Seasons #8

acrylic painting – by Sara

This series of art is inspired by the symbolic nature of the beauty within the changing seasons. It is a reminder to slow down, pay attention, and soak in the details of each moment. When I am in struggle painting helps to clear my mind and make space for thoughts outside of the ones that feel pressing and consuming. This painting presented a lighting and color challenge that I thoroughly enjoyed. I found myself delightfully immersed in the variety of warm and cool colors found in this serene winter scene.

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”

Albert Camus

Taking A Leap

acrylic painting – by Sara

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

This first step I am taking feels more like a giant barefooted and blindfolded leap – a leap right towards all of the thoughts that try to convince me to stay still, silent, and small. This painting marks the beginning of this leap.

Next month I plan to enter a new adventure – attempting to begin selling my artwork. I am in the process of creating an Etsy shop and will provide the link here on my blog once it is up and running.

It’s exciting to inch towards this new adventure, and it’s also terrifying. I know I am not alone in my thoughts of not being good enough or talented enough or whatever enough to attempt a new challenge. I know that even on the day I choose to open my shop and attempt to market and sell my work to others for the very first time that the voice inside that screams “your art is not good enough to exist anywhere outside of the walls you create it in” will still be there. And it might even get louder.

But I have to try.

Why? Because as long as I’m still breathing I need to keep trying. And right now I really need to try something new. I feel so incredibly broken inside. This feeling of being insignificant – that it wouldn’t matter if I just suddenly disappeared from the world – is immense sometimes. And it feels like it’s growing. I have this new default answer that comes to my mind every single time I meet someone new and they ask me what I do for work. I hate that it’s my first thought. I hate that it’s such a strong thought. But it comes screaming forward in response to that question every single time.

What do you do for a living? I take up space.

I need to push back on that thought. I need to find a way to create a new answer that I can fully believe in. When I paint that thought and that feeling shrinks just a little bit. It gives me space to breathe. It creates room for possibility. It gives me a momentary sense of purpose.

That is how I arrived here. Full of doubt, loaded with questions, and sprinkled with hope. This new adventure feels like something worth pursuing.

The Second Arrow

I recently filled my ears with a podcast in a moment when I needed a distraction – when my own thoughts were leading me to unhealthy places. On this particular day it was Glennon Doyle’s “We Can Do Hard Things” podcast which often leaves me both smiling and quietly contemplating after I venture into an episode. During this recent episode a Buddhist parable was explained. The message sunk in deeply when I heard it and has stayed with me ever since.

Imagine yourself walking through a forest when you are suddenly struck by an arrow. The arrow causes intense unavoidable pain. Then a second arrow strikes causing even more pain. Could the second arrow have been avoided?

Each time we suffer a misfortune two arrows fly our way. The first arrow is an event or circumstance that is out of our control. We don’t get the job, receive a bad medical diagnosis, or a global pandemic happens. This arrow causes inevitable pain. It is out of our control. The second arrow is how we respond to the first one. It’s the one we have control over. If we respond to the first arrow in an understanding, open, and compassionate way we can avoid the strike of the second arrow. But if we respond in a way that simply adds more pain then we are essentially stabbing ourselves with this second arrow.

Recently while out for a run with my leashed dog I encountered a couple walking their own dog. I approached them from behind and made a quick pass, swinging out into the middle of the road as I went by them. Their dog, on a leash as well, reacted aggressively but was restrained by the owner. Immediately after I passed them I heard shouting. I stopped and turned and then proceeded to receive an earful of barking from this couple who was upset because they felt that I didn’t give them enough space when I passed them. They were loud and abrasive. Surprised by their anger, I listened and apologized for not giving them adequate space while also reminding them that they turned around and saw me coming, which assigns a shared responsibility for each party to know their own dog’s behavior and respond accordingly. My dog was not the one that reacted aggressively in this situation so it seemed off to me to be blamed for their dog’s behavior. Nevertheless they felt I passed too closely, so I apologized and was on my way. No harm done – so you would think.

I carried on with my run with my dog by my side and proceeded to replay this encounter over and over and over again in my mind. At first I was proud of how I handled it. I thought they were unreasonably angry and confrontational, and my reaction diffused the situation and got me out of there quickly. But I was angry too. So as I ran I began to play out in my mind a variety of responses I could have said – some polite and direct and others not at all helpful but tremendously satisfying to think about. Then I started to feel less proud of the way I handled the situation. I let these unreasonable people yell at me. I didn’t even fully stand up for myself. I accepted all of the nonsense they were shouting by apologizing when I didn’t even believe I owed them an apology. I began to feel more angry and self righteous. I then started playing out scenarios in my mind about what I would say or do if I came across them again. This went on for my entire run. A time that I rely on to clear my mind and settle my system, and there I was getting all worked up over something so very small. When I got home it continued in my mind for quite some time. I kept catching myself going back to this story in my head again and again. It went on for hours. I couldn’t stop it no matter how many times I told myself to let it go.

After listening to Glennon’s podcast and hearing about this tangible idea of the arrows I realized how often I repeatedly stab myself with the second arrow. I do it in really small situations, like with the couple and their dog where I let those moments steal hours from me in rumination. And I do it with much bigger and more consequential situations where I let those moments become evidence of my brokenness and worthlessness. I take that second arrow and stab the hell out of myself with it until the next one comes. Then I pick that one up and repeat the process.

This blinding dose of self awareness makes me notice two things. First, it makes it seem more possible to change how I feel and how I self destructively respond in different situations. It may be a huge undertaking, but breaking it down into this simple example of arrows offers a sense of control over the outcome – a path towards less self inflicted pain. It also makes me feel bad, almost shameful, to notice how often and how strongly I react this way and how much energy and healthy thinking I rob from myself in the process. Just recognizing how much of a self-destructive default pattern this is for me ignites a natural urge to stab myself with an arrow for it.

This parable is such a simple lesson. We get hit by arrows every day. Things happen. Our car breaks down, we don’t get the job, a relationship fails, a couple yells at you on a run, or (as I am coping with this week) your therapist takes a vacation. We can’t control any of those things. But each time we respond in a way that doesn’t serve us well we are simply allowing ourselves to be struck by a second arrow.

Self Care

I chase my hurt away
one stroke at a time
across the inviting canvas

Moving my brush
with enough intention
precision and speed
to evade the grip
of what claws at me
from deep within

Immersed in the colors
contours and textures
I welcome this ride
of fleeting freedom

A gift of escape
without the strings
attached to my other
less desirable choices

Melancholy

I have a music playlist on my phone called Melancholy. I think this fact makes my husband feel a little uneasy. After all, why would I seek out music that fuels my sadness? While perhaps this may be a misguided practice, when I feel an incoming heavy weight of hurt sometimes it helps me to sink into it in order to better understand where it came from and what it needs from me. Sometimes softening into my melancholy feels as though I am positioning myself in a place to better hear from my wounded parts.

There are certain song lyrics and melodies that allow me to sink into my hurt – not to get lost in it – although that does happen at times. But the dark places are where my greatest wounds exist, and from time to time I feel a pull to venture there.

My experiences with dark feelings often come without warning. They originate from every day circumstances that slyly connect themselves to something deeply painful within me. I can’t often make those connections in the moment. My nervous system is too activated to allow space for that. This is where music enters the equation. The music I am drawn to in these moments both allows me to deeply feel the rising heavy emotions while also offering a soothing and comforting release in the melody and lyrics expressed. This keeps me from avoiding or pushing away emotions that need to rise to the surface. It also feels as though the music gives me permission to feel and connect with my dark feelings. It allows me to feel while also gently reassuring and reminding me that I don’t need to live there – that I can and will rise from that dark place.

I think being open to my darkness helps to make me less afraid of it. I think this curiosity is a crucial part of my healing. The important thing for me to be mindful of is that my use of music to connect to these feelings can be productive as long as the feelings are temporary. Extended stays in darkness seem to require a different approach or intervention for me. But for my intermittent encounters with darkness I will continue to open my wounded heart to music and take solace in the sounds of my Melancholy.

Sunshower by Chris Cornell – one the most frequently played songs on my Melancholy playlist

Do songs of melancholy bring you comfort or distress when you are in struggle? What helps you connect to the parts of yourself that are calling out for attention in those moments?