One of the fundamental rules about painting that I’ve figured out along the way goes something like this:
Always begin with the darkest areas first, and then work your way out into the light.
And in case you don’t believe me, then by all means try the opposite: start with the lightest part of an image (the area that’s getting the most direct light) and then save the darkest parts (the shadows) for last. Not only will you frustrate the hell out of yourself, but you’ll probably end-up with a finished image that may suck a bit, or at least, one that could have been done far more realistically.
With time and patience, the artist slowly brings the image into focus, pulled from the shadows as if by magic, one layered brushstroke at a time. Based on my limited experiences thus-far, I’d say that sounds like a damn good metaphor for living a human Life. By braving the darkness of our own lives we discover the light within. I know it sounds pretty corny, but sometimes the corny stuff’s right on the money.
My wife and I recently watched the film Wild starring Reese Witherspoon. It’s the story of one woman learning to accept, and eventually embrace, the darker aspects of her past as she struggles to complete the arduous 2,600 mile Pacific Crest Trail that runs the length of 3 western states: California, Oregon, and Washington. Ultimately, it’s a story about forgiveness, compassion, gratitude, and love . . . for herself and her uniquely beautiful life, darkness and all.
Like most people, I’ve got plenty of stuff in my past that I’m not exactly proud of. But nevertheless, it’s because of these ‘darker’ elements that I’m here writing these words. As an example, for over a dozen years, from the time I was 19 until just a few months after turning 32, I abused drugs and alcohol on a relatively consistent basis.
I was what you’d call a ‘functional’ user, meaning I somehow held jobs - however precariously - and even scratched my way through a few colleges along the way. On paper I appeared to be progressing at a fairly respectable pace, racking up degrees, building a resume . . . you know, playing a role.
But the truth about who I was inside told a completely different story. Deep down, I was living in a drug-induced cocoon built out of fear, anxiety, and a steaming heap of self-doubt that seemed to pile up more with each passing day.
I’m extremely grateful to say that I kicked my chemical habits a long time ago, but it’s taken me until just recently to realize what I was running from in the first place. Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved exercising my creative muscles more than anything else - drawing, acting, writing, photography, films - but for most of my life, I lacked the courage to make important work. I was paralyzed with fear, unable to conquer the resistance and actually do something about it. So I numbed myself whenever I could as a way of coping with the Big Fat Lie I was living.
Once in a while I’ll knock myself around a bit for having wasted all those good, productive years, time I could have spent doing what I was meant to do. I mean seriously, I shot my whole 20‘s down the drain. But then I steady myself a bit and realize - after taking a few deep breaths - that if I hadn’t struggled through my own ‘dark’ period, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be producing the sort of art I’m doing now. In fact, I might never have taken the leap at all.
Just like the legendary Quest for the Holy Grail, each of the knights must willingly venture into the darkness of the forest on their own, where “they found no way or path.” It’s only by trusting in the mysterious power of their unique calling that success is possible. And in what form does that ‘success’ take? Well, it certainly isn’t anything as temporarily gratifying like a new car or a cushy job. Yeah, I don’t think the knights had their scopes set on landing the corner office. Instead, the kind of success they sought was a deeply profound understanding of one’s sacred mission in Life. New cars eventually run down; sacred missions last forever. Give me the sacred mission and you can have the mansion on the hill. Now that’s my idea of hitting the jackpot.
So rather than spend any more of my valuable time wishing that things had turned out differently, I’ve learned - just like the character in Wild - to honor and embrace the entirety of my journey . . . foul-ups, mistakes, meltdowns, missed opportunities, near-catastrophes, you name it. It’s ALL mine and I accept it unconditionally because it’s those ‘darker’ things that have propelled me to make the kinds of choices that have gotten me right here, right now. As Ram Dass famously said time and time again in his lectures around the world, “It’s all grist for the mill.”
I might never have started OM Made Studios - let alone found painting, meditation, or any of the many other unsung blessings in my life today - if I hadn’t spiraled into the dark all those years ago. And here I thought my life was unraveling one thread at a time, when in reality, everything was slowly fusing together into a mysteriously wonderful tapestry that I never could have imagined or ever planned for.
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