On the brink of everything

Mangosteens blog

Mangosteens (A4 acrylic 2017)

If you’d told me a few years ago that I’d eagerly await Facebook posts from a 78 year old Quaker educationalist I would have been, er – sceptical. However, I now do just that: I’ve yet to read a dull or uninspired post from Parker J. Palmer.

Last week he took us back to a piece he wrote for the On Being website in 2015 called On the Brink of Everything: An Early Morning Meditation. In it, he references another article on the site in which a mother writes about seeing the world through her toddler’s eyes, greeting everything with a sense of wonder and discovery. You don’t have to be a child to do that, PJP demonstrates:

It’s winter in Wisconsin, and the east-facing window was filigreed with ice. The horizon behind the bare trees was aglow with a crimson sunrise that, seen through the tracery of ice, turned the pane into stained glass. For several minutes I took in that scene as if I were admiring a great cathedral through a rose window.

Could anyone other than Mr Palmer write so eloquently about having an early-morning pee? I wondered.

The article ends like this. ‘I’m old enough to know that the world can delight me, so my expectation is not of the world but of myself: Delight in the gift of life and be grateful.’ Isn’t that superb? ‘My expectation is not of the world but of myself‘ – how often do we wait for something to happen, for things to improve, for someone to do something that will enable us to feel better about something else? And how often are we disappointed when the planets don’t align? Discovering one’s own delight in the world is a gift beyond riches, what the mindfulness gurus call ‘beginner’s mind’, I believe.

In the comments on PJP’s Facebook page someone quoted some lines from a Mary Oliver poem (not a writer I usually enjoy): ‘When it’s over, I want to say: all my life/ I was a bride married to amazement./ I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.’

The painting above grew out of a simple delight, finding a fruit I’d never seen before during a day out with a friend in Borough Market, London. It  was meant to be much bigger. It was going to have a table’s edge, a scrubbed out wall behind it. For weeks, on and off, I painted and re-painted, drew a cup and a vase and a cylinder and painted over them all. I was so pleased with the three mangosteens and how loosely I’d rendered them I was determined to finish the painting and not abandon it. Posting it as a work in progress on Instagram and sharing it on Facebook, the painter Karolina Gacke advised me that all it needed was some shadow on the tabletop and it was done.

Less is more…

 

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41 thoughts on “On the brink of everything

  1. Yes you’re right Michael, increasingly I’m marvelling in minutiae…just as Coco did as a toddler. Bloody well done for keeping at your blog too. A discipline to be admired…x

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    • Thank you on both counts, N. Sometimes it’s difficult, I know, but I think PJP wears down the blues by concentrating on a number of small positive things that eventually outweigh the negatives. He has suffered from depression on a number of occasions and to hear him speak about that is inspiring. I’m such a fan of his thought, which is so encouraging, without sharing his faith.

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  2. Your post arrived at a good moment during a bad moment. The inspiration of both your painting and words, and the link to On Being, was very welcome. Laid flat and in pain from a shoulder injury, I have lots of time to reflect now, and the beauty and positivity of both your and PJ Palmer’s words help m to give all that a positive spin. thank you,Sarah

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  3. The painting is lovely. That yellow must produce a smile. And yes, less is often more. I’ve gone past the point of no return all too often myself (of course…cut and reuse for something else is always a solution to that).
    As to delight…well life is everyday a gift, but that doesn’t keep me from worrying about what our leaders are doing to the world. I think you can hold both. (K)

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  4. Thanks so much for this lovely post (and painting) and for the links to both PJP’s post and to Reuniting With Awe! They’re both wonderful, inspiring pieces. We seem to wake every day at the moment to read that we’re on the brink of some disaster or other and it’s so right to remember that we can also be on the brink of life in such a different way, filled with amazement and wonder. Oh, and by the way, thanks for recently following my blog. (Perhaps it might surprise you to know that you are now following yet another elderly Quaker, this time an English one. Or perhaps it might not!)

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    • Thank you so much. I’m glad you enjoyed the painting and the links. It’s all to easy to concentrate on the negative when there’s so much if it around – PJP isn’t above a post about you-know-who but he does try to end on a positive note. Well, you Quakers are an inspiring bunch, it seems! Mx

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  5. Michael, this is a luscious corker of a painting! I love everything about it. It seems wholly and uniquely ‘yours’. And an inspiring post to accompany – thank you. 🙂

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  6. What a vibrant painting, Michael. I so agree that less can be more. I am struggling with a poem right now that is just too long and I’ve not been able to edit it to be tighter.

    I’ve been following On Being for several years now and it is a site that delights me. I always go to the Parker Palmer post first. I really like Omid Safi’s posts too.

    I had never heard of mangosteens. I looked it up and it appears to have many health benefits. They certainly look interesting. Great post, Michael.

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  7. The older I get the more I realized it’s what I do now is what counts. Your painting reflects the heart and the hard work you had put into it. It maybe simple but complex, rich!

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  8. Such a cheerful painting and to pair it with “Delight in the gift of life and be grateful.” brings me inspiration in the darkness of depression. Sometimes I do better than others finding delight. I have started a series of white drawings on black paper to physically bring lightness into dark places.

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    • Thank you, Jeanette. I’ve never suffered from depression but lived for 15 years with one who did. I wouldn’t presume to guess how that must feel but I think creative people are fortunate in that we can create another world where there is colour and light and even joy (when it goes well!). Your white on black drawings sound fascinating.

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