Thursday, January 8, 2015

Thursday's Reflection: Surprise!

Sometimes I have to be forced to have new experiences. The other night was one of those times, but I kept thinking about the quotation I included in my last post.


         May your coming year be filled with magic and 
         dreams and good madness. I hope you read some
         fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're
         wonderful. And don't forget to make some art--write
         or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And,
         I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise
                                 Neil Gaiman

I want you to know I took Gaiman's words to heart, and I made some art and I surprised myself. The surprise was not that I made great art or discovered myself as a budding artist. That didn't happen! The surprise was how much fun the whole experience was. And what I learned about myself in the process.

I would have preferred to stay at home. It was ridiculously cold, and I had been out and about all day. Plus, I had just started a book, Florence Gordon by Brian Morton, that has totally captured me and could get in the way of doing all the tasks I have set for myself, including writing this post, but good friend Becky had made arrangements for the two of us and our spouses to attend a two hour watercolor class. We had cancelled the plan in December because Bruce and I had the flu, using up that excuse. 

Because Becky has taken a number of watercolor classes and is becoming quite accomplished, I had teased her she just wanted to show off, but really all she wanted was to share her enthusiasm and to offer us a new experience. The class was held at a restaurant, and we all joked that wine would get us through the embarrassment of producing something only a preschooler would be proud to hang on the refrigerator. 

Noticing us carrying cocktails and plates of appetizers, the instructor wisely gave the four of us our own table. Yes, we bantered back and forth about not knowing what we were doing, but soon, we were each quite intent on our projects. We listened carefully to our instructor, following her gentle and nonjudgmental guidance as we attempted to bring to light our inner artist. 

She teased Gary, Becky's husband, calling him Mr Free Spirit as he did his own thing, and she referred to me as Ms Light Touch as I started filling in my paper with only whispers of color. I thought that was my preference, but I learned as I continued that I was actually hiding behind caution, not wanting to make a mistake I couldn't undo. I wanted to know how something was going to look before my brush actually touched the paper. When I write, I know I can edit. I can change a word, cut a sentence, rearrange a paragraph with the goal of improving what I am writing. I had no idea how to do that with the media of watercolor. 

I was hesitant. I shrunk the trees, not wanting my ineptitude to be even more visible in their bigness. Along the way, however, I learned that even in painting there are ways to revise, to modify what feels like a mistake or misstep. I learned by doing, by giving up some control --and by asking for help. I wanted to learn, to know more than I did in that moment, and I liked that I wasn't unwilling to ask for help.

I had moments of being more concerned about the product, of worrying how what I was doing would measure up, but in those moments I amazingly remembered to breathe, to lighten my grip on the brush, and to go with the metaphor of watercolor on paper--flow. I liked that feeling.

Somehow we each miraculously ended the evening with a painting  uniquely reminiscent of our point of reference painting. Will we be framing our masterpieces? Not so much, nor am I signing up for additional classes, but the whole experience, something I had not done before, was fun. Pleasurable. 

I have said many times that I want my life as I age to get bigger. I know there are many losses along the way, many ways our lives change and seem to get smaller as we leave jobs or learn to cope with physical challenges, but right now, in this moment, I have a choice. I can isolate myself with the comfortable and the familiar. I can hold my routine tightly wrapped around myself and be satisfied with how I have always done something. I can say "no" more than "yes" without listening to my inner voice asking me to reconsider. 

Or I can choose to open.

Mark Nepo uses the term "experience greed" to describe what can be almost an addiction to the new, staying full, cramming all we can into our lives and I don't advocate that. What I do suggest, however, is that we can choose, especially when we listen to the quiet, sacred space of our inner voice, to be open to new experiences, to play, to stretch, to take a chance.  I can make room for surprise.

An Invitation
What's new in your life? Are you more inclined to stick to the tried and true or is there room in your life for freshness and newness? What are you willing to do to make that happen? I would love to know. 

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