“Who made the world?” In one of her famous poems, “The Summer Day,” Mary Oliver asks this question. Like a young child’s voice asking her parents “Who made the world?” or “Where did I come from?” or “How did I get here?” The young, if allowed, ask those existential questions. And like this and many other poets, Oliver follows the thread of her thoughts and goes from the broad to the specific.
The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
I want to know
WHO MADE THE PINEAPPLE?
I mean this pineapple
the one delivered with my food order
this past week?
Who designed the layered, tufted top
the prickly, hexagon designs
outlined in yellow-green?
Who conscribed it to be juicy sweet
Who made the pineapple?
Can you find something to be amazed by today? Something that causes you to stop in your tracks and really see and admire it? One definition of admire is “to regard with wonder, pleasure or approval.” If I took the time, I’m guessing that throughout the day, there would be many things that I could admire. I could dwell in amazement.
The question I asked in an early journal (2012) “Can I bring beauty to the perceived as unbeautiful.”
For some reason, this question seems as timely as it did when I asked it in 2012. In the last blog, I mentioned being present and pondered why it seems unsustainable.
I live in a beautiful place. I look out the windows and there is INSTANT BEAUTY surrounding my cottage. Within five minutes, I can be walking beside a pristine lake. We are saying farewell to a winter that sparkled with white snow, tree branches etched with snow, unique snowflakes whirling then landing. We are turning towards the first crocuses, daffodils and tulips–the heralds of spring.
I am always stopped by a spring flower. I pause to acknowledge it. Yet, how quickly I leave that beauty behind and retreat into my head. Into the same old annoying thought patterns. That nowhere land around which my mind circles. I am resisting the beauty that surrounds me. Why? Why do I choose these thoughts over this present beauty? Why this incessant need to solve what is insoluble.
As far as bringing beauty to what I perceive as unbeautiful, I think that’s not really the question. The real question seems to be why am I once again missing the beauty that is. If the unbeautiful represents the shadow in humanity, in you, in me, then as I understand it, it needs acknowledgment from me. “Yes, you’re there too. I welcome and accept you.” And then there comes a time when the fascination with the shadow desires to lessen. Isn’t there?
Our media, in case you haven’t noticed, gives weighty attention to the mess that humans continue to make of things. The media is often a fear monger. I have heard that it takes seven uplifting thoughts or things of beauty to counter one negative message. Yet, we are bombarded by a media that perhaps knows exactly what it’s doing–keeping people in fear and immobilized. An amnesia for what is beautiful takes over.
Some of my friends don’t read or listen to the news. They seem generally happier for it. Is it sticking one’s head in the sand not to read the news? Is it irresponsible not to stay up on world affairs? Some would say so. How much better off am I for reading the news, the conflicting news, the reporting that creates dissension and division? There are things in the realms of politics that have been set in motion that I don’t seem to have control over. There are certainly decisions that I don’t align with…and yet, how is my dread of them going to change anything?
What if I could go out today and really be with the beauty that is around me? What if I could wander in the wonder of what it is to be alive today? What if I could hold the mystery of our being-ness closer and worry less about the uncertainty?
Can I make the unbeautiful beautiful? No, but I can meet the unbeautiful with it’s counterpart of beauty. For everything has a counterpart.
While working on a painting, I remember what one teacher said “work with what’s working.” That’s a good reminder for life. There is a lot that is working and that I can easily take for granted.
Rejoining the Beauty by Christine O’Brien
The chief beauty of the world pattern of patterns To tap into that beauty to let it be the motivator of this day Jane’s tree, Crissy’s flowers, the amethyst ring, a smile, the cuddly cat These things know what I only surmise A creator who set this world in motion where I join with this source in my own creation a masterpiece in the making Within the stumbling, the waywardness– beauty In the lost or unlit places– beauty There is no waiting for me to reach that highly evolved state in the present incompleteness– beauty In what’s for dinner and who I met for breakfast yesterday– beauty In the unknown tomorrow the tentative step forward, the risk– beauty In the potential for love, the yearning for peace– beauty The stone in my shoe set free, rejoining the beauty
Music is certainly a way to engage beauty. Remember to listen to music.
“And what is the name of the month
that falls between December and January?
By what authority did they number
the twelve grapes of the cluster?
Why didn’t they give us longer
months that last all year?
Did spring never deceive you”
with kisses that didn’t blossom?”
Neruda has his book of questions. Each question could be a meditation. And each one of us, taking the time, could write our own book of questions. Once written, perhaps we then could open to the answers that swirl around us in the ethers. Ready to be snatched from space and turned over and around–examined in a state of awe at some wisdom that usually lies outside of our usual perceptions. Until we take the time to tune in.
While a child, asking questions wasn’t allowed. The land of childhood was ruled by a tyrant, a dictator, my father. In his land of authority, questions weren’t supposed to be thought let alone voiced! That said, every child has questions. They are born into a world that they are yet to discover. Under such circumstances, questions, when we learn to talk, are a natural response to being alive. They are the avenue of discovery of what the heck we’re doing here. To have that normal curiosity curtailed, inhibited or prohibited is a sin.
Today, in the midst of a pandemic, we have questions…and yes, we question our elected authority figures, the scientists and researchers and our religious or spiritual teachers. We turn to one another inquiring into “what’s going on here?” And we are hard pressed to get direct and truthful answers. The frustration that we feel in the face of a pandemic is exacerbated by a media that contradicts itself. Sometimes the lack of wise leadership compounds the challenges that we are facing personally as a result of the pandemic.
All of this uncertainty doesn’t prevent us from asking the questions that surface for each one of us. Get your journal and write the questions that weigh on your mind at this time. They are important. They are relevant. While they are your individual questions, chances are that they are the questions from your subconscious and/or the greater unconscious. I trust the questioning process. Choose one question and don’t force an answer. Linger with the question for a day or the week. When answers come to you, write them in your journal beneath the question. And answers are going to come. This process has been very helpful when I crafted creative writing workshops.
The invitation to lean into your questions is placed on the table. It is an activating process.
This painting (not finished yet) was all about exploration. I used a liquid masking fluid, played with creating a pool of water. A Goddess (with uneven eyes) rising from the depths. Symbolism. A waterfall cave behind her face. Her hair, a trellis for a climbing vine. A butterfly above her eyebrow. What’s it all mean?
One of these days, when I’m called to, I’ll return to it. To see where it wants to go next. For now, it sits behind my sofa in a suspended state.
It seems that artists have a lot of unfinished paintings. I’m not the only one. We reach a point of impasse with a piece. I’m not sure why. The question “Where do I go from here?” hovers in an air of suspense. Because we just don’t know.
Being comfortable with the unknown is actually a great quality to have. The other day, I was not happy with the state of affairs in the world. Whether the virus or politics or human behavior, geez. I walked down a road I don’t normally walk down. Out of nowhere, my cellphone in my fanny pack began playing a song from the film, Frozen. I don’t know how that song got on my phone!! The words “I’m afraid of what I’m risking if I follow you into the unknown…” played loud and clear. These words reflected what I was feeling about leaning into the uncertainty of life in these challenging times in which we are living.
Then, I rounded a curve in the road and someone had written graffiti on a metal gate…
it read “Normalcy is a paved road. It’s comfortable to walk but no flowers grow on it.”
These two timely messages from the universe shifted my feelings from uncertainty and fear to a sense that I was being (we are being) looked after in ways that we can’t imagine. That there is something beyond what we can see that is working with us. And that it wants us to be aware of its presence, its offer to assist us.
Idina Menzel singing “Into the Unknown” at the Academy Awards.
Sometimes, I make a request into the ethers, “Which direction do I pursue in my life/career?” or “What is the next step with this short story I’m writing?” or “Where do I go now with this painting in process?”
The next uncomfortable position is to find myself in the creative stew! For awhile, I simmer there without understanding what is going on. Feelings of uncertainty, doubt, discomfort arise and I probe these feelings. “What? What?” I forget that I asked the question(s) or invoked help and that I’m on the edge of unknowing, the precipice of what’s next.
I have been known to call this the “fertile void”. Though there is nothing apparent on the horizon, I have invoked the powers that be to show me a direction, how to proceed. Inwardly, I churn. I feel discomfort. An inner edginess. And resistance too. All these things and feelings bubbling in the cauldron of “where do I go from here?” Sometimes, the harder you push, the more elusive the answer.
When a writer, poet, artist is creating something…there are bound to be times when they are stuck and can’t see the next step. They’ve been deep in process, things seemed to be flowing and then…nothing. Flat out, nothing. Whether at the desk or canvas, they are inwardly working something out. When I remember that this is what is going on, there is some relief. “Ah, yes, I’m in that disconcerting void place. It looks like there is no forward movement. How long is it going to last? Is there something that I need to do to get unstuck!!??
At these times, I’ve found, the best thing to do is to walk away for awhile, literally and figuratively. The impasse is in place. Do something to take your mind off of it. Dance, do the laundry, get out in nature, do something you are good at. Anything that isn’t related to the dilemma.
Simultaneously, it’s a time of deep listening and seeing. Sometimes, answers come to us indirectly, through metaphor. Other times, someone says something like “You are really good at painting portraits.” or “I appreciate your sensitivity. It comes through in your poetry.” During this time of uncertainty, it pays to be alert to clues as to what the next step is. Sometimes, a direction presents in a dream. You might wake up one morning and know exactly what to do next.
Regardless, this gestation period is part of the creative process, not separate from it. We ride it out. We trust. The flow returns.