Motherhood, Meditation and Creativity
I’m sitting in a local café, worrying about all the little things on my list, all of the petty, ordinary details of motherhood, feeling anxiety, feeling like I’m wasting time over a beet and tuna salad. It’s Wednesday—a school day, and I only have about two more hours before pick-up, and I know from experience that 120 minutes will warp and fold in on itself while I grocery shop, cutting into “me” time, slicing my intentions to be both uber-mom and uber-artist into shreds.
In an oversize bag on the chair next to me are several pens, my journal, and my newest interest; a book about learning how to write Chinese characters. On the surface I ‘m intrigued because my oldest son is studying in China for three months and I want to share his new reality in some small way, but I know there’s more to it than that. Since language shapes thought—the famous example of Eskimos having dozens of meanings for the word snow comes to mind– I somehow have it wired that acquiring this symbolic language might help explain the unexplainable things I’ve been grappling with, like grief and the finite nature of time.
I have hoped to be able to indulge myself while eating, to write, to draw, to delve into a maze of Mandarin, but I am having trouble focusing, I don’t have the space I need mentally or in my schedule to concentrate, let alone create. So I eat and stare out the window at the Whole Foods across the street, feeling vaguely guilty about how I’m spending my currency of time, thinking about how terrible I am at managing my “to-do” list. It’s a long one, filled with obligations, the things that help keep home life running smoothly, punctuated by self-imposed deadlines aimed at ensuring I have the creative output I crave.
There is so much I want to do, not only today, but this year, this life. Yet I easily feel boxed in by my schedule, scattered and ineffective. I often blame it on the fact that I’m a night person: I don’t feel productive until mid-afternoon, but I know that’s not the whole of it. The truth is, I’m deeply tired. I haven’t felt fully rested since I became a mom. The perfectionist in me makes me try extra hard to get it all right for my family; the dreamer in me keeps me up until well after midnight so I don’t miss a thing. The truth is, there’s not enough time to do it all. The truth is, I overthink: left unchecked, my mind is cluttered with the flotsam and jetsam of “full-catastrophe” living.
Sometimes, when the slant of the light is right, or at the end of a long, discombobulated day, I look out into the yawn of the rest of my life and I’m scared by how fast it’s going, how little time we get to experience what’s out there, let alone inside. I do the math in my head: what, 30, 40 years? How can I possibly maximize every minute that’s left?
Like most moms, I have a secret list of extraordinary things I want to do, things that mean I was here, that I did more with my moments than clean the bathrooms and fold laundry, that I bit into the fruit of the possible, and felt the pulse of the world beat through my own veins, that I lived a life that mattered not only to others but to myself.
I try to express all this desire, translate what I burn for into the lines and shapes of my artwork. I care most about drawing the entirety of human emotion into palpable form, so that if you looked at a portrait of mine, you could see straight through to all the invisible bits that make up a soul. I don’t care if my renderings look exactly like the person I’m drawing. I don’t want people to see my subjects, I want them to feel them. I want my work to resonate on a visceral level. I want viewers to look at my portraits and be changed by what they see. I want them to be seduced by the texture and heartbreaking realities of someone else’s life experience.
I believe that the reason we all connect to the arts is because we yearn to merge, that we’re attracted to universal soul, that when we are touched by another’s self-expression it makes us feel connected to something larger than our own self-perceived ordinariness.
Sometimes, I lie awake at night, windows open, grateful for the breeze sharing the dark air, and try to catch my breath. I look out to the mountains standing solidly across the street from our house and contemplate the invisible. Accustomed to the borders of the flesh, I wonder about limits. I wonder why it is that we expend so much effort struggling against our own circumstances for years until time, and loss and the sheer vulnerability of having children wears on us and we wake up one day and suddenly get it: that this is it right here: this is what we have and it is precious.
As a fierce mom, I want to be there for every fleeting moment. I want the full experience, and the tee shirt. I want more than the doing, more than the memories. I want it to never end. I want to take my time lingering in the light, and the beauty and the privilege of parenting. But as a creative soul, I want every non-parenting moment to count too. So I’m greedy. I hold onto my self-centered moments, try to stretch them out and set their bones down on paper. I draw faces while eating, sketch portraits while my kids do homework at the kitchen counter, and the light dims outside and the smell of dinner fills the house.
I cram the chores in before school, making breakfast, lunches and even doing the prep work for dinner while my kids eat oatmeal, so that when I’m back home in the house I can lean into the alone hours with my black ink pens and oil pastels until I look up and it’s 3:00 and the school day is at an end once again.
When I’m overwhelmed and away from nature, distracted by mundane details, my mind often drifts to the view outside my bedroom window, a landscape that never fails to soothe. I think of what the sky looks like, how the purple-blue of the morning makes the mountains red and fiery. I’m acutely aware that when I turn my attention away for just a moment, a stupid minute to do something mindless like brush my teeth, the colors bleed out of the sky, they go on without me watching, they morph they change they drift back into the ordinary blue of atmosphere unnoticed. In the midst of all I have, I still wonder how much do I unnotice each day?
It’s because of all this that I meditate. I’ve learned that there’s something magic about putting aside 30 minutes a day to breathe, to sit with my self, to practice simply witnessing the absurd tumble of thoughts that tangle my mind. And when I do, something interesting happens to my point of view, to the properties of time itself. When I meditate, boundaries expand, alter, and become more spacious and malleable.
Meditation blurs my edges, melts the angst. I relax into an easy state of trust, breathe more deeply, and in the process, effortlessly get more done. Meditation becomes a place where I can locate my true self, it becomes a place of possibility, of transformation. It is a doorway to intuition, consciousness, infinity.
During the course of mothering, I’ve learned that when doubt, pressure and the sheer busy-ness of the job is taking me too far from center, the most creative thing I can do is close my eyes and go within. I’ve come to understand that life itself is an art form. In fact, for me, meditation is the bridge between form and formless, and when I tap into it, it helps me to realize that creativity and motherhood are both vehicles to express the un-nameable, as well as the reasons for everything to be named in the first place.
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