… I drew [The Little Winter Gardens] several times and there was no feeling in them. Then afterwards — after I had done the ones that were so stiff — came the others. It is the same with the clumsy and awkward things. HOW IT HAPPENS I CAN EXPRESS SOMETHING OF THAT KIND? Because the thing has already taken form in my mind before I start on it. The first attempts are absolutely unbearable. I say this because I want you to know that if you see something worthwhile in what I am doing, it is not by accident but because of real intention and purpose.
-Vincent van Gogh – letter to Anton Ridder van Rappard
The past year has been a laboratory of alchemical processes destined to define what I believe might be my life purpose. As part of the mourning and action- reaction chain of events resulting from having to leave a life to begin another in a constricted and estranged place; I have been compelled – even force- to move into a “conflict zone.”
I used to say that we need to open our coffins and face the skeletons inside to truly live. Easier to say that done! In the midst of working out some milestones for a project I set myself to build, I realized how much I resist exposing my own and deep truth to the world and how deeply I fear to find out is was just an illusion or I do not have what is takes.
Because the Universe has a “style of humor” of its own, synchronicity catches on when you less expect. I have been postponing taking action, those specific actions than would surely throw me into the realm of the unknown. I am afraid of the consequences they might bring. Lights and shadows, they are indistinguishable in the process of transformation, they both threaten my comfort zone.
Of course, what you resist, persist; thus, “ACTION” has been a ghost chasing me all over social media, books and even in my ideas and proposals to others. I see my patterns and symptoms smacking me on the face and experience first-hand the unrelenting calls of my soul.
Writing about my experiences helps me clarify things. Speaking vulnerabilities brings me closer to others while making the monster of inadequacy and “not good enough” shrink. I feel less alone…
As I explored ways to convey an idea in a workshop for women I was preparing I reflected…
Art is a varicolored answer to the first line on the canvas. All art begins with an intention, with the search for something unknown that seeks expression. It’s the same with everything in life, until the urge becomes a verb, nothing happens. What we believe or think in itself is nothing, until an action – or the lack of it- determines an outcome.
Here is where the creative process and our story get tangled. Thoughts, beliefs, desires, loves, dance with ideas, instincts, impulses and the uncontrollable need to express. An empty canvas stares at you while you try to make sense of the blurry realm spinning around and overlook the silent presence witnessing it all.
Fear is a master trickster; it can take the colored yarns of dreams, ideas and passions and turn them into a tight knot. Between “what is and what could be” there is a “neutral space;” the edge between two worlds, a vacuum filled with possibilities challenging us to make choices.
Uncertainty is such an unbearable companion!
If you are like me, the only discernible thing here is the many strategies of disconnection swinging around the place – is too late, too long, too difficult, I should be exercising, this room is such a mess, I forgot to check my mail…you name it! – I spend so much time running away, against and toward the experience, that when I finally make a decision I am completely exhausted or the opportunity flew away.
It does not stop here!
What about the “should’s” and its three horsemen of the apocalypse! Guilt, shame and unworthiness; they are eager to join forces and make our creative anguish a high alert flashing light to avoid taking action at all cost.
Van Gogh said – “If you do nothing, you are nothing.”
If I translate his words into the artistic process and that of life; I shall say that, as a rough drawing becomes a sketch and this a painting; it is through the dedicated work and the incorporation of those fleeting thoughts and insights occurring while working, that a vague original idea consolidates.
Van Gogh advised to keep working no matter what happened. He knew that while our ultimate goal is not clear, or even unknown, it will become clearer as we work and seriously explore. His self-professed goal was to bring the expression of emotion into Modernist painting. The desire to express passion was the focus of van Gogh’s vision; it was the engine of his endeavors. His complex and tumultuous life story could have hindered his legacy; but his soul was bigger than his fears and he is without question the paragon of success in the expression of passion in the arts.
If such a genius went to experiencing the painful anguish and need to search for ways to express his soul; faced rejection and failure and stood tall, who am I, simply mortal, to expect being spared from it?
What I have learned…
I feel I am just taking baby steps in the matter, and yes, I get frustrated and make faces in my inner mirror. However, I know now that there will be a time when I will be able to see the traveled path. That is how we really appreciate the enormous courage of being human and imperfect; when we realize that even broken, terrified or exhausted, we indeed stood up and kept walking before, no matter where or how, we kept walking.
Recognizing the Symptoms
Puppies love to play and chase their tales, they go on circles and get dizzy. Get the picture? So it begins for me! I start jumping from one activity to another and get caught in distracting alibis. I breathe shallowly, move chaotically and feel anxious and mad. I surrender my power to fear and watch a movie, run an errand or read. It lasts as long as I am busy. When I stop… truth looks me in the eye.
There is nothing more dreadful than consciousness when we know what we are doing! This “something” watching us can be really unmerciful. I have discovered, though, that awareness is never as hard as I am when judging myself for my weaknesses and mistakes. I enter this “who -cares, -what- difference –will- it- make”- mode and give away my power to shame and guilt.
Why is belittling and self-deprecation so addictive? What is about light and glittering goodness that make us feel naked and hide?
I bet you have as many answers to these questions as attempts to embrace your humanity. I sure do! The path has been long and winding, but it has finally led me to self-compassion. I know now that when my soul knocks, it triggers my tale-chasing-puppy- inner self. Instead of pulling my hair and scream NOT AGAIN! What is wrong with you? I do my best to remember that something awesome is happening…
I am about to meet my true self and go with my purpose in a date. I know what to expect. I gently allow my inner kid to express her fears and allow her feelings to be. I tell her that is OK, that we all have been there and I will do my best to help her move a step at a time. I remind her we are walking together with a promise of hope and trust, and we shall become better and better at it. One day we will look back and see how much we have accomplished.
Known by Zen Buddhism as Shoshin; it refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even at an advanced level. We tend to think in sequences, always looking towards what we will be able to do in the future instead of focusing on the next step right now. In doing so, we skip over all the little experiences that color our journey and make it unforgettable. We overlook the fact that falling down, as well as getting up, is part of the learning process.
Beginner’s mind is also known as a “don’t-know-mind.” It is said to be the wisdom of the warrior. It means keeping an open mind and responding according to circumstances, not according to how we assume things should be.
I am guilty of trying to become an expert to soon, or worse, feeling one. This sets me along a traveled path that is closed to Possibility. A “don’t-know-mind” leaves room for intuition, for the new and adventurous. It is the mind of our kids, one filled with wonder and appreciation for the little miracles of ordinary life.
Hang to the Why
Even an artist often believed to have been “spontaneous” and unpremeditated, had a thoroughly thought and creative deliberation metaphor to help him stay focused. Van Gogh found, and created the element through which he could live; his flame-metaphor. This metaphor allowed him to fully express his burning desire for expression, his conviction concerning the centrality of passion to existence. This belief was as essential to the man as to the artist, thus the shape of a flame became his distinctive brush stroke, a signature.
As Van Gog understood; this visionary circle of the simultaneously invented and the discovered; is a dance between the soul and the mind, the ability to think both, consciously and subconsciously. Is the territory of the WHY, the only force powerful enough to navigate uncertainty and the unknown, the force closest to our Higher Source.
We all need our personal metaphor, the unique poetry of our soul expressed in a vision and whispering: “Grow, grow.”
I have been exploring mine. I have no idea how being an ambassador for beauty and meaning expresses itself in the day-to day life. I am not sure what my brushstroke looks like or even if I have gotten one…
I shall rely in our shared humanity and trust, as he did; that passion will find its way home, and the unrelenting pull of purpose will continue to ask for embracing my call.
In the meanwhile I shall repeat unceasingly: A.C.T. – action changes things.
“I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.”
Vincent van Gogh