Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The companionship of silence

Why is it that the more we come to understand the imperative for stillness, the more determinedly this ideal seems to elude us?

Replenished - Pastel on paper, 2003 - CB

I speak for myself here, of course - and, yes, situations are always of our own making. BBS (Buzzy Brain Syndrome) is no longer entertaining. Frankly, I'm feeling frazzled and fried, which is ridiculous, when you think we're only four days into February. The year is yet young and there's much to make, do, and (perhaps, more wisely) not do during the coming months... My head is constantly engaged with ideas, projects, schemes, images... no sooner is one set down than another pops its head up. I'm constantly on the lookout for ways to slow down, still down, be quiet, contemplative, mindful, measured... Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Suffice to say, it's an ongoing conversation. Right now, all the signs are here that I need to pace things more sensibly, pare things back, top the cup up.

Breaksea Chalice II - Pastel on paper, 2008 - CB

The other day, my rickety old mailbox delivered up a speeding fine - hmmm. I was not pleased. But, admittedly, it was perfect: a cautionary message sent to pounce on me at just the right time. In all honesty, I've had this fine coming for some weeks now, and not just because I happened to be driving too fast out near Broad Bay on a magnificent Sunday afternoon. Clearly, I need to put my foot on the proverbial brake. No one else can do it - after all, 'tis I who is sitting in the driver's seat. The thing is, I do know this - stillness and quiet are right up there when it comes to ideals I aspire to. Apparently, though, I sometimes need a remotely-operated speed gizmo to spell it out -  'S  l  o  w     d  o  w  n,  C  l  a  i  r  e.'   From time to time, one's internal authority figure gets nonchalant or forgetful or just plain tired. 

As a way of countering busyness, I work. This may sound like a contradiction, but actually, it's not: when I'm in 'right relationship' with my work, then my work is my play. It's also my battery charger, my raging tiger, my wise counsel; my lap, my staff, my yardstick, my still point and compass. I depend a lot on drawing - the smudge of black on my hands, the smatter of dust at my feet - and my dream life for poise, discernment, balance. Another paradoxical element of creative - predominantly solitary - work is that it does not separate us from a sense of connection with our community. Solitude is diligent... it works in mysterious, intangible ways, connecting us all, despite the vagaries of life, time and place. It can be a companionable journey that leads us all, via our marvelously different routes, to the common wellspring.  I wonder, is this your experience, too?
Bearings IV - Pastel on paper, 2002 - CB

I find that when I'm tired, I get thirsty. And when I'm thirsty, that's my reminder that it's time to make my way back to the water. I'm never fully at ease when away from it... neither literally, nor metaphorically. With this in mind, I've soaked my next big stash of paper, taped the patient white sails onto boards. My notebooks are fat, my hands and heart ready. Tomorrow, I hope, hope, hope the day will be uninterrupted so that I can jump in and make another big splash. Having said that, the images that keep floating to the top are spare: they have names like seven minutes silence/shimmer/still point/resound.  

In August 2006, my South African printmaker friend Lyn Smuts, wrote 'Visual images are compelling exactly because they are multi-faceted objects. That which is visible, always implies all that is invisible.' (From the catalogue for SOUND STILL, Cape Town - curated by Katherine Glenday.)

In my bid to resist busyness, I've been trying to stay in the present, focused only on what is immediately in front of me. I've also been reflecting on the joys of collaborative partnerships, and the fact that distance need not be an obstacle when it comes to working collaboratively with others. To the contrary, distance contributes something unique and unexpected. 

Back in 2006, I was fortunate to participate in  SOUND STILL , an exciting cross-gender, cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary exhibition in which a group of nine artists, dancers and musicians (from South Africa, Austria and New Zealand) explored sound, movement and stasis, applying the characteristics of these complimentary states to the solo journey and to that of the group. It's been interesting to note how insistent certain of our preoccupations can be. Here's another excerpt from the same catalogue in which I was quoted as saying,   
'Silence suggests an experience of absence or aloneness, whereas in fact, it can be one of presence and oneness. Stillness and silence are dynamic. They are potent spaces - ways of being that resonate with energy. Silence contains and emanates all the fullness of sound. Similarly, stillness is anything but static. It reveals our connectedness with - and separation from - our environment. It exposes memory, challenges reality and the imagined, highlights knowledge and ignorance of self and other. It accompanies us through life and death, teaches patience, protects innocence, encourages community.'

'At the still point of the turning world, is the dance,' wrote the brilliant Mr. T. S Eliot.


  1. I readily empathise with your BBS concept Claire! Although I refer to it as BBB - Butters' Busy Braincell (in honour of South Park's idealistic young fellow, Butters :).

    Yes, when the Mind is firing on all cylinders, it is most insistent, and disinclined to take much heed of the needs of the organism in which it is housed!

    Still, I find the body will issue a 'speeding ticket' from time to time, and a period of rest is invariably beneficial, allowing the Mind to contemplate rather than make manifest it's Muse. Mind you, this of course only leads to another round of intense endeavour! And so it goes ... oh well!

    I find it helpful to practise my personal equivalent of Tai Chi, which I call er - 'plodding'. For me, this means to very deliberately take my time, focus on just the task before me, and thus stay in the present moment. It kinda works ... s'pose! ;)

    Still, to be captured by the thoes of inspiration is to follow a wild and natural impulse, a far superior state to that of dour domestication eh!

    OK then,
    All The Best!

  2. The joys of being out on the water or on the back roads is being in a place beyond the average normal waking awareness. No need for Bose surround systems, enjoy mother nature 100% total surround system of silence and If you have ears to hear you will hear the teaching you will get the message and if you have the correct frame of mind you might remember it. Even if you don’t remember the experience you will have had it. This is great…

  3. Hello Claire, have you read 'In Praise of Slow' by Carl Honore? Might just help with your BBS. Remember to breathe. S

  4. Thank you (thank Q) for popping by, One Million Daleks - and for your empathy. Staying in the present moment is indeed the most effective way to settle the mind. I like what you say about rest periods 'allowing the mind to contemplate rather than make manifest its Muse.' I find your blog captivating, by the way - super-sharp, insightful and thoughtfully put together. Many phrases 'stick' such as your comment a few weeks back about daleks being able to combine humility with exuberance! Take care, Claire

  5. Hi Tango Daddy, you understand, don't you! My grandfather used to talk about 'rustling' in his study, an activity that always held an air of mystery and industry and implied the sound of wind in the trees... I knew not to disturb him when he was 'rustling', understood it was a solitary business and that he was to be left alone for as long as he needed. That was his way of returning to water, or taking 'a back road.' Different methods towards the same end? Thanks for following this blog and in so doing, introducing us to yours. C

  6. Good to hear from you, AnonymouS. I'll look out for the Carl Honore book you recommend. Don't you think 'In Praise of Slow' would make a great title for an exhibition? C

  7. Goodness me Claire - with communication skills like that you could get a job with the Diplomatic Corps no problem! ...

    Yep, your response made all the LEDs on my dalek's Approval-seeking channel light up! ;) Thank Q!

    (Hmm, I imagine anyone reading that will be scratching their head wondering "huh? what on earth does that mean!" ;)

  8. Thinking of you in your seeking of stillness. It's right before you: in your artwork.


  9. Lisa - how wonderful to hear from you! You have been much in my mind lately, especially with the cruel, cruel fires that have been raging across Victoria. Rupert is in Canberra, so safe (although it's been terribly hot and dry there, too) and I've been trying to find Womboonee on the map (which is where Catherine Ryan lives). I do hope you're well and that your year brings you an abundance of good things. L, Claire.