I’ve been reading an excellent book recently, called “The Artist’s Way”, by Julia Cameron. It’s more than just a book, really. It’s a type of “recovery” process for artist’s who are feeling blocked creatively.
There’s a lot of practical exercises in it to keep yourself present and get the creative juices flowing. One of the things that is helping most is one of the most obvious things a person can do: pay attention.
Julia talks about her grandmother, who had a very difficult life, always losing homes and watching her husband gamble things away. She and her mother would wonder how she handled it.
“The truth is, we all knew how she stood it. She stood it by standing knee-deep in the flow of life and paying close attention. My grandmother was gone before I learned the lesson her letters were teaching: survival lies in sanity, and sanity lies in paying attention. Yes, her letters said, Dad’s cough is getting worse, we have lost the house, there is no money and no work, but the tiger lilies are blooming, the lizard has found that spot of sun, the roses are holding despite the heat. My grandmother knew what a painful life had taught her: success or failure, the truth of a life really has little to do with its quality. The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.”
Later on, Julia says one other significant thing that I have been mulling over for a few weeks now:
“In times of pain, when the future is too terrifying to contemplate and the past too painful to remember, I have learned to pay attention to right now. The precise moment I was in was always the only safe place for me.”
Thank you for that, Julia. This has been such a significant thing to contemplate. I tend to worry about the future. A lot. I try every possibility in my head until I make myself nearly crazy. I’m not so bad about the past, but the future? Wow, cause for anxiety all over the place.
So, paying attention. I have a plant on my window sill, growing in a little silver bucket from Ikea. This plant is significant to me, mainly because it is alive. I have a knack for killing house plants in really short times. Last year alone, I killed 3 cacti, an entire herb garden, including mint (which grows as a weed here in Colorado!), and 2 clean air plants. This one, on my window sill, looks like it was going to die right there along with the others at first. But then, it stayed green. And just a few weeks ago, it started growing. I mean, really growing. It has gained about 8 inches in the past month, which to me is miraculous. So, that is my daily reminder to pay attention. I put it in sight of my desk, where I do my reading and editing. I sit and watch it… just sitting there, so serenely. Today, I staked it up with chopsticks, because I’m such a professional gardener. The new life growing from its branches, as it expands and stretches out… somehow it inspires me. It’s growing, and so am I. Growth is slow, but sometimes it’s noticeable.