Looking through my sketchbook the other night during a weekly art group, someone asked me a question that I get a lot: How do you find time to do it all?”
The truth is, I don’t. As much as my meditation practice has taught me about making space for the things I really want to do, as a busy mom, it’s something I struggle with over and over again. Contrary to how it may seem, I almost never feel like I have ample time to indulge my creative impulses and ideas. But nevertheless, I just keep making art anyway. Perhaps it is as easy as that—simply following the Buddhist advice to “chop wood, carry water,” which suggests that we drop our attachments to how we feel about it all, and keep doing the work.
Yet some days it takes all my attention to just shoulder through my to-do list, let alone my emotional temperature about it. As much as I want to be able to answer the question for everyone who asks, I think that it’s one of those things you can only live your way into. And so instead, I offer this: a stream of consciousness, slice-of-life example . Creativity is a very personal process, a circuitous experience that infinitely swings between the polarities of expansion and contraction, an endless loop that has us chasing after illusory constructs like time and space. I hope that in the telling, my “story” helps you answer the question for yourself.
It all starts again, deep in the middle of a dream: Crowded night. Friends from long ago roam the rooms of my past, bearing gifts and conversation. There is some kind of gathering. People spill inside: an old teacher, a friend from college, a woman who Dream tells me is my spirit sister. Clinking of glasses, movement, open doorways. Details from my childhood float overhead like filmy ghosts: blue shag rug, crystal candlesticks. The air is palpable. Somewhere upstairs, we have packed up my son’s room. Nothing is left but the books in the shelves, and I turn to ask him what he wants to do with them and am sucked into a mysterious errand. Steep hill to climb to get there, but Starbucks is a beacon up top, inviting, its glass walls fogged golden with light and warmth, and I seem to know the way. It is snowing. Slushy streets below. No car can take this climb, so I run up the tilted face of the mountain. Arrive in time to kiss my father and three friends, who are arranged around him in triangular formation. Triangle: sacred symbol of the all-seeing eye, of alchemy, angels and anarchy. There’s a buzz here too, another gathering, but Dream tells me I need to get back to my kids who wait for me to take them to school. As if I’d been there before, I sense the hill isn’t the way back down. Zig-zag through side streets that unfold like a pop-up book into a toy-like town. Stores fling open glass doors displaying candy-like distractions: aromatic packages of coffee, bright sheer scarves that float on shelves like gossamer. Mid-dream, the phone rings in the dark room, urgently, dream flickers, recedes.
I wake up, and it’s night and I’m in that fugue state, halfway between the dream world and reality. I answer the phone and there’s an empty line and though I’m not quite awake, I can’t go back to sleep. So I lie heavy-eyed, in a cocoon of disturbed drowsiness, and wonder why it is that even my dreams are interrupted.
It’s 3 a.m. and my husband has slept through the ringing, and I’m thirsty, so I get out of bed and go downstairs to get some water from the kitchen. On the way back, thinking I’ll get a jump on the next day, I wander into the laundry room to fold some sheets. There’s something soothing about doing laundry in the middle of the night, and I yawn in the half-light, arm-deep in a pile of linens, thinking about the universal nature of mothering. The thing that depletes me most is the sheer time-consuming tedium of things like emptying the dishwasher and gathering dirty cups from rooms flung far from the kitchen. All of the doing it takes to keep the whole family going wearies me. It’s a little like being a spoke on a wheel that is constantly turning: captive to something whose sum is much larger than the parts.
Crickets are testing their strings in the humid night, and laundry in order for the moment, I head back up to my room, noticing all of the things I pass as I make my way to the stairs. There’s the Buddha who sits on the table in the hall, a stack of unread magazines and a shelf full of art books that call to me with gleaming covers. On the desk is the blue and red metal rooster that we bought in a little gallery on Water Street in Santa Fe. His fiery, plumed comb fans out over the papers strewn across the surface, each piece with a whole vocabulary of notions spelled out in black and white text. Newspapers, filled with names and places and stories beckon from the family room. All the objects that hold our history demand something from me, ask to be maintained. Things made from a range of elements; copper and beads, tin and silver, make me contemplate how I can ever equal their cumulative neediness.
It overwhelms me just to look at it all, crowds my head with intoxicating possibilities that weigh on me even as they call to me with a siren’s voice.
As the fog rolls in prophesying morning, burnishing the cinnamon walls to gold, I wish that I could somehow warp the fixed notion of time, that I could stop the clock and climb off the wheel and into the cool, quiet center. I crave more time to take it all in, a larger space to be able to fully experience everything life holds out, carrot-like in front of me.
I think about how I feel when I’m creating—like I’m both outside and inside of myself at the same time, how time seems to stretch out endlessly as I sit in reverie, sit in waiting rooms and cars and dance studios and bowling alleys, bleeding my soul into the portraits and lists and fragments of dreams, drawings of chairs and tea cups and trees, poems and torn paper collages that keep my hand moving across the page, across my life.
As moonlight tumbles through the window, and the demands of tomorrow loom like shadows, I contemplate all the tasks that moms are anchored to, the countless phone calls and doctor appointments, papers and soup pots and e-mails and driving it takes just to hold our world in place. And my spirit contracts and I realize I’m holding my breath just thinking about all the busyness, and I tell myself to exhale and conjure my spiritual bag of tricks, dig deep for what I know from meditation but have to remind myself about over and over again:
That somewhere, deep into the soundless gap between each inhale and exhale there exists a drift, a boundless white space where time is relative and everything disappears except the here & now, that I can get there by focusing on the one thing I know for sure, that breathing in, I know that I am breathing in. And then I am in the center of the breath, the emptiness that holds every possibility that Chinese philosopher Lao Tze talks about in the Tao te Ching:
“We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.
We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.
We work with being
but non-being is what we use.”
And for a little while, I am at one with myself and the world, taking refuge in the infinite space of the absolute present, until I hear an alarm clock shriek, and the clock ticks my thoughts ahead to the next moment and I am back on the spiral and the whole thing begins all over again.
Lori Landau’s work explores the link between creativity and consciousness, while striving to spark a concerned dialogue about global issues. Both artist and writer, yogi and mom, this native New Yorker has written for a variety of magazines including Adweek, AdAge, Elegant Bride, Sportswear International and others. She was a regular contributor to the Silicon Valley Mom’s blog, and now writes for Technorati. Her most recent photographic series titled Elemental Soul, was featured at the New York Open Center. Long inspired by Buddhist philosophy, she is certified to teach yoga and meditation. Currently, she is working on a book of self-illustrated dream poems, as well as a series of portraits. She blogs about her art, photography, and yogic philosophy at