January 2016

Carol Mathew-Rogers:

Today is a glorious sunny winter day, where the brilliant light shines through the stark branches of my red maple tree, illuminating my backyard garden in its soggy splendor. I am tempted to go outside, but I know the enticement of the rays belies the truth of the temperature. It may be sunny, but it is still cold outside—a brisk 52 degrees! I elect to stay inside my warm home, yet I am caught by the mystery of the movement between two states of being. Warmth and cold, light and dark, internal and external—there is a cycle at work here that intrigues me.

A colleague recently wrote about ancient Celtic thin places, “the porous membrane ‘between’ what we often perceive as either/or realities, where one ‘reality’ touches another and an exchange takes place.”* In thin places, the truth that seeming opposites are deeply related becomes apparent. They are thresholds that coexist, influencing each other in unforeseen ways.

I think the creative process generates one of those thin places—the tension between what wants to come forward and be expressed, and what it takes for such a birthing to occur. For myself, there are times when the need to create is so great that I cannot stop it from happening. The color must be splashed on the page, or the clay molded into a particular shape because if it doesn’t get expressed, something isn’t right; something isn’t complete—it’s an insistent need that must be gratified.

More frequently, though, my creative process looses energy and I never allow the vision to be born. Something halts the process. I can find all kinds of excuses—the dishes need to be done, it’s time to walk the dog, my studio isn’t clean enough or it simply is the wrong time of day! I hide behind the busy patterns of my daily life, not admitting that I am scared: scared that I won’t successfully express what needs to be made; scared that I might bring forward some information or emotion that is uncomfortable, strange or simply so novel that life changes forever. If this creative energy manifests in my world, what is going to happen? How will I handle it? Change is frightening, even a change from an artistic idea to its actual creative expression.

So the challenge becomes how to appreciate that threshold place and allow myself to be transformed by both possibilities. When I create something, whether it is a poem, watercolor or sculpture, what can I learn from the experience? Can I let go of any critical inner voices that rise up to challenge the experience? Will I take the time to sit with my creation and let thoughts and reactions free reign? When the energy to create dissipates, what will I do? Will I take a moment to consider why I allowed it to happen? Does the energy that I thought needed to be artistically expressed need to be articulated in another way? And most importantly, can I be compassionate with whatever happens, and simply appreciate the duality of the creative cycle?

The wind starts to rattle the windows even as the sun continues to brighten my kitchen. My thoughts have rattled through me enough for one day, so it is time to move on. I look towards my studio, where paint and paper, stones and wire share space, waiting for me. Who knows what thin place will next capture my attention?