Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Lost Art of Just Being

Over the course of life, we all encounter periods where it is difficult to create. Perhaps it starts as a grayness nibbling at the edge of your reality, a slight fog or out-of-focus perspective as if your eyeglass prescription needs updating. It bleeds into your life, tainting everything you touch and eventually the flow of ideas stops. It could be due to the stress from your day job, a relentless hen-pecking of details that keeps a distracted mind even more so, leaving little energy for anything else, especially creativity or just plain "being". Or maybe it is one of a million other little things that occasionally clot together to form a personal thrombosis, from which we are tempted to seek solace through cable TV, the web or the refrigerator; anything but to feel the disconnectedness.

Ah, there it is; a theme. What I'd like to extemporize on today is the "The Lost Art of Just Being". I wasn't sure where this was headed when I sat down at the keyboard this morning but this feels like a good direction so let's see what unfolds.

There is this mantra that we need to have a "reason" that keeps us motivated, gives our lives purpose. But what if we didn't? Let's assume for a minute that we weren't created "on purpose", put here to fulfill some mission but merely "happened". If we cut loose from the ties of expectation, what happens next? Hmmm. This is interesting. There is no one to disappoint, no afterlife to worry about, no expectations to keep us awake at night. No one to impress. Our to-do lists are in flames. This feels great!!

But suddenly with this "freedom", a terror appears; there is no foundation, nothing upon which our feet can stand. Everything is fluid, nothing solid. All that we know is an illusion. Isn't this death, a nothingness without form or end?

As horrifying as the vast unknown can be, isn't facing it required to create something new? Breaking from the old order, the structured ways of seeing things? Sometimes, we just need to sit, watching, listening, thinking, creating an emptiness for no reason other than to create it and see what appears. If there is such a thing as God, and I were "it", this is just the kind of exercise I'd try. Create an emptiness so vast and then just sit and watch what happens next.

So we sit in the darkness, waiting, a dull anxiousness pervading. And then a door opens. Or an explosion occurs. Take your pick. And we follow its tail, or hang on for dear life. Or do nothing and watch the energy/opportunity/life fly away. As Douglas Adams once quipped, "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by." Your choice. And sometimes in the darkness someone taps you on the shoulder to point the way.

I was once a Boy Scout, and not a very good one at that. I joined the organization at about the same time my body commenced poisoning me with an overdose of hormones transforming me into something non-human where everything I met that hinted of authority caused me to subvert the rules and rebel. I cared not for advancing in the ranks or for the structure of the troop but reveled in knowledge and being outdoors and so managed in spite of myself to make it to the rank of First Class.

On a particular camp-out in the evening after dinner, I was sitting alone at the edge of the restless opaque waters of the Kankakee River outside Chicago, my legs drawn to my chest in folded arms, my knees supporting my chin. I was intrigued with the rippling surface manipulated by unseen things, its swirling motion coaxing me to become fully absorbed in its unfolding. Eventually I became aware of someone standing near me and out of the corner of my eye recognized one of our troop's scoutmasters. We had several with widely differing personalities and this one was the sternest with a temper that could be fired in a flash, commanding respect and to my unkempt teen-aged mind, distrust. A silence enveloped us as he stood above me on the bank, his hands casually stuffed in the front pockets of his pressed leader's uniform khakis, looking out to where my eyes gazed. "What are you watching?" he asked gently respecting the solemness and peace of the moment. I thought about it for a bit and then looked up at him and said "The water going by." He nodded as we looked at one another, before turning back to the river. "That's a good thing. You should keep doing it." he said. After a minute or so, without another word from either of us, he turned and walking back to camp.

In the stillness that followed as the dying sun pierced holes through the distant trees, there was no way for me to know the impact those words would have throughout my life. I learned later he was an architect, an eye for the aesthetic as well as order contained he, and perhaps in the midst of my anger and rebellion saw something that I myself couldn't. That in the maelstrom of life we all need a life ring to hang onto. It is only by being ourselves and creating this space, to ponder and to endure while the patterns of life fall into place around us as we blindly lurch do we reconnect to what is important. Whether we sit in stillness alone in a crowd and feel our human-ness or watching the elegant mundanity of a flowing river we need to create a space in our garden for something new to grow.

So what does this have to do with art or creativity?

We've all lost the thread at some point and will continue to do so again. Not just feel it, but live it, under a shroud of mist so dense that we loose our bearings, the details of life smothering us, obscuring little voices inside before they have a chance to be heard. Where the words no longer appear on paper, the canvas repels the brush, the fingers no longer able to stand the thrum of strings. Though there are times to fight back, to rage at the Resistance as Steven Pressfield encourages us to do in the War of Art and to continue the ceaseless struggle of a Type-A society, there are times that we need to stop, to surrender to the moment and let it, let you, be.

And in these soft moments of nothingness, a twinkle of light on a wetted stone, a chord change, a turn of a phrase, a breeze across the cheek and we are instantly in love again. A universe explodes from nothingness. Life screams from our finger tips, pores oozing technicolor so rich as to defy vision. And we wonder briefly looking back how we got here from there, before being swept forward too fast to care. And then we begin anew; to create, to stand in awe of all that is around us and let it move us to create beauty, or perhaps if only to mimic the beauty that already surrounds us and hope that we pay it due homage.

It is with these words that I post the following images; the twinkle of the water's edge, emerald water over rock. And I paint again.

Observatory Point
Plein Air, Oil on Panel, 8 x 10

On The Rocks
Plein Air, Oil on Panel, 8 x 10
Coral Head, Karens Cove
11 x 14, Oil on Panel