The Still Life Project: An Introduction

Source: flickr.com via Sara on Pinterest

 

Most of my life is spent stealing glances.

. . . at a beautiful pink and orange sunset as I’m driving home from the grocery store at dinner time because I didn’t have anything in the house to feed my family.

. . . at a group of teenage girls at the mall, smoothing their peacock feathers for the cute (hot?) boy (guy?) who walks by while I’m trying to get my own teenage girls to focus on helping me find a gift for their young cousins.

. . . at that provocative painting on the museum wall that I pass by as I’m trying to keep up with the tour leader, who is educating a group of  novices (like me) about abstract art.

. . . at a brilliant idea that enters my head when I’m in a meeting or at a romantic dinner or having coffee with a friend.

Instead of adding something wonderful to my day, all that glance-stealing leaves me wanting, because I have no time to soak up what I’ve seen, to take a closer look, to get any joy out of it. What could be inspirational turns into nameless frustration and that turns into a big ole knotted ball of energy, clogging up my mind, which would take time i don’t have and effort that’s directed elsewhere to unravel.

I think that’s why I cry more than the average person. It’s like a lubricant that makes the unravelling a little bit easier.

But it isn’t the crying that really helps; it’s the stopping. When I stop, the gears that have been churning and creating this chaotic mess of knots in my mind have time to rest and get oiled so that they can serve their real purpose, which is to process the incoming information, not glom it up.

Truth is I’d like to find a better way to process what I take in. I can’t stand when people ask me why my eyes are red and I don’t have a clear answer. Sometimes I pretend that I just watched a sad movie: then, in response, I can explain that Debra Winger is dying and Shirley MacClaine, with whom she has a love-hate relationship, is left to watch her die amidst much family turmoil.

Still, it would serve me better to find a way other than crying to slow down and take more than a passing whiff of the proverbial roses.

Enter self-improvement, life-improvement, work-improvement project idea. Drumroll please . . . View the moments of my life like I would a single painting, if I had unlimited time to spend. Hence, the project title: The Still Life Project

Nothing earth-shattering. Basically, the project is about mindfulness.

But with a twist. I’ve tried the whole mindfulness thing many times through yoga and meditation and breathing exercises but what I’ve found is that during the “practice” I slow down, but during my life, I still zip around like one of those stunt planes, doing somersaults and participating in formations, but only touching the ground for short stints, before and after the doing. And, when life gets crazy as it often does, I skip my “practice” time altogether because it takes too much time and it is outside the realm of what I need to do to get by.

So, I’ve decided that if I am going to try to slow down, I am going to choose something that is part of my daily routine, something seemingly small, to focus upon with mindfulness. The plan is that once I feel like I’ve figured out how to attend mindfully to subject #1, I will add a new element, a new focus.

The goal of all this is to start slowing down my life so I can appreciate it more. I’ll probably look at my initial subject from many perspectives, do a little research, do some experimenting, and the final result hopefully will be a better understanding of myself and turning something I’ve always done automatically into something I will do with purpose and attention.

I made a list of things I regularly do to which I don’t pay much heed — the routine stuff, which includes such exciting subjects as doing the laundry, walking the dog, and driving carpool. Other subjects: paying bills, running errands, and spending time on social media.

And drinking coffee, which will be my first subject in this project because I do it everyday, usually on the run, and while I’m not sure I like the taste, I usually want it, desperately. Time to put some attention there.

Hopefully, the stories and lessons from this project will be interesting enough to share.  If not, I’ll keep it to myself.

I hope you’ll root me on, offer me feedback, make suggestions and if you are so inclined, take on your own Still Life Project and report back to me about it.

I’d love to know what you think of this idea and if you have any suggestions that might help me to gain greater meaning out of this experience.

 

Sara

Sara

I write about daily life, arts & culture, food, books, nature, animals, parenting, relationships, self-discovery, & more.

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15 thoughts on “The Still Life Project: An Introduction

  1. Oh, but I love this! Not only am I rooting for you, Sara, but I’m rooting for me too 😀
    I’m something of an over-achiever in recovery, but without the recovery. I realize (and mourn) my tendency to race through life to get things done and keep the days tidy, even as I understand the incredible cost of doing so. I catch those glimmers of beauty and serenity, but too often set them aside for the “later” that never comes, in order to keep moving. After all, there are so many things I need to get crossed off the list before the sun goes down.

    The ‘one moment at a time method’ feels promising and doable. I do look forward to your future reports of progress, and feel newly inspired to take my own foot off the pedal and give it a try myself.

    Wonderful wonderful post.

    1. Thanks, Barbara. I’m so glad it resonated with you. I’m a little nervous about making this plan public because it’s kind of scary for me to really slow down, even if it is just to drink a cup of coffee. Please let me know how you’re doing as you give this slow down thing a try.

  2. Sara–paying attention is hard. It is especially hard for women to pay attention to ourselves. So much of our energy is focused on others. Not a bad thing, really, but we need some care and feeding, too. Just last week, what a coincidence, I focused on my morning coffee. I like mine beige–lots of half and half. Yet every morning I have some degree of, well, let’s just say issues. I wondered if it was worth it, but like you, I NEED that coffee! Long story slightly longer, did some research, tried a non-dairy coconut creamer, it’s delicious and I feel great!

    And while I know this is not exactly an example of what you are talking about, I get what you are saying. And I will always assume your red eyes are from allergies.

    1. Oh allergies. That’s right. 🙂
      There’s a synergy that exists that I can’t explain. We are all thinking about the same stuff at the same time. Care and feeding for the mother’s soul is not such a bad thing to move toward.

  3. Zip-a-do-da on the timing of this post, Sara. Yesterday afternoon I sat down to watch a program I’d had on the PVR for at least a month, Oprah Winfrey Masterclass with… Gloria Steinem.
    I even had a pen and paper at the ready for note-taking.
    Alas, it was not Gloria Steinem, but a different Oprah feature on Fairfield, Iowa, and Transcendental Meditation.
    I’ve been intrigued by meditation for years, even took a few instructional workshops, but each time I meditate, I doze off. I’m told this is normal. I’ve stilled my mind long enough to let my tired body sleep.
    I connected with something one of Oprah’s interviewees said, which went something like this: I still get stressed, life still has problems, but when I take those precious moments to meditate, I gain clarity and perspective.
    No practice is going to protect us from stress. Even if we lock ourselves in a bubble, our bladder will fill and make us uncomfortable. But I found refreshment in the idea of a few moments of stillness to nourish and enrich my perspective. Rest is powerful, stillness is powerful.
    I’m going to give meditation another try, even if it is only 5 minutes a day to stop and be thankful.
    Sara, no matter how you find those moments of calm, of appreciation, of quiet, I hope you also find those moments of stillness you seek.

    1. I plan to keep giving meditation the old college try BUT I’m inspired by Natalie Goldberg’s writing where she talks about how writing for her is a form of meditation, which is true for me, some of the time. Why can’t coffee drinking and doing the laundry and driving carpool also be meditation. Maybe it will replace the drudgery that often becomes the way it feels.

      Good luck with your meditation. Stillness, appreciation, quiet are in our reach.

      1. You’re right, of course, drinking coffee can be a meditation so can washing up and laundry. I’m not sure about driving the car though 🙂 I think it’s true what you’ve said that it’s how you view and understand the task at hand or the moment you’re in that matters. I blame the whole multitasking paradigm and I’m slowly weaning myself back to ‘one thing at a time’. It’s hard but ultimately wonderful. I spin and weave which for me it meditation.

        1. Not that I know anything about it, but spinning and weaving sound incredibly meditative to me. I have to say I have a picture of one woman holding out her hands with a skein of wool around them and another rolling a ball out of the wool. Clearly, this is something I only know from stories. The whole slow down, do one thing at a time, IS hard but such a relief when I allow myself to do it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

  4. I’m always in awe of how you are able to put into words the very things I have been thinking – and do it so smoothly and effortlessly. I will definitely be rooting you on! You’ve got a GREAT idea there. My life is in overdrive right now with turmoil and chaos so I’m really looking forward to hearing your updates on how it’s going for you. I’m gonna live vicariously for a while…

    1. I love that you think I wrote this effortlessly. If you only knew how long I’ve been playing with this idea and writing notes to myself and reading about it, you might be in a little less awe. I appreciate your support and hope that the vicarious living will be good for you. Stay calm amidst the turmoil and chaos!

  5. I can only encourage you and applaud you for this giant task you have set for yourself. Mindfulness is a meditation on being in the moment. Not thinking about what is happening, but just experiencing the moment for what it is. Natalie Goldberg does this when she uses writing as a meditation.

    When we train ourselves to be still, we try remain awake. If one falls asleep, it is because the mind has wandered into the dreams state and is not totally in the now, the present moment, when you listen to the crickets, the train whistle, etc., and feel the hot or cold or softness of a blanket… Then the intuition will assert itself and come through offering insights.

    Forgive me for waxing esoteric. Good luck on your goal.

  6. The best moment of my day is that first sip of coffee. It’s not always perfect – my husband makes it too weak, and I make it too strong – but there’s a slow-motion feeling of “ahh” that I always savor. And then life speeds back up and I grab a ring and ride it. What’s your favorite coffee? I hope you find a way to carve out those moments that you need.

    1. That coffee moment is what I’m after, hopefully beyond just the coffee. I usually have mine on the run and it isn’t always good. I usually drink Peet’s coffee but sometimes Starbucks. Black or with a little milk. Not a fan of flavored coffees. Don’t like sweet coffee unless it is iced. You?

So what do you think?