Monday, March 3, 2014

The Happiness Paradox

Close up of recent silk abstract painting

Lots going on inside and out. In teaching a silk panting class with a new format this session, my intention was to bring more of my whole self to play. My personal interest in doing larger, abstract silk paintings, led to teaching it, planning a sort of creative “free-for-all” of experimentation. The surprising result was more relaxation—I was doing it to please myself, and therefore was more centered. And more experimentation and expression by the students resulted too. Teaching is such a teacher for me, paradox though that may seem, and a bringer of joy.
A last piece moving its way through my layers of self is the happiness controversy. My art work is flow and focus, the natural world is a joy almost all the time, and friends, growth, exploration give me great happiness. It feels like life is handing me beauty each day, with a forceful “Here! Take it! This is for you!” And then there are people in my life that are afraid of happiness. Life is hard, don’t let the god see you smiling too much, gotta be serious, there’s danger here! I had a sad, weepy mother and remember deciding I could only bond with her and love her by being sad too. So this mindset is entrenched.
Is it wrong to be happy when others are sad? Is it betrayal, foolish, unloving? I went digging deep and found some gold in there. I unearthed deal-making: here’s some happiness for me and some commiseration for you; I can be a little happy but not let in the BIG joy that I feel pressing against me so often. I found the prison of serving a god I don’t believe in—that of life as suffering, we must be afraid of bad things. And I found the betrayal of self and arrogance of refusing the aliveness that life is thrusting toward me. Now there’s is a sad thing. Still I couldn't let go of the idea that being happy when others are sad is wrong. Being happy is selfish and makes you a bad person, the ego roared.
That crazy thought did it for me. I saw that commiserating is not love! Supporting others sadness when I don’t agree is dishonest, honoring false gods and unhelpful. And, it’s lying—expressing from a place I am not. I need to own that.
Then a wave of huge energy exploded inside. It said, “I will not refuse aliveness”—whatever joy, beauty insight, pleasure life offers me will be taken, with both hands and with gratitude. Sure there is not only joy and happiness, but it is such a gift, such a true thing when it comes, it must be acknowledged and taken as a sacred thing.
So.  Art from happiness? Maybe not always bright colors, maybe contrast and exploring dark corners when they call. But the joy of making art, teaching people to see what I see, letting the Tao flow through and being here to watch and co-create is truly joyful. I’ll leave you with a great quote from the Tao of watercolor, by Jeanne Carbonetti:
When I was a child I was whole. I simply painted, and I was glad. Later, as life grew more complex, I split into many selves and I learned to judge them all. Some parts were good, others bad. Some were to be loved, others to be rejected. I judged my paintings, too, and myself as a painter. I became something else.
But later still, in the quiet of a time when I was too tired to judge and weak enough to listen, I painted again, and then I saw that the mistakes, failed efforts, and the bad paintings had brought me to a new place--a break-though painting of my first major series. My life changed that day, and I became myself again.

For painting had taught me the Tao.