The devil is in the details
As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. It means the devil will have his way with you if you don’t pay attention to the finer points in the big plans or schemes that you might devise. He’s a crafty fellow and lies in wait in the most innocuous spots to trip you up.
When my big picture turns fuzzy and gets out of focus, it is to the details that I turn to try to make some sense and walk my way out of the fog. On days when there are so many things that must be done and others that ought to be done, my response is to find one thing, one small job, that can be accomplished quickly, then another, then another. Having created some momentum and a sense of accomplishment, the big picture starts to become clearer. In doing so, I’ve taken my mind off the enormity of responsibilities and obligations and turned to the details as if they were the steps on a ladder leading me out of indecision and action paralysis.
These days, when I contemplate the state and shape of world affairs, it would be all too easy to turn to fear and frightening what if’s. But because I consciously reject living in a state of fear and those who peddle fear as a reason to do or not do something, I find my peace by focusing on the small things, the details, that are pleas- ing, gratifying and satisfying. They might be things like whipping up a creative meal with summer’s bounty, writing an overdue note to a distant cousin, straightening my desk, taking a bag of unused items and clutter to the second-hand store, or organizing the odds and ends drawer in the laundry room. It’s not creating world peace or curing cancer, but it’s a start toward creating order out of mental disorder. The time spent immersed in simple details gives your brain a rest and respite from larger worries, thereby opening the door to answers that can emerge from the depths and quiet in your being.
Meditation works that way, of course, by stilling our minds and opening us to the “kingdom within,” but too many of us, including me, would rather be doing something, anything, than just being physically at rest. It is an unhealthy obsession, and I’m working on it. Just 10 minutes a day in meditation is supposed to be enough to ease chronic stress, decompress brain cells, lower blood pressure and improve overall health.
Only recently, I stumbled into another activity that turns out to be — for me — as meditative as sitting quietly, palms upturned with a still mind, waiting for spirit to speak. First let me say that my creativity extends only as far as the kitchen and an occasional turn of a phrase in this space every week. I was an inattentive piano student in third grade, tone deaf when it came to playing in the band, which I didn’t, and still couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket if life depended on it. Neither did I have any talent in drawing or painting, I proved over and over. I became a reader and a writer.
When my friend, the artist and gallery owner Carol Veliotis, offered Sunday afternoon painting classes earlier this year, I turned my tone deaf ear to the proposition, still convinced of my ineptness as an artist. Saleswoman that she is, she lured me a few weeks ago to try a class, just one, and I agreed, if nothing more than to break out of a rut.
The plan was for the class of six to pick a painting to copy as a group, and we decided on a landscape. For the next two hours, Carol guided us step-by-step through sketching the outlines, selecting colors, picking the right brush, mixing paints and deciding details that would made each effort unique. During the class, my focus was on nothing but the canvas before me. Anything else on my mind was completely dislodged, and the world became limited to the task at hand. Nothing mattered outside that classroom. We worked quietly as Carol offered helpful hints. The original picture of a house on a distant hill became for me a Tuscan vista with sheep grazing peacefully beyond a rippling waterway, the familiar lineup of Italian cypress trees outlining hills on a rolling landscape, with traditional red poppies clumped jauntily about. Everyone’s was distinctly different.
I didn’t prove myself to be an artist, by any means, but I discovered the meditative quality of immersing oneself in a personal craft while the rest of the world roils on. My painting is enough of a likeness to waft me away to Italian farmland where time seems to have paused. I found release and peace in the details.