The Island, and the Natural State

I’m living and working on an island off the gulf coast of Florida, unconnected to land by even a bridge.

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We come here in January when it can be stormy and cold, very raw, and hardly anyone else is here.

      

There’s electricity and water on this laid back beach house with few amenities, and minimal cell coverage.  There’s nothing for sale on the island, not even a cup of coffee.

It takes a lot to get settled into this small home on stilts, bringing by boat 3 dogs and enough groceries and batteries and jackets and books and painting supplies to last a few weeks.

Our beloved goddaughter is always our only visitor, and stays for a week.  We celebrate our twin birthdays, fish, read tarot cards, explore matters of the heart, and all things creative.

    

When she leaves, I get very quiet.  It’s an island retreat.

I’ve set up a studio in the sand under this house-on-stilts, a table made from stray wood planks, a water hose and a clothesline set up to hang wet canvases.

I’m rereading Anne Morrow Lindberg’s book “A Gift from the Sea”, published in 1955, written when she lived alone on a very primitive island off the Florida coast for two weeks, leaving her husband and five children at home. She writes:  “How wonderful are islands!…. an island from the world and the world’s life….The past and the future are cut off; only the present remains. Existence in the present gives island living an extreme vividness and purity. One lives like a child or a saint in the immediacy of here and now. Every day, every act, is an island, washed by time and space, and has an island’s completion.”

Photo credit:  EJ Rost

I’m keenly interested right now in what I’d call the natural state, sometimes called a state of grace, which is nurtured by being on this island.  I’m giving my all to peel away the layers that allow this to be seen, felt, lived.  Not some ethereal idea of grace, but actually moving through one’s world with ease, something from deep inside.  I realized early on that it’s vital for my work as a painter, but what’s experienced from living in this state goes far beyond that.  This is a decades long focus, but recently I’ve been laser focused on it.  It feels urgent.

This idea of a state of grace showed up in Lindberg’s book last night, as she writes of her wish to fulfill her obligations:  “But I want first of all—in fact, as an end to these other desires—to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact—to borrow from the language of the saints—to live “in grace” as much of the time as possible. I am not using this term in a strictly theological sense. By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for in the prayer from the Phaedrus when he said, “May the outward and inward man be at one.” I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.”.

There’s nothing new in her words, many have written about this, but right now I feel this deeply.  Isn’t this what we all long for?

For me, it takes a long time on this island to settle into what Lindberg is describing. I tend to work very hard through the year, obsessively, both mentally and physically. I can run myself to complete exhaustion, with nothing left to offer.  This happened in 2018, and by the end of the year, my well was dry.   When I got here this year, the marionette strings that animate me through the year, are still pulling arms legs and mind.  It’s stunning to see how contracted and incessant my inner world shows itself to be, and what a stark contrast to living on this quiet island that has little else on it but sea, sand and birds.

    

But now, and at last, the surf is taking me, through sound and osmosis.  It’s allowing me to join a different pace, tune in to the wind, the pelicans, the never-ending crashing of waves, the sand that settles into everything, the brilliant evening sky that glows for an entire hour after sunset.  From this calm and conscious place in one’s being, is the very richest place to create, to work, coming from pure source.

From this place, expression simply happens, as Lindberg describes “….and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.”. The hand picks up a pencil, or a camera, or a bunch of lumber from a dumpster, to assemble, draw, photograph, write.  It’s so interesting to work from this balanced place, there’s no concern or idea of error.  What is beautiful remains, what is awkward is simply smoothed into another shape, or obscured by a wash, easy as a river flows, with no burden of right or wrong.

I’ve slowed this movie down to see the sea’s movement.

 

Certainly all of us know what it’s like to solve creative problems from this open, expansive state of grace.  Not just those of us involved with the arts, but most everyone who is putting together a project, developing plans or solving problems with a customer, a child, a loved one, have experienced this ease of creative movement when in a state of grace.

This long time spent here allows the well to fill up, entirely, and nourishes my work/me through the year.  At last, my mind and body settle, not moving from one activity to the next, not anxiously needing to paint, to express, not trying to be productive, but to live and breathe and if it’s offered, to paint.