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…

The Virtue of Slowness, and Doing Absolutely Nothing

I’ve been thinking a lot about both the virtue of slowness – and the essential practice of doing absolutely nothing. Transferring these things to parenting a toddler is an interesting endeavor, and I have to use myself and my own experience and actions as a starting point. I don’t want to always be ‘busy.’ I want to create time and space for being available to whatever arises, without planning. I want to model just sitting, without always having to ‘do’ something. This feels particularly challenging in light of my little guy who is a non-stop playing, moving, jumping, running organism of energy (who constantly invites me into the fold of play). So – how to balance?

One vehicle I’ve found (at least during warmer weather) is to venture outdoors to the small open space corridor across the street. Rowan and I would go and reframe our lenses to the world of the very small. We would sit still in the grass and simply observe the insects, the blades of grass, the cattail, and the clouds. I’d point out the passing light of the day into dusk, or the shifting patterns of clouds, or the flutter of wings of a bird flying by. I’d welcome him to lay down with me, close his eyes, and listen. In this way we both found a quiet stillness of just being that is not quite as replicable indoors or at a playground or on a walk… Since winter’s wind and chill has blown in I’ve struggled to unveil those moments as often. Even in my endless pursuit of a cultter-free, simple home with minimal stimuli, I often feel assaulted by things and schedules (hmmm…something tells me I’m not alone in this)… And it occurs to me that a gift I want to offer my children is the capacity to navigate 21st century urban, industrialized, tech swarmed reality with some semblance of grace and sanity – where they are seated in a calm center of gravity and can self-regulate even in the midst of an onslaught of things and information and chaotic human energy. How to offer options and an experience that promotes reflection, slowness, thoughtfulness, focus, concentration and the like? It feels like a never-ending uphill battle – and the best I can do is model slow-moving, careful interaction with my surroundings.

Harkening back to my last post: there is no rush. There is plenty of time. We don’t have to do anything. I can model a restfulness and groundedness even in light of swirling toddler energies converging. No need to rush the transitions. The journey down the stairs is equally as fascinating as the impending grocery sore trip. Sitting on the couch and looking out the window with Rowan is just as valid an “activity” as my plans for play dough making or art projects. (Where on earth did the idea emerge that we need to have activities for our kids all the time?) Sometimes over scheduling has become an antidote to my own fear of restlessness that has arisen for me in moments of solo parenting. When the literal playing field is empty, there is a sense of uncertainty for me about how to be. Playing trucks doesn’t come naturally. Nor does jumping off the couch 50 times. How to stay present and authentic even when I don’t want to push the monster tow truck? The invite is to participate in the unfolding moment with a sense of unhurried openness – and to rediscover deep engagement with imaginative play… And, to offer structure and guidance when needed. Sometimes, the best next thing to “do” is NO thing.

Let’s just lay here!

Look at the infinite possibilities in the pattern on the ceiling!

Wow! The wind is blowing the trees outside. Let’s look!

I wrote this several days ago, and I smiled to myself when I heard an exchange between Chris and Rowan tonight before dinner. Rowan was begging Chris to watch the trailer to the new film The Lorax (which is his current book obsession). Chris said, “Rowan, I actually just want to sit here and watch the sunset.” Rowan at first didn’t understand and asked whether it was something to watch on the computer (!???!!!? OH GOD!) Chris chuckled and showed him how to sit on the couch and look out the window at the brilliant oranges of mountain sunset behind our house. While the moment only lasted a split second, therein lies the seed to be planted in this crazy making era of stuff and entertainment: Just look outside and marvel at the colors of the sky…

Protecting Inner Resources, Remembering Beauty

Another sleepless spell overtakes me and I churn around in a strange fog of lopsided semi-clarity, trying to hold the pieces of sanity and joy in life together.  Sometimes, the truth is brutal.  This time, the truth absolutely stings.  When I squarely consider my condition, I am akin to a fish out of water or a dying ant on a sidewalk.  (Clearly, I need something to snap me out of this!)

“How far can I stretch myself before dissolving?”  It’s a recurring question for those of us who are tending from pre-dawn to pre-dawn again and again with no reprieve of sleep lasting longer than 2-4 hours at a time.  I often consider what keeps me going: a determination rooted deep in my heart and gut to do what feels unabashedly right for my particular child.  A profound love impulse to not turn away.  A muddling through confusion – but coming out with certainty that yes, this indeed is the right response for my child.  Up again, down again.  Sleep on the floor.  Sleep on the couch.  Midnight. 2am. 5am. 5:30am.  A day never ends.  A day simply blurs into the next day.

Given my parenting choices aren’t lending themselves to the perfect sleeping toddler (and I am not complaining, actually!), it is entirely up to me to delineate the markers of rest and recovery for myself – because they are certainly not a given.  Herein is a great lesson: We as caregivers with multiple responsibilities in life must take heed to delineate the markers of rest and recovery for ourselves.  With this in mind I work to combat the inner fogginess of busy exhaustion and find the following gems feed the spirit of sanity and joy.

Protect your resources.  All that patience and grace and good will and love impulse: those are precious resources to be guarded with one’s life, lest we let them turn into more run-off for an even larger dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.  It’s high time to start treating ourselves as the precious resources we are. The dire nature of hitting a wall peels me out of my habitual tendencies to leech my most loving, energetic life energy.  I have no choice but to regroup or dissolve. Without compassionate maintenance of our deepest intentions and inner resources rooted in spiritual practice and self-care, we begin to leech (albeit slowly, sometimes invisibly) our most precious gifts. It does one well to clarify (again and again) what it is we most want to cultivate in our lives – and then, do just that:  cultivate and protect what you’ve grown with intentional care.  

Remember Abundance.  An experience of abundance has a difficult time taking root from a place of depletion.  It feels I’ll never get enough rest, no matter what I do.  I get trapped in a cycle of ‘not enough this,’ ‘not enough that.’  Rather than dwelling from this place, cut back where trimming is in order. Trust the re-growth. Just like a houseplant needing to be trimmed, we can pare down and do less – remembering new growth often emerges only after we’ve cut away what needs lightening.  Abundance doesn’t mean more, it often means recognizing more in less.  An experience of abundance often means simply doing less. It often means shifting how we ‘get things done.’ Even in a simple breath we can experience abundance:  a slow, full breath accompanied by drinking in experience with delight (rather than snatching that sigh as if you can hardly manage to get that in!).

Be aware of beauty.  As Krishnamurti reminds me, “For most of us, beauty is in something, in a building, in a cloud, in the shape of a tree, in a beautiful face.  Is beauty “out there,” or is it a quality of mind that has no self-centered activity? Because, like joy, the understanding of beauty is essential…”

The experience of beauty is a sensitivity born from gratitude, curiosity and awe.  It is a quality of one’s entire experience that can transcend the so-called ‘mundane.’ Find the inner lens that recognizes beauty and practice seeing through it, regardless of external circumstances.  More importantly practice feeling through the lens of beauty.  “Whatever you encounter, join it with meditation,” the Buddhist Lojong cards say.  For me, the meditation is to simply remember to see and feel beauty.  The beauty of this life cuts through my fog like a gentle knife cutting back overgrowth.  It brings me back onto my knees, remembering my place in the divine order of life.  This too shall pass – and how poignant a truth!  So waste not a moment drinking in the contours of color, the sweet little hands eating juicy beets, the foggy wakeful moments in darkened rooms – a blessed chance to feel the hush of silent night and cool breeze bringing the smell of sage… What is the problem, really?  Nothing!  A tired fog is drenched in a beauty beyond comprehension simply waiting to be recognized.