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Attending

“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”

~Mary Oliver

It’s funny to me, my own internal cycles of inward-facing versus outward-facing; of intense productivity versus steeping an idea for a time.  The notion of developing something a while and then, at the proper juncture, sitting down to implement that development into something real in the world, something which was once just an inkling in the outer reaches of my mind’s eye.

These cycles are no less apparent in my relationship to the online world.  In the midst of this pandemic, and that amidst a country further mired and deeply more into trouble, I have once again, like so many I know, fallen into the trap of too much information and too much time on the standard culprits.  It is time for a break.  I’ve learned that I do not need to pull a Lorde and burn up my social media presence, rather I simply need to pull back into my own sphere for a bit to recalibrate.

“This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”

~Mary Oliver

A good while ago, knowing the news wasn’t going to get any better anytime soon, I removed Facebook and Twitter from my phone (always a wise move even in the best of times) but it’s not enough.  There must be a balance to these things.  A balance of being informed but not inundated, of monitoring where my attention falls.

I have heard it said that what we do with our days is what we do with our lives.  I believe this to be true.  And so we must decide what we want our lives to be.

“Attention is the beginning of devotion.”

~Mary Oliver

There is a lot to take in just now.  Heartbreaking news from every corner of the globe, but also breathtaking beauty in our gardens and new ideas to pursue in our imaginings.  Neither of these things should outweigh the other.  We must pay witness to the tragic, yet not dismiss the miraculous, however small or fleeting it may be.

None of us are any good to anyone if we become mired in the unreal world of social media.  My goal personally is to read more deeply about the issues at hand – about this pandemic and it’s long term challenges.  About how the rest of the world is viewing our country (and the UK)  just now in the wake of recent, racially motivated murders.  I’ll investigate ways to look keenly at my own inherent biases and consider how to best navigate them and change from within.  (Here are just two things for a start:  The Groundwater Presentation and The 1619 Project .)

We are in tumultuous times to be sure.

 

We must pay attention to everything.  Closely.  It is what artist’s do really.

 

“Instructions for living a life.  Pay Attention.  Be astonished. Tell about it.”

~Mary Oliver

One of the pitfalls of social media is the old “if a tree falls in the forest” concept.  If one is not on facebook lamenting the latest lunacy from the white house, is one really informed or engaged at all?  My answer is “yes”, perhaps even more so.

So while I may appear to disappear into the folds of my own little world here, you can be sure I am keeping up with the broader context.  I might seem to be hiding in the garage making stop motion videos, or getting lost in an imaginary world where animals wear clothing.  But rest assured, I am quietly staying informed.  Engaged.  We all just need a break sometimes.

A time in which to grieve the horrendous loss we are experiencing as a collective, to bear witness to ongoing atrocities in our “perfect union”, and yes, a time to weep at the beauty of the blooming of a simple spring flower.

Turns out we DO have white peonies in our yard after all! But we can still share some pink peonies with our gardening friends.

“Attention, without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report.  An openness – an empathy – was necessary if the attention was to matter.”

~Mary Oliver

I wonder and worry as to whether I’ll ever get back to Ireland. (And with that, how to get delivery of my new pipes due in October as well….) As a small prayer of hope, I planted some fuschia in a pot in the back garden. I am told the hummingbirds will like it. And maybe the bees too. These can be found all over Ireland in hedge form. Little fairy jewels on display. And I love having them around here at home.

Heart-full-ness

Winter finally arrived in our fair river valley in the form of a harsh and deadly freeze which assaulted most of the eastern half of this country over the holiday season.

Occasionally, I’d glance at the temperature gauge in our car and see a number hovering around or below zero.  With the biting wind, it often seemed colder.

Our three dogs were not keen on going outside to do any amount of business, especially the smallest of them who found herself at the veterinarian with a nasty bout of colitis which may or may not have been related to cold weather issues and, ahem, business or lack thereof.

And yet, we soldiered through.  Fortunately for the human beans in this pack of ours, we could don coats and boots and we did manage to spend some time outside, in spite of the deadly temperatures.  And it was lovely indeed.

“We must go out and re-ally ourselves to Nature every day… even every winter day. I am sensible that I am imbibing health when I open my mouth to the wind. Staying in the house breeds a sort of insanity always.”  ~H.D. Thoreau  (via Brainpickings)

One particularly brisk day I attended a winter plant walk to see what we could see.  I learned a lot, procured some mushroom tonic which I believe helped me shake a head cold, and met a new friend as well.

Oh to have an alpaca coat in this cold clime!  We had a lovely conversation and I was whispered many alpaca secrets that morning.

Eventually, we were treated to a bit of a thaw, as we are wont to do here in Ohio being neither North nor South.  It is nice to breathe cool air instead of gasping at the cold.

This winter has been so very different from the last.  I look back at last winter’s blog posts and feel the fragility and desperation of a self barely holding on, riddled with illness – in both body and spirit – and a palpable malaise in front of which only the act of writing could keep me.

This winter, today, now, things are lighter.  I approach this harsh world with a new foundation forged of the groundedness which yoga practice, healthy eating and the like have afforded me.  I am deeply grateful.  The other day at in meditation class we learned that the idea of mindfulness, which everyone goes on about in this day and age, is actually a bit of a mistranslation from East to West. That a more fitting way to put the notion is that of heartfulness. 

I found this idea quite captivating and found myself ruminating upon it long after our hour together as a group.  What if, when we begin the spinning sensation of uncontrollable thinking – “good” or “bad” (light or shadow) – we might just go and curl up in our heartspace for a bit?  The space where kindness dwells.  The space where we are beyond judgement.  We are so very hard on ourselves, aren’t we?  When we think dark thoughts, or lose our patience or don’t live up to some constant standard we hold ourselves to.  What if we could just let these human tendencies come, and quietly, without judgement, let them go?  With a full heart.

This notion is not a new one, I am sure.  I am not one for labels or for following one particular tradition or spiritual path.  But this idea of heartfulness over mindfulness really makes sense to me.  And it’s nice for things to make sense now and again, isn’t it?

There is much brewing here in the studio, amidst all of the bothers of the day to day, and the workings of the day job.  Following the lead of my friend Kevin Necessary (amazing illustrator and official cartoonist at our local WCPO) I did something quite out of character the other day and downloaded a digital drawing application on my phone called Procreate Pocket. Kevin had posted some lovely digital drawings and I was interested to see if I might be able to do something of my own with this new tool.

And so I am something of an old dog learning a few new tricks.

It feels nice to use the phone as a tool, versus feeling used up by the phone and all of its trappings.  I’ve curbed my social media use in recent days, being more conscious of whether I am using it, or it is using me.

I’ve ordered some clayboard panels which should be in next week to expand a small painting of mine into a triptych of sorts – a special commission for some kind patrons who happen to like cows.

I’ve said yes to a low-paying illustration job in the hope that the exercise alone will be worth the effort.

I’ve recommitted to not only keeping up with the flute playing so near and dear to my heart, but learning a few tunes on the concertina which I spend so much time around anyway at the shop.  (So far, I have a polka, a bit of a waltz, and half of a jig.  and maybe a bit of that old hornpipe I tried to learn a few summers ago)  I am so fortunate to have access to these beautiful instruments.  I might as well learn to play one.

With the dawning of a new year, thoughts turn to re-centering in the things which mean the most to us.  My word for 2018 is T R U S T.  I like having a word to ponder and work with, versus a long list of resolutions.  I’m learning to trust my own intuition more and more.  A real gift of this stage of one’s life.

Tomorrow the hub and I head west for a couple of days by the ocean in between our busy work schedules.  Like a landlocked mermaid, I can already taste the salt air and am deeply looking forward to hearing the waves crashing.

“Dance upon the shore; What need have you to care for wind or water’s roar?”  ~W. B. Yeats

Keep an eye out in the usual posty places (IG , Twitter) for drawings and musings as we travel.  Wishing you the brightest of New Year’s offerings.  May it be all we hope it can be.  And more than we could ever have dreamed of.