Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Art of Self-Acceptance

Every lesson that comes into your life asks you to open your heart and mind in a new way.
Old defense mechanisms that are no longer needed for your survival must be surrendered.
Inch by inch, the territory claimed by fear open’s to love's embrace.

Paul Ferrini Everyday Wisdom.
Julia Day 2012

At The Light Tree this summer we have been practicing sitting with present-moment awareness and noticing our ego attempt to distract us with stories that gloss over the truth of who we are. Annie gives this account of uncovering deeply held self-loathing that was masquerading as perfectionism and esthetic good taste…

A couple of weeks ago, I took a week-long portrait painting class here in Victoria.  Although having trained and worked as an art historian for several decades, I had never made any art myself as an adult until about five years ago, when I started a weekly life-drawing class.  Drawing has been hugely challenging, but now to be tackling painting: this was on a whole other tier of difficulty.

As the portrait painting workshop unfolded, I moved from happy expectation to total frustration.  By class-end on day four, I was on the verge of tears from sheer discouragement, bafflement, and disappointment.  I started to really embrace victim mode.  It didn't help, when I got to my car, that I had the third of three hefty parking tickets in two days, despite diligently paying sizeable parking fees!  The ego was really starting to get its stride.  Over a painting class!!!   

Next day, the last day of the program, I was re-grounded (I thought), having renewed my commitment to present moment awareness.  I set the intention of simply witnessing the art-making process without attachment to outcome.  My painting teacher, a person of considerable awareness, reminded us to approach painting without self-judgment.  But by mid afternoon, I was in full-blown extremis again.  There was only one option.  I would never paint again.  I would even stop my life-drawing classes, which I have loved for five years.  My relationship with art-making was over.

Next morning, I was lying in bed when once more the feelings around my painting impasse welled up.  As I stayed present with the almost incoherent, churning brew of negative emotion:  a mixture of distaste, aversion, frustration, sense of failure....., suddenly into my awareness came a sort of big bubble of absolute self-hatred, like gas erupting from the floor of a swamp.  The self-loathing was palpable and profound. 

As someone who thinks she has a reasonable sense of self-worth, I was shocked.  Interlaced with it or an offshoot of it was also deep disgust for what I would call a flawed aesthetic sense.  I have spent decades studying the likes of Michelangelo, Leonardo, Rembrandt, Turner, Monet, and Van Gogh.  In the world of form, they're a tough act to follow.  But I knew this was simply a cover for a deep hatred of what I believed to be my own flawed-ness. 

The ugly face of perfectionism, which in the past I had glossed over as benign good taste, had revealed itself. The experience was liberating.  Over the past couple of weeks, I have simply continued to be present with the insight around self-loathing; it has sort of hovered and matured and alchemized with other teachings about our inherent wholeness and perfection. 

The hunt for perfection in the world of form seems in direct inverse relation to an awareness of our inner perfection.  I am making art again, drawing and even painting, from a different place.  All the qualities I sought to capture in my art but thought were elusive, I can now see are already there.  I feel freer to rest in the being-ness of the process.  I feel like some of the litter in the path of my own particular flavour of creative expression and aesthetic joy has been turfed and I am resting a little more in the truth of who I am, who we all are.