Present

Ten years ago or so, I was an artist-in-residence at Windgrove in Tasmania. This month retreat provided me with psychic space to explore and discover the role of walking-in-making, especially when walking in wild and wild-like places, in my creative practice.

Throughout the month experience, I met different people who came to visit Windgrove. One gathering still stands out in my memory. A woman and her teenage children (?) came for lunch and conversation. She was about the age that I am now. She talked about how she had finally found the ability to not dwell on the past or worry about the future but to be joyous in the present.

I remember thinking (in perhaps not my best moment) she had to be one of those new-age hippy dippy people. But I remember it clearly. I can practically see the expression on her face.

Advent Day 23, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

Advent Day 23, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

I wonder if this is something that happens to you in your 40s. There are all kinds of writings going around about the lessons you learn in each decade that you don’t realize until you are in the next decade. But I think I am starting to learn this lesson. Moments gather together more and more lately, where I am joyous in the present. Just as I continue to learn through running and yoga that enduring difficult runs and postures help you handle difficult life situations, so does being blissfully present to exactly what is in the moment.

I definitely fail at this, regularly and often, suffering from incredible amounts of useless anxiety. But right now, this second, to the tips of the little hairs all over my body, I am brimming with joy of only this moment. May you have it too, as much as possible in the days to come.

 

Practice

I made a set of cards for Doug once with the phrase, Practice takes Practice. This card was created in that sentiment. May you have all of this today and throughout the holiday season.

Advent Day 22, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

Advent Day 22, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

Hold Life Open

In Michael Pollen’s book Cooked, in the chapter on Fermentation, he makes some comment along the lines that people who are easily disgusted are often terrified of death. I maybe making that up. I will fact check that. But I am easily disgusted, and I am also terrified of death. I want to hold onto this life with two strong hands for as long as I possibly can. But, then I read today’s entry in my A Year with Rilke, and I have to pause.

Advent Day Twenty-One, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

Advent Day Twenty-One, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

Two inner experiences were necessary for the creation of these books (The Sonnets to Orpheus and The Duino Elegies). One is the increasingly conscious decision to hold life open to death. The other is the spiritual imperative to present, in this wider context, the transformations of love that are not possible in a narrower circle where Death is simply excluded as The Other. 

Letter to Nanny von Escher
December 22, 1923
How about that for something to ponder?

The willingness to stay where we are

The two lessons that continually circle back to me are learning how to be patient and how not to cultivate useless anxiety.

Advent Day Twenty, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

Advent Day Twenty, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

Henri Nouwen wrote this about patience in Eternal Seasons:

A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the fullest in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go elsewhere.

The moment is empty.

But patient people dare to stay where they are. Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there. Waiting, then is not passive. It involves nurturing the moment, as a mother nurtures the child that is growing in her womb.

Most artists understand this concept of patience, the importance of waiting within the creative process for what will be revealed from the work, the making, the thinking.

My friend Jackie Sedlock recently unveiled a series of incredible bowls with various sayings inspired by the Shaker Gift Drawings and songs. She writes this about the drawings:

By the mid-19th century, Mother Ann Lee, the founder and spiritual leader of the Shakers had passed on to the next life and numbers in the community were dwindling. Around this time a small number of women and a few men, or “instruments”, began to make drawings based on visions and visitations by Mother Ann and other departed members of the community. These works were meant to inspire and reassure believers. The drawings were given only to members within the community and not meant for “the world”. This was likely intentional because some are almost psychedelic in nature and would surely have been seen as lunacy by some. Largely forgotten until recently, they are an example of the devotion of the Shakers to God and their spiritual leader. 

Jackie Sedlock Pottery

Jackie Sedlock Pottery

 

One of the bowls says Patience. It’s my bowl now. And I’m looking forward to what it will inspire in me. You can see other bowls like this at her pop-up shop in Williamstown, MA TODAY, or if you miss her, call her to make an appointment. Really great stuff. IMG_4009

Avoid useless labor

There’s a prayer in the Catholic mass, right after the congregation says the Our Father together where the celebrant prays Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. and then invites the congregation to share a sign of peace–a handshake, hug, kiss.

The part where the celebrant prays to “protect us from all anxiety” was always my favorite line. There was one priest, I think he had been a former Army chaplain, who used to say mass occasionally at Saint Raphael’s in Williamstown.  He always, without fail, altered that prayer to this: Protect us from all useless anxiety, with extra emphasis on the useless part. It simultaneously cracked me up, and inspired me. Today’s collage, while slightly different, is made with that intention in mind. May we all be protected from useless anxiety, useless labor, useless whatever.

Advent Day Nineteen, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

Advent Day Nineteen, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

The capacity to be alone

From Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, Rome, December 23, 1903, as translated by Johanna Macy in Anita Barrows in A Year with Rilke.

I often return to this passage, especially during this time of year when in the midst of all the celebrating there are these moments of pure aloneness. This passage often helps me through it.

Could there be a solitude that had no value to it? There is only one solitude; it is vast and hard to bear How often do we gladly exchange it for any kind of sociability, however trivial and cheap, or trade it for the appearance of agreement, however small, with the first person who comes along. But those may be the very moments when your solitude can grow; its growing is painful as the growing of girls and boys and sad as the beginning of spring. But don’t be confused. ALl that is needed is the capacity to be alone with yourself, to go into yourself and meet no one for hours–that is what you need to achieve. To be alone, the way you were as a child, when the grown-ups walked around so busy and distracted by matters that seemed important because they were beyond your comprehension. 

Advent Day Eighteen, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

Advent Day Eighteen, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

Here and Now

In 2010 I was lucky enough to participate in Phase Two of Monstress Productions experiment entitled Here & Now. I don’t remember how I received the little envelope, but I did. The packet contained 24 stickers printed with the word NOW. I was instructed to distribute them along my usual daily path. And, when I would encounter them later, I was supposed to “use it as a cue to breathe and concentrate on the present moment for a short respite.” This testing eventually evolved into a line of products that you can explore here.

Advent Day Seventeen, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

Advent Day Seventeen, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

I still encounter those stickers from time to time along my daily path, which has changed in a variety of ways since 2010. And whenever I do, I still stop and try to use that moment for a short respite.

Let it Breathe…

One of my first projects in graduate school found me making “prints” of my hands. I made detailed linocuts of my fingerprint pattern, digital maps of my hands as well as an installation of handmade paper hands that hung from the ceiling. (This last one was one of my first experiments with “print” or shall I say the multiple as installation–which still fascinates me.)

But the hand.

Advent Day 16, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

Advent Day 16, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

I love my hands. I could not do my work without them. I try very very hard to take care of them, protect them, respect them and express my gratitude for them. They have certainly gotten in the way of sharp and heavy equipment, but thankfully, nothing too, too awful.

Since that project in grad school 10 years ago, I often find myself returning to some words one of my cousin’s wrote in response to a call for thoughts about the hands that I put out to my email list. This is what she shared:

As for the hands…on my own hands (as well as at the corners of my eyes) there are several prominent lines formed by the cyclic pattern of trying to learn the main lessons of my life–the themes I was born with that I keep coming back to over and over. It’s as if I can’t learn the whole thing in one sitting. I learn some and walk away to assimilate. Once this is accomplished and further along the path I find myself before the same lesson, student to the next bit of information I can handle. And I walk away again to make it part of me. They are definitely life themes, and as I look back over my days I see the spiral of coming back deeper each time. It’s a pretty spiritual event for me…God definitely is an educator. 

These words sat strongly with me then, and again now, especially as I watch those lines get a little deeper and more abundant.

The text Let it Breathe, parallels what I often say to myself, Let it Go…wishing that to you today.

Between mountains

Sometimes I have no idea what I am making. Today is one of those days. I look forward to ten months from now when I will take this pile of Advent collages out of the box and look at them again. I often need time and space away from looking at the work to help me figure out if I like it and/or what it means. The collages that I “like” becomes irrelevant, it will change, I’m sure.

Advent Day Fifteen, 2015, Melanie Mowinski

Advent Day Fifteen, 2015, Melanie Mowinski

I have no idea where this collage came from. I don’t even know if I like it. I also don’t know if it is finished. Part of the imagery surfaced in my imagination while I was running. Maybe you can tell me what it means to you. What I will tell you is this, while I was making it I dropped into the flow, and I wish you a moment like that today and everyday.

 

Go out of the way…

During the week of prep for the PRESS Calendar Release Party, right after Thanksgiving, I got sick. I’m not a very good sick person. I don’t rest or sit still very well. But I tried. I even took a half sick day. When I finally arrived one of my students looked at me and said, “You must really not feel well. In the nearly five years I’ve been at MCLA you have never taken a sick day.”

Sometimes we must go out of the way to pull back and do that thing that is so hard for us to do. Feel, rest, be silent, speak up, be present.

Advent Day Fourteen, 2014

Advent Day Fourteen, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

One of the blogs I try to read regularly is My Soul in Silence Waits. The blog is a compendium of insights, quotes, prayers and ideas that has helped draw the author closer to God. Whenever an email arrives with a new post, it contains familiar voices and inspiring statements, and I want to return to it again and again. Maybe you will too. The below are writings from this recent post, reminding me to rest.

Rest is the conversation between what we love to do and how we love to be. Rest is not stasis but the essence of giving and receiving. Rest is an act of remembering, imaginatively and intellectually, but also physiologically and physically. To rest is to become present in a different way than through action, and especially to give up on the will as the prime motivator of endeavor, with its endless outward need to reward itself through established goals. To rest is to give up on worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we put it right; to rest is to fall back, literally or figuratively from outer targets, not even to a sense of inner accomplishment or an imagined state of attained stillness, but to a different kind of meeting place, a living, breathing state of natural exchange…
— David Whyte from Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words

You rest now. Rest for longer than you are used to resting. Make a stillness around you, a field of peace. Your best work, the best time of your life will grow out of this peace.
― Peter Heller from The Painter

Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.
― Maya Angelou from Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now