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A Response To Pain

 Rainy Day, Lake Louise. In concert with the mood of this place.

Rainy Day, Lake Louise. In concert with the mood of this place.

 Blue Louise, 4 years later.  Still in step with its mood....

Blue Louise, 4 years later.  Still in step with its mood....

So much transition in my life these last few years… A few roads taken that seem mostly a mistake and others that tried to correct those mistakes.  But what all of it has in common in the last eight years or so, is the pain.  And not pain that can be ignored or denied, but the kind that is searing and in my face. The kind that will not let go without being addressed.

And so it’s been a lot of processing, walking and retracing steps that I would rather have ignored. Questioning and anger, confusion and wondering… asking over and over where is G-d in all of this mess.

Pain is very solitary. Specific. And oh so relentless.

But slowly, ever so slowly when I let it, it started to teach me.  The lessons were hard.  Lessons I’d spent a lifetime running away from.  Eventually they catch up with you, you know….  And then comes the choice.  Am I going to do what I’ve always done?  Refuse change?  Not this time it seemed.  This time I realized I wanted to come out of it having learned something and hopefully avoid some future pain.  It was either that or stay the person I was and become worse.  What’s the saying about insanity?  ...Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  But I knew I didn’t want to be bitter, or angry, or confused anymore.

Pain makes me restless. And perhaps that is part of its gift.  I am uneasy not because I need to run, as much as that has been my response in the past, but because my spirit and body are asking for remedy.  And I am the only one who can accept and apply the remedy.  

So often we think G-d is absent in our pain. And it does feel like He is not as close as we need Him to be. But now I realize sometimes He does take a step back, to give us our space, to give us the time to decide, to see if we have the resolve to walk through to the other side.  And on the other side is the promise of peace.  I knew I’d gotten there after all these years when I finally felt peace.

Something on TV the other night… a drama - and a scene of a Rabbi dying in the emergency room.  He said our only response to pain must be Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, bringing healing, that ancient Jewish idea that never loses its potency.  He said we have two choices when we respond to pain – Tikkun Olam or narcissism.  Will we reach out or will we lash out? Will we build or will we destroy?  I could see that Tikkun Olam was the right response, as it always is in all things. But I had not realized narcissism was the other choice.  It shocked me, and I wondered how close I had come.

Through this whole journey my painting has been there to mark the way.  Certain paintings have been my own personal Tikkun Olam.  They have helped pave the way to healing and as an added gift have helped bring Tikkun Olam to others.  They are signposts. One painting was on my art board for three years as my marriage crumbled.  When I finally finished it, I knew I was past a certain painful place.

 Gabriola Shores, helping to close a door...

Gabriola Shores, helping to close a door...

  Another was completed at the ending of another more tumultuous relationship.

 Kinneret Waves. Picking up and bringing the beauty & lessons along.

Kinneret Waves. Picking up and bringing the beauty & lessons along.

 There’s a coastal painting that helped me embrace where I was. And a mountainous one that brought me back home.

 Rainy Day Peace. Discovering beauty in unexpected places.

Rainy Day Peace. Discovering beauty in unexpected places.

 Spring Snow. Rediscovering a very old beauty....

Spring Snow. Rediscovering a very old beauty....

 

Most striking to me was the Lake Louise I did when I left for the coast and the same scene when I returned (above).  How different they are. And yet each has their own kind of beauty to offer.  And each ended up in the homes of other people to whom they spoke of their own Tikkun Olam.

My paintings are my diary.  They help me see where I was, where I am, how far I’ve come. Sometimes they talk about where I am going.  But not often.  The blank slate is where G-d lives. The parts yet to be filled are full of faith. And bravery.  And a willingness to lean into Tikkun Olam with my G-d and see what else is in store.  But none of it would have been possible without also leaning into pain.  To understand what a gift it could be has also allowed me to live in a way that Tikkun Olam moves through me in steady, stronger ways.

And along the rest of the path there will be more paintings. They have always been and will continue to be a part of my own contribution to repairing the world.  My own world and others….
 

 The blank slate. The beauty of the unknown....

The blank slate. The beauty of the unknown....

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Diary Entry 5: When There Are No Words...

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Diary Entry 5: When There Are No Words...

Sometimes a painting can mean so much it's hard to know where to start, how to explain it. And maybe that's the point. How much do I need to paint if words do the trick?  On the other hand, the words afterward can make sense of the process I've just been through.... 

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Diary Entry 4: Making My Mark...

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Diary Entry 4: Making My Mark...

I was walking along my favourite beach last week, taking a few days vacation, and reconnecting, with relatives and with myself.  Rest and conversation do a lot to reignite the soul.  We walked the beach and the long pier in White Rock, BC.  As we walked out on the pier I noticed this design scratched into the sand below.  But it wasn't just scratches....

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Diary Entry 3...

 Out of the shadows comes reflection...

Out of the shadows comes reflection...

The big painting is coming along, slowly, but still something visible emerging.  I am in a seriously contemplative place these days, and everything is tied to everything else. It all speaks and it all sends the same message....

When I started the background for this painting I had in mind something of the colours of fire and of the sense that the colour was rising, flowing upward. I was going to do more on it but decided there was enough there. So I've begun the lines of the family portrait that is coming out of this fire.  So much thought goes into this before I pick up a paint brush. It can be days at a time before I put down the next marks.

It's a small thing but I found a water-soluble India ink at the art supply store today. I wanted something that will make a strong line like India ink does, but allow it to bleed when I want it to. Thankfully there is such a thing.  An insignificant detail to most I imagine, but a small victory in this process of expression. 

Solitude has been on my mind a lot too and not because I love it so much.  It can be so long, tedious and silent. And it is not as subtle or as spiritual as it sounds. It's so in my face much of the time.  But I realized today that some of the things I'm working on require it. It wouldn't be possible to make this art without all the sifting and attention that it needs.  Turns out the gift can be demanding.

At Kabbalah class the other night the Rabbi was talking about the human soul and how the soul of humanity is like a flame, always striving upward.  And like the wick and candle, what keeps it anchored to the ground is the human body.  It reminded me of what I was doing in this painting and I loved how it all fit together. I think when I really listen, more and more things fall into place, and each part of life speaks to the other parts. There is less confusion, when I am open to listening, and it's easier to see the whole.  

The Rabbi went on to say that the seven candles of the menorah correspond to seven types of souls and the different things each flame is inspired by.  As he made his way through the seven he said each of us are given one type of soul, one flame, each with its own mission in this life which we are meant to fulfill. And each flame is inspired by a different emotion.  As he made his way through the seven, there were two that resonated with me. The first was the intellect or learning, and the second, bonding or connection. I asked him how we know what is primary if we find ourselves connecting with more than one flame. He said the primary flame, the one we are to fulfill, is the one that first attracts us or pulls us in.  It is the means through which we reach the secondary flame.  It made so much sense to me. The intellect and learning has always been such a big draw for me, in myself and in others. And it has always been the way to connecting and bonding with friends and loved ones. To me, a challenging conversation about ideas is often the same thing as forming a connection. (Knowing they are distinct though, means being careful not to confuse the two either.)

When I went back to this painting today, I realized that I am fulfilling important work. I am working out step by step what I am learning. I am putting down in a visual image what I have learned about myself through family history, through hours of thought, through conversations with others, through teachers, through Torah, Kabbalah, Tanya and G-d. 

I know I don't always want to live this way, solitude is valuable to the fulfillment of my work and I will always need it in some measure, but bonding and connection are still too important for me to let it slip away. But if the flame of learning is my way there, then I am already on the path. The rest will happen when it is meant to.  In my relationships and in my art.

And there is incredible peace this way. Everything fits together. Nothing is outside of the wholeness, and again I am reminded, everything is One. The soul reaches for G-d, the body moves as it fulfills its purpose in this world, the paint brush glides across the canvas, and suddenly it is clear. Everything is prayer. Everything is reaching higher. You are doing what you are supposed to do. You will go where you are meant to go.

 

 

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Diary Entry 2...

Finished this coastal sketch today... the one that was taking me away from a bigger project and helping me avoid.... not a bad way to not deal with things...

It's the Shavuot holiday so the office is closed today and tomorrow. The kids are both gone for the summer, my son studying in Israel and my daughter further east in Canada doing an internship in social work. The nest is feeling extra empty this time because I know they aren't coming back for any great length of time anymore. I was going to say they're growing up, but the truth is they've grown up. 

So the new reality has me thinking about new direction. What to do with all this Mom time no longer needed. Easier said than done. First thing today was a trip to the art supply store, my version of a candy store. It's a wonder I ever get out of there without spending hundreds of dollars.

But today I just got some charcoal pencils. They're for the large portrait/abstract painting that was leaning against the wall behind me as I painted the smaller coastal picture. It's like it was standing in line, waiting its turn, and not letting me forget it's there. The charcoal will be mixed with the paint, a rare mix of mediums for me; the right way to go for this piece, but adding further anxiety to the process. Look at it as a challenge, I tell myself, instead of a difficulty. Perspective is everything.

Last night at the Shavuot service my Rabbi was telling us that our creativity is how we most fulfill G-d's purpose for us in this world. Our personal creativity is our way of contributing to tikkun olam. No doubt he is right. For me painting is davening.

I'll need to redirect that creativity into the new painting and the new life. I have no idea what it will look like just yet, neither the painting nor the life. And not really sure where to direct all of my efforts. I do know that if I give it as much dedication as I did raising the kids, I'll be happy with wherever it is I go. And the sense of belonging will be the telltale sign that all is well.

The next painting is a turning point, and the first page of a journal recording everything that is changing. Painting is prayer, longing, finding one's way, and coming home. I am hopeful that it will both record the journey and lead the way.

 

 

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Diary Entry...

Sitting on the sofa with my daughter, feet up, legs stretched out, after a long day at the office for me, and she recovering from a long flight. We're sharing our space, because that's how she likes it.  She's loading pictures from her trip to Japan and listening to Beyoncé.  Which means I'm listening to her too.  Some of it's good, some of it I ignore. My daughter tells me that Beyoncé and sharing the sofa with me makes her feel peaceful.  Never thought I would be in such cool company. 

And I'm looking too at how a couple of paintings are coming along. One of them, a large watercolour (30x40") is abstraction mixed with the beginnings of a family portrait. It's a harder piece for me. Portraiture doesn't come naturally for me, I can do it, it just doesn't come easily and I'm not too often that interested by it, at least not my portraiture.  But that's not all that's keeping me from this one.  It's digging into family history again, and while I may feel compelled to go there, I don't necessarily feel like it that much. I'm drawn and repelled. I want to go there, and I don't. But it draws...

While I try to well up the guts to address what needs answering in that painting, I take a break and start a small (4x16") landscape.  It's coastal of course.  It's a peaceful, easy place, and the sky has a lot to say as usual. Yet it says it so minimally.  Less is more when I hear what nature has to say.  It's poetic.

Like the evening I am having with my daughter... peaceful, poetic, comfortable, beautiful.  Lots of details that may not be right in life, but there's always something perfect and lovely if I look for it. Sometimes it comes all on its own....

I'll keep writing as these two pieces progress, and as I in turn progress as well.
 

Coastal Diary 1.jpg

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The Smallest Things...

 Flowers at the side of the road. I had to stop and look....

Flowers at the side of the road. I had to stop and look....

At Kabbalah class tonight, Rabbi was talking about energy, and our portion, and how the smallest energy can have such a huge impact. Our smallest action can change the world. So pay attention to the small things....

My kids laugh when we are driving somewhere and I react with amazement at the colours of a wonderful cloud or the beautiful tulips that have bloomed along the road. But I realize I am amazed at the power in seemingly small things. And my son and daughter aren't laughing because they think I'm silly, they laugh because somewhere inside they know my response to the wonder of it all is entirely appropriate, just unusual.  But they recognize joy.

And then, my Rabbi explained how there are times when just before a great action we need to step back first in order to come at it with greater energy. Like stepping back to kick a ball. The stepping back can feel like things have been taken away, when in fact the stepping back is part of moving forward.

It reminded me of this song of Leonard Cohen, it has always been indicative of my relationship with G-d, and tonight the Rabbi's thought...connected with Leonard's...connected with G-d's...connected with mine. Everything is One....

"I swept the marble chambers,

But you sent me down below.

You kept me from believing

Until you let me know:

That I am not the one who loves

It's love that seizes me..."

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