Today on Artist Strong we host Alex Mill of Kindnessville. Today we showcase an artist with a purpose. And I’m not sure there is a better Creative Spirit to showcase on Valentine’s Day 🙂 Alex lived as a Zen monk in a Monastery for over 13 years. He continues to practice kindness and compassion for himself and others by loving life, yoga, cooking, meditating, learning, coaching, writing, and illustrating cartoons for his website: www.kindnessville.com.
Carrie: Welcome to Artist Strong Alex. What inspired your creation of Kindnessville?
While I was a monk at the monastery where I trained, I created a series of cartoons that were published through the monastery’s website. I found that they visually assisted people to grasp concepts about spiritual practice that would normally confound them otherwise. I loved the tools that we offered people – I just found that the language sometimes created a barrier for folks. I avoided as much of the language as possible and focused on a simple representation of how the process worked. To my surprise, the cartoons really took off and people were grateful for them. Kindnessville is a continuation of what I started at the monastery. Now that I am out, I am clear that my work with my website is to keep me as grounded as possible in the practice I have been doing all of these years. So for me, it is showing up, looking inward, and offering what I am noticing to others in the process. It is always evolving – and that’s what I love about it!
Carrie: What is one thing you really want people/creatives to take away from your blog?
That there is nothing wrong – with anything, especially themselves. There is another way to view the world than the tired, monotonous way we have been trained to view it. We are always having our attention directed to how much we don’t have, how we don’t measure up, how there’s always more to do, and that there is some goal in life. My biggest message is – Life is fun, exciting, and full of possibility. It begins when we let go of “something wrong.” After that, we just GO FOR IT!
Carrie: Subscribers to your site receive daily mail with cartoons in them. How did you get this idea?
Ha! That’s funny. Seems like how I get all my ideas. I was sitting in meditation and the idea for one dropped in as I got up and you could say that the rest is history. I just started making them, learning more about how to make them – because most of them are animated I had to figure out how to do that. And people really enjoy them! So that was motivation enough for me to continue. I am always looking for what will spark people’s interest to direct their attention inward.
Carrie: How did you discover your interest in the arts?
Shoot, I’m one of those folks who’s been interested in the arts since I could hold a crayon. AS ALL CHILDREN ARE until we got that squashed out of us – either by not having our doodle of a doggie “look like anything” or by having it look so much like a doggie that “this talent needed to be developed.” Until art became this crazy thing that stopped being fun. Until it became like everything else in life.
Carrie: What’s one piece of advice or practice on your blog that you find indispensable for your own artist practice?
Life is far more creative, intelligent, brilliant, and incredible than we can ever imagine. We need to get out of its way so it can animate us completely. Being stuck up between the ears is a sure-fire way to create a barrier between us and the wisdom of the universe. I know I’m probably sounding all airy-fairy, pie-in-the-sky, horsepuckyish twaddley, but really – consider it. What happens when someone says – Think of a brilliant idea! We go up into our heads where the wheels spin, smoke rises, our forehead contorts into a maze of wrinkles and maybe (maybe) something occurs. But when we go out in nature, or sit in quiet with our cup of tea or coffee, or even take a shower… “bing” a brilliant idea drops in from apparently NOWHERE. And it comes in as a complete idea – perfect – whole, and entirely un-noodled. Of course the noodling mind will want to come in to elaborate on it, and may sometimes sabotage the original brilliance, but watch this process. Being open to the brilliance of the universe, it is available to us ALL THE TIME. We are really practicing stepping aside so it can do its magic with us.
Carrie: How do you get ideas for your daily drawings?
I’m pretty sure that I will simply elaborate on what I mentioned just now. They come to me from my own practice. My process is simple – I do not go out to get them. They come get me! There’s this great image in spiritual practice of chasing after the wild animal simply to have it elude us and then sitting still until it slinks over and falls asleep on our lap. This is my experience of how it works.
Carrie: What do you do when you feel creatively stuck?
The only thing that creates stuck for me is resistance. I’ve seen it happen to everyone. It’s called self-hate. It’s the mother of all habits and addictions because every habit and addiction is in service to it. The ultimate goal of this habit is to feel bad. So if I feel “stuck,” I can know that it is simply a feeling with a label being attached to it and I look inward. I explore “stuck.” Where do I feel “stuck” in my body? What’s the story around “stuck?” Often times what I will find is that it is a barrier for me to just take the first step. Whether that’s the first mark on a piece of paper or the first word on the computer screen. And what is on the other side of making that mark or typing that word? FREEDOM! What happens when I just do it? The flow happens, that’s what. And that is what self-hate and feeling bad is in service to preventing. It is to block the happiness and joy that is on the other side. This process is everywhere: do yoga in the morning? The voices kick in: “nah, you don’t feel like it.” But I do it anyway and wow, I feel great! Of course you do! The whole point of the “stuck” conversation is to prevent you from getting to that awesome free experience that’s waiting patiently and lovingly for you on the other side. I wish I could bottle that triumphant feeling for people so whenever they feel “stuck” they can open that bottle to see – “Yeah, wow. That sure looks good over there. I think I’ll take the first step to go there!” I’m working on it!!!
Carrie: Would you share a bit about your upcoming publication, Practicing Presence?
Sure, it’s a simple book with two cartoons I created that describe the process of directing the attention.
The first cartoon is really the nuts-and-bolts to how to live a happy life. I am incredibly pleased with how direct the communication is in that cartoon. It shows how we get caught in our heads, how unhappy that experience is, what the alternative is, and how to do the alternative. The last panel is my favorite and most profound. If people apply that in their lives – magic will happen!
The second cartoon elaborates on what a life is like when the attention is directed to compassion. When the attention is brought to HOW to live a life. If we can apply the wisdom in this cartoon to our lives – every experience we have will be one of love and caring. How we take out the trash, how we do the dishes, how we interact with others — all of it will create a 3-D, surround-sound, vibrant reality for us!
The book is described as a “children’s-style book”, but don’t be fooled. This one is for the hapless adults! The kids will be amused as you read it to them – and may one day be their primer for living a happy life – but adults are the ones who need this message.
My upcoming books will all be like this. I smile when I consider all the happy children living inside of our adult selves who will be pleased someone is taking the time to read these cartoons to them.
Carrie: Who/what inspires you?
There is a theme: no matter how big or small, what inspires me is the action of seeing an obstacle and compassionately approaching that obstacle to the best of ones ability. Remaining steadfast in the face of all opposition. Learning, growing, and seeing those obstacles as one’s greatest source of transformation. It’s what I love in all my heroes. Whether it be Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., or the person I’m coaching to help him keep his commitment and stay accountable. The triumph on the other side of internal and external resistance met with compassion is one that has always brought me to tears.
Carrie: What’s your best advice to people who want to live a happier, more connected life?
If you do not meditate, this is where I would start. And it’s not just a one-time thing. It needs to be consistent. Every day. I don’t care if it’s even just 5 minutes. This is IT. It’s what made the difference for me and I promise it will make a difference for others. There will be resistance to it. If you’re just starting out, you’ll likely begin being judged on whether you’re doing it right, or well. You will “not like it” or “not see results” or “really love it and think it’s fabulous – for awhile — and then move on to the next best and greatest thing.” You will “forget,” “get sleepy,” “it will hurt,” or “checking Facebook is more important,” and “you just don’t have enough time…” This is what we are up against! The very system meditation will dismantle is in charge of our meditation practice at the beginning! It’s why support is SO IMPORTANT and why I began offering “Kindness Coaching.” I’m even doing a meditation workshop for people at a local yoga studio and I am really psyched about it. I just want people to be successful! Before I forget, subscribers to my daily emails will receive a free meditation poster they can download and print. It has all the instructions you need to begin right now. I’m am truly committed to sneaking that in for people wherever I can!
I am also sketching out a potential course or curriculum on “designing a life” because so many of my friends are asking how to live like I do. What I see so far is that it begins with meditation, moves to diet, fitness, and then conscious living practices – in that order.
Carrie: If people are interested in your work or projects, how might they find you?
My website is the first place. I encourage people to approach it with as open a mind as possible. It doesn’t “look” like Zen, Buddhism, practice, spirituality, etc. on purpose. It will throw anyone who has an idea about what that looks like “off guard.” And that’s exactly the point! I am appealing to people’s innocence, kindness, and compassion. Come check it out.
Carrie: How do you define Creativity?
We are always creating something. Whether it be something that does NOT serve us or Life or something that does serve us and Life. What we have is the choice. I love that you capitalized Creativity, because the definition of Creativity capitalized for me is thinking, speaking, and acting consciously. From this place, we will be creating really good things that will benefit us and everyone.
Thank you again to Alex for his time and sharing his creativity with us.
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: Have you tried meditation before? Maybe today is your day to try it and see how it helps your creative practice!