Embracing it All
by Jenny Doh
1: Like forgive. 2: Like accept. 3: Like begin again.
The concept of forgiveness isn’t always about forgiving somebody else. It’s in many ways about forgiving ourselves. I recently watched a terrific TED talk delivered by a writer by the name of Kathryn Schultz. TED talks, by the way (which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design), are video podcasts from TED conferences by all sorts of interesting people who give interesting talks. Anyway, the topic that Kathryn Schultz addressed in her TED talk was the concept of regret.
I regret that almost 13 years ago, when my kids were little, I did not find a way to resolve a major fight that I had with my mother, which has led to my having an estranged relationship with her for the past 13 years.
The thing that Kathryn Schultz found in her research is that whether we admit it or not, we all have regret. Regret is dangerous because we can wallow in it, use it to beat ourselves up, and if we allow it, keep us debilitated from moving forward as we remain unable to forgive ourselves. We all have regret. And therefore we all have to live with regret. But we don’t have to allow regret to remind us of how terrible and awful we are. Rather, we can allow regret to remind us of how much better we can be as we move forward.
To be grateful, we human beings, we creatives, we artists, need to be open to grand concepts like forgiveness. It’s ok. You and I … we can be better than what happened in the past. It’s ok to forgive ourselves.
Let’s shift gears to ACCEPTANCE
The fact that I just told you that I have an estranged relationship with my mom is something that would never have happened last year or the year before, or during the entire time I’ve had this situation in my life. In fact, the way I used to operate in small groups or large groups was to try and steer the conversation in a way that would ensure that the topic of mothers or parents would not be brought up. I would devise elaborate plans of how I’d either change topics or flat out leave the room in order to avoid what I imagined would be the most horrible thing that could happen, which is for someone to ask me about my mom. It’s the thing I dreaded most. And I spent lots of energy being stressed out about it, letting myself get all worked up … trying to make sure I could hide the truth, veil the truth, and hope that if it could remain veiled, no one could see my hurt, no one could know of my weakness, and the topic would remain a secret.
The transformation for me occurred when I was introduced to a book by Byron Katie, titled Loving What Is. It’s a really simple concept, actually. And it centers around her bottom line principle, which is that reality is kinder than we think. Whatever our deep dark secret is … what we think it is, is usually more horrible than what it is. So Byron’s point is that we ought to accept the reality of things. We ought to state the truth. Perhaps certain truths that anyone of us may be dealing with at any moment ... like …
- I’m in debt.
- I'm sick.
- My marriage is falling apart.
- No one bought my art.
- No one signed up for my class.
- No one came to my party.
- My child is a drug addict.
- I have an estranged relationship with my mom.
After reading this book, I was at dinner with a couple of friends and sure enough, the conversation was about parents. One friend in particular was having lots of problems with hers and at a certain point, she asked me, “What about you? How’s your mom?” And rather than getting all worked up about it, I simply told her what is. Surprisingly, the roof did not cave in. The earth did not shatter. My friend nodded and held my hand and said “I’m sorry to hear that.” And then the rest of the conversation just went on a natural course where we didn’t fixate on my situation, either by over-talking about it or avoiding it.
To have gratitude, we human beings, we creatives, we artists, need to be open to grand concepts like acceptance. It’s ok to accept what is. Because what IS is not as horrible as we think it is.
Stay with me as we shift gears once again to the
concept of BEGINNING AGAIN.
This past summer, there was something in the air for me. Restlessness started to consume me as I woke up one morning and became very dissatisfied, disappointed, and bored with the state of everything. All I could see around me was shallowness, greed, predictability, and routines. I found myself in a bit of a crisis because when you feel that what’s out there is so uninteresting, you can get a bit reckless and start to adopt sort of an “I’m gonna run away” mentality. It’s the opposite of gratitude and counting blessings. Thankfully, I had some very good friends who helped me through this (and continue to help me through this), including one friend who turned me onto a book titled Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Estes. I’d like to read a passage from that book to you that shook me pretty hard:
A woman's psyche may have found its way to the desert out of resonance, or because of past cruelties or because she was not allowed a larger life above ground. So often a woman feels then that she lives in an empty place where there is maybe just one cactus with one brilliant red flower on it, and then in every direction, 500 miles of nothing. But for the woman who will go 501 miles, there is something more ... some women don't want to be in the psychic desert. They hate the frailty, the sparseness of it. They keep trying to crank a rusty jalopy and bump their way down the road to a fantasized shining city of the psyche ... Don't be a fool. Go back and stand under that one red flower and walk straight ahead for that last hard mile. Go up and knock on the old weathered door. Climb up to the cave. Crawl through the window of a dream. Sift the desert and see what you find. It is the only work we have to do.
To me, that passage is about how we manage the disappointments of life. The “is this all there is?” of life. The shallowness of life. The materialism and greed of life. The predictable, boring, and suffocating limitations of life.
When we dwell on such things, it feels unbearable. And as Estes describes, we think to ourselves that from where we stand, there is a stretch of 500 miles around us, of nothingness.
What I concluded this summer after going through all this, and really pondering this passage, is that rather than searching for a jalopy that can rescue us, we need to push ourselves and walk that 501st mile. We have to do the hard work to climb the cave, crawl through the window, sift the desert. In other words, there is something beyond 500 miles of what we have become familiar with and therefore complacent with. There is something to discover and rediscover or reinvent in not giving up and going after more. Not just more of what others can provide us, but more of what we can offer to the world.
As you ponder what might be in your 501st mile, consider thinking about the list that you have, of things that you’ve fantasized about doing but have not approached because you feel it’s not your time, or that for some reason, you are not worthy. Is it painting? Is it archery? Is it pursuing an art history degree? Is it boxing? Is it crocheting yourself a long veil and throwing an amazing party with great food … kind of like that scene from the film Like Water for Chocolate?
It may be any one of these things, and I challenge you that it’s never the right time and we can always put things off because of fear, or self-doubt, or regrets from the past, or the bleakness of the nothingness we see in the 500 miles around us. But as we walk that 501st mile, we ought to allow ourselves to approach what we think is the unapproachable. Shoot those arrows, enroll in an art history class, put on those boxing gloves, take a cooking class. Throw that amazing party and wear that elaborately crocheted veil. Reinvent, rediscover, and begin again.
To have gratitude, we human beings, we creatives, we artists, need to be open to grand concepts like beginning again. There IS more out there. And there IS more within us. And when it feels bleak, it’s important to find ways to begin again. And again. And again.
Someone recently told me that my art has melancholy in it. I thought that was such an interesting observation … because I agree with it. I do think melancholy is present in most of my art. I think it has something to do with my regret. But I don’t regret that my art reflects that. It’s who I am. And it’s what I think makes my art unique and authentic. It tells my story.
When I think about that, I am reminded that everything matters. Everything that you and I go through creates the fabric of who we are. All of our experiences—the highs and lows—all of it is relevant. It influences how we paint, what we write, how we dance, how we sing, how we treat each other. It all matters … the regret and forgiveness … the acceptance … and the courage to begin again.
I’d like to challenge each of us to have gratitude for all the experiences that have helped create our unique stories and for us to be open to allowing our stories to influence our art as we embrace our destinies with gratitude for all of it.
Per the invitation of Jenelle Van de Mortel, I had the pleasure of delivering this talk on November 3, 2012, at the Artful Gratitude Gathering in Costa Mesa, California.