September 27, 2017 – Blessed Unrest

I am even happier to be painting in my newly freshened studio.

We started the project to refresh the inside of our house just after the fourth of July and as of Sunday, we are officially done.  Last week we had the hardwood floors refinished which meant that our furniture was stuffed into the other downstairs rooms and in the garage.  Last week I wrote about a room of one’s own while my own room-of-my-own was upside down – filled with boxes of books, houseplants, small tables and everything that lives on them.  There was barely a place for me to sit and open up my tiny laptop to write.  Sunday we put the house back together and it looked so beautiful – fresh, light and spacious.  But then, something had to be done about my room.

Though I had a list of things to tend to Monday, I woke up and dove in.  I spent half the day tearing through my studio, moving book cases (which mean emptying them first) putting my desk into my painting spot, replacing a folding table and cleaning everything – dead bugs out of the window track, wiping away cobwebs and dusting, dusting, dusting!  When I left for the office mid-day, my studio was just beautiful except for a stack of papers and notebooks 8” high that I told myself I would have to go through later.

Yesterday morning – before even getting dressed or brushing my teeth – I dove again – into that stack and the file drawer where much of it needed to go.  I weeded out stuff that I no longer have any need for – it felt so good!  There is now an equivalent to that 8” stack in the recycle bin and things look and feel even better.  I’ve been an artist on a mission!  My studio is fresh and spacious just like the rest of the house – and I love the new arrangement.

In going through papers and files I came across a whole lot of personal growth work and accompanying writing that I’ve done over the years.  In there was a list titled “What it means to be your wife” – the first draft of what became our wedding vows – a fun thing to find yesterday, the 19th anniversary of our first date.  I found pages and pages of notes from the PAX work, as I learned distinctions between women and men, and the masculine and the feminine and how we can be in powerful partnership.  There were notes, poems and readings from my sessions with Sister Mary, as my relationship with God has grown and expanded, and several iterations of business-oriented work, values, goals, customer profiles and visions for how I’m here to serve.  The work I’ve done with my business coach, Lissa Boles, is every bit as much personal growth as any of the rest of it.

What stands out for me in all of this is the part of me that has been positively driven to understand, to grow, to heal to “get better.”  As much as I wish that I had already known that no matter what I am beautiful and beloved, (in the words of Kelly Flanagan), I see that this same gritchy part of me has caused me to seek and discover a level of awareness, a level of consciousness, that I cannot imagine having come to had I not felt in some way lacking.  And now that I’m on the path, I cannot imagine my desire for more understanding ever waning.  The more I see the more I see that I’ve not yet seen.

I was talking last week with Donna – My Donna – about the love of her life, Allan Newman, who died two months ago.  She was telling me how he invited, encouraged, called out – to all of us to be ourselves – the selves no one else can be.  He contended that most people barely touch it.  Most of our authentic selves are hidden, shrouded in behaviors we adopted to be accepted such that we don’t even know ourselves. But when we do, an incomparable light shines from us – he was after that light in people.  Donna’s description of Allan made me think of the famous quote by Martha Graham:

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique.  
And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. 
 The world will not have it.  
It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions.  
It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.  
You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.  
You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you.  Keep the channel open.

This “unique expression” must be what it is I’ve been compelled to discover within myself – my art, my writing and my philosophy about how best to support people on their creative paths.  This first part of the quote is very familiar to me – I’ve read it many times.  The version I found online last week, though, had a second part:

No artist is ever pleased.  There is no satisfaction whatever at any time.  There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

(I feel the need to add one word to this last part:  There is no complete satisfaction whatever at any time. I can’t imagine a creative life without any satisfaction.  I refuse to believe I have to be tortured to be an artist.)

She is spot on.  It is absolutely my experience that dis-satisfaction with our work comes with the territory of being a creator.  But it is more than just what is to be expected – she says it’s purposeful… divine… blessed.  Her words “blessed unrest” have gone on to live a life far beyond what she said to Agnes de Mille.  Most notably, “Blessed Unrest” is the title of a book by Paul Hawken about the legions who have made their lives attending to the problems of life on Earth.  Blessed unrest shows up as hunger for what isn’t yet part of us.  It shows up as commitment to see things through and it shows up as desire to keep making progress.  It’s what has people come to me wishing to learn to paint and it’s what keeps them coming back every week.  It’s what had Sue create her studio; it’s what has me itchy to get back to my painting when I’m pulled away from it.

It’s not comfortable living with this “blessed unrest” – there is that dissatisfaction to contend with. Nevertheless, looking around at who is doing what with this one precious life we’re each given, I see that having this unrest is a blessing.  It’s the grit in the oyster, it’s what has us be brave in the face of obstacles.  Unless we are living with it we’d be happy enough just watching more TV.

It does appear as if some of us have it and others not, though.  Right after we graduated high school a friend and I went to the bridal shower of one of our classmates from junior high who had moved away. She was getting married right away because she said there wasn’t anything else to do.  We were going on to college and had a hard time imagining not doing so – we asked her didn’t she want to go to college too?  Her reply was “there’s nothing to learn.”

The question that comes to me is did she have it and just not know it – do we all have it?  Is there a blessed unrest in all of us by virtue of the fact that we breathe air?  Is it just lying dormant in those for whom it appears absent?  If so, is there any way to foster it, to spark it awake in each other?  As I ask myself this question I hear a voice inside that unequivocally says “yes.”  I am certain I will continue to live my life as if it is absolutely possible for every one of us to wake up to it.  Allan lived his 90 years this way.  We can choose to see the potential for awakening in everyone even in the face of what feels like an epidemic of cynicism in our world.  Besides, doing so doesn’t cost much – mostly we just need to be brave.  The payoff is, well, it’s everything.

To our bravery –


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