Saturday, January 21, 2012

What You Can

I am somewhere, there are mountains and other women; it is a retreat center run by nuns. We have listened to a survivor of Hiroshima, Koko Kondo, tell her story. I think of how our thoughts and ideas shape our actions. I came here stewing about whether it matters or not if I write, why do I cook time-consuming meals that my children don't really want to eat, and generally, why do I make efforts that are not necessarily appreciated or needed by others, only to me. This thought cycles through my being from time to time.

I sat in a drawing workshop this afternoon. We drew emotion words like joy, anger, and energy with colors and in shapes, but no faces, no flowers. The word I most effectively drew in color and shape was "illness." I can see it and feel it in color more than the other words as I have some nonverbal intimacy with it- from being a nurse and from being with others as they cope with it. Maybe too illness is such a difficult place with few words to describe it that it is easier to sense with color, with shape.

After we do drew the emotions, we drew words that describe our life now and words we'd like in our lives a year from now. It was interesting to see which colors and shapes repeated and recurred under different words and feelings. One participant said, "I was a preschool teacher. We talked about process, not product when we talked about what the children did." Adult life focuses on the product and forgets the process. Process is when you paint with water colors to express joy; product is when you paint a ship. Process is when you play how depression sounds on an instrument; product is when you play a song. Focusing on process helped me with my ongoing wrestle of "does it matter?"

Gradually these processes take shape like a quilt that comes together with it's many stitches and pieces of fabric, but it is in the doing: the busyness of our hands, the overflow of our hearts, and the resting of our bodies, that the shaping is done. A product comes from a process. We look at an object and recognize meaning, but we can know it more deeply if we also bring it forth. Mrs. Kondo said as a child, as an adult, at different times, she said, "I can't do much." She also said that people came to her and asked for help and she always said, "I will do what I can."

Maybe my process is to cook, to write. Maybe my truth, if it's true, helps expose yours. Maybe my truth isn't true, but an illusion, and so by exposing it to light, to others, it falls away and allows for something new. John O'Donohue, in a talk about creativity, said too many minds are "populated by other people's furniture." Maybe what I think is mine is really someone else's truth. If I do to do and not for an end result, perhaps this process is enough.

The task of gathering the scattered bits of light in the universe needs a heart to guide it to new places. If we create without concern for if it will last; if we do what comes from the center of our being; we are doing as much as we can. It isn't much, but it is enough.
Before we Started the drawing workshop