let your soul stretch

Sometimes it isn't about big, mutually exclusive life decisions.

Photo by Stef Etow

Photo by Stef Etow

Sometimes it isn't about big, mutually exclusive life decisions. Sometimes there are parts of you simply looking for some kind of expression.

About once a quarter, I try to find an opportunity to sing with a group of people. So one evening I went to the Bhakti Center in the Lower East Side to participate in kirtan, a musical tradition of call-and-response singing from India.

My time here has stretched upstate. I had the gift of spending a weekend up in Woodstock (Yes, the one from 1969. Though apparently the real festival took place in nearby Bethel. 🤔)

Late night jam sessions in a cozy cottage with friends old and new. Being rocked by a hammock under the trees. Meditating in the morning with the monks at the nearby Tibetan Buddhist monastery.

The following weekend, I hosted my first meditation potluck. It was truly a joy to lead the group, sharing all the gifts I’ve learned so far on this journey. As you can see, we may have brought a little Bali to Brooklyn along the way.

In the city or in nature, in community or in solitude, how are you letting your soul* stretch this summer?

summer reads

I’d love to share with you some books that are stretching my spirit as I soak up the sun this summer:

  1. Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less. In case you needed a permission slip to take a vacation or take up a hobby, this is it.

  2. The Art of Gathering. Applicable to any type of gathering, from work meetings and conferences to birthdays and dinner parties. (And the secret sauce behind hosting the aforementioned potluck meditation.)

  3. The Healing Magic of Forest Bathing. I’m reading a little of this each day for inspiration, savoring each section.

* Not feeling the word “soul”? Go with a word that resonates with you, e.g. spirit, love, chi. For me, it’s the force that divides our cells, pumps our steady breaths, turns a seed into a flower and winter into spring.

let your soul stretch_bernadette cay 2019.png

what are your foundations?

This month I turned 32. Three years ago, I began a journey that has shifted and expanded my existence as I knew it, a journey I'm still on and one that I'm still integrating.

In many ways, I feel like I am 3 years old, learning how to walk in the world again. In a new city with an interesting set of career options, I feel very much at the beginning of a new phase.

These past few years have dissolved most of what I thought to be true about myself and the world. I have no knowledge to share with you at this time, only what I'm actively practicing:

1) Gratitude :: Amidst all this transition, gratitude is grounding. One of the fruits of this journey has been appreciating love from my family that's been there all along. I'm thrilled to be celebrating this week at home in Chicago with my parents, family, and two closest high school friends. My foundations.

2) Surrender :: In my romantic life, I'm practicing surrender. Partnership is such a vast, multi-variable equation, a dance with the forces pulsating through all of humanity, that this area of my life is not 100% up to me. I feel a deep longing for connection, yet I don't identify and judge myself about this anymore. This surrender gives me peace.

I'm trying to apply that same level of surrender to my career. I have a growing amount of compassion for the life choices others have made, and cultivating compassion for my own.

My growth has blasted past what's convenient for my LinkedIn profile or an industry's promotion cycles, and resembles more the phases of tree growth, where +/- 1 year is irrelevant. The tight fences of Life Timelines are dissolving, revealing a lush, fertile expanse of (what I hope to be) decades ahead.

3) Patience :: Surrender is the opposite of helplessness: whether it’s work or love or life, it’s showing up to the process, over and over again – without judgement, without grasping. <3

To the next step,

then the other,


take a walk through your year

This guided visualization takes an embodied approach to reflecting on the past year.

The holidays are a sensitive time. In the liminal space between this year and the next, there’s more time to think and to feel. For some of us, this time is full of joy and connection. For others, it’s a more difficult time – perhaps the dull soreness of old scars, or an absence laid bare. For many of us, it’s some combination of both.

How might we bear witness to all of this, for ourselves and for one another? To hold it all, without trying to fix any of it.

The word “solstice” comes in part from Latin, to "stand still.”

Take a walk through your year

The days are getting longer, one minute at a time. But before jumping ahead to 2019, I hope you have a chance to hold still. To acknowledge all that you’ve moved through this year – the highs, the lows, the lights, the shadows.

We’ve all completed another perfectly messy and beautiful revolution around the ever-spinning pottery wheel of life. Before diving into the year ahead, how might we take a step back and see how far we’ve come?

Through all the ways we’ve broken open and all the ways we’ve healed apart, this year has shaped each of us into who we are today and what we bring to the year ahead.

I’d like to share with you this guided visualization, a more embodied approach to reflecting on 2018. This brief adventure (7:49) is best enjoyed with a journal, a pen, a blanket on your lap, and mug of hot tea :)

Thanks again for walking with me on another year on this incredible journey. Under gallery lights on the Bay, among the redwoods of Mill Valley, and along the waterfronts of Williamsburg. From your phone and your computer, in all the places you are in the world – thank you.

Have a restful + festive holiday, and best wishes in the New Year!

are you my people?

I came to an event to check out the space. I was surprised by what I found.

“Untitled (Grit/Bowery MTA)” Photo by Bernadette Cay

“Untitled (Grit/Bowery MTA)” Photo by Bernadette Cay

As an artist, I’m always on the lookout for interesting places to show my work or to host events in the years to come. I’ve always wanted to visit A/D/O, a trendy event space (owned by MINI) in Brooklyn. One of the artists I admire had a massive sculpture installed there this past summer. Since then, I’ve been on the lookout for an excuse to visit the space, trusting that the right event would come in due time.

A few weeks ago, I met a guy at a cafe who mentioned the space, which reminded me to check out the website. I found a seminar series on Design and Research. The next event? “Pray for Me: On Religion and Spiritual Fictions,” the last event of the year for that series.

Intrigued, I bought a ticket.

The event was more glam than I expected. Red velvet curtains and candles along an industrial chic stage – very Madonna. Coupled with smoke machines for an other-worldly look, this was way more of a production than you’d ever see in SF for a panel on a Monday night.

Happy to note the look and feel of the space, I had accomplished my mission for the night. Then the panel started.

The panel, moderated by an egregious French lady, included a hipster Christian pastor, an academic, an architect of religious spaces, and a software engineer.

Over the past three years, I’ve been poking my head into more creative communities than I can count. Like the Ugly Duckling searching for its mother, I’ve been implicitly asking of each group, “Are you my people?” As I’ve become clearer on who I am – and as my Inner Compass has gotten stronger – it’s easier for me to tell.

As soon as the panel began, I *knew* I had found my people. The audience, the panelists. The questions, the stakes. The panelists (especially the pastor and the academic) for a hot second inspired me to go to graduate school, perhaps to study philosophy, history, and world religions.

Of all the conferences, conference rooms, book signings, poetry readings, art openings, art classes, talks, retreats, workshops, eye gazing, holding hands in circles with strangers, Bali, and even Burning Man.... what was different this time?

So clearly recognizing that my interests are not just in creativity and personal growth, but also in the big “s-word”: spirituality.

I walked home that crisp November night, chilly yet feeling fully seen.

“Love and Belonging.”   Acrylics and permanent marker. From my 2017  book ,  Something More: A Working Professional’s Search for Creativity, Purpose, and Peace

“Love and Belonging.” Acrylics and permanent marker. From my 2017 book, Something More: A Working Professional’s Search for Creativity, Purpose, and Peace

#VenusOnMars Artist Talk

Show notes

  • Gaia Toscano, Art Advisor at SFMOMA Artists Gallery, welcomes the audience and introduces the gallery, the artist, and this body of work.

  • Space travel has captured our imaginations as a blank canvas for a better world. “Is that canvas really blank? How might we paint a different future?” [3:40]

  • #VenusOnMars is a metaphor for balance–within ourselves, with one another, and with the world. [4:47]

  • Zooming out and looking at the future from a different angle, starting with the question, “How do you want the future to feel?” [5:30]

  • How I explore that question through two groups of paintings: The Geometric Group and the Kinetic Group. [7:15]

  • Sharing the creative process behind these works. How #VenusOnMars is a constant state of rebalancing. [12:45]

  • “How do you want the future to feel?” Leaving the audience with this powerful question towards a softer, stronger, and more beautiful future. [14:45]

Exploratory Swim, Day #3: Cold and fluid

Using a new medium each day, get out of my comfort zone

Open questions about gouache

  • How do you use it?
  • How does it feel?
  • What can I uniquely convey with this medium?

Theme: Connect

  • Diptych, triptych, interaction between canvases
  • Model of 7 bn people connected, 3D orb

Idea: I want the future to feel KINETIC, embodied

  • Alive, dance performance, Martha Graham style
  • Arms up, hips gyrating, legs moving, hip flexors moving
  • Group, tribe dancing
  • Standing desk painting
  • Celebrating human body

Working on this project doesn't feel "ecstatic"/"high" -> it feels "right". The way a shoe fits. You're not in a state of euphoria walking down the street. Still "walking"/work.

Gouache notes

  • Feel of cross between acrylics and watercolors. I understand why artists and illustrators like this. 
  • Did 8 quick gouache sketches. Wasn't feeling it for this exercise. Pack of 10. Need to mix my own colors, unless I buy more colors. More "work" than chalk, get me back into my thinking mind.

Moved from gouache to black sumi ink

  • 1 color, no choice. Cheap, dries fast, expressive. Lends itself to quick iteration.
  • Gestural
  • Back to intuitive sense vs. thinking mind
  • Bigger brushes
  • Feeling more tired, even after a chai and a cappuccino -> Leaning into that feeling, yin, rest. Depicting washing over, purification, drip, tears, letting go, going with the flow
  • What shapes and textures are coming through me? Languid, restful, coolness, fluid. Moist, watery, vs. warm, soft, dusty
  • Loss of control

Each round, I tried something new:

  • Big brushes, using brushes that are only 1/2 full of ink, using my fingers! Elle Luna's Aphrodite Emerges illustration
  • Ran out of white paper -> Switched to Kraft paper
  • Running out of time -> Switched to fluid acrylics

Interesting effect, like the drips. Like the loss of control.

Started dripping onto the next row -> improv -> use drips to inform what to put next.

Coffee w/Laura Griffiths -> prompts for Day #4:

  • SLOW
  • Erotic energy
  • Fear, shame, loss of control



Exploratory Swim, Day #2: Warmth and dust

Glanced at wool from knitting -> soft. Sensory experiences, meditative spaces, performance installation, immersive experience. 

Inspirations: Rothko, Brie Noel, artist from SFAI who uses Tyvek, Cy Twombly, Ellsworth Kelly

Sketches on how the future feels (touch), smells, tastes. Hard pastel and photography.

FRESH materials and play: Hard pastel, chalk, gouache

Still looking outwards

  • Ideas are in contrast to other sci fi
  • Inspiration from other artists

Went to Blick, bought large pads of newsprint and kraft paper, 48-pack of Crayola sidewalk chalk, and gouache. 

Chalk drawings

  • Ancient cave paintings
  • "From ashes to ashes, from dust to dust"
  • Texture + movement, gestural -> Alive and human
  • Playful, childlike

Made 36 drawings

What emerged: Equilibrium imagery

  • Yoga – balance of 2 opposing forces, felt it in my body
  • Sunlight yellow, corresponds to "dandelion" and "Green Yellow". Soft. Denae, Titial painting, coins raining down.
  • Charcoal black
  • Show opposition of forces beyond gender, e.g. life and death, dark and light, good and evil
  • Modern/contemporary cave paintings
  • Improv - Marks and dancing with one another. Making one mark informs the next mark.