It’s odd and instructive how a word or a phrase can lodge, a seed in my being, send its roots down, and ultimately bloom.
“With” is one of those words, and it carries the essence and power of Mother.
Staywithme here. This isn’t your dinner order preposition, as in “I’ll have the ravioli with marinara sauce.” Or one of the common public conversation identifiers of the day, as in “I’m with her.” That’s the grammatical role of a preposition in speech: to establish a relationship between two things.
See what happens when you just let “with” roll around slowly in your mouth, in your being, as a flavorof relationship.
What sensations, feeling-state, associations arise?
What nourishment is there for your receiving?
Does it feel personal, as if it is meant just for you?
Does it feel somehow timeless and eternal?
Some mix of the two?
“With” as the essential nature and essence of Mother has been with me for several decades, since early on in my training as a nondual Kabbalistic healer.
ii. ”the held-back goodness of the heart”
“the held-back goodness of the heart” leaped off the page* and took hold of me last week. Perhaps because these days I am so aware of my stash and the unwelcome Withholding One in me who I repeatedly exile to the unheated anteroom of my life.
There are nuances to my withholding, each supported by an assumption.
reserved: goodness I set aside, a vintage wine I am willing break out for occasions that meet my personal standard for worthiness.
saved up: goodness is “mine,” I have mistakenly concluded, and therefore is in limited and nonrenewable supply.
salted away: goodness is seasonal, reckons the squirrelly part of me. It comes and goes, and I’d better collect it when I can. Hmm, so it is not mine exactly.
stockpiled, hoarded: similar to salted away, but infused with dread that some peculiar Edward Gorey-like event will forever seal me off from any access to goodness.
Notice that the nuances are in my withholding. Goodness itself is unchanging. It doesn’t vary in quality or go bad, like those food storage experiments lingering at the back of the fridge.
Notice that scarcity arises from my misunderstanding that I am the only source of goodness. The Sane One in me wholeheartedly testifies that goodness is both boundless and ever-present.
Goodness itself is mine, part and parcel of my imperfect human life and even my personality, yet not something I personally own.
With: timeless and eternal, how I am nourished and nourish others.
Mother: timeless and eternal, no matter what.
*The phrase is from Beautiful Painted Arrow (Joseph Rael), co-author with David Kopacz MD of Walking the Medicine Wheel, Healing Trauma and PTSD. Thanks to my dear writing buddy Deborah Green for gifting me with the book.
Ever wondered why you go through periods of feeling disoriented and clumsy? As far as you know, you have never been visited by leprechauns, but nothing is quite as you left it. Maybe you notice that you’re walking into walls. Dropping things. Reaching for a fork and instead picking up the spoon that sits right next to it.
A life transition – even diving deep into inner work on a retreat – can shake me up. Raise better questions than I’ve become accustomed to asking. Disturb the location of my beliefs and prejudices. Bring forward what has been lurking in the background.
Integrating new understandings is a physical as well as a mental process.
It can take my body some time to catch up with this beneficial mischief.
by Sara Eisenberg
I could say “Elves,” but it’s not elves exactly,
who stole into my house late Tuesday night
to make mercurial mischief of walls and many sticks
Nothing is quite where I left it. As I left it.
Certitudes, laws of physics, mirrors.
I knock the orange ceramic bowl up against the blue one,
shattering its edge: the space between hand and bowls and counter has shifted a little to
the right or left.
I pick up the glass of iced tea at lunch and generously spill it over onto my blue jeans.
My shoulder and hip bump into a wall that now extends where the kitchen door on its hinges stood yesterday.
Basic math is unbruised, long division still works.
But nouns and verbs, cause and effect have gone all wavy, bobbing along and trading seats.
Assumptions, beliefs, conclusions, doubts, all
You see how things are mis-placed, the rabbits are all out of hiding?
My clumsiness, isn’t it where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Rather, say what’s left of the original owner has been given safe passage
while my entire interior fields are ploughed under.
I’m delighted to continue my interview series by introducing visual artist Sheri Hoeger. Her recent series of paintings, A Touch of Hands: An Invitation to Loving Connection tells the story of Sheri’s personal journey towards wholeness, integration, and a new sense of mission in her art.
Sheri and I “met” as we responded to writing prompts through Tracking Wonder’s Quest 2016. We found we share a love of the textures of bark, sand, and rust, photos of our loved ones from the back – and the preciousness of waking up to life in each moment, whether that be a moment of joy, sorrow, or dailiness.
In her early adult years, Sheri’s work as a manicurist hinted at where she might be heading. Introduced to the airbrush, she brought out the beauty of her clients’ hands, garnering a local reputation for her custom nail designs. Then, as an interior decorative artisan since 1988, Sheri applied her skills to walls, floors, fabric, furniture and accessories.
Demand for her designs led her to launch her stencil line in 1992 as The Mad Stencilist. Her work has been featured in numerous books, magazines and on television. As lead designer and director of Big Oak Arts, she offered workshops and classes in the fine and decorative arts nestled in a beautiful setting in the Sierra foothills in Placerville, California.
This brings us to A Touch of Hands: An Invitation to Loving Connection, a series of paintings that Sheri describes as her “real” work– the result of her journey of recovery after the loss of three siblings in two years.
The project transforms the most painful time of the artist’s life into a “celebration of all the things a touch of hands can mean.” A celebration, too, of what she describes as her own “mindful practice of reaching out and sharing more, day in and day out. Folding it into my habits like chocolate chips into the dough.”
I am deeply touched by Sheri’s story. While two of her siblings lay dying, she took photos of one of her hands holding one of theirs- “clasped in love and pain and support, knowing their time here was not to be long.” She filed the pictures away, telling herself, “Some day, when I’m ready to do my serious artwork, I will paint them.”
After her losses, Sheri didn’t “soldier on.” She kindly allowed herself the time necessary to recuperate, and months later, she struck up a friendship with another woman. While listening to a presentation one evening, Sheri’s friend held her hand, and then snapped a picture of their hands with her phone camera. When Sheri received this photo in a text the following morning, she realized the synchronicity. Her friend didn’t know about the pictures Sheri had filed away. The time had come.
Sheri launched her A Touch of Hands series in the fall, her “straight-from-the-gut-through-the-heart work,” with an interactive Facebook page where she invites her readers to post photos of hands and the stories behind them.
A keen observer, Sheri is able to hold the beauty of the world along with the difficulties and complications of life. With honesty AND kindness, she acknowledges the messiness and then chooses to make something beautiful in response.
I trained myself to lock onto what I find beautiful that is right in front of me. Even in the most dire of circumstances the sight of an egret or the croak of a frog can lift my spirits. It triggers my sense of wonder, which brings me joy. It comforts me to know that all the rhythms of life are underlying even my saddest song. ~Sheri Hoeger
Sheri’s open-heartedness is married to her openhandedness: kindness, generosity, risk-taking, a mastered paintbrush. This allows her to transform photographic images with her intention, heart and brushstrokes, into living portraits of relationship.
There is such potent healing power in the way she connects people to the beauty in their lives.
The paintings don’t just tell my story, they tell all of our stories through something we all experience, something that is so important to our well-being and so common that many of us don’t really notice. But what if we were more mindful? ~Sheri Hoeger
AN INTERVIEW WITH SHERI HOEGER
Connection, comfort and deeper understanding are my currency, and knowing that I’m doing something that feels important.
Sara:For many years you have worked primarily as a decorative artist, in others’ homes and spaces, and found great satisfaction and joy in creating for them visual connections with what was important to them. How has that prepared you now to launch your own your “straight-from-the-gut-through-your-heart” work, A Touch of Hands?
Sheri: I have always been happy to explore and paint so many kinds of things because I was working for other people.
I remember a client wanting to have oranges underneath her whole archway. I thought, “Oranges? I don’t know why she wants oranges.” Then I started drawing oranges, and “Omigosh, look at how the leaves are, how could I not have always loved oranges?” I interviewed people at length, and incorporated things that were symbolic or metaphors that only family would get, little private jokes. Or with a pet portrait, the owner wants to capture that love, how it feels to be with their animal.
My favorite projects were always where I could help connect people to what was important to them, the love in their lives. Somehow those thoughts and intentions come through in the painting.
When painting for myself, that became difficult. If images were beautiful to me, they seemed to have equal weight. So, if I didn’t have a commission to work on, I painted what I thought was beautiful and would sell.
What was missing in my own studio work was a “why” that was deeper than a pretty picture as a vehicle for my entertainment, skill-building and gratification.
Sara: It seems that A Touch of Hands is deepening your own wholeness, marrying your level of mastery in painting with your own personal meaning, rather than just the personal meaning for a client, as well as bringing your own process and voice out in a different way. You seem to be arriving at a new inner and outer stance.
Sheri:A Touch of Hands satisfies my craving for deeper meaning through my art. I feel like I am finally in touch as a fine artist with what is important to me to paint. The paintings don’t just tell my story, they tell all of our stories through something we all experience, and is so important to our well-being and so common that many of us don’t really notice. But what if we were more mindful?We touch our mates’ hands, our grandkids’ hands, we shake hands on a deal, we touch hands that have meaning in so many ways, and we take it so much for granted.That’s part of my mission, I think – here’s a moment of touching hands and it means so many things, and trying to capture that moment in the painting and also remind people that they have those kinds of moments all of the time.
I think of it as a collaborative effort and invite interaction on a Facebook page. It’s been really freeing to just put it out there and see where it leads. The images are resonating with people because the relationships, emotions and circumstances are universal. Each one is a statement in itself, but as a collection I feel they are even more powerful.
This is also born of a wider shift. It’s kind of a new thing for me to be writing a lot and putting it out where people can actually read it, to share the occasional honest and disarming insight that I once would have kept to myself. It helps me make sense of my experiences when I can share some of the wisdom gained. Whether it is through my work or other aspects of relationship, I fulfill my purpose when I have that kind of impact.
Sara: What you are offering here is a very different kind of exchange in the art world.
Sheri:There have been some really beautiful contributions on the Facebook page. My intention is to sometimes use those images as resource material for the paintings. Monetary income does not drive the project, as I give most of the paintings to those who have modeled for them. Connection, comfort and deeper understanding are my currency, and knowing that I’m doing something that feels important.
To see more of her work and for a few tips to improve your powers of observation,
January is the namesake to Janus, guardian of thresholds, doors, transitions. He is typically depicted in a way that well represents human consciousness, with two faces, one towards the past and a second toward the future. This is a good time to reflect and come into a deeper relationship with your own wholeness. Collaging – as a creative act of bringing pieces together into a meaningful whole – offers us a unique way into this inquiry.Continue reading
I meet the new year with irresolution, without commitment to an idealized version of my life that involves doing (e.g. eating more greens, daily exercise) or being (e.g. more kind, less frantic).Continue reading
The title for this series, “Creating from Inside Motherhood,” comes from Writer, Maker, and Mother Suzi Banks Baum. Years ago she committed to “finding her fullest self while mothering,” and came to see, celebrate and value her own contribution to the world as a mother, even as she lamented how our culture devalues that work by mostly ignoring it. Continue reading
We humans are relentlessly creative, so much so that we hardly notice. In my work I invite people to intentionally focus this inherent power into a process of Creative Inquiry because it is one of the most playful and enjoyable ways to explore our version of Reality, and in the process recover our true purpose, yearnings, and gifts.
This blog post is the first of a two-part series in which I’m delighted to introduce you to two women who take creative inquiry seriously-without taking themselves seriously. Their approach is playful, even mischievous, and demonstrates the value of creative inquiry for cracking open our habits of perception and views of reality, for slowing us down so we can savor our lives, and for awakening us out of lethargy or frustration to spread compassion and even engage in activism.
Both are artists and Moms, and their art-making has its roots in the creativity inherent in Motherhood itself. So much of what I see written about Motherhood these days is mired in one set of arguments or another. But Tracee Vetting Wolf and Suzi Banks Baum use their “role” as Mom to inquire into life, self, identity, connection, love, and voice in ways that are profound and eminently practical and shareable.
The fruits of this inquiry are some of the lovelier hand-mades I’ve ever seen, and, as you will soon discover, make beautiful gifts in time for this Season of Giving.
LOVE NOTES: An Interview with Tracee Vetting Wolf
Tracee Vetting Wolf prizes the compass over the map and the adventure of figuring things out. She successfully lived the paradox of working as a creative for logic-driven IBM Research and through her art, writing, and life teaches that “design is a vehicle for knowledge.” She embodies through practice the understanding that art-making is an essential tool for inquiry into personal potential and the world around us. She has amassed an impressive list of professional achievements, but to my mind her most delightful work, and most recent gift to the world, was born out of her love for her son, Max, out of that relentless creativity inherent in each of us that can help us find our way if only we’ll let it.
Sara: Tracee, you began creating love-notes when your son Max started school. You were packing lunch daily because of his allergies. And you recognized that you both had separation anxiety. How do the love-notes express your relationship with Max, and with the world?
Tracee: On his first day of kindergarten, I packed his first lunch. It was hard because he’s allergic to peanuts, milk and eggs, and he was too young at the time to open a thermos, so it meant cold foods. I was sorting all that out. I was a bit stressed about it, trying to make it something he would also enjoy. I wanted to make it special. With the food packed, I looked around for something to add a note to his lunch. At that time, I wasn’t practicing art every day, but I had been playing around with my watercolors making a bunch of hearts. Quickly, I cut one out and wrote a message on the back. I had enough for a week and at the end of the week, I thought “I can’t stop now!”
The separation anxiety was hard for both of us. I couldn’t get him on the bus that first day, he was so emotional. I drove him to school and I was that parent who was peeling her screaming, crying child off of her. It was heart breaking for me and distressing for him. His teachers were thoughtful and compassionate: when he felt weepy at school, they’d ask him if he wanted to take a moment to himself and draw his family. In a way, we were both using art to ease our separation anxiety and express our love. The lunch notes expressed how very much Max and I want to be connected. I think that’s true for all of us, for any relationship.
To this day, he brings them back home: he has never lost one. They live for the week on the kitchen window sill, and then we place them in a special box. Every once in awhile, Max and I will take out the boxes of lunch notes and look through them together. “Remember this one?” “Oh, I love this one!” “This was when we did all that tie-dying!” “This was when we got our cat!” “Yeah, second grade was tough.” “Remember your first swim meet?” and on and on. We slip into this quiet, reverent state where we’re taking great care as we look through them. Each is wonderful individually, but we can also see across time with them. We can see our journeys.
Sara: And now you offer love notes in four different packs of six for $6: imaginary creatures, for sweet boys, woman wisdom, wondrous animals.
Tracee: My feeling is that love notes are a sweet little way of letting the other person know that you’re interested in them and reminding them of your connection with them. I make the love notes small, I would describe them as “intimate.” You’re forced to express yourself in just a few words. This creates a paradox where something so small can be of great meaning. Personally, I think it’s lovely and touching. Telling someone you care is a very sweet habit to have in life.
Sara: And the mischief?
Tracee: Spend some time thinking about where to place that love note, to surprise someone, to consider what the other person might receive with tenderness of thought. On their dinner plate? Under their pillow? In their gym locker? Taped to the bathroom mirror? In the silverware drawer? On the lawn mower? On the doorbell? Attached to the cat’s collar?
Besides sharing our connection and love, this act sharpens our creative instinct, a path to a creative life for everyone.
I hope you are nourished by Tracee’s story, and I’m sure you’ll be tantalized by the beauty of her line of “hand-mades” called little Love.Buy your love notes HERE.
The anxiety of being human runs through our soul, fiber, bone and blood, attending both the existential anxiety of death, and the more personal anxiety that rides on it, schooled even from the womb by our mothers’ mood and stress, and by the ways our infant bodies sense the ever-changing shapes and forms of our immediate surroundings.
But we are also birthed into, of, and held by the larger rhythms of the natural world, which is utterly without anxiety:
human nature, Mother Nature, inseparable.
by Sara Eisenberg
Tendrils of intelligent vitality
creep in at every pore,
another green being in a sea
of sentient Ones.
I conspire with
cicadas courting with their forewings,
while the landscape whispers
in myriad tongues,
“There is no longer
in your face
the anxiety of being human.”
The texture, color and mood of our lives is often set below the level of daily awareness.
A succession of grey days, cold and damp. Or sunny, hot and humid. Weather that invites us outside or draws us indoors for a warming drink and fuzzy slippers, invites longer hours of activity or of rest.
And we each respond to these shifts of temperature, light, moisture, the movement of air, in our unique ways.
Gusty winds of late winter and early fall challenge me. An hour of weeding on a sunny mild day can nourish me for a week.
Still, in the midst of summer, activity can also increase my restlessness, upset my rhythm, and lead me to seek out a winter moment. All the more so if I have not had my fill of quiet and rest during the cold months.