Life is a lot different than 3 months ago. I wear puffy jackets (even inside now), drink a lot more cappuccinos and enjoy the view of a cityscape and snow capped mountains. No more tank tops, jungles, beaches, howling monkeys and sunsets of rural Costa Rican life.
More change is happening on my inside too. We went to Costa Rica to take a break, have a long vacation, let the kids have a cultural experience and a reset our family and social life. It was a cleanse. It was a challenge of personal learning.
We are glad to be home. Seattle is a homecoming and a re-envisioning. But we aren’t settled. We are living at my mothers – its a long story. I’m homeschooling my dyslexic son and my daughter is working through fifth grade online. My kids are always around. I don’t have a studio. I’m painting in my mom’s living room. There is a lot of ambiguity to deal with; schools, houses, friends, careers. I’m not complaining, am I?
It isn’t very inspiring.
I love the curvy highs of newness and surprises which include all the wonderful surprises of being home. Thankfully, after the high, I haven’t crashed into brooding regret or remorse or shock, but I have slowly slipped back into a quiet yet unproductive routine. Fundamental questions need answering; a job for my husband, schools for kids, places to live, my place in the Seattle art scene.
I like to think we are incubating. In other words, tending to transitions, cultivating newness and preparing for the future. Incubating at 40-something with kids in tow is tricky. It is a stale in-between, motionless and grey. I am holding my breath and when I exhale a barrage of restless questions are released.
Aren’t I too old for this? When can I paint? Or work on my vision? What did that time in Costa Rica mean? What do I really want? How can I be productive? How can I find space for me? How can I really lean into my art career and vision in Seattle? Why do I feel so restless?
Questions are so exhausting.
The answers take time and research and reality checks. There isn’t much room for newness, creativity or adventure…
But wait! I protest! There is always room, but how?
This is a delicate art, this living in between. Seriously. The repercussions suck. Unhappy me is a pain in the *ss to live with. My temperament is demanding. I’m greedy for novelty and clarity. Tending to this greed takes vigilance and persistence. I’m on the hunt to pinning down clarity. I’ve become a stalker of it.
The good news is that I might finally be on to a secret recipe.
Start with the Body: Stay Healthy and Active.
I go to the gym five days a week. Yes, even when I’m sick and injured. Maybe I’m crazy or maybe I’m a warrior. I lift weights. I love kettle bells, deadlifts and muscles. I run, row and bike. I learn my limits, push them and come back a little stronger. Progress inspires me. I started this habit five years ago and my day doesn’t start without it. It is general body maintenance. Strength is fundamental.
It’s a start to the day but fitness doesn’t end in the gym and to truly appreciate my strength I need to apply it. Seattle has excellent rock climbing and a fun community. I prescribe myself at least two days a week. I love it. There is a zen calm, peace and merging of movement and mind in climbing. I can’t explain it. It’s akin to yoga but on a wall. Plus the exhilaration of achieving a tough technical climb is leaning into the edge of fear and accomplishment and harvesting real (for me) joy.
Clarity begins with the body and physical motion. My brain just doesn’t kick in without it. But it certainly doesn’t stop there. I can still look back on a day and think that a little body maintenance is the only thing I accomplished that day. Really, that doesn’t cut it.
When I realize this, I want to kick a wall, hard.
A Clarity of Mind: Cultivate Gratitude
I’m a lucky girl. But I’m also a restless girl. I’m happy but I want more, always. I accept this wanting because I really can’t control it. There is a lot of work to be done to match my ambition. So I strive for balance between constant desire and authentic gratitude.
I hate and resent it, but I meditate about 5 or 6 days a week. Before you get too excited, let me clarify that usually this is only for 4-9 minutes a day. Baby steps. And I’m horrible at it. My brain is a constant source of thoughts and ciriticism. I try to recognize it and not associate with it. I think it is working, the balance commitment, but I can’t be sure.
More productively, I journal every morning. I joined a twelve week class on Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way”. This book inspired me to paint almost 18 years ago, and Morning Pages are critical to its success. The Morning Pages are 3 pages of stream of consciousness writing done every morning. Sometimes I hate it but most of the time it clears the weight of my thoughts that I wake with and keeps me focused on positivity.
The combination of journaling and meditating is a sweet spot for me. Like good gardening practices, my mind and priorities reveal themself under these conditions. Sweet clarity is within reach.
Clearing Time: Where does it Go?
Without time, I can’t accomplish anything. This is a frustrating truth.
In January, the only thing I was able to squeeze into a day was gym time, schooling the kids and obsessing about politics. But how could I have no time? The hours barely added up to 5 and yet I was sure that I had no time.
So, I paid really close attention to my time. Where was it going and what was I allowing to happen? What was I doing when I got home from the gym? What did I do after the schooling the kids? The answer, I’m ashamed, to admit, was some form of tired, distracted or frustrated. I read random articles from Facebook. I skimmed my phone and researched apps. I messaged a few people. I researched random questions about whatever floated into my mind. I watched the kids, played games with them and mediated their fights. In short, I was doing a whole lot of nothing but making excuses and wasting time.
Then, I got real and took control of my time. I signed the kids up for a science Winter Break camp. They were gone from 8:30 – 4pm Monday through Friday. I dared myself to paint all day without excuses. I did paint. It was bliss. I made serious headway on “Renewal” a large scale painting (see picture). By the end of the week I was asking myself how I could keep this blissful painting habit going. I didn’t want my kids back.
The answer was ridiculously simple. I told the kids I had to paint and I reserved studio time from 8:30 am – 10:30 am. During that time I’m unreachable, even if I am in the living room. It is magic. They work on self-directed activities and we all get a chance to be productive on our own terms. In hindsight, I was using my kids as excuses to keep me from being productive.
I banned Social Media for a week as prescribed by Julia Cameron. It was blissful quiet time. My thoughts were completely my thoughts. I didn’t realize how toxic and infecting it was until I left. And guess what? It is possible to be politically engaged without always being enraged and shocked. When it comes to politics, Social Media is all emotion and no motion. Absent that mind-crowding, my day and mood got a lot lighter.
Most importantly, with a little give in my day, I assessed all my projects and picked my top three. I have large scale, medium and small project, goldilocks style. Done. I’m not hanging onto anything else and I’m just focusing on these guys. When there is a window of time, I have three things to choose from and I do it.
The result? The day is lifted of gunkiness, the creepy stickiness that can slow me down and the mindlessness that makes days just slip by.
A Life of Little Gifts
Then, magically, “Yes” happened.
“Yes”, I said this to myself. Yes, I can accomplish these three things. Yes, I can take a mosaic class. I can take a painting class. I can be alone and take time away from the kids. I can limit planning to one plan a day. I can put myself first, and everyone will actually take care of themselves. Yes, I did this and yes, everyone is just fine. Not only fine, but awesome. Because of this, I want to give more yes-es more freely to everyone. Yes makes everyone happy.
With the time, heart and mind open to give YES, lots of YES-es, each day is a journey of little gifts both given and received. I love these little gifts. Gifts are magic.
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