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I’m coming to the end of my time here in Lumsden, Saskatchewan. I’m cherishing every sky I see, from the picture windows of the big glassed-in lounge, or on my twice daily walks on the long road. The skies are something I will miss when I return to Ontario later this week. It almost feels as if you are inside a ‘sky globe’ of some sort. The sky envelops you here. The clouds shift with the weather, making shadows on the fields below. I’m also going to miss the dragonflies on the road, even though I don’t like insects. I remember reading somewhere that dragonflies are symbols of transformation, and I can say that is true of this ten-day experience with other writers at Sage Hill.

What makes the place work so well? I think it’s largely due to the hard work of the Executive Director, Philip Adams, who shepherds people into Regina when they need things like toothbrushes and deodorant, or takes clutches of writers to see the Mary Pratt exhibit, knowing that even writers need breaks. He also, though, stays in touch with each writer, making each one feel that their work is worthy, valued, and important. Sometimes, as solitary creative people, writers need that reassurance. He often offers a quick, kind word to let them know that someone understands that drive to create, even if others (sometimes those who love and know us best back home) may not.

What I’ve found most amazing during my time here at St. Michael’s Retreat is that writers are similar souls with big brains. We sit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, always learning something new about what others are working on in different workshops. I haven’t had this much stimulating conversation with people, regarding writing, in a very very long time. By the end of the afternoon, people are yawning, their brains loaded up with new ideas for their writing. They’re also really very interesting people, are excellent story tellers (of course!), and they are so funny! I love it! :)

I feel very lucky to have been able to work with some great poets this week. Under the guidance of Ken Babstock, who has a keen eye for poetry, I’ve worked most closely with Dawn Kresan, Kathleen Wall, Margaret Hollingsworth, Bernadette Wagner, and Kevin Wesaquate. We’ve had one-on-one consultations with Ken, which have really made me see my work with new eyes, and then we’ve workshopped our poems as a group. What I’ve learned has a lot to do with editing and revision. I’ve begun to feel less attached to the poem, to sit back in an observational manner and let the poem tell me what it needs, or wants, to tell me. I also question it. I’ve begun to question why I’m doing the things I do, in terms of how and why I fashion my poems. I’ve honed in on image and line length, pushing at my own poetic wall. Evolving. It’s what I came here to do.

There are other great faculty members here at Sage Hill this week. Larry Hill, Helen Humphreys, Merilyn Simonds, Wayne Grady, and Denise Chong, along with our poet-guru, Ken, have given so much of themselves. They’ve read endless pages of poetry, non-fiction, and fiction, pushed at all of us to go deeper and get better. The sign on the banner says “Sage Hill Writing: Helping Good Writers Write Better.” It’s done that for me.

At the end of each night of readings, Philip says “Now, go write better tomorrow.” I’m going to take that phrase with me when I return home to Sudbury on Thursday, reminding myself of my commitment to my own writing. I’m going to be sure to carve out time every day to write, read, or think about poetry. I may be a teacher, but I’m a writer and poet first. I wouldn’t be as good of a teacher, I don’t think, if I didn’t take the time to feed my own creative work. I like to think, anyway, that my work as a poet and writer enhances my work as an English teacher. That’s my hope, to be sure.

I’ve met some fabulous people here these last days, and I’m going to miss them. At home, I don’t often get a chance to “speak writing” with kindred spirits. Here, well, it’s been a buffet of writers. I’m going to miss conversations about the structure of sestinas, or the way metaphor works, or how to best title a piece. I hope to see at least some of these writers again someday, but if I don’t, I’ll know they’ve made an imprint on my heart, as has Sage Hill.

….and for this part of Saskatchewan, the Qu’Appelle Valley, well, what can I say? Its land, spirit, people, and skies have marked me. I know I’ll be back someday. It’s inevitable. If I could, I would write the prairies a love song…and try to find a tick-free hill from which to sing it loudly.

For now, I’ll work on revising another poem, gaze out at the valley, watching that collie across the way herd cattle from one hill to another. For today and tomorrow, at least, I’ll breathe Saskatchewan in.

peace,
k.

Journey to Sage Hill

My bag, fondly named “Monster” by a Dublin cab driver two years ago, finally arrived this afternoon after being delayed by an onslaught of fog. Being without it left me a bit out of sorts today. I have never before found myself staring longingly out of a window, waiting for a delivery service. (You never know how much you’ll miss something until it’s lost in an Air Canada vortex, let me tell you!)

Arrived at Sage Hill late last night, so missed the opening get together. This morning, the first person who said good morning to me was Lawrence Hill, the author of The Book of Negroes, one of my favourite novels ever. It’s like being in a surreal film or something…

Meeting my poetry cohort was cool. They come from all over Canada, but they all share the same love of poetry that I feel in my heart. It’s nice to be in a place where people are like minded, where talking about line length, metaphor, and imagery in a stanza can be a discussion that lasts 25 minutes. In my books, that’s a cool thing. (It made me think about how amazing it would be to live, some day, in a commune of poets. There are retirement homes for actors, so why not the same for writers and poets?) Our guide is Ken Babstock, a Toronto-based poet who said, today, something that stuck with me. When in doubt, when trying to make the poem say something, he suggested that, instead, the poem will tell the poet what to write. “The line will guide you…” Loved that. Made lots of sense to me.

At meals today, I’ve met loads of cool writers…some are poets, some are novelists, some are journalists and others are memoir writers. I’m looking forward to hearing more of their work…the poetry I heard this afternoon was amazing, so I can only imagine that it will be a week of words and wonder!:)

The views from St. Michael’s Retreat House are stunning. Rolling green hills, over the valley, which is spliced by a motorway, with birds chirping just outside. I spent some time in the chapel this morning after breakfast, and it may just be the most peaceful place I’ve been in a long time. These Franciscans know how to create a sacred space for soul. This is not the landscape I’m used to, but I’m hoping it will crack me open so that some poems will spill out.

peace,
k.

What I find interesting about “spending time” with Georgia O’Keefe, by reading her letters or diaries, or by listening to interviews on YouTube, is that her mind and creativity was amazingly diverse. People so often speak of her flower paintings, but these Hawaiian pieces go beyond that, to include the waterfalls of the Iao Valley on Maui, and the lava fields. She was, quite simply, pulled into the natural world, and to the vast landscapes that she was drawn to so often in her lifetime.

With research, I learned that she hated the fact that people only viewed the most famous of her flower paintings as representations of the female genitalia. These interpretations only began after her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, took and exhibited some nude photographs of O’Keefe. Perhaps she didn’t know they would end up being exhibited when he took them, but once there were on the walls of New York art galleries, the work ended up creating a mythology around her own paintings and persona. She was, in so many ways, a very private person who was sexualized by her own husband’s photography exhibition. She never intended her own flower paintings to be analyzed from a Freudian perspective, but she had no say in the matter.

I never knew that until I started reading about her over the last few months. Imagine loving someone so much that you trusted that person to photograph you while naked. (I’m sure that’s common these days, what with the culture of selfies, sexting and such, but Stieglitz’s photographs of O’Keefe are beautiful works of art, and a testament of his love for her.)

Anyway, here is a new poem, created this afternoon on the back porch, until I was driven indoors by a sunshower that threatened my laptop. It’s a draft….work in progress.

Black Lava Bridge, Hana Coast,
No. 1, 1939
(for Georgia O’Keefe)

On the edges of things,
away from the pineapple fields,
she found the ocean, smashing itself
up against the rough skin of lava
that had naturally found its way to the sea.

Far from the Iao Valley,
where ancient chiefs were buried,
their sacred voices now silenced
by the rushing of waterfalls
amidst rainforest green,
this eastern coast of Maui
spoke to her now with new words.

Here, the lava made a crazy coast,
carved out by the gods, painted all black
with bright blue
waves that reflected sky.

At Hana, the waves rise up, pounding surf
rising high
into the air that hovers,
so that lava poured by Pele is sculpted
into bridges, pathways, gates,
etching out holes where water
sprays, hissing and blowing,
letting the light in with each wave’s retreat.

She climbed all over those rocks,
feeling the push of rough lava
up through the soles of her shoes,
rooting herself just as the ocean
rose up to meet her with saltwater,
ready to paint again.

*The italicized words in this poem are taken from a letter that O’Keefe wrote to her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, on March 15, 1939.

Well, I’m working on a manuscript. There are plenty of poems on paper, all pooled together in a file folder, scratched out on little notebook pages, some jotted down while I was supervising June exams. (I know….it’s illegal….I did invigilate, but I also wrote down a couple of ‘first lines’ for poems. It happens and, if you’re a poet, you know that if you ignore them, the words vanish as quickly and mysteriously as they have arrived.)

Last August, when I was in Hawaii for a few days en route to Australia and New Zealand, I found an exhibit of Georgia O’Keefe’s work. She and Ansel Adams both visited Hawaii to work on artistic commissions. It was common in the late 1930s and 1940s, I’ve discovered through research, although I’m sure they both battled with the eternal question of whether or not art should be made commercial. In any case, O’Keefe negotiated fiercely with the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (later to become good old Dole), committing herself to painting just two stylized posters even though they wanted more. Beyond that, she shifted from the island of Oahu and then moved over to Maui, spending about three months in the Hawaiian islands, but falling head over heels in love with Maui. Her paintings are stunning. They remind me of some of Emily Carr’s totem paintings of the Haida.

A shout out to my poetic guru, Susan Rich in Seattle, Washington, who has officially got me hooked on ekphrastic work. I did a lot of it before I went to Eyeries two years ago, but I’m fully committed to it now. :) Thanks, lady! :)

So…..here is the introductory poem for the “suite” or “sequence” of poems that I’m working on….based on the paintings I viewed last August at the Honolulu Academy of Art.

Hope you enjoy it!
peace,
k.

Her Hawaii
(for Georgia O’Keefe)

From Sun Prairie, in Wisconsin,
to the badlands of New Mexico,
she searched for wide open spaces,
with deep reverence, as a seeker does.

Flipped through travel brochures,
found one for Hawaii, went there
to paint pineapple posters for Dole,
but fell in love with Maui,
her heart toppled by waterfalls,
lava bridges, bright salted ocean spray.

She was 51 then,
in a marriage that floundered
like a fish out of water,
when she bravely crossed oceans
to find white birds of paradise
and pineapple buds of promise.

Landed on Oahu, stayed in Honolulu,
afterwards shifting to Hana, on Maui;
transfixed by sea caves, sugar cane fields,
tasting tamarind, star fruit, avocado & mango,
so that they soon became colours on canvas,
marked on her heart ever after.

She expected so little of those islands,
after being seduced by the badlands,
but they surprised her, catching her unaware,
sweeping her off her feet, gathering up her heart,
paintbrushes mad with passionate abandon.

http://www.sfgate.com/hawaii/alohafriday/article/Georgia-O-Keeffe-s-visit-to-Hawaii-2408255.php

For some reason, for the last few hours, this Cat Stevens song has been running through my head. I remember driving in my mum’s old vintage orange VW Beetle. She would smoke like a fiend, fiddling with the stick shift with one hand, manoeuvering the cigarette with the other, and then somehow try to shove a cassette tape into the minimalist stereo system in between this Cirque de Soleil act. (I loved that car so much. Mum called it “navel,” because it was orange. It had come from Saskatchewan and was in excellent condition for the 1980s/90s. . .something about them not using salt out there on the winter roads. Somehow, the darn car lived and lived and lived, but it did often slip backwards down Van Horne hill in the middle of winter.) :)

Anyway, one year Mum was on a Cat Stevens kick. She played those three cassette tapes everywhere, in the car, at camp, on the ‘ghetto blaster’ that sat on the dishwasher in the kitchen. She hummed along, sang along when she thought no one was listening. For some reason, that song’s been in my head today. Weird. So, I went to listen to it again on YouTube, to check out the lyrics, to see if there was a message in there for me. (Yes, poets and intuitive souls look for signs….deal with it!)

In case you want to hear it, check this out:

It’s the idea of being followed by things….shadows….of perhaps thinking of past events or people who have been part of your life. Timely, this week, given that I’ve had two clutches of old friends magically reappear. One such pairing includes two old university friends, Robin, who now lives in Korea, and Kim, who still lives here in Sudbury. The other clutch includes three dear friends whom I met on the Sudbury LEAF Person’s Day Breakfast committee back in the 1990s. We were all so much younger then. Now, all of these people have families and children….but not me. In both cases, I found myself wondering how I might have lived alternate lives if I’d taken different paths in my 20s….if I had not stayed here in Sudbury, but left to go do my PhD in English at Memorial in Newfoundland; if I had not dated a certain person; or, even, if I had not taken a certain job. It got me thinking about that Gwyneth Paltrow movie, “Sliding Doors,” where she sees different variations of what her life might alternately have been.

While I enjoyed seeing all of these people, I found myself nostalgic and a bit melancholy afterwards. How had I lost touch with them? What had happened? Was it something that I had neglected to do or say? Had I offended anyone, or been standoffish? (Sometimes, when I’m depressed, I push people away….I think it’s a way to protect myself. It doesn’t seem to be conscious, but rather a survival technique of some sort.) Some of these old friends had moved away, that’s true, and there is always a ‘falling away’ that occurs naturally as we grow and mature. It’s like erosion or something, I guess….We go our separate ways, find new friends (or not), and find that we have less in common (with new and old friends) than we thought. Otherwise, surely we would stay more closely connected, more aware of our respective joys and struggles.

The words of the song ringing in my head today had me humming in the car after I picked up dog food at the vet’s. Where had it come from? Mum’s old song, yes, but the words seemed important….Part of it seems to be about being hopeful in all situations. I like that. A lot. The other part of it seems to speak about the power of faith, in whatever god or source/force that resonates with your heart and soul. The idea of surrendering to the universe strikes me now, too. I’ve been reading Adyashanti’s wonderful book, Falling into Grace: Insights on the End of Suffering. He speaks of letting go of struggling to understand, and also of being open to seeking, but not for any specific end goal. Both the Adyashanti book, and the Cat Stevens song, speak of the idea of letting go to find something that is meant for you….brought to you through the universe. Cool.

I miss those old friends. Sitting with them, I could recall scents, sounds, conversations, laughter, shared drinks, late nights, early mornings, all of the wonderful things that seemed to populate my 20s. I lost a lot of them in my 30s, when I dealt with major depressive disorder, and took care of my ailing parents. Some days, I sit and think of how my 30s just disappeared because of duty, but more importantly because of love. I don’t regret those days, but it does sadden me to think I missed out on things other friends now have because I was busy trying to get healthy and trying to help my parents. I’m not bitter….just a bit puzzled some days. (I think I would’ve made a good wife and mother, but that wasn’t the path for me. Poet and seeker, instead, certainly.)

What I’m learning from Adyashanti, though, is that I can’t look backwards too often, even fondly in memory. The mind plays tricks with memory, anyway, and often gilds it in emotional hyperbole. Getting healthy over the last few years has an ongoing (and often slogging sort of) process. One thing I’ve really gotten good at, I think, is being more mindful of my present. Digging in the garden, walking the dogs, loading the dishwasher, writing down a line or stanza of a poem….all of these things I try to do with mindfulness….and it has brought me some great measure of contentment.

So, yes, I’m always likely going to be followed by someone’s moonshadows, and I’m going to keep those memories deep and dear to my heart, but my focus is on the present now (after so long in the shadows of the past). I send those past friends, loves, memories all the best, all my love…as I fall into grace.

Breathe in, breathe out. Again.

peace, friends.
k.

A person who is close to me this week said that, to her, “the past” encompasses the last six or seven months. It made me laugh a bit because my idea of the past stretches much farther back in time and space. When I think of the past, I think of twenty or twenty-five years ago, especially lately. It’s that time of year when, as a teacher, you watch the Grade 12s ‘leave the nest’ of high school. It gets you nostalgic, if you’re at all human. For me, it just pulls me back in time. You see, I teach at the very same school where I went to high school. I graduated in June 1989, so this is the 25th anniversary of my time spent at Marymount as a student. A bit Whovian, I know….

Anyway, graduation was last week. It took place in the very same church where I graduated. I remember, too, trudging down “The Green Stairs” every month or so to celebrate Mass. We wore grey skirts, white blouses, and heavy woollen cardigans with two white strips on the arm. The school’s crest was massive and covered (pretty much!) the whole of our left chest. You couldn’t miss us snaking our way down the stairs and then across the road to Christ the King Church. It also happens to be the church that my grandmother and great-aunts attended, so I spent a lot of time there, at Mass, as I was growing up. (I remember being bored, but I also remember being able to scam a peppermint Life Saver from my Gram Ennis if I got a bit restless….)

Graduation last Thursday night pulled at me. Part of it is the weird space/time continuum thing that happens in my heart. I still remember hearing my name called, winning the History award, and also going out on the front lawn to take photos with friends and family. That part really hasn’t changed. The other part that hasn’t changed, and hasn’t since I’ve started teaching at the school in September 2004, is the sad clutch of memorial awards. They always kill my heart.

One award in particular makes me very sad. First, though, I need to contextualize my first year at Marymount. To be honest, my Grade 9 year wasn’t easy. I was overweight, too smart for my own good, had Brillo pad hair, and wore crappy black orthopedic shoes because of a nasty hip surgery that I’d had as a child. I was bullied, no questions about it. (I figure this is partially why I’m so adamant about stopping bullying or anything that even slightly resembles it when it even seems to rear its head.) Anyway, my Grade 9 year was horrible. Most of my time at Marymount wasn’t easy, until I found a little group of outcasts who were a lot more like me than not. They made me feel included, rather than excluded, and that’s when I began to love Marymount. It snuck up on me, and that love sits firmly in my heart and soul to this day.

My great-aunt, Helen Kelly, was a Sister of St. Joseph, so she lived in the residence tower attached to the school. Some afternoons, we would meet behind the grand chapel, in the sacristy, and talk about family, or family history, or just about how school was going. She always made tea and had Peak Freans on a little plate, and she tended the flowers in the front flower beds around the white statue of Mary. Somehow, I think Aunt Helen knew what it was to feel a bit out of sorts, or not included. She did her best to make me feel at home. It helped.

So…back to Grade 9. I always think of the Bare Naked Ladies song, “Grade 9.” It wasn’t stellar. I remember thinking, “Oh my God, those Grade 13s are soooo cool.” (They even seemed to make the grey skirts stylish somehow, but I can’t imagine how now…) It’s funny that I didn’t know many of their names. I knew the older sister of a friend who also lived in the Minnow Lake area, so I always thought she was the greatest. She seemed to swoop up the bus stairs and down the aisle to the back, where the big girls sat. (It was so much a caste system then, even though I don’t think I fully realized it.)

Another girl who stuck out in my memory, even now, was a girl named Brinda Pada. She was in Grade 13, graduating in June 1985, and seemed so much of an ideal to aspire to…I guess we Grade 9s were always trying to impress the older girls. What I remember about Brinda is that, while other Grade 13s weren’t always friendly or even kind to the younger girls, she was. She smiled when you passed her in the hall and I remember thinking that she seemed almost, from a distance, serene. For someone who was bullied and an outcast, it mattered that someone was nice. Her sister, Arti, was in Grade 10. She was full of life, with a fabulous smile and infectious laugh. In contrast to Brinda, Arti seemed a bit of a fire cracker in spirit.

Was I their friend? No. Do I remember them? Yes. How could I not? They were kind to me, in passing, but in a way that marked my poor little Grade 9 battered heart.

I remember it being exam time, in late June, likely the 24th, and I remember coming to school and there were people crying. Sister Shirley Anderson, our principal, spoke to us on the announcements, telling us that something horrible had happened….we had lost two of our students. Our homeroom was silent. The school was silent. Into the space of the silence, the news of the Air India explosion over Ireland entered into our sacred space. The world never seemed the same after that. Brinda had just graduated and now she was gone. Arti would have been going into Grade 11, but she would never get there. They had been on their way to India with their dad, to meet their mum, who had gone on ahead.

Each year at graduation, the vice-principal calls out the Brinda and Arti Pada award, and my heart cracks, breaks a little bit more. It’s just short of thirty years, and I can’t stop thinking of the two of them. Their deaths, so unnecessary, stole a bit of innocence from all of us, I think. (I can’t speak for the other girls who were at the school that year, but I know it affected me. I learned that death could come without warning, regardless of age or gender. I learned that people could be evil in the world, and that there was no figuring out a reason why so many lives were lost. It was a rude awakening…)

So it’s funny when someone says “the past” is only just a few months gone. For me, the past haunts the building in which I now work. Good (and bad) high school memories hide around corners of the cinder block walls every day. Mostly, now, they’re fondly gilded in memory. The loss of those two girls, though, is a bad memory that can’t be banished….and probably shouldn’t be.

I think of them both every June…when the award is given…and when the CBC reminds me of the horror of the events of June 23, 1985 on an annual basis. There’s no forgetting them.

All this to say that we can’t always know what will happen in our lives, how they will change in a split second, how we will be severed from those we love so dearly without warning. All this to say that we need to value one another, in the face of greater evils that impinge on goodness around the world. By valuing one another, by treating one another with sheer kindness and compassion, we press up against any darknesses that are unnamed. We exist, and I think we do them some honour by living as they would live…with great spirit, compassion, and kindness.

I think of them still. I will never forget.

peace,
k.

On Thursday night, I went to a workshop at Charmaine Kennedy’s wonderful shop, Tree of Life North, here in Sudbury. Charmaine is a good friend, a guru, and a spiritual guide. The workshop was titled “The Art of Letting Go: Stress Release through the Medium of Mandala Art.” Now, I do have a few mandala colouring books. An artist friend of mine gave them to me when I went through a dark period of depression back in January. I had experienced a body and soul crushing episode of bronchitis that left me breathless, and homebound, for about three weeks solid. (Sometimes, I learned, the universe has a way of slowing us down even when we least expect it, or when we least think we need or want it to happen.) Anyway, Trish brought me mandala colouring books, which I found were intriguing. A student from school had told me in the fall that she often colours to relieve stress. “Miss,” she said, “You should try it. All you need to worry about is picking the next colour!” When Trish brought me the colouring books in the deep grunge of January, with their beautifully intertwined and intricate mandalas of Celtic origin, well, I figured it was a sign. Colouring them in was hard as they had tiny lines intersecting in all sorts of odd ways. I felt that my fingers were all a-jumble. :)

I had also heard of mandalas as a form of meditation when I began studying yoga, reiki, and Buddhism back in 2007. I remember watching some Buddhist monks build mandalas on sand, finishing them, only to erase them again and start over. It reminded me of the mystery of labyrinths, somehow, and I’d always been intrigued by them from the time I was a little girl. They were all ancient and mystical.

The mandala making workshop was something new for me. I rarely just jump into a group of strangers and try to “make art.” For me, the idea of creating visual art, though seductive, seemed intimidating. I don’t think you can be good at everything. I know words are my thing, but I often find myself ‘blocked’ or longing for something creative that might get my juices going in a different direction. I let two friends know about the workshop and they joined in.

In total, there were eight of us, not counting the instructor, Lizanne Leclair. We began by sitting around a series of tables that were shaped into a horseshoe of sorts. Lizanne gave us a brief talk about “sacred geometry.” The idea of sacred geometry is that it’s ancient and is made up of patterns that have been around for over 2500 years. Some of the holiest places in the world — churches, temples, Stonehenge, the pyramids at Giza — all have some aspects of sacred geometry within their architecture. We can even look to patterns in the natural world to see how sacred geometry infuses everything around us. Think of cells, pine cones, shells on the seashore, flower blooms, spider webs, snowflakes, the structure of a leaf, and even branching trees that reach out above our heads. When you get to looking for it, sacred geometry is just about everywhere.

The bigger idea behind it all, from what I understood of Lizanne’s talk, is that there is always a relationship between the parts of something, and the greater whole. It’s about the cosmos, and life. Deep, I know, and I will hardly pretend to know everything about sacred geometry, or the spheres that make up the various mandala patterns that have strung themselves throughout history, around the world. The sphere is a perfect shape, in many ways, and Lizanne told us that spheres represent unity, completeness, and integrity. It’s the way in which the spheres interact, interlace themselves, that leads us to see a variety of other shapes within the outside guiding circular line of the mandala form.

Once the talk was over, Lizanne handed out construction paper, compasses, pencils, and coloured pens, markers, and pastel sticks. What, I thought, is going on? “Aren’t we going to get more information before we begin to create mandalas? How do we know what we’re doing?” I asked. “No”, she smiled and laughed. “It’s an intuitive process…what needs to emerge through the mandala, what your soul needs to express, will emerge.”

The first half hour was excruciating for me. I kept trying to draw the ‘perfect circle’ with my compass and pencil. I focused on that, rather than trying to imagine what would fill in that space. The empty space frightened me, intimidated me, freaked me out. Rather than being a stress releasing sort of workshop, it was, for me, stress inducing. :) I soon figured out what my head was doing: I was trying to focus on what the end product would be, rather than just being in the moment and feeling out the experience of creating a mandala. It wasn’t just ‘art,’ but it was a spiritual form of art and creativity.

This was my Type A personality emerging from the darkness. Now, I got a sense of how my students feel when I give them the rough outlines of an assignment or task, asking them to fill in the blanks with their creativity. “Aha,” I thought, “this is how they feel….”

Before I knew it, though, I had stopped sighing quietly, stopped being frustrated, and put my faith in the process, as Lizanne had asked us to. It worked. My pencil swirled around the page, dividing things up with a ruler, or just free handing a design that struck me as important. There was no mindful presence, no sense of having a set destination. Instead, it was about trusting that my soul would guide me. Before I knew it, we were an hour or more into the workshop. The time had flown by.

What I learned is that sometimes I need to get out of my own way. My preconceived notions of what I thought the workshop would be like stopped me, at first, from entering into the spirit and process of the thing. Once my ego stepped aside, my soul stepped up and I got to it. It’s kind of like life, I think. I was listening to Eckhart Tolle, on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, and heard him talking about how we often look too far ahead and miss the most important thing — the moment within which we are living. We think ahead too much, not being mindful of the blessings of this moment in time. I think that’s why I like meditating or praying. It pulls me to a quiet place where my brain stops spinning.

Part of the reason I went to the workshop is that I suffer from anxiety. I know my triggers, so I avoid them, and I know how to use tools to diffuse panic when I’m in groups with lots of people. (I’m personable and good with people, but in large groups, well, I feel like hightailing it out of whatever room I’ve entered.) The ironic thing is that I often do poetry readings in front of large groups of people. I do get the jitters before those events, but it’s almost like a different part of my personality takes over when I read my work. I am certain of my words, of their meaning, so that lends me peace.

My goal this year is to be more mindful, to be more present within each moment. The mandala making workshop taught me that I still have a ways to go yet….but we are all companions on the journey, so I know that I will work away on it for a while to come.

Here’s hoping you have peace within yourself….and contentment. In my opinion, it’s worth way more than the frantic and almost unattainable happiness people talk about in pop culture. :)

peace,
k.

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