Friday, January 14, 2011

The Seeds of Sanity

2011 is already two weeks old. It started slowly for me, in the cold, snowy silence of a Montana vacation. But of course, the to-do lists and pressures of my daily life were just lying in wait. I came home to a mountain of work, the news that a friend had ended his life, and the tragedy of the shootings in Tucson. And then, just when I thought people might stop for one second and consider how they treat each other and how they talk to one another, everyone just got into a big, ridiculous finger-pointing fight over which side was nastier. I found myself wondering if everyone was going insane.

So what on Earth does this have to do with metal clay? Well, I had originally intended to write this post about one of the books we included in our selections on this page, Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch. This is one of those books that changed the way I live my life as an artist and the way I live my life period. My plan was to write in particular about the idea of being truly present when you sit down to create something – a notion summarized by the phrase “Be Here Now,” made popular by Ram Dass. I was going to show you a picture of what happens when you are thinking about 10,000 things other than what you are doing (see the blanket I laid down on the hot burner while folding laundry last weekend?). I thought I would also talk about the idea of “walking meditation” and how the fifteen minutes of time you find to work on your art each day can be its own kind of meditation.

But , in the course of researching the book, which I fully encourage you to read, I ran across a speech given by Nachmanovitch called A Mountain of Gold. Given shortly after September 11, 2001, the speech doesn’t just describe art as a part of life. Nachmanovitch says art is life and he encourages us to spread the “little seeds of sanity” of creative expression. He explains:

As we contemplate the spread of anthrax spores now, I’ve been trying to imagine another kind of epidemic. I’ve been asking everyone I meet to do whatever they can do, in their personal sphere, to spread an epidemic of sanity. Mental and spiritual states can spread, and sanity can be just as contagious as insanity. We must remember the purpose of our work: the arts are a primary means for transmission of sanity. I mean “arts” very broadly, of course. As in the Borges poem, there are many activities that are not virtuoso expressions of one’s theatrical or musical ability; there are many activities that we engage in that would not win prizes and awards, that might be technically flawed and clumsy, but which still carry some spiritual essence of communication about the nature of sanity from person to person.”

So often, art is seen as unnecessary and jewelry can really get a bad rap in that regard. But Nachmanovitch beautifully illustrates how the things we surround ourselves with and our ability to express ourselves – in whatever form – are fundamental to our health as individuals and as a society. Take a step back for a moment and think about the bigger picture, then check out Free Play to expand the boundaries of your own creativity.

Learn more:
Free Play, the website and the book.
Stephen Nachmonovitch’s writings (A Mountain of Gold is second under Articles and Talks)

Jennifer Roberts is the President of PMC Connection.

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