I just completed a wonderful mindfulness writing course over the past six weeks at my university. Well, I should say I completed four of the six sessions; two of them I was so spun out from being mindless rather than mindful that I couldn’t imagine joining the group those days. Of course I should have joined the group most especially on those two days when things were spinning out.
It’s miraculous what you can accomplish in an hour when you allow yourself to disconnect from the world, connect with others and with yourself. None of what I wrote was worth keeping or even sharing, but stealing that time in the middle of the day was illicit and silky like slipping on a satin dressing gown over naked skin. Ahem……Sorry.
Anyway, this class was exquisite. Taught by Amy Spies, it met online every Wednesday for six weeks from 12-1. Amy has a friendly serene composure that put me right at ease, inviting my mimicry of her mindfulness. Her quiver was full of stimulating quotes from all realms of literature, and she reached confidently back to choose that day’s arrow that would pin our minds away from the tasks we had left behind. Before long, she had us doing a meditation. At the first class, I was in my office, mid-day on a Wednesday; behind me in the blurred zoom background three work study students worked with my colleague, Hannah to assemble the props for the two shows coming to fruition that week. Their happy productive voices burbled just out of reach. With my headphones on in my cockpit of concentration, eyes closed, camera off, I joined in that week’s meditation, and many other methods of mindful practice before Amy provided us with three quotes to inspire us in fifteen minutes or so of writing. After the writing, she’d send us to breakout rooms, where like a sensitive dinner party hostess, she’d arranged us in like-minded groups. I found myself in a room with two people who were also theatre producers and we took fellowship in our shared experiences. Or maybe it was just happy coincidence that we found ourselves in the room together. Or maybe everyone is a theatre producer.
I really enjoyed the classes and was both sorry and relieved when they were over. Sorry that that respite in the middle of Wednesdays was gone, and perhaps a tad relieved that the respite was not there to remind me how little respite there currently is in my life. After all, aren’t I the self-proclaimed booster of building your days the way you want your life to be?
DID YOU EVER SEE THE WAY THE CLOUDS LOVE A MOUNTAIN? THEY CIRCLE ALL AROUND IT; SOMETIMES YOU CAN’T EVEN SEE THE MOUNTAIN FOR THE CLOUDS. BUT YOU KNOW WHAT? YOU GO UP TOP AND WHAT DO YOU SEE? HIS HEAD. THE CLOUDS NEVER COVER THE HEAD. HIS HEAD POKES THROUGH, BECAUSE THE CLOUDS LET HIM; THEY DON’T WRAP HIM UP. THEY LET HIM KEEP HIS HEAD UP HIGH, FREE, WITH NOTHING TO HIDE HIM OR BIND HIM.Toni Morrison
Do you ever feel static? I do, which is ironic because there is really nothing static about the work I do. Reinventing our skills to meet the challenges, day after day. As I sit atop my own metaphoric mountain, head peeking through the cumulated cumulus, I watch my friends, moving like Toni Morrison’s clouds, tantalizing me with their dreams, their risk takings, their breaking apart from solid white to whispy entrails.
Lately I have felt restless to redefine my purpose. I feel like a horse with a yoke on, leaning against weight of the plough behind, head down, furrowing row upon row of freshly tilled soil the farmer behind strewing a satchel of seed. My yoke mate and I prepare the soil and keep going until the field is plowed, looking behind with satisfaction that we have prepared that fertile soil well. That has been my purpose, always, as a stage manager, and then as a production manager, now as a professor. Preparing the field for planting fertile and productive ideas and collaborations. I pause in the warm tilled soil around my hooves and look up at the clouds above my mountain.
Today I attended two phenomenal symposia – it was a day of discovery. This morning I drove to Cal State Fullerton where they were hosting a symposium about Theatrical Automation. Me and about 60 other theatre geeks learning about the uses of automation and seeing amazing demonstrations of the mechanics. What I loved about it was seeing the students who were there, already inspired by the technology and hungry for more. There was some really active learning going on. One of our former TD students had been pivotal in setting up the automation demonstration which was in one of the three theaters there in the Clayes Performing Arts Center. I left halfway through the days events because I had another symposium to attend.
USC’s Visions and Voices was presenting an entire afternoon looking back at the legacy of Anita Hill. This month is the thirtieth anniversary of the senate confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas and over the course of the afternoon, four different panels of experts shared their observations of her testimony’s impact on gender politics everywhere from Hollywood’s “Me Too” movement to harassment of hotel and field workers. A quick poll at the beginning of the afternoon established that of the 250 or so people in the afternoon sessions, half of us had listened first hand to those hearings and had seen her grace under fire during those hearings in October 1991. At the end of the afternoon, Professor Hill spoke with Professor Beverly Guy Sheftall for 50 minutes that flew by. I left completely uplifted by her strong sense of purpose and doing what’s right which had motivated her to testify in the first place. She hasn’t lost that sense of purpose in her subsequent years.
From the sublime to the ridiculous. Bear with me. I promise they are somewhat related.
I am augmenting my tattoo. The original dainty hummingbird flirting with a cherry blossom, a gift to my husband on our 30th wedding anniversary, sits perched on my left shoulder, frozen in time. I remember the moment of revealing my naughty unexpected gift, the night before our 30th anniversary like it was yesterday. And yet, like our beautiful marriage, it is behind me, visible only over my shoulder, with the use of a mirror. Lately, the need to radically redefine that flower as a more succulent blossom has become an obsession. Unlikely to be seen by anyone other than myself or maybe my granddaughters at the pool, the tattoo remodel is frivolous. But the lusher flower feels like a secret promised richness that I want to share with myself. I shared the original as a gift to the love of my life. This new image begs to be shared as a gift to life itself. The prospect stirs the cloudy entrails above the crest of my mountain. Like my friends changing paths, plunging headfirst into joyful intentional chaos. Yes, a soupçon of danger or risk, but all of us reaching our beaks for that succulence of engagement and purpose.
My path is measured by moments of urgent demands, of responsibilities accepted eagerly. When they begin to feel too urgent, I wonder what it would be like to not be driven by those urgencies. Like a trapeze artist soaring above the safety net, I find myself wondering what if…what if I missed the bar and fell into the net? What would that be like? To scoot my tutu-ed, sequined bottom to the edge of the net, grasping it firmly, flipping my legs over my head and landing full on the ground. Planting my feet firmly on the ground and thrusting my arms up in a triumphant victory pose. Would I feel victorious? Would I feel grateful for my fall? What would I see if I looked up? Would I miss the mastery of my flight, the thrill of grasping hands to others’ resined wrists? The breathless excitement of the trust exercise that is my work, my passion, my sustenance? I wonder, once grounded where I would go, how to redefine my flight in another form? What would I think as I watched the tent come down and the circus leaving me behind, waving my damp, emotion-filled hanky from the train platform. I wonder about the subsequent stillness as nothing but the wisps of the retreating train fade into the bluest sky I’ve ever seen.
Sitting on the bench, my suitcase packed for the next adventure, I look down, unfold the ticket in my hand and imagine the road ahead, the people I will meet, the newly grounded adventures after my trapeze is gone.
These are some of the things my mindfulness writing class have me thinking. Already at the top of the mountain, entrails of whipping whiteness around my head, I ask “What is hiding me? Binding me? What is freeing me?”