The people I most admire live lives of creative and joyful service. From my outside perspective, their backgrounds seem to prepare them, their choices seem to be obvious (though not easy), their strength seems to be unwavering. How do they do it?
In the last two weeks, I felt myself moving beyond the theme of hope. There were several experiences and ideas blending in my mind. They distilled into a dream.
In the dream, I am attending a rehearsal of a community orchestra. I’m excited about the work these people are doing and want to be a part of it. I am keenly feeling the loss of no longer being able to play the viola (due to disability). Maybe, I think, I can volunteer to do some graphic arts for them. That’s something I can still do on the computer. Mulling this over, I wheel out into an alley to get my van and go home. The van has been stripped—really stripped. All of the body covering (fiberglass?) has been removed and only the frame remains. The seats and everything inside the van has been removed. The wheelchair ramp is standing open. I wheel inside and try to start the car, but the battery has been stolen so the car is dead. First, I think about calling my husband. Then, I realize I should call the police to report the crime. I wake up with my heart pounding and a feeling of panic.
My biggest fear is becoming useless. I worry about how long I will be able to continue driving safely (answer: not long). I worry about how long I will be able to keep my job. I worry about when I will need to move into a facility.
I believe this dream is about that fear. Drawing me into that orchestra is beauty and community, but I can’t make the same contribution I would have made earlier in life. I try to compensate (and feel proud of myself for doing so), but my ambitions are derailed by a reminder of my complete dependence on others…even on strangers. The dream is a nightmare because of my emotional response to it.
Therein lies the lesson. The initial situation in the dream is entirely realistic; it could happen. The stripped van is a dreamlike extreme, but it is true that, like Blanche Dubois, I must rely on the kindness of strangers. What I need to do is get beyond my panicked response to the facts. In the end, this dream is about trust. Only trust can assuage my fears.
My new theme is trust.
This week I was fortunate enough to hear Alexie Torres-Fleming speak. (You can get a taste of her by watching her on YouTube.) She talked, among other things, about how the American definition of success (which she initially accepted and accomplished) turned out not fit for her. I was impressed by her ability to discern and follow her inner voice (God). When I accused her of having an unusually articulate and specific God, she responded that we all do if we get past our fears and learn to listen. She also pointed out that, while her mission may not be my mission, we both have one. I was reminded of Marianne Williamson:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” (A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles“, Harper Collins, 1992. From Chapter 7, Section 3])
I originally thought this post would be called “body of work.” My artwork has taken a turn lately: I am illustrating other people’s words by repurposing and recombining earlier paintings with new electronic illustrations. Having created a dozen or so of these new pieces, I realize that I am creating a new body of work. When I first started to take myself seriously as an artist (something I no longer do), I remember struggling to produce a “body of work.”
“Galleries and art buyers want an artist to have a body of work to show that they can consistently produce art that is distinctive and of a predictable, suitable quality.” (Art glossary, about.com)
I despaired of making work that was distinctive and predictable. A mentor helped me by listing for me all the commonalities she saw in different pieces I had created. She was able to see how my work was distinctive and predictable when I was not.
I think my heroes’ lives may also be less distinctive and predictable when viewed from the interior.
If I trust what I heard from Alexie Torres-Fleming, I realize I am being called to create a new body of work in my life as well as in my art. As my subconscious has warned me, my old way of being will no longer be possible. My ideas for what to do instead may not be the right ones. I need to begin by letting go of my fierce—and false—independence. I need to begin with trust.