Archive for May, 2010

c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is slither.

I can remember becoming suddenly and acutely aware of the liability of being born female at the all-too-young age of nineteen. Newly entered into the arena of relationship, I felt every slur and stereotype as a personal attack. If you are a female, dear reader, you will remember well the mean descriptions that have been hurled at you in particular, and at the female of the species in general. And if you are one of my dear male readers, I am sure that you will also remember, with embarrassment, words hurled in anger or frustration.

Fortunately, as I have grown much older and my world much larger, I realize that these sorts of aspersions refer to aspects that are simply the negative potential of any human being, regardless of gender. And that aspersions do fly both ways. As you can imagine, this came as a great relief to me, living this life in a female body.

The negative aspects of a person, generally referred to as the shadow in Jungian psychology, and more recently as the pain body by Eckhart Tolle, are our worst behaviors, knee-jerk reactions, defenses and survival tactics… all born out of the ultimate shadow quality: Fear. My heart and gut tell me when I have behaved badly, and my awareness tells me when someone else is acting out of fear. Unfortunately, both of these ‘radars’ are not always operating in present time. Often it takes much self-reflection (and calming down) to see that Fear has been operating once again in my life or another’s. If I wanted to be dramatic here, I could proclaim that it is an abysmal state of humanity… played out on a grand scale in arena of politics and world affairs.

However, doing my best to be an optimist… and a problem-solver, fixer-type by nature… I sigh, and look for solutions and reasons for this behavior. What I come up with, time and time again is this: humans behave badly so that we can become aware of the difference between that and a behavior that stems from living without fear. And so that we can eventually realize that we have a choice. Yes, grasshopper, Life is a school… and we are all students for the duration. Patience and compassion are not a prerequisite, but will surely be learned along the way.

“Medusa’s Grief” (oil on board)

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is early.

Spring has hesitantly arrived here in Northern California. Storms and cold nights still hold sway, but sun and the sweet smell of flowers are challenging Winter’s tenacity. Weeds, flowers and grass love this cool, coastal weather… and it is easy to prefer it to ninety-degree days which will soon bake both soil and my little garden.

Recently, I learned that the flower is an evolutionary development… that plants did not always have them. Hard to imagine, and harder still it would be to live without their beauty. Today, I am thinking about how much I continue to learn about Life from the flowers…

The iris beneath my window blooms according to some inner clock, never striving to open even when her neighbor is already bursting forth in purple majesty. The tiny white blossoms of wild strawberry never give up in despair because they are a foot shorter than the irises, and only a plain white. The scrawny rose bushes tell me, without anger, that they are planted where they cannot thrive… and even the pattern of black spot disease on their leaves is beautiful. The roses bloom in spite of the inevitable arrival of hungry deer, just as the tiny magenta blossoms of some ‘weed’ carpet the ground faithfully until the day they will be mowed down for fire protection. Brilliant purple lavender flowers seem to delight in the attention of fat, busy bees, and the grape hyacinths continue to perfume the air even when no one stoops to sniff their astonishing fragrance. Yellow Scotch Broom flowers exuberantly show forth an enthusiasm for life… in spite of my neighbor’s hostile desire to chop them down.

Naturalists know that “the essence or inner spiritual quality of a plant…contains profound healing qualities which can truly nourish the human soul.” (Flower Essence Repertory, by Patricia Kaminski and Richard Katz) A careful observer can learn much about life from any plant, but the genius of the flower is that it has learned to communicate Life’s wisdom simply by being its beautiful self. The language of beauty is universal, and flowers teach much through the deceptively simple means of color, fragrance, shape and texture.

Getting back to Illustration Friday word of the week…

Another word for early is premature. This is the word that comes to mind as I watch myself habitually judge the trajectory of my own life… something I am certain a flower never does. A flower would tell me that it is premature to say that my life is not a success… to conclude that I have failed to live up to expectations. A flower would  say that the standard definition of ‘success’ is based upon external and very shallow measurements. This all-too-human habit of judging myself (subtly encouraged in our consumer society) is one of the main reasons why I keep a collection of quotes. They remind me who I really am, and what I really am doing with this thing called My Life. I will leave you with one of these wise quotes, which should probably be tattooed on every person’s palm at birth.

“Success… to laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I dedicate this blog post to myself and my friends (you know who you are), who need to be gently reminded of this much higher, deeper and more real standard of Success. And I wish to encourage us all with this last quote from Rumi (who was surely a flower appreciator)…    “Unfold your own myth.”

“Manifestation” (watercolor, pen & ink)

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is equipment.

A casual observer might list the equipment of my trade as paper, pencil, paint, light box and table. But I know that my most valuable tool is the unseen Source of ideas and images that sustains and encourages my work as an artist. And like air, it is a gift. I would not last very long without it…

Many years ago, a woodworker friend told me that he had just spent the day sharpening his planer blades. At the time, I assumed that he wasn’t feeling up to working that day, but he calmly explained that if he did not periodically stop work to sharpen blades, the dull blades would soon begin to tear up boards instead of planing them smooth. Even then, the analogy was not lost on me.

The wisdom of this approach to work and life has become more and more apparent as time passes. Sharpening planer blades is very much akin to my own need to tend the unseen Source of my creativity… the real equipment of my artist’s life. I do this through making time for reflection, remembering my dreams, walking, reading words of wisdom, and communing with other artist’s work who also attempt to balance life and creativity in this way. I do my best to stay attuned to the thread of images that trickles or flows into my awareness. And I am old and wise enough now to admit that the Flow is always there… but the reception of it on my end can be pinched or wide-open, depending upon my level of distraction.

On especially distracting days, I still long for a life apart from the mundane tasks and ‘interruptions’ of the world. Eventually, I remember Carolyn Myss‘ words about the need to become “mystics without monasteries”— the challenge to bring creativity and spiritual attunment into everyday living. Myss (as well as many contemporary spiritual teachers) is very clear: we are being required, at this stage of human evolution, to be Present with everything… not just the peaceful and extraordinary moments, locked away in our monk’s cells and artist’s studios.

It is a high-level challenge that pushes my own buttons about work and security, and I need regular reminders that Something is living itself through me, not the other way ’round…

“Muse II” (oil on paper).

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is fearless.

Rare is the person who can live beyond the influence of Fear. Perhaps fear is the ‘fine print’ of the human condition? It seems that we are hard-wired to be fearful or anxious about so many things, both real and unreal. Fear is surely the most powerful and subtle impediment to living fully… a worthy adversary, indeed.

I will decline to list my own collection of fears here… that would be boring, not to mention self-indulgent. Suffice it to say, my fears are probably much the same as any other persons. Yet, as a contemplative person, I am forced to admit that Albert Einstein was correct in his statement, “The most important decision we ever make is whether we believe we live in a friendly Universe or a hostile Universe.” There really is no room for quibbling in this perspective is there?

Many of the quotes in my previously-mentioned notebooks address this emotion of fear, whether it be related to creativity, survival, other people, or to the challenging process of stretching one’s Spirit. The antidote to fear is always the same. It is implied in the words of Marion Zimmer Bradley (The Forest House), “The gods do not require that we all be conquerors or even that we all be wise, but only that we serve the truth that we are given until we pass it on.” And it is even more obvious in Helen Keller’s words, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” The simple antidote to fear is to move past it… but this is not always so easy to remember in the moment. Fearless is a state of mind that I aspire to… making incremental progress, backsliding a bit, then going forward again, slowly. Patience with myself and persistence are the keys. As an artist, I take much heart from Georgia O’keefe’s words, “I’m frightened all the time. Scared to death. But I’ve never let it stop me. Never!”

For that insistent part of my mind, and for those of you who would voice that thought that Life IS very scary in these modern times, I close with a quote from Wendell Berry“Expect the end of the world. Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful, though you have considered the facts.”

“In-Danger Species Meets King Kong” (pen & ink)

For another image on the subject of fear, see:Demons to Tea

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