From the "QUALITY OF LIFE" Files, Three Mining Techniques, by D.M. Solis

In 1923, Robert Henri wrote a classic book on creativity for painters and others, The Art Spirit. I’ve been teaching journaling processes and using them myself for many years to arouse the creative muse and re-animate the “art spirit” with which I believe we're all endowed. While teaching and mentoring students of writing, art, and spirituality, as well as on my own, it's become clear that certain "creative practices" in a routine of "serious-play" can provide useful prompts for unearthing hidden thoughts and revealing complex feelings, even the deepest desires of the heart.

Indeed, these practices can yield great depth and quality to infuse the simplest acts, a kiss, a touch, a taste, holding a child's or an elder's hand, watching a sparrow as she raptures in a bath of fresh rain, marveling at the giant size, strength, and serenity of...a cow? You know, there are so many treasures of enduring value to be mined where the Art Spirit moves, solving problems, sparking ideas, dancing a sacred dance to the music flowing beneath the surface of our busy lives.

So, here are some of the prompts I've discovered for mining the depths, for attending to the "ground of our being," to experience Quality as a Way of Life.

Journaling Questions: Weekends and holidays can be times of rest and well as "re-creating." The next time you find or make the time to get away, unwinding and retreating at home or some other place that is also special, perhaps you could take one or two questions along to ponder as you walk about, soak up the sun, or rest in the shade. It's possible that I'm as addicted to my laptop as any science geek is to theirs (because of my own scientific background, I'm using "geek" most affectionately). However, for freeing the subconscious muse, there is something about the organic process of actually journaling things out by hand…that is to say, there’s nothing like it. So I recommend spending a bit of time actually putting pen to paper. WATCH OUT... Journaling can become quite habit-forming, and most nurturing.

Discussion Questions: In addition to daily times for connecting and reconnecting, weekly my beloved and I try for two things: 1) an artist’s field trip (a la Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way) for gaining perspective, seeing new things or re-experiencing the ordinary in refreshing new ways; and 2) our own retreat at home or someplace like a local garden or hiking trail, far enough off the beaten path to really depart from the day-to-day, for walks along the beach to ask interesting questions and listen to our individual muses; to talk about the quirky, quixotic or intriguing things we've remembered or recently learned; to "blue-sky" new projects; and share our feelings...all of this for refining the processes at work in our relationship, in our shared and individual journeys of discovery. CAUTION... Q/A sessions like these can lead to amazing insights, fathomless friendships and intense intimacy.

As you might guess, the artist’s field trip is sometimes sacrificed due to the press of other business, though we do get in at least a couple of enjoyable trips a month. But our personal retreat time, a continuous half-day or more, midweek or on the weekend, is an absolute constant we've come to cherish. No micro-electronics (not even precious Blackberries or treasured laptops), only music, if that. No visitors -- only the quiet anarchy of "just Us." As we share, it's beneficial to focus pieces of our retreat on what used to be called "values clarification" questions like some you'll find below, for learning more about each other and about ourselves. Oprah’s website publishes similar discussion questions from time to time, and there are scores of enlightening web resources and books where you can find more. Or...make up your own.

Creative Writing Prompts: Finally, for those of us who are public or closet poets and prose-its, or artists of other media, including human resources or team leadership, “stream-of-consciousness writing" (five minutes or longer, scribing by hand, without thinking too much or editing in your head, not stopping until “time’s up," with complete disregard for spelling and punctuation) is a spontaneous way to capture numerous ideas and "imagine-ations" that might otherwise never be unearthed. BEWARE... This could result in the discovery of golden kernels, the beginnings of poems, paintings, stories, watershed problem solutions, astonishing fractals, endless palindromes, soufflés, geometric up-dos (see, that last one was a morphing of "fractals," "Palin-dromes" and "soufflés"), bad puns, random word-doodles and more. Oh, lighten up, my peeps...this is just serious-play, after all. And I for one enjoyed the up-dos. Ah yes, national treasures of enduring value.

Here are some questions I've recently Twittered that might get you started. Check back from time to time, as I'll be adding to these later. If you have some good ones, could you please send them along via the "Comments" section below or my Twitter feed? Thanks in advance. Now, on we go...

For Your Journal/Discussion: If you found a way to avoid deep suffering, and be less or other than the person you’re becoming as a result, honestly, what would you choose and why? Five minutes. No judging.

Journal/Discuss: Your money or your depth? (Not that they are or aren’t mutually exclusive.) Five minutes. No judging.

Journal/Discuss: Some folks think in order to speak…some speak to hear their thoughts. What’s the difference? Which usually works best for you and why? How does this impact the way you share with people in your life -- your family, or family of friends, at work, at school, somewhere else?

Journal/Discuss: Extroverts tend to be energized in a room packed with people. Introverts often tell of an energy drain if surrounded by more than a few for more than a short span of time. Placing extroverts at one end of a continuum and introverts at the other, where would you be most comfortable? Explain. How far out of your comfort zone could you move...for how long...and still be You? (Try it sometime and Journal/Discuss about that.)

Creative (stream-of-consciousness) Writing: Dog, Canine, Wolf, Carnivore, Predator, Pugnacious, Companion -- choose one of these words or another. Write about it for five minutes, whatever comes into your head. Try it with pen and paper. Then read what you wrote. (Develop this piece when you have some time and see what it becomes.) Now choose another word. Do them all if you're so inclined.

As you continue your personal journey, creating, relating, learning and growing...mining the Quality in your unique Way of Life...I hope this piece has added a few tools to gently jostle the Art Spirit in you. CAREFUL NOW... There's some serious-play in your future. "And above all else," Julia Child was known to say, "have a good time!"