Painting

Negative Space

When I learned to draw, one of the techniques I found so helpful to capturing reality was “negative space, ” paying close attention to and drawing the space around an object, rather than the object itself. It helps particularly with complicated objects and with linear perspective.

Hasn’t this past year been a communal exercise in negative space? We traced the space around the objects that we thought defined us and in that space we found the dimensionality of what we once took for granted and a perspective that was so hard to capture.

As a yogi, when I hear “negative space,” I also think of the Sanskrit word, “dukha,” commonly translated as “suffering.” One understanding of the etymology of the Sanskrit can be traced back to the seed words of “duk,” meaning “bad,” and “kha,” meaning “space.” The origins of dukha as suffering refer to the imbalance in the axle of a wheel, which caused discomfort to a traveler. And isn’t that how we feel when we are suffering? In a bad space, bumping down life’s highway.

One of the prompts I offered to my Art and Yoga class at All Soul’s this past spring was to create a piece inspired by negative space. I wrote this piece for the class, but didn’t share it then, so I share it here. The painting above is an old one done years ago from the “In the Garden” series.

Negative Space

As I drove around the corner and was about to pass the elementary school, I saw a toddler trying to climb the curb on the opposite side of the street. There was too much space around this tiny person, dressed in a dirty pink fleece jacket. She was small enough that climbing the curb meant that she bent to touch the cement to lift her foot towards it.

I pulled the car over and unrolled my window. As I did, I could see an Audi rounding the corner and waved for caution.  The care stopped. I could see from my rearview mirror that the driver was going through the same thought process I was.

Opening the car door, and leaving it open, I asked, “Where is your Mommy, honey?” as I walked towards her. I looked around. No one on the ball field. No one on the sidewalk in front of the school either.

When I picked her up, she bared her little teeth at me in a halfway smile, or in looking up at my face she grimaced to focus, I couldn’t tell. She was young enough to wear diapers or pull ups. She pointed at me and then at the house beyond the curb.

“I’ll drive up the road to see if there are people looking for her,” the man in the Audi said to me as he drove slowly past us.

“Does your family live here?” I asked too brightly and too loudly. I knocked at the front door of house she had pointed to and waited. She slumped on my hip and rested her head on my shoulder. There was no sound in the house.

 The Audi circled back.

 “There’s not a soul anywhere.” The only sound was the car’s idle.

 “I guess we’ll have to call the police,” I said.

Then: movement at the furthest corner of the ball field, in the woods beyond the school building. A woman ran towards us, her hands outstretched, her long blond hair electric behind her. I began waving, pointing to the child at my chest. As she got close, I could hear her urgent sounds as she ran low to the ground, unaware of the mechanics of her body’s propulsion, so single minded in her focus.

“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,” she breathed.

“I found her as I was driving up.”

“Oh my God, oh my God. There. Oh my God! Thank you. Thank you.  My lead teacher is there…” she looked to the school. There was still the emptiness of the ball field. No one.

“She was where?! Oh my God. She…we! She’s part of the school. I’m day care. Special ed. I don’t know how. We have an outdoor classroom. She was gone.”

The woman didn’t look strong enough to handle adrenaline pumping in her slight frame. I was thankful she wore a mask, not because of the coronavirus, but because her fear and her guilt would have been too vivid and sorrowful to witness on this beautiful spring morning.

The man in the Audi drove off, waving at us, his calm smile incongruous with the flames of panic that continued to engulf the teacher.

“Thank you. Thank you. I hate to think…” the teacher said as she took the little girl from me. She clutched the child to her chest as she ran back to the school without looking back.

Later someone suggested that I should have followed up with the police anyway. But having worked at an elementary school for a brief time, I knew the teacher would have to file an incident report with the school and notify the little girl’s family. The negative space this child had created on an early spring morning would leave a permanent scar.

Weeds and Seeds

Cancer has been a summer weed for me, but I’m happy to report that the doctors plucked it out by the roots. My breast cancer was stage 1, no node involvement and I do not need additional treatment. Only a 5% chance that it returns somewhere else in my body. So I’m cancer free, and I feel so very fortunate and blessed. I will always keep a huge space in my heart for women and the people that love them who have not had this kind of prognosis.

As I return to the ordinary ways of my life (I start teaching at YogaWorks again tomorrow), I have some resolutions I’d like to plant in cancer’s place. One is to practice keeping my heart open at all times, not just special times. To remember the wounds every being I encounter has and perhaps hides. To be part of the healing rather than the hurting. (This is a big order for someone who can leave a yoga class completely blissed out and then be in a snit about a driver who refuses to use a blinker when turning.)

The second resolution I am making is to set aside time for intentional creativity. I was so happy teaching 12 classes a week — 3 of them were art classes for older adults through Iona. Each lesson was a flowering of my own creativity but it had an extrinsic purpose. I had to have the right materials, make sure that I could teach this lesson in an hour and a half and think through modifications for those with physical challenges so they had the resources they needed to create. The paintings I did these past four weeks were intrinsic — done just for the love of doing it — and in this way they were healing. Though I’ve shared some with you here, there are others I’ll never share.  They are just for me.

So: two resolutions grown during the summer of breast cancer.  As I’ve gotten better and I’m getting used to new limitations and new body parts (!), I’ve been aware of the healing energy that has shone down on me every step of the way. I’ve soaked up all this love and warmth and I’m ready to give back now. Thank you for helping me get to this place of harvest.

I’ll continue to post about how the practice of yoga can heal, sharing the way my practice as a yogi, teacher and creative shows up for me.  But for now, thank God, no more about cancer.

 

 

The Tart Taste of Fertility

Quince

Quince

I painted a picture I took of a quince as a way to keep creating.  We have a huge quince bush in our back yard — it blooms a delicate salmon-pink flower in the spring and then ripens about ten fruit in the summer that are so tart the squirrels won’t eat them.  Not much excited me about the subject as I sketched it, or kept me in a sweet flow as I painted.  Unlike the seed pods, it wasn’t a tortured process, but it felt like practice. Come to the canvas, mix the colors, listen to music, and fill a brush with paint.  Repeat.

But the universe was talking to me, I just wasn’t listening. As I became bored with painting, I grabbed one of my favorite books, An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols by J.C. Cooper (Thames and Hudson, 1979), and looked up “quince” on a whim. The quince is an ancient Greek symbol of fertility, the food of brides and sacred to Venus.  Like ancient Sarah, I audibly snorked  and chuckled when I read this — what a strange sign! I am now fifty, so my baby making days are well behind me.  I’m in a phase of my life where I see my children ripening into adulthood.

I put the book down and returned to the canvas  — a verdant sea of green.  As I played with hues and shapes and shades, I realized that the sign for me was that my life is fertile ground, not my body.

That is the lesson of yoga as well.  Asana (poses) is what most people think of as yoga, but it is only one limb of an eight limbed practice.  There are also the ethical disciplines of the yamas and niyamas, the appropriate use of the life force in pranayama, and the abiding in silence and cultivating stillness to deepen an awareness of our connection to true self.

The practice of yoga is a tool to help us till the fertile ground of our being.  Once we have prepared this ground, we can fully bloom.