"When we keep running away from our fears, it keeps getting us," life coach Tokiko Hiyama Desola says.

Surrendering to the heart

A life coach shares her vision
of artistic fulfillment through
rechanneling negative energy

» Center Your Creativity
» Workshops target creative space

WHAT do we need in order to survive? Water, food, shelter, and we exist. But what about that intangible part of ourselves, the part that yearns for more in this life, the one that asks, "What if?" How does that little voice inside stay alive?

Isle resident Tokiko Hiyama Desola's little voice led her on a two-week journey to the top of the Himalayas, some 18,200 feet into the clouds. Desola didn't want to go; in fact, she boxed all her worldly belongings, changed her bank accounts, wrote a will, and prepared for "maybe not coming back."

Desola had painted herself into a corner after 10 years of avoiding the trek -- by then, her little voice inside was screaming that it was perishing.

"I thought I might not return, but I wanted to live in the moment," she says. Now, having followed the urgings of her inner voice, she has forever raised the bar of what she expects of her life. "Now, without this, I cannot survive."

WHO COULD be a more perfect fit for Koa Gallery's "Center Your Creativity" workshops, which run through July 10 at Kapiolani Community College? Koa Gallery's director, David Behlke, gathered creative folk such as artists Sally French, Kloe Kang and Alan Leitner, along with life coach Desola, to offer ways for people to unleash their creativity. "BREAK THROUGH YOUR OWN LIMITATIONS," the workshop flyer states.

The Himalaya trip wasn't some magic pill that instantly broke through all Desola's limitations. It didn't forever cement her life in perfection. It simply reiterated to her the importance of living one's truth, of listening to that little voice inside. After all, life is a journey. And in her work as a life coach to business executives, cancer patients and spiritual students, Desola assists people in their journeys toward living their authentic lives.

Sheila Kriemelman, who taught a class in creativity last week, will hold a free lecture on "The New York Art Scene" 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

"I believe that whatever the goal -- whether it's to do with business, money, career or health -- it always comes down to the heart. It's that part of us we call our 'center,'" she says, poking at her solar plexus. "But we're always in our heads. We forget what's going on in our hearts."

When people get to the heart of what really matters in their lives and surrender to that truth, "this brings the power of healing, of transformation, to life," Desola says. "Then they can dance to life rather than survive it."

At the heart of Desola's workshop, titled "Journey of Transformation, Creative Leadership Training for Quality Conscious People," is the confrontation of loss and fear. She calls it "the shadow side of the self."

"When we keep running away from our fears, it keeps getting us. So rather than resisting it, we learn to dance with it and transform that shadow energy into creativity. It's like aikido, when you use the enemy's force to shift the energy, and use their power to arise.

"The workshop provides a place for people to experience how comfortable it can be to be in the darkness, in the scariest part of the self."

When asked how she leads participants through these dark paths, Desola mentions exercises in art: some visual arts, some movement, maybe music. But she can't pin down anything with certainty, saying the form of the workshop will be dictated by the needs of its participants. "I don't know the real description of what art means, but I do know that humans are the art," she says. "The process is the art itself."

THE CANVAS of Desola's life displays an artistry of refinement and culture, but also of strain and turmoil. As are all human canvases, it is a work in progress that includes, finally, hard-won confidence and peace.

Desola was born into a family of Zen intelligentsia who can trace their roots back 600 years. Her childhood was one steeped in tradition and culture. Meditation, traditional dance, music, calligraphy and fine art were integral to her early training. Yet, as a child, Desola knew that "the fit wasn't right." Traditions felt oppressive, and tragedy struck her family when her father and later, her brother, committed suicide. Even Japan's extreme weather felt to harsh to the sensitive girl. "Life had been so difficult," she says.

So, as a young adult, Desola sought "a place where the earth would hold me more gently." She looked at her globe and drew parallel lines 30 degrees north and south of the equator, right around the world. Then she proceeded to visit every single country those lines hit. Her travels took her to Egypt, Morocco, Kenya, Europe, India, Nepal, Singapore, Hong Kong, China and Polynesia. In 10 years, she had traveled the world several times and married an American man she loved dearly.

Then in 1993, tragedy struck again when her husband was killed in a motorcycle accident. The devastation was so profound that for several years afterward Desola couldn't bring herself to do anything. But she says it was his death that pushed her to reach beyond what felt safe, to begin to know who she was.

"Until my husband died, I didn't -- couldn't -- realize who I was, and what I was, given by my culture's traditions," she says. "It just seems to me, looking back on my life, that challenge keeps me growing. When I'm happy, I'm just happy. But through loss, I've learned how wonderful life is."

DESOLA says she originally developed the "Journey of Transformation" workshop when she was asked to teach dance at an international conference a few years back. Desola's maternal grandmother is a Japanese traditional dance master who taught the art until age 93 (she is now 101). Desola's mother is also a dancer. So the prospect of teaching her family's craft in a week's time was daunting.

"How do you teach in one week what takes 10 years to learn -- how to walk, how to bow? I didn't want to teach technique in a seven-day conference. I'd feel like I was faking it," Desola says.

Instead, she delved into the transformative powers of  bowing.

"In my culture, a bow is not just a bow," she says. "I'm showing respect to the person I'm bowing to. I get down and say, 'I'm nothing. Please help me. I'll do my best.' I surrender to the ground, to the universe, and this incredible power comes through me.

"As I bow, I lose the sense of my small "I," my ego, my fear. Then I am able to get in touch with the self that is surrounding that person, and I feel love for that person.

"The dance is a metaphor for how to live life," Desola continues. "When you get up on stage, first, you breathe. Then you center yourself. You ground your feet and stand up straight. You settle down. Then you get down and bow, then experience rising again.

"Then you perform. And performing is like regular life. You do all these steps and go back to living out your life. You walk one step at a time toward your dream."

TAKING that first step may seem overwhelming, but Desola says it's quite simple.

"Just show up. Woody Allen said something like, 'You did 80 percent of the work by showing up.' Then, once you find out what you really want and surrender to it, people always arrive who can help. It's so natural. It's how the universe works."

The workshop setting encourages networking among participants, who often assist one another in reaching their goals.

"Then they go back and teach their gift," Desola says. "That's why it's called leadership training. People can really be in touch with their talent and the vision they have," and then take it to the larger community.

"That's the power of community-building," says Desola. "The Zen philosophy acknowledges that we are all one. When we have the intention to stop surviving and start dancing, when we let go of ego, that sense of oneness happens."

Desola originally wanted to name her workshop "Artistic Preparation of Death and Dying" and pose the question: 'You have three weeks to live. What do you want to do?'

"Many of us avoid what we most want to do," she says. "But we need to start living NOW."

alan leitner

Detail of a 22-by-22-inch work by Alan Leitner.

Center Your Creativity

Workshops and events at Kapiolani Community College. Same-day registration is available; individual day attendance is pro-rated. Call Koa Gallery, 734-9375. To register, call 734-9211.

"Journey of Transformation with Tokiko Hiyama Desola"

Creative Leadership Training for Quality Conscious People (classes began yesterday; people are still welcome to enroll)

Part I: "Power of Healing Touch and Healing Dance, Clarify Your Vision, Heal the World"

When: 7 to 9:30 p.m. June 28, July 5 and 8; 2 to 5 p.m. July 10
Where: Maile Performing Arts Theater
Cost: $125

Part II: "Lose Yourself, Find Your Dream"

When: 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays from Thursday to July 1; 2 to 5 p.m. July 10
Where: Maile Performing Arts Theater
Cost: $250

"Transformation of Light and Space with Kloe Kang" (classes began yesterday; people are still welcome to enroll)

When: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily through Friday; open lab 2 to 6 p.m.
Where: KOA 203
Fee: $200

"Flat Glass / Stained Glass with David Behlke" (classes began yesterday; people are still welcome to enroll)

Dates: 9 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 2 p.m. Mondays to Fridays through July 2
Place: KOA 200
Fee: $250; supplies $100+

"Mixed Media with Sally French"

When: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 28 to July 2; open lab 2 to 6 p.m.
Where: KOA 203
Fee: $200

"Oil painting with Alan Leitner"

When: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 5 to 9; open lab 2 to 6 p.m.
Place: KOA 200
Fee: $200

"The New York Art Scene" - Lecture by Sheila Kriemelman

When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Ohia 118
Cost: Free

Creative Leadership workshops: Both workshops take place Saturday at KOA 201; cost: $25 half-day or $40 all day.

George Ellis: The retired Honolulu Academy of Arts director will speak about how patronage, art acquisitions and museum growth occur at the grass-roots level, and the local artists' role in collection development, 10 a.m. to noon.

Loreen Matsushima and David Behlke: Interactive workshop offers strategies for marketing and promoting your creative work, 1 to 3 p.m.

David Behlke, who created the 18-by-14 inch piece above, titled "Honu," is conducting a class on flat glass and stained glass.

Workshops target
that creative space
where time flies by

Over the years, David Behlke has attended countless forms of professional development workshops, from an adult art camp to a workshop alongside Joseph Campbell and Robert Bly. Each time, no matter what form it took, he came away from the event "richly rewarded."

This year, he decided to offer a workshop of his own, designed to assist people in tapping their creative energy. "Center Your Creativity" offers personal development and hands-on art workshops, seminars and lectures by leaders in the art world, at Kapiolani Community College, where Behlke teaches art and runs the Koa Gallery.

"This workshop is useful for anyone who wants to get their creative juices flowing," Behlke says.

"What activity do you do that you lose yourself in?" he asks. "Recreation, if you take the word apart, means to re-create, to recharge yourself. When I make a piece of art, someone always asks, 'How long did that take you to make?' And I'll say it took half an hour. But when I check the clock, it really takes three or four hours.

"Moments like that, when you're in a creative space -- that's the attitude we're trying to foster."

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