Monday, July 25, 2016

lessons in abstraction ...

Before you speak consider: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it an improvement over silence?

 I am not a quiet person and rarely am I silent. But these past few months I have found my mouth starting to open or my fingers on the keyboard and then suddenly poof! I sit back and sink back into my thoughts, my daydream, my internal monologue.

I feel rudderless, which is not unusual for me in the summer months. Heat and I have never coexisted happily together and the lack of structure that happens when school is on break fuels my dazed meandering. I think this is okay, this is natural, this is how I spiral through my life learning, testing, integrating, evolving. The process of feeding my roots isn't flashy, isn't a grand gesture but quiet and slow moving. Often I don't even realize this is what I am doing ... this nourishing my heart and soul. 


It is getting up every morning early before the temperature rises and spending time in my garden in prayer. Connecting with the life around me and which I am a part of and feeding gratitude, feeding reverence and joy.

It is trying on new ways of creating, remembering play and curiosity are core values for how I wish to show up in this life. With that in mind, I signed up for a class on abstraction by Wendy Brightbill enticingly called Letting Go: An Exploration of Abstract Painting offered through Jeanne Oliver's wonderful platform for online art classes. (Seriously, if art videos are your kind of porn, the offerings on this site abound with hours of video content; artworks being birthed before my eyes always leaves me breathless and eager for more!

I figured my lack of coherent thoughts, ideas, projects is a perfect state in which to steep myself in abstract painting, right?  The more I thought about it, the more abstraction seemed perfect for me as my life right now feels diffused, random, and open to multiple interpretations.

I have quickly discovered the fly in the ointment ... I am more grounded than I had previously understood. Now, to be fair, I have only a handful of painting sessions under my belt and quality of ease in Ms. Brightbill's creations (let go! play with colors, shapes, patterns and  have fun!) is definitely the result of much practice, more practice and heaping doses of practice and commitment to this process. 

But what draws me into deep engagement is examining the patterning in the feathers of a hawk's wing or the subtly of colors in a snowy owl's plumage.  While I admire the variety, the beauty, the poetic display of colors, lines, and forms in an abstract piece ultimately my love is for art that assists me in opening wide my eyes to life around me rather than life within me. What fascinates me is the natural world around me and understanding myself within that creative pattern and play. 

Oh, I will keep on with abstraction. I know there is something there for me to learn and use. And the practice is not wasted as I am crafting cards out of my experiments. 

On this path effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure. Even a little effort toward spiritual awareness will protect you from the greatest fear. 
Bhagavad Gita 2:40, translation by Eknath Easwaran)

It comes back to intention, always. What drives me to pick up my pencil or paintbrush and hazhard to create chaotic messes? Lovely images are nice, they can be inspiring and uplifting but that will not sustain me through the frustrations of quieting my monkey mind and surrendering to the process of discovery and creating. What does keep me returning are the aha moments of seeing with my heart and understanding in my gut and in my bones.  

Trying on abstraction, I realize is my true passion and gift: beholding, understanding and celebrating the artistry of mama Earth and her infinitely inventive creations. Abstraction could offer me a process to express  that wonderment in ways that bypass representation. I don't know. I may not get there. But rather than focus upon it as a goal, I embrace my attempts as yet another way I can meander into new places of knowing, connection and wonder.

I think it's so foolish for people to want to be happy. Happy is so momentary -- you're happy for an instant and then you start thinking again. Interest is the most important thing in life; happiness is temporary, but interest is continuous.

I can't live where I want to, I can't go where I want to go, I can't do what I want to, I can't even say what I want to. I decided I was a very stupid fool not to at least paint as I wanted to.
- Georgia O'Keeffe 

[I recently was contacted by an online art education and image database resource, Artsy, and asked to introduce their site here for interested readers. Having worked for over a decade as a Slide Librarian, I can truly appreciate the mission of Artsy: "We strive to make all of the world's art accessible to anyone online." In addition to a growing database of artwork, there are articles, exhibition listings, suggested contemporary artists based upon your search and other educational resources which make browsing the site a wonderful down the rabbit hole experience for any art lover.  Seeking some creative juice, I landed on their Georgia O'Keeffe page and from there discovered a painter new and very relevant to me, Eleanor Hubbard. Happy inspiration hunting!]


Saturday, July 2, 2016

may our minds (and hearts) be one

I woke this morning to a gentle rain.  For the past six hours, it has continued with the rain gauge reading 2 inches so far.  It is unusual here to have a steady, rhythmic rainfall. Normally, rainstorms are intense outbursts that come upon us swiftly and suddenly and just as quickly, they pass by. 

Hmm ... reminds me of life these days with a preteen.

I have been struggling to create some sort of rhythm for myself in these changing times. Summer, I need to remember, is a time of spacious uncertainty. The days may have a routine but it is frequently shaken up with vacations, camps, and the fluctuating moods and passions of an almost 12-year old girl.  

My only constants have been patio time early in the morning. I light a stick of incense and read out loud prayers or poems to my garden ... and to mama mourning dove who has made her nest in the grape arbor by the side of our garden boxes. 

I then find my own words. It is one thing to think my prayers - what is it I need to ask and to share with Spirit - but another to speak those thoughts out loud. Speaking, I realize how unclear my thoughts truly are and how this practice of giving voice to wisdom filtered through my heart is helping me to find clarity and understanding.

I was sitting with a group of dear mama-friends, each of us querying how to offer our children guidance in such challenging times.  How do we teach them to anchor themselves in love? How do we mentor them in seeking and then honoring the wisdom of their hearts? To speak and act from that truth when all the world seems to shove us towards surface matters, to lock us in fear and doubt, doom and gloom? What do we give them to anchor and guide them?

Suddenly, it all seemed so obvious. Nature.

"This is really why I made my daughters learn to garden—so they would always have a mother to love them, long after I am gone." (Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass) 

 My morning puja is my attempt to enter into a conversation. Not to merely be listening, looking or receiving but to also be giving back, to seed in my heart a dream of healing and hope for all. 

Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond. (Braiding Sweetgrass

I have had Robin Wall Kimmerer's book by my side and reading it brings together so many strands of inquiry, practice and study.  Her essay Alligience to Gratitude introduced me to the Haudenosaunee (or Six Nations) Thanksgiving Address and the past few mornings I have read out loud the version shared in her book.  (A version of the same text can be found here.)

The words are simple, but in the art of their joining, they become a statement of sovereignty, a political structure, a Bill of Responsibilities, an edcuational model, a family tree, and a scientific inventory of eco-system services. It is a powerful political document, a social contract, a way of being - all in one piece. But first and foremost, it is the credo for a culture of gratitude.

...The Thanksgiving Address reminds us that duties and gifts are two sides of the same coin .... What is the duty of humans? If gifts and responsibilities are one, then asking "What is our responsibility?" is the same as asking "What is our gift?" It is said that only humans have the capacity for gratitude. This is among our gifts. (Braiding Sweetgrass) 

Today I perched on the step from my backdoor to my patio. The narrow roof line overhead offered shelter from the rain, although a gentle breeze wafted a misty blessing of rainwater upon my toes and knees.  I read out loud the Thanksgiving and allow the words and the teachings to seep into my soul, refreshing and nourishing my heart and spirit.  I can easily get overwhelmed, so it is imperative I focus upon what is possible for me. Small, but honest attempts to connect, to remember, to heal.  

To give thanks in word and deed. Today my words were shared with a new residence of the yard.

I take this as a positive and encouraging sign

Sunday, June 12, 2016

mind the gap ...

This may well be my new mantra.  Mind the gap ...  Originally it was a bit of a laugh between my mother and myself. Our first trip to London -- yikes! -- 37 years ago? We were standing on the subway (er, Tube) platform waiting for a train to pull up when over the loud speaker the very proper and polite voice informed us to Mind the Gap. It was humorous both for the tone (we who were used to the garbled and grating voices of New York City's subway announcers) and for the phrasing.  

Mind the Gap.

It took us a moment to realize what was being referenced was the yawning hole of metal, dirt, grease and rocks. The reality behind this well-mannered warning was: Beware the iron crevasse which will snap your ankle like a twig should you absentmindedly stumble into it.

Now I hear this phrase echoing through my mind as we prepare to pick Cowgirl up from her week away at camp.  I am all kinds of excited and curious to hear about the adventures from her week (target sports, horseback riding, paddle boats, camp-outs - I think I deserve a week of camp!) yet the wise and knowing part of me is well aware of a new reality:  conversation and preteens do not naturally mix.

It seems to me like a cosmic switch has been flipped and my loquacious girl-child has become rather tight-lipped. It feels to me much like seeking the elusive snow leopard: one must be ever vigilant for traces, tracks, a rare gift of sharing words, moments together and/or physical affection.  Connection is not absent; it just has taken on a rarefied and subtle form. Unfortunately, subtly is not my norm.

But I have to learn. There is no choice with a preteen girl. I am discovering my work with horses is preparing me for this new phase of being with my child. If I am too forceful, too direct well ... she will head for the pasture and certainly she is wayyy faster than this menopausal mama.

No, I must become practiced in the art of distracted presence. Turning my attention elsewhere, being engaged with other aspects of my life while leaving open space for her to wander over. As a proverbial dog with a bone, I have to relax my grip on things and learn how to shift quickly when opportunity (by which I mean a determined girl-child) presents itself. 

Mind the gap. Transitions do not come naturally to me. I am a creature of habit, of focused practice and plodding forward, to hell with gaps or walls or twisting paths. But precisely because of this deficiency, life presents me an opportunity to hone this skill.  Being spacious, present, alert but relaxed. Not pushing, not forcing and leaning into trust. Trust in myself, in the foundations we have already put down for our Cowgirl, and trust in her.

Looking to create a cheat sheet for myself, I turned to the Tarot.  The cards, the images help stir things up to give me a new perspective, a fresh way of thinking about things. 

What is the current situation? Six of Swords. Setting sail, a new journey, a new phase in our relationship. Carrying the swords, the beliefs, the ideas we have amassed thus far in our relationship and taking them into new territory.  We are not on solid ground right now, but rocking waters of emotions. Both her preteen self and me in the depths of menopause. Emotions can be connection but they can also bring about turmoil. I need to draw upon all my practice to help me guide us to the other shore.

What is the issue? Six of Pentacles. Funny, I think of sixes as offering a moment of pause, a kind of comma in the flow of life. This image asks me to consider how my actions may appear to my child? Do I stand on high magnanimously offering gifts to her? Does our relationship feel like an imbalance in power? I remember my tween and teen years and certainly I felt frustrated by my sense of powerlessness over my life. If this is how my girl feels? Or conversely, am I putting myself in a position of begging for her attention, her acknowledgement or her gratitude? A powerful image for me to keep in mind.

What is the solution?  Yikes, the dreaded Threes of Swords!  Yet I remember from other decks that this card shows a heart pierced by the swords but not bleeding. Here the offering of roses lies rejected on the ground. The young woman walks reluctantly away from the man, yet pinned to her cloak is a single red rose.  Now is a time when my efforts, my offerings probably will go rejected but I know she is moving through a journey of self-discovery and individuation. It can be a cold and mournful process but it is a necessary stage. She may head off but I can wait. I will wait. I know she carries with her all my love and I know deep down she knows this to be true.

And just to be sure, I drew one more card for clarification: The High Priestess. Well, okay and thank you! Access the source of deeper knowing, trust and strength.  And look at those moon cycles? Just like a mother-daughter relationship moving in and out of fullness.

Before leaving for camp, I slipped into my pocket the note my girl handed to me one night when she was supposed to be in bed. Carrying a tangible reminder of The Truth lest a grumpy and eye-rolling girl is waiting for me. (And isn't she always lurking somewhere?) No matter what we say, no matter how we react to each other, there is a solid foundation of Love which we can return to again and again. We just have to remember. I also drew one final card ...

Of course. Here's how I choose to think of The Gap and a way to face it: arms outstretched, a confident smile on my face echoing the smile in my heart. Mothering is the ultimate of adventures, beckoning me onward and inviting me to travel light.

Have you seen the snow leopard?
No! Isn't that wonderful?
- Peter Matthiessen, "The Snow Leopard"