by elli on August 23, 2013

wild dogs


Some time ago (and I wish I could remember just when, or who said it), I read something that resonated with me:

How you do anything is how you do everything.

Stop and think about that for a second.  It’s awesome and terrifying, all wrapped up in one little statement.  How you wash your dishes is how you make life decisions.  How you do your hair relates to how you do your life.  (Not in detail, mind you, but in spirit.  The how, not the specifics.  Your approach mirrors itself over and over again.)

This little mantra stuck with me because it’s a genius way to identify my own patterns.  Am I putting things off and then getting myself all frazzlepants-ed about finishing them in one fell swoop?  Am I disregarding convention out of conviction or laziness?  Am I getting too wrapped up in the details and losing sight of all the signposts on the way to the destination?  Identifying those things, and seeing the correlation between Big Stuff and Small Stuff, has been profound for me.  It strengthens the intuition, and lets you read your own signs and portents like reading behavioral bones.

I’ve been talking a lot about this painting class I’m in.

(To be fair, probably talking about it too much.  My poor family and friends are probably sick of my babbling on and on about journeying and medicine and all this seemingly-sudden blathering about my Council.)

Thing is:  not only am I learning a lot about the processes of intuitive/shamanic work and painting from that place of intuition, but I’m realizing another life process that’s been a constant for me:  gathering and winnowing.

See, when you start one of these works, you begin by building up incredibly chaotic and meaningful layers.  In that first image, there’s already three layers of stuff on that canvas — a base layer with some collaged bits chosen with a certain process, a second layer of riotous color done with another journey and trancelike process, and a third wash layer that begins to pick out the ghostly “spirits” that begin talking to you in the spaces between.  In all three of these, while you’re the one making the marks on the page, you’re not really the one directing what’s going on — you have to get out of your own way and just be content to allow what’s there to speak, trusting that all this manic gathering and resulting chaos will start to make sense later on down the road.

You, quite literally, make a great big giant mess of things.  Everything has meaning, and tiny bits start to shine out at you like beacons, and you get all attached to parts of it that you really, really love, and have visceral, gut-like reactions to the parts of it that feel too much or too crazy or too cluttered.  You have to stand in the discomfort and watch it all swirl, and somehow manage to pick out the voices that are the most important — and what’s important is going to be different for every single person that goes through the process.

Then, just when it starts to feel like the chaos is just too chaotic, you turn down the volume on everything but the True voices.  The bits that have lessons.  The parts that move you forward.  You winnow down the din, sometimes discarding parts of the mess that you also loved.  (In writing, they call that bit of editing “killing your darlings”, which the class has kind of co-opted in a visual sense, here, too. And it works.  Knock those beloved bits off if they’re not relevant, and know there will be more.  Faith, you know.  Faith.)

What looked like a jumbled mess of Blender Clown starts to make sense.  Or doesn’t yet.  It will.  You just commit to what’s true for you, and fearlessly go forward.

(Like I said to a friend:  really, if you pick the wrong thing — as if there IS a wrong thing — there’s always gesso.  Tabula rasa.  The great big giant cosmic eraser.)

Eventually, you divine what it is that your subconscious, your Council, your guides, are trying to say through you.  And all the chaos makes sense, because you needed it to let the true stuff be born.  (And in a lot of cases, you learn a whole lot about yourself in the process, since your work is your soul-stuff, if you’re doing it right.)

Which leads me right back to how I do everything.

This cycle feels so natural to me, I think, because it mirrors how I do, well, everything.

I go through periods in my life where I’m not just gathering, but GATHERING, bold and all-caps. Something sparks my attention (or, more likely, more than one somethings), and I spend what feels like an excessive amount of time learning about it.  Gathering the medicine.  Hoarding, really.  (I do tend to go a bit overboard from time to time.)  I immerse myself in it, and follow the little side-streams and winding tributaries, and by the time I sit up to look around, I’ve got a completely incomprehensible mess going on.

All too often, I’ve let that freak me out and I stop there.  I can’t figure out why I’ve just bought six books on french theater or bought two dozen pads of patterned paper, or learned everything I could about the mating habits of groundhogs….especially when the dishes are still in the sink and my floor looks like it’s been wall-to-wall carpeted in labrador retriever fur.

And every time (at least every time I can think of), whether it’s the next day or four years later, after I’ve all but moved on, something comes back around and winnows it all down and gives it all clarity.  I get a commission to write something that references french theater. I figure out a way to make really interesting blank journals with patterned paper that I’d have never thought of otherwise…and sell all of them to someone who needs exactly that thing.  A whistle pig comes up in journey and all that research I did three years ago suddenly reveals a very important universal truth that I’d have never made if I hadn’t “wasted” an afternoon reading National Geographic articles about them.

It’s like Life paints out what’s not important, winnowing down the gathered resources into something that’s clear and healing.  There’s a reason for everything, even chaos.

All those pieces of soul-stuff are like bones, see.

In my world, that means that from time to time, I have to gather them all together and sing over them to bring them back to life and give them relevance.

It’s how I do everything.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: