“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately” (Henry Thoreau)
Take a look at the first picture. This is a page from an artist’s book I made for a friend ‘s project which was an exploration of time. The following page (not shown) lists all the activities I found myself engaged with and realised that a lot of them were distractions, keeping me from really enjoying life to the full. I wish I could say that I have learnt from this artwork, which was made in 2014. Last year, when everything stopped, yet again I had the opportunity to reflect on my use of time. I discovered the joy of spending time alone without distractions or deadlines, I found a lot more headspace to mull things over, I was able to read books slowly and digest them, play in my artmaking, walk in the woods, work things through: I felt allowed to just be. Also, like a lot of us, I spent a lot more time being in touch with friends and relatives, via zoom and phone calls. I gave more attention to both of these – to time alone and time with family, friends and husband.
The second image shows an installation photo of the artwork Praying Hands, a piece I made during my residency at the monastic Community of the Resurrection in 2016. In this image, the works are displayed at Left Bank Leeds in the choir stalls, creating a sense of the presence of the brethren within the building. When I made the work, I wanted to represent the community that I was living with and felt that their rhythm of prayer should be reflected in the pictures. Inspired by Durer’s Praying Hands, I asked each brother to give me half an hour of their time during which I would draw their hands in their usual attitude of prayer which I later made into drypoint prints. What I hadn’t anticipated, was the joy and delight of spending intimate time with each of these men, who until then, had left me to ‘get on with it’ and only really engaged with conversation over the dinner table. The honour of finding out about their life stories and their beliefs was profound, and so much quality was squeezed into a short half an hour, even when one of the brethren fell asleep whilst I drew!
As things are getting busier for me, I am aware that I am yet again forgetting the lessons that lockdown, that the residency and other times have been teaching me – that I need to value both solitude and time with others. The key, I think, is that both experiences need to have quality, they need my attention. I cannot truly engage with the divine and find my inner self if I am distracted by a list of things to do, whether this is when I am alone or when I am with other people. If I do not give my attention to the moment, I am not there. If that moment is with another person, I will feel lonely even though I have company because I have made myself alone. In a way this is akin to the idea that Henri Nouwen talks about, that listening to others is the ‘the ultimate hospitality’; that attentive vulnerability that makes room for what is happening at this very time, in the here and now.
Something I have realised recently is that if I am at home in my solitude, I am also able to be more at home in my relationships, and when I am more at home in my relationships, similarly I am more at home in my solitude.
Take another look at the pictures:
- What fills your time? Who is important to you?
- How can you find a balance between solitude and sociability?
- How can you keep quality time in all life’s bustle?
You might need two pieces of paper, something to draw or write with.
- In no particular order, take yourself for a walk alone and spend some quality time with a friend. Try and focus on each without other distractions, as much as is possible. Sometimes its helpful to make a list of ‘to do’ things and put it to one side before engaging in either of these activities. After having done both activities, maybe write or draw a response for each event.
- Place these two writings/drawings side by side. Maybe place a lit candle with them. Spend a few moments revisiting the experience and reflecting on its meanings for you.
This meditation is commissioned by Leeds Methodist Mission