Many subjects of learning have caught my attention over the course of my life and piqued my interest: I’ve raised amazing children, painted beautiful Texas landscapes, owned a graphic design business, studied herbal medicinal traditions, learned to do minor construction, owned rental properties for nearly two decades, climbed The Aztec’s Temple of The Moon at Teotihuacan with my baby in a carrier, moved to the big city, bought a farm and moved to the country, taught myself to embroider, and am currently loving the healing art of utilizing essential oils and getting ready to learn to weld.
But there are few things that feel like a calling to me. Sometimes I’m secretly jealous when someone tells me something like, “Oh yeah. I totally knew since I was 4 years old that I wanted to be an accountant. It was what I was meant to be.” Really? I mean, really? Of course, I know I want to be a wife and a mother, but I’m not sure I would categorize myself as “really exceptional” at either of those, and that’s something you ARE, really, whether you’re good at it or not, right? It’s for sure not something I always thought of being – especially when I thought I was going to travel the world with the Peace Corp as a teenager. So, besides the obvious joy and commitment I feel in my familial roles, I’ve had few subjects of interest that retained my dedication long enough for me to get good at them, much less KNOW that I wanted to BE a professional in their regard. For instance, I don’t think I would publicly call myself an embroider-er, a build-er, an herbal-ist, an oil paint-er, a graphic design-er, or any such label. Maybe a “dabbler” would fit as an appropriate title for me.
And when I have wanted an occupation so badly that I wanted to BE an “-ist” or an “-er” in a given vein, the voices in my social consciousness (and sometimes the real voices from people around me) told me that those desires were impractical. Examples? I’ve always wanted to BE an artist and a farmer. Always. From as far back as I can remember. Well, at least I did know this when I was a child. But I forgot. Actually, it’s hindsight and middle age that have given me the re-realization and the guts to admit that this is what I wanted since achieving any kind of self-awareness. Why? Because these professions aren’t practical. Or, at least, that’s what I was led to believe by my incredibly frugal family and a society that values the bottom line. And we all want to fit in and seem like we have life on track, don’t we? I mean, I think we all go through at least a life phase like that. And because of this desire to “do it the right way” according to other’s values, I think that for years I forgot that art and chickens and soil were vital and essential to who I am and who I want to be.
One of my favorite virtual mentors was Wayne Dyer. I first got Dyer’s message on a set of cassette tapes in college when my friend gave me a copy of his tapes, which had been copied from his mother’s tapes, which had been copied from his mother’s boss’ tapes. His teachings turned my life around and taught me to reshape my thinking. One of my favorite quotes of his is this: The mantra of the tribe is, “but what will they think?” So true. Isn’t it that whenever we get the courage to live large and dream beyond the cubicle, we often get reined in by a sensation that we will look like freakshows to anyone not living inside our own heads? I’m reminded of a day when I gave my future mother- and father-in-law a large gourd that I had grown and harvested and decorated as a present for their anniversary. When my mother-in-law complimented me on it, I looked down and humbly negated her praise. She took my face in her hands and said, “Honey, NEVER hide your talents. God gave you these abilities. Show them.”
The onset of Age 40 has given me new perspective – one that my husband’s mother understands, either through years of experience or through her innate comfort within herself. For instance, I want to be healthy, but I no longer worry about what I look like in a bathing suit at the pool. I know it will be what it will be, and I’m just happy to be spending time splashing with my babies. Likewise, beyond being able to care for my family and pay basic bills, I don’t really care if anyone thinks I’m practical. I’ve come to realize that beauty for the sake of beauty and experience for the sake of experience are valuable and life-breathing things that awaken the core of who we are. It doesn’t matter if your experience is creating a painting or mountain biking on your favorite adrenaline-inducing canyon or writing a book that you might or might not publish. The very act of doing something you enjoy and feel connected to is a healing and cathartic exercise. In fact, a 2014 brain study found that people who were asked to create hands-on visual art for a period of 10 weeks showed a “statistically significant correlation between functional connectivity of… the prefrontal lobes” and also showed increased “psychological resilience.”1 Turns out that art is practical, after all. Another study from The Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine combined creative art therapy with a Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR)program for women with breast cancer. After just eight weeks, patients “showed changes in brain activity associated with lower stress and anxiety” and “ demonstrated significant effects on cerebral blood flow.” Furthermore, the study assessed that “these have been associated with improved immune function, quality of life and coping effectiveness in women with breast cancer.”2 Huh. Food for thought.
Anyway, I digress. Even given the findings of the above studies, social opinion is a potent thing. And so it was for me recently when we bought our land and created Two Clay Birds Farm and Studio. I had to make business cards. That was practical. After all, we were a business. But it made me wonder just what to say. I was frozen. I felt somewhat pretentious calling us farm-ers, since we were total greenhorns; and I really hesitated putting the word “studio” on there, because who wants to be seen as a flaky art-ist? But then came the realization and the acceptance and joy that come with doing your own thing. We wanted a change of lifestyle. We wanted a re-awakening of our lifelong passions. So, why hesitate? Why hide that? Why try to dull our desires and goals to fit the sensibilities of others?
One-liners on the subject are prolific:
“He is able who thinks he is able.” ~Buddha
“If you leave the smallest corner of your mind open for a moment, other people’s opinions will rush in from all quarters.” – George Bernard Shaw
“The greatest fear in the world is of the opinions of others. And the moment you are unafraid of the crowd you are no longer a sheep, you become a lion. A great roar arises in your heart, the roar of freedom.” — Osho (OK, so that’s a 3-liner.)
“It is not uncommon for people to spend their whole life waiting to start living.” ― Eckhart Tolle
But Rumi gave birth to three of my all-time favorites:
“Respond to every call that excites your spirit.” ― Rumi
“These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them.” ― Rumi
And, finally, “Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.” ― Rumi
So, as I grow herbs and hatch chickens and make our new farmhouse a home that reflects our family’s personality and prepare to build my long-wished-for art studio with my own hands, I am where I want to be and I am WHO I want to be. I am a mother. I am a wife. I am an artist. I am a farmer. I am a self-confirmed practitioner of chickwifery (more on that in another post). I am happy beyond words with this new self-acceptance. I see this embracing of my true self as an embracing of my spirit – God’s unique manifestation in me. I have come to realize that there is no church building or sermon or book or well-meaning evangelist that can make me feel closer to Spirit than when I am immersed in art or bringing forth life from the land or giving to others from the simple abundance we have been fortunate to obtain. I haven’t found empirical evidence supporting this, but my guess is that our brains change in chemical and physical characteristics when we are immersed in art and other activities we lose ourselves in – changes such as those that numerous studies have found take place during meditation practices. None of us are cut from the same cloth, and we have a very limited amount of lifetime in which to figure out the particular way we fit into the world. Thank goodness for the accountants who are doing what they love. Artists and farmers will always need help with bookwork. Life’s clock is ticking. I think I’ll go draw some pictures of chickens.
(Update: Above artwork is for a new fabric project I’m working on. The star of the project is our hen, Buffy. Actually, all of our Buff Orpington hens are named “Buffy,” so it’s anyone’s guess which one this pretty chick is.)
1. 2014, Bolwerk, Mack-Andrick, Lang, Dörfler, Maihöfner – “How Art Changes Your Brain: Differential Effects of Visual Art Production and Cognitive Art Evaluation on Functional Brain Connectivity”
2. 2012, Monti – Mindfulness-based Art Therapy (MBAT)