I’m now at the dreadful realization that I have squeezed in a little time and space to write and make art, but that I am willfully refusing to. I see clearly what is bubbling up to be expressed, and frankly I don’t want to do it. What wants to exist on page or on canvas touches upon things that I fear are too banal, vulnerable, unoriginal — the list could go on and on.
I could blame it on becoming a parent. I’m already a frighteningly sensitive person, and now my son blows open a new portal of acute feelings, including the most intense pangs of doubt, impatience, and heart-bursting ache for his welfare. I exist like an emotional puff pastry — flakes of feelings falling down onto my messy lap at the slightest jostle. Just a snippet of some violence done to a child on the fading ticker of the corner of the news channel I skipped over on my way to Downton Abbey… and I am on the verge of existential crisis.
And so it is this week, if the muse couldn’t corner me any more, I cross paths with the writings of psychotherapist and artist, Alice Miller.
Her premise is simple: Our culture is violent because we learn not to feel. It seems like old news now, but an insight that is all too ubiquitously relevant: Repressed feelings are a reaction to being hurt, often by parents, and that a child, completely dependent on those parents, must repress them or else be killed by the pain. A numb child can grow into an adult who lacks empathy for others, and in turn inflicts pain on their own children, as well as others.
Trust me I hear the groans from those who know me as overly sensitive and analytical. Obviously, this encompasses my own dealings with my childhood and shaping my son’s childhood, but more interestingly involves the resistance to writing this and avoiding the studio.
I’ve never met an artist who didn’t feel things deeply or who didn’t want to question things, even if it’s the story tickering off the corner of the news screen. And this requires an exploration of the “furthest countries of one’s secret soul,” because, as Rilke penned, the most profound and unique art is borne by those “who have faced the danger, gone to the very end of an experience, to the point beyond which no human being can go.” In my silly, little case, I just might have to face the danger of being too banal, vulnerable and unoriginal.
Turns out Alice Miller felt that creative work trumped all the years she practiced psychotherapy. That, as Gadamer agrees, in play, albeit serious play, can we visit places outside of where we were supposed to go, off the paths we were only allowed to go.
Alice Miller doesn’t go as far as I do here; that art opens up a beyond, past the prerequisite and unavoidable acknowledgment of what is true (and often painful) about ourselves and those around us. That if I recall the last time I was moved by music, writing, or art, I was taken to the edge of an experience where I could leap into a moment of not being anything at all. I could go with art into my very self-most straits, and set myself free.
(And only from that freedom — from my self, my needs, my projections, my ego — can I truly love someone else.)
Today’s Advice: “Only when we learn to transcend our death-bound selves in love, learn to take ourselves not too seriously, do we begin to truly live.” Karsten Harries