–Thanks to Dirk Ercken for sharing the Zen sand stone garden above.
Business is on my mind these days. It is a very new and odd sensation for a French teacher. In fact, it appears that I am moving through a fascinating phase of life: doing three things simultaneously that would seem impossible to coexist.
- finishing up my academic career with a full-time load of teaching (bright and highly motivated) students and all that ensues (grading papers, office hours, helping people revise their writing, etc.)
- launching a small business—the Honey Girl Books and Gifts “Valentine’s Special” starts Jan. 31. Enter code 03 for 50% off a special pillow today!
and most importantly,
3. studying Zen philosophy and practicing T’ai chi daily to deepen my health, serenity, and well-being.
The soft and comforting gifts I sew are, for me, a source of marvel and joy.
“Marvel and joy?” you might wonder. “It’s just a home décor item.”
“Maybe to you,” I’d say.
[And I would think: the process is fraught with wonder, when you work with a 90-year-old sewing machine inherited from your grandma.
There’s that spiritual thing, first, as if you’re surrounded by a small but ever-present group of benevolent ghosts, helping you on. And second there’s a physical reason for the sense of joy (and relief!) I get from finishing projects, because my machine is broken in back. So I have to hold the motor pulley against the hand wheel with my right hand and steer the fabric through the machine with my left hand. I know it’s insane. But I love the new creativity I’ve been feeling for the past year and wonder if it’s not due in part to activating some other sector of the brain, as I’ve become more ambidextrous. One day I’ll get it fixed. But for now, sewing on that White Rotary is sometimes like a contact sport, navigating the fat pillows under the cast iron machine to sew the hems is my battle.
Until it’s won! And it is won, night after night, despite all the mistakes and revising and redoing. And they are beautiful little creatures that almost seem alive to me; thus naming them makes sense. Last night I made “Happy” in Spring Yellow Plaid and “Love is sweet” in Hearts and snowflakes. (images coming soon on the HGBG website)]
“OK, ok,” you might reply, if I dared to say all that out loud, “I get that. Sort of. But isn’t it just a set formula for those pillows? Don’t you get sick of making them?”
I would answer “no.” And probably look away, because that’s personal too, you see.
So I would think to myself: [Absolutely not! It’s a refreshing change for a long-time workaholic academic. After so many years reading other people’s words and regurgitating them into new patterns, sitting on a chair, it feels so good to move around! And my mind feels very alive working with the inventory of fabrics I’ve built up. I made the Tranquility Pillow ordered by Catherine into an asymmetrical, Chinese-looking design that emphasizes the emptiness and mystery of the forest. This winter model has a tiny creek (“le petit ruisseau”) running quietly along the sides of the wood, instead of a broad river or waterfall, such as I’ve put on other Tranquility Pillows.”
But that makes me sound kind of crazy. Just saw Phantom Thread! Perfectionists unite! (as if that were possible).]
So that is why sewing pillows feels like a marvel and a joy.
Sewing is difficult and highly detailed. I frequently hurt my hands with pins and needles and sometime the sewing machine needle goes right through a finger, as it did last night. I am a passionate artisan more than an expert and love the sense of being a beginner and constantly refining my art.
Beginning. Maybe that’s why the things I make sometimes have the quality of an accident. As Alan Watts describes in The Way of Zen:
“this is not a masterful mimicry of the accidental, an assumed spontaneity in which the careful planning does not show. It lies at a much deeper and more genuine level, for what the culture of Taoism and Zen proposes is that one might become the kind of person, who, without intending it, is the source of marvelous accidents.” (28)
Back to small business and big business coming together.
The fact of starting a small business pushes all kinds of very practical and time-sensitive issues to the forefront of one’s consciousness. Mind is bombarded with urgent demands and can easily become overwhelmed, with thoughts such as, “There are so many details to manage!” “This business costs lots of money. Will it be worth it?” “Will I get paid ok, or will my clients rip me off?” Such thoughts cause the shoulders to tighten, the jaw to clench, and a panicky feeling to rise from the belly.
On the other hand, the fact of studying Zen and practicing T’ai chi and meditation on a daily basis pushes the Body-Mind—located in the Tan tien two inches below the navel–into a more powerful focus. By keeping our thoughts there while meditating or doing the Form, the body naturally starts to hold the back straighter and makes the torso feel tight and strong like a spring. Yet shoulders are loose and comfortable. Vision shifts as well, so that interesting things appear everywhere, every single day, all the time.
Will my new-found and hard-wrought serenity withstand the ravages of greed and competition?
I think so.
A business is sometimes small. It simply is.
The big business is life!
And the art of living well.
Good day to you, reader!