Living Inside Out: Exploring Creativity and Renewalby Circle of Trust Facilitator Megan LeBoutillier
Summer’s transition into fall is a dramatic transformation filled with brilliant color, changing light, dramatic weather flourishes and abundant harvest. I am reminded of movement around the mobius strip where some things pass out of view while others emerge into greater clarity. When I moved to Virginia where the seasons have strong definition, the first fall I began feeling a little panicked as the trees shed their foliage. I was afraid of the barrenness. The color was draining out of my world and I didn’t welcome the dark grayness ahead. Slowly my fearfulness gave way to an appreciation for what was coming into view. I could see rock formations and the delicate shape of naked trees. I could look more deeply into the landscape that a month earlier had been camouflaged by the lush flatness of green. This slight perceptual shift in awareness made it possible for me to look more carefully and appreciate what I was seeing with fresher eyes. I’d like to use the metaphor of learning to draw as a lens through which to view the process of renewal and healing.
“We are disabused of original giftedness in the first half of our lives. Then—if we are awake, aware, and able to admit our loss—we spend the second half trying to recover and reclaim the gift we once possessed.” Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak.
As an artist and Circle of Trust Facilitator, I have long sat with the question of where is the intersection of my work and “Courage Work.” My own journey back to reclaiming my original giftedness has taught me many lessons. “Creative” was close to being a dirty word in my family. I was constantly admonished for being “too sensitive” and for “daydreaming.” The inference was that both the quality of creativity and whatever behavior might express it were somehow bad. Fortunately I was also smart, a characteristic I mistakenly came to believe was incompatible with creative. Surely one must be either smart or creative, so I chose to embrace intelligence and disowned my creative nature. I “circled the wagons” as Parker would say, and made sure only my outside showed itself to the world. The inward and outward flow of the mobius strip seemed far too dangerous to navigate. Much of my adult life has been dedicated to healing the divide in my psyche between my intellect and my intuition.
I believe we all born with a creative spark. But for many, our inner spark gets diminished, dampened, distorted, or ignored. Fortunately, the spark can never be completely extinguished. Rekindling is possible. If we are lucky, our creative spark has informed our vocational choices and we work at something that feeds our souls. More likely we nourish our creative spark through a hobby, a child, dreams, or a fleeting memory and a sense of longing.
A few years ago an artist friend of mine told me she could teach anyone to draw. Since I had never successfully drawn anything, and because it was a secret longing of mine, I timidly asked her to teach me. I embarked on a bewildering process of trying to learn to “see” in new ways. The first lesson I learned was that you cannot see light without looking at the shadows.
When a beginner goes to draw a chair, s/he already knows too much about a chair. We know the size, what it is made of, that it has four legs that are the same length, that chairs sit on flat surfaces and on and on. This information is useful if you want to build a chair, but not so useful for drawing the chair. Why? Because when we look at a chair from different angles, the visual information we get may not conform in any way with what we know. Here is where the resistance comes into play. The brain will protest and try to overwhelm the eyes with its knowing-ness about the chair, and this will hamper our ability to accurately see and render it.
The paradox of drawing is that in order to draw something we must train our eyes to see what is before us, but we must also train our eyes to notice what is not there—the spaces between shapes. When we start looking at the spaces around an object, we don’t find any pre-existing memorized information in our brain. The brain begins to protest, “This is stupid.” “I’ll never learn to draw.” “Why am I wasting my time?”
As I struggled to transcend my mind’s preconceived notions, I began to notice the relationship between shapes and how those shapes fit together. My teacher invited me one day to turn the picture I was trying to copy upside down. Viewed that way I could not name the components (eyebrow, chair, wrist) I could only try to draw how various shapes fit together and related to one another. The mental protest stopped and for the first time I really knew what she had been inviting me to do, “look carefully.”
When we are in transition, whether it be career, personal, age, or lifestyle, we are confronted with countless opportunities to re-create ourselves. Without support and careful inner listening we can miss valuable clues and thereby limit the scope of our creative potential. Here is the intersection I have been searching for where the upside-down informs the eye in a new way and a new image emerges without our sabotaging it with preconceived notions. We learn to see with new eyes and listen with new ears and slowly navigation around the mobius strip becomes more fluid and smooth.