Walking the beach and the pier is one of my favorite things to do. It connects me to nature, gives me perspective, and it clears my head. This particular time I felt moved to create something. I took off my shoes and socks, got the car key out of my pocket and with it started drawing in the sand. About 45 minutes later it seemed finished, I took some pictures and walked away. Afterwards someone asked me what I was trying to express. That question started a reflection process that I want to share with you.
Arriving at the ocean – the Pacific Ocean, Ocean Beach in San Diego to be exact - , I started to walk the water line and take some pictures of reflection in the shallow water as an illustration of the earlier thought that time is just an illusion. After no more than a hundred feet of walking, something moved me to make some art. In this case I not only had the thought but I actually responded to it. But it made me think how often we have valuable and seemingly random thoughts that we don’t respond to. It raised the question what makes us decide to respond to these pop up thoughts? From some of my experiences there are patterns to what thoughts we follow and what thoughts we let go of – something to pay attention to.
On my way to a quieter part of the beach I chose a stone to be used as an anchor. It helped me orient myself as I worked in ever widening circles. The stone became a touchstone if you will. It made me think of the touchstones we have in our lives: people, values, rules I live by, ingrained habits, ways of thinking, certain sources of information. These touchstones can be very helpful, they give us a framework and they often provide a mental model. And in the process of choosing the stone, I realized that sometimes we forget that we have choices about who and what guides us.
At the chosen spot there was nothing but sand until I put the stone down and made my first figure. Eventually it became something. It was an emergent process of creation. There was an intention: I wanted to create something. And then I just made it happen by being fully engaged in the now. There was no architectural plan, no sketch, no design, it was not thought through – it just emerged one step at the time, being fully present in the moment. It made me think about how often we just respond to people and processes. Imagine going into a conversation, a meeting, a gathering or a day with intention – it could change both the quality and the outcome of that moment.
In the process of working on the sand painting a two-year old walked through the creation in progress. It is part of the story, and it is part of the story of our life. Something happens and we have to adjust. I remember making one of these creations once and a wave washed the whole thing away while I was in the middle of it. Forces of nature, including other people change our life constantly. Ultimately, it is evanescent, fleeting, temporary. Making the painting requires full engagement and at the same time the realization and preparation that it can change any moment through circumstances outside of my control – just like life.
At some point the creation was done. Finished. I took some pictures, put on my socks and shoes and walked away from it. I had to give it up, let it go and turn my back to it. Deciding to leave something we fully invested in is not so easy. And yet truly walking away gives freedom for new things.
Finally, from some distance, the painting looks patterned and quite pleasing. As the creator of the painting I know how absolutely imperfect many details are, the circle is not really a circle, some figures are bigger than others, and there is sloppiness in repeated marks. Yet, with perspective and from a distance, all of this is relatively unimportant. So it is with our life: details may be messy and we make mistakes, but stepping back and looking at the underlying pattern, there is much beauty in it.