There is a question I have often heard: Does life imitate art, or does art imitate life?
This morning, while walking with my husky in the desert, the thought occurred to me that perhaps the two are one and the same. Life itself is an art form, and art can be a way of life.
It can be a Rothko, dark and brooding; a Schoenberg, brilliant but offensive to many ears; a Stravinsky, powerfully groundbreaking and shocking; a Monet, light and pleasing to the eye; a Pachelbel, harmonious and easy on the ear.
There are so many ways to move through a life.
At first glance, it may seem easier to live in a way that is outwardly pleasing and does not cause discomfort to anyone else. It can feel really good to receive external validation, a kind of judgmental pat on the back for not creating a stir in the world.
I have found that this way of cultivating my life tends to cause inward discomfort and dissonance, which often manifests in behaviors that then project that dissonance onto the external world in a rippling effect of resentment.
I think I may fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, but I have not always lived there.
Since I was a child, I have worried about judgment from others. What do they think of the radical choices I have made? How is my behavior being interpreted? Why do some people see infinite joy and love and light in me while others see me as intentionally odious and hurtful?
How can one person be seen through such extreme and opposite lenses?
What I think may be going on is that those who see darkness feel most threatened by my pursuit. They go on the defensive by vilifying me because it is easier than recognizing and taking responsibility for their own deep sadness and discontent with their own state of existence.
My wish is to not simply live my life but to cultivate it with intention. Thus far, this kind of cultivation has been realized through a great deal of practice. A starting of a project, casting it aside, starting a new one, making a recording, overwriting that recording, and so on and so forth.
It has been both edifying and experiential.
And it has been anything but comfortable.
It is easier to vilify than to empathize. It is easier to play a victim and place blame than to take responsibility for one’s own existence.
I came to a point in my life where I realized that I did not wish to be a victim and that happiness was a choice. I could remain in a place of low-level contentedness that flirted with unhappiness, but I would be doing so with the knowledge that I had chosen this path. My life was all right, but I could feel that there was much missing for me to be truly living in a way that filled my soul.
To get to a place where I was cultivating a masterful work of art would rattle the bars on a lot of cages. It would require letting go of my fear of judgment from others.
I say this because I have found that the practice of discovering my own inner truth and self is not only challenging for me; it often creates unease and discomfort for others. Many people in my life have responded to this practice with threats and the kind of behavior that seems like a projection of a deep unhappiness with their own life.
There are many people who do not enjoy having the bars of their own life cages rattled because it forces them to look in the mirror and see the bars they have created for themselves.
In the present, it is easier to accept the cage to the point where you do not see it as a cage, if you see it at all.
I sensed deep down that one day I would live to regret the decades I had spent in a cage. I am a spirit that is not meant to be caged. I do not think any spirit should suffer such a fate, but it takes courage and determination to break free, especially when it is a cage one has voluntarily built and taken temporary refuge within.
It is amazing how easy it is to shed one cage and exchange it for another, and it can be an insidious and subtle process. If I do not pay attention, I can be lulled into believing that the cage is necessary. I can be drawn into another person’s cave by my desire to please and avoid painful judgment.
All of my practice in cultivating my life with mindfulness and intention is helping me to recognize the bars coming down around me more quickly and to break free before too much permanent damage has been done (i.e., before it becomes too difficult to get out), but my freedom seems to come at a cost each time.
Perhaps, this is simply my path in this life.
My life is art; it is a form of art I am developing. And to cultivate this method takes time, dedication, and a willingness to fail and try again.
So, I will keep practicing.