As Above, So Below

“As above, so below,” is a phrase with a long mystical history. Believers in magic and mysticism believe that the words were found on the Emerald Tablet, and kabbalists (Jewish mystics) believe that because we are made in the image of God, our lives are microcosms on the divine.

This image is a bit simpler, but no less beautiful in meaning. We don’t get rain often in Phoenix, and when we do, puddles are their own microcosm of the world.

In this one, you can see both the road and brickwork and the sky and trees. So, “as above, so below,” there is beauty wherever you stand.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing and helps people put their own creativity to work. She is writing a book, The Invisible, Visible World.

Paying Attention to the Body

It wasn’t a hard day in class, but it felt long. On the second day of one course I teach, there is a certain push to keep on schedule. One eye on the clock, the other on the activities and questions, and the afternoon gets squeezed for all the teaching moments.

Lighting and a saguaro from

When I got home I was tired. Tired enough to fall asleep in the chair looking at the mail. After supper, the rain started. When you live in the desert, it’s not a sound you hear often, but the sound of rain drumming on the skylights and splashing in the pool is an instant sleep inducer for me.

I jerked awake at 10:30, horrified that I had slept away the evening. I had work to do! And while my body sat up, my mind wanted to rollover and go back to sleep.

Guilty, I hurried to check emails and catch up on an evening of work. And then I stopped. It’s really good to listen to your body when it asks for something. Whether it’s sleep or creative play, the body hardly ever asks for what it doesn’t need. (Well, mine asks for chocolate a bit too often. But otherwise. . .)

The ocotillo was all bare stems. One good rain and it leafs out in about 10 hours. The leaves stay on as long as it rains, then in another 12 hours, they are gone again.

Martha Beck says, “Having fun if not a diversion from a successful life; it is the pathway to it.” Listening to your body is an act of wisdom. Too often, I push ahead, ignore the need for sleep, or play, or just being aware.

So my plans tonight drained away with the rain. No one will do the work for me, it will be here tomorrow. We get eight inches of rain a year. Spending an evening listening to it fall and letting it drum me to sleep seems a deeply restorative choice. Like the ocotillo that sets leaves when it rains (seriously, in 10 hours it goes from a bunch of sticks, to covered in leaves) and drops them when the rain is done, it’s good to pay attention to what you need.

Today is 9/11. Patti Digh has written a heart-opening article on this memorial day. It’s worth reading and spending some time with.

Quinn McDonald loves Monsoon Season in Arizona.

When the Desert Smells Like Rain

It doesn’t rain often in the Sonoran Desert. If we get eight inches in a year, it’s a lot. Compare that to New York, which gets 45 inches a year.

Imperial sand dunes, Arizona. © Quinn McDonald, 2011

When you don’t get a lot of rain, the sun bakes the surface of the earth and hardens it. You can bend a shovel trying to dig a hole in your yard.

When it rains in the desert, you can smell it miles away. The scent is a mix of dust and wet asphalt. There is the oily smell from the creosote tree and the brittle snap of ozone that lightning leaves in the air.

Sometimes the rain never touches the ground. But monsoon rains bring downpours. The water hits the earth, bounces up, loosening dirt clods and gravel. The ground is so hard it can’t absorb the rain. The rain runs off into lower areas, dry creek beds called arroyos, fast and thick. The ground can’t absorb the water, so the arroyo runoff pushes debris ahead of the force of water. The power of the water is unbelievable, just eight inches of depth will push an SUV off the road.

Planting the hope of rain © Quinn McDonald 2011

When you smell the rain, you go out and water your yard. The hose water holds down the dust. The dust holds down the grain of sand, and the small rocks won’t bounce away when the rain comes. Yes, that’s exactly what I said–you water your yard so the rain can soak in. If you don’t do it, your yard will be pitted with gullies, and your plants won’t be soaked, they’ll be bare-rooted. Water will tunnel around them, expose their roots, and they’ll die.

Why is this important if you live in an area of regular rain? Because this story is not just about rain. It’s also about ideas, imagination and creativity. If you wait for the occasional brainstorm, you will know it’s approaching, but you won’t benefit from it. The ideas will flash across your mind, bounce off your consciousness, and run off the surface of your imagination, leaving you without nourishment. Leaving your barely established ideas bare-rooted. You’ll have a hundred pages in your art journal, all very nice, all with a clever saying or layers of color, but with no connection. With no unifying idea. With no body of work.

To allow the brainstorm to sink in, to nourish, to create groundwater that forms wells of ideas, you need to water the surface of your creativity regularly. How do you do that? By working on a creative project regularly, even if you don’t feel like it. By spending time in your studio, even if you don’t create anything specific. By experimenting and having aimless fun, which is another name for practice.

A regular creative practice prepares you to make the most of the big idea, the powerful brainstorm. When the desert smells like rain, ideas are blowing in. Go out and water your lawn.

-Quinn McDonald lives in the Sonoran Desert and waits for rain.

New Year’s Wish, 2009

Let the old year run off you like drops of rain. Let a small part of it hang on the edge of your consciousness for just one moment, so you can get the most of it, and then it drops, soaking into the ground of your experience.

Water drop on bougainvilla

Water drop on bougainvilla

Water dripping from a tree branch

Water dripping from a tree branch

Water falling from a catsclaw

Water falling from a catsclaw

Quinn McDonald is a writer and a certified creativity coach who helps people reinvent themsleves.

Morning Walk at Skunk Creek

It was time to find a new walking path. Sometimes you just have to do that. Nothing wrong with the old one, but it suddenly seems longer and you’ve seen everything.

So I headed off toward Skunk Creek. We’ve had a lot of rain lately, and so the creek was running, and ducks were paddling happily in the distance. But that wasn’t what caught my eye. The creek is located on a flood plain, and there were deep tracks from an off-road vehicle close to the creek. It was foggy and cloudy and very not-Sonoran desert. In fact, it could have been New England in the Spring.

Looking East on the Skunk Creek flood plain, Glendale, Arizona

Looking East close to Skunk Creek

Looking East close to Skunk Creek

Looking West

Looking West on the tracks

Looking West on the tracks

–Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach who walks for morning meditation. She takes pictures with her iPhone, because her tiny digital camera is too tiny for morning fingers.