact that a single, timely act had the potential to bring something into play that can only be described as miraculous. The grace in such moments seemed to create an unshakable experiential refuge. In many of the stories, the magic of the moment would liberate a person, physically, and in others it did not. In the deeper mythos of some of the stories I found, it seemed not to matter-- free was free, even in death. The inspired moment delivered a meaningful resolve and some final expression of innocent beauty over-rode the physical suffering. Such moments inspired others beyond a sense of defeat. One cannot tap this greater resolve focusing on the appearance of things – not in joy or in suffering. A moment of Grace will be delivered, only when we inhabit the paradox and allow the deeper truth to be revealed in unexpected ways.

Grace and suffering existing simultaneously is a most unreasonable paradox. It is the stuff of fairy tales. Yet, in our very DNA the paradox of hope in hopeless situations remains true. In spite of ourselves, we expect the reality of  “happily ever after” to be the case and if it is not, we never quite believe the end of the story! The fact that there are people able to manifest this happy ending makes their legacy a gift and a responsibility we must make our own. Through the myths and stories that inspire hope, and most importantly through our own living example, this legacy may be the only real gift we have to leave future generations.

Jerry Wennstrom

Artist, author Jerry Wennstrom was born in New York on January 13, 1950. He attended Rockland Community College and the State University of New Paltz. After producing a large body of work, at age 29 he set out to discover the rock-bottom truth of his life. For years he questioned the limits of his creative life as a studio painter. After destroying all of his art and giving away everything he owned, Jerry began a life of unconditional trust, allowing life to provide all that was needed. He lived this way for 15 years. In 1998 he moved to Washington State, where he eventually married Marilyn Strong and produced a large new body of art. Marilyn and Jerry’s charming Whidbey Island home is now filled with his unique interactive sculptures and paintings. Jerry also built a 40-foot meditation tower on his property, which is featured along with his story in a book by Laura Chester called Holy Personal.

Jerry's story is told in his book,
The Inspired Heart: An Artist’s Journey of Transformation (foreword by Thomas Moore) published by Sentient Publications and in the Parabola Magazine documentary film called In the Hands of Alchemy: The Art and Life of Jerry Wennstrom. There is also a Sentient Publications DVD with the same name ,which includes a short new film called Studio Dialogue. Studio Dialogue is a presentation Jerry did before a live audience with music by Susan McKeown, sung by Marilyn Strong. Jerry travels internationally lecturing, teaching and presenting his film and work and he writes a monthly piece on the spirit of the times for a New York City consulting firm.

soluna@whidbey.com

360-341-3382

http://www.handsofalchemy.com/