My husband, daughters, and I were on vacation in Rhode Island last week. My goal for the week was Ultimate Relaxation + Rejuvenation. I wanted to read, sit in the sun, play in the water, paddleboard, dabble in my art journal, visit my favorite farm stand on a regular basis, get as much fresh air as humanly possible, take lots of photos, and keep the structure and chaos to a minimum.
About half way through the week, I stated to make these towers of balancing rocks and photograph them at different times of day. It is not as easy as it looks and it was a new way for me to challenge myself creatively. Building them was only a fraction of the fun. How could I position them so the sun would set behind them and I could capture the fiery orb in between the stones (*wonderful photography practice as well, where I got to work on depth of field and lighting, etc)? Could I build a more open structure that would perfectly frame the lighthouse in the background?
It was the quintessential exercise in mindfulness and I was completely and thoroughly in the zone! I actually got really attached to these little structures and would go out and check on them at various points during the day. They were a source of artistic pride and made me smile every time I saw them. The first three I built sat in the rocky cove directly behind our cottage. They lasted less than two days, fell by some individuals who were fishing illegally behind our property. It’s hard to articulate the sadness I felt at seeing my artwork dismantled so carelessly. How could others not appreciate the serenity? The craftsmanship? The beauty? I had visions in my head of inspiring others to do the same thing….not kick them over so they could cast a line.
I made the this tower on one of the last days of our vacation. My husband and I took a really long walk around the whole island. With nowhere to go and nobody to see, we started walking on one of the rocky outcroppings on one of the more remote parts of the coast and I started gathering stones. I had a vision and I had every intention of executing my plan. I wanted bigger river rocks, sight-lines through the stacked stones, and I wanted it to be above the high tide line so it would last at least a little while.
My husband was really patient while I climbed, clambered, crawled, stacked, and re-stacked. Finally, I finished up and made my way off the stony plateau so I could take some pictures. I took my first few shots, and no sooner was I lining up to capture the lighthouse within a different window of the open stones when a HUGE gust of wind came across the bay and knocked the whole thing down. SPLAT! We both laughed and I looked at my husband as we were walking away and said, “Well, there is a lesson in this somewhere.” And, there was.
Humans get so attracted to the idea of permanence (I think artists can be particularly susceptible to that stroke of ego) and we want to be rewarded for hard work. When I was building those first few towers, I was really hoping they would last through the week and maybe I would see other towers crop up alongside of them. I was hoping to, in some way, add some beauty to my (already incredibly beautiful) surroundings and spur on others’ creativity as they happened upon my little sculptures. That didn’t happen and it stung when my work met its demise with a rubber boot and/or was obliterated with the end of a fishing pole. I was expecting some semblance of permanence and I was met instead with instability, frailty, and impermanence. But, when you think about it, nature itself is about renewal, transience, and changeability. NOTHING in nature is permanent. Abundant, yes. Permanent, no. The tides change, the moon goes through its phases, the sun rises and sets, the buds sprout and then the leaves fall, animals hunt and then hibernate, and there is this constant dance between birth and death. Creation and recreation.
When I was building those sculptures, I unconsciously set out to put my HUMANNESS on them…more, better, longer, MINE. I attached an expectation of my desired outcome onto something so beautiful and fragile and natural. A better idea would have been to practice 100% mindfulness in the moment (which I did), but then let go of any lasting outcomes and expectations. Just let them be what they were going to be and serve whatever purpose they were going to serve, for as long as they were able to. And then lovingly let them go.
What a beautiful concept: let things be what they are going to be and then be willing to lovingly let them go when the time comes. I think that is ultimately what balance is all about. Thich Nhat Hahn once said: “It’s not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.” Right on!
Here’s to you finding and making beauty this summer, appreciating things for what they are, finding lessons in unexpected places, and getting comfortable with the art of impermanence.