Beauty & Presence
PHOTO BY JESS DRAWHORN
ESSAY BY HEATHER LYNNE MAYNARD
When I was a young artist I used to wonder if making art was any good. Not if my art was good, but if I was good for making it. What good was the pursuit of beauty in a world so wracked with pain and heartache?
In his book Beauty, the Invisible Embrace, John O’Donohue writes, “beauty makes presence shine.” He speaks of how beauty awakens our spirits to something greater than ourselves. It brings an intimate connectedness to what we behold, be it the intricate design on the wing of a dragonfly or the sweeping wild vistas of western Ireland’s landscape. Getting swept off your feet by something beautiful can be an invitation to joy or a great consolation in sorrow. Beauty and attentiveness call us to live outside of our all too often myopic human viewpoint.
I do not live near awe inspiring landscapes. I have a small suburban home outside of Chicago. Winters here often trigger my chronic depression. I step outside my door in March, and it is 30 degrees on a good day. If I am lucky, I catch the warm sun on my cheeks before it tucks behind the clouds. The bare trees sway in the wind and here our vistas are still lingering grey, brown and white. When I cannot take a long walk in a forest preserve or travel to mountains, lakes and coasts to fill the deeper longing for nature within my heart, I have learned to look closer; for presence can also make beauty shine.
When I intentionally choose to awaken my spirit to this present moment, I see beauty in whatever is before me--the grey Midwestern sky and the cracked mug that holds my tea this morning as I walk back from the bus stop. A bit of green between the patches of melting snow catches my eye. I reach down and lift this treasure up to my eye level, here is a whole forest of green and gold balanced on the tip of my finger. Five years ago, before I was any good at mindfulness, I would have passed the moss by and run back into my warm house. Now, after much practice, I take a moment to notice. I connect more deeply to this bit of land, to the beautiful magic that is happening under the snow. I can be transported for just a moment outside of the frantic pace of human time. As Robin Wall Kimmerer writes, “There is an ancient conversation going on between mosses and rocks, poetry to be sure. About light and shadow and the drift of continents.” I am reminded that I too am small, like the moss, in a great living universe. Beauty & presence have saved me in a very real, deep way from spiraling into deeper depression. I need to know deep connection with our living world.
I no longer question my desire to make art or the goodness of it. I paint to be attentive to beauty and gratitude. I often paint meditatively. I call back to mother earth in thanks for the gifts of pigment, water, inspiration and joy. Nothing I make will ever been as beautiful as what nature provides, but for me it is a way of deep knowing. I let my spirit call back to the beauty around me. It is love, and love inspires care. I have come to more deeply investigate my art materials and the environmental impact of my work, something in my youth I never considered. First my heart changed and then my art practice changed, all because I have learned to pay attention to the beauty that is happening now.
HEATHER LYNNE MAYNARD is an artist living and working outside of Chicago, Illinois. She attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, but her journey eventual led her into fields of alternative healing work. She now brings her knowledge and experience of the mind/body connection into her work as an artist.