To hike through the backcountry requires all of a person. It is nearly impossible to disconnect from the senses of touch, sight, smell, hearing and even taste when hiking in the alpine. The wild uniquely calls on us to be present, be it the satisfying aches and pains of pulling one’s body up a mountainside; scanning the trail for obstacles underfoot; or taking in the scent of a summer-soaked alpine meadow. In the absence of devices, to-do lists, and other distractions, we tune into our surroundings in more mindful ways. We notice we are more present because it feels in such stark contrast to how we experience our daily life.
Observing how nature behaves, we see quickly that flora and fauna, mountains and waterways are not regretting their past, or fretting about the future. They are simply being and responding to the present conditions before them to continue to create and simply be. The twisted yellow cedar isn’t judging its crooked grain. A lupine doesn’t compare itself against its fellow flowers.
Keely Halward’s newest series, When We Realize We’ve Been Distracted, connects the artist’s experiences of feeling deeply present in wild spaces with mindfulness practice through her artistic process. Using acrylic paint and other media on wood panel, Keely lays shape by shape, stroke by stroke down one at a time in response to the one she lay before. In this way she is required to be present to what she sees before her in the moment, much like hiking in the backcountry. She interprets what the painting needs, rather than executing a preconceived notion of what a piece “should” look like. She will undoubtedly make marks along the way that some may be tempted to call mistakes. Her artistic process becomes an ongoing practice of mindfulness, in the spirit of nature’s own creative process, as she resists her ideas of what is “good” or “bad”. Instead she simply observes what the piece may need next until it feels complete. Her colour palette is vibrant, demanding the viewer’s attention, much like nature draws our keen presence when hiking in the backcountry.
Each title in this series is drawn from books on mindfulness by various authors, including the show’s title itself “When We Realize We’ve Been Distracted”. So often we get distracted in our daily lives – from our purpose, our health, our loved ones, and other things that matter to us in our personal lives and beyond. How many times do we judge ourselves for failing, or not being good enough in some way, rather than quietly observing that we have been distracted and then do the next thing that is needed? For example, new meditators often leap to judging themselves for not being a “good enough” meditator because they lose focus, even though this is very normal. Mindfulness teacher, Sharon Salzberg, suggests that this IS the practice, “when we realize we’ve been distracted…this is an opportunity to simply begin again.” A modest but potent invitation. What if we gave ourselves permission to simply respond without judgement to the happenings in our lives, focusing on simply leaning once again anew into what is most important to us? How can the same mindfulness found in wild spaces be invited into our daily lives, amidst all the distractions? How can we begin again wherever we are, without needing to retreat from our daily lives to experience true presence?