Saturday, October 22, 2016

My TEDx Talk is now Online! Art as a Spiritual Practice: What I Learned from Making 10,000 Mandalas

Stephanie Smith speaking at TEDxLehighRiver
I'm not exactly sure what was more difficult, stepping onto the stage at Miller Symphony Hall to deliver my talk or waiting a month to see how the video turned out. (The day of the event was a blur.)

If you are reading this post in your e-mail or in a Feed Reader and do not see the embedded video below, please visit this link to view. (

Learn more about TEDxLehighRiver here.

Monday, September 19, 2016

This Really Happened! I spoke at TEDxLehighRiver

Stephanie Smith speaking at TEDxLehighRiver
Where do I begin?

Circa 2011, I saw Tony Robbins TED Talk and it inspired me to one day have a TED Talk of my own. In 2013 when I went to the Visionary Painting Intensive at CoSM with Alex and Allyson Grey, I had the chance to speak with Alex about his TEDx Talk, "How Art Evolves Consciousness" and after seeing me present a 15 minute talk/slideshow about my work, he offered me enough positive feedback about my abilities as a storyteller to keep the idea simmering on my back burner until this year.

I wanted to apply to speak at last year's event but was immersed in yoga teacher training and decided to hold off applying until this year - and almost missed it! When I remembered to look for the application, I was lucky enough that they'd extended the deadline - but it still only gave me days to apply.
Stephanie Smith speaking at TEDxLehighRiver
I applied and less than a week later, was one of 8 speaker candidates selected to attend TEDxLehighRiver's first ever "School" and had the opportunity to be expertly mentored to develop my talk. My topic? "Art as a Spiritual Practice: What I learned from making 10,000 mandalas."
Stephanie Smith speaking at TEDxLehighRiver
It was exactly 80 days from the day I applied until I gave my talk in front of several hundred people at Miller Symphony Hall in Allentown, PA.
Stephanie Smith speaking at TEDxLehighRiver
For what it's worth, this was one of the most difficult things I've ever done. While I love teaching and public speaking, TED Talks are structured much differently because they are meant to be conversational while focusing on only one idea. Everything in your talk must support just one idea - and that's super tough! Especially if you want to talk about subjects that are deeply personal - like art... and spirituality... LOL. It required me to do a monumental amount of soul searching to be clear about who I am, what I believe, and why I do what I do.
Stephanie Smith speaking at TEDxLehighRiver
I wrote hundreds of pages of notes and edited somewhere around 40 different copies of my talk. This was my entire summer. (It took me a long time until I realized that I couldn't just "write" a talk. I had to write a talk the way I spoke.) 

And then there was the memorization... TED talks don't have to be memorized verbatim - but you do need to know the material well enough to be able to speak about it - whether memorized, working from bullet points, or improvised.
Stephanie Smith speaking at TEDxLehighRiver
Now the funny thing is, in my talk I encourage people to not be so hard on themselves about the quality of their efforts when the goal is personal growth. But I still was beating myself up to try and deliver a flawless talk despite knowing full well I could only do my best in that final moment on the round rug.

I read my talk at least a hundred times. I probably spoke it at least a hundred times. (my poor husband...) I recorded it and listened to it, and I wrote it out several times by hand in an attempt to internalize the material.

Keeping in mind, it's not like I don't know the content. What was worrying me, was if I would have missed something that was crucial to another part being understood.
Stephanie Smith speaking at TEDxLehighRiver
I was the only speaker out of the 8 that didn't use a lot of slides throughout my talk - because in my mind, I just wanted to talk. I used a single image for most of my presentation, and then at the end, I showed a 44 second clip which showed a rapid fire montage of 120 different pieces of the mandala art I've created over the years.

So how did I do? I did my very best. Was it perfect? Hell no. But you know what? The speaker isn't supposed to be the hero in a TED Talk. The idea is the hero. As soon as the talk is published online, I'll let you be the judge.

From the TED website: In the spirit of TED's mission, “ideas worth spreading,” the TEDx program helps communities, organizations and individuals produce TED-style events at the local level. TEDx events are planned and coordinated independently, on a community-by-community basis, under a free license from TED.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Cloud Eagle: A Historical Recording from the Seasonal Singers of the Jemez & Zuni Pueblos

Cloud Eagle CD Art
In October of 2014, I received a request and the subsequent honor of having my original painting "Seek" chosen to be the artwork for the historical recording of "Cloud Eagle" by the Seasonal Singers and Dance Group from the Pueblos of Jemez and Zuni.
Cloud Eagle CD Art
The Seasonal Dance Group dances their traditional Buffalo, Corn, Rainbow, and Eagle dances and "Cloud Eagle" is the very first album capturing these songs after 24 years of this group. "Cloud Eagle" is also the very first recording in their tribal history.
Cloud Eagle CD Art
From group member Glendon Toya: "Our project is mainly to promote our culture through song and dance. Being that my family comes from the Tribes of Jemez and Zuni and us speaking the only languages of our kind in the whole world, we cannot sit back and let our culture and language fade away. Many people in our tribes will benefit through this CD, it will bring happiness and knowledge into homes. It will make people suffering from illness’s sit up and enjoy these songs. We strongly believe that the drum beat wakes up the spirit within us and we can be healed of depression, stress, etc. Imagine being in a place and you hear a drum at distance, your heart is going to hear and lead you to it. We see it all too much. The Grandfather Drum as we call it is a healer."
Cloud Eagle CD Art
About the choice of this particular painting, Glendon said, "This to us represents the 4 directions of life also the 4 seasons. We can seek out to these 4 directions, but we will always be who we are and we will always be protected within."
Cloud Eagle CD Art
Of note, one of the songs from this recording, "Living in the Moment" was recently awarded a 2015 New Mexico Music Award. The Zuni Pueblo Seasonal Singers are: Lawrence Toya, Glendon Toya, Delvin Toya and Riley Gachupin.

Please scroll down this post to see videos of the Seasonal Singers and Dance Group from the Pueblos of Jemez and Zuni.
Cloud Eagle CD Art
"Seek" by Stephanie Smith.



"She is (I AM) Light" is about the acknowledgment and acceptance of our full radiant selves. It is about healing, self-love, and  having faith that we can become whole again. During this process, our armor begins to crack and will eventually fall away as we begin to embrace that which we have resisted most: Our Greatness.

(06/18/14 Note: Several months after completing this painting, I read a The Bhagavad Gita and learned about the concept of the Atman which may be defined as, "the spiritual life principle of the universe, especially when regarded as inherent in the real self of the individual." Hmmm...)

The Six Guardian Mandalas are representative of our never having to do the work alone - angels, ancestors, and spirit guides are always around us, gently nudging and guiding us along our path to becoming our whole, true selves.

This original painting "She is (I AM) Light" is currently available for purchase. Please contact me for details.

Part of my artistic evolution during this project has been to document and share my creation process:

"She is Light: Who I Am But Only That Others Can See" New Major Work In Progress 
"She is Light" Work In Progress Part 2: Drawing Her In
"She is Light" Work in Progress Part 3: Mantras, Affirmations & Blessings
"She is Light" Work in Progress Part 4: "I am That"
"She is Light" Work in Progress Part 5: Perfection at Our Core
"She is Light" A Work in Progress Part 6: A Layer of Protection
"She is Light" Work in Progress Part 7: Awaiting the Next Vision
"She is Light" A Work in Progress Part 8: I Get Busy
"She is Light" Work in Progress Part 9: I Stop Caring What Other People Think
"She is (I AM) Light" A work in progress Part 10: The Double Helix Eludes Me
"She is (I AM) Light" A work in progress Part 11: The Helix Prevails!
"She is (I AM) Light" A work in progress Part 12: The End is in Sight
She is (I AM) Light: A Work In Progress Part 13: Putting it Into Words
She is (I AM) Light: Part 14 The Origin of My Mantras
She is (I AM) Light: Part 15 The Guardian Six Completed
She is (I AM) Light: Part 16 Ok, now that's done... now what?
She is (I AM) Light: Part 17 It's all over but the shouting, I've come to take what's mine
She is (I AM) Light Part 18: First Friday Comes, and Goes...

You can also view all my photos from this project on Flickr.  

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

― Marianne Williamson, Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles"
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