Monk in the World guest post: Megan Karlen

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Megan Karlen’s reflection on finding beauty in the most ordinary of places:

megan karlen - perching_hawk_cmyk_banded_800px
Perching Hawk

It’s been a number of years since I signed up for Abbey of the Arts. I receive the newsletters, I read the love notes, I have worked through a few of the online courses and yet I’ve been waiting: waiting to find the right time to delve into practicing the monastic life.

The call for guest bloggers got me thinking about how so much time has passed and I still haven’t accomplished the task I set out for myself when I joined the Abbey: to live more contemplatively, to take time to nurture my inner monk.

What came from the journaling I did on this specific theme was surprising. I realized that I am on the monastic journey, and that I have been for almost a year now.

For 20 years, I’ve been an oil painter. I’ve had day jobs the whole time but I have also sold a number of my works. I paint sea and landscapes and I am grateful that people love them.

Flying Fishes
Flying Fishes

For many years, I loved painting them but I’ve recently shifted. My journey now is less about painting the beauty of the world and more about finding it in the smallest and most unusual places.

I daily stand humbled in front of the tiny, magical moments that surround us. I post images of things I find on the street. I post what’s called Pareidolia; that is the phenomena of finding recognizable images in random shapes and patterns. I will look at a sidewalk crack, bits of trash, a jumble of leaves, and within them I will find landscapes, full moons, figures, animals, stories. These are moments that explode in beauty and, to me, constitute little miracles.

Walking Man Clutching
Walking Man Clutching

They usually exist for the moment you see them (because they are so randomly formed and the materials are completely subject to the whims of the weather and people around). These moments are always right in front of us but hardly ever noticed because we are all too focused on our own tasks to take the time to notice what’s right in front of us.

These little images are gifts, miraculous because they exist and precious because they disappear so quickly.

I didn’t realize it until this writing, that I am following a contemplative, and in some ways a very spiritual, path. I have learned to slow down and honor our world in a different way. And I have to say, every time I walk outside I can not believe the miracles that are just waiting to be experienced.


Cape Cod 2011Megan Karlen is an artist / painter living in Brooklyn, NY. She is an oil painter, who also works in ceramics, and is currently learning to weave. ThePareidoliaProject is her daily meditation on finding beauty in the common things all around us.

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14 Responses

  1. Mary, thank you for your response. I struggled with taking away the word Paredolia because so many people (at the beginning) found it clunky and odd. What I found, however, was the more people said it, the more they engaged with the word and accepted it the more they love it. You caught on quickly! Now, yes, I feel people have the chance to enjoy a new word in their vocabulary. Everyone is rising to the occasion. (My 4 1/2 year old nephew shrieks Pareidolia! when he sees something. Makes me smile every time.)
    Thank you again for such wonderful feedback.

  2. Dear Megan,
    Your writing brings me delight and smiles. Naming the practice helps me to honor looking at the world as art. Pareidolia is a new and treasured word.
    Thank You,
    Mary

  3. …thnk you soooo much Megan…beautiful…inspiring…creative…compassionate…contemplative…monkish…

  4. Megan, your thoughts are lovely and a testament to the beauty that surrounds us each day, every season. I tend to look up: dragons and sailboats in the passing clouds. Faces hidden in the leaves and bark of trees. But you remind us to look down at our feet for the little paintings on our path. Thank you!

    1. Oh Mary! yes, the sky and the leaves! They are wonderful places to find things and they inevitably MOVE and flow. I’m delighted that you are interested in finding things on the ground. It’s a magical place, I promise you!

    1. Didnt think my pix came through but I posted it to show my Pareidolia (didn’t know it had a name). Can you see Jesus holding his hands open at my feet? I did not notice it but a friend mentioned she saw Him in the picture. WOw! he is always with us!

    2. Deitra, your photo of your feet reminds me of my whole photo library! I just love seeing that. And the image, yes, I see it. Sometimes when the photos are taken what we’ve seen doesn’t come through. Soemtimes I feel like that’s a bummer, sometimes I think I just have to be patient and look a little longer at the pic to let it come back, and sometimes it has just gone away. All of those continue to remind me that this is fleeting. There are lots of angels that come through. I’ve had friends post quite a few. They always resonate. Thank you for your comments and appreciation of the project : ))

  5. Thank you, Megan, for this wisdom. My first reaction: I want to do this! Reflecting further, it strikes me as a powerful example of the monk’s practice of radical hospitality, openness to all that comes to us daily — and extending it, the challenge of finding the beauty in each person we encounter as well, which would deepen our compassion. You are showing us how to “look with God’s eyes.” I hope to make this my practice, and I agree, it is fully contemplative, bringing the spirit out of the “monastery” and into the world. That is always the goal.

    1. Janice, what a wonderful way of looking at this, as an example of radical hospitality. That actually makes me smile; to be open to all that comes to us. Living in NYC it seems impossible to be so hospitable but you’ve shown me that I can and am. I really love that. Thank you.

  6. Thank you Megan for this lovely post. I too enjoy receiving transient images of beauty present in the everyday flow of life when we see it with soft eyes. I had never noticed the beauty of rain falling into a puddle until one day I was outside a rail station, which looked onto a supermarket car park, in the rain and the cold waiting for friend who was late. I decided simply to be there rather than wish I was somewhere else and it was then that I witnessed the raindrops – I was mesmerised. I received a gift on that January day. Moments of wonder and delight. It’s why I like always to have my camera with me.

    1. Felicity, thank you for such kind words about the post and about the project : ) It really is a meditation in the now. It’s pretty amazing, each time I think I have used up all the pareidolia sightings, I just walk outside and there they are.
      Years ago I saw a Charlie Brown comic…Linus was playing with Lucy’s toys. She came in and starting yanking them away from him yelling Mine Mine Mine! She left him with a rubber band. He looked at it and then started playing with it until he was in the throes of full fun and love with the rubber band. I’ve always loved that comic. It’s just like when you gave over to the puddle in the rain. Thanks again.

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