Monday, December 9, 2019

True Love, Freely Given

"Nobody respects Love that is not freely given."

Alan Watts.

I heard this quote in one of his lectures and it was incredibly clarifying for me. The context of the moment in the lecture used the example of parents, telling their child "You SHOULD love me...I am your Mother!" (but of course you can insert any "title" into that last word...father, grandparent, sister, brother, BOSS...etc)


Then...what happens? The "love" they give to you is not genuine, not from the is given to you from a place of fear. And, you don't respect that Love...because you coerced it. You controlled it. You manipulated it. And, ultimately, if they take that love away from you, the precedent you have set is that it's THEIR fault for not following the Rules of Society, and THEY have the problem for deciding, freely, who to love, and who not to love.

I heard this quote on Saturday, then found myself talking to a dear friend on Sunday, who dreads every interaction with one of her sisters. When the sister calls, there is a lot of guilt, shaming, and blaming. Very little compassion, concern, LAUGHTER, joy, etc. But my friend feels obligated to answer the phone (especially being that it was her sisters birthday...double sister calling another sister to complain about the THIRD sister who didn't call on the birthday...and now YOU ALL MUST SUFFER)

I had so much compassion for my friend, and a huge amount of empathy...for there was a time when I played the role of any one of those sisters. The "You should have called me" Sister. the "I Always Answer the Phone For My Family Even Though They Treat Me Like Crap" Sister, and finally the "I'm Going to Remove Myself From This Toxicity Now" Sister.

Obligatory Love can cripple any relationship. You are my SHOULD love me. I am your SHOULD love me. I am your SHOULD love me. I am the most popular mom in the SHOULD love me. I make more money than you SHOULD love me.

But expecting Love through obligation is not healthy, and in my experience, does not last.

So...laying out a problem but not providing an implementable action plan is a Politician's Job, and since I know that my role here in this Matrix is a Teacher, let's see if I can find a lesson here...

Lesson: Remove All Obligations of Love

Where do these "required" feelings of Love come from? It could be a family pattern...of course. You may have watched your parents tolerate a lot of bad behavior from THEIR parents, and then you followed the same pattern in the relationship with YOUR parents, and then...because patterns in families EXPECTED Love from your spite of the way you may be treating them...because it was Done That Way for Generations.

How confusing to a child, to watch someone treat another so badly, speak terrible words and hurl painful insults almost daily, to belittle their mind and poke fun at their feelings, and be told that this is "Love". marriage. Family. Love through Obligation.

There is a contract here: Parent/Child, Husband/Wife, Sibling/Sibling. The contract indemnifies us from having Loving behavior: we don't need to be Love to be Loved...that part has been deemed "unnecessary".

So...what if we understand, at a deeper level, that these constructs of family, religion, work, school, etc do not place ANYONE at any time in an OBLIGATION to Love? Nor does any CONTRACT ever REMOVE the clause that Love can only be given FREELY.

This was a huge concept for me to hear, comprehend, and put into practice (while I just heard this particular quote on Saturday, it summed up a lot of what I have been going through over the last few years)

If Love can only be given freely...where do I feel free to Love?

And...when I do feel free to can I create that same environment for those people in my life that I want MUTUAL free love with?

I started to really look for the people in my life who I truly loved FREELY. Who I called with a sense of Joy and excitement, not trepidation and obligation. I started to notice who I smiled and laughed easily with, as genuinely content to sit and watch TV or cook or swing dance or paint or hike, without fear that if I didn't dress a certain way or spend a certain amount, I was not Enough...where did I always feel like I was enough?

I noticed who I could have a real argument with...and not be afraid that we couldn't end any discussion by looking in each other's eyes and saying "I hear you...I understand where you are coming from...and I love you".

I noticed who encouraged me, who delighted in my success, who loved to see me genuinely happy.

I much happier I was, when I was with people who I wanted to be with, not who I was obligated to be with. Who I freely chose to be in my life.

Lesson: Become Lovable

OH yeah...there's a whole 'nother part to the equation. Putting into practice, in the relationships you want to perpetuate, the same things you natural seek out.

So, I loved being around people who are do-ers. People who have passion for adventure and learning and growing and exploring. These people are the ones who always have exciting THINGS to talk about - books or movies or travel or paintings or WHATEVER. And because they have so much to talk about...guess what they don't have as much time for...

-self pity

Man oh man. I had NO IDEA how much time I wasted on those three things when I was surrounded by obligatory love instead of free love.

Here's the big thing I realized: when you are not known to be judgmental, fatalist, or gossipy...people want to be with you. They want to engage with you. They want to create with you. They want to grow with you.


What three things would you gravitate towards?

Now...Let me clarify something...I had to change a LOT of ingrained habits, a lot of pathology: I was used to a lot of negativity, and so it felt "normal". Changing it - and being OK with it not being part of the way I lived life every day - was really effing difficult. It's the same as a child who is used to getting only negative's takes a lot of cognitive behavior therapy to crave POSITIVE attention when all you grew up with was attention given only when you caused trouble. I was used to bullying, belittling, and even the ignoring: You did not behave like I wanted you to behave, so I will withhold my attention and love now.

It's a hard pattern to even harder one to break...and the most difficult thing...

Is behaving in a way that is not just "I didn't like the way they did it, so I will do the OPPOSITE just to show them how wrong they are!" This is not a healthy pattern either.

That is still dis-empowering.

The true power, the truest Love, is trusting your heart: trusting who you are, at your core.

You are Love. You are generous. You are compassionate. You are empathetic. You are a creator. You are a giver. You are JOYFUL. You are full of wonder. You are Love.

Don't just do the opposite of what didn't work for you what comes from the heart.

And, what I have found, and what I hope to keep nurturing, is that the more I am true to who I am, and the more I become a Loving person, the more my True Love relationships grow. They are few, they are precious, but they are love without obligation.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

My Most Valuable Paintings

A few months ago I was looking for a photo on my computer and I came across a series of snapshots that I had taken of my two kids about 5 years ago.  The room they are sitting in was towards the front of our little house, bathed in morning light that was creating a striped pattern on the wall.

Both kids were engrossed in their personal activities.  Ari was writing in her notebook, a habit that continues to require a NEW NOTEBOOK EVERY TIME WE GO TO THE DOLLAR STORE.  I keep thinking that there is NO WAY the child could use another notebook, but occasionally I attempt to find the floor of her room, and as I organize her numerous notes, I see that she, indeed, uses every single one...dozens of to-do lists and planning and yarn types and shopping lists and weekend activity plans.  It's not exactly snooping...but it does give me a delightful peek into her motivated 11 year old mind!

(detail of the new painting...forgive the wet paint glare!)

Jack was at his usual spot, the head of the table, Master of The Coffee Table Domain.  Various creatures of all shapes, colors, sizes (and expressions!) were at his every command.  Sound effects poured effortlessly from his cheeks, and warriors changed outfits and weapons and tactics moment by moment.

To me...pure heaven.  Not an electronic in sight.  Colors everywhere.  Chaotic bliss.  Relaxed...everyone getting to Be Themselves.

I started the painting, my heart beating with excitement over the patterns and colors that I couldn't wait to translate into paint on canvas!  I also thoroughly enjoy painting my children, as I have many many times before.  Not having them 24/7 is tough.  So.. sitting in my studio, painting their faces, I constantly send them love and good thoughts.  In that way I am always with them.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I really enjoyed Alain de Botton's lecture "Art as Therapy".  Listening to it as I painted this most recent portrait of my children, it really impressed upon me WHY I was so motivated to paint this picture at this time.

Alain de Botton stated (forgive my paraphrasing)

 "If we had a better memory, we wouldn't need art.  We forget stuff.  Particularly, valuable stuff.  A work of Art becomes valuable the more that it captures something significant.  The more fragile the moment is, the more valuable the art is because it's touching on something that otherwise we can't put a finger on"

I LOVED HEARING THIS as I was painting this particular moment!!! It is difficult to put into words the warmth, pride, joy, love, delight that was flowing through me 5 years ago.  And unfortunately the last two years have just been a constant war on me as a mother, so much so that there were times that I questioned if I had done ANYTHING right!  But this moment reminded me that I did A LOT right.  I am a good mom.  I look back at all their pictures now, not with a sense of sadness or  regret, but SO much pride and joy!  I nurtured their individuality, their reading skills, their creativity, their sense of adventure, their HUMOR...I really could not be prouder of my two awesome kids.

THIS is why Art can be so important!  Time heals a lot of things, but can also distance you from some of the good stuff from long ago as well.  Difficult times, hard feelings, can cloud our perspectives... and memories - especially good ones - can get lost in the shuffle.

So, according to de Botton, what DOES Art do for us?

There are three key things...

1.  Art compensates for the fact that we have really bad memories.  (99% of my commission work has been created to commemorate good times and good vital to immortalize!)

(Portrait of Ari about aged 5, holding a baby bird)

2.  Art Gives Us Hope.  (For me, this means that you honor good moments to inspire even more! I don't paint something beautiful thinking it's going to be the LAST good moment...I paint out of the delight for every beautiful moment that's going to inspire me next!  What's more hopeful than appreciating beauty all around?)

(Jack, aged 11, at a festival in Downtown Atlanta)

3.  Art re-balances us.  Art connects us with the missing bit of us.  Art opens our eyes to the neglected value of the every-day.  (oh my goodness those three points hit me hard!!! Painting re-balances me in ways that I'll need 11 blog posts to explain.  It's my therapy!  This particular painting really reminded me of GOOD times I spent with my kids.  It balanced my perspective at a time I needed it most.  And this painting was connecting me with my son..we have very little time together, and just sending the good vibes and love to him during the process has helped me fill the hole in my heart.  And this precious moment was VALUED by me so much!  I've never been a really big "pose perfectly with your hair brushed and clothes perfect" kind of mom.  I thrive on capturing my kids as They Are...and this every-day moment has more value than any perfectly crafted pose)

(Ari reading, around age 2)

It has always been my greatest pleasure to paint portraits and commissioned work that captures so much of the points above.   I am so appreciative of Alain de Botton's lecture which helped me put those feelings into words!

Monday, January 7, 2019

Art as Therapy...Alain de Botton

“Growth occurs when we discover how to remain authentically ourselves in the presence of potentially threatening things. Maturity is the possession of coping skills: we can take in our stride things that previously would have knocked us off course. We are less fragile, less easily shocked and hence more capable of engaging with situations as they really are” 

Alain de Botton, "Art as Therapy"

We were heading into court, again.  I was exhausted, emotionally and physically.  I just wanted to move forward...from the manipulation, lies, cruelty, and the campaign to destroy who I was.

I was trying to stay positive.  I was at a Zumba class with some of my absolute favorite women on the planet.   At the end of class, several of them gathered around me to get an update on the situation.  Many of them had been through similar scenarios - the misuse of the justice system, using children as pawns, the aligning with family members to drive you out, the lying lying lying that seems never-ending.

I broke down, in tears.

"I'm afraid, the only way that I will be able to win in court, is if I them"

I would have to become vengeful.  Spiteful.  Jealous.  Stonewall progress or therapy.  Lie to authorities. Dig in my heals and brush them aside like unwanted trash...because that's what they were doing to me, and I felt that "just keeping my head high" was not going to work.

These beautiful women gathered around, shared their stories of triumph over tragedy, and then said "we need to pray"

Hands clasped and heads bowed, in that circle my dear friends prayed that I could maintain my integrity, spirit, heart, and soul as I faced this trial.  No lies could maintain their power, only the truth and my love for my children would be victorious.

Whatever your spiritual beliefs may be...the circle of souls that came together and BELIEVED that I was capable of maintaining WHO I WAS gave me such comfort and helped me remain calm, and be court.

The situation is a constant battle for reasonable compromise, integrity, and honesty.  Just being treated like a human being is something I can barely hope for.  But...I have grown.  I have matured.  Sometimes only harsh situations can strengthen our minds and bodies.  And, because I am now less fragile, the bald face lies and being dismissed as if I was a bug on the windshield don't nearly effect me as they used to.  In fact, the lies cause me to burst into laughter!

I ran into an old neighbor the other day, and she was telling me that for a few months she had to navigate the horrific Atlanta traffic to get to her job every day.  After a while, her daughter looked at her and said "Mom! What is WRONG with you?  Why are you miserable?" 

My neighbor realized that the daily stress of dealing with traffic, the anxiety of facing the horrible commute every day, was making her miserable.  She quit her job, and was gleefully back to her true self.

Facing horrible people, and the anxiety of facing them again and again, can make you miserable.  Get to know who you really are.  And, if you have to deal with horrific traffic or difficult personalities or financial troubles or whatever it may be...remain true to who you are.  IF the it a marriage, a family dynamic, a job, etc...forces you to become something you are not, then it's time to move on.

Hopefully, you will have the time that I have had, to study, meditate, and focus on what REALLY matters, so that the crap that doesn't matter can no longer effect you.  You will begin to see lies as exposing a deeper truth: the weaknesses and lack of self-confidence or  inability to change and grow in the liar is what causes them to's all they have left.  Truly happy, confident, fulfilled people have no reason to destroy others.  

Be who you are.  Be creative or caring or adventurous.  Be loving.  Be patient.  BE CURIOUS.   Explore the magic of your mind.

Eventually, you can drive in traffic and see it as the perfect speed, the perfect situation.  Eventually, you can begin to spend time with family again, because you see their personalities as who THEY are, not a reflection of who you are.  You can engage with situations as they really are, with deeper understanding and strength.

Spend a few minutes every day reminding yourself WHO YOU REALLY ARE.  Listen only to the TRUTH within you.   Remain authentically yourself, even in the face of potentially harmful situations.  See the situation for what it really is.  Then be yourself. No one can take that away from you.