I often wonder how people get through the extremely rough times without cracking, what with the News Reports as it is right now. After doing a little research, I have learned that the folks who navigate well are those who have certain behavioral traits. One of those is acting upon one’s own creative thinking, moving oneself into new areas of expression and experience.
Sister to this trait is having a sense of trust or faith. A third is telling one’s difficult truth in a realistic and yet positive manner. A fourth is cultivating a robust sense of humor. Supposedly, if a person takes on these behavioral traits, and is also able to submerge him/herself inside the embrace of a supportive community (think herbal teabag steeping inside a cup of hot water), then the individual has a high chance of navigating through the rough waters and will eventually emerge an even more tasty and balanced person than before. Sound familiar? Then you have probably navigated trauma well yourself and you live a creative and possibly artistic existence.
Untitled Bird Picture
This all comes to mind because last month my father finally kicked the bucket. He was 89.9 years old. During the last week of his life he barely resembled the athletic man I knew. He looked more like my stick figure drawings, the ones that have skeletal pelvic bones and a line for a backbone where the belly should be. And since during his last week alive he was lying on his back in bed (instead of bent over in a wheelchair), I could finally see how shockingly blind were his blue eyes, and the horror of his gaping, fairly toothless mouth.
Wait, let’s stop and look at “shock” and “horror” more carefully. Shock is part of a timeline and through mindful work will transform into wisdom. Horror comes from resistance to the earth’s darkest realities. If we take the time to look at trauma with more awareness, is it possible to come up with something less fearful and instead find a story that has deeper meaning? Within this scientific process can we find an elusive beauty? Can we then write the story of this beauty into our words, clothing and culinary designs, paintings, sculptures, song and dance, and the way we walk down the street, into offices, and into the future?
Meditation at the Source
As artists, we have the option to create art that is directed inwards towards our own spirit, or outwards to the public. Studies have shown that art which captures the essence of earth’s reality, no matter how difficult to view, can have healing properties for the artist and for the audience. It has something to do with energetic resonance within the human body. Some art theorists are saying this is a higher level of vibration, the quantum level, a 5th dimensionally creative world. Contemporary artist ears perk up at the 5D concept: “Ah, an opportunity to create beyond the 2D paint-to-canvas level, the 3D sculptural sphere, and the 4D time world… I can now create in all of these worlds and also in the… what? where?”
The 5D world is already present and has been with us throughout time. It is seen in the resonance that ties all great art together. On Sunday I visited the exhibition of one of my favorite Bay Area painters, Hung Liu (presented at Sanchez Art Center). Liu’s artwork bridges the gap between the difficult, brutal side of humanity and the exquisitely graceful, beautifully hopeful side. Walking into her exhibit was not dissimilar to walking into my father’s bedchamber during that last week. At first glance I saw the beauty of the work’s colors, shapes and movement. Then the finer details came into focus and revealed the horrific historical messages. A part of me wanted to run out of the room, but something told me to stop, to sit down, to take it all in, to learn. After careful observation, I walked out of the gallery uplifted by the sheer force of Liu’s humanistic insights and technical abilities. Carried within me was a new determination to delve into the truth, harsh as it might be, and share it for the brilliance that it is.
Watching my father during his last week was not an easy path to take. Looking back now, I see that my vigil instinctively incorporated beneficial traits of resilience. For one thing, I stopped looking at the shadow part of a body going into its final days. I began to see life everywhere, in his thin hands, sharp shoulders, and gaping mouth. I loved feeding the ancient warriors that used to be his pearly whites and now stood as pearly yellows guarding at the entrance to his inner being. I thanked the gold diggers who once upon a time found the gold for his fillings. What an investment, such long companions of support. Perhaps this gaping cavern that was my father’s mouth was also a bank’s safe deposit box from which only lessons of balance have ever come and gone.
Meditation at the Source (Detail)
When I could tear my mind away from Dad’s mouth and my imaginings, I would settle my gaze on my father’s cloudy blue eyes. His pupils were eerie pin pricks and he basically stared straight out into space. Again, my initial shock at his blindness had me wanting to get in the car and drive away, but something told me to stick by his side, and to figure out the positive message behind this new blindness. The truth was subtle, but eventually emerged. I noticed that, regardless of his ocular incapacities, he apparently saw everything he wanted to see. As the days went by there was a lot of bustle around him, with many care providers leaning over, inspecting and cleaning. My father barely budged. And yet, every day when my mother silently leaned over to kiss him, he puckered up in perfect timing to meet her kiss. Once, twice, maybe three times. Peck, peck, peck. Always matched, no matter how many times my mother surprised him with a smooch.
So now I know things I didn’t know before. My shock and horror of the dying skeletal body has been replaced with a deep love and appreciation for the intricacies of the dying process, a stage as difficult and miraculous as the birthing process. My mind is surging with outside-the-box imaginings on how to incorporate more beginnings and endings into my paintings. And even as I write this paragraph I receive a phone call: my Mom’s health is shifting. At the same time, I get a text from a friend referencing an article about how, in artwork, the most meaningful light is inherently held within the blackest of shapes. This definitely feels like 5D resonance to me.
My personal story is very tiny in comparison to the difficult historical references in Hung Liu’s artwork. My trauma is nothing in comparison to that which has been happening in schools around America, or what has happened in destitute and aggressive countries all over the planet. And yet, large or small, all human emotional responses are relative to the psyches of the individuals having the experiences. Getting over the smallest of traumas can plant the same seeds for recovery as for the most difficult. As we transcend our traumas through creativity we heal our environments. The transcendence that is felt through our art in turn helps humanity survive, and has done so throughout time.
Here at PMA, in the 5 galleries and thirty studios, a chorus of diverse artists are quietly singing their individual 2D, 3D, 4D and 5D tunes. If I use my imagination I see myself joining them in a complex and rewarding communal symphony of expression that reverberates out into Burlingame and beyond, helping the world to heal, within and without.
Thank you to Dr. Joan Borysenko (Harvard Medical School) for publicly sharing her videos on resilience.
"PMA Heartbeat" contains the personal observations of the artist in Studio 26, and not necessarily those of PMA as a whole. Because of the nature of this post, all artwork is by the author.