Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Tue 5/27/2003 3:52 AM
Random Thought: The Gardener, Artist, and Teacher

For us in the States, this past weekend was Memorial Day Weekend. Memorial Day is sometimes called "the gateway to the summer." Well, my morning walk today through the steamy vat of superheated water we call humidity reminded me that we down here in south Georgia have gone through that gate quite a while back.

On such national holidays, Susan and I are stay-at-homes, letting the over thirty-five million other cars hit the road, parks, and beaches. We had some close friends over for a quiet cook-out dinner one evening, my son, Robby, and his girl friend for another, and then a "just us" evening on the third. Each day I sculpted in my flower garden. I created floral center pieces with galardia, shasta daisies, rudibeckia, daylillies, coreopsis, french lace and snowball hydrangas from the garden. I continued my never-ending work on a metal sculpture and struggled to repair another sculpture made of driftwood and stone. I designed some desk-top mediation fountains. I planned out how to redo the master bedroom with a Venetian plaster process. And, I mulled over a couple of workshops on creative teaching and classroom community which I am scheduled to present in the coming months.

All this has put me into a strange ENFPish mood. It has gotten me to thinking about connections and the word "art." People talk about the art of gardening, the art of design, the art of teaching, and the art of an artist. What do they mean? A searching travel? A spiritual exercise? A plumbing of one's spirit? An act of devotion? The results of human imagination? The process of creating beautiful or important things? A unique talent attained by or honed by study and practice? A powerful metaphor for any journey or activity with the purpose of finding something that matters deeply to the practioner? If all this is true, and I think it is, then I think the qualities of a gardener and artist are those of the teacher.

A work of art, a garden bed, a classroom, a workshop session are scenes that can sensitize the individual to the deeper realities of himself and of the world about him. Each one can show that a single moment's perception and act is more than enough to capture and contain an exciting world. Each is a crafting of something rare and precious that rises primarily from the depth of emotion. Each is an enjoyment in spite of adversity. Each accepts the normality of challenge as a way to become more. Each offers a sense that living well is more important than just surviving and existing. Each is an embrace of the present, a living of today while you can, and a thinking of the future. Each has the purpose to enrich other people's lives through the power of sharing. In each is harbored a something as ephemeral as the idea of passing something on to others after we pass on, that we can pass on something of ourselves, something of the spirit of who we are and what we have meant.

If I qualify as a gardener or an amateur artist or a teacher it is not solely because of my technical or technological or pedagogical know-how and my informational know-what. Goodness knows I'm not going to win at any flower show or be the center fold in Architectural Digest or stand in any museum. Gardening isn't the problem any more than is art or designing or teaching. Seeking and seeing is the problem. Seeking and seeing a purpose is the problem. Seeking and seeing an answer to the question, "Why?" Artists, gardeners and teachers are "questers" and the answer to that question is the single most significant prediction of work fulfillment, a far better predictor than technical skills or general intelligence. It is what separates the technician or journeyman from the master. A gardener, artist, and teacher, then, must be able to live fully in that question if they are to strive to use whatever it is they have to the fullest. He or she must be able to see the beauty and sacredness and uniqueness in the plant, medium or person with the eyes of his or her heart more than with the eyes in their skull. I think it was either Whitman or Thoreau who said that before you can capture the immeasurable, you first have to experience it. And, of course, if you have not experience it, for you it is not real.

To have the opportunity to experience it, you must have the capacity to be an inner world traveler and an outer world explorer, have a delicacy of soul, a deep below the surface pulse, a rejoicing in the play of all the senses, an inner silence, an uninhibited receptivity, an openness and responsiveness, a moving question mark, a constant reimagining, a spirit in awe and wonder, a graceful waiting for unexpected encounters, room for improvisation, a quality of curiosity, an awakened perception, and an intention of attention.

Whether I am in my garden or I playing at being a an artist or playing in my garden or engaging in the classroom, I find myself I cannot be still and nothing is still for I have what Rumi would call an awareness of all the messages coming through, that melody of beckoning calls that draw me out and direct me and define me. In most ways, the focus of attention away from myself to others.

True gardeners, artists, and master teachers have learned to let things and people around them pepper them with renewing and revitalizing questions: "What do you see?" "How can you see more?" "What do you hear?" "How do you listen keener?" "What do you feel?" "How do you feel deeper?" "How do you interact with the all the various colors, themes, elements, mediums and people around you?" "What are the critical elements?" "What and where are the connections?" "What is the best way to shape your experience?" "How can you pass all this on to others?" It will be the daring answers that will become the gift of the gardener, artist, teacher.

And so, I feel that the amateur gardener I am or the amateur sculptor I strive to be or the occasional designer or the professional teacher I am have a bond. When I meditate before going to class, or quietly survey the lay of the garden or am before whatever I am trying to design or create, I find that my first task is to close my eyes, both figuratively and literally, and let go of all the roaring static in my head to make room for passion and ecstasy. I clear myself waiting for the answer to "why?" I evacuate my mind of all that I know and wait for discovery. Like the times of my pre-dawn power walks, my mind and spirit work differently when the rush of everything around me rushes out, when I just breeze along in a mantra of a slow, gentle, quiet, and patient rhythm, when I am still and still moving. New ideas come and go without working for them. Sometimes new answers pop up. Sometimes new insights emerge. Sometimes new images and patterns appear. Sometimes new concepts take shape. Sometimes new approaches near. In those quests, my gardener self and my artist self and my teaching self are one and the same. It is something like always being at a crossroad without a road map. You will always have to choose which road sign to believe and which direction to take. The choices stimulate the desire, heighten the intensity, increase the engagment, sharpen the senses. As that occurs, I feel an awakefulness and alertness that cuts through any distracting, opaque daze. I come alive, thrilled with the moment, brimming with exhilaration and anticipation. And it is all right here, visits of joy and accomplishment, feasts of epiphanies, dances of marvels and astonishments, in the daily round of my activities seen both square in front of me and out of the corner of my eye. In each of nature's molehills I receive the gift of seeing mountains. It's hard not to wonder and it's hard to be disappointed. And, as I am not disappointed, I find heart. And, as I find heart, I cannot teach less anymore than it's hard to walk less, garden less, and sculpt or design less.

I told you I was in a strange ENPFish mood.

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
                                 /     \__/         \/  /  /\ /~\/         \
                          /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\
                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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