Archives for posts with tag: Michael Sylvan Robinson

The Sacred Pause: Working with Time as Ally and Muse (Part Two)

Grandmother Spiderwoman Mask by Michael Sylvan Robinson (2004)

Grandmother Spiderwoman Mask by Michael Sylvan Robinson (2004)

Through the sacred art of pausing, we develop the capacity to stop hiding, to stop running away from our experience.  We begin to trust in our natural intelligence, in our naturally wise heart, in our capacity to open to whatever arises.” ~ Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance

“I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date… No time to say ‘hello,’ ‘goodbye,’ I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!” Though I’ve always been more of a Mad Hatter, the iconic White Rabbit would be an excellent reminder about being too busy to really be living in the moment. My mother says that I have always been this way, this desire to do too many things for the amount of time in the schedule. She claims that as a child I would say something to the effect of: “If I skip soccer this week I can go to band practice, and the auditions for the play aren’t until next week – so there will only be a two or three week overlap in soccer and rehearsals.” Several decades later, my grownup life sounds a lot like that younger me: “If I go to the gym today than tomorrow night could be dinner with a friend followed by an hour or so of time in the studio, and the next night I’ve got rehearsal at school, but if I try to get to the chiropractor between the end of the teaching day, and the start of rehearsals I might be able to…”

“But much of our driven pace and habitual controlling in daily life does not serve surviving, and certainly not thriving. It arises from a free-floating anxiety about something being wrong or not enough.  Even when our fear arises in the face of actual failure, loss or …death, our instinctual tensing and striving are often ineffectual and unwise.” ~ Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance

A friend once recommended that nothing should be added into the schedule unless something else was removed. I find that balance of addition and subtraction very hard to hold to when the work sphere trends to more and more events, and then the only place to subtract falls into the areas I most want to prioritize: home, community/friendships, art. I’m in the midst of tech week for a production at school, and the final rehearsals and production tasks are complicated by the seasonal winter weather (that hasn’t been so seasonal the last several years until this one!); underneath the long hours, the challenges of self-care become more apparent, and old patterns reveal themselves like fault lines.  I found myself suddenly reawakened by anger, then fear, and finally, to varying degrees, a kind of letting go, a more detached perspective that helped me ease back into the rollercoaster of the weather, the work, my own projections, and in the space I took away from being reactive, to accept what was really in front of me.  The winter weather was one of the challenges reminding me that I couldn’t be in control of the circumstances, only my own reactions.

“Taking our hands off the controls and pausing is an opportunity to clearly see the wants and fears that are driving us. During the moments of a pause, we become conscious of how the feeling that something is missing or wrong keeps us leaning into the future, on our way somewhere else.  This gives us a fundamental choice in how we respond: We can continue our futile attempts at managing our experience, or we can meet our vulnerability with the wisdom of Radical Acceptance… Often the moment we most need to pause is exactly when it feels most intolerable to do so.  Pausing in the fit of anger, or when overwhelmed by sorrow or filled with desire, may be the last thing we want to do…” ~ Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance

Many years ago, when I began my MFA in Interdisciplinary Art at Goddard College, one of my first advisors described my art practice as scattered.  This, of course, was a real trigger word for me, one that reminded me of the comments of high school teachers, my parents, but her challenge helped me see the interdisciplinary nature of my art-making.  It took longer to achieve mastery in certain discipline areas because I aimed to acquire so many practices: performance, dance, costume design, playwriting, critical and creative writing, sculpture, and fiber art. I saw that all these investigations blended together into my artwork beyond the limits of disciplines, and that my commitment to research included extensive queer and gender studies; these realizations anchored my art, and influence what I chose to make, exhibit, and invest my time. Scattered was a surface layer assessment, but examined with a wider view, it is clear that I manifest an impressive amount of artistry every year.  It is true that a lot of it is job specific, and I need to remember to be grateful for a job that provides me so much creative work!  I do a reasonably good job making my own personal art, and I am also grateful for the opportunities to exhibit and learn better the business skills of being a professional artist.

My artwork is a practice of time, and I don’t mean for that to be confused with time-based art, which is a topic for another entry, perhaps.  My fiber work is based in hand-stitching and beading, covering the entire surface of a large piece of patterned fabric with intricate details.  My larger pieces are up to 5’, and I also work on life-sized sculptural work, and these pieces can take more than a year to complete.  At times, there can be the feeling that the piece will never finish, that no matter how many layers of work I’ve completed, there are still so many places left to pay attention to, to bring my unique embellishment skills, and so I try to remain in the “doing.” Just put an hour into the background beading of the black beads and buttons.  Put an hour or so of attaching anything that still has pins in it… That kind of targeted goal setting helps build consistency for the physical act of showing up for my art, for the embodied movement that brings the threaded needle in and out of the fabric hung from my studio wall, it brings a stillness to my life.  There is a patience that I enact with this practice.  Prior to tech week, I’d reconnected in greater consistency to my sitting practice, and I know that I’ll get back into being more connected to my body, being better about what foods I eat, at the same time that I stop being “so busy,” which is, of course, one of the ways I am distracted from my own authentic presence. When I listen to the many stories of Grandmother Spiderwoman, I hear the challenges of her advice: leave space in the center of the weaving, like the open spaces of the spider’s web.  The breathing into the center, opening space around the old stories and patterns, is key to the increased freedom and wellness.

Through the sacred art of pausing, we develop the capacity to stop hiding, to stop running away from our experience.  We begin to trust in our natural intelligence, in our naturally wise heart, in our capacity to open to whatever arises.” ~ Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance

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.

%d bloggers like this: