Sunday, July 17, 2016

Taking a Perspective of Abundance: Final Reflection on Perspective-Taking

"But if I can bear the nights, the days are a pleasure. I walk out; I see something, some event that would otherwise have been utterly missed and lost; or something sees me, some enormous power brushes me with its clean wing, and I resound like a beaten bell" (12).
--Annie Dillard, in "Heaven and Earth in Jest"
Final Reflection in This Series, but Algonquin Provincial Park Abounds in Reflections
So already, right before my husband Scott and I set off on our road trip to Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, I made a decision to operate from a perspective of abundance. This meant deliberately taking the point of view that we were heading into a full, beautiful world that was eager to share itself with us, embrace us, delight us. And that our role--our only role--was to relish, appreciate, and enjoy the natural abundance being offered to us, and to embrace it right back--maybe even to the point (if we were lucky) of feeling ourselves a part of it.

I had two major reasons for deliberately adopting this perspective. The first was that by nature, I worry. I regularly imagine potential problems of all sizes and the best ways to respond to them. But any amount of focus on worries and unknowns invariably means less focus on what is happening right here and right now. Frankly, I didn't want to miss out on any of the moments when this place that was breathtaking in all of the paintings** of it that I'd seen would reveal its spectacular self to us. So I decided beforehand that any literal or figurative bump in the road we encountered would be at most a short-lived distraction, a minor detour off a road we had trusted and would continue to trust to rise up to meet us

The second had to do with my having begun Week #6 of the creativity course Julia Cameron presents in The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.*** Entitled "Recovering a Sense of Abundance," this chapter requires blocked aspiring artists to consider our ideas about both G-d and money since both relate directly to our thoughts about what we have, what we think we need and should need, what we really need when, and whether we dare to have as much as we should and could of those things that sweeten life, especially when we're feeling burdened by responsibilities and expectations that leave us little time for our deepest inner selves. 

Cameron understands that people routinely suppress their creative and artistic impulses; she also understands that people routinely deny themselves even the smallest of "extravagant" pleasures. Neither helps the aspiring creative person. To encourage us to liberate ourselves from self-imposed suppression and denial, she reminds us of G-d's extravagant creativity, breaking the old bond between extravagance and guilt, and forging a new one between extravagance and the divine.
"Looking at the God's creation, it is pretty clear that the creator itself did not know when to stop. There is not one pink flower, or even fifty pink flowers, but hundreds. Snowflakes, of course, are the ultimate exercise in sheer creative glee. . . .  This creator looks suspiciously like someone who just might send us support of our creative ventures" (107). 
G-d, she reassures is, is on our creative side. He experiences "sheer creative glee" and wishes the same for us. He also wishes us the opportunity to revel in and then appreciate the abundance resulting from creativity.  

As Cameron sees it, and I agree, "In order to thrive as artists--and, one could argue, as people--we need to be available to the universal flow. When we put a stopper on our capacity for joy by anorectically declining the small gifts of life, we turn aside the larger gifts as well" (110).**** Based on the pictures and photos of the park that I'd seen, I knew I was about to receive one of those larger gifts, a mega-experience of created and still-being-created abundance. I wanted to accept and enjoy in the moment that mega-experience as fully as possible. And then I wanted to be able to step back from it and have the chance to appreciate it in all the ways it deserved appreciating.

But wait: don't think it's very easy for me to write about this and share it here. First of all, I was raised to imagine the worst possible thing that could happen and to prepare anxiously and thoroughly for it--as if that anxiety would ward it off. Furthermore, to assert in public a perspective of abundance, a sense of entitlement to some forms of "extravagance," a confidence in the joy and fulfillment that will result from embracing anticipated experiences of extravagance is to tempt fate and court the evil eye. Truthfully, while I've always hated and discounted superstitions that make evil so powerful, I've still assiduously avoided courting the evil eye all of my life. So for me, taking a perspective of abundance is an act of daring and defiance, of redefinition and hope. I'm throwing off chains--but I'm also still hearing that nagging little voice that says I'll pay for it. (Interesting that the July page of  Jewish calendar hanging on my kitchen wall depicts a Hamsa, a good luck symbol that offers protection from evil!)

Second of all, I'm writing about G-d when I'm writing about abundance--and I know that makes some people uncomfortable--or downright disapproving. Talking in public about G-d is a little bit like not only inviting G-d to a dinner party, but actually having a chair for Him at the table. Some dinner guests see G-d sitting there right away. Some dinner guests see only an empty chair and wonder why I, someone they generally think of as seeing clearly, can't see that the chair is empty. Other dinner guests sense the chair is occupied, but they're uncertain about how to--or whether they even want to--interact with their fellow guest, especially in front of other people. And yet other dinner guests wonder why I didn't anticipate this awkwardness and invite G-d to dinner alone next week.

The truth is my ideas about abundance depend on G-d. What I've come to believe and feel in the last few months, largely as a result of doing The Artist's Way course, is that as we reach toward G-d, He reaches toward us. Scott feels something similar, although the way he expresses it is that when we put out something into the universe--which is, among other things, a repository of great spiritual energy--something comes back to us in return or response. Because for me, that great spiritual force, beyond me and even within me, is G-d, it feels important to call it G-d. It's taken me a long time to get to this spiritual place--but now that I'm here, I want to say that I'm here.

And speaking of spiritual places, Algonquin Provincial Park really was one--and no doubt would have been one even if I hadn't taken the perspective of abundance. That said, I believe that my abundance mindset contributed to my blissful experience of the park--as did the extraordinarily good weather and the absence of black flies. Each day we had the same one goal: to be in the park. The park's design and resources made it easy to plan a day that was full but not overly full. Because the days were long, we never worried about getting off the trail before dark. Even on the hikes that most challenged us, it was never too difficult to get to the multiple beautiful places where we often chose to to stop and sit and watch and listen for a while. 

Scott got a photo of the otters!
And I was so up for all this leisurely taking it in! Because I had adopted "abundance" as my lens and my mantra, my senses and my mind***** felt deliciously blank and completely receptive to what the park was offering. I had expected lots of scenic water, but there were so many lakes, so many ponds, so many rivers: water, water everywhere! I hadn't thought about the numbers and varieties birds I'd see and hear, about all the familiar and unfamiliar wildflowers that would be blooming along the trails. And I never thought I'd be lucky enough to get to see so much of the wildlife I'd read about. Talk about natural extravagance that seemed more than willing to inscribe itself upon us! I can only turn to Annie Dillard's "Heaven and Earth in Jest" essay to explain the experience of it:
 "If the landscape reveals one certainty, it is that the extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation. After the one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with ever-fresh vigor." (9).
There was so much to watch for, listen for, try to identify, wonder about, read about later--take in and enjoy.

The Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge******
When we left Canada, I was grateful that we were heading to our cabin: four more days before emails, phone calls, and text messages catapulted me into the world of agendas, schedules, meetings, and appointments. I wasn't ready to give up the feeling of vacation: I couldn't remember the last time I had thought about nothing for a whole week--or at least nothing that wasn't right in front of me. As we crossed from Ontario into New York's St. Lawrence County, I began wondering where we might go next summer where our only purpose each day would be to be fully wherever we were.

At our cabin, I felt restored and cared for, energetic and relaxed. Suddenly not only was I able to read Lawrence Kushner's God was in This Place & I, i Did Not Know,******* which I'd started and put down multiple times in the last twenty years, but I had to keep reading it until I finished it. I'd pulled it off my shelf and put it in my bag the week before our trip because I'd known we were going to a place that might feel more sacred than most. It was definitely the right book at the right time--more evidence of abundance, of the universe or G-d reaching back. Now I want to read it again for both spiritual and creative reasons.

Back in Quincy after July 4, I turned on my computer and knew that it was time to think about a lot of somethings happening tomorrow, next week, next month. Though I'd first used The Artist's Way's words about abundance and extravagance to foster "right-mindedness" about my vacation, Cameron's real intent was to give us certain permissions and tools for inviting abundance and extravagance into our daily lives as aspiring creative people with real-world responsibilities and obligations.

That thought brought me back to the one moment during our Ontario trip when my sense of abundance was sorely challenged. Wanting to save as much money as we could on lodging, Scott and I had booked ourselves for half of our week into an old, cheap hotel that was in easy walking distance of the center of Huntsville, Ontario. It was a great little downtown, but our hotel room--clean and convenient as it was--was small and very sad. The one window that opened was in the bathroom, and the air conditioner roared rather than hummed; the curtain on the front window, which needed to be closed if we were to have any privacy from passers-by, kept out light so well that the room was nighttime dark all day long. Scott immediately said he didn't mind: we'd only be in the room to sleep, really. But I felt a little bit entombed.

So I decided it was time to go in search of abundance and extravagance. I told Scott we had to walk to the town center, and we did. Crossing the bridge over the Muskoka River, we noted two restaurants on opposite river banks, and there were lots of other small, local restaurants, too--places that were definitely good for us to know about, especially the one that was open at 7:00 am for breakfast. Slowly the sense of abundance was returning.

But I still needed some extravagance. So I asked Scott to wait for me while I went into a shop called The Love Tree to buy something small, inexpensive, and meaningful. Healing stones seemed to fill the bill--especially the Bloodstone that I chose. What most resonated with me in the card that came with it and explained its healing powers was the language about mental exhaustion: until that moment, I hadn't realized how much I wanted this vacation to provide me with a rest from thinking and problem-solving in so many areas of my life. Hence my quest for rejuvenation through a kind of blankness and my excitement about a week of doing only one very pleasurable thing.

By the end of our walk, the hotel seemed just fine to me. And the idea of those stones continues to make me happy, continues to remind me of the very small ways we can be on our own sides.  

In Week #7 of the course laid out in her book, Cameron makes the point that
     "Once you accept that it is natural to create, you can begin to accept . . . that the creator will hand you whatever you need for the project. The minute that you are willing to accept the help of this collaborator, you will see useful bits of help everywhere in your life. . . . 
     " . . . You will have the experience of finding things--books, seminars, tossed-out stuff--that happens to fit with what you are doing" (119).
As Week #8 draws to a close and I write this blog post, I find myself more often not only actively seeking what I need and finding it, but often finding it among what I already have but have used little, differently, or never. It's as if my instincts have always been the right ones for me, but with no sense of abundance to support me, no hope that I would be helped out if I tried, I lacked the courage and optimism to act on them. Still I was healthy enough to recognize them, and I'm grateful for that. They persist in being a kind of road map that reassures me that I've always, always been me, that some important part of me has always existed, even if I did little or nothing with it in my personal creative life.******** 

While I was in Algonquin Provincial Park, I saw wild irises for the first time in my life. For the fourteen years that I lived in Cambridge, my living room window looked out on the wonderfully cared-for garden of the blue house across the street from me. My favorite weeks of the garden year were the two in May when irises of countless varieties and hues ruled that garden. Because of my experience of irises thriving in landlocked, cultivated plots, I hadn't expected that the best place to look for wild irises would be at the edge of the water. I loved that those flowers that I had thought  of as domestic and needing tending were really as wild as anything could be; I loved the way they asserted their lavender selves at those margins where intense blue met intense green. I kept up my wild iris watch wherever we went, snapped photos of single flowers and clumps of flowers, and made a note to myself to reread Louise Glück's The Wild Iris. Why had she chosen the name of this flower to entitle her collection of poems that gives voice to so many different flowers?

I'm home now, back in the routine--and therefore in the thick of all of those things that routinely make our days have multiple competing purposes, intensified now because it's educator summer institute season, and the abundance of new people and new ideas--very exciting but also very demanding--is little more than a week away. But I'm ready for it, in part because of our time in Algonquin Provincial Park.

But before I wrap up this post, I must confess that there's been a third reason I've worried about writing about abundance here and now. In the past few weeks, the streets of Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, France, the United States, and Iraq have been newly littered with dead bodies, the latest victims of assaults and attacks. While I've been feeling and deliberately cultivating a sense of abundance, others have been experiencing profound losses and deprivations. From that angle, my writing about abundance at such a moment seems peculiarly insensitive, remarkably detached as a result of unearned good fortune.

But I haven't been writing about abundance in the material way that so many Americans immediately conceive of it; nor have I been writing about it as the good fortune to have evaded catastrophe by nothing other than luck or privilege. I've been writing about it instead as natural and temporal bounty--and also as a sense of possibility that isn't at all haphazard, that's about agency--action taken by our best, most authentic selves--and the belief that such agency will elicit some kind of supporting response.

Screen shot of Charles Blow's Online NYT Column
That's why I was heartened to read Charles Blow's op-ed piece last week in The New York Times. Blow does nothing to minimize the atrocities, nothing to minimize the grievances that may have led to them, nothing to minimize his personal fears and the magnitude of others' actual losses. Nonetheless, his plea is for a response based on a commitment to our most cherished values and aspirations and to the integrity our best selves, even if such a response cannot guarantee our personal safety one day, one week, or one year after an attack
     "I know well that when people speak of love and empathy and honor in the face of violence, it can feel like meeting hard power with soft, like there is inherent weakness in an approach that leans so heavily on things so ephemeral and even clichéd.
     "But that simply is an illusion fostered by those of little faith. . . ."*********
From my point of view, a perspective of abundance is one form of the "soft power" that Blow feels must be wielded at a moment such as our current one.

In addition to the mindsets and behaviors that Blow feels are important, I believe that the current moment also requires some creativity so that the "love and empathy and honor" that have long been in good supply can have more transformative power. Don't ask me exactly what this would look like, but I do believe that a perspective of abundance fosters creativity because it enlarges our reserves of energy and strength and shores up our sense of possibility, creating fine conditions for humble, daring, inspired new moves. If we can just put that first creating toe into the stream, and then move a little further into it, we just might feel the flow, and go with it. And we might bring others along with us.

It's amazing what a perspective of abundance can do to a life that feels as if it could easily be appropriated by everybody and everything else. I know I have the capacity and the will to seek out small and large extravagances, to embrace moments that offer themselves to me, to care for myself when exhaustion and despair threaten. But none of this means that the creative work ahead will be any more certain or any less difficult, or that I won't trip over myself or crash and burn when I risk something creative. So be it. I move forward with renewed energy--and the belief that simply by moving forward and striving, I'm setting something positive into motion. Like the wild iris, I live on dry land--but close enough to the water to be reflected it in it, to hear it when it laps the shore. I am not alone.

* Dillard, A. (1974). "Heaven and earth in jest" In Pilgrim at tinker creek (pp. 1-13). New York: Harper's Magazine Press.
** Algonquin Provincial Park was often the subject and inspiration of Canadian painter Tom Thomson. Thomson was a major inspiration of the Group of Seven, Canada's most famous group of twentieth century artists. Lawren Harris, whose work is currently on exhibition at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, was one of the Group of the Seven.
*** Cameron, Julia. The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Perigee, 2002. Print. 
**** In her Week #4 chapter, Cameron talks about flow in terms of G-d: "There will be a sense of the flow of life--that you are brought into new vistas as you surrender to moving with the flow of God" (85). 
* (5) As did Scott's! 
* (6) Screen shot of Wikimedia Photo: 
* (7) Kushner, L. (1991). God was in this place & I, i did not know: Finding self, spirituality, and ultimate meaning. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Pub.  
* (8) In my professional life, I expressed these instincts in the readings and projects I assigned. "Heaven and Earth in Jest" was always part of the "Reading and Writing on Human Values I" curriculum.riting on Human Values I."    
* (9) Blow, C. M. (2016, July 8). A week from hell. Retrieved July 17, 2016, from  


  1. I love the sentiment of "small ways of taking our own sides."!

  2. I love the sentiment of "small ways of taking our own sides."!

    1. And a well-timed small way can go a long way!