Over the last couple of weeks here we've been talking about slowing down, paying attention, being fully present wherever we live, within the lives that we live and the work that we do. Yet sometimes ... too often ... life knocks us off-center and we struggle to regain our sense of hózhó (as the Navajo call it): of balance and "walking in beauty." How do we re-center ourselves in the art-making process (or, indeed, in the life-making process) when this happens?
Wendell Berry proffers this insight in his essay collection Standing by Words:
"What can turn us...back into the sphere of our being, the great dance that joins us to our home, to each other and to other creatures, to the dead and unborn? I think it is love. I am perforce aware how baldly and embarrassingly that word now lies on the page -- for we have learned at once to overuse it, abuse it, and hold it in suspicion. But I do not mean any kind of abstract love (adolescent, romantic, or 'religious'), which is probably a contradiction in terms, but particular love for particular things, places, creatures, and people, requiring stands, acts, showing its successes and failures in practical or tangible effects. And it implies a responsibility just as particular, not grim or merely dutiful, but rising out of generosity. I think that this sort of love defines the effective range of human intelligence, the range within its works can be dependably beneficent. Only the action that is moved by love for the good at hand has the hope of being responsible and generous. Desire for the future produces words that cannot be stood by. But love makes language exact, because one loves only what one knows."
For Berry, it all comes back to place:
"I stand for what I stand on: the local landscape, the local community: human, animal, and vegetable alike. ''I see that the life of this place is always emerging beyond expectation or prediction or typicality," he writes, "that it is unique, given to the world minute by minute, only once, never to be repeated. And this is when I see that this life is a miracle, absolutely worth having, absolutely worth saving. We are alive within mystery, by miracle."
And that, for me, is precisely where art, inspiration, balance and beauty can be found: within mystery, by miracle: the everyday miracles of the place we call home. The leaves turning gold. A partner's sweet smile. The good scent of coffee on a cold autumn morning. A rainbow outside the studio window, there for one minute and gone in the next.
"The grace that is the health of teachers can only be held in common," says Berry (in his poem "Healing"):
The love and the work of friends and lovers belongs to the task, and are its health.
Rest and rejoicing belong to the task, and are its grace.
Let tomorrow come tomorrow. Not by your will is the house carried through the night.
The Wendell Berry quotes are from Standing By Words, Life As Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition, and What Are People For; all rights reserved by the author. The illustrations are by Florence Susan Harrison (top and bottom), and Willy Pogány.