What are your life Aha’s? Part One

I’ve had several that I recognized as such. The first one was when I was very young. It’s only in retrospect that I named it as an “aha moment.” I was five-years old, in kindergarten. For some reason, the kindergarten classroom wasn’t placed very strategically. We had to walk across a bustling, chaotic and dangerous schoolyard to get to our classroom. There were boisterous boys bouncing balls, squealing girls scrambling and tagging, nuns towering and trying to maintain a semblance of order. To get to that classroom in the far corner of the schoolyard, a little person as I was, I had to brace myself in preparation for running the gauntlet. I took a deep breath and began my journey. Halfway through, I had a sudden awareness that there was a ways to go yet and I froze between the classroom and the place that I had started.

I didn’t panic, but I stood there for a good long moment to catch my breath and observe the length of yard I had left to traverse. After a few breaths, I suddenly felt that I was strongly in my body. It was as if I had roots, strong roots that went up my sturdy legs. I felt this deepened sense of connection to the earth below the asphalt of the schoolyard. I was one with something greater. My young mind couldn’t explain what I was feeling, only that the feeling was strong and deep. I was connected to something deeper and greater and that felt powerful! Feeling low to the ground, I continued across the schoolyard without instance.

Throughout my life, recalling this one moment in time, I have held on to the belief that I am part of a whole. That wholeness claims me daily. When I feel like I’m out there, a leaf in the wind, I can call back the sense of what it felt like to be so grounded. When I face challenges that send me reeling. I can remember that felt sense in my body that gave me stability, strength and courage to lean into the challenge.

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What about you? Can you recall an instance in your life where you felt a connection to something greater? How does this serve you today?

Follow Your Mind

Practicing presence isn’t as easy as you think. I was given a challenge to focus on one thing for an hour.

This day in early November, I had a no particular plan but many possible options to choose from. I chose to work on a knitting basket of incomplete projects for one hour. I moved a little table to the back porch. I made myself comfortable on the sunny back porch with a cup of yerba mate tea. It felt rather decadent to devote this time to a single task. Settling in, I realized I didn’t have the directions in the basket to make the knitted rosette. Ah, they were nearby and easy to retrieve. Settling in again on the back porch, I thought it would be good to set a timer so that I wouldn’t miss a 3:00 p.m. appointment. I got up to do that. Returning to my spot, I noticed a plant that needed attention…pruned a few leaves and gave it some water.

Now where was I? Beginning to knit my rosette, right. I noticed a car driving through the back alley as I refocused on the knitting in front of me. My thoughts shifted to my oldest daughter, age 42, and with a learning disability. A sudden concern followed by a feeling of anger. What’s my role here? Remembering that she’s an adult in charge of her own life with her own helpers, guides and angels. Back to what’s my part here? To be myself with her and allow her to be herself with me! There’s nothing wrong and no one to fix. Urgh.

Back to knitting, warm sun on my face and arm. Cast on 66 sts. I wonder how long it takes to complete a rosette. The wind outside shakes leaves off the fruit trees. Should I get a cookie from the freezer to go with my tea? Did I leave Cee’s box of cookies in the car? I haven’t had the satisfaction of uninterrupted knitting in a very long time. I’ve got to send a card to Nan! Then, I don’t want to be anywhere else right now.

What would it be like to continually find respite in each and every moment? Like sinking into life without resistance? Repetitive motions, warm afternoon sun, sleepy reverie. Purl one row, knit one row, purl one row, yawn. Stand. Stretch. The mailman hasn’t come. What if I could notice all thoughts as neutrally as that one thought? Aha, the mailman just came, leaving two packages which I save to open later. A wave of sadness, a desire to take a time out of my life and do what? I notice a pain in my left knee; the neighbor’s barking dog. I want to defrost a cookie. I take two cookies from the freezer. Thirty minutes left. Time is getting short. A bird’s tweet. Mind wanders to a caption on a painting I happened to see earlier–“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” I notice how I like some thoughts and others, I don’t like. Is the goal not to get snagged by any of them? I should take a B vitamin. Return to presence with activity at hand. It takes a while to settle down and settle in. Being present with someone or something is to give the best of myself. It helps to do things that make me feel settled inside, like knitting this rosette. Giving quiet presence feels important. I have awareness of this but seldom do it or allow it. I’m used to fragmentation and doing things piecemeal. A little time for this or that, scattered energy. Annoyance. Dissatisfaction. Thoughts veer to the next thing on the to-do-list and the next.

Puffy white clouds, blue sky, sun. I miss having my good old friend to talk with although the other part–the unruly angst between us wasn’t worth it or was it? Could we have grown through it? The porch turns cold as clouds cover the sun. What would it be like to be minding my own affairs and allowing others to mind theirs?

There’s the timer! One hour to knit a rosette! Anger when I get into someone else’s business. Back off. I finish off the rosette. Sometimes, I like being a stranger somewhere. Sometimes, I like anonymity. I like anonymity or just being new to a place, new to people–just passing through.

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Is there a moral to this one-hour of focused attention. I notice how I sit somewhere and go anywhere and what thoughts trigger me. Am I open to what I’m seeing following this exploration? I see that attention moves quickly. To bring attention to what is present is a real practice. Am I gone or present to every thing that comes into my life? When am I most present? What holds my attention?
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Have you ever followed your mind? What did you experience?

Adventure of Another Sort

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Making art is available to anyone!  The only vehicle you need is your imagination and a bit of daring.  I’ve said it before and it bears repeating, we are all artists.  We are all writers with a story (or more) to tell.  We are all poets because we each have a voice.  We each have an imagination.  We can engage fantasy worlds if we allow it.  And, there is value in this.

I had a special friend, now gone, with whom I could engage a sort of time travel–imagining places we’d never been, people we hadn’t met, odd creatures, other times, alternate realities, outer space, the vast universes.  We had enlivened conversations.  We wrote poetry together.  He always rhymed–it got annoying at times.  I asked him if he could try not rhyming.  I don’t think that he could.

It is true that writing, poetry and making art, whether it be painting or crafting or knitting or sculpting…these provide the means and opportunity to access deeper ways of being and seeing.  When we take the time.  When we make the time.  We give ourselves excuses that we aren’t an artist or poet or writer.  I beg to differ.  It is perhaps that we don’t dare ourselves to explore these aspects of ourselves.  Some of us have more time on our hands these days, forced as it is.  One young man has decided to systematically learn to read and write Japanese during this pandemic!  What challenge could you give yourself?  Something that you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t had the time to explore.

And it is an exploration.  And it is an adventure.  It involves discovery of the inner landscape.  The one where we don’t dare go…might we not return?  There truly are universes within.  We are a reflection of the macrocosm, our little inner microcosmic world that we often overlook because we’re outward oriented.  Which is good–actually a balance between both is better.  These days, with the virus dictating our movement in the world, what an opportune time to take this journey.

Who is in there after all is said and done?  Who wants to be seen and heard, primarily by yourself?  Do you give yourself this time and space?  Are you going to make it happen?  Get a journal, write, draw, splash color, cut and paste.  Express what’s been untapped on the blank page or canvas.  It’s a good thing.  You might discover–yourself.  Begin.

Ladder to Heaven

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With the guidance of artist, Marie Ndolo, I continued to work on the human face.  So much to learn.  And hair, how to paint hair that looks sort of real.

She appears contemplative.  She is pondering the higher realms.  In this painting, the color red is an earthy color, keeping her grounded.  The blue is more ethereal and the image of the ladder floating in space is definitely other-worldly.

Tilting a face, drawing and painting the angle of a face is a challenge.  And, doesn’t a tilted head give a whole other tone to the painting.  Do you think so?  A tilted head is almost like floating a question in the air.  Or listening for an answer, perhaps.

I’ve always liked the image of a ladder floating in space.  Ladders, we climb them to get to something up higher, out of our reach.  It seems like a good symbol for this painting.  Sometimes a stairway suffices.  But no, I like ladders.

Like the one that Georgia O’Keeffe painted, Ladder to the Moon (1958).  The painting is of  a wooden ladder suspended in a turquoise sky.  I wondered what prompted her to paint that?

Here’s what I found out…

“A long, homemade ladder used to lean against Georgia’s house at Ghost Ranch so that she could climb up onto the roof and gaze out at the vast desert landscapes. Sometimes she would even climb up there several times a day. At night she would climb up on the roof if she wanted to gaze and fall asleep under the stars.”

 

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“In the picture, a large wooden ladder is leaned against an outer wall of a patio from where it rises up into the sky with the Pedernal Mountains in the background. Some say her immediate surroundings at Ghost Ranch were the inspiration of this piece of art. Others interpret the painting as a religious work. In Pueblo culture the ladder is used to symbolize the link between the Pueblos and cosmic forces. The fact that the ladder is pointed up in the sky may represent the link between nature and the cosmos”

Inspired by a painting

The Dive
© by Christine O’Brien

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Diving Bird by Christine 2018

Feet plugged into the
sticky resin springboard,
I note the space between me and
the crushing water below.
The form I hold.
Buddha stillness.
The grace I invoke
as I design form
gliding through space.
The breath I hold.
The breath I take
like thunder in a canyon
fills my ears.
The shadow of fear
remains at the other end
of the platform
while I stand on the edge
in focused repose.

This is not my first dive
though my raised shoulders,
clamped mouth and clenched jaw
could be interpreted as fear.
There is always that
but with prayer and practice
it quickly transforms
as there is no turning back now.
The dive grooms the diver
in this conspiracy of grace, form and space.

Originally, it was a dare from friends
that sent me up the hot aluminum ladder
on that sweaty summer day.
Now, it’s a drive from within,
neither towards perfection
nor for judges’ scores.
There is no competition.

It is the ecstasy of flight
that sends me to this precipice.
Neither bird nor stone falling through space,
I am a wingless angel
who rejoices in
those few seconds of airtime.
Body imprinting space
air molecules conforming, buoyant.
I visualize the flex, fold, arc,
the straightening as
I neatly incise the water with my hands,
barely a splash.

I surface a few feet away,
victorious,
a different sort of Phoenix rising.

****
I was invited to write and read a poem for an art gallery event.  The invitation was to choose a painting from the gallery show and write a poem to complement the painting.  I had two days.  I had been on a poetic hiatus and there is often the doubt “Do I have it in me to write poetry?”  I strolled through the gallery looking for a painting that resurrected my poetic voice.  There she was, the girl standing at the edge of the diving board.  I sat with her and asked what wanted to be spoken.  I took a photo and notes and went home.  This was not the first poem that came…the first poem was the process that lead me to this poem.

Writing Prompt:
Give yourself this challenge.  Go to an art gallery, stroll through and stop when you feel that gripping connection with a painting.  Then, sit with it for awhile, take notes, take a photo.  Go home (or to a cafe–make it an artist’s date) and write your poem.  This is such a special experience.  Do try it.

Note:  Remember the first poem may not be the final poem (nor the second or third).  Allow yourself to be in process with what wants to be spoken referring back to the painting as inspiration.

Note 2:  The artist is Jan Wurm.  Her painting is called “The Dive.”  I was hoping to include an image of the painting.  However, I have not received permission from the artist to date.