I've always considered myself a person without regret. I think many of us want to be that person -- the present-tense living, not looking back, swimming to a shore of possibilities instead of nearly drowning in the deep end of "what ifs". I'm not that person. Or maybe I am. Sometimes. I'm a contemplative person. I like the notion of "what if", though sometimes I can let myself replay it over and over, not quite like a broken record, but nearly undesirable wallpaper I surround myself with, in constant debate if I actually like the patterns or not.
I was thinking tonight about regrets. I've said I never had them. I said that everything happens for a reason. I said that everything led me to now, and I appreciate and love now... except... I tasted some of that regret tonight in a meditation. Huh... so that's what's been lingering in the back of my throat all these years?
It may or may not be a regret... maybe just a wonder. That "what if" dance where it borders between reality and imagination. My regret? Not painting. Or writing. Or both.
As a kid I loved being creative. I can recall having this one Muppet Babies coloring book that I colored in with such meticulous care, the level of concentration was astounding. The smell of Crayola wax being traced darkly and deliberately over Kermit the Frog while the rest began to smear in sheer delight. My favorite color then was red... red crayons were the only things I needed. I would sneak behind the sofa and draw in red crayons on the wall... underneath our coffee table I had drawn our entire family (and pets) with that red crayon. Never to be noticed by my mother who simply thought I was an odd child who liked to lay under the coffee table, until one stormy day when there was no school and an impromptu puppet show my stepfather put on revealed what I had been doing under the table... ah... crayons...
I put the crayons aside for a while to write. At first really badly written, rhyming poetry (the incredible dreadful kind that honestly took me forever to write); then journaling began, and from there the stories emerged. Writing became my lifeline. It was as easy and as necessary as breath.
Then... well, I gave it up. I don't know if it was "just like that", or if I began to feel disconnected or even disillusioned by life's circumstances that I shut down the inner artist and let her lay dormant for several years.
As trauma began to creep up, my inner artist began to wake. I ignored her, because she seemed a stranger to me, and I didn't feel like opening myself up or revealing anything... I didn't want to tap into the presumed demons or touch upon the dismembered parts. When trauma nips at you, it may appear that parts of you shut down, yet I can see now that instead what happens is other parts of you start to awaken (or reemerge from their banished slumber).
I returned to art. It beckoned me. It saved me. Paint to canvas was like filling my lungs with precious oxygen that it had been deprived of. The breathing was still strained at that time, don't get me wrong, but blood began to pump in a warming way. The feel of brushes, the primal act of throwing them on the table to dip your fingers into the vibrant colors to kiss the canvas with. I didn't have as much reservation of the "artist block" then as I seem to now. I needed it. It was my drug of choice, and I almost couldn't bear the thought of life without it.
I spent the next four years of high school living in the art department. I took my minimum requirements in everything else and managed to fill my days with art, pottery, photography and time in the studio for whatever my inner artist desired.
When it would appear that my legs were sturdy again, and that the ground might not swallow me whole, I began to unknowingly invite critics to the table. Oh the critics... you have the ones that say everything you do is marvelous. Fantastic. Brilliant. Then you have the ones who say they don't get it, but it seems pretty awesome. Then you have the ones who still don't get it, but also don't like it. And then you have the ones with the critical eye that transforms itself into a flaming iris, burning away all potentiality that it sees and melting away the imagery that was painstakingly and lovingly formed.
Those were the critics I listened to. They weren't many. In fact, they were honestly quite minimal in numbers... less than a handful I would dare to say... which kind of makes me sardonically laugh because I gave them so much of my power... what was left of it anyway. I hid some of that away when trauma came.
I abandoned art. I thought for a long time it had left me, realizing that I wasn't the proper caretaker for its vision. It was simply blame for a long-lost companion. It shape-shifted itself into my first love of writing, and I spent the next few years staring at blank computer screens or pieces of paper with the sheer panic of having no inner voice wanting to transmit creative pearls through me. Nope, there was nothing. And I judged myself fiercely for it. When the judgment was over (it was a long enough visit), I abandoned the writing, too.
Last year had so much chaos and self-doubt and rebirthing and surrendering and crying and laughing and and and... it was such a huge year of transformation and loss and empowering oneself to emerge no matter what. It was great, and difficult, and ugly, and my oh my was I supremely judged for it. I judged myself in different ways, but I actually let my judgment only have minimal access to my psyche, long enough to give it a two minute spotlight before shifting the attention and giving it something more functional to do, or simply a swift kick in the arse instead.
Others judgments were surprising and painful and, well, stupid. However, in the end (and just maybe even in the beginning) I learned to not accept it, even if it tried pinching my skin. This is the thing about vulnerability: it takes courage to show up and be seen and share who you are against all odds. It's not easy, and it can be downright raw and ugly, but in the end it somehow becomes this amazing beauty, and there's so much gratitude in that. Despite that, when you're in vulnerability, it makes others nervous. It threatens them somehow. It can make them feel uncomfortable. I know this because I can recognize the symptoms as I have had my own allergic reactions to other's process of courage. So when you open yourself up, you not only open yourself up to those who will support you or be encouraged (or even inspired) by you, but you open the way for the critics.
It might surprise people that in the healing arts we all have our share of battling courage and vulnerability and regrets and shame... I actually think that's a good thing. Beneficial. For me, it allows me to connect to a thread of understanding with those who I am facilitating healing to. Also, I don't want someone's pedestal. My human nature has guilt, it has shame, it has beauty, it has wisdom, it has ugly, it has power... but don't we all?
This year my intention is to be more creative. Tonight as I thought about regrets, I wondered (and still do to some degree) if I had/have regrets around not pursuing my art. I wanted to go to Europe and paint my way through the countryside. I wanted to travel back in time to meet Monet and ask him about waterlilies. I wanted to go to art school and become an art therapist. I had a lot of wants. The 'regret' (if this is what we're calling it) isn't about what was left behind in the dreamscape of possibilities... it's about not carrying my art forward and tending to it like a precious gem.
This month, I have been tapping into that precious gem, and it's been brilliant and exciting and messy. Playfully and joyfully messy. I signed up for Brene Brown's "The Gifts of Imperfection" ecourse and it's been *exactly* what I've needed. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am so in love with Brene's work, and have been following it and digesting it for years. This was my gift to myself (after passing it up last fall when it was offered the first time and regretting it). What has emerged since then? Since this process began three weeks ago? I'm remembering the feeling of art, of creation, of letting myself be seen and showing up and getting the privilege to deepen both my personal and professional work. It's been amazing.
The artist is playing, the writer is spinning words into form, and I'm happy. I'm imperfect, and I'm enough... and I'm happy with that. Regrets? Maybe. It could be too strong of a word, but it's an energy that has motivated me to find the roots of what I love and do it because doing what we love shouldn't be a privilege, but just an everyday gift we receive and accept.