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“The artist vocation is to send light into the human heart.” —George Sand

This is a quintessential, Spring morning in Maine—the air thick with moisture, brisk and chilly still. Birds are chirping intermittently as if in conversation and the water of this tucked away bay dances with the breeze that rises up and then stills, rises up and then stills again. Occasionally a very large gust of wind comes charging through, “I’m here! I’m here!” it announces whipping through the branches of towering Pines swaying them deeply one way and then the next. Earlier—with his sharp five year old eyes—Adrian caught sight of a red fox running across our yard. I had seen him yesterday as well. He had come so near to the steps of our back porch and row of glass doors, it almost seemed as if he were peering in at my kitty, Autumn, who stared back out at him from her safe and warm pillow perch. I have a sense that there are some new baby foxes about that he is looking after, scouting food for. It is only a sense, though.

I am in gratitude for a friend who inspired my latest work of art. I have long had a heart for people who go about this world unseen and in need. My first encounter with significant poverty was as a young girl in a church thrift store where my mother volunteered her time. People would come in looking for emergency dental care. In some ways it seemed that their teeth were the least of their worries. I tried to be at ease so that they might feel seen—but not too seen. I remember trying to pretend as if nothing was wrong although I knew something was very wrong. I was awakened. Again and again I have been roused to awareness of the souls who walk this earth unattended to. I lived in New York City in most of my 20’s and early 30’s.  When not engrossed in the roller coaster of my own coming-of-age story, I remembered about others and volunteered with Coalition for the Homeless. It seems that when I come to a new place, part of what I do is to seek out the people in need. I’ve done that same thing here in Maine.

I remember once being in a van that went around the Bowery in Lower Manhattan delivering meals. The driver was a memorable guy who fueled his sobriety with this work. It was dusk—the bridges were beginning to light up around the city as we drove from location to location—delivering meals out of milk crates. There was one moment in particular on an outing like any other that I have replayed in my mind over and over like a gritty movie reel. We were somewhere around Chinatown and the FDR drive which runs along the East Side of Manhattan. It was nearly dark now and as I began to climb out of the van, I got a glimpse in the distance of the people approaching us and it took my breath away. They just kept coming and coming and coming pouring out of dilapidated buildings and alleyways like ants out of an anthill. As they came more near, I took in their physical condition. Their clothes and skin were deeply layered and worn, thick with dirt and suffering and decades of mental illness and addictions untreated.

Late last year, I described to my friend how I was hoping to bring awareness to the devastating issue of homelessness in our country through my art. My first thought had been to create portraits of homeless individuals enhanced in colors and imagery that would invoke all that lies beneath the often tired and weathered outer appearance of those without a safe place to lay their head at night. It was then that my friend—who has a much deeper connection to what it means to be homeless than I do—suggested that I create a piece of art that could simply be enjoyed by homeless people in a space where they gathered. She turned her head up a little and suggested with a slight smile that inspiration might be of some use, that a piece of art might be an unexpected source of hope in an otherwise drab environment like a soup kitchen. I admired her insight—the respect she demonstrated with her idea for all people needing access to beauty and communion with their hearts. Her idea spoke to me instantly and freed me, too, to concentrate on a work of art that was simply beautiful and bright and inspiring.

I began to envision an array of colors that would represent a pouring out of all that remains good in the world despite the evidence otherwise. As I began creating a paper palette, I grew very still inside, inviting a universal force to be with me in my work and to guide the outcome. Although I hadn’t presented the idea to anyone there, I had a vision of sharing the completed work over the holiday season at Portland’s soup kitchen, Preble Street. I was fueled by the bad news in the media wanting to be a part of a counter-balance. There was the continued school violence and then the Syrian Refugee Crisis and news of record homelessness numbers in New York City—including an ever-growing number of children without a place to be safe at home in the night. I underestimated the amount of time it would take to complete the work but settled into the process trusting in what I recognize as a divine timing in all things.

As weeks and then months passed, my work also became deeply informed by my current participation in a yoga teacher training and specifically my mind opening to the idea of a fascial network within each of our bodies supporting and protecting all that we are made up of. I found this image to be an excellent metaphor for the networks of our human capacities for holding each other—and not holding each other—and the ways that the systems may be disrupted through injury and trauma.

It is a gift each time I am allowed to participate in a piece of art coming to life and I never know where the work will take me. This experience was no exception. Over the course of five months, what began as a pouring out of the love and the good that I still know and trust exists in this multifaceted world, became an expression of the deeply held connections between us all as we make our way through the interwoven nature of life’s unfolding. This work—that I have just recently completed and named, “Fascia,”—became about our universal source and backdrop as human beings, as creators, as small drops in the vast ocean of the Universe.

I have yet to make arrangements to share “Fascia” publicly—though I intend to. I do not know how it would actually be received. Maybe people really do just want and need us to help them get into a place where they can have a home. Or maybe they would love to stand before a work of art and be reminded that they matter—that they have significance in this colorful world that we all share. My wish is that they would never, ever have to choose between the two. Either way, I am grateful to have entered into this process once again and to have been reminded where I fit in.

 

"Fascia," 2016 Mixed Media Collage, 80" x 77"

“Fascia” by Meghan Anderson Nathanson 2016 Mixed Media 80″ x 77″

 

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“To see things in the seed, that is genius.” —Lao Tzu

I am home again and the pressure is off—my house so silent on this crisp, grey morning except for the churning water of the dishwasher packed to the gills having gone un-run for days now. The fourth weekend of seven in my 200-hour yoga teacher training culminated last night with a reluctant parting of ways. The palpable vibration of energy that was seeded in the beginning with our first meeting has burst forth in blossom between we students and teachers—connecting us all in a spiral—like the swirling rings of Saturn. Placing hands gently on one another in laughter-filled adjustments, and then in more reverent hands-on bodywork, our individual energies have met and merged and reproduced into something that only our unique collection of atoms and molecules and cells might generate. The result is golden and nourishing—yet lemony with zest and a bit of spice. Here I am, noticing—as the wind picks up outside—the places in me in which that energy might find a home. I can sense it exploring, expanding—discovering the nooks where it might curl up and live on—like so many of the energies that I have absorbed in my experiences with other groups and individuals in my life over so many years. There is a story of connection living within me. There is a story of connection living within us all.

I’ve just cut open a giant sweet potato—noticing it’s vibrant, raw, orange hew against my cutting board and the silvery butcher’s knife I used for cubing the pieces—the only cutting tool left and not currently packed in for washing. I’ve piled the large stack of potatoes into a pan along with an heaping scoop of ghee. The contrasts in colors are striking—the onyx skillet, the sunset vegetable, the golden coating. Inspiration strikes too when I notice my favored rice cooking container is being scrubbed clean as well. I discover a pot of leftover broth in the refrigerator, heat it up on the stove and pour in the rice—a welcomed solution. Back and forth from computer to stove I travel—checking in on this savory mix, knowing these are grounding foods that will bring me back from the ethers of collective living. A flock of ducks loudly announces itself across the sky in our backyard, landing in the bay. Spring is near.

The winter in Maine this season has been so short on snow. All of the white is melted now—gone missing are the tall drifts and copious mounds of melting expected in the dawn of March in years past. Last week it was strange to see a light snow coming down across our bare lawn. It was late in the day—and very cold. Jonah and Adrian were sort of tucked inside for play—a fire was going—and we were listening to Irish music. It is by no means always quite so picturesque in our home. But on this day it was. The snow began floating down like tiny feathers and the boys decided to pile on their winter wear and venture outside. They went and I remained in and warm and with the music. I could see them through the window in front of my kitchen sink where I was cleaning up dishes. They had found an icy patch in a little bit of woods to the side of our driveway and they were sliding around in it—bumping into each other and falling down and being loud and laughing. I was taking them in with the sounds of the dancing Irish beats with its flutes and pipes and joyful rhythms sounding out around me. They reminded me of the characters in a silent film with their big gestures and miming ways. I looked out at them and I just marveled at their tremendous, glorious freedom.

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“Courage is a kind of salvation.”
—Plato

I was around 20 years old when I decided to jump out of an airplane for the first time. It was a static-line jump in which I climbed out of a rickety, old, seemingly taped-together airplane on a sweaty summer day. We were around 5,000 feet up when the door was opened—wind gushing in, loud and powerful in its pressure against our forward movement. I knew enough from our meager four or five hour training not to hesitate too long and was one of the first to climb out of the plane. Bracing my hands on the strut of the wing, I climbed forward and then hung there with my legs dangling out behind me. Counting down and out loud from three—fighting the deafening wind—I let go—my arms stretched out behind me in a “V” so as not to become intertwined with the line that I was attached to. With this type of jump there is almost no free-fall and you are entirely on your own. The line of the chute is pulled by its attachment to the plane within a few moments. I was trembling before and during the climb out of the plane—my heart beating wildly. Very afraid, I coaxed myself through each step, though outwardly I might have seemed calm.

Once the parachute opened I found myself in another world entirely and suddenly everything was very, very still, tranquil. I was floating across a patchwork movie screen of the world, the fear had vanished—sucked out of me and back up into the plane with the static line as if in a vacuum. I was perfectly—wonderfully—free from fear. I was perfectly—wonderfully—free from anything I had ever known. It was so incredibly quiet—a stillness came over me like I had never before experienced. I felt both entirely in myself and outside of myself at the same time. It did not in any way feel as if I were traveling downward through the sky, rapidly falling—although I was. And just as suddenly as I came into the stillness, I came out of it. The ground started to approach—objects becoming larger and larger, my speed seeming faster and faster. In a flash, I was back in my normal reality. I began to consider and then consciously operate the toggles which I had been holding onto—remembering now to guide myself to a particular spot on the landscape. The ground was coming now more quickly than I could have imagined. Suddenly a line was a fence, an abstract shape—a tree. It was time for me to land and I was not prepared. I just nearly missed the fence as it transformed before my eyes into something sturdy and tangible and sharp. I pulled my toggles down with all my might, steering sharply away from the obstacles and finally slowing myself but not in enough time to keep from hitting the ground with a dusty, graceless thud. My legs and feet were beneath me but it was no delicate landing. I was glad to be alive.

I have been listening to the language of fear these last weeks, noting the way in which the world speaks to us in themes through our experiences, through the things that show up as we float—or surge—along the cinema screens of our lives. Fear has shown up in my children at bedtime—their worries about being alone, unheld, unusually strong in these last months. Fear is steeped in the language of our politicians—both very real and exaggerated fears at the root of most platforms and coming across through all range of media. We are discussing the soothing of fears in the place that I go for spiritual nourishment—a welcome break from the usual focus on the fear itself. And as I take on new challenges in my own life—fears—those snarling, spitting beasts—have been lunging for me in their many shifty ways—so much more subtle and nuanced than the threat of a risky jump from a great height.

I have been thinking about how we might navigate fear so that it does not consume us and so that we might continue pursuing the things that we are called to. I’ve been thinking about how we might better notice fear, receive its sometimes worthy message, sidestep it, even, but not submerge it beneath us where it might take root and grow stronger. Naming fear is helpful. Like in meditation—as thoughts come up—we might describe them as something. Thinking, planning, storytelling, we might say to ourselves as thoughts arise—our breath rising and falling as an anchor. In this way we can receive the thoughts and then more readily send them along with less weight. It is as if in recognizing them, we may free them to stop prodding us. We can utilize a similar process when fears come near. I have also found that my fears die down—once acknowledged—when I then turn firmly away and press forward toward the things that I love. In this way, fear can see that there is no space left here in my home.

Despite the calendar turning toward February, the air was springlike this morning here in Maine. I entered my yoga class coatless—the sun warming me. As I’ve been sitting here, the sky has transformed from light blue to pale grey. It has grown darker—overcast, like it might rain. The water has been picking up its pace—moving along more like a river than a bay, icy segments breaking up before me. The tide has traveled inward, first rising beneath the ice, then meandering through it and finally moving the pieces apart completely. Crows dart back and forth from the trees in our yard eventually making their way out along the coastline.

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“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” —Kierkegaard

After his attendance at the US Naval Academy and Navy Flight School at Pensacola and Glynco Naval Air Station, my father was in his mid-20s and a Lieutenant in the US Navy completing a tour of duty on the USS Lake Champlain. It was the early 1960s, he recently recounted to me, and his ship—an anti-submarine, attack carrier—was part of a task group that patrolled the North Atlantic during the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. I had found a quiet place to receive his call on Christmas morning. He was thanking me for a gift I had sent and I was rolling around on an office chair in a back room of our house allowing the high-stimulation of the morning to wash away, sifting around my insides in search of a space where my father’s words might fall and land gently within me like snowflakes on a still day. We began talking about the unusually warm season and he began sharing about how in those days aboard a ship—if he were lucky enough—they might dock at Quonset Point in Rhode Island around Christmastime. He told about how they would be dressed in their winter blues “nearly freezing to death,” with hats but bare ears and how strange it would be to then set sail, at 18 knots heading toward the Caribbean. He told about how within 48 hours they would then be warm and working, dressed in their khakis and short-sleeves. Next they would head back up to Iceland where they would stay for a long and frigid stretch.

I could hear my boys unleashing their Christmas bounty in the next room. I could feel rising up in me a need to memorize these stories from long ago. He went on to say that at that point in his life, his next rank would be Lieutenant Commander and how his father—a naval officer himself—and other officers he respected had advised him not to leave his tour of duty and head to shore duty in Washington without a wartime specialty. It would be good for his career to stay on at sea. As he spoke, I noticed a spaciousness in me growing and opening like a web in which there was more room for both his and my own perceptions. He was recounting the things that have shaped him. He was recounting the things that have shaped me. I took in the imagery as he then described how he felt in those times like the ground was crumbling beneath him and he was just keeping steps ahead of the collapse with his choices. The Navy was closing specialties and his options were narrowing. He began describing to me how the Navy coded their planes, named their squadrons. ZP3 meant Zeplin Patrol, Third Squadron. He went on, “V” on the side of a plane meant it was a part of “Heavier than Air” squadron. With those mysterious words about the air—that significant sounding name —my heart paused just slightly, wanting to linger a little before its next pulse. Contemplating the air—its weight, its levity—slowed something in me like the slowing of time. I hung dangling there—on the weight of those words, on the weight of it all. I grabbed a sheet of paper, rolled over to the desk and began scribbling notes so that I might remember what made this conversation so exquisite to me. I started taking notes so that I might always remember him. I asked him if “V” stood for Velocity, trying to meet him in the conversation. I wanted to understand. I wanted to understand the depth of our connection despite our vast differences as he spoke on about a world so foreign to me yet constantly brushing up beside me—one that I have been hearing about all of my life.

It’s later—the next day. I am heading to a library in a nearby town. There is a quiet room there on an upper floor with lofty ceilings, a working fireplace. It is a place my father would admire. He would take in the oil paintings of ships at sea and point out technical details that would not have caught my eye. I am heading there to study—in preparation for my coming yoga teacher training. The contrast of my chosen specialty in life in relation to my father’s—whose career path eventually led to qualifications as a pilot in anti-submarine warfare and naval air transport—is not lost on me. In these conversations and in my deepening study of yoga I recognize the layers of him—of his experiences—that reside in me like the stratums that make up a geological formation.

Now, though, as I am driving across this damp and grey Maine landscape, I am thinking about my grandfather—my dad’s father. I am remembering the last time that I saw him. I was a college sophomore and I had left school to meet my father in Maryland where his dad was being cared for in a veteran’s home—deep in the grips of Alzheimer’s disease. I remember the facade of the building was red brick and I remember walking in and together discovering my grandfather—a once fierce, icy blue-eyed, vibrant man with a quick wit and lofty intelligence—lying on a couch in a community room. He was curled up in an almost fetal position, his body swimming in his pale blue pajamas. He was emaciated and my father could almost pick him up like he was cradling his own new baby. Every bit a naval officer in that moment, my father showed only strength and positivity, a warmth with the nurses—not the sorrow he surely must have known deep inside. He took charge and I followed suit. I held back deep anguish and shock at seeing the deterioration of this once powerful man. Only as I was driving to the library and only now as I write this have I allowed for the memory and the impact of that moment to come forth.

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