That Unrelenting Quest
During last month’s trip to England and Ireland, my husband and I visited Stonehenge. When we arrived at the site, I was disheartened to learn that we could only view this monument from a distance. I had hoped to walk within the circle of stones, looking skyward and immersing myself in the atmosphere created by the mammoth columns silhouetted against the sky.
Despite the barrier, though, there was a deeply spiritual feeling about this place. Faith-filled people thousands of years ago brought these huge monoliths from miles away, honed them with rudimentary tools so they would fit together and remain standing, and arranged them in such a way that they aligned with the sunrise. It was an amazing feat, and thinking about it had a profound impact on me.
Later that afternoon, we visited the cathedral in Salisbury—possibly the oldest cathedral in England. Here was another example of a work that took years to build. Gothic cathedral construction demanded the dedication of generations. A man could work on the building his entire life, and never see the final fruits of all of that labor.
When we arrived at this beautiful church, the Evensong service was just beginning. The sound of the choir’s voices rose to the vaulted ceiling in what I can only describe as celestial harmony. Another powerfully moving experience.
It struck me that both of these edifices, Stonehenge and the Salisbury Cathedral, are reflections of our desire to connect with the divine. Five thousand years ago, five hundred years ago, or five minutes ago, we human beings thirst for the internal peace that comes from an understanding of why we are here. And this longing for certainty about our life purpose can be satisfied through the information contained in our own two hands.
Is that not miraculous?
“If one wants to do something he or she will find a way.
If one does not want to do something he or she will find an excuse.”
Isn’t this a fabulous quotation? It led off an email that an artist colleague forwarded to me today. Sadly, there is no attribution, but the quote certainly resonated.
The quote was followed by a series of beautiful pencil drawings of wild animals. At the end of the email, you learn that these amazing works were created by quadriplegic artist Doug Landis, using a pencil gripped between his teeth.
This is an individual who has certainly found a way. On his website, mouthart.com, he shares his philosophy along with his art. Following a debilitating accident, rather than dwelling on what he couldn’t do, he decided to explore what he could do.
Even though all of my limbs are in fine working order, it’s embarrassingly easy to fall into the excuse trap. And I’m not alone. When family or friends are struggling, my first impulse is to lend an empathetic ear; we all need support and encouragement at one time or another.
But here’s the dilemma—when we continue to dig the same holes for ourselves, it’s time to learn more about why we’re doing it. This is the beauty of discovering our Life Lesson. Understanding and recognizing the challenges that pop up as we try to live our Life Purpose can prepare us to find a way, rather than find an excuse.
Mind Mapping Magic
A number of years ago, a colleague introduced me to the practice of mind mapping. I created a couple of mind maps using paper and pen, but found that I ran out of space before I ran out of ideas. And the computer-based mind mapping program that she shared with me totally overwhelmed my somewhat tech-challenged self.
Enter Bubbl! This is a mindmapping program that is colorful, inviting, and easy to use. Here is a screen shot of one of the mind maps I created using this wonderful resource:
You can create an account on bubbl.us and generate up to three mind maps for free. Or you can pay a modest monthly fee and generate as many mind maps as your innovative brain can produce. You can share your maps with your contacts of choice. You can allow those contacts to ‘read only,’ or you can give them the ability to collaborate with you by making additions to your map.
This non-linear format can be a great resource for ‘right brainers.’ The tool allows you to take all of those marvelous ideas swirling in your head and capture them in one convenient place. And it’s fun!
Now — do you have a favorite organizational tool you'd like to share?
And a Final Art Show Lesson
The arts and crafts show my husband and I coordinated gave us the chance to talk with a lot of people about our art. I like to joke that my work would be appropriate to hang in someone’s home, while Steve’s work is thought-provoking and conversation-generating. He says I’m a realist and he’s a surrealist.
‘Musicians.’ Oil, 18 x 24 inches, by Donna Mills
One thing I noticed, though, is that sharing art in any form brings people together. The conversations and connections created as people strolled from exhibit to exhibit, voicing appreciation as the artists enthusiastically talked about their work, was a great community builder.
On a personal note, a man I generally find challenging to deal with stopped by to view my paintings, and he shared some of his own backround as a watercolorist. When he said he doesn’t paint in oil because he can’t deal with the fumes from the turpenoid, I told him about a product that works as well as turpenoid, but is completely odorless. He expressed appreciation for the recommendation, complimented me on my work, and moved on.
Some of the barriers between us were broken down as a result of that brief conversation. Perhaps next time we meet, we will be able to relate in a more positive way. An unexpected gift of art!
More Art Show Lessons
Before the actual day of the event, I was experiencing a great deal of angst about the success of the art show. What about those two tables I’d reserved for the school children, only to learn the day before that their artwork had never been collected? What if more participants bailed? Why hadn’t I contacted that great photographer specializing in social justice issues earlier, so he could have participated?
The feeling was familiar—it was akin to the experience of giving a party and having lots of people call at the last minute to say they wouldn’t be able to come after all. How would the guests who did come feel? Would they enjoy themselves as much as they would have if everyone had attended? Would we all end up feeling embarrassed?
Thatching, by Donna Mills
Basically, in both of these instances, I was putting myself in the impossible position of trying to control the uncontrollable. I realized that there was no way I could direct the feelings of the participants or dictate the size of the turnout.
What a revelation! I was not responsible for others’ responses! This awareness finally allowed me to let those ridiculous expectations go, actually be present, and enjoy the event. And those who attended took pleasure in the experience and thanked us for coordinating it.
How about you? How often do you create your own crisis by trying to control the uncontrollable?
Lessons from the Art Show
Recently, my husband and I coordinated an arts and crafts fair for our church. This wasn’t a fundraiser or a sale, it was just an opportunity for our community members to share their talents. We had artwork, jewelry, poetry, crochet and needlework, flower arrangements, plants—all sorts of wonderful creations by people we knew as insurance salesmen or high school teachers. I exhibited some of my paintings, too.
One of our church friends is a fine photographer, and I was hoping he would be willing to share his work. But when I asked him, he ducked his head, waved his hand, and said, “No, no, no…” He is a shy person, and somehow it seemed to embarrass him to put his own talent on display.
While I am not shy about showing my paintings (the bird of paradise here is one of them), this experience made me think about how shy I am about discussing my hand analysis business. I hide behind a website, or wait until a friend actually asks me about what I do before mustering the courage to talk about it.
What a lesson for me! If I am not willing to share this transformative gift with others, how will they ever have the chance to see it, learn about it, and improve their lives through it? My keeping quiet is equivalent to my photographer friend keeping his photo library locked in his closed computer—others will never be able to experience the gifts we have to offer.
Last week, my husband and I attended a fundraising event sponsored by the American Red Cross. Wine, cheese, chocolates, harp music, and a silent auction. The venue was a large outdoor courtyard atop a hill overlooking the Los Angeles basin.
It was a perfect summer evening—clear skies, mild temperatures, and a soft breeze. LA can be hot and gritty and crowded and unpleasant, but when it’s beautiful, it’s really beautiful. As I looked out over the courtyard wall, watching the sunset over the mountains, I thought about the contrast between the peace and beauty we were experiencing and the plight of those the Red Cross serves.
Here we are, living in our own home, with food, running water, air conditioning, and a toilet that flushes. There are no soldiers on our street corners, no bomb craters on our sidewalks, and I don’t stand in line behind hundreds of people waiting for a drink of water that won’t make me ill. And we know where our children are and how to reach them.
I’m going to try to remember these things the next time I’m stuck in standstill traffic, or cycling through an endless electronic menu that ends with a click and a dial tone just when a human voice comes on the line. It’s amazingly easy to get myopically enmeshed in my own (truly petty) frustrations.
Considering other people’s life-scale challenges doesn’t render my feelings insignificant, but it certainly does provide a spot of perspective. And it’s a reminder to have tremendous and conscious gratitude for this life of mine—a life that’s been filled with blessings.
Welcome to Treasures Washed Up on the Shore!
I honestly can’t promise that every word that floats through this blog will prove a treasure. But it will be lovely to have a place to converse, express ideas, and highlight some resources.
For starters, in April I pondered my experience with income tax prep (joy joy). Here’s the post:
For the past several days, I’ve been steeped in a great American pastime—preparing my income tax returns. After trying out a new calculation software, and completing 95% of the work, I didn’t feel comfortable with the results. So I decided to start over, using my familiar, used-for-the-past-ten-years program. Our returns have a lot of ins and outs, and trying to answer those computer-screen interview questions was a challenge. I’m convinced the government pays people specifically to make this whole process as complex as possible.
What I noticed is that, until I hit that ‘transmit’ button to send the forms on their virtual flight, I could hardly think about anything else. This sort of focus tends to be a norm for me; if there is a big project hanging over me, it’s hard to devote time and emotional energy to other priorities. A driving force propels me along the path to completion.
When I finally arrive, it’s like dropping a weighty backpack at the end of a long hike. Freedom! It has been a joy to celebrate a day of reveling in completion energy. A few things went by the wayside for a while, but it has been worth it.
How about you? How does hyper-focus show up in your life (or does it)? When you have a big project with a definite deadline, are you able to moderate your focus and work on other priorities (including creative ventures) as well?
What is your strategy?