Commitment

I was sitting in the garden recently, on one of the days following writing my last blog post on Vulnerability, ironically feeling vulnerable.  

I had written out something that felt profoundly private and not kept it to myself. It felt hard to sit with that knowledge and not delete my blog post. But I drank my hot cuppa out there under the bright sunshine, and committed to leaving my post where it was. Even though I felt the vulnerability, fear and self-doubt rise up in waves, I committed to not silencing myself.




 And I started to think about Commitment.

What commitment might be.  What it might look like. When we need it.  How we give it. Who we give it to.

And what we might be, unwittingly, committed to.

When I sit down to paint, I am thoroughly intimidated by the white canvas, the blank page, the wide open space of nothingness that I'm hoping to fill.

Every. Single. Time.



I want to turn away. To not take the risk of getting things wrong. To not mess up. I want to step back from the edge (of my desk). No matter how much I paint, this experience of doubt just before I paint, never leaves me.

For years I was afraid to paint.  I had images in my head of how I wanted my paintings to look, but my skills didn't match my imagination.  The gap between where I wanted to be and where I was, seemed too painfully large.



It filled me with disappointment and frustration that I couldn't create what I wanted to create. It hurt to not be able to recreate what my heart was seeing.

I had huge doubts about my abilities.

Eventually, I reached a place where it hurt more not to try.

Without even realising it, I had been committed to not failing. And in doing so, had cost myself dearly.

So, I finally said "Fuck doubt".





Each time I sit down to paint, I have to say loud and clear, "Fuck doubt".

I have to choose what I want to be committed to. Not failing by never trying. Or, trusting.

There's huge commitment involved in the process of painting.

A commitment to trust myself.

Before I paint, my head is filled with noise, and self-doubt.

When I paint, my head becomes silent and my heart takes over.  I know it sounds strange but I don't know of any other way to describe it.  The worries, fears, niggling thoughts, and constant mind chatter are all silenced and instead I can only hear what my instinct is telling me to do.





I trust that instinct completely.  It has never let me down.  I might be afraid to follow it at times, but I follow it all the same.

This week during the process of painting a portrait, this instinct told me the eyes, nose, and mouth I had just painstakingly completed weren't right and needed to go. Did I tell you it was a portrait?

***

They're not right, Em, they've got to go.

Really?

Really.

But if I white them out, I won't have much of a portrait left.... What if I can't paint them in again as well as I just did?

It will be better. Trust me. I promise you. White them out. Get rid of them. Daub gesso all over them. Obliterate them. Go on.  Do it. DO IT!

Sh*t.  Really?

Really.

OK, I'm doing it.  Oh. sh*t, I'm doing it.

***

For me, the only thing more frightening than a blank canvas, when painting, is making parts of the canvas blank again after I've started filling it.



Commitment is a strange thing, isn't it?

It can be terrifying.

But in making a commitment, we can find something in ourselves we didn't know we had.

It felt scary to follow my instinct and paint over the features, to whiten them out.  To erase what I'd already done.

But each time I paint, I'm making a commitment to myself.  To follow my heart. To follow my instinct.  To trust that quiet but powerful voice inside me that knows what I need to do.  That guides me through.  That helps me be sure about which way I need to go.

And each time I commit to listening to that voice, and hearing what it tells me, I get better at painting. Making that commitment helps me find something new within myself, I didn't know was there. Making a commitment to myself moves me beyond doubt into something concrete, known and beautiful.



I was chatting to someone this week who said that the blank canvas, and painting, are powerful metaphors for life, and I think he is right.

We may not know how to fill the canvas, whether we have the skills to create what we want to create, or whether we will make a mistake and mess it all up, but when we step to the edge and commit to following our instinct, following the peaceful, powerful voice inside us, we grow.

Whether that's when we paint, or when we're doing Life.

With love to you as you step to the edge.


P.S. This is my latest painting.  She's called "Michelle". Mixed-media on watercolour paper. Inspired by the art of Annie Hamman

The Stuff of Life


When I was younger, I used to think Life was all about the big stuff.

Do you know what I mean?

The things that feel momentous.

Having huge adventures, being awarded hard-won qualifications, building a career, travelling to far-flung places, seeing as much of everything as I could, buying a house. I was very focused on tucking as many of these big events under my belt as I could. I was very adept at striving for the next big thing.



I didn't place an awful lot of conscious awareness on the smaller spaces between the big things of Life.

It wasn't fully aware that the ordinary moments of each day could hold as much treasure as the landmark events. I was very goal-orientated. Focused on doing rather than being.

And then I got ill and Life changed.

Life suddenly became very much about the spaces between the big adventures.

As a result, over the years of living with a long-term illness, I've had a deep change of heart about what is and isn't the big stuff of Life.

I've come to understand that Life is a continuous thread of very small moments, connected to each other.  I know that's stating the blindingly obvious, but stay with me on this. Each day we are given a certain amount of time.  Moments strung together to experience. What we place in each moment determines the quality of our lives. Life isn't simply about what happens to us or what next big thing we're striving for.  Life is very much about what we choose to do, be, see and feel in each small moment.

I used to waste so many moments striving for the next big thing.  Not realising that the moment I was in was the only thing I had. And that it held its own beauty.

There are only moments. Each moment an opportunity to love, be tender and to connect. To love ourselves, and other people. To be tender with ourselves, and other people. To connect with ourselves and other people.

The big stuff of Life isn't what I thought it was. The Big Stuff of Life is actually the small stuff of Life repeated. Over and over again.  A chain of small connected moments of love, kindness, beauty and gentleness, where we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and allow other people to see our vulnerability.  Where we're brave enough to reach out into each moment and connect with what's really in our hearts, and to give our hearts to other people in a way that is kind, gentle, tender, and loving.

If we are able to do that from one moment to the next, we have a continuous thread of beautiful moments all connected to each other and connecting us to the people around us.  We are living a continuous thread of tenderness. Creating a continuous thread of loving minutes, that eventually add up to a Lifetime of Love.

What could be bigger than that?




P.S. Jarryd Stoneman asked his 93 year old great grandmother with severe dementia if she wanted to dance.  He created a a big moment out of a small moment with tenderness and kindness.

P.P.S. I'm not advocating sainthood, here, you understand.  I'm fully in support of the need for swearing, hand gesticulations, the odd manhandling of a cushion with a rolling pin when things get too much, and the importance of gin. A good roast dinner does wonders to keep the wheels of tenderness oiled as well. Just sayin'.     

Headway



I saw this short film "Headway" with Louis Boniface recently.


I think it's beautiful.




Falling is such a fundamental part of life, isn't it? 

When we're children we learn to walk by repeatedly falling over and getting up again. There's no shame attached to falling as a child.  It happens. Gravity, feet that are too big for our little bodies, and spending a lot of time literally spinning in circles, mean that as children, we find ourselves intimately acquainted with losing our balance and hitting the floor. 

As adults, falling isn't a part of our everyday existence.  Generally, folk aren't keeling over in droves as they head through town (Saturday nights excluded).  Shame seems to have attached itself to falling by the time we consider ourselves grown up, and it somehow means we've failed if we fall. Both in the literal sense (running for the bus and tripping over the paving slab in front of more people than you can waggle a stick at) and the metaphorical sense (losing all your savings in a bad investment).*

*neither of these things has ever happened to me, although I did do a very impressive fall down a spiral staircase in a very crowded nightclub back in the 90's, and managed a somewhat flouncy recovery into the bar after dismounting the bottom step (there may have been a smattering of applause)
 

After watching this video, I've been thinking a lot about falling as a metaphor for Life and what we make it mean about ourselves if we do fall. As if somehow our worst beliefs about ourselves are true if we make a mistake, lose our balance, stumble, get knocked down by Life.
But they aren't.

No matter how many times we fall, we are still a beautiful combination of strength, and vulnerability. Tenacity and tiredness. Open-heartedness and fear. Creativity and compassion.

I watch Louis Boniface fall in this film and see how he turns every loss of control into something graceful and beautiful.

Maybe, when Life sends something unexpected, and we start to lose our balance, instead of tensing and clinging on, if we can allow ourselves to relax into the falling, stretch into the freedom of it, perhaps we can find ourselves flowing with Life a little more rather than fighting it.

Losing control and falling aren't the worst things that can happen to us. 
 

We all fall.  Life happens. We haven't failed if we fall. 
 

There can be great beauty in the falling and then choosing to get up again.


   
  

Tenderness

Hello. How are you?

Today would have been Mum's 71st birthday, so it seems the perfect day to start writing here again after taking such a long break.

On Wednesday it will be 16 months since Mum died.  Even as I type that out I find it hard to understand how simultaneously quickly and slowly those 16 months have passed. I feel as if I am finally waking up from a deep, heavy, nightmarish sleep, blinking and stretching into Springtime.





Grief is a very strange thing.  It feels as if I am finally reaching beyond it.  Coming out of the "grief trenches".  It's lovely to be able to have finally found the edges of it.

I haven't wanted to write about it all here.  The process of feeling the many contradictions and paradoxes within grief has felt raw, violent and savage in a way I haven't known  how to use words to express.

I am usually very comfortable with words, with writing out how something has felt to me, of being able to express my understanding of it.  But this experience of losing my Mum has challenged that understanding of myself as I've felt utterly unable to join words together in a way that gives the emotional and physical experience of the grief any truth or depth.






When I lived in Japan, I lived alongside earthquakes.  They happened frequently, without warning, and I experienced very clearly the process of realising I was not in control of very much at all in life.  When the earth moves (and not in a good way) the sense of powerlessness and vulnerability is acute.

And that has been my experience of this grief.  Not depression, sadness, or wretched crying (although I have felt those things), but much more powerfully, a devastating meeting of my own vulnerability and powerlessness to control life.





I couldn't change what happened to Mum.  I couldn't remove her suffering.  I couldn't protect her from the illness.  I couldn't take away her pain.  I couldn't change anything about what she experienced.

All we could do was witness what she was going through and love her, so that she wasn't alone within it.

The most difficult aspect of grief, for me, has been the deep and thudding understanding of how vulnerable we are.  How soft and gentle our hearts are, how easily wounded we can be, how at any moment an illness, accident, or event can lead to a devastating consequence.  How powerless we are in the face of things out of our control. How savage loss is a part of life.





And how to reconcile that understanding with how to move forward knowing it.

How to not be afraid of life and everything it brings.

We are all made of approximately 40% stardust. The average human male is made up of 60% water. There is a fragility to how we're made..

So the question has been for me, "How do I move forward after seeing and experiencing so closely how brutal life can be?"

And the answer I came to this week is "tenderness".

I thought it was about Love, giving love, receiving love.  Which it is.  But, for me this week, I've realised it's about something inherent within love.

It's about the expression of love through tenderness.

The kindness, gentleness and sensitivity to pain that defines tenderness.





Our hearts are tender.  Our dreams are tender.  Our muscles get tender.

We need tenderness; us vulnerable, joy-filled, often weary, sometimes broken-hearted, humans.

We are often given tenderness as children. Kisses when we fall, cuddles when we hurt, nose nuzzles, ear tickles, the moments when we are wrapped gently in fluffy towels after baths. Gentle moments of deep kindness.  Often from our mums.

As adults that tenderness can subside.  We are busy. We push ourselves hard.  We strive.  We want to thrive. We can feel tired, impatient, grumpy. So can the people around us.

Tenderness can be absent for a long time without us even knowing it.  We can especially lack the ability to be tender with ourselves.

I have decided I want a life filled with small moments of tenderness.  Gentleness, kindness and a sensitivity towards pain.  My own and other people's.  I don't want to be blind to my vulnerabilities or those of others.

I don't want to hurt myself or other people through lacking tenderness.





Loss, grief and hurt are part of living.  I don't want to be hardened by those things.  I want to be tender to them.

It isn't weakness to be tender.  I think it's a strength to understand our vulnerabilities and to live life fully aware of them, loving them and being kind to those parts of ourselves that need gentleness. I think it's only when we can meet our tender spots and love them (even if it makes us supremely uncomfortable) that we can do the same for others.

There is deep beauty in the fact that we are so vulnerable, and that we know it, and keep going anyway.

Happy birthday, Mum. I love you.

With huge love for you and your tenderness, wherever you are.

 


P.S. This is my latest painting. Mixed-media on watercolour paper. Inspired by the artwork of Tamara LaPorte. Click here to go to her website. Take a peek, it's beautiful.

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