A steady mind before a steady hand (what I learned from a jewelry maker)


This past weekend, I made my annual pilgrimage to the Winnipeg Folk Festival. I’ve been going for 30 years and I’ll probably keep going for 30 more, because it fills me up, inspires me, and nourishes my creative spirit. Four days of great music, surrounded by tall trees, big prairie skies, and interesting people is a little like what I imagine heaven to be.

Inspired by all there is to see and hear, I always come home with a collection of jewels – little pieces of lyrics scribbled on my program, stories gathered from conversations with friends or strangers, colourful photos of the bubble man or the stilt-walkers, new cds of my latest favourite artist, and a trinket or two from the handmade village.

Everything inspires me, and when I return home, I feel like I need a week to digest it all.

Most of the quotes I pour over afterward come from the singer-songwriters. But this year’s gem comes from the artisan who made the beautiful necklace I brought home.

Ro Walton (of Windy Tree) makes one-of-a-kind jewelry from branches of the arbutus tree (which I saw plenty of when I was on Whidbey Island in May). Each one has a unique design, carved free-hand on a scroll saw.

Marveling at the intricate designs in his pieces, I remarked “you must have a steady hand.”

Ro’s response: “It’s more about having a steady mind.”

“If my mind’s not in the right place,” he continued, “I have to do other things like cutting and sanding. Only when my mind is steady can I approach the scroll saw for the intricate work.”

I’ve been thinking about that ever since. Only when we do the work of steadying our minds can we do our most intricate work.

That’s what I’m focusing on during the month of July – my own quest for a steady mind. Work-wise, Winter and Spring were a bit of a whirlwind, and then some things in my personal life got a little shaky, so I am doing my best to seek some stillness so that the really deep and intense art that wants to grow out of me can do so.

I’ll be going away next week for a few days of intense writing, trying to wrap up the book that I’ve come back to after putting it on a shelf for a couple of years. I have found that the only way I can really dive into that kind of writing is to go away and be silent, so I will do that for a few days. In between the writing, I’ll wander the beach, play with art supplies, and read good books. All of these things help me maintain the kind of steady mind that lets me write.

The necklace that I bought from Ro depicts a tree hanging from the edge of a cliff. (The tree is cut through the wood so that the design shows through on the back as well.) This is the one that appealed to me most because of the challenge and improbability of a strong and healthy tree rooting itself in such a precarious place. I imagine that far below it, the waves are crashing against the rock and above it, the storms are rolling in. In the middle of all of this chaos, the tree remains firmly rooted.

Somehow, the tiny seed that planted itself in the crack of a rock found enough stillness and sunlight and rainwater to grow into a strong tree. After all of the hard work it took to flourish there, that tree now offers a rare place to rest for the birds flying overhead.

This is the story I want to tell of my life – a story of rootedness and strength, despite the chaos all around me, despite the fact that sometimes I feel like I’m clinging to the edge of a cliff. This is what I want to be – a place of solace and support for those who’ve been tossed by the wind and the waves.

To live that story, I must make sure I put down strong roots and that I practice having a “steady mind” in the midst of chaos. That’s what next week is about.

I encourage you to do the same. Find a way to steady your mind, whether that means staying off social media for awhile, going on retreat to a friend’s cabin, taking long walks every morning, attending a music festival, doing yoga, or committing to some art playtime every week. And plant your roots deeply into the rock that is the God of your understanding.

Giving yourself that kind of time and nourishment is not selfish, it’s essential if you want to do your best work. Whether you are an artist, a teacher, a business owner, a hospice worker, or a stay-at-home parent, you need a steady mind, a steady heart, and a steady body. You’ll only get that when you give yourself what you need.

Then, and only then, will you be the kind of tree the birds can rest in after their long flight.

Be good to yourself this summer. Plant your roots, steady your mind, and give yourself the nourishment you need.

If you’re looking for something to nourish you, perhaps Mandala Discovery might help? It starts again in August.

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