Tunes for a Monday Morning
On Your Desk

Reaching for the Light

My small black familiar

To make art and to recover from a long illness are two things that are never an easy mix...and yet, I remind myself, the philosophers and spiritual traditions that I trust the most do not prioritize "ease" in the living of an artist's life. It is often precisely from what is hard that our best work grows, our ideas deepen, and our spirits mature.

Woodland lightThe Irish Catholic poet/philosopher John O'Donohue (1956-2008) is a writer I've found myself re-reading often during these difficult months -- usually while sitting in the woods behind the studio, morning coffee in hand and Tilly close by. My little black familiar sits patiently, ears cocked and nose twitching in the rustling, breathing forest, as I turn the crackling pages and lose myself in O'Donohue's words . . . .

"When you become vulnerable," he says, "any ideal or perfect image of yourself falls away."

That's certainly true during periods of convalescence. Who am I during these long, quiet days when I can't write, or draw, or even think properly? What is left at the core; what is still me when the parts I value most are stripped away?

"Many people are addicted to perfection," he continues, " and in their pursuit of the ideal, they have no patience with vulnerability."

There's nothing wrong with ideals themselves, he hastens to add: "Every poet would like to write the ideal poem. Though they never achieve this, sometimes it glimmers through their best work. Ironically, the very beyondness of the idea is often the touch of presence that renders the work luminous. The beauty of the ideal awakens a passion and urgency that brings out the best in the person and calls forth the dream of excellence.Silent notebook

"The beauty of the true ideal is its hospitality towards woundedness, weakness, failure and fall-back. Yet so many people are infected with the virus of perfection. They cannot rest; they allow themselves no ease until they come close to the cleansed domain of perfection. This false notion of perfection does damage and puts their lives under great strain. It is a wonderful day in a life when one is finally able to stand before the long, deep mirror of one's own reflection and view oneself with appreciation, acceptance, and forgiveness. On that day one breaks through the falsity of images and expectations which have blinded one's spirit. One can only learn to see who one is when one learns to view oneself with the most intimate and forgiving compassion."

Who am I, then, when I glimpse into that mirror? A writer and artist still, on the days I can work and on the days when I can't. And also just a woman reading in the woods, a dog beside her. Healing. Healing.

Returning to earth,

returning to center

The text quoted comes from Beauty: The Invisible Embrace by John O'Donohue (HarperCollins, 2004).

Comments

I loved and identified with this entry so much. Thank you for sharing it. It really meant a lot to be able to read it today.

I am moved again by your candor, gentleness, and the timely reminder (any time) of our shared human vulnerability. Though not specifically ill, i am seldom entirely well as the aging process takes it's course, Most days are 3/4 healing, 1/4 getting on with something...some days only 1/4 healing with 3/4 getting on with planting, writing, reading, maintaining mundane chores, fulfilling obligations. Inspiration often falls from the lives of others. Thank you again for being one of those others.

Thank you for this touching and thoughtful post.


Beautiful post, Terri, much forest medicine surrounds you there. I can see the forest flowers are almost blooming. As I recover from my recent crash, my vulnerability is up right now, and so I wonder what O'Donahue book you would recommend? I have Anam Cara, though it seems these quotes are from another source?

Thank you, Terri. I hope the kindness of the woods and the warmth of your small familiar suffuse you with whatever healing you need.

The quote is from "Beauty: The Invisible Embrace"

Many people have sent me their blessings to me in my vunerable moments, I am gently passing them on to you, in the way of thanking you for the timely words you post, they chimed with me, in syncronacity.

May the warm nose of dog and green leaf bring you great comfort. Thank you for your post today (everyday)i had never heard of this wonderful man. Janette w/lupus

You can't know how much of this is what I'm dealing with myself at this moment. I am not gravely ill, but other pieces of life are creating situations that somehow mimic some of what illness does. This resonates so with me.

Thank you.

Em

Good Morning Terri ...

In my shamanic tradition (though I suppose this is true of many traditions) we are always talking about authenticity, and about the importance and necessity of change. There is very little in the way of "ease" along this path. Certain days, I find myself asking, "Why did I sign up for this?"

The answer, of course, is that I had very little choice. The path picked me. What a mercy it is, what a gift, when a poem or tune or picture comes through, a diamond in the rough, a bauble for our troubles. O'Donohue is right. It is not easy to makes friends with mirrors, though we must keep trying, I suppose.

Thank you so much for sharing glimpses of your healing journey with all of us. May the blessings of the bright Spring sun find you in the days to come.

Icarus

Bless your heart Terri. I hope you make a full recovery soon.

PS I don't mean to minimize or lessen in any way the impact that illness has on people and I wish you, Terri, and anyone reading the blog who is dealing with that very well indeed.

Beautiful. Thank you so much, Terri.

That was beautiful, thank you, wishing you all the best.

Hoping your glorious Spring, and the love of a true four-footed friend, brings you much healing. I don't have a chromic illness, but I can imagine a tiny bit what it might be like...it dawned on me recently that I probably lose about a month and a half every year to headaches, and though I know they'll only last 3 or so days a time, when I've got one I feel like the most useless person on the planet. It's especially painful when my little girls ask if it's their fault that mummy's not well.

At times of vulnerability, I think it's our own selves that we have the hardest time getting along with. But I do hope, so much, that you have an inkling of the light you bring to others, even in your own dark times. You are a rare bit of grace for all of us, always.

As a fellow spoonie, I can certainly identify: I used to say I WAS a writer or Artist, and now I'm just suffering from Languishment (languishment sounds so much better than chronically fatigued, so baroque!).

There is frustration aplenty in looking and canvasses I want to paint but can't, in the blank page I can't even get my head round writing for. I have learned to do "haiku painting" of ten minutes maybe, or twenty, and to force myself not to compare this to former days when I could have painted for hours.

I will only be a "WAS-artist" when I'm laid to final rest, and I'm not there yet. Still alive, still there. I exist.

Ashe!

Thank you, everyone, for your kind words.

Thank you so much for your beautiful post, Terri, it struck many chords in me as well. Thank you for your courage.

Are we still artists when we don't create?

On those days when I go underground (as I call it), I look at the things I've made and can hardly believe that I ever did, or could. It all feels like a dream, something that happened to someone else...

I've learned that creativity is cyclical and sometimes it has to go underground. Clarissa Pinkola Estés taught me that -healing and creating involves periods of darkness and incubation. The topside world doesn't understand, because there's nothing to see, but underground something new is brewing. It will come to the surface when time is ready. We need our periods of stillness, nothingness...

Sitting here with my white familiar (fluffy feline Isaura, my little ghost) & wishing you warmth and gentle comfort.

These thoughts of yours are staying with me, like a small, warm light in a dark, cozy room.

Are we what we do?
Or do we do what we are?

I believe in the latter.
And therefore you ARE an artist. Whether you happen to make art at the moment, or not.

Brightest blessings!

Terri, wounded you may be - but the many souls you have helped and healed bless and thank you.

This really resonated with me. Thank you for your candour. Your writings are always so inspiring and thoughtful. Your words always strike a chord and you make me want to be a better writer and artist. Wishing you strength and courage during the time of your healing.

So very grateful for your words, and O'Donohue's. A few weeks back you wrote about your chronic condition, which struck a chord in me for an unknown reason. And then just 2 weeks ago, I was diagnosed with an out-of-the-blue predicament: fibromyalgia. I have been away from writing and creating for too long now, and feeling so sad about it. Your post today was such a salve. I'm so glad to have stumbled across this soft, wooded place and find comfort by the hearth you offer. And now happily find an unexpected community of fellow artists and chronic-pain "journeymen"...

Wishes of healing to you. Enjoy your days of rest in the wood!

hello terri, thankyou for sharing the kindest of words. animals and special surroundings are all necessary parts of the healing process. and ofcourse i wish you well. the poem i wrote many years ago tells of how i coped with chronic illness at the time. COPING WITH PAIN..... taking your mind, to an unkown plane....sweeping you up, over and over again....it's demanding presence you try to ignore. defiant, persistant, penetrating your core....sapping your energy,weakening your soul. your being in anguish receiving it's toll....try pushing it back into a deep recess. by doing something, you enjoy to excess....being able to focus creates calm and respite. building on strength and precious insight....like the ravaged Earth is nourished by rain. being able to focus releives endless pain. no cure i know, but helpfull in times of great physical pain. regards

My sister is dealing with an illness that causes chronic pain and that there is no real cure or very effective treatment for. It helps to read your expression of what this is like. I want so much for her to see that in my eyes, in other people's eyes, she is still whole and loved.

Just a woman and a dog. That sounds like art, right there.

This post reminded me of a favorite quote of mine, "refuse to let perfect become the enemy of good" (sorry I cannot remember the author right now), but it is a great reminder for me....a mantra.

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