May 2003 

Stone Free 
-how your business sometimes runs you

The spring brings with it so much change, things transforming almost right in front of your eyes.  As I sat outside yesterday with some friends we commented about how it seemed that the leaves had grown substantially since that very morning.  Iíd swear the landscape is much less transparent than it was just a few short hours ago.  During a long lazy walk in the woods I decided to sit on the side of a large pond and watch the fish spawning.  I hung my feet off the edge of the boardwalk and just stared at length into the murky depths.  This is something I havenít done since I was a kid; rarely do I give myself time to watch something that doesnít have some major entertainment value attached to it.  Watching fish is not ranked up there on my list of "exciting things to do".  It certainly doesnít fall into the productive category, and yet there was something very peaceful about it, I didnít feel the need to "get back" to doing. 

If I seem to bring up this subject of "sitting" repeatedly it is because it is something I struggle with on a regular basis.  I notice myself constantly approaching things with the attitude of "must get it done"; the ever present Ďneed to produceí.  Recently while doing one of my regular yoga sessions I noticed a familiar pattern emerging.  I would approach each pose (and even the session itself) as something that I had to "get through", the goal was to finish so I could move on to the next thing.  I would be in one pose and thinking ahead to the next series of poses, always in the future, instead of really exploring how I felt in the current state.  This feeling was definitely heightened during the uncomfortable poses, I could feel my mind saying, "just push through, youíll be done in a minute." 

It is not surprising that my mind works in this way, when you have your own business you are responsible for every aspect of itís existence.  I find myself wearing so many hats on a daily basis, bookkeeper, production, shipping, promotion/marketing, receptionist, negotiator, art director, public speaker, creator, and on and on.  Because of this you begin to feel that there is always something to do, you are working almost all the time, even if you take time off.  This is the thing that I find most beautiful about what I do and also at times completely consuming.  Lately I have found that I cannot have a thought or an idea that isnít somehow connected to my career, my life and work are so completely emeshed.

So I have this thing that I do when it gets to be too much.  I go for a walking meditation where I try to completely release all of my roles.  I contemplate that these are just labels that I have created for myself and that they actually donít exist.  Sometimes I use stones to represent all of the roles, picking up one for each role and dropping them one at a time as I walk.  I work on letting go of the part of me that is the illustrator, the part that is the public speaker, the author, the daughter, the friend, the partner, the performer.  And I try to get to just the basic essence of "me", no pressure, and no context, a human being who was born and just is. 

I know this sounds like it might be easy, but you quickly realize that you are kind of attached and actually identify your very existence with the things that you "do".  What if those things were gone?  Sometimes just contemplating the idea makes me feel lighter and freed from the need to perform all of the time.  (The stones concept actually came from author Joseph Campbell who once did a similar exercise to help in releasing attachments to people and things.)

Partaking in this exercise really helps me to shift my perception and gain perspective on a stressful or pressing situation, I find that after coming back from the walk I can stand back and determine what it is that I really want to do instead of being motivated by my fears (of not producing, of wanting to do more). 

I got into this career several years ago because I wanted to have a life that was self-directed, where I could be fulfilled by the process, and spend time doing a lot of living (not just working).  Itís funny, I think back to the image I had of what my perfect life would be, I would get up everyday and draw blissfully to my heartís content, have lunch and spend the rest of the day in the garden, journaling, reading and writing.  It is true that my life is a lot like that now, but in my mind there were none of the stresses, worries or little pressures that seem to exist on a regular basis today.  We all have them, Iím learning that there are many times when I choose to take them on.  I know now I can also choose to put them down whenever necessary.

Keri Smith is a free-lance illustrator and native of Toronto.  A graduate of  O.C.A. she has a wide following of clients in North America and Japan.  She currently resides in a ďmagicĒ cottage in Flesherton, painting, illustrating, creating, writing, and living out loud.  Her new book "Living Out Loud -an activity book to fuel a creative life" is being released in Fall of 2003 by Chronicle Books.