Synchronicity and the temporarily orphaned painting.

I want to share something that happened, Christmas time, 9 years ago:
We were in Sweden, spending the Holidays with my family. My brother and his wife had just remodeled the house and changed the decor and told me one of my paintings no longer fit in their living room. Did I want it back? It was a large painting about reincarnation I had done when I was 20 years old. Too large to fit in a suitcase. I told my brother it would not be practical to bring it to the USA, but please do not throw it out. We'll figure something out. In the meantime he put it in his garage. Arriving at my parents house, they asked me and my brother to go through the attic and discard things we no longer needed or wanted and take the rest with us, as they were clearing things out. I found a small wooden box of mine, containing photos of boys I had liked through the years. I was surprised to see 3 photos of a guy, Lennart, I dated only for 6 months when I was 21. I wondered to myself how his life had turned out and what he was up to now, some 25 years later.
When I returned to the USA, I had gazillions of e-mails to sort through. Guess if I was surprised when one of them was from Lennart!!! He said he had Googled me, found my website and was happy to see I was still doing art. He had a black and white drawing I had given him, framed and up on his wall, but his favorite painting of all times was the one I had made about reincarnation! I told him as chance would have it, it had just become available. Was he interested in purchasing it? He responded he probably could not afford it. I gave him a price he could not refuse, and 3 months later when I was back in Sweden, we met for coffee and made the transaction. We had a lovely time catching up and I was proud to see what a good man and father he had turned out to be. All this reaffirmed my sense of how we are all connected. Isn't life just amazing!!?

What I have learned from showing my images in public.

There is something intrinsically vulnerable about sharing something deeply personal with the public. I think artists of all kinds know this. You open yourself up for criticism as well as praise. So why bother? Why not just keep all the work you created in a safe, protected space? Is it the hope to sell the work, to get rich and/or famous, that drives artists to put their work out there? Maybe for some.  For me, and I suspect for many others, it is more about a desire to connect with others, to show and share ourselves so that others can know who we are and hopefully gain something from what we have wrangled with alone for hours, weeks and sometimes years.  What people will see in our work we have little or no control over. As with many other things in life, we humans tend to see the world not as it is, but as we are.  Projections are hard to avoid.

 I remember a show I had in Sweden in my twenties. One of the larger fiber art images I had made seemed to evoke strong responses from several people who came to the reception.  One man began to tell me how moving it was for him, an old sailor, to see this piece of  mine of the ocean with those three boat masts far off in the distance. I just nodded and said I was happy it gave him something. A short while later, a deeply religious woman approached me and pointed to the exact same piece and said" I just love the piece you made of the three crosses, indicating the crucifixion of Jesus at Golgata." Again I just nodded and said I was happy she liked what she saw.  Personally, I had had no intention of making any crosses or boat masts. I had just added some lines in the distance to show perspective. But who was I to tell them they were wrong? We all look through some sort of lens.

So as I show my work, like this week at Gallerie Ellipsis in Newport, I remind myself that all I can do is do my best. I cannot expect everyone to resonate with what I do. And yes, there are cases where people have expressed a strong dislike, bordering on hate, for my images.  But as long as I offer what I have from the heart, no matter how imperfect, I can hope it touches someone in a way that will add value to their day. And if they like it enough, and want to look at it repeatedly, they may even want to take that piece home.  I have been fortunate enough to sell my work to a variety of people through the years.  It always feel very affirming and supportive and also a bit like sending "your kids" away to other people's homes. I sometimes jokingly ask( if I know the person) if I have visitation rights. It is a lesson in letting go. Once again, I have no control over what happens  to my labor of love after the sale. People may sell it to someone else, give it away or throw it in the trash eventually. It is all out of my hands. It is a good reminder that in the end of the day we have a lot less control than we like to imagine over most things that matter. But we can do our part, we can dance with life and offer our viewpoints to each other, so that we together can see the whole, big picture more clearly.

 

 

 

 

 

Roses for Gladys.

 Many years ago now, on a crisp, clear morning in March, I drove down Memorial Boulevard in my old, beige Volkswagen Golf with the radio blaring. The car had been a Christmas present from my boyfriend, Alex. I had been astonished at his generosity, but deep down I knew it was because he had been too embarrassed to go out with a girl so poor that she got around on a one speed bicycle.  Alex was from a well to do family and after dating for 6 months he dumped me.   This was shortly after our February trip to Florida, paid by his dad, where it had become crystal clear that my values were light years apart from the ones shared by his brothers and their girlfriends.  I would never fit in. They were all into Gucci bags, BMW’s and brand names I had never even heard of and made fun of people who were not as well bred, or as my friend Rick had said; as “white bread”, as they were.  The breakup had hurt, but he had let me keep the car. And even though it had started to rust and fall apart, it still ran and got me where I needed to go.

 As I stopped at a red light, a little old lady with thick glasses and big, red hat, waved at me. I thought she wanted to ask for directions so I leaned over the passenger seat and opened the door. The mechanism to open the window on that side didn’t work. To my surprise she flung open the door and jumped into my car!

 “Oh, thank you, thank you! It seems like the bus is not coming today and I absolutely have to get my medicine. Can you take me to the pharmacy?”

“ Eh, OK. But isn’t the pharmacy just around the corner from here?”

 “No, not that one.  Walgreens. I get my medication at Walgreens.”

 That meant driving to Middletown, the next town over, but I had the day off from Sprig Pottery where I had managed to get employment part time, so why not.  I should have enough gas for that.

“ Sure. I’ll take you. Hi, my name is Kerstin. What’s your name? “I turned down the sound on the radio.

 “ Gladys.”

“ Well, hello Gladys. Nice to meet you!  Beautiful day isn’t it?”

“ It’s freezing cold, is what it is. I don’t know what’s so beautiful about that.”

“That’s true. Let me turn up the heat a bit here. But it is sunny and the birds are chirping away so I think spring is just around the corner.”

 “ I doubt it. This has been a hell of a winter.  The heating bill last month almost killed me and I am so weak I am dizzy. I have not eaten properly for days.”

“ Oh, I am sorry to hear that. What about your family. Don’t you have anyone who can help you out?’

“ My husband is dead. Heart attack. My daughter lives in California, I never see her, and my good for nothing son got arrested for drugs the other week.”

 “Geez! That sounds very difficult”

 “ Difficult! That’s the understatement of the century! When I woke up this morning I thought of jumping off the Newport Bridge, but it was just too cold.”

Something about the paradox of her last statement sounded like a wry joke, so I laughed. Big mistake.

 “ You think it is FUNNY that I want to kill myself!”

“Oh, of course not. I am sorry..I thought… Never mind. I am really sorry.”

 I blushed. We drove in silence after that, but in my mind I vowed to make it up to this poor, little, old lady. It did not sound like she had experienced much happiness lately.

Once we arrived at Walgreens, Gladys shuffled out of the car and into the store.

“I will meet you here in 15 minutes!” I called after her. “I have some errands to take care of myself.”

I went into the store next door where I knew they carried some groceries.  I opened my wallet which contained 22 dollars and five cents. That ought to be enough.  I grabbed a basket and began filling it up with staple products, like bread, milk, eggs, pasta, pasta sauce. Gladys would not be hungry tonight.

When I stood in the checkout line I spotted some colorful bouquets of tulips. Smiling I grabbed the yellow ones. This would most definitely brighten her day.

When I got to the car Gladys was already there waiting for me. She looked impatient.

 “ I am sorry to keep you waiting, Gladys. Did you get your medicine?’

“ No. They were out of the kind I needed. And they said my doctor needed to call in the prescription anyhow.  Just my luck.”

 “ I am sorry.  Hopefully you can get a hold of him later today to get it straightened out.”

I opened  the door for her and she glanced at my bags as she fastened the seat-belt.

“ You bought  flowers I see. Well, some people buy frivolous things like that for themselves, while others suffer. Crazy world we live in.”

“ Well, Gladys. That may be so. I know things don’t always seem fair, but guess what? I actually bought this for you!” I handed her the bouquet and the bag of groceries, closed the door and ran around the car to get into the driver’s seat.

 I don’t know what I had expected. Maybe a little surprised smile spreading across her face. But when I looked over at Gladys her mouth was like an upside down U. I was puzzled. Had I insulted her pride? Did she feel like I was making her into a charity case?

 I swallowed and drove out of the parking lot.

“ What is wrong, Gladys? “ I finally asked.

“ These are tulips.”

“ Yes. Of course they are tulips.”

“I like roses. Tulips are kind of cheap. Roses have a lot more class.”

 I could not believe my ears.

“ It is not really the season for Roses yet,” I tried, straining to keep my voice calm.

“ Where are you going? You are driving the wrong way?”

 “ No, Gladys. I am just driving a different way back to Newport, so that we get a change of scenery.”

 “ I don’t like this way. This way has stop signs. I like stoplights. Stoplights are much better.”

 “Well, I am sorry you feel that way,” I said and kept driving.” This will soon get us back to Newport, where there are plenty of stoplights.”

As I drove, Gladys kept spewing out complaints about everything we passed on the road and seemingly everything else she could think of that was wrong with the world.

 With sudden clarity I could understand why her husband may have had a heart attack, why her daughter had chosen to live on the opposite coast and why her son had turned to drugs.

A small part of me was even tempted to drive her to Newport Bridge and offer a helpful shove.

 Finally we arrived at the house she had directed me to. A big beautiful house on Kay Street!

 “ Wow! That is a magnificent home, Gladys! You live in that all by yourself??”

“ Yes. And the heating bills are horrific!!”

She grabbed the grocery bag I had given her with the tulips sticking out of it and heaved herself out of the car.

“And look at what a sloppy job they have done plowing the streets around here.  I could slip and break my neck! “

“After all this I did not get my medicine as I had hoped, but what can I say. Life is hard.” She sighed.

“Well, goodbye then.”

With that she waved and trotted off. I watched her stooped figure climb the stairs of the old Victorian house and enter through the large ornate doorway. She did not turn around.

Eventually I drove back to the house in Middletown, where I was house-sitting for a few months. It was a lovely cottage, but the refrigerator was pretty empty. The cabinets did not offer much either.  I dined on Ritz crackers and a piece of cheese. Come Friday I would get my paycheck. Until then I would, no doubt, find a way to get by with a little help from my friends.

Lying in bed that night, I had a hard time falling asleep. There were so many conflicting emotions snaking around in my belly.

 I got up and looked out at the stars. Who was Gladys? A mentally ill, rich, old lady who had used me, or a very lonely woman drowning in her own discontent? 

Part of me felt hurt, foolish, and taken advantage of. Martyr like thoughts were just a breath away.  But something in me knew that if I got snared into the net of bitterness, I would be just like Gladys, and see the world through her  suspicious eyes. Everything would look wrong, unfair and ugly. And I realized that if I chose to see life that way, it wouldn’t matter how much money I had. I would never feel rich.

 As long as I could remember I had wanted my life’s vision to be about the good and beautiful we humans are capable of creating for ourselves and others. Naive or not, my actions that morning had been in alignment with my values.   Gladys may have used me and manipulated me, consciously or unconsciously, but I had stayed true to myself, and that made me feel good. Self betrayal of any kind is way too costly.

 With that thought I climbed back into bed, thanked Gladys in my mind for being such a valuable teacher and gave her a dozen imaginary but fragrant roses.

 

 

 

 

 

A Call for Intimacy.

 

The last couple of years I have been teaching art classes to war veterans. Most of my students are male, but last spring I was asked to work with a group of female war veterans in a half way house about an hour from my home. Driving is not my favorite pass time and especially not in areas I am not familiar with.( I am directionally challenged) I worried more about the drive than about my first meeting with these women.  There were some pretty rough, run down quarters for me to get lost in on my way, so when I saw the house I sighed with relief.

 The feeling was short lived. After having rung the doorbell a stern, suspicious face appeared in the doorway. "Yeah?"

 " Hi. I am Kerstin and I am here to teach art this afternoon."

" Oh, really? Is that so? " The middle aged, corpulent woman turned around and yelled with a voice that could awaken the dead." ART CLASS!! NOW!! UPSTAIRS!"

  One of the war veteran women, a blond girl with a sullen face, was told to lead me upstairs to the third floor and show me around so I could set up. It was obvious that both of these women were stressed out and that dealing with me was not even on the bottom of their wish list.

The room was dark and I had to move all kinds of furniture around to create a space for us. Eventually about 9 women arrived. There they sat with arms crossed over their chests. Black and brown and white chins defiantly in the air and eyes that said; "What the hell are you here for?" I felt as if I just had stumbled into an enemy camp. I don't sweat much normally and never wear deodorant, but suddenly my armpits were damp and I could smell my own fear. I prayed that these women could not however, and in an attempt to prevent that I pressed my arms close to my sides. What had I been thinking? What had I expected, really? These women looked exceptionally tough, but why would that surprise me? No shrinking violets volunteer to go to war.

" My name is Kerstin" I started. I was born and raised in Sweden and have lived here in the US about half my life. I became a US citizen 4 years ago.”

 Now they all looked me up and down to check out “The Swede”. My stomach made a noise.  Had they noticed?

 " I grew up on a farm where I was allergic to most things, like hay and animals and wildflowers, and I suffered from asthma, so I was not allowed  to run and climb or jump. Art became my activity of choice and I discovered that when I got lost in the creative process I forgot about my troubles and my physical symptoms.

" I am on an inhaler." the woman closest to me offered.

 " So, then you know how uncomfortable that can be," I said." It is scary when you don't feel like you can breathe, isn't it?"

 " Yeah, it sucks."

 "I am fortunate that I don't have asthma any more so..."

 "How did you get rid of it?"

"I grew out of it. That is why I am almost 6 feet tall.”

 A couple of the women chuckled and exchanged glances. I was not sure if this was a good or bad thing. They were pretty tall themselves and a looked whole lot sturdier than me, so I was sure they could take me if they decided to.

"I have done a lot of different kinds of work to support myself, but making pictures have always been the red thread through my life, my safe haven, and doing art can be very healing and therapeutic for all kinds of problems, and today I thought we would....."

 "What is Sweden like?"  "I hear they have good social programs there."

 "Well, yes, we have socialized medicine and schools are usually free and..."

" What about the Veteran's homes there? Are they any good?" A young woman´s eyes met mine with something that resembled genuine curiosity.

 "I don't think there are any of those. Sweden has not been in a war since 1814."

 "What! You're messing with me?!!!"

 "No Sweden is a neutral country."

   "I want to move to Sweden.” the woman called out and everyone laughed."I am going!"

There was some reshuffling in the chairs and a couple of the women leaned forward towards me.

 "So then, if Sweden is so wonderful, why did you come here?"

"I started out as an exchange student at a small, private University in Oklahoma.

 "Oklahoma!! Far out!"

 "Yeah, I had a Swedish/ Oklahoman accent for a while,” I said, and imitated how I used to talk my first year in the US.

 More laughter. My shoulders dropped down a few centimeters away from my ears and I could hear my voice getting steadier.

 "Yes, I was taking art classes there at Phillips University in Enid.. and speaking of art, let me show you what I had in mind for us to do today. I brought some really cool materials to work with.

  The rest of the time we painted, bantered, laughed and came up with creative nicknames for each person. I told them I needed that in order to remember their names better. So we had "Sally the soul singer", "Shenika, the sex goddess", "Maria, the marvelous mime", "Wood worker Wilma" and all the others. I was simply "The Swede"

 Through conversation I also learned that they already had had a drawing class before lunch.

 "What? Today!?” I said. "Isn't that bit stupid to have two art classes on the same day?"

 " That's what WE thought!” they chimed in.

" So, how come you did not say that to the people in charge here?" I wondered.

 "Oh, nobody listens to us. We just get told what to do and where to be."

 "Well,  I could come another day, so let's see what we can do about spreading it out a bit more for you guys," I said.

 "Really!! That would be awesome!"

   For about half an hour everyone relaxed and got lost in their projects. I walked around and complimented them on their creations and offered helpful suggestions when invited. Then Sally looked up at me. "You know, all of us here have been through a lot of  sh-t and seen a lot of hellish stuff. And most of us are on medication for anxiety and depression. I just want you to know that. Just so that you don't go home thinking we don't like you. Because..actually.. we do. You are cool.” 

"You are coming back next week, aren't you? "Shenika asked.

 I got all choked up.

" Hrrm. Yes, sure I will be back .Thanks for telling me. I appreciate that."

When it was time to clean up everyone stayed and helped and moved things back the way it was. We were a team.

   I drove home with a greater appreciation of how a conflict often is a call for intimacy, for being seen and heard and respected. I wondered how many times in my life before I had missed that lesson and how many more times I would forget again and get caught up in polarity, before really finding the courage to totally live from a place of vulnerability and trust in our common humanity.

Unity Mandala

 

An Angel from Texas

            

 About 25 years ago I was fairly new to the US and had just been kicked out by the person who had invited me to Newport. I lived on a mattress in a friend’s attic for a few months, and then I managed to sublet a small studio apartment from a new friend who was going to Mexico for the winter. The rent was $200.

  I painted and made fiber art pieces but to pay my bills I worked as a waitress at a bar called Checkers, were the wait staff had to get up and dance in front of the crowd once an hour to 50's and 60's music. We women had to wear blue and white polyester cheerleader outfits and name tags with 50's names. When I came on board there was only two name tags left. Tina or Muffy. I was definitely not going to be called Muffy, so I went with Tina. At Checkers I met a guy from South Africa. His name was Darrell and he worked on a yacht docked nearby.. He was cute and liked me so we started hanging out. When he left for St Thomas we decided to stay in touch and after a month or so he wrote and asked if I did not want to come and visit him there. All I had to do was to pay for my ticket. I could stay on the boat and eat there. It sounded exotic and exciting.

 Immediately I started saving for the ticket  and went to all the happy hours available in town, because in those days they offered free appetizers if you bought anything to drink So cheese sticks, chicken fingers and cut up veggies became my dinners.  I also frequented art openings with free chips and dips. It is truly amazing that my digestive system held up, but it did. If you are a starving artist you cannot afford to be too picky.

  A few days before my departure, I was invited to my friend Leroy's house. He had a TV, something I did not. That night there was a program called "Comic Relief," a fundraiser for homeless women and children organized by comedians who told their jokes in between the  stark images of people who had fallen on hard times. I thought that was a great idea! I wanted to contribute, so I took down the address to where to send my check and decided I could afford $20.

 The next day I was in the post office, paying my bills before I was going on my big vacation. I had one check left to write and started making it out to "Comic Relief" when someone I knew casually walked up to me and started talking. I was pressed for time so I tried to do two things at once. Bad idea. I have never been a good at multitasking. As I tried to listen to this person lamenting about something, I happened to write $200 instead of $20. (I had just written out my rent check a minute before and that confused me) Oh, no!

 Oh, well I had to write a new check then. Not Possible. That was the last check in my checkbook! It was Saturday and on Monday I would be off to St Thomas. I was faced with two options: To skip sending a check to Comic Relief OR to send the check for $200. I had maybe 5 dollars more than that in my account.

An interior battle began." Should I, shouldn't I?" How insane would it be to give that much for a person with my income level?  I had been called naive, overly romantic and idealistic. Now, should I trust my impulse to do this - or not? I could feel a ping pong match developing inside of me and in order to stop it I found myself quickly moving towards the mailbox and licking shut the envelop, putting a stamp on it and dropping in it through the slot before I had a chance to change my mind. Done!

 I stood there shaking, feeling lightheaded and at the same time very alive.

  Monday came and I was on a plane to St Thomas. I had brought my paints and a few, small canvasses hoping to find some time to do some artwork while there. Three days later Darrell told me he had to study for his captain’s license all day, but if I wanted to he could drop me off at a beautiful spot with a fantastic beach. Excellent! I brought my paints.

 I set up my little camp and got lost in the land of turquoise, cerulean blue, yellow ochre, emerald green, magenta and creamy white. A few hours later I had made two little paintings.

A man walked up to my blanket. "Nice!" "Are you selling those?"

 I had not thought that far but I said. "Possibly.”

"Well how much do you want for one of those?”

"$100", I said.

 "Excellent"." I’ll take both of them".

   The man walked off with them and left me sitting there, rather stunned, with two hundred dollar bills in my hand.

  He looked like a big bellied Texan but I felt like I had been visited by an angel of grace. Who knows, maybe he was a big bellied angel from Texas.

scan0018.jpg

Early Years

    Growing up as an asthmatic child in rural Sweden during the 60s I was encouraged to engage in quieter activities such as fantasizing, day dreaming and drawing.  I found that nature and creativity took away a sense of loneliness and otherness that pervaded much of my younger life. This remained true even after my asthma and allergies vanished in my teenage years.

 At 18 I was accepted to study art at Mullsjo Folkhogskola, Sweden, where I was introduced to making images in a variety of mediums.  1977 I had my first solo show in the Rydsnas school where my mom was a teacher and managed to sell almost all the pieces exhibited!. I also got a commission to make a large size  fiber arts piece for  the auditorium of  Ostana Skolan in Osterbymo, which  led to  another commission for a Perish hall in Gistad and later I was asked to make an alter piece for Missions kyrkan in Osterbymo. I was 23 when I received a cultural price from that particular region of Sweden.  Being a bit of a gypsy  I was too restless to settle any particular place for long. I spent  a year and a half as an exchange student studying art at Phillips University, Enid, Oklahoma, and  a year living in Stockholm, Sweden working in a high end crafts store  where I also sold my work. When my sublet apartment was burglarized and I received some insurance money I took off for L'ecole des Beaux Art, and L'ecole des Etudiants etranger in  Aix- en Provence, France. Eventually I returned to Sweden in an attempt to grow up and settle down. I felt it would be good to have another profession to fall back on and since I enjoyed writing I enrolled in journalistic studies at Sodra Vatterbygdens Folkhogskola. I got employed as a journalist  at Tranas Posten and  Smalands Tidningen, but the travel bug got a hold of me again and I took a few months off when I got invited to visit Newport, Rhode Island in 1982. Little did I know that 3 months would become more than 30 years! This is where I now live and work. This is home. Over the years I have sold my art to people from many different countries outside of the US. Venezuela, Spain, Italy, UK, Poland, Canada, and Taiwan, to mention a few.  I am a citizen of both Sweden and USA now but feel more like a world citizen.  I guess I will always be  a bit of a Gypsy at heart.

 

 

 One of my childhood drawings.

One of my childhood drawings.

To Be A Drop Of Peace

 

 

TO BE A DROP OF PEACE Around the time when the war in Iraq started I was invited to a birthday party for my friend Maria. A couple of dozen people stood around and chatted casually in small clusters when a cousin of Maria’s decided to hand out some posters about an upcoming peace march in Washington, DC. Several of us had already participated in a peace rally in our hometowns so we eagerly took the flyers and expressed how horrified we were about the development of this situation. Heads were nodding and shaking in dismay and some pretty strong opinions against the war were expressed. That is, until my friend Dan was handed the sheet of paper and in a loud, firm and calm voice said;"No thank you. I am actually for the war."

You could hear a pin drop. We were all frozen in animation. Finally the cousin withdrew his hand that was dangling mid-air with the peace march poster and mumbled, “Well. You are of course entitled to your opinion.” That was the end of it. Not one of us war protesters said anything. We were seemingly in shock. Oh my, we had a wolf among us in the sheep herd, a wolf whom did not care to be disguised in sheep's clothing!

On the way home my belly was a bag of mixed emotions. I could not help but admire Dan for having the guts to speak his truth, no matter how unpopular. In shame I realized that if I had been in a room full of people urging, "Yeah, let’s go over there and kick some butt and show them Muslims that they shouldn’t mess with America," I would most likely just have slunk out the backdoor without making a squeak. I would have told myself that it would have been a waste of breath trying to talk to "those people" anyhow. All my yoga talk about "being one" would have vanished like rain drops on a hot car roof. I would not even have tried to look for common ground or to share my beliefs. Upon hearing opposing opinions, my brain would simply have flashed, "Error, error. Wrong! Bad! Scary!" and I would have shut down and shut up.

As a peace lover, I have always wanted smiles and harmony, and for everyone to get along and agree with one another on everything, and for life to be nice all the time. While that may be a natural human wish, it is a delusional one since it is never going to happen. Conflicts are most likely here to stay.

Does that mean I have to give up on my wish for peace? No. What it means is that I have to get over my fear of conflict and tension in the air. To be a peace activist requires great courage. It asks that I cultivate an ability to stay calm and centered in the midst of a fiery discussion and learn to speak my truth calmly and compassionately. If I start spewing my comments in an angry, defensive or demeaning voice and twisting my face into a gargoyle, the chances that I will be heard are minute, since the brain of the person I’m talking to is likely to register danger and shut off or activate for fight. I need to learn to let go of my ego-centered hold on my opinions and go deeper where I can speak from my heart and from my essence if I have a desire to reach the heart and essence of the other.

Not only that but I need to learn to listen deeply to a person who holds a different opinion without shrinking back. Scientific studies show that when we listen attentively it calms the Amygdala of the other person’s brain. (The Amygdala is the part of the brain that scans the world looking for danger to protect against in ensuring our survival and safety.) Listening with presence and compassion creates a limbic resonance between us. That sets the stage for a safe space where the sharing of thoughts and feelings can take place.

If I listen and hear valid points, I can learn from that and perhaps even revise my own views on something. I can also hear what language this person uses and decide what choice of words for expressing my own truth might be the least threatening to him or her. If I can tie my point in to someone’s already existing world view there is a greater chance that the brain is not going to flash "error, error, reject, delete" before I have even finished my sentence. In the end, most people wish to be respected, understood and appreciated. I have to give what I wish to receive and keep my judgments in check.

One important part of being a peace activist is to learn to speak in non-polarizing ways. If I get smug and proud over getting in a punchy comment that renders the other person speechless and flailing, I am not a peacemaker. I need to stay grounded in the faith that at the very deepest layer of our being we all want the same things: safety for ourselves and future generations. It is just our opinions that differ about the road that takes us there. I want to be able to articulate good, sound alternatives to war. I want to be able to create solutions to conflicts where people walk away feeling enriched rather than diminished. But for now I will not worry too much about what others do. I first need to find compassion for my own shortcomings and inner troublemakers.

Scientific research shows that human beings affect each other in a myriad of ways without even speaking a word. The person with the greatest amount of coherence in his or her electromagnetic field vibrates the strongest and has the greatest influence over others in the vicinity to resonate at the same frequency. Cultivating emotions like peace, contentment, compassion and empathy creates that coherence.

We are all connected like water molecules in an ocean. Water is vital to life and persistent in finding new pathways even when obstacles block the course. So is peace. I dream of becoming a drop of peace spreading out into the world like ripples on the water.

Kerstin Zettmar, a Swedish/American citizen, lives and works as an artist, yoga teacher and holistic bodywork practitioner in Newport, RI. She can be contacted at Kerstin@Zettmar.com or 401-848-0288. Please visit www.zettmar.com.