Hands... I have been thinking a lot about hands.
How often I take them for granted and yet they have
silently served me all these years...
No bias, no prejudice, no religion but to serve life...
my life... your life.
How well have I consciously served them?
... reflect upon your hands
and I will reflect upon mine.
For what purpose were they intended?
Are they desperate for us to remember?
Hands... when used as weapons, do they suffer?
Are they stunned by our hesitation to embrace
diversity... to rejoice in the many textures of life?
Hands... do they find their wholeness cupped gently one inside
the other or do they long to reach out to another...
and another... and yet another...
as confirmer of life's inter-connectedness?...
Are they looking for our hearts, blindly reaching out through the darkness?
Do they dream of awakened minds that will re-connect them to their source?
Do they long for inspiration, allowing them to fulfill their deepest intention...
Creativity... is it not what announces to the universe... "we have been here, we have experienced the magnificent gift of life... we have been given the opportunity to explore what it means to be fully human and we are so profoundly grateful. We desire to give back... to leave our imprints along the way in hopes that they will be a light for future travelers."
Hands... do they not belong to God?
Are we not here to help the Creator create...
each and every one of us...
I have been thinking a lot about hands...
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In the thin, low light of another year's transition
I remember to play with a childhood friend
and wander through wonder once again.
December is a wondrous month for most children I know. As I watch the children of friends and relatives frantically opening their gifts of the season, I am reminded of what excites.
The fairy, butterfly wings and remote control car bring smiles and miles of amusement, but a marvelous light rarely shines so bright as in the eyes of the child clutching a wrapped gift and the world of possibilities that lie waiting under the paper. "Can I open this one now? Can I? Please?"
It is good to be reminded of the joys of wonder, that delightful dichotomy of peace and perplexity which arises when contemplating starlight; envisioning our insignificance in the context of the milky-way; imagining what might exist beyond the sun, around the stars, before the big bang ... or beyond the wrapping.
Today I wonder why it is I do not partake in this joy more often. Awe sits waiting at the doorstep each morning. What keeps me from opening the door? Some say that the human tendency to name and tame the unknown through definition and description limits our experience of the wonder of the world. We learn through words, in time, not to be so amazed.
I see definitions as tools, which do not implicitly constrain. It is only when I forget to offer reverent consideration to what lies beyond the definition and description that wondrous vision dims and blurs. The limitations do not reside in knowledge, so much as judgement which draws attention away from the deeper pools of contemplation, toward the pragmatic, with labels of frivolity.
But through observing the wide eyed child, I am reminded that awe is light-years from frivolous, and the gift of wonder awaits, ready to be unwrapped ... or not.
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Once again the sun arcs low across the sky sinking into longer nights as we approach the Winter Solstice and year's end. Like many of the world's current problems, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia, hunger, terrorists, etc., it is hard to conceive of solutions for them or safety from a further plunge into total darkness. Pessimism rules easily.
However, as I walk each morning I have reason for hope and faith in the very essence of life as it continues to unfold. This faith comes from nature as I observe literally thousands of single tiny green spears of new life issuing forth from beneath the layers of dead pine needles on the forest floor. Early November rain triggered Nature's regenerative process from hidden seeds of last Summer's dead. Thus, I am now encouraged that a new spring flowering will again take place after the present deepening darkness. Both around me and within me!
However, with this first stage in early December, the true identity of each blade still does not show. All those tiny blades of new growth have yet to be identified by type and purpose of plant. There is further darkness of Winter to slowly nurture them before their real identity can be known.
The decent into the mystery of darkness and stillness is a part of life's evolutionary renewal process! Often something new and unexpected is born when all seems lost. Faith in the darkness and process of "not knowing" is necessary as we wait for clarity of vision to know the true identity of what has been gestating.
A short time ago I had a dream where my dream therapist or guide asked me for a single word. Surprising me, the word that spontaneously came out of me was "excitement."
Differing from my thoughts and A'musing writings of the last several years, this word points to change—new life and activity rather than stillness and hibernation. Although like the tiny new blades of grass, I still don't know the form or identity of my "excitment" yet. But it provides possibilities of new direction and passion of some kind. It points beyond Winter to Spring's return with increasing light filled with optimism. I trust this mysterious process yet to be fully revealed!
What does this have to do with creativity? For me it highlights movement from the vital "letting go and emptying" stage of step two of the creative process to stage three where "inspiration" finally presents itself. It is where the Muses speak, often without clear identity of what has been gifted! So, it is a time to be open to new ideas and possibilities, vague intuitions and change. When I finally identify a source for my new excitement, it will be time to take action in the last creative step crafting it into finite form through action.
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Today is the first day of this new year, 2007. I sit at my desk and ponder my connection to The Creative Edge: The Way of the Arts. As a new board member at large, I have the opportunity to write about anything that catches my attention. I look over my notes from my first board meeting, and one phrase stands out to me now: "Strong inner core, with outside flexibility." This, then, is where my musings begin...
Images come to my mind as I ponder this phrase: reeds thrashing in wind-whipped meadows as summer storms pound the earth... delicate white birch trees swaying side to side as winter snow swirls angrily. These images remind me of the strength of seemingly fragile living things. Thriving, growing plants hold fast during the tempests of their environments, flexible enough to move without breaking, with inner pith protected and rooted, connected to the juices of life.
I remember time spent in my small backyard garden. The flowers bend under the weight of the water sprinkling from my hose, so delicate that a single snap of my fingers could separate them from the earth, yet they do not break. I can walk away from a whole garden of nodding blooms whose petals have become so saturated that they kiss the earth instead of reaching for the sun, and yet when I return, they stand at attention again, restored to their proud and beautiful poses as if by magic. This isn't the magic, though, of outward action where pure strength overcomes all odds. The flowers do not win against the water by the force of their actions. No, this is the magic of connection to what flows inside—this is the magic of allowing the life force within to swell up from deep inside to strengthen walls and reinforce channels. This is the magic of a need so strong that exterior conditions have little power against that which dwells within. And I ask myself: where does inner strength with outside flexibility live in my life?
Sitting in silence, the answer comes quietly. Each day I struggle against the waves of busyness that threaten to overwhelm me. There is so much to do! There is so little time to do it all! My storms come not in the guise of thunderous rain clouds or blistering winds, but rather as endless lists of "Things to do." If I allow it, the repeated battering of obligations, chores and accomplishments would sweep me from my spiritual and creative moorings, leaving me dying under their deadly wash. I must take my lesson from the delicate plants, and allow myself to bend and flex with environmental assaults. My emotional reactions to the pressures of family and job can be fluid and limber, instead of explosive and painful. My strength comes from nourishing that living force inside myself whose roots run deep into my psychological and spiritual nature. For me, creativity and visual art are the tools to keeping this connection flowing. I must be a living expression of strong inner core, with outside flexibility if I am to truly thrive. And with this newly expressed realization, I feel a certain measure of peace blossoming within my heart. I know this year will be a good one.
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Barbara Rose Shuler:
I'm feeling a little fried right now but it is past time to make my contribution to this cycle of Creative Edge musings. Here goes.
My own creative edge idles at low ebb this afternoon so the writer within is not finding words. I want to write about cats but it isn't happening.
It is curious that if you write to produce cash—if that's your job, part of how the bread and butter comes in regularly—it can be more challenging to write for pleasure and personal creative expression than if you deliver mail or tend landscapes for a living. A British theater critic once said it is easier for a crossing sweeper to come home and write his novel after a day's labors than it is for a wordsmith to set pen to chapter after a day's smithing. This seems to be true for me now.
I have just produced several pieces of writing in a short amount of time, for which I will be paid, crafted to suit the needs of this and that editor for their respective publications. I used the part of my mind that researches, organizes, edits, rewrites and shapes information for targeted readers, mindful of style preferences, space concerns, etc. Sometimes I enjoy this process. Sometimes it is a struggle. Mostly it is a friendly, familiar rhythm of my workaday world. But when the work is over, I like to shift gears with a walk, a meal, conversations with friends, completing household tasks, etc.
Now that the cash writing is finished, I thought it would be easy and fun to dive into a creatively free-form personal essay for the joy and grit of it.
But, blap!ÊMy word faculties have taken a vacation.
I intended to write about cats and their extraordinary ways of being in the world. A friend just lost her beloved cat, Bess, to cancer, a terribly hard experience as many of you know too well. I wanted to write about Bess, about things I have learned from cats over the years and how cats are like Zen masters. I wanted to tell you about my mother's cat Pelican and my cat Sylvester and write about the time, when I was younger, another cat of mine came home on Christmas Eve after being gone for 6 months. I wanted to tell you funny things about cats and speculate about them metaphysically. I wanted especially to reflect on their astonishing creativity.
But darned if my thoughts aren't wandering to the bulk 25 lb. sacks of turtle and azuki beans I just purchased from Whole Foods—a fraught process it turned out. I ordered organic beans and was surprised to see the beans were grown in China. I called the organic bean distributer and asked how the company vetted the honest organic truth of these Chinese beans. He assured me they were grown in strict compliance with the rules. Otherwise they wouldn't get the business.
So my mind has gone to beans! It really has. I've landed in Chinese bean bins in spite of good intentions with the result that there will be no personal essay today about the creativity of cats. But, if an editor dangled a promise of "Pay to the Order of" and requested a short essay on the amazements of felines due in three hours, the work-horse mind would probably rally. Sheesh! Isn't that just odd?
But the work-horse mind is not what The Creative Edge is about. That's the secret joy of this moment. Even though I am over-written, under-inspired and wishing it weren't so, there is no editor to please. No clichs to delete for better flow. No perfection to strive for. There is just me being exactly who I am in this moment musing for A'musings, free to wander where the word-path takes me.
You have read thus far—cats, beans and all. And thanks to this fabulous organization, these words will be published alongside those of my Creative Edge companions. The wonder is, writing this I have actually taken the equivalent of the needed walk, talked to the friend, rested the mind, found the creative in the midst of a fallowness. Thank you!
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The recent death of my sixty-three year old brother-in-law, a brilliant scholar, after an unsuccessful bone marrow transplant, left his family and friends in deep sorrow. This brings to me thoughts of after life and also profound sense of after love. Now over a dozen years since his passing, I still feel my husband's caring at unexpected moments, whether alone or with family. My sister, still in shock, will also find the well of love available to her, to dip into, to ladle over her thirsting body. Her children and their families will put into practice the love they have received and witnessed during growing up.
In lieu of flowers, my three children are planting a tree in Israel for Gary Saxonhouse, a choice they made together. Blessed as I am, with work that nourishes me as well my students, life affirms me. Hearing life stories, valuing each without comparison allows for deep sharing. I become as student in my own classes. May that be so until the day that I die.
I actually look forward to after life as I visited it long ago and decided to return to earth, space and time still left for me to inhabit. While I am here, participating in my true work, I approach each day with gratitude. My desire: to live well, die well, wish well to my progeny, knowing I taught them well to lead noble lives. They, in turn, as they aged, taught me how to enhance my life.
Let me tell you a good story, one that will set the mood for the New Year.
I am walking down Ocean Avenue, a high end part of Carmel. It is a sunny November day, tourists and locals fill the sidewalks. I am carrying a large black garbage bag around a cone shaped object. I receive curious stares, yet walk briskly, The Sharper Image, my destination. I place the bag on the counter, say that I am here to replace the air purifier for a friend who is wheelchair bond and has trouble breathing. The machine no longer works. Information dispensed notes that the warranty expired two years ago. A new one costs $350.
I catch my breath. No way could my friend afford that expenditure. I explain again the medical need and the assistant manager and the manager huddle together, return to me with a solution. "We can sell you an extended guarantee."
"What, you'd replace a broken item with a new one with a lapsed guarantee?" They smile and in unison say, "Yes!" I step back into my thoughts. "How much is that?" "Thirty-five dollars." I am ecstatic. "I'll give it to her for a birthday present", I say, wanting to be part of the gift. It doesn't matter that her birthday is ten months away! I walk out of The Sharper Image, a brand new long brown box under my arms and receive pleasant smiles from passersby. This special day is just one more reason that I wish to stay on earth a bit longer.
MAY YOUR NEW YEAR BE BLESSED
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A'musings... Good grief. Donald's deadline has come and gone! I E-mailed him, asked to be omitted from this issue of A'musings, pleading "Writer's block." But Donald, never having been one to take NO for an answer, wrote back, "Well, try writing about how you deal creatively with writer's block."
<*#@^%>! ...Okay, so just how MIGHT I start to commence to begin to deal creatively with this—for lack of a more flattering diagnosis—"writer's block?"
HA! ...I could resort to the age-old academic's ploy: Look it up in the dictionary! And not in my handy little paperback School & Office Dictionary. How about we drag out and dust off our huge old 1966 World Publishing Company tome—the one that dear old Buck chewed the cover off of when he was still a puppy... Or should that be, "off of which Buck chewed the cover?"
Anyway that was a way back in the late '70s, and somebody should have noticed how quiet he'd been... He was so proud of himself: So business-like. So thorough. His first Kill...
Hmmmm... Ah, yes, here's a whole list of "musings" on page1184:
"muse, n. [OFr: musse, a little hole or corner in which to hide things.]"
Well I'll be darned...
"1. an opening in a fence or a thicket through which hares or other game pass: also called a muset." [Obs.] Dang, where's a muset when you need one?
"2. a loophole; a means of escape." [Obs] Now this is starting to look promising...
"Muse, n. [L. musa; Gr. mousa, a Muse, music, eloquence.]"
...Never mind this one. I know about those Muses—fickle, whimsical, never viable when you need one... And, while I'm at it, maybe I ought to look up viable—Ah here, on page 2035: "viable, a.[ Fr., likely to live, from vie, L., vita, life.] able to live; specifically (a.) at that stage of development that will permit it to live and develop under normal conditions... and (b.) able to take root and grow; as, viable seeds."
Okay, close enough. So what's next, and while I'm at it, how's this word count going? 325. Whew, only 175 to go...
"muse, v. i.; mused, pl.,pp.; musing, ppr [OFr.] muser, to ponder, dream; compare LL. musare, L. mussare, to murmur, mutter, be in uncertainty.
1. to ponder; to meditate; to think closely; to study in silence.
2. to be absent in mind; to be deeply occupied in study or contemplation.
3. to gaze in thoughtful silence."
1. deep thought; reverie; contemplation; meditation.
2. wonder; surprise..."
Further on our tome defines museful as silently thoughtful, and museless as without poetical inspiration. Now that one really nails down what I was trying to describe to Donald. Sure beats "writer's block" all to heck. At last! I think I'm finally starting to feel fired up over this "muse" assignment. Unfortunately I've reached the end of my allotted five hundred word space—Oh well. Maybe next time...
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