I’ve never been someone who does things slowly. I grew up in a house where both of my parents were race car drivers and my brother rode motorcross. A need for speed was ingrained in me from an early age. (Along with a love of the smell of a race track. ;-))
For most of the past 49 years I’ve raced through life with intent. Moving fast from one thing to the next. When I began school at five years of age, I had a reading comprehension of a 5th grader so after just three months of Kindergarten I was moved up to First Grade. I learned quickly that I had to keep up with my classmates, all of whom were a year older than me. As school progressed I worked hard to stay ahead of the pack and this trend continued, even extending to the point of finishing a four year degree at college in three years.
I was in a hurry. In a hurry to experience life. In a hurry to grow up. In a hurry to do things, go places, see things, meet people. I moved fast, I talked fast. And I learned long ago that I think fast too, which makes me a great employee who can find solutions before others in a company can even see a problem looming. But this trait has also got me into trouble for years with my family when I state things that seem obvious to me, but aren’t necessarily seen by others.
Fast is second nature to me. And for most of my life, I’ve completely looked down my nose at slow.
‘Slow is boring’, I’d think. ‘What’s the point of doing anything slow?’
Like many other aspects of my life, this was just the opportunity the Universe was looking for to get me to eat my words. Slowness has been introduced to my life in increments over the past couple of years but this month has been nothing but slow and I have begun to see it’s beauty.
How did this happen??? Me. The fast girl? A convert for the slow movement? (I hear some of you laughing.) But it’s true.
Through a series of serendipitous events (are there any other kind??) I ended up in an oil painting class at the Artists Society of Canberra’s Summer Art School from 7-11 January. I’ve never painted with oils before and it took quite a leap of faith for me to even enrol in the class considering two years ago this month was the first time I’d ever painted anything in my life. I usually paint with acrylics. They dry fast; sometimes too fast and I find myself spraying paintings with water to create different effects.
Of course, I shouldn’t have worried about leaping into oils. It was the perfect class for me and the people I met in the class were perfect for me to learn from. The class was all about painting clouds and skies – perfect subjects for learning oils.
If you haven’t ever painted with oils before, it’s a slow business. Over the course of the week we each had two canvases to work on but with the heat, the paint just wouldn’t dry fast enough for us to work on them very long each day. If one layer of oil paint isn’t completely dry, it’s no good trying to add another colour or another layer. All you get is ‘mud’. So we had plenty of time for chatting and getting to know each other in the class.
On the Thursday I received some news from a family member back in the US that upset me. I was actually a mess. I couldn’t paint, I couldn’t do anything. Well, I did do something. I sat and cried for about an hour over a cup of tea outside under a large gum tree. And then I realised there was nothing I could do or say that would help the situation. As I sat and looked at the beautiful garden of eucalypt trees all around me, I realised I needed some time away, preferably amongst some trees and out of the city, to help me process the news.
Back home that evening as I scrolled through Facebook I saw a sponsored post for something or someone called The Spoonsmith. The photo was of big trees. I don’t normally click on sponsored posts but something told me to look at this ad. I did and it took me to a webpage for a business run by a guy called The Spoonsmith. He was running a workshop down by the coast in one of my favourite areas of Australia, starting the next Monday. The workshop, One Small Tree, was a green woodworking workshop where participants would learn over a week how to make many things out of one small tree. This all sounded great to me, plus I could camp on site, amongst the trees. Just what my soul needed.
The next morning, I signed up for the last of 10 spots available and then headed off to the last day of art school where we spent most of the day literally watching paint dry. It’s a slow business…
I kept up with the slow pace all weekend at home, just doing what I wanted, when I wanted and slowly packing my car for a week away. Reg went with the girls to their Dad’s on Saturday, leaving me time to meander my way down to the workshop. I felt excited. A week on my own, in a place I love. I felt free and my soul was filled with joy.
The 10 participants plus Jeff, The Spoonsmith, gathered in a restored village hall in a tiny community 10kms from Eden on Monday morning. We went around the circle introducing ourselves and explaining what drew us to the course. “The free camping,’ was my answer to this question which made the others laugh. But in a way, it was true. I was camping in my tent in a beautiful place next to a small village hall where I was meeting lovely new people and learning some new skills. If I took something away with me at the end of the week, that was a bonus. I was there for soul therapy.
And that’s what I received. Soul therapy.
For the next seven days I learned how to use an axe and knives to carve spoons and other utensils, as well as stool legs, puppets and brooms. I also peeled bark and wove baskets and a seat for my stool, which turned out pretty great (if I say so, myself).
Green woodcarving is slow business. Every cut must be deliberate or else it’s easy to put an axe through a femoral artery or slice a finger off. It’s a form of mindfulness. It forces me to be fully present (the number of band-aids on my fingers told the tale of when I wasn’t) and forced me to slow down.
I can’t think about anything else when I’m carving. Not what’s happening back in the US with my family, not about my kids or about anyone else. I can’t worry about what’s to come. Each project doesn’t have a time specific agenda. It takes as long as it takes. With each spoon I make, I get a bit faster. But it isn’t about getting faster. It’s about perfecting what I’m making so it’s a joy to make it and it’s a joy to use it. It’s about looking at a piece of wood and then working with it – the knots or the the twist in the grain – and getting the finished object to reveal itself to you as you work with it.
I don’t know when I last had a week of pure joy. I’m not sure if I ever have, especially not quite like this one. To be totally free, accountable to no one but me, with no mobile phone reception, in my own little tent under a beautiful peppermint gum, making things that pleased me and provided me peace and joy.
And the ‘spooning’ community, at least the members I met last week, are lovely people. They are genuine, warm, generous, kind and interesting. They appreciate the beauty of slowness; of taking time to craft something beautiful and useful. Again, as I have so often on this journey I’m on, I met the right people at the right time.
On my last day of the workshop, I woke with the whipbirds calling in the forest and a couple of kookaburras laughing over my tent. I opened Coming Home to Myself (a beautiful book that I read a bit of each morning upon waking) and was greeted by these words:
“If we could allow the pace of our meetings to slow down to the pace of our hearts, we might find genuine understanding.”
The pace of my life slowed to the pace of my heart and I found understanding. It’s amazing how being fully present on one thing – in this case carving – frees up the rest of me to work on issues in my subconscious while I’m otherwise occupied. Once I came out of my carving haze each day, I found answers. The week brought clarity on a number of things that have been swirling around in my head and taught me more than just axe and knife skills. It’s helped me make some big decisions for how I want to live my life this year and what I’m open to and what I’m not.
I bought myself an early birthday present of an axe and two knives and have continued to carve each day this past week at home. I love seeing what I create and I love seeing what ideas my heart, my mind and my soul come up with by the end of each carving session.
I have a feeling this is the beginning of something new for me.