Sunday, April 12, 2015

A YEAR TO LIVE-PART 2 Soothing the Mind with Art and Self-Caring

“You come to reading late in life.
Don’t worry if you see the young ones
ahead of you. Don’t hurry.
You’re tired and ready to quit?
Let your hands play music” 

–Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi from Unseen Rain,
translated by John Moyne and Coleman Barks, 1986

Dearest Readers,

My Georgia artist friend Ruth and I are back–skyping a course called “A Year to Live”. This is our third month of readings and dialogs about preparing for a hypothetical death date of January 1, 2016. You can read my first blog entry for months 1 and 2 here.  

Question to Contemplate
Trusting the mind: meet suffering with inquisitiveness
Continue life review
What does it mean to rest the mind?

The chart above shows our focus, practice and question to contemplate for this time frame. Since we are artists, we changed the format to artistic responses, rather than writings or conversations.

April’s Question: What Does it Mean to Rest the Mind?

My artist-answer to April’s question was the creation of a wordless performance piece using my hands wearing garden gloves as props. I painted a brain on the left glove to symbolize the mind and my logical side. This is the part of me that likes to read, analyze and parse my experience into segments for study. It needs calming down to think about death and dying. The glove on the right hand has a heart painted on the palm, representing my right hemisphere; the creative, intuitive  essence of me.  Ruth shot multiple stills of my hand movements on Skype and created a YouTube video with music. My idea was to have the heart sooth the tired brain, be kind to the thinking self, and dance together, fingers entwined and stroking each other.  This helps counteract my natural tendency to worry about dying.

Ruth posted the piece on YouTube entitled “The Hand-ango”.

Ruth’s answer to resting the mind:
Here is Ruth on Skype in front of an expressionistic painting of her mother. She has used movement, and rituals of drawing to reinforce a nurturing relationship with her mother. By embodying this nurturing, by breathing in and out, Ruth feels an absence of anxiety. This is her way to rest and care for the mind, like a wave coming and going–dynamic but restful.

Recently Ruth has been working again with movement, ritual and painting to forgive a difficult relationship with her sister. This is something she does not want to wait until her death-bed to resolve.

April’s Focus:  Trusting the Mind: Meet suffering with Inquisitiveness

This month I’m observing this fear of death from the Buddhist perspective of curiosity rather than panic. It’s a mind shifting experience to be the observer of suffering rather than sinking deep inside.  This is a practice and a re-focusing of attention to an attitude of noticing when scary thoughts arise. In the past I would try to shut down these ideas, change the subject or whistle a happy tune. It’s a bit counter-intuitive, but simply observing fear with curiosity, breathing deeply and seeing where in the body the fear resides works for me as a way to handle it, and hopefully with time, abide peacefully with the inevitability of death.

I hate to end this blog with the “D” word, so dearest friends and readers, it’s a beautiful sunny day in Peacham, Vermont–40 degrees as I write this. Etta James and I are going outside for a walk!

Cecelia and Etta James_Snow is melting_life percolates below the snowbanks

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