created nor destroyed…the total amount of mass and energy in the universe is constant. —Law of Conservation of Mass, discovered by Antoine Lavoisier in 1785
matter: the formless substratum of all things which exists only potentially and upon which form acts to produce realities —Merriam Webster
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of matter and how I spend my time, resources, and energy. I’m not a first responder, teacher, food producer, or any of the many admirable front line workers that kept us going during this remarkably challenging COVID19 year.
I’m an artist and making things and thinking about making things takes up a lot of my time…most actually. I think in potential constantly to produce other realities.
So, does making art in my basement studio matter in any way right now?
I just don’t know.
Here’s what I do know. I was unsettled the other day. I cleaned my studio. There was a lot of cardboard. I rescued it from the recycling. I created the work below. I felt much more settled.
Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.
It’s uniquely warm in northern Vermont today. In the predawn hour, I made coffee then sat out on my deck for a while listening to the honking of geese, early morning traffic sounds, and autumn leaves rustling. I felt a slight breeze on my face…so lovely.
All we have is here and now…
The lyrics from Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warner’s 1980s hit Up Where We Belong have been camping out in my psyche for the last few days. I thought I better explore them further…turns out they have a pretty good message.
Some hang on to used to be Live their lives looking behind All we have is here and now All our lives, out there to find
The road is long There are mountains in our way But we climb a step every day
I know my thoughts of the past(or the stories I attach to them anyway) sometimes make me feel like a victim of sorts. And when I’m feeling anxious (fearful) about the future, those jangly thoughts will gleefully swoop in with a dizzying amount of bullshit that can affect every aspect of my life. Presence makes me calmer. That calm makes me a better human, partner, parent, and friend.
All I have is here and now...
Up Where We Belong is the theme song to the 1982 film, An Officer and A Gentleman. I just had to share a short memory with you. When I was in high school, my newly married sister and I took our grandmother to see the matinee after a day of shopping in Sioux Falls. I had never seen a movie with my grandmother before, let alone one with sex scenes…good grief. My grandmother covered her eyes with a sneaky, slightly open hand during those scenes hoping we wouldn’t notice. 😃 After the movie, we had to stop for gas on the way home. Laurie got out to pump, my grandmother was flabbergasted, she turned and said, “Your grandfather would be so disappointed if he saw that his granddaughter pumping her own gas.”. Cheers to those memories that make us giggle.
Now that I’m fifty-four and finally growing up, I’m trying to make a daily, or hell hourly grand bargain with myself of more presence. I’m discovering that staying in the moment gives me some emotional agility that helps me better handle whatever’s thrown my way…grandma was really onto something while we watched An Officer and A Gentleman. She was a very anxious woman, but in that moment she chose presence with her granddaughters and it was just wonderful.
My memories will forever come and go, shifting in both context and intensity as the years roll by. I don’t want to live in a constant state of regret, longing, or fear. I want to live in the fullness of the present. I know I will often fail and let my mind race. My grand bargain to myself is to keep trying to stay more in the moment.
The principal mode by which people are infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is through exposure to respiratory droplets carrying infectious virus. Source: CDC.gov
The principal mode by which people can be infected with ANXIETY (FEAR) is through repeated exposure to someone carrying ANXIOUS & UNSETTLED ENERGY.
anxiety: apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness usually over an impending or anticipated ill
anxiety (medical): an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.
Source: Merriam Webster
I don’t want community spread of my free-floating (airborne) anxiety and I don’t want to pick up the anxiety of others either. Not infecting those I’m in contact with is my desired outcome.
When I feel that anxiousness rising, thinking about something calm helps me tremendously. Noticing takes a lot of deliberate & regular practice. I’m trying to be patient with myself while I’m in training.
Do you catch my drift?
As M.A.S.H.’s, Hawkeye famously replied in season 2 episode 15, “I played Left Drift in high school”.
Ah, I miss you Dad. 💜
I’ve discovered a quick visual when I feel my discomfort rising—the bubble in a level…a vintage, weathered flea market level of course. If I’m able to level myself even a little bit, I can stop or at least slow the spread of my contagious anxiety.
Notice how this level is a bit higher on the right side? The table wasn’t even, I had to make a few quick adjustments to get the bubble centered…catch my drift?
When my friend Jon and I couldn’t figure out what to do with our 8ish-year-old selves, we often walked around town and picked up trash. Right now, I sometimes don’t exactly know what to do with myself (you know, given the state of the world and all). So here I am, a 53-year-old woman, once again, walking around town picking up trash.
You know what’s pretty cool about this? I’ve discovered I have a superpower. I can spot inorganic matter like nobody’s business.
INORGANIC: not arising from natural growth (Merriam Webster)
Sometimes inorganic matter is very obvious…
Other times it’s barely detectable…
As I walked along the beach, I thought about the concept of organic and inorganic as they relate to our feelings. Organic emotions are what we know on some deep, cellular level. Inorganic emotions are planted by others and adopted as our own over time.
LOVE is organic, we’re born with it.
HATE is taught and learned, very inorganic.
Twenty-four-hours of news television, radio, and social media are inorganic. Talking heads paid to tell us who to fear, what to buy, and who or what we are supposed to hate is far from organic. All of those media platforms make a lot of money off of our thoughts and clicks.
This dangerously inorganic system was designed to make us fearful, divided, anxious, angry, and uncertain. Sadly, it’s working like a charm.
Searching for personal understanding is challenging (and exhausting)—especially during an election year with a world-wide pandemic causing health, economic. educational, and employment chaos.
Q. With so much uncertainty in the world, how can we keep inorganic matter from clouding our inner knowing?
A. Notice. Practice. Repeat.
This was one of the oddest group of items I’ve happened upon so far—an attachment for a vacuum cleaner, a s’more stick still in plastic, orange netting. and an ant covered coconut chunk. I could easily concoct a narrative about why these items fit together. I didn’t bother though.
I left a chunk of the coconut, I thought some kid on the beach would get a kick out of seeing the ants chomping away. Organic, yet out of context…worthy of some good ole’ fashioned pondering.
macro: intended for use with relatively large quantities or on a large scale
A constant macro view can be exhausting—wasting our time and talents. Most days require us to narrow our focus, take a micro view, and determine where & how we can make the most difference to the people and circumstances we face in our lives.
anxious: characterized by extreme uneasiness of mindabout some contingency
contingency: an event that may but is not certain to occur
READ THIS OUT LOUD TO YOURSELF:
extreme uneasiness of mind about an event not certain to occur
Why are we spending so much time thinking about our hypothetical futures?
Anxiety is at epidemic proportions in the world. I’m personally having far too many sleepless nights lately. I want to get a handle on my it before it affects my health, my choices and how I respond to events in my life, both big and small.
Research always makes me feel settled down. I dug in this morning.
FAST COMPANY ARTICLE BY HALEY GOLDBERG: “When we stare into a fuzzy crystal ball, it’s easy to start to worry about what’s inside, like a present we can never unwrap. And it feels productive. Studies show that we often believe worrying can prevent negative outcomes or it can help us find a better way of doing things.” FAST COMPANY ARTICLE
These three words really stood out to me…it feels productive. “FEELS” is the cue I needed to settle my brain down a little bit. Feels implies it isn’t productive at all, our brain has been tricked into thinking that the act of worrying is somehow keeping bad things from happening.
If my brain can be TRICKED, then my brain can also call bullshit when it notices the trickery. Not every time, but with practice, at least increase the frequency of noticing.
Today, I feel anxious about a few big things happening in my life right now…my father is in the hospital, my three young adult children are all in transition and my life is going to change quite dramatically in the next few months. And yet…
“I know what to do, even when I don’t know what to do.”
I’m trying to remind myself that, even though THE FUTURE IS AND ALWAYS WILL BE UNCERTAIN, I believe I can handle whatever the universe throws at me.
Handling it, might mean falling apart, calling upon my team to steady me and going through a period of deep grief and sorrow.
Correct me if I’m wrong, that’s still handling it, right?
This week I read that forgiveness will only occur when we recognize that we can no longer change our past. That’s a relatively simple concept. I’m able to intellectually grasp it and yet…why am I wasting time with would of, could of & should of thoughts? If thinking about my past can give me the blues and worrying about the future causes anxiety, why am I doing it? I don’t have to feel this way. I have a choice.
My past is my life’s circumstance.
I cannot possibly change one thing.
My future is uncertain.
The only certainty is that my life will contain both joy & some devastating heartbreak.
I’m neglecting my NOW.
What can I do?
I tried saying to myself what I’m doing at any given moment.
“I’m calling the dentist now.”
“I’m watching a video my daughter wants to share with me.”
“I’m checking my email now.”
“I’m listening to (insert the name of everyone you encounter) now.”
You know what? This really helps. It slows time down and reminds me that I’m doing this one thing right now. When I practice this, I feel more in control and less manipulated by those lousy would of, could of & should of thoughts.
“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have.”
It seems damn near revolutionary to try to be more present is our distracted world.