Painting Rest

When we feel that someone may be resentful toward us, it’s difficult to be spiritually, emotionally and therefore even physically, at rest. My mom was a very private person who suffered indignities at the hospital. She would have been mortified to realize everything that happened to her, and for many of those experiences she was unfortunately alert and aware. As her caregiver, I felt responsible for what was done to her even though I had no power to intervene (I tried; I had no legal authority). When she died, I felt guilty for not stopping interventions that I knew she did not want; medical decisions made by nurses and doctors that were (to her) a degrading loss of dignity. 

When caring for Mom, I regularly brought her cut yellow roses from my beloved rose bushes in front of our big kitchen window. The morning after she died, I looked out at the roses and was startled to see a rabbit quietly sitting there. All day she sat there. The next day, she was there again. The next day, again. All day this rabbit sat in silent vigil at the roses. My family felt it was Mom’s spirit visiting us, helping us let go.

After days of looking out at the “Visiting Rabbit” sitting next to my roses, tension and stress from the dramatic events that happened at the hospital began to ease. How many times had I cut those roses for her? Dozens? More than that? What about shopping for her, cooking for her, doing her laundry, washing her hair, cleaning her bathroom and living area, bringing her gifts, and everything else that shall go unnamed? I had done my best. I had to believe that Mom was not resentful about what happened at the hospital or anything else. She was giving me permission to let go. Wasn’t that what the rabbit was for, to help us let go?

It’s healing to be forgiven by others, but when we choose to forgive ourselves, we are truly set free. Many of us believe that we are forgiven by the mercy and grace of God, and yet we may struggle to forgive ourselves for things we may not even be responsible for. When we choose to accept forgiveness from others, forgiveness from ourselves, and extend forgiveness outwardly as well, we have found a path toward spiritual, emotional, and physical rest.

Painting an intangible concept such as “rest” relies on shape, form and contrast. When we depict activity around a subject, that subject will in contrast then appear to be at rest. Surrounding the rabbit are bending, twisting, and spiraling shapes, indicating activity. The flowers are boldly yellow, heavily textured, loosely painted, and extend above the rabbit; who is low to the ground, lightly textured, tightly detailed and dimly hued in earth tones. The rabbit’s form is rigid, almost like a statue, and yet the eyes show a glistening life spot and the fur is so textured it’s almost as if we expect it to quiver from the rabbit’s breathing movements. The key is to create stillness while also expressing life

Art is philosophy. When we paint deeply introspective and intangible concepts such as “rest”, we bring insightful conversations to the language of art. To experience rest, a person’s needs must be met. What those needs are, can only be defined by ourselves. The fewer perceived needs, the easier it is to rest.

Sheltering Tree” is a spiritual and physical place of rest. Tranquility, meditation, prayerfulness, solitude, and stillness are conveyed through greens, blues, and earth tones- the colors of nature. So, when painting a natural landscape, an artist doesn’t really need to modify anything to depict rest. Nature has already shown it to us.

Docked Boat” represents how respite is always held for us, tied to our shore. When we need rest, go to the docked boat, untie the rope, and drift away until the stress looks small and far away. This could be a spiritual and emotional metaphor, but the concept is even better when also taken literally. While mental vacations and spiritual retreats are lovely, sometimes we need to physically get away. Such a vacation may or may not include active exercise in natural surroundings like rowing a boat across a lake, but regardless of activity or destination, putting real physical distance between ourselves and our daily lives is healthy and rejuvenating.

While “Visiting Rabbit” prepared us for rest (forgiveness, letting go, acceptance), and “Sheltering Tree” gave us what we needed (as determined by ourselves). “Docked Boat” encourages us to desire rest at regular intervals. Depicting “desire” in a painting can be conveyed by creating pleasant visuals that are receding, reflective, or obscured. Our human nature pines for that which we cannot have, but we can see just beyond our grasp.

In “Docked Boat“, the water line recedes- how far does it go? What’s the scenery like if we go there? What’s beyond? We can see reflections in the water; mirrors remind us of the passage of time. The past, present and future mingle into nostalgia and wistfulness, pining for something we can’t quite name. Recede, reflect, obscure. The boat is obscured by the bending, swaying tree branches that seem to taunt us. The more the boat is hidden, the more we want to see it. 

While the larger view is obscured, there’s the docking post, clear as day. Why, so is the rope! We can reach out and grab it, untie it.. and then everything we yearn for will be unveiled and accessible. “Rest” is waiting for us to choose it. Our future is held for us. We can row away from the things that tie us down when we choose to set ourselves free. Then, we’ll row back to the shore, refreshed and renewed, and ready once again for our endless pursuit of happiness- may we find it in meaningful work, love, laughter, and rest.

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