I’m still feeling freshly back from a really good work trip to NSW, Australia. A memory that sticks with me is stepping into the space each morning where I was working with small groups of educators and pausing to gaze at this painting, which greeted me at the entrance. I found it arresting and calming, but I didn’t think about why.
It was a beautiful learning environment, so I kicked off each day by asking every person to choose something on the walls, then share what they had chosen and why with the whole group. One woman chose this painting, and I was grateful, because she helped me see it in a whole new light. She told us it had been painted by an indigenous parent at the school. She chose it because it reminded her of travels she had just made to the interior, where she had passed by several deep wells, sacred to indigenous people. The metaphor she made was beautiful: that all the time in our lives, we are rushing right by deep, sacred wells often without even knowing they exist, or perhaps knowing they exist but not taking the time to acknowledge them, let alone stop and investigate.
These sacred wells may be people we don’t make the time to truly see or talk to, conversations we sense are ripe but don’t enter into, explorations to new places, or our own feelings that we pave over or push past in a rush to get somewhere else—to be anywhere but here.
Her metaphor stuck with me day after day, and it became increasingly poignant as I started to feel homesick. A weekend morning arrived, and I still had five days before departing home. I was feeling a little sorry that I hadn’t organized my trip differently to be heading home sooner. Remembrance of the wells helped me. I pulled the cloak of feeling sad more tightly around me and wore it fully as I took myself down to the beach, where the tumult of the waves, scuttling clouds, and expansive sandy shore also wrapped themselves around me. I lowered myself into this well. I carried no watch, no devices, no shoes. I walked and walked, exploring the interior and exterior landscapes. At one point much later, I realized I was grinning crazily, my body alive with sensation.
At the very end of my walk, I passed an elderly man who met my gaze directly and held it, kindly. He asked where I was from, and I answered “Loveland.” He laughed, putting his hand to his belly, and said, “What a delightful place to inhabit.” No more pleasantries were exchanged. We simply dropped directly into a conversation about how everything is interconnected, and how to handle instances of conflict and difficulty when the illusion of separateness pulls people apart. We didn’t speak for long, but we went far. His parting words were, “Forgive the past, love in the present, and whenever possible, create the future together,” —an aphorism I have been tumbling like a stone ever since—a stone I think I found at the bottom of a well.
The experience of dropping into the natural world, as well as into a deeper level of conversation with a stranger, reset the remainder of my time in Australia. Instead of yearning for what wasn’t, I was swooped back into presence, where I stayed for the next five days. I had shifted into a much finer level of awareness. I found myself more available to others, able to enter into richer conversation. I was reminded that everyone— everyone—is suffering, and everyone is also more resilient than they knew. Pausing and going into the well helped me tap back into compassion and vulnerability, where the world became more vibrant, more real.
I looked at the painting again, freshly. Despite the number of times I had gazed at it, I had never actually noticed that the background was created from handprints. I was so busy thinking about the wells, I missed this (now so obvious!) aspect of the painting. A fitting irony that this invitation to “drop in” and see anew— whether people, place, object, or interior feeling—is powerful every time, and something worth practicing again and again and again.