Thursday, January 14, 2016

Doing Nothing Versus Not Doing Something

The other day, consoling a struggling Ilana, I fought off a part of me that said, as per usual, "Do something!"

It didn't say this directly, it said it via the ideas and judgments and assessments that flooded my mind, facing the space of her sadness. They take the common critic line of things like:
-you should have done something to prevent this
-she should have done something to prevent this
-she is going to feel this way forever
-you need to get her out of this...

When, if, I follow these and more, I am "doing something". But it is often the something she does not need. She needs something, but she needs space. Warmth. Trust. Holding. Silence without recrimination, even if it is me simply judging myself.


Meditation is like this for me, too, like it is for so many people. Though I have plenty of personal and direct evidence with some fifteen years of sitting that it is "not doing nothing", I still believe that's the case at times.

How do I know that? Because thoughts flood my mind and I follow them pretty far before dropping them and coming back to the space of now. There's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with thoughts. But on the frequent occasions where my meditation is more focusing on thinking than letting it co-exist with space, I get evidence of how little I trust yet that meditation is in fact doing something. 

Even that practice, just seeing how much I am not trusting space, that it is something and not nothing, is worth it. I know that. No judgments here. Just curiousity about the beliefs that underlie my relationship to doing and being.

I know that it takes a lot of space to even see how I struggle with space. And still, even writing this, part of me wants to say: "Wrap it up with wisdom. Fix it."

And I refuse. I refuse to do that to you or to me. Instead I will do a something that seems like nothing: I will leave this contemplation open-ended, knowing I will return to it again and again, and hoping you will, too.

Friday, January 08, 2016

All Good Options

(One of my favorite signs this week, by Jeff Hanson - my error!:

I am wrapping up a week at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I was invited here by Katey Schultz, to join what turned out to be nine other writers - and 70 other artists in varying media: ceramics, textiles, 2D, metalworking, sign painting (more on that in a moment), photography and more.

The event is a now annual-gathering of artists called The Pentaculum. It's the brainchild of Jason Burnett, and it's a brilliant idea: for a single flash-in-a-pan but profound week, hand-selected groups of artists arrive, make bunches of art (as collaborative or as isolated as you wish) and then leave. This is the second official year, and the first time ever in Arrowmont's 100 year history that writers have been here.

The first day I was shocked to see how busy Gatlinburg is - I had no idea it is a wild tourist haven on the edge of the Smokies. And the shock continued. A gaggle of richly diverse writers brand new to me, and dozens of other artists in all those media I mentioned plus people who don't fit into any category.

There were sort of unofficially two tracks I saw to take: go really deep with the writers and my own work, or really wide and explore with all the others. I spent four days going deep, one connecting with others, and one just trying to take a break from it all.

I got to where I wanted to get to in my memoir. I had lots of great supportive networking but also personal and deep conversations with the writers.

I also got to photograph a lot of great artists in action. I learned a ton about sign painting (first of all, that hand painter sign makers still exist!). I connected with a couple of key artists whose work I love.

And most importantly, though now, at the end, I wish I had spread out and met more artists in other media, I got to sink deeply and lovingly into an extraordinarily rare hand picked group of writers. This was not your average retreat/residency. Katey picked a few really good folks - not just good writers but great humans - and we made exceptional space for each other all week.

You can't have it all. I got a lot.
I am trading in any regret for gratitude.