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I watched a gorgeous documentary this week, Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time. Andy Goldsworthy is an English sculptor who creates location-specific art out of the natural elements he finds on site — stone, twigs, ice, water, flowers. He doesn’t bring in any additional materials. He just shows up in the chosen spot, listens to the land, feels its “pulse,” and constructs something beautiful out of what’s already there.

It’s not a new movie; it was made in 2001. I had a passing familiarity with some of Goldsworthy’s work, but I didn’t know anything about him; I couldn’t have told you his name. My friend Liz loaned me the DVD quite a while ago, but it sat on my coffee table, mostly ignored, for several weeks because it seemed too heady or arty or something. My TV time lately has been devoted almost exclusively to rewatching Season 6 of Project Runway. The last thing I wanted, I thought, was a quiet meditation on an introverted philosopher-artist and his work with rocks and leaves.

I was wrong. It was exactly what I wanted. I wanted it so much I watched it again.

Liz loaned me the DVD after I gave a sermon that touched on impermanence. Evidently, this theme continues to resonate for me. Because though I don’t remember what I said about impermanence before, I was deeply moved again by the fact that most of Goldsworthy’s art is very temporary. Fleeting, even. He builds delicate arches out of icicles that melt quickly in the sunrise. And chains of leaves in a brook, to be caught by a current and carried out of sight downstream. Even when he works with stone, he refers to the movement and flow of it — both the changing landscape around the cairn or wall or whatever he’s constructing, and also the fluidity of the stone itself.

In one of the film’s breathtaking sequences, Goldsworthy constructs a large dome of intersecting pieces of driftwood, over a tide pool. As the tide comes in, the sculpture is lifted and carried out to sea. We watch as it slowly comes apart on the waves. The artist muses, “It isn’t at all like destruction… the moment is really part of that cycle of turning… you feel as if you’ve touched the heart of the place.”

It doesn’t sound particularly dramatic, but it really is. It’s thrilling, in fact.

There’s another part of the documentary in which we actually watch clay dry and crack on a wall. This could be a metaphor for inactivity, for nothing happening. It sounds boring. And yet it, too, feels like the deepest communion. It’s anything but boring. It is time and space and everything in it — it’s Life Itself.

Lately, I’ve found myself mightily irked when people express boredom. I want to scream, “What the hell is wrong with you?! How can you be bored?! YOU’RE boring!”

This is a disproportionate reaction, I know.

I’m aware that when I react so strongly to someone else, usually it’s a matter I should be taking up with myself. I have to admit that I am experiencing some measure of ennui. And this creates an inner friction with the values of my upbringing, in which my parents had zero-tolerance for any expression of “boredom.” So I’m really not trying to make this a critique of someone else’s feelings or attitudes — far be it from me to deny anyone their own experience — you do you.

But I know that I don’t want to keep feeling this way — listless, weary, antsy, and grumpy. I’ll avoid calling it “boredom” in deference to Mom and Dad, but whatever I call it, I don’t like it. And I expect that most others don’t really want to keep feeling this way, either. So perhaps there’s something we can all do about it.

Boredom is defined as: a state of dissatisfaction due to lack of interest or stimulation. Okay… well, honestly I don’t know how anyone (myself or another) could possibly be experiencing a lack of stimulation these days. 

Truly, I’m overstimulated most of the time — overwhelmed and exhausted, scattered and longing for a pause, a breath.  Maybe the relentless attention-grabbing buzz of it all has distorted our senses, and we’ve forgotten how to just be still.  Stirred up in a state of constant restlessness — what’s next, what’s next, what’s next — it can be very hard to maintain interest in what’s now, in what is.

Maybe the lesson of “boredom” (or whatever we’re inclined to name it) is not a call to what’s next, but rather an invitation to go deeper into what is.

It’s not that the situation is boring, or the circumstances. It’s not that life is boring. It’s a matter of my engagement with it. How I’m participating in it and with it.

What if we could feel the heartbeat of twigs in a delicate lattice, swaying in the wind? Stacked rocks being swallowed by the tide or by growing plant life… Brilliant flower petals bursting yellow from a wet crevasse by the rapids…

What if this were all there is? What if this were everything?

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour”

~ William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

I can’t wait to be with you this Sunday, August 27, at 10:00am at Maple Street Dance Space. With the divine Patty Stephens. XO, Drew

©2023 Drew Groves

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