Art Work: Saying Yes to a Larger Love

No Clue, but Lots of Curiosity….

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My 65th birthday was a day of discovery.  For one thing, I realized that 65 wasn’t nearly as old as I’d thought.

Well, yeah, there were the wrinkles.  And the gray hair.   And the realization that, after a lifetime of yoga and fitness training, stair rails were suddenly important.  When had I even begun to notice stair rails?

But the day offered new questions.  I’d been a wife.  A mother.  A friend.  A writer.  But mostly I’d been a therapist.

I’d wandered into a community mental health clinic in my early 20s when funds were flowing freely to meet public health needs.  I’d been hired on the spot as a social work technician.  My life’s path opened, and I fell in love with listening.  I learned to hear subtext, nuance, and patterns.  I heard hidden wisdom within the stories themselves, and I wondered as insights and images appeared within the therapy hour.  I respected the courage that it took for my clients to do their inner work, and was humbling and gratifying to be entrusted with their care.

Then I found myself at 65, 40+ years, and two graduate degrees later.  I loved my life–well, most of it.  Being a shrink meant a lifetime of facing my own shadows, of examining unexpected blind spots, and of settling into pain and discomfort until I could say Thank You to all of it.

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I was also curious.  Who was I when I wasn’t a therapist?  The elderly woman in the mirror was relentless in the way that she held the question in front of me.

I’d mostly lived in a world of language, ethereal, cerebral, intuitive, and analytic.  I wanted to experience color and texture, to venture into a realm where I had no skills and no sense of rightness or wrongness.  Yet, as a person who had mostly colored within the lines, it was hard to imagine being that free.

I wandered into art journaling like I’d wandered into that mental health clinic.  No clue, but lots of curiosity.  I started with a discarded journal, collected a few paints and stamps and old photos and cards–and a few generous YouTube instructors.

One of the key things I’d learned as a therapist is that health shows up first in the ability to play.  The emergence of a sense of humor is a turning point,  like when a fever breaks after a serious illness and we’re filled with a sense of weak hope and well- being and a voracious appetite.

Our reptilian brains don’t know much about that.  They’re at the core of survival,  yet fight/flight/freeze is a pretty limited repertoire.   People who are stuck there show up in my office, paralyzed by anxiety or depression or addiction, or caught in toxic relationships.  The reptilian nature of those primitive patterns have to be recognized and respected before anything can happen, and the suspension of self-judgment is a key first step.

Reptiles don’t play.  You can play with your cat or your dog or your horse.  But your snake or your turtle?  Not so much.  And if you happen to have a dinosaur–well, call me.  (Actually don’t call me.  You’re beyond my kind of help.)   Reptilian people are characterized by a humorlessness–a deadly seriousness– blind to vulnerability or connection or empathy, or the absurdities and joys of being human.

Mammals are different.  We bond.  We tend our young.   In a marriage or close friendship, we share mutual appreciation, a sense of goodwill, and an ability to play.  A good belly laugh can wash away angst.  Our sense of ensemble is palpable, and we know that we truly are greater than the sum of our parts. I recently attended a political rally that chanted quietly: “We all need ALL of us to make it.”

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So, at 65, I realized that play had become a true calling.

The pages showed up, it seemed on their own.  Images from old books, magazines, greeting cards or letters.  Ticket stubs.  Grocery lists.  Words from great writers.  My own splashes of poetry.  Anything and everything can–and did– come together to create an art journal.

I’m sharing the page I created on that birthday.  It’s fun to look back and rediscover what the pages have revealed, but the main source of wisdom came in one of those tutorials:  “It’s YOUR art journal.  You can’t do this wrong!”

It’s a freedom that I want to share widely.

65 today. What mysteries are yet to be revealed?


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