See the line as it is and draw it as a shape. Do not draw a chair, a suit, a hand. When I draw the shape and not the thing as a whole, everything but the shape disappears. The narrow PCC classroom disappears along with the gabby, white-haired retirees and the mumbly men. I don’t hear the nervous erasers or notice when the Pandora station the teacher is playing blasts out an ad. Clearly, this is why people draw. Or it’s one reason people draw.
When I sit in my massage workshop with my hands around my classmate’s shoulder and together, the two of us focus all our attention on the shape or the color or the quality of the space between my hands, everything but that space disappears. There is only the warmth of my palms and the soft, low sound of our voices, asking and describing. There is no rain beating down on the teacher’s backyard. There is no mumble from the other students practicing the same thing in the next room. There is no thought about who I miss or how I miss them. Clearly, this is why this technique works. Or it’s one reason it might work with some people, sometimes.
When I walk up the fake set of steps at the physical therapist’s office or the real set of steps at the park or the steep driveway at the retirement home, I move slowly. Everything but the motion and tension of my muscles disappears. Are my hip flexors working where my glutes should be? How do my feet hit the ground? Where, exactly, do I feel the tendon snap over the bone? Snap, snap, snap. Clearly, this is what needs my attention if I’m ever going to walk smoothly uphill ever again. Or it’s one thing that might help.
I don’t like the words presence or mindfulness. Despite the fact that I’ve heard them ever since I became a massage therapist, what they actually mean has always felt cloudy. Now that they’re such buzz words the cloudiness has only gotten thicker. And yet, here I am in the thick of things. This week I jumped into an Intro to Drawing class and finished up my training in a technique called Mindful Awareness in Body-oriented Therapy (MABT) and finally started to tend to the snapping hip I’ve had for years. With all this going on, I’m starting to actually feel what it’s like to keep sustained attention on something, be it the shape of a line I’m trying to draw or the shape of my own hip socket.
Sometimes that attention feels like really hard work and I’m glad to grow distracted again. Sometimes it feels like magic and I never want to leave. Either way, it’s a very interesting place to be.
Tracy Burkholder is a writer living in Portland, OR. Her debut book, I Want More is a lyric hybrid of memoir, poetry and image published by Summerbear Press. Available here.