Painting Myself

February 28, 2009

Painting myself for others, I have painted my inward self with colors clearer than my original ones. I have no more made my book than my book has made me. ~Montaigne

One of my friends often cautions me about maintaining more privacy. She is amazed that I bare my soul as much as I do in this blog, and I know she believes I will end up hurt as a result. But I am finding this experiment in personal revelation both clarifying and strengthening. I believe that vulnerability is, as David Whyte has said, “the door through which we walk into self-understanding and compassion for others.”

The quest is for personal truth. I have just read the introduction to Phillip Lopate’s anthology, The Art of the Personal Essay. He tells us the essayist is fascinated by the changeableness of human personality, understands that we all start from self-deception, and uses the additive strategy: “offering incomplete shards, one mask or persona after another…If we must ‘remove the mask,’ it is only to substitute another mask. The hope is that in the end…all these personae will add up to a genuine unmasking.”

And so this blog serves as a collection of fragments describing my journey–with movement, changing personae, and contradiction. Lopate writes, “The harvesting of self-contradiction is an intrinsic part of the personal essay form…the personal essayist is not necessarily out to win the audience’s unqualified love but to present the complex portrait of a human being.”

Writing this blog is making me, even as I am making it.


September 18, 2008

Don’t turn away. Keep your gaze on the bandaged place. That’s where the light enters you. ~Rumi

There are things in this life that hurt! The challenge of the wounded, I think, is in not identifying with woundedness, in being more than that. But when we avoid or repress the woundedness, we don’t heal properly. Recently, old repressed pain has been bubbling to the surface for me (see also these references to heartbreakthroughs). An image came to me this week of a wounded bird, trapped and panicky, in need of soothing. I want to open my heart and let the grief and pain pass through and away, but it is difficult work.

When I considered the image of the bird, two things came to mind: a ring I have worn for years, and a collection of spirit stones my friend Elaine made for me a long time ago. The ring came from the Southwest Indian Foundation and has a prominent thunderbird motif. The spirit stones Elaine chose for me, and the characteristics they represent, were the following: Otter-laughter; Spider-creativity; Bee-organization; Loon-solitude, singing; and Thunderbird-spirituality. Some Native Americans believed that the water animals were healers, the land animals protectors, and the air and sky creatures embodied spirituality and wisdom. I like the idea of protecting (bandaging) myself with creativity, and of healing with laughter (and perhaps solitude and singing, too)!

I have resisted the thunderbird, though. In fact, when the ring came in the mail, I was disappointed, since the catalog image was a ring with tiny pueblos in relief. On my ring, little sections of pueblos flank a large central bird. I knew each piece was hand-crafted and so a unique design, but I expected the ring to look more like the photo. I even asked if there was any possibility of exchanging it, but received no reply. Now I think it might have been meant for me. Perhaps my life journey is moving from wounded bird to powerful thunderbird, eh? For now, I’ll do my best to keep my gaze on the bandaged place where the light enters.


March 11, 2008

It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.  ~James Thurber

It’s not the answer that enlightens, but the question.  ~Eugene Ionesco

There are surely many more quotations on this theme! Rilke, in his Letters to a Young Poet, advises, “…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

And the point is, to live everything. Cease struggling against what is, worrying about what might be, regretting what has been. That is my intention, difficult as it sometimes is in practice. These quotes remind me, though, that engagement with the questions themselves gives my mind something to do. Clarifying, articulating, and posing those questions to myself might be the practice.

What do you think?


February 22, 2008

Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are.  ~Bertolt Brecht

Daffodils are blooming, and my boss is leaving for another state. My mother-in-law is anticipating having to move out of the house in which she grew up because she is no longer able to live alone. It won’t be long before we have a new president.

Change is just change. The attachment we feel to this or that is what causes suffering in the change. We can never know ahead of time what the outcome of change will be. So it seems to me that the right response to change (and certainly the least stressful) is acceptance and curiosity. If we are living in each moment, I believe that will occur naturally.

May I roll with these changes, loving what is. May I respond from a grounded awareness of the present moment, accepting that the next present moment will bring something different.


January 17, 2008

Undoubtedly, we become what we envisage.  ~Claude M. Bristol

I think this is true as far as it goes. I posted a quote attributed to the Buddha that expresses a similar idea. But there is something to the idea of developmental learning that I think all teachers should understand. Until the student is ready, nothing can happen.

Years ago, I knew in my head (logically, intellectually) many of the lessons I have only integrated in the last few months. I had to be developmentally ready to absorb and use them. How interesting that process is! I could have “envisaged” any number of things back then (and did), but it wasn’t until much later I could actually become them.

I think curiosity is becoming my best friend as I look toward old age. I am so grateful to be where I am, to have come this far, and to feel curious about the rest of the journey! What are you developmentally ready to learn?

Life as Art

December 16, 2007

The Balinese say, “We have no art. Everything we do is art.”

What if we were to live as though everything we do is art? How would life change? For me, I suppose it would require mindfulness, attention to the present moment, a different relationship with time. I can really relate to Susanka’s assertion that she is “identified with being busy all the time.”  But that identification is unnecessary, as life will move at its own pace regardless of any attachment or resistance on our parts.

Maybe life as art is simply this: tuning in to the natural flow of life as it is, regardless of one’s situation. Being fully present in the unfolding, able to respond from the heart. Noticing life with curiosity and engagement rather than an object of our will.


November 3, 2007

Until we can accept the fact that life itself is founded in mystery, we shall learn nothing.  ~Henry Miller

When we are not sure, we are alive.  ~Graham Greene

Dear Lord, let me seek the truth, but spare me the company of those who have found it.  ~Anonymous

I know nothing, still I cannot help singing.  ~A. R. Ammons

Openness and curiosity are characteristics I want to cultivate. My friend Claudia gave me a beautiful book called Keeping a Nature Journal, by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth. The authors suggest that, once an object is identified for sketching, the journalist try writing down at least one question about the object. Examples they give: “How did it get there? Where does it go in winter? Can it also be found in other habitats?” What a great way to exercise one’s curiosity!

As for openness, I am pained when I remember times I couldn’t bring myself to show ignorance and therefore failed to learn a lesson that was available to me. Wouldn’t we all be better off if we could recover that two-year-old’s propensity for incessant questioning: “What is that? Why? Why? Why?”