Posted by: mew | August 30, 2009

penny for your presence

“See a penny; pick it up.  For a whole day you’ll have good luck!”

-Americanized folk saying, probable origin:  ancient Celtic paganism

Weirdly enough, this week’s Joy Rebel mission dovetails almost seamlessly with this week’s reading in the Artist’s Way.  Brandi Reynolds wants us to focus on finding Beauty in unexpected places, and Julia Cameron, in a chapter on how to recover our sense of identity, urges us to pay attention to the details we usually miss.  Both these wonderful women seem to be suggesting that the fuel for art – and for artful living – is found in this moment, and that we can make it a sacred, holy moment at any time by the quality of our consciousness.

It just so happens that this has been my guiding principle for a while now.  I’m far from perfect at it, but I love living this way.  In fact, I’m beginning to suspect it is my natural state.  Probably yours, too.

Julia Cameron’s contention is that a productive artist’s life is grounded in detail.  The stereotype of the artist is that she’s floating off into the ether, not living in the here and now, but in some other dimension.  Funny how the cultural mythology almost gets it right (but then screws it up utterly to mean the exact opposite).

Paying close attention to the NOW is living in another dimension.  But in my experience that dimension is deeply rooted, a wholehearted experience of connection with the Earth, with the tiniest wildflower at your feet, with your fellow beings – human and otherwise – and with all that is.

And if there is a primordial, universal sense of identity, surely it is this:  connection with the breath, a sense of self that has nothing to do with thought or memory or ego, but everything to do with the witness inside who is thrilled to be alive and awake now, who takes joy in this particular slice of reality and all of its juicy details, who is forever curious and enthusiastic, who always feels bathed in love and peace.

It’s kind of a simple way to live… and it’s the best way I know.

As I prepared this week’s Joy Rebel mission and completed the weekly tasks for our Artist’s Way journey, I found myself drawn back to a favorite passage by Annie Dillard.  These two paragraphs come from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.*


“When I was six or seven years old, growing up in Pittsburgh, I used to take a precious penny of my own and hide it for someone else to find.  It was a curious compulsion; sadly, I’ve never been seized by it since.  For some reason I always “hid” the penny along the same stretch of sidewalk up the street.  I would cradle it at the roots of a sycamore, say, or in a hole left by a chipped-off piece of sidewalk.  Then I would take a piece of chalk, and, starting at either end of the block, draw huge arrows leading up to the penny from both directions.  After I learned how to write I labeled the arrows:  SURPRISE AHEAD or MONEY THIS WAY.  I was greatly excited, during all this arrow-drawing, at the thought of the first lucky passer-by who would receive in this way, regardless of merit, a free gift from the universe.  But I never lurked about.  I would go straight home and not give the matter another thought, until, some months later, I would be gripped again by the impulse to hide another penny.

“It is still the first week in January and I’ve got great plans. I’ve been thinking about seeing. There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But — and this is the point — who gets excited by a mere penny? If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremulous ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded by the sight of a muskrat kit paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go your rueful way? It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.”

* [And if you haven’t read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, you should!  I usually don’t pronounce “shoulds” in relation to books, because folks don’t like being told what to do, especially now that reading for pleasure is not that common.  But Annie Dilliard is an exception.  Two of her books – the other is For the Time Being – are in my top 10 books in the history of literature.  That leaves only 8 slots for everybody else.  Bottom line:  You really owe it to yourself to read some of her work.  Perhaps I just gave you a tantalizing taste.  I hope so.]

(This post is the promised part II of my Joy Rebel mission debriefing part I this week.)

(Photograph of penny found after a brief afternoon shower is mine.)



  1. I love your young understanding of leaving gifts from the universe in the form of pennies. I think we all lose that for awhile and it takes awhile to get back to that mindstate. BUT..I do think you are right…that mindset-the one that sees beauty in the small, the generous-that is our natural mindset.

    great post!

  2. […] posted our mission.  As usual — and it really is eerie — her missions do seem to dovetail seamlessly with some aspect of my ongoing spiritual […]

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