My breathing deepens. I am quieted. I sink into the setting. All sounds become both clearer and part of a larger sound-scape that includes my breathing, my heartbeat, the soft ssshh of my hand moving on textured paper, the swish of a brush in water and the warm click of pencils as I rustle in my art box. I become conscious of a hum that slowly differentiates into bird calls, a distant dog bark, a whir of insect wings. As I continue to sit, even the heat, or cool moistness, seems to have a physical weight that snuggles me.
I am drawing.
This is a summer morning of watercolour sketching & drawing. My meditation begins as I gather my sketching tools, and continues as my focus becomes fully attuned to the process.
From my Cortes Island studio, I have walked through the damp coolness of an alder, hemlock, cedar and fir forest into the bright openness of a clear-cut that slopes south and east. Logged only a few years ago, I still remember the lofty trees and sheltered trails. Orange peel fungus provided bright and unexpected ground colour. How different the clear-cut with bent, misshapen and broken forest remnants poking up. I embrace these survivors of the logger’s ruthless choice. I appreciate drawing them.
At the same time, I welcome the open landscape that is now beginning to fill in with new growth. Salal, Oregon grape, trailing blackberry, huckleberry, bracken fern and fireweed are energetically making their presence known with fresh leaves and flowers. Small hemlocks push up, offering their droopy dew laden topknots to the morning sun.
I usually stop for a few moments and take in the full expanse of the clear cut…looking down to the small stones and humus rich earth at my feet, along the small trail that winds away through the vegetation, slowly taking in the multiple layers of landscape and distance all the way to the misty blue of the mainland mountains, filling my eyes and heart with light and colour.
One of the most powerful results of a regular drawing practice is a vividly enhanced visual awareness. I see so much more, reveling in the shapes, forms and colours, all so varied and dazzling. Enhanced awareness firmly translates to ‘being’ in the landscape. Being leads to being ‘seen’. Quiet contemplation, focused by my drawing practice, plants me in the landscape. I begin to feel a deep intimacy, kinship and sensitive awareness. In my stillness, the land and its inhabitants accept me. Small animals almost run over my toes and insects investigate the colours on my palette. Birds alight nearby.
I recall how sinuous little reddish mink have danced along beach logs, unaware of my presence, only to react with a start when only a few feet away. I’ve enjoyed their lengthy scrutiny from their round dark eyes… until, with a leap they pivot off in the opposite direction.
I have often felt carefully observed. Of course deer and other animals observe me, but I have also felt a mutual awareness even from the trees. I believe they sense my observation and appreciate the attention. There is a mutual vibration of simple acknowledgement. “We are here and so are you.”
One spring, drawing kit in hand, I sat myself among the moist mosses and decomposing wood fibers of a rain forest hideaway. Nestled in my ‘studio’, I began drawing the dripping scene; all tree trunks and rain-wet growth against a mossy granite bluff. Quiet, so quiet. Slowly I became conscious of a disturbance in my ‘morphic field’. I began to glance around. Nothing appeared to be moving but the odd feeling continued. I began to turn around quickly to surprise my observer. Suddenly, I caught a swirl of movement. I swear I saw the trees gather up their skirts… In the deep green behind me, the trees have been dancing. With an abashed giggle, they straighten up again.
To me, it seems an obvious corollary -- close observation encourages a deep appreciation. Individual rocks, trees and wild violets, become so intimately observed that I am moved by their subtle changes. I’m thrilled when these tiny ground hovering violets flower, and enjoy their delicately ribbed heart-shaped leaves. And I empathize when caterpillars devour the fresh alder leaves. If a tree I’ve drawn loses a limb or is toppled by the wind I feel a surprising sense of loss.
In this world I am also enveloped in a rainbow of colour. This morning the colours initially seem subtle and undifferentiated, but within moments, the scene drapes itself in colour.
Even in the winter, or any time of year, the range and strength of colour fills my soul. Today the colours run from pale mauve to rich Indian reds, cool green-blues to soft yellows. Whether I am focused on a small object or allowing my vision to gather the widest expanse, the range of colour is always extraordinary.
I realize I used the word ‘extra-ordinary’ when what I’m describing is ‘ordinary’ - in every sense. What is extra-ordinary is that we rarely see what is ordinary and visible. What is even more extra-ordinary is ‘seeing’ beyond the visible and being fully present to all our senses. What a joy to allow myself the time to simply sit in contemplation of all these marvels – to scratch away with brush or pen, to smell the spring morning filled with propolis from the budding maples, hear the catch of wind in grass, a rattle so different from the sigh of wind in fir tops..., recognizing the cacophony of spring compared to the silent heat of August.
Drawing is a mindfulness meditation, a full engagement with the present moment. It has nothing to do with how well you or I draw. It is the practice of “bringing our attention to”, allowing all other concerns, thoughts, feelings to fall away, to focus fully, joyfully on the process of observing, feeling, being. This is my practice.
And sometimes the trees will dance.