Archive for December, 2010

c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is winter.

I don’t often remember dreams. Waking life is so insistent that the moment consciousness returns to that grey-matter cockpit behind my eyes, all the To Do’s and Oh No’s! come flooding back in. The gossamer veil of memory is gone before I can grasp its wispy skirt. I miss remembering my dreams, but comfort myself that they are still happening, working on the psyche as inexorably as rain on stone…

But this morning the phone rang early and, surprisingly, two dreams stuck around… In a large house on a rainy, winter morning, I look out my bedroom window. A wooden ruler lies on the muddy ground, and I make a mental note to retrieve it before rain renders it warped and useless. Running to answer a ringing phone in the dream, I see our roommate taping newly painted and stinky signs to every room’s door—baby-blue trees, Celtic knots and vine-y patterns. Her purposeful, Real Estate Salesperson persona and the impending Open House reminds me that Change hangs ominously in the air: we will have to move soon. In another room, my husband is ironing in his underwear, watching daytime soap operas. “So this is what you’ve been reduced to: a tiny room, ironing and watching daytime soaps?” I say to him. “Well, what can you do?” he replies, with a classic Jewish shrug.

The second dream has the same theme… I have been happily working in the yard for hours. My last task is to plant a field with onion seeds, and although it is late afternoon, the hot sun still hangs high in the sky. Later, while sitting in the middle of the field’s dark soil and newly planted rows, I blink…and the seeds have sprouted. Everywhere, tiny green shoots have popped up, regular as an army of soldiers. I blink again and they are taller, and then taller still, every time I blink. Their green stems begin to spread out like open arms. Every time I look, they are wider, taller. In the dream, I am suddenly overcome with a feeling of what Joel S. Goldsmith refers to as “the Is-ness of God.” A feeling of an inevitable, benign Process, beyond understanding, certainly beyond being resisted or stopped…perhaps closest to that expression, “the flow of Time.” But in this dream, it is so much more…so grand and all-encompassing.

I can feel that Flow moving through me, too, as I watch the onions growing. Suddenly (in the dream) I understand what Byron Katie writes about  in her book, Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life. To paraphrase, This moment is exactly the way it is supposed to be…because it Is. How could it be anything else? All of the events of the past have lined up to create this moment as it is, and there is no changing this moment at all. Why resist? Maybe the next moment can be different, but this one has already been cast in cement…resisting What Is will be as ineffective as resisting the flow of Time. Then the phone rang (in real life) and I woke up.

Two dreams in a row on the subject of not resisting the flow of events… perhaps I should take this to heart?

Resistance is devious. It can take many forms: impatience, frustration, unhappiness, sadness, anger, fear, depression, being creatively blocked. But non-resistance is very different from succumbing or giving up…it is actually a participatory activity, like learning how to float…and there is great wisdom in it. Lao Tzu is so clear on this subject, translated here by Witter Bynner.

“…When a man is in turmoil, how shall he find peace, save by staying patient till the stream clears? How can a man’s life keep its course if he will not let it flow? Those who flow as life flows, know they need no other force: they feel no wear, they feel no tear, they need no mending, no repair.”

I’ve been feeling pretty worn-out lately from my habitual struggling and resistance to What Is. No surprise then that, upon seeing the new Illustration Friday’s word of the week, the phrase which came immediately to mind was, “Now is the winter of our discontent.” It seems that I’ve been sent a wake-up call in the form of two dreams: Stop Resisting!

May your holidays be perfect, however that looks to you, and may your New Year be filled with beauty in every form!

Title Unknown (diptych, oil on canvas)

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is mail.

Sometimes I wonder if those Biblical authors left out the last bit…the part where God (as he’s booting Adam and Eve out of The Garden of Eden) says, “Let’s stay in touch!”

Humans love to stay in touch…we are practically obsessed with it. Replacing the hand-delivered, wax-sealed and scented missive of more gentile days, the blue-lined stationary and trusty stamp has, in its turn, been supplanted by cell phone, email, and text message. Whatever the form, mail says that someone, somewhere, is thinking of us.

Not that any of these things of themselves are bad…but their ubiquity seems to say that the majority of humans have lost the ability to be ‘out of touch’ for longer than a few minutes, even while driving or shopping. It is as if we cannot stand to be alone with ourselves for very long before we must make a connection that reassures us that we do still exist, and, more importantly, that we are cared for.

Have humans misplaced the ability to feel inherently connected to each other and to that Something Larger? At the risk of sounding religious or woo-woo, we are all fingers on the Hand of Mystery, and can never be separate, never be truly alone or unloved. Mail, in all of its busy permutations, can only be a substitute for this Inner Knowing.

Mail is only…to borrow a phrase from the Irish singer/songwriter, Ned Kelly…“how we touch in traction,” from the song, “Broken Into” .

(Yes, the secret’s out now…cell phones and text messages are my pet peeves.)

“Walking with the Invisible” (oil)

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is phenomenon.

As a green-thumbed, healer-trained, student of the archetypal journey of Life, you would think that I would be exceptionally good at waiting. That I would understand (and be at peace with) the fact that “to everything there is a season.” But no…I suffer the pangs of impatience, frustration and self-doubt as frequently as any woman.

The wiser part of me (And how is it that there are parts of us, anyway?) knows that waiting is part of the cycle of life. A seed must wait for the exact right time to sprout, a flower waits to unfurl its petals, a child in the womb waits for its birth. But what is that seed thinking and doing while it’s waiting? How does it choose peace, contentment and patience, instead of trying to muscle its way into the next thing?

The not-wise part of me, that Little Me (Ego), is headstrong, forceful and impatient. Distinctly human, it fights with every fiber the idea that it is not in charge of what, when, where and how fast it all happens. This is also the part of me that gets bruised on a regular basis. (I suspect that this is the part for which the gods invented Mercury Retrograde.) This part cannot accept that there are Larger Things in motion than just me. This part wants to be in charge, to be special, to be a phenomenon. Now. No waiting.

Which brings me back to the other part that knows that there is only Now. And not my idea of what Now should look like, but what Now actually does look like, warts and all. To wait (miserably) for those rare moments when fame, fortune, or excitement in any form finally appear is to hold one’s breath through most of one’s life. As Benjamin Hoff, author of The Tao of Pooh, (recommended by a fellow artist) points out…life is largely comprised of the spaces between those rare moments when goals are reached. It is mostly comprised of the process of living. And that is where true joy and wisdom are to be found…not in the all-too-brief attainments of goals.

But still I wonder…what is that seed thinking while it’s in the ground?  Can it be not thinking? Teach me, wise seed…

“Nobody/Somebody” (watercolor, pen and ink)

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is prehistoric.

I could never relate to the friends who became parents and then for ever after chronicled History by the ages and activities of their children. Casually prefaced sentences with preambles like, “When Johnny was a baby…” or, “The year that Sally got her braces…”, left me feeling like an outsider among members of a secret and widespread club.

But then I realized that I had my own internal time-keeping method, even though I was not a mother. Mine went more like, “When I was with Alfred…or Louie…or Rupert…” (Names changed to protect the innocent.) Beyond my school years, I realized, I chronicled the eras of my life by the particular relationships I was in at the time. Not so different, really.

The idea of defining one’s self by a patchwork of prehistoric and external activities or relationships, though, got me thinking. Who was I without them? Who am I, separate from the myriad forms of outer description: wife-of…works-for…rents-from…member-of…body-type-like…ex-girlfriend-of…draws-like…etc., etc.? Who am I, first thing in the morning as consciousness returns, but before the definitions return to clothe me more tightly than a spandex leotard? Who am I without my face?

The Buddhists have always written extensively about that big question, and Zen Buddhism is perhaps the most accessible entry into this area of contemplation. They refer to it as the Original Face, and it originates in the following koan: “What did your face look like before your parents were born?”

You cannot describe it or draw it,
You cannot praise it enough or perceive it.
No place can be found in which
To put the Original Face;
It will not disappear even
When the universe is destroyed.
— Mumon

My original face is That which observes ‘the little me’…sitting here in this wicker chair, warmed by a wood stove and peppermint tea, typing. I don’t know what That is yet…but I am beginning to understand what it is not…

“Frankenstein” (pen & ink)   Illustration for a hospital advertisement: “Endoscopic surgery. Because not everyone can live with another scar.”

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