"Find greatness in small things..."

"Find greatness in small things..."
30" x 40"
India ink, gouache, watercolor, rice paper

Lately I've gotten into the habit of running later in the day, when the sun slants and evening approaches. The quality of the light is warm, and I love the sensation of being out just before the colors fade. At that time of day, my body is looser and more limber, not stiff as I often feel these days in the mornings. Though I feel like the same exuberant, energetic soul inside, my body often reminds me that I am aging.

Today, I decided to begin my day with a run, thinking that (perhaps!!) some noticing along the way would ground my making once I stepped into my studio.

Starting my run, my mind was full of so much noise.

The events of the past few weeks (Paris, Beirut, Kenya) feel heavy, and the collective sadness, borne of tragedy near and far, feels palpable. I made a concerted effort to be present, at least for these small moments on the trail.


Whenever I meander through the world, whether purposefully going somewhere or out on a run, certain things vibrate, as if to say "Pick me up and take a closer look." I decided to pay attention.

I picked up three items. The smallest I tucked into my sleeve, and the largest I held in my hand. It flapped and waved for my remaining miles. The last item I picked up at the very end of my run.

I picked up the large yellow leaf because its stem was "just so"--an incredible shade of red-orange, contrasting with the paleness of the leaf.

I picked up the small yellow leaf because of the tiny greenish dot on its surface. It said, "here is a detail I want you to notice."

I picked up the oval green leaf because it looked worn, as if it had flown around a bit, maybe been stepped on, yet it retained its color. It was alone in an area full of leaves of a different sort.

Here is what I thought:

These small things I pick up are this way for just this moment in time. By tomorrow, they will be dry and easily cracked, not pliable and easily bendable like today. Tomorrow they will be a different color, not the vibrant colors that drew my eye today. I thought about the ephemeral moments that make up everyday living, and how attention to small things helps find greatness in life.

These sensations ran through my mind:

I am alive. I am listening to my breath and that shift in attention immediately draws me back to the earth. It stills the noise in my mind. When I am running, I am aware--fully--of the brilliance of life coursing through me. Today, I feel especially grateful.

I am alone. After so many years of intensely-paced work that allowed little time to pause or reflect, this semester I have moments of being alone. I had not realized how rarely that actually happens, and how terrifying it can be to face that in the studio.

I ran just enough. I ran 4 miles today. Short, but just enough. Enough to be warm and sweating, to hear the sounds of water (quiet, easy to miss if not listening) and register the smell of the air (smoky, cool, fresh).

With my three items held gently but tightly in my hand, and my three sensations about this moment held tightly in my heart and mind, I ran home.


My contemplative practice lately has been this: "Find greatness in small things." Practice noticing. And then consider how making can emerge from that sensation of awareness. Here is where the work I am doing in my classroom, emerging work in my studio, my current research as a graduate student myself, and my engagements in living all align. I am an artist-teacher-researcher. The threads of each layer are increasingly intertwined.

For the first time in a very long time, I stepped over the threshold of my studio with eagerness rather than fear.