Artha Part II

by Rebecca Barry

If our first month of Artha was dedicated to thinking about what we want and where we want to go, this second month of Artha seems to be about settling in to where you are. At first I was thinking this is the same as opening to grace–but it’s a little more than that, because it’s easier to open to grace when you allow yourself just to be in your current state and accept what’s there.

Here’s what made me think of this:

A few weeks ago I was walking around the house picking fights with everyone until finally my husband Tommy turned to me and said, “You need a creative project.”

“I know,” I sighed. “I really, really do.” I’m so much happier and easier to be around when I’m working on something that I like, and I had been in a dry spell for a few months.

It wasn’t for lack of ideas. I had lots of those, but they were all in my head and quarreling with each other, and the second I sat down to start any of them, a voice would come up saying, How is that going to turn into anything? Who would buy that? That one’s crazy. And this one will take at least a year, and what are you going to do for money in the meantime?

To be honest, I felt a little lost.

Later, when I was meditating, what came up was, “What if, just for one month, you decided that every idea you had was good? What if you just gave them a chance to breathe before shooting them down? Try that.”

So I went into my studio and made a list of all of the projects that were floating around in my head. Then I made a quick note of how my body reacted to each one when I read it out loud. Then I started with the one that felt easiest, which was to record my dad telling the stories that go with the pictures he took during the ’50s and ’60s, when he hitchhiked around the U.S. and Latin America to photograph steam engines.

This idea has been on my list for a long time, but it kept getting pushed to the side for various reasons. But my dad is losing his memory, and the idea felt so alive when I said it out loud that I called him to see if I could come out with my recorder.

A few days later I went over to the house I grew up in. I spent the day with my Dad, recording stories, taking a walk, and looking at old photos. At the end of the day I made dinner so Mom wouldn’t have to cook when she came back from dialysis. I put on a record album I used to listen to when I was a girl—a collection of old Carter Family songs. There are two things that both my Dad and I love—being outside, and old Carter Family songs. (And mariachi music. Three things.) And when I say love, I mean full-out maudlin, like both of us, at any moment, can be moved to tears by a song like “I Never Will Marry,” or “Las Mananitas.”

So I was cooking and thinking about how much I love music—to me it’s one of the most powerful healing forces in the world, and then Dad came in and he was setting the table and we were both singing, and outside the creek glittered in the late afternoon sun, and I thought, I love this so much. This music and this connection to my dad and this land I grew up on, that teems with greenery and birdsongs and light. I know I won’t have this forever, but I’m here now, and in this moment, everything is exactly right.

And then I remembered: I love being lost.

When I got home I said to Tommy, “I have my new project.”

“Your dad?” he said. “Good. I always thought that was a strong one, I’m glad you’re finally making time for it.”

“I know,” I said. “I’ve been so focused on helping Mom, I didn’t realize how much I’ve been missing my dad.”

“You’re losing him as fast as you’re losing your mother,” Tommy said gently.

And then I understood what my meditation was trying to tell me: that the point of assuming that all of your ideas are good isn’t that they all actually _are_ good, but that you never know what a creative idea is trying to tell you. It might be the next big thing. It might be a not-so-good idea that’s a gateway to something else. Or it might be medicine from your heart that you didn’t even know you sorely needed. Letting the ideas breathe allows your heart to speak first, like an offering, a way of saying, This is how I want to receive my artha—by letting my heart lead my mind, not the other way around.

I remember reading once that so many dreams die in the parking lot of a bank, and I wonder if this is one of the lessons of artha—that if asking for money is envisioning the garden, being where you are is planting the seed. When you start talking about what you want, you go into the future. But if you settle in to where you are, you see what you’ve been missing, which could be the key to getting found.

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