Do you need rest?

Watch oil painting “Docked Boat” come to life in under 2 minutes

(time lapse)

I blogged about this painting in the post called “Painting Rest“, which I invite you to read if you missed it when I first shared it. Tonight, I am in need of rest myself, so I’ll say very little. I spent the day catching up on dishes, cooking, and preparing for my next painting- the last painting in the 2021 collection “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by Nature“. I feel the winds of spiritual change in the air and it’s caused me to pause in my work. I wasn’t ready for this one to end.

When I finish this next painting I will paint in a new direction for the 2022 theme. It seems that what I paint mirrors my life (and my life mirrors what I paint), and sometimes even seems to foreshadow what’s to come, or perhaps manifest the future. This is something that took me a while to realize, but now that I am aware of it, I feel the weight of this when I’m about to change course. So, I wasn’t quite ready to complete the final painting for the 2021 collection. But I’ll get a good night’s sleep tonight and I will start it tomorrow.

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2021, We’re all Grieving

You might remember when I talked about this painting before, from an artist perspective: Painting Nostalgia. This art has no video, and I’m relieved that it doesn’t. It was an emotional experience to paint this art of my parents’ wedding day. Both of my parents are deceased: one died young (age 37) and the other died older, but still too young. Both have been gone a long time.

We cannot choose if and when we’ll experience events that cause grief, but we can choose how we respond to it. The year 2021 has brought grief to all humankind worldwide. Grief doesn’t always come from the loss of a physical life, such as when a loved one dies. Sometimes we grieve the loss of the life we once had, as in the way that we used to live, and who we believed ourselves to be. We may not be that person any more and in a mental, emotional and spiritual sense, this is a death that the world is collectively grieving, whether aware of this or not.

When my dad died, people told me that he wouldn’t want me to be sad, he’d want me to be strong. He’d want me to go on with my life. And this was true, but the push for normalcy went too far and was dysfunctional. It was considered a badge of honor that I went to school as normal on the very day he died. He died at 2:00AM and I was on the school bus just hours later. Some of my students were shocked by this, and wondered if the rumor they’d heard that my father had passed away in the night wasn’t true. Why would I be in school if he had? Why, indeed.

 I didn’t cry at his memorial service. I made it through the whole excruciating experience, which is a story for another day. Fortunately and blessedly for me, I also had people in my life who were concerned about my robotic reaction to the passing of my father, and encouraged the opposite: talk about what happened. 

One of these occasions was when I was at a friend’s house and her study partner just happened to be there at the same time. My friend urged me to talk about Dad and I did, as an emotionless storyteller. But her study partner was full of emotion, so much so that he shed tears for me. This simple display of empathy touched my heart so deeply that I later asked my friend about her kind study partner.

My friend was delighted to play matchmaker and one thing led to another… that kind boy and I became high school sweethearts, and have been married for decades. The point of me sharing this is to illustrate how being open to reacting to grief in a healthy way can lead to something positive, perhaps so wonderful that it results in a permanent life change that will affect generations to come!

If I had remained closed and spiritually stubborn, I may have refused to answer my friend’s questions about my father- opting to say very little and change the subject. But questions were asked and I was open to answering them. That one simple decision led to everything that happened in my life, my husband’s life, and our children’s life since. Obviously without that moment, my children would not exist.

Now, I’m not going to promise you (or myself) that responding to 2021’s grief events in a positive, spiritually open way will impact generations to come, but it might. It will at least impact OUR lives for many years to come. What is your response to the changes that have come to you, to the changes in the world that you may not have expected or wanted? When our lives change, there is a grieving process- the bigger the change, the more profound the grief.

If you’ve been greatly impacted by 2021’s events that continue to unfold, how do you channel your fears, anxieties, and sorrow? Do you deny your situation, are you closed to it, are you walking around the best you can as if everything is normal? Or, are you open to hearing your own voice speaking the truth about what has happened?

We don’t have to rely on fate, serendipity or miracles to randomly drop into our lives, like an unexpected stranger appearing with our friend, who later becomes our spouse and parent to our children! No, we don’t have to rely on these rare events. We can manifest positive changes for ourselves, simply by choosing to be positive and strong. We can then act in ways to be that person: a strong and positive person.

Rather than abusing substances, feeding other types of addictions, or sliding into an apathetic, morose, state of inaction, we can channel our grief into positive actions. This past year I chose certain areas of my life that I had planned to develop but hadn’t committed to. I then committed to several projects and worked steadily to make these things happen. 

One of the things I did was build up my immune system by creating something productive to do outside, like starting the garden I’d talked about but hadn’t yet done. A garden would improve my nutrition, push me to get more exercise, and I’d get my fifteen minutes of sunlight as well. What held me back was that we are currently renting a small house with only a patio area for a yard. I kept some flowers, but no food. I had no room for that.

But the limitations I placed on myself are nonsense! With enough determination I can overcome this challenge and plant an impressive garden on a small footprint. I knew this all along, but the truth is that I didn’t WANT that type of garden. I wanted one like I used to have before we had to sell our house. I didn’t want this “new normal”.

When I got over my spiritual and emotional stubbornness, I researched my options and committed to the investment of grow bags with handles. I can move them around and can even move them to our new house when that day comes. There is no excuse for not starting a garden, unless of course the real reason for not doing it is something else. Laziness? Apathy? An undisciplined lifestyle? Not really committed to change?

I’ve blogged quite a lot about my thriving garden that brings me great joy, with its greenery, food, and habitat for beautiful birds. So if you’ve been following me for a while, you know how this story ends: my garden is a positive lifestyle change that continues to evolve. One thing led to another and I’ve learned how to make my own spices, compound butter, tea, daily microgreen salads (it’s like an outdoor salad bar!), and other happy homesteading goodness that I never knew existed.

That’s just one area of positive change, and I could talk about it for many more paragraphs. But I’ll stop here. I only wanted to give one example of something we can do to change our lives and channel our grief into something positive, that may evolve into ever widening circles of change… good change. Life is changing, whether we want it to or not. When we direct how we want that change to go, we can manifest blessings from grief.

Blog posts relating to my garden, and spiritual journey:

Downsizing our Dreams

I’ve Joined the Butterflies

Bunting is Real

Hummingbird Swing 

You’ll love the videos I took of the painting bunting, and especially the adorable hummingbird on the tiny swing! Nature is so funny, wonderful, and healing.

 

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Letting Go

Watch this Angel Releasing Dove painting come to life in 2 minutes (time lapse), using broken pieces of shells I found on the beach, and a tiny “dove” from inside a sand dollar I also found there, at Tybee Island, Georgia.

There are times when we must let go, and let our hearts say, “Go in Peace”. This may be a spiritual letting go, a time of grief, or a physical letting go. It’s back to school time for many families and those of us who are facing this transitional time may be feeling more anxiety than usual. After deferring college or other situations, we may have expected a better situation for this year, only to find that the situation has escalated.

Letting go is difficult under ordinary circumstances, but when we are pushed harder than anticipated, it can be more challenging to reach spiritual acceptance of the change of seasons. School is just one obvious example, as it affects so many of us at around the same time every year. But all of us are touched by the change of seasons, as we see summer end and the passage of time has brought new things into our lives that may have been expected or wanted, or may be unexpected or unwanted. Either way, change is difficult.

Even good and happy changes bring a strong degree of stress. It may help to imagine our spiritual self as this angel, and the dove may represent the peaceful outcome of letting go, accepting that life is changing. If the change involves another person, we may wish blessings and a glorious, happy, prosperous, hope-filled flight into the unknown. May we rely on the strength of our love for others to see them through to the other side, if they have passed, or to see them into the future if they are launching into new experiences.

Perhaps the process of letting go is about ourselves. When life changes for others, it impacts us. Even if no one in our personal circle has a major life event, the seasons still pass. Time itself brings changes that cause us to reflect upon our lives and adjust to our new self. As we see July slipping into August, we may feel the change of seasons closing in. We may not have control over time, and future events, but we always have a spiritual choice about how we respond to change.

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Solitary Roses

Watch me paint this art in support of families of autistic children

Some may claim that I have glorified or downplayed autism, but this painting was meant to express the profound love that families have for their children who have autism. Art is a language. Sometimes we understand each other perfectly, and other times we don’t. A grandmother of an autistic child was greatly moved by this painting. She understood what I was trying to say, and felt the empathy. The rose represents a child, alone in a tranquil woods, yet also trapped there- in a stoned wall, where it’s difficult to grow, or connect. Yet, there is always hope, and moments of blooming through, when the moonlight shines upon this precious loved one. And that is beautiful. Technique note: This was my first experience using a pre-painted black canvas. I was pleased with the illusion it gave my paints- that the colors were glowing, or metallic- especially when the oils were wet. This worked out well for the video, and for the emotions I was expressing in this piece.
- "Painting Imaginary Places" by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

The human mind is a complex and mysterious phenomenon. Do you ever feel like a solitary rose? The sacred spaces of our minds may be isolating or they may be a healing oasis. Sometimes we diagnose normal human needs as illness. It is heartbreaking when someone cannot leave the walls inside their minds, but it’s healthy for brains to occasionally build garden walls, where we can retreat into a creative, spiritual, reflective space.

“Unplugging” is about much more than simply unplugging from the Internet, cell phones, televisions, or any other electronic gadget or screen. If our mindset is still controlled by the world’s pacing and agendas, we haven’t truly unplugged- we’ve merely paused the stream. What we need is garden walls inside our minds, a place we go when we need to connect our minds to our spirit and body. In that space, we are at peace: undisturbed, unhindered, and unburdened.

In that reflective and safe space inside our minds, our thoughts may flow and develop into new ideas or may raise questions. If we act upon those ideas and explore answers to our questions, we have an opportunity to change our lives and elevate our attitudes to a higher standard that makes us happier, and blesses the people around us. 

Perhaps we see an imaginary garden in our reflections, and then put a real garden into action. Maybe we feel lyrical and put our words into poetry, novels, or songwriting. Maybe we see a masterpiece and we paint our vision on a canvas to share with the world. 

Or, our thoughts may land on practical ground- such as being inspired to approach our errands and jobs more productively, or managing our household more logically, or re-arranging our living space more efficiently. We may even see a solution to obstacles in our personal relationships at work or at home. Whatever comes to us when we set aside time to be still, to hear ourselves breathe, and isolate our minds in a solitary oasis, we can choose to put those inspirations into action to make a difference in our own lives and in the lives of others.

For every individual who mindfully chooses to elevate themselves to a higher place, the world is collectively elevated. While oppressors deny our individual power by decreeing that we only have value as a collective, the opposite is true. The collective is only as valuable as the individual. A single individual can change the world.

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Are you Weary?

Watch me paint “Sheltering Tree” in 2 minutes (time lapse)

A sheltering tree is a place we can go when we need rest. When we are weary, a literal tree is a good source for peace; visiting a real place in nature is restorative. But, what I’m talking about here is a metaphorical sheltering tree, a spiritual place we can visit even when we are in the middle of a busy day indoors.

Good sleep, nutrition, exercise, sunlight, healthy relationships, reading, optimism, and faith are just some of the many helpful ways to maintain a balance in energy levels to avoid becoming weary. Yet, we can’t always prevent spiritual exhaustion and physical fatigue. At these times, we must rely on our mind to provide shelter to our body and spirit.

Do you let your thoughts tumble into your brain at random, based solely on the circumstance of the moment? On an average day, this may be a habit that doesn’t affect you much. But when you are weary, your thoughts may quickly induce frustration, disappointment, melancholy, and even lead to depression and despondency. When we are in a weakened physical and spiritual state, our minds can conjure up negative thoughts that spiral downward.

Take control over your mind by rejecting random thoughts. Think with intention. Direct the flow of thoughts that fill your mind by choosing what to focus on. Imagine your mind as a television screen. Don’t tune in to whatever happens to be on, and don’t flip through the channels. Choose your show and go directly to it, allowing nothing else to display in your mind. Focus on “sheltering” thoughts, patterns of thinking that restore your spirit and strengthen your health.

Sheltering Thoughts

The last one is significant. “Some of what makes me weary is NOT REAL.” When we instruct our mind to analyze the situation, we may realize that our weariness comes from being overwhelmed by issues that are exploited, manipulated, manufactured, propagandized, or steered to produce exactly this result: weariness. When we are weary, we may give up and submit to the thoughts and actions that others want us to have. 

Attempting to control others by wearing them down is an abusive relationship, whether our abuser is a person we know, or a vast coordinated agenda by people who’ve never met us (world government/media/edu/establishment/etc. entities). Whether our oppressors know us personally or not, people who control others don’t care about us as individuals. They care about our compliance. This is an unhealthy relationship that we must instruct our mind to reject.

Fight against weariness that comes from outside sources who wish to control you. However, if you have analyzed your situation and you’ve determined that source of your weariness is not imposed upon you by an “enemy”, but is instead an issue of authentic circumstance, your response may be different. Choosing to fight against weariness in this case may do more harm than good.

If you’re weary because you are grieving a loss, it’s healthy to let yourself feel the fatigue, the heaviness, and the sad weight upon your body and spirit. Grief can be from the death of someone we love, or may be a similar type of loss that we may not be completely cognizant of. When life changes, either yours or theirs, you may miss someone more deeply than you expected due to estrangement, a life change such as being busy with a new job or a new baby, moving far away, distanced by poor health, or when adult children leave the nest. Change can hit us hard, and that process is completely natural.

Be mindful of any other types of changes. Some change may not directly involve relationships with people, but may instead be about how you spend your days. Have you changed the type of work you do? We don’t necessarily have to change jobs or careers to feel the impact of a change in how we work or how we spend our time. If our schedule has changed, we may initially experience an artificial boost of energy as we adjust to the new ways. When we settle in, we may “crash”, and then feel weary. This is normal.

Some types of weariness are completely natural and are a normal process of adjusting to life’s changes. It does not mean that we are doing the wrong thing, that something bad has happened to us, or that we have regrets. It could mean that, so it’s important to ponder our situation. But our weariness could easily be part of the process toward a healthy adjustment to change, and all we need is time.

Giving ourselves time means that we are patient and don’t rush the process when our feelings become uncomfortable. It’s common advice to warn each other not to respond in a knee-jerk way when we are upset. Wait, sleep on it. See how we feel in the morning. This is wise advice for avoiding acting on rash decisions that we later regret. But it’s also sound advice for our thoughts, not just our actions.

Recognize when your thoughts don’t flow in a logical, rational, calm manner that is loving and kind to yourself. Notice when your thoughts are jumping and overlapping in a knee-jerk way that you may later regret. Loose, unproductive, illogical thoughts can lead to a downward spiral of unhealthy attitudes that prolong a “bad day” into something more permanent. 

When you sense that your mind is running amuck in an unproductive, unhealthy, destructive manner, reign yourself in with the image of my tree painting from the video at the top of this blog post. Let your mind rest in the peaceful shade of the Sheltering Tree. When we are mindful, we restore our bodies and spirits. Healing begins with our thoughts.

While the world condemns us, we must love ourselves and each other. We cannot love our neighbors “as ourselves” if we do not love ourselves. It is our responsibility then to love ourselves and pull ourselves back up out of the pit when we are weary. Humanity needs each and every one of us to be strong. If you are weary, go to the sheltering tree and stay awhile. Give yourself time. But not too much time… we need you.

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Preparing the Way

First, the oil painting, then the story behind it… make sure you don’t miss a guidepost that could change your direction.

Watch me paint “Lenten Flower” in under a minute (time lapse)

"I mentioned earlier about learning something new, during our Easter experiences at our new Southern church ... I’d been focused on Lent being about the past- repenting, letting go, pledging to change. What I hadn’t spent much thought on is that when we let go of something it makes room for something new ... The depressing and sometimes challenging process of examining our lives and deciding what we need to change is only the beginning of the journey. We do this to prepare the way for something better, something new. It may require a leap of faith, and the journey is bittersweet, but the destination is beautiful."

- from the book "50 Oil Paintings Inspired by Savannah, Georgia" by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

Update to the above story…

 

The world has changed dramatically since I painted “Lenten Flower“. The reflective journey that millions of people take every year is now forced upon us, as the world remembers global events unfolding during the spring and Easter of 2020 that would alter the lives of nearly everyone on the planet. Because of this, the process of examining our lives and paving the way for positive change has become a universal challenge.

 

This could be nothing more than a temporary cultural fad and a sign of the times we live in… or, it could be much more. Are we entering an age of enlightenment? Possibly.

 

But regardless of what everyone else does, we are not a “collective” (who we are), but we can work collectively (what we do). As unique and wonderful individuals, we can focus on our personal journeys. And in doing so, we will then collectively elevate the whole.

 

Now, let’s grab a cuppa (coffee, tea, hot chocolate?) and reflect on how to prepare the way for change with a focused scientifically-measured plan. I can assure you that a serious effort works. No matter how intangible our goals may seem, we can find a way to measure our progress and hold ourselves accountable.

Oil painting "Lenten Flower" by artist Natalie Buske Thomas
"Lenten Flower" oil painting by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

Physical goals are often easily measured by numbers. Math doesn’t lie, but sometimes it doesn’t tell the full story, so always look at a variety of factors. We can measure body weight (weight gain, loss, or stable), body mass index, cholesterol levels, the amount of blood sugar in our blood, and much more. Harder to diagnose conditions such as allergies, eczema, and immune system disorders can be measured by keeping a diary of symptoms, and numbering the severity of each.

 

When we measure our progress scientifically, we achieve objectivity. We become an observer, a witness, and an analyst who studies our own lives in order to create positive change. When we start with a physical goal, it is easier to see how to address our intellectual and spiritual needs.

 

After a physical goal is set (perhaps a simple plan to get more vitamin D from the sun into your week by committing to 15 minutes outdoors every day for six weeks?), you can then decide how to measure your progress, such as keeping a diary and assigning a number from 1-5 of how strongly you experience symptoms such as skin problems, fatigue or depression (whatever pertains to your situation). This process of setting a goal and measuring it can then be applied to intellectual and spiritual goals as well.

 

But what if we don’t know what we want to change? Then that’s where we start. Our goal could be “discover what I’d like to do to expand my thinking”. We could commit to spending 15 minutes a day browsing through books, articles, and blogs, looking for ideas for what we’d like to study. Try this search string: “interesting topics to learn about”. If truly serious about enlightenment, we’ll find our passion.

 

When we discover a path we’d like to explore, then the process for intellectual change is similar to a physical journey. Set a measurable goal. Use math as much as possible. For example, “I’m taking a 6 week course”, or “I’m spending 30 minutes a day reading about this subject”.

 

Keep a diary to measure progress that is less tangible, such as how much energy you feel at the end of the day when you commit to expanding your thinking (assign an energy number, from 1-5). Journal your progress: how is expanding your mind in one small way leading you to new ways of thinking in bigger ways?

 

Spiritual change can follow this same pattern: explore what we want to change, create a way to measure our progress, analyze our journey. The good news is, once we are practiced and disciplined in this type of reflection, we do it intuitively. We don’t need to measure, track, or record our progress. It is simply how we live.

 

Some of us arrive at this place after life-changing trauma. Others are “born older”, wise souls from birth. But many just have to find their way. Regardless of when we start, or how many times we must begin anew, the journey is for each of us, uniquely and wonderfully ours.

 

Reflection doesn’t mean condemnation, but forgiveness, mercy, and letting go of the past. Judgement is unproductive; examination is helpful. Change your words, change your life. All of these things sound like cliques, but these are concepts that work.

 

That’s why people say the same things. Not only do these methods work, but our journey never ends. No matter how enlightened we are, we can always be “more”. And from time to time, the words from others will hit us at the exact moment when we are ready to being a new quest toward positive change.

 

Maybe that day is today. Do something good for yourself. When you push toward bigger things, you bring all of us with you. Whatever your heart desires, I wish you success and happiness.