Friday, December 29, 2006


Anyone familiar with the principles of Buddhism, will be familiar with the term "mindfulness". For those less familiar, what it boils down to is being fully in the present. Surrendering to the moment. Not being caught up in the worries of what has already happened, and what is coming down the path.

So what does this have to do with the world of craft or business? In my approach to creativity, it turns out it is essential. But to be honest, I did not come at this consciously. It snuck up on me. And it was only in reflection that I was able to make this connection.

I used to feel that I had to plan out anything I made to the nth degree. Drawings were completed in my head before pencil touched paper. Sketches were made of ideas I had. Or when I was sewing or knitting something, I had an image in my head of what the finished piece would be. I would carefully follow instructions or patterns. But too often, the end result did not match my expectations. And so I would be disappointed in the finished piece. And, I missed out on much of the joy of the process. My head was fixed on the end product. I was working for the finish line, and not paying enough attention to the journey.

Somewhere along the line, I found I had made a shift. Part of it may have been in my work with polymer clay. The immediacy of the material encourages play. Exploring the possibilities of the material with no specific end goal in mind. Over time, I found that more often than not, I was starting most of my work with only the vaguest notion of where it was going to take me. I might know that I was going to make a vessel, or a necklace. And I might plan out the form or shape. But that was as far as my planning would go. Until that step was complete. Only then would I start to think about what I would be doing next. I no longer follow directions for things. I am forever adding my own twist, or changing something about the way something is done based on my experiences. I trust my own intuition more than in the past.

This step-by-step approach allowed me to better understand the material I was working with. I noticed nuances I might have otherwise missed. And it allowed me to be open to the opportunities or happy accidents that might occur along the way. I was able to work in a way that let me be present to what I was doing right then and there.

It has spilled over into my knitting and other media that I play with from time to time. This spring I made a C3PO costume for my 6'3" husband with no pattern. He was doing a Star Wars routine on ice with my daughters. I should have run in the other direction, but instead, I dove in. And the end result was pretty darn good. I did not get ahead of myself. I trusted my sewing skills, and took each challenge as it came. In the end he had a very cool costume, and I felt better about myself as a sewer. (He made the R2D2 model and the landspeeder by the way. They made quite an impression!)

The biggest changes for me have come with how much more joy I get from what I am doing. Whether it is doing the knitting often do at night to relax, or the clay work in my studio, I am having more fun, and I am happier with the outcome. Even when things go wrong, I don't own the failure in the way I did in the past. Before, I was the failure. Now I can see it in a different light...., the piece didn't work, but maybe I learned something along the way. And it is easier for me to let go of my work and send it out into the world. I own the process, and the finished product is just the result of that. Sometimes I will be so happy with how a piece came out that I want to hold onto it for a bit longer. But ultimately, it feels empty. Not nearly as satisfying as the actual process of creation.

The materials are no longer the enemy. They do not have to be "mastered". Instead I am looking for the connection. Letting a piece show me the way. And getting out of my own way. If all of this sounds a bit too esoteric or philosophical, it probably is. I was the "accidental tourist" on this trip. But it has changed my life as an artist and it has started to spill over into the rest of my life as well. See if you can let go of some aspect of your life that you hold too dearly. Don't expect too much too fast. But someday, you may look around at your life, as I did, and see that the ground beneath you has shifted.

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