This has been a few months coming, but I can wait no longer, nor should you have to.
The little critter you see below is the Sand Bubbler Crab, and I met him and his squillion relatives late last year on a family holiday up north, way north.
I have much to say about this encounter and I'm not sure that I'll get it all out today, so might be just a meet and greet.
It wasn't the crabs we encountered first but, but the work of the crabs. We had spent most of our first day travelling and taking care of logistics, such as making sure we had enough tropical produce and watercolour paper for the week we'd spend deep in the Daintree Rainforest. On day two, we were ready to expel any remnant funk of our long Peninsula winter and to immerse ourselves in sweet tropical happiness.
After an early morning session on the deck, and second stop is obviously the beach, and here is where the wonder and amazement began.
As we walked on the the beach, it was clearly low tide and our isolation was apparent. It was one of those beaches where you think there's a chance you might be the first person to step onto it - except that the was a stick tied to a rope, tied to a tree, so the discovery wasn't ours but at least the'd left us a swing. Once I'd tested out the swing and then been kicked off by my littl'ns, I noticed an uneven texture to the sand right across the whole beach. We had all day, actually we had all week, so I went for a little wander. I cannot think of a word that adequately conveys my delight at discovering what this "texture" on the sand was. Part thrill, part enchantment, part David Attenborough curiosity. I think it was the thrill component (certainly high pitched) that came out of my mouth as I insisted everyone else stop what they're doing and get their eyes to this magic right now!!!!
My family were suitably impressed which meant that I didn't need to spend the following days trying to put my awe into words for them. They got it. At this point we still didn't know how these tiny pearls of sand came to be, and we had no mobile coverage for googling. There weren't even any locals to ask for a few days.
Of the week we spent in the Daintree, not a day went by that I didn't gaze into these mini creations and marvel. Marvel at their number, their precision, the incredible shapes they were laid in and the sheer work ethic of the thing that put them there. Wandering along the beach at Cape Tribulation a few days later we saw our first Sand Bubbler Crab. The teeniest little creatures, only visible when they moved, cover the beaches in these little spheres every low tide. Watch the vid up top for an explanation from Sir Attenborough himself.
What has this holiday brag got to do with drawing and painting and whatever else it is artists do? Well everything now. My creative life is now divided clearly into the Pre-Bubbler Crab period and now the Post-Bubbler period. Crouching down, studying the little gems in their arrangements I first thought "Wow, Mother Nature must be pissing her pants at the slop that us two-legged hacks call art". Compared to this, how was anything I created going to be a thing of "beauty".
A few days later, I changed my attitude. There was a reason I was so taken with this. A reason why I couldn't get enough. People are drawn to different things at different times. Not everyone was as obsessed with these forms on the beach as I was. (Equally, I was not as "into" the roadhouse-style chicken and chips on offer as some others were.) Some people are moved by birds in formation, others by the drama of a thunderstorm. I think that marvels of nature like this are placed on the earth for the joy and inspiration of those who "see" them. They challenge us to look closer, sit more quietly, for longer, and see what happens, see what's possible.
Rather than laughing at me, I think Mother Nature has issued me a challenge. Sand Bubbler crabs create from instinct, from their source, from their truth. They're not trying to out do each other, or or imitate, or impress. They get up out of their burrows and do what they do because that's what they do and the rhythm of the turning tide is their deadline. That I happen to stand around, take notice and indeed be moved by the results of their actions is irrelevant. They're doing it whether I'm there gushing or not.
The challenge afoot is for me to do the same. To work and create from my truest, deepest me. To work on, regardless of the opinions of those around me good or bad. And to let myself be guided by the natural rhythms that are around me.
In essence - get out of my own way and let the art emerge.
Last week I wrote about the sweet and sometimes spiky meandering path I’ve walked over the past decade or so to arrive at the little clearing I’m at now – the clearing where the big scary monster-trees have all taken three steps back, and settled into their armchairs where they smile, patiently watching the slow-bubbling potential before them, and ready to assist. It’s quite Lord of the Rings huh. If you haven’t read last week’s instalment, then maybe go read that first HERE. What I was planning to write last week quickly turned into something else, so I’m back today to try again.
Yoga has become so much a part of me now that it’s less a practice I “do”, and more a skin I live in. And if I’m likening it to skin, then I admit that occasionally it’s clear and peachy smooth like a newborn babe (but not my eczema-ish babes), but mostly my “yoga skin” is a little blemished and scarred. Imperfect. My asana practice (physical poses) will always be important because I enjoy feeling strong and straight and light, but my yoga these days is more off the mat than on.
It’s some of the lesser taught aspects of yoga that now as an artist, I practise constantly. You may have heard the Yamas and Niyamas mentioned in your yoga class, but probably not. They are just as important to yoga as Downward Dog or Warrior pose; actually I think they are more important. If you are after a full explanation of the Yamas and Niyamas then you'll find it HERE. In short, they are guiding principles for how we may live our lives in a way that is optimal for mind, body and spirit. In loose terms the yamas and niyamas discuss things such as non-stealing, non-violence, contentment, and perseverance. Common sense, but not very common.
These days, I apply Ahimsa (non-violence) to my inner critic. An inner verbal bashing is not helpful to my work today, and it won’t be tomorrow either. Harsh words have an energy that hangs around, a kind of stink. Ahimsa doesn’t suppress violence, be it in words or actions, it extends kindness and love. And my once brutal inner critic can’t get a word in.
I apply Saucha (Purity/Cleanliness) to myself and my space. To tidy up my studio from time to time and a quick shower each morning is just basic maintenance right, but Saucha is not quite so “do a job-tick a box” as that. I do de-clutter the studio at least weekly, but for me Saucha is more internal. It’s clearing out the cobwebs in my head as well as the studio ceiling. It’s putting good, clean, pure things into my body (most of the time), because I know that’s how good things flow out, for me. It’s indoor plants. Its drinking enough water to make up for the coffee and putting my pencil sharpenings in the bin.
And then there’s Tapas. Not the small morsels of chorizo-spiked deliciousness. Tapas is the generating of heat, the concentrated practise, the perseverance. In other words, it’s getting the damned work done. Just getting on with it. No excuses, no whinging, just getting on with it. Tapas is rolling out your mat and getting started even though you don’t really feel like it and you probably haven’t got time. Tapas is picking up the pencil/brush/camera, whether inspiration has rained upon you today or not. Tapas is the opposite of procrastination.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as the things yoga has taught me that make me a better artist. Not better than another artist, just a better artist than I otherwise may be. But honestly, I don’t think I’d be doing this at all, this that I’ve always dreamed of. Thanks yoga. You’re awesome.
This is not about colouring in mandalas, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
It’s about how a disheartened creative becomes a yogi, in order to learn how to be an artist.
For yogis and artists, this sentence makes complete sense; in a “duh” stating the obvious kind of way. To everyone else, the kook-hippy-tosser-new-agey-self-help-book sirens are blaring. Don’t worry, it’s only me.
Let me save you from the pain and boredom involved in having to read my entire life story, but its sufficient to say that the second sentence pretty much covers the last 10-15 years for me. I didn’t know it at the time of course but hindsight is sharp and sometimes pointy.
Seven years ago, around the time I was becoming a yoga teacher, I desperately wanted to be an artist, but I would never have admitted it. The person that I was at that time was not at all ready to personally commit, or to stand up in front of the universe and call myself an artist. Why? Because I still believed (at 30ish and since teenhood) that the universe would laugh at me, in fact I thought it was already pointing and laughing each time I popped my head outside of the proverbial square. I was in a creative career, but it was the type that had very high barbed wire walls fixed around my creativity. (No, I was not the seamstress at Pentridge). Having already practised yoga for many years, I did have an inkling that the universe probably wasn't the complete tossbag that I was perceiving, but also that it would take a lot of learning and unlearning on my part if I was ever to understand this possibility.
A couple of months in to my teacher training, our meditation teacher asked us to get into pairs and sit cross legged, face to face, knee touchingly close. Maintaining eye contact, one person asks “Who are you really?” and their pair answers, continuing talking until there is nothing left to say. Maintaining eye contact!!! Do not try this at home. All seemed ok while I was talking, but once I stopped, read my partners face, and realised what I’d just spewed out about my family, about my childhood, about my fears, about my insecurities. I actually wanted to vomit. Of course it was a complete set up by the teacher to illustrate to us broken mirror we see ourselves in, how harshly we judge, how closed our minds, and how tightly we hold onto our own bullshit. Keep in mind this is a room full of peacelovin’, herbal tea drinkin’, Tibetan sock wearin’, hug squeezin’ future yoga teachers. (If you were one of the people in the room that day, please don’t be offended by my stereotyping. You get my drift though right?)
I flipped a switch that day. I was appalled at what had come out of my mouth when asked who I really was. I'm not the shy child or the grasping-for-acceptance teen. I have been, but I’m not. I switched off apprehensive and switch on self-assured. I switched off shy and switched on brave. There are still a few switches I’d like to flip and I'm working on those (with yoga and meditation of course).
Now that the universe and I are working more closely, creativity flows much more freely. Now that I’ve fixed my broken mirror, I can see what I’m making and appreciate where it sits along the windy track of my career and indeed, life. I don’t love and adore everything that flows from my pencil or paint brush (or ink pen, oh la la) but I now know that it’s not necessary to love and adore everything. What’s important is that I keep creating, developing and learning and stuffing up, and celebrating and if you do yoga or if you meditate, you know exactly what I mean.