THE SIZE OF LIFE

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
Arthur Ashe

 
starfish

Some days I feel as my life is too small. I do ordinary things in ordinary places. When I left Venezuela I thought it was for good. I sold everything I had to fund the dream of building a life in freedom and possibilities in a country where I could grow and experience the amazing range of knowledge and diversity my heart yearned for. I wanted to belong in a place evolving “at loud” where an honest and committed effort can bloom, at its own pace, but definitely bloom.

Life can turn around in a twist and what was unthinkable becomes real. Heartbroken and defeated, I saw myself jumping on a plane back leaving behind all my possessions and my heart in a box.

Life here seems to be lived in reverse, constantly involving, shirking to a point where you cannot breathe. Life dies hard though, even in hopeless areas and under the shade of large and imposing trees; a seed germinates pushing through rocks and roots fed by a silent promise and the soil and sky’s generosity.

Challenges breed resilience and perseverance when a dream awaits; when there is enough love and trust that Good as the seed, is fighting to grow.

You find yourself in a place you don’t belong, with nothing but “you” and the many experiences stacked in your soul. You came back not because you wanted to, but because there was no choice. Failure is indeed a bitter pill to swallow, one with the power of erasing at a stroke the many heroic moments and accomplishments of a lifetime.

One step at the time you come to realize that a blank slate is a space for ideas to be born, a lab for exercising courage and get to know the person you have become. If we allow life to speak, it will hint us about the actions to take, directing the spotlight on a number of spare parts that somehow need to meet and reveal those ones missing for the picture to be clear.

Projects come and go, intentions dissipate or flourish transformed by the circumstances and “yes and no’s” accumulate as we walk. Everything appears to be random, but it is not. This is the single certainty we might enjoy. If only pieces came in a box with an image at the top!

I have come to work as an “intervention” piano coach. I am being referred students who lack motivation or practice habits and are about to fail or give up. As I see their pain, I remember my own. I wish for them what I wished for myself – belief and support- a hand to hold and accompany me back home, to that place of worthiness and possibility where there is a reason for all and I am truly loved for who I am, no matter what is going on.

As life presents itself, the chain of events ostensibly has a dream of its own. The original dream still beats in the background too weak to dare to impose. I need to trust that something wiser than me is pulling strings and somewhere in time the two shall meet and give birth to my fate, the one it is meant to be and I have both searched for and resisted.

In the meanwhile I sit and think of my small life and the things I have done and wish I could do. I understand how caught I have been in the idea that what you have or you can prove, defines you. Success today dresses in glittering clothes and makes loads of noise. I have no bright clothes and fled to noise. I want to change the world and reach high, but my scope and resources are too small.

Then I reflect about the metaphor of starfishes in the sand and the hand that send them back to the ocean. My life might seem small from the point of view of a simple woman picking up messes and knocking on doors, but when a kid hugs me or I see him smile and shine, or when the adult’s eyes betray their masks and innocence and hopes are reborn; then, just then, my life is a big as my soul and the dreams of a rainmaker are nurturing the soil.

Purpose comes in different sizes, I am not sure if we chose if they are big or small. It might be in other’s hands to determine their scopes. What I can choose is to act or not. The impact I leave in one person might be imperceptible for statistics, the media or the last reality show. It is not for the fabric of the world though…

One person is a world in its own, defining her fate as she touches as well those in her scope. One by one we fulfill our destinies and the chain of people grows,  those who might not see us in the papers or glittering clothes, but will remember our love and be strong and confident to pay it forward making others feel loved.

I thus declare…

There is no such thing as small lives; there is only poverty of dreams. I shall live to remember that when a dream is lost, is not just the dreamer the one affected but the Universe as a whole. I shall keep then, focused on the soul in front of me and enjoy the greatness I might not be able to see but that will have a tiny bit of me.

FORTUNES AND MISFORTUNES OF THE CREATIVE IMPULSE

“… 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

Starry Night. Van Gogh

Starry Night. Van Gogh

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…

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…

Looking Back

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.

Compassion

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.

Beginner Mind

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

Persistence

Persistence

“A river cuts through rock, not because of its power,
but because its persistence”
Jim Watkins

At times I wonder whether there is a secret to progress in our spiritual and day-to day existence. Some days, life flows easily. We cruise along enjoying the ride feeling energized and empowered; we savor our experiences and even test our luck. Others, we seem to be plunged in a dark cloud; our attention wanders and we lack motivation and drive. In those days the smallest of the efforts requires a real choice, a pure instance of will.

When the progress seems so slow that is almost imperceptible, what is the secret to keep up? Simple, Persistence…

Like most virtues, staying engaged for the long haul must be cultivated, practiced and valued. On less than perfect days, even a little inner effort can go a long way. If we stay with our intentions through thick and thin, storm or sunshine; each drop of effort accumulates and winds up, making a gradual but huge difference in our inner experience and goals.

In the “piano world” we know about the “slow-fast” practice; which stand for going maddening slow when facing a difficult passage and gradually pulling the metronome faster notch by notch. It feels like eternity! Nevertheless, if you have forced the speed before being ready – physically, mentally and emotionally – the passage will fall apart in the worst of moments and you will have not only to re-learn it; but fix the bad habits that came with being impatient. A real nightmare…

How do we summon persistence? What is behind it?

In my case persistence comes from remembering what really matters to me and what I fear the most. Both serve as sources of momentum to push me forward.

The former, has to do with the intrinsic value I draw from the activity and the joy and wonder I am rewarded with. It is not a secret that when we are passionate about something, it is far easier to persist, even if the results do not come as fast as we would like to.

When I play very difficult music or I am lost in a canvas, I can feel terrified of getting nowhere or of messing up the work already done. I find myself silently asking – What am I doing? What are you trying to prove? Who are you to do so? – It is just when I ask – Why; why are you doing this? -that I stop and connect with a deeper sense of purpose, the calling shaping the “Who” I must become.

I imagine and feel in my heart and soul the musical phrase already accomplished. I can actually hear the sound and the mysteries unveiling through it! Or I see a pictorial outcome that is far better that what I could have ever imagined; because I allowed the painting to speak to me. In those moments I know… I am looking into a threshold in time and space. I have been given a piece of eternity and to make it happen at will, I need to push forward, I need to persist.

The second alternative (what I fear the most); is focusing on the obsessive and nagging though screaming at me- what would have happened if you had actually conquered resistance and did not give up? Where would you be? I do hate this…. Fear of regret over lost possibilities, is powerful enough to keep me doing whatever is that I am up to, even if it means struggling forever.

Thus, when the muse of divine spark is missing and I cannot summon it; I think about regret. I go back to other occasions when I lost momentum or wasted whatever little effort I had put on. I think about having to start again, not with the fresh attitude of a beginner facing a new task; but with the annoyance and guilt of knowing where I might have been if I had persisted.

It sounds cruel?

Do not misunderstand me; I know that sometimes I will fail to persist. I would even fail to use any of the above alternatives. In those times then, I shall appeal to a third wave. I shall sigh and tell myself- Human, Mercedes. I am sorry but you are human –  I smile, forgive and start again.

What is your recipe for persistence?