At our last art and faith retreat in June, the theme was Flourishing in the Unexpected. This flourishing is about staying present to the moment even when our instincts tell us to disengage, run in fear, tense up, or take control.
Take a breath, pause, and distance ourselves from the reaction we are feeling. Then letting it go to trust in God and walk through the situation with Him. This is abandonment to God as Madame Guyon talks about it.
Abandonment - it is not about doing so much as being still and receiving. The Interior is not a stronghold to be taken by storm and violence, but a kingdom of peace, which is to be gained only by love. ( p. 36, A Short Method of Prayer, Madame Guyon)
I have felt overwhelmed at times over the last few months. One day, after I had finished talking to two different clients and still needed to write up the quotes, I came out to the kitchen for lunch and my daughter was there. As we talked, I became aware of how tense my shoulders were. The conversations had not been tense or difficult in any way, but I had so many other tasks and appointments ahead that I was just feeling overwhelmed. My daughter started rubbing my shoulders and told me to just breathe. (which is what we have been encouraging her to do as she has dealt with her own issues)
As I breathed and allowed my body to relax, the tension eased. My perspective shifted. All the items on my to do list didn’t magically disappear. But as I distanced myself from my reaction by breathing, I could see that my fear of failure and worry about what others think of me had coloured my view, again. As I let it go, I could again trust God to walk with me through it, trusting that what needs to get done today, would get done.
The Enneagram has been helpful for me as I come to understand myself in these situations. The fears I have, the things that trigger my ego to panic/ survival mode, are not going to go away. I have been working on these patterns for 53 years. But as I breathe and separate myself from the reaction, I can sometimes let my ego go and trust God instead of myself.
Flourishing in the unexpected is not about great success or everything going great. Instead it is a willingness to trust God, let go of our hold/desire for control of the situation, just breathe and relax. It is learning to trust God with the process of our lives, walking forward on the journey into pain and suffering, joy and sorrow, fear and disappointment and hope.
Ways I Work on Listening
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Fall is here, the branches are bare, and the bitter cold winds are back. I brought my flowers in from the deck in to enjoy until they were done. My Gerber Daisy bloomed again, and the others have not stopped blooming. The flowers are all straining toward the window for the glimpse of light upon their faces.
They take up space on my office floor near the sliding glass door, but it is worth a little crowding to see beauty right there as I work. So fun to extend the season of growth and blooming as we move into shorter days and longer nights.
Seasons are not only about weather and nature, we human beings have our seasons as well. As I reflect on the last few months, this has been a season of learning to be present to what is right in front of me today. The outdoor painting excursions (plein air) over the summer and early fall were, perhaps, the greatest example of this. Covid 19 shutdown all of my indoor classes, but the outdoors were beautiful after all the rain in June and July, so we went outside. And there we learned to be present to and see the beauty right in front of us.
With all of the changes due to covid, the daily news, learning new ways of doing things and uncertainties of what is coming next, I looked forward to each plein air session. As I ended the plein air season, I started the online class and we have had three of the four sessions. Although well received, it has been a big learning curve, but I am adjusting and modifying it as we go along. (I had to try different tripods, and get a new piece, an arm extension, for my tripod to make it work better.) In the last session, I had us all painting the same flower (the one blooming in my office). I tell myself that I do not have to figure it all out, and I can ask for help, which allows me to be present and take one step at a time.
This all led to my thinking about the passage in Ecclesiates 3 that
1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
For each statement there is an antithesis. Opposites. Even extreme opposites. As I looked at the passage this morning, I realize I prefer to focus on the positive sides: to plant, to heal, to build to laugh, to dance, etc. There are times when the opposite is necessary: to grieve, to die, to throw away, to speak, to hate, etc. But there is an in between place that is not spoken in some of these, not necessarily a wishy-washy middle ground either, but another space of time to be in. I decided to find the in between space for each. Here are my results:
Born – die… there is a time to live;
plant – uproot… there is a time to grow, flourish and even harvest
kill – heal… there is a time to get along with each other, respect, nurture each other
tear down – to build… there is a time to take care of what is there, appreciate what you have
weep – laugh… there is a time to just breathe
mourn – dance… there is a time to just be
scatter – gather… there is a time to not take personally what others do
Embrace – refrain form embracing… there is a time to just be together
Search – give up… there is a time to let go
Keep – throw away… there is a time to reuse, recycle, repair
Tear and mend… there is a time to clean and take care of
To be Silent – to speak out… there is a time to be yourself
To Love and to hate… there is a time to accept others as different from yourself
War and peace… there is a time to forgive
I cannot change others, or the world, but I can work on myself. What season or time are you in?
For this commissioned painting, Lilac Garden, I recently finished, I imagined a place of peace and rest. I would like to sit and enjoy a garden like that. I am so glad they liked the painting!
I used eggshells and sand for the texture of the wall and sawdust for texture in the ground. The stone path was also of eggshells. It is a fun way to create texture. The bench was made from acrylic paint I mixed and poured out on plastic so it would be like a “skin” of paint. I cut out the bench and attached it over the painting for another 3D effect.
As I write this, I am sitting on our deck in the cooler morning hours, listening to the variety of birdsong around me. and enjoying the beauty of the flowers in planters. This year for one of the pots, I chose a flame colored dahlia which I started to paint in watercolor to capture its translucent, brilliant beauty. I am including a short video here of the first part of the painting.
Since Easter, I have been noticing our resident hawk. I noticed when it looked like he got a mate. Since June started, I have been too preoccupied to notice, but this week, I discovered that the hawks have now become a family of five. They were all sitting in a tree together sitting perfectly still as the sun came up. Alittle while later, two of the younger ones were calling out and flying in circles like two children at play. I had wondered why I was hearing the call of this bird more frequently throughout the neighborhood. The “youngsters” actively and incessantly voice their flights, more so than the parents.
I love that even in the city, we can see and hear the beauty of the natural world if I stop long enough to notice, to sit and just “be present.”
The idea of sitting still is foreign to our culture. It has taken work, but I find myself sitting and not feeling a need to always do something. I must admit that I easily fall back into doing mode and wander around lost when I have nothing pressing on me to get done. I can feel the difference when I am racing around, exhaustedly trying to get a lot done; when I push myself past where I should have stopped or rested. But I find if I maintain being present as I work, pausing to smell the flowers and listen to the birds, I am more awake, alert and relaxed to deal with whatever comes my way. It is more peaceful and I feel content.
In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. Is 30: 15
We enjoyed a week with our children and grandchildren around. I had lots of opportunity to practice just being present with everyone and enjoying the time we had together. Like the young hawks, children have a lot more energy and keep the rest of us moving. So thankful for the visit with all of them!