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A Small Red Container


In the world of physical design (industrial design, architectural and graphic design), making models to test the veracity of an idea is a fun and intriguing way to discover how we can think things up that can’t actually be made.

My background in this world of “prototype” making combined with mindfulness practices (yoga, meditation, flow in creative processes), eventually led me down an intriguing path where I began to use three-dimensional metaphors when working with clients. For instance rather than traditional business plan templates, I began using clay having clients turn ideas into clay models or metaphors. Often this exercise exposed something new, original and exciting.

Recently, I was using my own method and without really wanting to I made a small red container.

What I noticed most was that I didn’t want to make it . Yet, I couldn’t not do it. I didn’t want it to be either small or red, but by damn it wanted to be made and finally it was. Once made, I noticed that I didn’t want to look at it. And, being mindful, I noticed that, too. This “second-order” noticing provided much grist for my own creative mill, eventually leading me to this wonderful quote by Parker Palmer from his book A Hidden Wholeness:

“In Western culture, we often seek truth through confrontation. But our headstrong ways of charging at truth scare the shy soul away. If the soul truth is to be spoken and heard, it must be approached “on the slant.” I do not mean we should be coy, speaking evasively about subjects that make us uncomfortable, which weakens us and our relationships. But soul truth is so powerful that we must invite, not command, the soul to speak. We must allow, not force, ourselves to listen.

“We achieve intentionality in a circle of trust by focusing on an important topic. We achieve indirection by exploring that topic metaphorically, via a poem, a story, a piece of music, or a work of art that embodies it. I call these embodiments “third things” because they represent neither the voice of the facilitator nor the voice of a participant. They have voices of their own, voices that tell the truth about a topic but, in the manner of metaphors, tell it on the slant. Mediated by a third thing, truth can emerge from, and return to, our awareness at whatever pace and depth we are able to handle – sometimes inwardly in silence, sometimes in community – giving the shy soul the protective cover it needs.

“Rightly used, a third thing functions a bit like the old Rorschach inkblot test, evoking from us whatever the soul wants us to attend to. Mediated by a good metaphor, the soul is more likely than usual to have something to say. But that fact will count for nothing if we fail to recognize that the soul is speaking or fail to pay attention to what it says.”

This section of Parker’s book wraps us thus, “What T.S. Eliot said about poetry is true of all third things: “[Poetry] may make us…a little more aware of the deeper, unnamed feelings which form the substratum of our being, to which we rarely penetrate; for our lives are mostly a constant evasion of ourselves.”

And so, get yourself an idea and then get thee to an art supply store. See what supplies attract you, what colors, what forms. Notice. Grab a thought and try to make it into something concrete. And, keep noticing and then notice what you notice. There may be some discovery, a surprise or shy soul voice that wants to be heard, whose time has come and who wants to come out and play in your life. You may discover a place that has been hidden is now ready to be seen and heard in “this one wild and precious life of yours.” (Bless you Mary Oliver, poet extraordinaire, for that line.)

In the meantime, I am a small red container. Who knew?

Reprinted with permission: shelleyglendenning conscious life & work design

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