Director Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump is a colorful story of a character who, guided by the principles of faith, perseverance and simplicity, keeps moving forward regardless of expectations or circumstances.
“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” — C.S. Lewis
As many of you are no doubt aware, this blog has faced its longest hiatus since its very inception. But it has happened for good reason; a recent personal disaster has literally brought all my routines and activities completely to a halt. Due to a freak incident, I’ve lost most of my home, belongings and, worst of all, my art. Like a stake through the heart, the pain that accompanies the sudden shock lingers, leaving one to question things, almost everything.
“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” — Henry David Thoreau
As someone who is no stranger to despair — having endured immeasurable pain with numerous medical procedures and significant loss of family members and the dearest of friends — one would think that I would be used to it, but it always hurts, no matter what. Such is the definition of pain.
Yet, as part of a human species conditioned to deal with adversity, I (we) must carry on, hoping to learn from the past rather than live in it.
“We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell
There is often no specific rhyme or reason for events or predicaments (especially tragic or unjust ones), which is why we’re so often confused about what to do or how to react to unexpected (or even expected) difficulty. But at some point as artists, we begin to realize that this quagmire of drama, distress and seeming unfairness is what gives our work the fertile ground on which to spring forth our ideas, our drive and our talents. It gives us meaning and a story to build on. It’s the reason why mythology is as relevant today as it has been throughout human history — its parables serve to guide us on how to live. In such light, setbacks become springboards to jump towards greater and more meaningful heights. Like the animation principle of anticipation, before we can go up, we must first go down.
Prometheus Bound by Peter-Paul Rubens. The symbolism behind the myth of Prometheus is profound. A Titan God entrusted with the task of forming man out of clay, he defies Zeus by giving mortals the gift of creative fire to help end human misery and suffering. Although he is punished by being tied to a rock and having an eagle eat at his liver, he remains for eternity man’s greatest friend .
When I teach, I often hear from my students about their troubles both creative and personal. I remind them that their unique challenges (which are tied directly to their unfulfilled talents) are what make them who they are and how they handle those challenges will ultimately determine the success of their art and the meaning in their lives. We need to take comfort in the fact that what we think about and how we think about it matters because our lives and our artistry is heavily dependent on the narrative that we choose for ourselves. What the world thinks, matters much less.
“There are only two powers in the world: the sword and the mind. In the end, the sword is always conquered by the mind.” — Napoleon
Whenever we’re faced with serious challenge and pain, we are forced in the loudest and grandest way possible to respond — and that is the key word respond — as opposed to react. Response is conscious choice. Reaction, on the other hand, is thoughtless and absent of the benefit that time, perspective and contemplation brings to the table. It’s why it’s so beneficial to just slow things down and keeping things simple. Our lives today are far too complicated. The benefits of a globally and electronically connected world has brought with it the obsession with time, expectation and material focus. It’s all too easy to lose ourselves into surface living and losing all sense of presence.
Drawing by Maurice Sendak. When was the last time you looked deeply into someone’s eyes? Or listen to every word that is spoken? Have you forgotten what the surface of objects really feel like in your hand? Or the smell of the ocean? The true taste of things unadulterated?
Pain is a reminder to stop. I learned this a while a go when I was left disabled after a multitude of operations in a short period of eight months. It took a long time to get back to being functional and even longer to understand the purpose of the suffering that I had to endure. The mere material loss from recent events is just another reminder to me to remain humble and respectful of the ways of this universe. We actually gain “ourselves” when we lose “things.” We become wiser. But it’s so easy to forget that. Only setbacks have the power to make us look within ourselves, and then, with a greater and stronger heart, to look outside of ourselves to connect with the greater universe. It’s one of the reasons why this blog was formed in the first place.
Everybody’s hurt. What is important, what corrals you, what bullwhips you, what drives you, torments you, is that you must find some way of using this to connect you with everyone else alive. This is all you have to do it with. You must understand that your pain is trivial except insofar as you can use it to connect with other people’s pain; and insofar as you can do that with your pain, you can be released from it, and then hopefully it works the other way around too; insofar as I can tell you what it is to suffer, perhaps I can help you to suffer less. — James Baldwin
The story of Rocky, written by and starring Sylvestor Stallone, is one of my favorite American stories. It’s a classic tale of redemption, resilience and the power of the will. It reminds us that when we get knocked down, we must always get back up.
I don’t wish for pain or suffering — no one in their right mind would — but I no longer dread it. If my right arm hurts, I’ll use my left. If I lose another loved one, I’ll bring his/her spirit with me to new relationships. Art lost can be created anew. Life is, after all, a continued process of renewal. We cannot let the pettiness of life or, more accurately, our petty view of life get in the way of our art or our becoming.
“We have not overcome our condition, and yet we know it better. We know we live in a contradiction, but we also know that we must refuse this contradiction and do what is needed to reduce it. Our task as men is to find the few principles that will calm the infinite anguish of free souls. We must mend what has been torn apart, make justice imaginable again in a world so obviously unjust, give happiness meaning once more to peoples poisoned by the misery of the century. Naturally, it is a superhuman task. But superhuman is the term for tasks men take a long time to accomplish, that’s all.” — Albert Camus