Still Life

17 years ago, while living in Vancouver, BC, I bought a small painting as a gift for my brother. It was a still life of a pear, and bursting with character. The artist (who’s name I no longer remember) spoke about still life painting as “taking a little bit of life and being still with it.” This had never occurred to me before; I had previously thought of still life painting as kinda boring. Her description of ‘being still with a small piece of life’ intrigued me, opened a rich doorway into a previously undiscovered landscape of curiosity, and has woven a rich thread of contemplation into my art making over the years.

One practice I work with currently which has been offering unending fascination is to gather stones, leaves, twigs, drift wood, feathers, shell fragments, etc, as I wander. I place these in my home, in compositions that shift with the tides of movement in the house: from children picking them up and playing with them, from me holding them and pondering them, offering them as curiosities to guests, and bringing them with me to become altars at dance classes, companions in therapy sessions, offerings left in surprising locations about town…

I love these little bits of life, reassuring talismans, reminders of the infinite in small places, beacons of presence, ambassadors of the wild: they call me alive, they slow me down to rest into the here and now.

I wonder what little bit of aliveness you are resting with.




Being a Beginner

When I was ten years old, my mother signed me up for guitar lessons. I took only one class. Alone in a room with an adult male I’d never met before, I felt intimidated by all I did not know, ashamed of my incompetence. There was something intolerable about being a beginner, not having it all together, not being good enough, something humiliating about not knowing how to do it right. Somehow I had the sense that as a young female there was something very edgy about stepping forward publicly in rough draft form.

Perfectionism is a life-force drain. It strips our ability to be at ease in ourselves and in the world; it blocks growth and learning and cripples our capacity for supple self expression. Perfectionism is inherently isolating, locking us into a tight, frozen, facade of presentation, unable to make genuine contact with others. It reinforces a belief that we will not be accepted as we are, that who we are as we are is simply not good enough. So we draw in and hold back.

What does it take to foster that inner permission to relax into being visible as the rough draft we are and always will be?

How do you cultivate this suppleness in being real and rough? What practices develop and sustain this capacity in your experience of living?

A central pathway for me has been contemplative improvisational dance: a potent workshop for developing this ease in being real and in process. Improvisation creates space for the spontaneous, for hanging out in the unknown, and for letting go our planning, evaluating, judging mind while our instincts for expression get to play and explore. Improvisational movement supports supple experiencing of our creative life force through the body, makes space for our impulses to take shape and dissolve, take shape and dissolve – and to be witnessed and received in this rough draft in a welcoming community.

Two weeks ago today, a sweet signpost moment highlighting the fruits of these explorations in spontaneous supple being. At the age of 43.5 years old I bought myself a guitar, and I have played this glorious instrument every day since then. As I was strumming my first evening with the guitar I discovered a melody that was familiar, but which I could not name. So I posted a video on Facebook of singing and playing this melody on my guitar, asking folks to help me identify the song. In that moment I was motivated only by the desire to learn. I felt totally free to offer my rough draft, my pure novice gist of the song, in service of learning and supported by a sense of joy in discovery.

In that moment of leaping visibly into the unknown, my curiosity was the leading force. This leaping has been an alchemical spark. As I play my guitar I feel deepened, accompanied, centered, strengthened, willing. Through allowing myself ease in rough form visibility I feel myself become increasingly supple and more at ease in my skin.

What yearns for creative expression within your being? What tenderness or encouragement could you, will you, offer to this seed?