Showing Up For Happiness


detail of sculpture


Happiness is not a noun.

It is a verb.

An action taken.

Not a destination but a way of being.

Happiness has become a silly word in our culture; vague, ineffectual, numbingly common.

Asked what we all desire the most and in everyone’s top 5 would likely be to BE HAPPY.

Would we know if we got there?

What is the measure?

If we got there how do we stay?


“Here is the key point to understand about G.N.H.,” said Kinley Dorji, the head of Bhutan’s Ministry of Information and Communication. “Happiness itself is an individual pursuit. Gross National Happiness then becomes a responsibility of the state, to create an environment where citizens can pursue happiness. It’s not a guarantee of happiness by the government. It’s not a promise of happiness. But there is a responsibility to, you know, create the conditions for happiness.”

Dorji said: “When we say ‘happiness,’ we have to be very clear that it’s not fun, pleasure, thrill, excitement, all the temporary fleeting senses. It is permanent contentment — with life, with what you have.”

“Permanent contentment with what we have.”

I actually would take out the ‘permanent’ part because from what I know of happiness it is not a static state.

The beauty comes from the fluidity, the possibility of change, an organic and living quality.

If I’m not happy now there is the possibility that if I change my point of view, take some action, change a belief

I could very well be happy in the next moment.

Happiness is far more interesting to me than despair.

Every day almost moment by moment I must choose it.

It is not a given and demands that I show up, make the choice for it.

Only then will it grace me with an appearance. I must get up, meet it at the door and invite it in to a prepared seat next to the fire.

My fire.

“I See You”

detail of painting


This morning I was out and about in my wheelchair just looking around and soaking in what it feels like to receive.

In a parking lot I saw this great looking man getting off his motorcycle.

I smiled a genuine smile and passed him by.

A few moments later he was at my side.

He signaled me in such a way I understood he was mute and also asking me in a teasing way if I wanted a ride.

There was all this communicating flying between us in just a few seconds as I registered his disability, laughingly said “No thanks” and reached out to touch his leather-clad arm in gratitude for the invitation.

He put his index and middle fingers up to his eyes and then pointed at me; “I SEE YOU” he said.

We parted.

I can’t think of anything more important than really SEEING one another exactly where we are in the moment.

This is how I feel receiving the support I am being blessed with right now regarding my crowdfunding project.

I will take this knowledge out into the world and practice doing just that…passing this miraculous gift forward.


saving grace
detail of painting


My project has been fully funded!! I am acclimating to asking and actually receiving such riches. Chronic illness is such that a life can begin to feel so very narrow. Just your presence out there helps protect me from the tendency to enter into invisibility and stay there.

I am so humbled and grateful. Thank you.




Once upon a time there was a girl who had a secret place.
It was up on a hill covered in long grass.
Sometimes she would snuggle down and make a nest for herself
when her parents were bugging her or if she felt alone.
She never really fit well anywhere.
She was well liked though she belonged to no group.
Her best friends were Nature Spirits.
They would whisper and sing softly in her ear.
Her fledgling heart was always soothed.
As she grew older she returned again and again to her grassy hill
and the Spirits who tended her so long and so well.

One day she noticed that far away across the river, in a little cottage
Smoke was rising from the chimney.
In all these years from her secret spot she had never noticed this before.
She became curious and decided to pack a little bag
And make the long journey to the cottage.
She was cold. Perhaps she could find some warmth by the fire.
She walked for days, for years and a lifetime.
As she finally approached the cottage she heard laughter.
I sounded like a party.

She timidly knocked on the door and all the noise inside stopped.
The door creaked open and in a blaze of light and warmth she saw a table.
It was set with crystal and silvery things.
There were many places set at this table.
From each chair came a welcoming smile from the most radiant people
The girl had ever seen.
She felt warm and tingly inside as she noticed
There was a special place set just for her.

She sat and someone began to speak.
“We are the HONEY GUIDES. We are here to teach you about sweetness
And nurture and family and love.”
“We will hold your hand while you eat and your heart will grow
And you will always know where to go for food.”
And at that- a beautiful woman with golden hair
Began to sing a heartbreakingly lovely song,
A blessing was given and the feast began.

The girl understood that her whole life so far was in preparation for this-
Her seat at the tribal table.
She was no longer alone.
She felt her heart grow wide and wider still.
And she saw it was true what she had been told;
That part of The Journey must be made alone
But for the heart to become ripe and full
One needs a hand to hold.


– Cathy Aten 2008

My Project


Dear all,

Please take a gander at my INDIEGOGO Campaign:

It is for US!!!!


Cathy’s INDIEGOGO Campaign



Life As It Is

detail of installation, ceramic


I find myself endlessly entertaining.

One day that “green fuse” that Dylan Thomas wrote so eloquently about is nowhere to be found in my landscape.

The next day, I’m finding myself wondering things like “What are the specific things that make me come alive?”

Thoughts of friends supporting me in myriad ways, my doctor answers my email, I like what I’m wearing, it smells good outside, I have a smart and super capable caretaker, FLOWERS!, TIME!, WRITING!, MY FAVORITE CHAIR IN THE SUN!

I wake up and perform my ablutions. Checking in the mirror my eyes are clear today when yesterday they appeared veiled and grey.

I have a pocket of grief from missing my dog. Then it changes into gratitude for having had the chance to love so well and deeply.

There’s the CHANEL #5 lotion standing like a sentinel on my cabinet.

I throw some on like a samurai donning armor.

Who am I getting ready for?

Not a man. Not you all.

Every day when my energy allows I do what I can to pull myself together emotionally, spiritually, aesthetically in order to just meet my day.

I do it because I am very sure the gift is not a given.

And I love my life…again, when the energy allows.

I keep rising.

I don’t know how.

I am very sure I do not do this alone.

My heart feels impossibly soft today.

I keep re-uping into this thing called Life.

Rabbit Hole Reconnaissance

detail of painting, canvas, oil


Sometimes I find myself holding the truth back from you..myself too.

I depend on my natural instinct to keep moving forward into the “whatever” with all my tried and true weaponry, power tools, prayers and presence.

Sometimes, as of late, Cathy’s familiar antidotes to the near annihilation of my life-force don’t cut it.

And I must find new ways.

A new tack for my boat.

This process of discovering what’s the next correct decision for me demands SURRENDER, TRUTH-TELLING ABOUT WHAT IS, ASKING FOR HELP and REMEMBERING I AM NOT ALONE.

The specifics are that I have hosted a bladder infection for 5 months now. An over-use of antibiotics beginning in my teens for treatment of skin prone to break-outs has left me dealing with an infection now so used to antibiotics that it just says: “ again? Fuck it. I like where I am all toasty warm here in your bladder and I WILL stay here no matter what you dish out!”

This past weekend, after 5 separate rounds of medications and poor to none human contact with the doctor I lost it..

Too weak and tired and frustrated on every level to function even close to normal I just cried..

I cried loud and long. Fear came calling. I let it in as I hadn’t the strength to object.

This morning I woke early to bright sun seeping in through the previously untouched blinds.

“I MUST LIVE! I WILL LIVE!” I say aloud.

I showered and scrubbed the deadness off me.

Addressed myself in the mirror: “What do you know about life, Cathy Phillips Aten? ..

#1- All we can count on is change…#2- What we are so sure is REAL is not…#3- Get thyself to the smartest person you can find for healing…#4- The cure for most everything is a delicate application of red lipstick. So red one must do what it takes to MEET the power of the color.”

And so I did.. put myself together to meet that color and the world.

Went out the door and praised the sun on my way to visit a fine friend.

I sat very tall.

It seemed a miracle that I knew just what to do to claw my way out of that rabbit hole!

I had everything in me to make it happen.

I have everything in me.


detail, ceramic, earth


BLONDE – a poem

On the way to Albuquerque yesterday
I looked at grasses
By the side of the road.
The colors were pre-winter
Blonde and rust and tarnished yellow too.

I found it intriguing
Just beside the blacktop
That the earth there,
Braving the wind of our speed,
Was disturbed.

Some big yellow manly piece
Of Caterpillar equipment
Dug it all up one shiny day.
And after the dirt settled there,
NEW and DELICATE fronds grew.

They seem to like that place,
Turned and routed around.
On their own they chose it,
Over a lonely patch of green
I might’ve picked instead.

No, the lovelies thrive there!
In the reckless and impatient jangling,
Some orange-clad, sunburned guy-man
Took pride in his spit
And numbly walked on.

I thrive too, amidst disturbed gardens.
The seeds thrown meanly
And left bare and dry.
But see this, here?
My body still bends and arches
And the wind never broke me
Or took me down.

I lean and quiver in my place
Hearing something of a tune
That always drowns out the heat.
And my perfume rises
Until the Wind takes it.
He is greedy and ill-mannered.
But I don’t care.
-CA 2010


detail of hand-painted wool flannel


Following my recent visit with two old friends from high school I had not seen in 40 years

And being left rather breathless in their wake

Because we just literally picked up where we left off..

It all has had me thinking…as I am wont to do.

I received my B.F.A in textile design in 1980. I wove, printed and dyed my way through late nights of toxic fumes and inky messes rendered unnoticeable because I was IN LOVE with the process.

Really, I am no different today as I insist on delving deep into whatever depth calls me.

I just know how to take better care of myself within the fervor.

Back to my buddies..

What was it, I asked my self, that allowed us to be absent from one another for so long only to pick it up where we left off?

Was it the neural connections made; strong and true, that when re-visited woke up, time be damned with just the merest tickle?

During our time apart I wove and dyed and printed myriad yards of my own fabric with unique threads, original technique and nameless colors, proceeding to weave them into my own tapestry.



Then these guys arrived back into my life and attached themselves to the thread dropped 40 years ago, injected Life back in and the thread gets a chance to live in my tapestry..not just live… but LIVE!

Why do these relationships have the ‘A’ to my ‘B’?

And others don’t?

It makes me think about healing and the propensity for those in our lives who care for us to offer up solutions to our illness and possibilities of cure.

All so seductive as in the newly electric chance meeting of two humans.

Substance…. no- SUBSTANCE..gravitas..inter-cellular re-arrangement toward our original Self

Is Grace visiting us.

The opposite of an engineered life.

I just love that I have the consciousness now to recognize it for what it is.


“CATHY’S HANDS” photo credit- Gay Block


Inside an MRI machine can be a decidedly alien experience; laid on a gurney and mechanically rolled into a tight tube.. weird light and the incessant pounding (LOUD!!!!!!) of the magnetic resonance with the admonition to keep ABsolutely still for too many minutes at a time.

Disembodied voices in their safe place tell tales of “This one will be 7 minutes. Keep still.”

I close my eyes.

I have refused music.

I am not claustrophobic which gives me the chance to be curious; can I feel the magnets? can i follow their path? can i make even this a meditation? why not?

I become my own witness; absorbed in the science and wonder of my experience.

The 2 hr. session ends.

I feel weirdly sad.

How odd.

And wonderful.

This recognition I will take out into life.

See if I can stay this curious.

The Power of Refusal

ceramic sculpture, 4x3x1/4″


The above was the title of the recent T MAGAZINE in the Sunday New York Times.


The theme seems obvious.

Years and years ago I worked in a very upscale furniture store called ROCHE BOBOIS.

This was situated in a suburb of Detroit.

Super Fly -type guys came in with their long black leathers and shades and scary countenance.

They opened their coat and pulled out rolls of dirty cash to pay for their tasteful purchases.

It scared me; this nonchalance about such luxury for show.

They didn’t used to have the means but now they did and by God they were gonna make sure we all knew it.

Gimme gimme…

I wasn’t much better in those days. Less dangerous perhaps.

I wanted you to see who I WAS by the clothes I wore, company I kept, where I lived, names I knew and spewed.

My home is white now.

I live alone by choice.

I eat simply. Have no idea who those faces are in magazines and suffer feeling ill-informed some days.. Love silence.

I’ve saved a few pieces of art which still move me.

My life feels far more richly textured than ever.

The luxuries of time, quiet, peace are my take-aways

From saying no to the ferocious and fast lane.

Coddling My Precious Nervous System

the fall
detail of sculpture, ceramic


Whenever I get a chance I put one hand on my heart and one on my belly. I breathe. I cherish myself.

Since day one of my life my nervous system has been working in over-drive. Born to a mother I was not given the opportunity to bond with set me up for a life of hyper-vigilance; Was I safe? How do I tell? Is this REALLY me or a ‘me-trying-to-get-what-I-never-got’ from someone or other?

I lived pretty much outside my body for many, many years..always two steps ahead of my physical self in order to suss out the territory.

Actually, with the loss of my mother and father and the milestone of turning 50 I began to feel free.. feeling crept back into my body where there had been armored numbness.

Today, I feel fully functional as CATHY PRESENT. And yes.. I do feel like an actual myself.

Here I am. Authentic me.

Whew…what a long fucking row I have hoed.

It remains a challenge to equalize my nervous system which wants to grind away at it’s familiar velocity.

Here is my current anti-anxiety drug of choice:



Imagine walking on a meadow path until you reach the bank of a softly flowing clear river.

Stepping into the shallow, warm, sandy bottomed flow you lie down dressed only in your skin with your head facing the origin of flow.

Pause to feel the water slipping easily around your body and moving on it’s way.

Now imagine the river is made of warm, liquid gold.

Open the top of your head and let the gold move slowly into you and filling each capillary.

Take your time here.

As you are ready, open your feet to let the gold back into it’s source.

Two Good Men

memorial day
detail of ceramic sculpture


Recently two old friends came to visit.

One, I lost my virginity to (and adored) many years ago and the other became my love as well (equally adored).

My high school clan was decidedly male and slightly peppered with women.

We all moved as a sort of pack, felt safe, seen and woven into this precious nest.

Fourty years later there we were, the three of us sitting in my apartment hoisting a glass of wine together, tipping our hat to the rare jewel in our midst: US..still loving each other to the very core after all this time.

These two remarkable men flew all the way from California to see me.

They treated me like a queen, family, cherished friend.

We looked at old photos, dined at the very best spots Santa Fe has to offer, breakfasted leisurely, visited the fabulous fossil and mineral shop downtown and eased through our time together just like we used to (sans marijuana high..).

One of the guys had made a reservation at the best restaurant in town. We sat and ordered. Part of my meal was snow peas with bacon. I had asked the kitchen to cut the peas into small pieces as I had not the use of my right hand to manage a knife. They arrived whole, alas. I tried to eat them gracefully but my friend noticed my conundrum and just casually asked if he might cut them for me.

I am pretty used to asking for this kind of help within my local circle but it surprised and thrilled me that without an ounce of embarrassment or shame I slid my plate to him.

And we carried on..

That nest we all wove so many years ago still holds.

As we said good bye on the street near the downtown plaza and moved apart in opposite directions I turned my chair back to watch them both walk away. Just like a lover, I wasn’t ready to let them go.

How miraculous love is.

And what a fine, fine ‘man-picker’ I used to be….