Finding Stillness through the Trees
This piece of art, entitled ‘Finding Stillness through the Trees’, reflects my own search for stillness and calm through walking in the woodlands and amongst the trees. As I make, I attempt to unravel how important time in nature is for my overall sense of wellbeing.
It is often the case that when you are looking back on the piece and reflecting on the making, you realise why you had to make it. I began to realise that any attempt towards looking after ourselves, on practising self care, came from finding places/environments that help us feel good. And in feeling good, feeling settled on the outside, that we become settled on the inside.
I have always had an appreciation for the woods and trees. Most recently, I have been especially drawn to the the lines and marks on the bark of the sliver birch tree. I often think that the lines on the bark are the stories of lives of trees. I began to notice these stories on cherry trees, holly trees and aspens as well. Yet, even though I was intrigued by these tall beauties, I was also very aware of something more that shifted in how I felt. Something happened within as I stared, touched and wandered.
In an attempt to dig further, I started paying more attention. I find being open and curious in your environment can be a great way of tapping into things that makes you feel better.. and make you feel worse! Are their places where you just feel good: your favourite coffee shop, a park near where you live, a trip to the beach. Note these resources to yourself as when you need them (and boy you will need them!) you have them in your back pocket ready to use. We all feel good in completely different places!
A simple exercise is begin to notice. I generally do this on my own for this as I’m easily influenced by the feelings of those around me (however doing it with others is also a great learning experience). When are you in a particular place, centre yourself by taking a few deep breaths and start to pay attention to your breathing. Notice how your lower belly expands as you take a deep breath. Begin to focus your attention here for a while. Tap in to how you are feeling. Do you notice a tension, a tightness, a pumped up energy? Do you notice a slower speed, a settled feeling, a light buzz? Jot it down in your diary or phone and start collecting information on how different places make you feel.
In response to how I felt in these moments of walking through the trees, I started weaving.
About this time, an interesting shift took place. I had been on a retreat in the woods of the Netherlands. In this place, everything was still and there was a feeling of deep connection. Within myself and also with the world around me. As I left, I began to move. Buses, airplanes, back home and back to a hectic schedule. Life was going at full speed and I was scrambling to hold on to the steering wheel.
I began to get pretty annoyed with myself. Where is that stillness gone? Why couldn’t I bring it home with me and plant it into every day life. What on earth is the point in taking time out when the results are so fleeting? How could I bring this feeling into day to day life, where I felt I really needed it!
So I turned to the making. I turned to the endless movement of wool passing from right to left and from left to right over a steady cotton thread. Often, when I am making, its not about finding answers or proving anything, its about submitting to the flow of material in motion. I built each line, steadily and the pattern began to emerge and the feelings began to ease.
I began to realise that ‘the outdoors’ was always there for me, and even when I wasn’t in a wood, there was a fair chance that there would be some plants/trees nearby.
And if I couldn’t find time for a walk, I had plants on my desk and in my house whose green leaves I could turn to and breath. I could even put one in the loo and have some time out in there.
And if I didn’t have a plant, how about putting a picture up on my wall of natural woodlands or even a screen saver on my computer and phone!
Those places that sooth us. Those places that calm us and allow us to reconnect. Where are they in your life? Are they put away like the good silverware, only to use on special occasions. Or were there ways, different ways where you could bring them into your day and week.
I decided to stitch this piece into canvas. And there was something about this piece that made me want to present the sky. The blue skies of day and the dark blue skies at night. As I sampled colours and began to apply the paint, something changed in the process. Paint, with its fluid properties and liquid intensity, seemed to create more of a solidness in what I was expereincing.
As I painted, I began to really feel the deep impact of stillness, not just on the body but also on mind. I placed layer upon layer onto the canvas. Sometimes the layers were thick with paint, sometimes watery and barely covering. Sometimes paint was added and sometimes the paintbrush would take previous still wet layers away. Thats the process; building up, wearing away, building up again. Is this also how life is? Some situations build us up and some situations wear us away. The painting is alway changing.
When still, I could reduce down the outside noise, the temptations of multitudes of experiences, and I could start of find more familiar places within my body. From here, I could settle, and settle into something that seems to exist underneath the noise. When I find myself amongst the trees, I feel a calm feeling of presence. When I take this feeling inside, I begin to notice that its here too. The trees and I are not that different from this place. In the calm there is a peace, a sense of wholeness and a knowing that runs deep.
As I begin to merge the painted canvas with the weave, I see that visible warp of white cotton treads feel like branches reaching up to the light, and the roots grounding the piece to the earth.