Today is my thirtieth birthday. So, I thought I would write down some feelings, and lessons learned.
I’ve been lucky. Life has been really good – great family, safe places to live, food and education. I’ve found ways to live with myself and develop a career I enjoy. I was also lucky enough to fall in love with a woman who is also my best friend and confidant.
Even when things are so good life can be challenging, and confusing. I’ve been through moments when I didn’t even want to be happy, when I thought life was simply a torment. In ways it really is, the human condition is one of loneliness, weakness, uncertainty, and consequence. But in the dark forests of life there also roam great and mysterious “beings of light”, like joy, love, and gratitude. When they pass through the forest, I can’t help but hold my breath. Sometimes they cast long shadows, as death, disrepair and shame cross our paths.
As an artist one thing I appreciate deeply is contrast. And if life has one strong element it is contrast. But it is difficult to foster a life full of contrast. A timid, inexperienced, untrained artist can also have difficulty creating contrast in their work (as I did) – likewise we can have difficulty making choices that will bring forth a life full of contrast. It is easy to make life gray, to make the choices that will avoid the dark and the light – we simply avoid anything risky. It is easy to make choices that have little consequence, choices of little and reduced risk, choices that make us more comfortable, safer.
If we want to bring light into our lives, we have to push the gray aside – and when we push the gray aside we can see darkness for the first time, and this can be frightening. Stepping out of a fog and into the sun can be a difficult adjustment too. But unlike the natural world where the sun rises every day, our inner life is naturally “gray”. In order to bring out the contrast we must constantly seek out the “beings of light” who move through the foggy forest- and if you wish to meet them, you will also meet the darkness: For a man who is generous in his poverty, causes the light to burn brightly while a man who is generous from his wealth is little moving. The light burns more brightly when we act in love or gratitude despite the risk of uncertainty or death. Even in art we have to take risks in order to create contrast – pencil is easy to remove and low in contrast but ink is not easy to remove and high in contrast. Contrast develops from risks.
If we choose the path of least resistance, we will be slaves to convenience. We will end up walking on treadmills when we might have moved mountains stone by stone. We will walk deeper into a fog and bring our children with us. With every deep act of love we will also be confronted with darkness, we can feel like love is too risky – marriage is too risky – children are too risky – art will be too costly- and naturally we want to avoid risk to stay in the gray.
Without love I can not begin my work, without patience and diligence I can not complete my work. If I was to choose what is convenient then I cannot choose what is beautiful.
If we choose not to love others, to live lives that simply avoid risk, lives that follow what is convenient, we will face the gray – lives that are spiritually dead, lives that lack contrast. When we have lived our lives facing the gray death is the only thing that can rescue us, but it will sneak up on us and it will terrify us to see the darkness. If we live lives full of risk, lives of love and service then death will be familiar, and we will not fear it. It will be familiar because we will have thought about it rather than not and seen it in our families, and among our friends and we will have spent time in hospitals and among the elderly, the weak, the dieing and the dispossessed.
When we choose , “the consumerist default mode“- the path of least resistance, the way with the least amount of risk – we also choose to ignore life for what it is – a risky journey through which we cannot live – in which the end is always death.
From dust to dust.