Take the beauty as it comes. Accept the chaos along the way.
I’ve been thinking, painting, and writing a lot lately about transition, chaos, and the beauty that may sometimes be hidden by the two. During the hardest times of my life, the most challenging feelings within the hardships were always the same: fear and hopelessness.
We are in a tenuous time right now, and one where the default emotions could easily be fear and hopelessness. There are so many things to be angry and scared about. Children in cages, xenophobia, racism, sexism and environmental doom come to mind. I’m sure you could add to that list without batting an eye.
I’m a sensitive person. By typing the above 2 paragraphs, my eyes have filled with tears. If I chose to focus on these things full time, I’m not sure I could go on. I have to find a balance between wanting to be educated, aware, and of service, and not wanting to go bat shit crazy.
I have a few notes on my desk for what I thought were 4 separate blog posts, but I realize that they are all notes for this one. How to cope in this darkness. How to stay light. How to see the beauty amongst all of this insanity. The following is a short and by no means complete list of how I’m managing to put one foot in front of the other right now.
And just so you know, I take these steps bravely, with enthusiasm, and with the belief that there is a positive future ahead. I’m not crying in my coffee every morning at all. In many ways, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. (Which may or may not be totally fucked up, but hey, I’ve never really done things in the “right” way or order, so it kind of makes sense.)
#1 Stop, Drop, and Breathe
The simplest of my strategies. When I get in my head, I can actually get so lost in my thoughts that I begin to panic. My heart rate quickens and my breath becomes shallower. I get mildly confused, like I can’t hold onto one thought at a time. They keep slipping through my grasp. I’ll feel tears behind my eyes like they are trying to bust through a dam. If you’re familiar with anxiety, then you know what I’m describing: an anxiety attack.
I’ve learned how to stop this cycle before it gets beyond the shallow breathing, and the solution is pretty dern obvious. I make myself breathe better. It goes like this: Inhale for a four count. Hold the breath for a four count. Exhale for an 8 count. Repeat as long as necessary for my heart rate to slow and the panic to subside. It usually doesn’t take that long, although I’ve been practicing it for a while now.
#2 Graciously take the beauty as it comes and accept the chaos along the way.
Remember when we were little and we read children’s stories and many of them ended with the line, “…and they all lived happily ever after.” Yeah…what a crock of shit that lesson is. It took me a laughably long time to realize that doesn’t happen. I may have “happily after” periods of time but that “ever” part is a problem.
I have issues with teaching our children that there is a finish line they’ll one day reach in life. As much as I hate sounding like a downer, that finish line…well…it’s death. That is the ONLY finish line there actually is. Everything else is one big, fat, journey, and one that is filled with both incredible hardships, and infinite beauty.
The trick for me was learning how to not completely fall apart, slip into self-victimization or into hopelessness during the hard times. That doesn’t mean that I don’t feel those things, but I have a new way of dealing with them: acceptance that they will come, and they will go. And also, that the beauty found in everyday life does not disappear in hard times.
We need to learn from our pain but not focus on it too much. Our focus must be directed at the beautiful growth that comes afterwards.
The beauty may get pushed onto the back burner for a minute while we’re putting out our proverbial fires, but it’s always there. Searching it out when things are hard may seem to be counter-intuitive, but man, does it make life’s monkey wrenches easier to handle. If I think about it, fire, while a destructive element that can cause pain, is also mesmerizingly beautiful and an exceptional tool, if used correctly.
Also, did you know that some seeds must reach a certain temperature in order to germinate? Fires can be a literal necessity for growth to occur. We need to learn from our pain but not focus on it too much. Our focus must be directed at the beautiful growth that comes because of the hardship.
#3 Laugh in the face of adversity
Have you ever had one of those moments where so many things are going wrong at once that you drop to the floor in a fit of laughter? Well I have. Sometimes there is simply nothing else to do. I suppose I could (and do at times) cry, scream, pass out and/or eat crappy food. However, laughter is much more fun.
My Love Club project is a great example of this. I got overwhelmed by the idea that my rights as a woman could be stripped from me, while also being confronted with the fact that we have never been treated equally, and the feeling that we are expected to live up to unrealistic beauty and “lady-like” standards, while operating with grace in this world that seems to belittle and underestimate us. Not mention that we don’t feel very safe in said world. I’m seething just typing this.
That anger led to the Love Club. A satirical art project meant to bring attention to everything I wrote above. I had to laugh at the ridiculousness that my friend down in California didn’t feel safe walking her Pitbull in the park across from her house. I had to find humor that women are carrying hammers with them on their morning jogs. I had to chuckle at the fact that I don’t know if it’s safer to make eye contact, smile, and say hello to strange men on the street, and risk a nasty sneer and an up and down sexual assessment, or not respond to the hello, steel myself while looking straight ahead, and risk being called a snotty bitch for not engaging.
I channeled that anger and frustration into art that I found hilarious, and yet meaningful. I had to put it somewhere. Otherwise, I felt pretty dang hopeless.
#4 Look to others for inspiration
Sometimes I can’t find the inspiration within myself. I’m overwhelmed with such a feeling of hopelessness that all I want is the comfort and safety of my bed. Times like these, I feel, are the most tenuous for me. I will say that this particular brand of anxiety doesn’t happen to me as much anymore because I take pro-active steps to not let it get that far. Other times, it can’t be helped. I have been dug out of that place before by others who inspire me. Most are women. My current favorite femme de force: Bethany Hamilton.
“I didn’t need easy. I just needed possible.” - Bethany Hamilton
When she was 13-years-old, Bethany Hamilton lost her arm to a shark while surfing at her home break in Hawaii. She was back in the ocean surfing 4 weeks later, and won her first championship within 2 years. Her spiritual life, love of family, and passion for surfing got her through and now she’s a wife and mother of two with no less than 6 championship titles under her belt. She does all this with one arm. ONE ARM!
Not only that, but in 2016, when she was nominated for a ESPY in the category of “Best Female Athlete with a Disability”, she pulled her name out of the running. Her reasoning? “To me, the word "disabled" does not match my life, and who I am, and what I've accomplished and the way I go about every single day.” She went on to say that if she had been nominated for “best adaptive athlete”, she would have accepted it gladly.
Of her amazing recovery and career, she says, “I didn’t need easy. I just needed possible.” Yeah…they don’t call her the Soul Surfer for nothing. Women like her make me believe that I can do anything and that nothing is out of reach…if I’m willing to work for it. Also, her experience was harrowing. She nearly died, was disfigured, and still saw the beauty and positivity within her life. Man, most of my anxiety is caused by much smaller problems. She helps me put my troubles into perspective.
These are just a few of my tools. We all must find what works for us. If we don’t, I fear that we will be a people buried under layers of anger, dissatisfaction and anxiety. This perspective will come easily for some, and require work for others, but like Bethany said, it doesn’t need to be easy, just possible, and the possibilities are endless.
The sketch at top is for a new painting commission that I am ever grateful to be hired to do.
I'm a lucky lady.
I am an artist and writer, living in Talent, Oregon with my husband and daughter. I play in the ocean to stay strong and inspired, and I often visit my hometown of New Orleans, where the rhythm of my heartbeat is renewed. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram where I post stuff sometimes. To hear from me more regularly, join me on this crazy, beautiful Artventure