The light still has that blue tinge of morning before the sun has risen, and as soon as I start to stir, Bodhi is up, stretching as he makes his way from the Mexican blanket I laid out for him last night, over to me. He gets in a few sloppy kisses on my chin before I squirm and laugh and push him away.
We haven’t had a morning routine together in a long time. For a little over two months, Bodhi has lived on my older sister’s land with her two dogs. He gets to hunt the perimeter of a massive pile of branches where rabbits like to hide; every week I find little nicks and cuts on him from where he’s tried to burrow into the pile to snag a rabbit.
I’ve been in my itty bitty (tiny) house for about three weeks, and no dogs are allowed here. I told Bodhi before I left that it’s a short lease, and that I’ll visit him all the time, but I don’t know how well my promise translated; he still yelps and cries and howls when I come or go. Each time I have to leave him I cry in my car a little before I drive away. I at least understand how time works, and the necessity of doing what you have to do when you have to do it. I can tell Bodhi, on the other hand, is never sure I’m coming back each time I leave.
This morning he’s visiting me, and I’m relieved and not so surprised that we still know how to fall into rhythm together. It occurs to me that this is what love and the comfort of silence can provide: understanding and trust in familiarity that doesn’t have to be spelled out. I put the coffee on and Bodhi paces a little before coming near the edge of my minuscule kitchen, where he stands, ears perked, watching me.
As soon as I tighten the lid on my travel mug, he spins around and runs expectantly to the door, presses his nose to the door jam, and sniffs.
In my slippers and pajama pants, I walk him around the small community of these woods where I live. The birds are just starting to sing, and the air smells like chimney smoke and sap. For all but three months of the year, this little town smells like chimney smoke, but always sap.
The last time Bodhi and I lived in this town together was also the last time I lived both alone and in Southern California. He was just a pup then, and a total disaster on a leash, so I hardly ever walked him. Even though this stretch of road (that leads to the trailhead for the town’s waterfall) hasn’t been a part of our lives for so long, I can feel the years folding around each other like clasped hands, separate but coming together as one thing as I watch him sniff and paw at the dusty, rocky earth.
Something dark and blue swoops through my peripheral vision, and I turn to see a Stellers Jay has landed on a street sign at the crossing of Fern and Valley of the Falls; on the mountains to the west, the light of the sunrise has begun to paint the rocky outcropping of cedar trees a rusty orange. It’s so damn perfect that I laugh and say, “Of course,” to no one, maybe, or to myself.
Bodhi pauses at a stone archway in front of the lodge that lives next door to me, and I have another chuckle at this idyllic scene. I realize that I must miss things like this all the time: a moment framed by the accidental preciousness of simply noticing a thing.
These are the moments in which I meet a particular kind of tension; I feel it all around me and I also create it. For as magical as I know the world to be — as I know presence to be — I also know how frequently I push it away. It can’t be that simple, says the nay-saying, programmed voice I grew up hearing, and that I hear even when I’m not hearing it. For that voice, nothing is ever good enough, and every moment is spent trying to get to the thing that will be better than this right here and right now.
Either that, or, when something delightful happens, the white knuckles of my mind grip tightly around the present moment, terrified to know it won’t be this way forever.
It’s a practice I engage in every day: this simple noticing, and parallel releasing. I know now, after these last years, that even delightful things have sharp edges that can cut you if you grasp them too tightly, and I have seen (and experienced) so much suffering around me from holding onto what wants to transform.
The voice of our programming will say, It can’t be that simple, but I know it is: at the root, we are resistant to change, and we are avoidant of discomfort. Most human suffering, at the most foundational level, comes down to these two phenomenon which are unavoidable aspects of the human condition.
Much of the work I do one-on-one with my clients (and with myself) is in the discovery of where there is discomfort being avoided, and the cultivation of the self-compassion required to soften, and to surrender the need to be comfortable so that we can just be human. Which, surprisingly, always delivers a much more reliable comfort: the subtle whisper of peace.
As I crawl back into bed with my coffee now in a housewarming gift from my sister — a giant mug with the words “BIG HUGS” on it — I am asking myself this question: What is the most essential work that must be done? Not just by me, but by all of us.
I ask myself this question, especially, as someone driven by the urge to create, but also by the need to be safe.
I’ve learned that by bringing myself into the world creatively,
I also create a specific kind of safety —
one that, when I’m not creating, I forget really is that simple:
we are allowed to be ourselves, first.
This is the art of noticing; bringing what I notice into the world so that suffering from resistance to change and avoidance of discomfort might be surrendered in exchange for peace — first within the interior of our beings, and then in the world around us: soft when we meet one another on the street, in conversation, in tension. Soft in the moments we are trying to claw ourselves out of, each one born steadily, reliably, and forever. What else is there, really, but right now?
As Bodhi lays as much of his body across mine as he can, in this familiar search for safety and closeness, I understand that there is such an alchemy to this work: that the beliefs we hold about what’s valuable — in ourselves and the world — impact so much of what we do, and what we create. But also why we create.
Even when we are creating a thing — a painting, a photograph, a piece of writing or a bowl — what we are also creating first… is a moment, and these moments cannot help but transform us. Beneath the product we may be attempting to create, there is an energy — a string of vibrations — all held together not by our intentions, but by the quality of the presence that we bring to their making. In this way, the product (of any string of moments, really) doesn’t matter as much as the experience of the making.
As artists of life (all of us), I think what’s becoming clearer and clearer is that the product — the apparent result of our effort — doesn’t matter nearly as much as how it feels to be inside ourselves.
We can create a container around us (a home, a relationship, a collection of work) and many of us are discovering that those circumstances do not guarantee peace, much less happiness. There is a process-inside-the-process component missing, and as It can’t be that simple as it might seem, we can’t discount what the research is pointing toward:
We have to cultivate a spaciousness in ourselves, a friendliness, a compassion for our humanness.
We have to release our attachment to the result of our creation — be it in life or art — in exchange for the peace of creating for the joy of it, from the art of noticing the world around us, and from the welcoming heart that gets born when we lean into change and the sometimes-unavoidable discomfort that transformation brings.
Because we are so very romanced by the stirrings of the conditioned mind and all its beliefs, we tend to fall victim to its demands: to react, to be afraid, or to be right. This conditioned, patterned, chaotic mind won’t be allowed to thrive if anything beautiful and lasting is to be made.
And any place the mind can’t thrive is, to me, the house of God; love is such a house, as is art, and nature. Time becomes malleable, each moment a portal to eternity, and we become aware of a shimmering essence emerging from within ourselves, as ourselves — as our inviolable nature.
When we serve this nature more diligently than we serve the (possible) results of our efforts, there is a flow of being which, quite effortlessly, reveals itself. In serving this nature, we serve the world — we serve love, and we serve art. And perhaps most magically, we serve the Spirit that animates us and calls us to our greatest gifts.