Work in Progress: Michael Sylvan Robinson's "Guardian in the Garden of Delight"

Work in Progress: Michael Sylvan Robinson’s “Guardian in the Garden of Delight”

Starting here, and as I thought of what to title this new writing space, I turned to Walt Whitman, to lines I’ve read and reread over so many years:

“A noiseless patient spider, / I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated, / Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding, / It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself, / Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them. // And you O my soul where you stand, / Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space, / Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them, / Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold, / Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.”

Whitman’s two stanzas directly compare the seeking of his soul to the work of the spider he observes.  “Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold, / Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.” I’m opening this new space, standing here in this present, musing on art and spiritual practice, the times in which we live, and the circles of community; I am asking the questions of patience, opening a place for deeper contemplation, developing and sharing the tools of communication.

I’ve drawn inspiration from myths and stories working with spider as an ally, as a symbol, as well as observing the beautiful weavers as I encounter them (and their webs). I’ve heard stories of Grandmother Spiderwoman in which she counsels that sanity must be found by leaving an opening in the center of the web, a place for breath to expand.  I know the cautionary tale of Arachne’s competition with Athena, but I’ve also been fascinated by the Arachne-Transformed, her spider skills an inheritance for all her little eight-legged sisters.

In Starhawk’s The Empowerment Manual she describes “spidering” as a role in group dynamics, “Spiders sit in the center of their webs, and from that position they can feel any movement in any part of the pattern.  In groups, Spiders are the central connectors who watch the group’s communications.” This role of the Spider as the organizer-presence who gathers the ideas of different voices, as well as being the one whose hands touch all the various components, is one role I often find myself.  And yet, as we know, the actual spider’s web is built by one solitary spider (there are some spiders that share their webs) to feed.  When I find myself surrounded by a web filled with too many community needs and responsibilities, this awakening challenges me to define better what my own sustainable practices must be, and in doing so, I learn better to ask what nourishes my own life and wellness in this work.  I hear the challenge of patience in the anchored presence of Whitman’s spider, though I note that I don’t claim the “noiseless” in this title, the practice of silence is certainly part of the journey. I’ve been reading a lot of Pema Chödrön and Tara Brach; I’ve been immersed in their teachings of Buddhism and find their wisdom on the practice of letting go, opening to the present, really calls to me from some deep inner place within my busy life.  In Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, Pema Chödrön writes, “Awakening is not a process of building ourselves up but a process of letting go. It’s a process of relaxing in the middle – the paradoxical, ambiguous middle, full of potential, full of new ways of thinking and seeing – with absolutely no money-back guarantee of what will happen next.”

As a fiber artist, my work is built from the countless repeated movements of hand stitching and beading; my larger pieces can take more than a year to complete.  There is a patience within such a process of craft. My handwork is as distinctive as fingerprints, the stitches so clearly mine. The interweaving of patterns, color, textures a specific voice.  My work brings together all these small components in an intricate surface detail that is also part of a larger conceptual structure.  Listening to the play of the materials brings my hands and eyes together in the realization of new techniques and ongoing investigations of imagery and stories.

And so I spin my words here, anchored in my home, sending out these threads of curiosity and mindfulness, seeking connections in a wider web that we share.

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