Ordinary Life as Modern Art

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” – Pablo Picasso

I hear myself sighing at the ongoing ‘messes’ cropping up day to day: the dishes in the sink, the used pots and pans, the new flow of toys washing up everywhere like debris from a river of ceaseless play coursing through our home. There was an evening recently when I looked around and had to laugh out loud. First there was overwhelm. Then there was humor. Then there were fresh eyes: This mess is my precious daily life!

There are days when I notice myself cleaning up my home space in a frantic, panicked sort of way. I usually catch myself and imagine a practice bell ringing, marking the moment to tend to a temple. My husband joins me in the gesture and we go about our business with a sense of the sacred art of tending, the slower pace of mindful movements, the fresh eyes on bowls and plates and half-eaten pasta. Today though, the mess was comical. A literal whirlwind could have turned my home inside out. Everywhere I looked my eyes landed on something to clean or fix or pick up. Today, tending mindfully wasn’t going to be enough. Today required a complete shift in perspective. Today’s invitation was to see the messes implicit in ordinary day to day life with a baby and 3-year-old as a gesture of modern art, just as good as anything I’d see at a museum. I looked at the mundane trimmings from a day fully lived as what they really are: imprints of Life. Imprints of young boys cavorting. Imprints of shared meals. Imprints of what it means to be a human being mothering children and home-making. And, really: this is beautiful, too. This too is artful, even poetic – but only if you have eyes fine-tuned to finding beauty in what is absolutely ordinary in a day’s simple mess.

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Simple Act of Visioning Art…

My little boy isn’t the only one who needs an art project at times.

We too need art: that act of putting creative energy into practice, of creating something tangible that expresses our present moment and perhaps also a bit of our longings. Last year the women’s group I am a part of undertook a ‘vision collage’ project. For several hours we combed through magazines and cut out what spontaneously struck us about what it is we want to cultivate more of in our lives (I highly recommend this, by the way!). All of the sudden we each were gluing an unexpected landscape onto paper and forming both a reflection of ourselves as we were in that moment as well as a blueprint for what we want to manifest further in the future. Themes that emerged in my spontaneous collage: meaningful time with community balanced with silence and solitude, spending more time outdoors, connecting with the elements, reminders of sacred earth and my love of pilgrimage, icons of motherhood and mysticism, a writer at her desk. Woven throughout is also a reflection of my desire to live more closely to the land and return to the simple joys of canning, cooking, taking care of one’s own chickens and getting my daily egg from my yard (and not 1000 miles away in Wisconsin!).

Like a constant reminder, the collage rests on my kitchen counter: serving as a taut rubber band that is stretched between where I am and where I want to go. I try to strike a balance. Perhaps I’m not canning foods yet grown in my dream garden, but I am scooping flesh out of a steamed pumpkin and making homemade baby food… Like a seated forward bend in my yoga practice, I can reach towards what I want while also not pulling away from the reality and perfection of the present moment. I can keep my gaze towards my legs while also feeling the yearning to reach farther, to move forward.

The images serve as backdrop for the ongoing conversations with my husband about creating the life we most want to live. It isn’t that we don’t embrace where we are NOW, but more that we constantly hold ourselves accountable to a greater vision that involves deeper connections with Place, more solid practice of voluntary simplicity and more ritualized connections with the seasons and food. The vision is one of Sanity, where relationships come first, where connection to land and place is cultivated, and where artfulness, spiritual practice and soulful living can flourish. The images evoke a slowing down, a deeper settling into the sublime, and the profound practice of self care. Contrast this vision with what seems to pull so many of us in a million directions, diluting our focus and presence into a thousand pieces! The images from this simple act of visioning art remind me to periodically unplug, to feast, talk for hours with friends and family, loose track of time, enter into moments of sacred silence, connect with Earth, and put my passions into practice. And my precious little boy’s eyes are a constant invitation to slow down and bask in what is Right Now, regardless of what the future may hold…

Tree of Life

Braeden’s Placenta Print, May 24th, 2012

“She gives birth to a baby who is born attached to… something else. This something is a part of her baby, but completely different. She looks at it, and sees in its shape the same roots that burrow into the ground and grow into strong trees. She sees the roots in the veins on its surface, the trunk of the tree in its umbilical cord, and the life-giving fruit in her newborn infant.

Is it now so difficult to imagine how she would see a connection with new life in the image of the tree?”

– Jodi Selander