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Posts Tagged ‘Present’

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 ahead.

In my world, ahead is another word for the future. No… not the Back to the Future kind, but the kind that exists inside my very own head. Admittedly, it’s a place I spend a lot of time in… Trying to simultaneously exist in this studio moment and the future, I observe myself wondering… “Will the painting I’m making work out? Will anyone love it? Will I alienate everyone, and be pronounced a hack? Should I get a regular job and end the misery? What’s for dinner… ?”

Of course, any bystander could tell me that this train of thought(s) is all a huge drain on my batteries, and especially on my creative batteries. But it seems to be a mental loop that runs pretty much on automatic. Most embarrassing to admit. I have gotten to the point where I can frequently ignore those monkey-mind voices and work anyway, but the fact that they are still there in the background is not something that I am proud of. I wish they would go away and leave me in peace… I take only a small bit of comfort in knowing that this mental state is largely ‘par’ for the human condition.

Conventional wisdom says that Time is linear—comprised of Past, Present and Future. But many spiritual teachers and mystics state that there is only NOW. In the past or in the future, everything was, or will still be, NOW. Yes, it’s a lot to wrap a little lump of cerebral cortex around…

Unfortunately, my mind is not usually content to hang out solely in the this NOW… everywhere else but here always looks so much more inviting, less problematic… and probably was, or will be, so much better than it is now. The contemporary spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, has written and taught extensively about this dilemma. Although he is not speaking specifically to the artist crowd, he is very clear that the full experience of being alive, not to mention any guidance that may be available, can only be experienced in this NOW. (I know from personal experience that this available guidance can even include practical information like what color to paint next, or even what to draw in the first place…)

I’m still trudging away on this journey back to the NOW… I’ll meet you there?

“Bird Thoughts (watercolor, pen and ink, colored pencil)

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

I heard this morning that a dear friend had died…

Paul was a passionate scientist, active outdoorsman, open-minded philosopher and deeply spiritual man—a rare combination, in my experience. While he lived in my town, I saw him often: at the cafe where I worked, out for brisk walks through our tiny foothills town, reading his daily paper at the ancient library. We took a few mountain hiking and camping trips together, shared some excellent trout and pancakes, and once, on the back of his BMW, I was treated to his surprising enthusiasm for the sharp, fast curves on a motorcycle trip to a tiny cafe two hours away for a piece of “the world’s best pie.” Even then, he never let his ‘advancing years’ slow him down. When he moved to Alaska to be part of a spiritual community, and later on to Eugene for a scientific collaboration, it was harder for both of us to stay in touch. We were both very good at expressing our appreciation and love for each other in person, but our very busy lives usually superseded the demonstration of our friendship. Nevertheless, when we did connect, it was always as if no time or distance at all had passed. A special friend indeed. In his presence, I felt more ‘heard’ and respected than I think I had ever felt up to that point. And I noticed that it was not just me that he had this effect on… Perhaps his was the demonstration of what would these days be called ‘totally Present.’ In retrospect, I am realizing what a powerful gift it was.

His passing reminds me that friendships… and indeed all relationships… are not just a way to pass time, to keep out the dark or the loneliness. Friendships are an opportunity to witness the life of a fellow traveler, to affirm to each other the infinite value of our existence, replete with both struggle and triumph. They are most especially ‘food for the Soul’ when we ourselves fall prey to doubt and fear. Friendship is one of the opportunities to be fully Present with life, in all of its manifestations… now, before the moment has passed.

To my friend Paul… who gave the gift of his presence.

“In the hollows of quiet places, we will meet again. The quiet places where there is neither moon nor sun, but only the light of amber and pale gold from the hills of the heart. ”        Celtic blessing, Fiona MacLeod (William Sharp 1855–1905)

“Lisbeth’s Angel” (watercolor, pen & ink)

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