This is a print I bought from Alexandra Miller, a young artist I met in 2015. I remember her being almost painfully introverted as we completed the transaction, perhaps surprised that I’d taken such an interest in this print. It’s a piece that I imagine most find heavy, almost grotesque.
The second I saw it, I told others that I saw hope.
Where most saw a withering plant and an emaciated young man being overtaken by creatures of the soil, I saw a portrait that still had life in it, no matter the predicament. It was my eternal optimism talking, a hope for the underdog, a belief that the odds can be overcome as long as your intention is set.
This piece hangs on the wall between my bathroom and bedroom. I see it as I go to bed, and I’ve tried to convince myself that this image is the hope I imagined.
But it’s not.
The second I saw it, I saw my reflection.
I was the man in Alexandra’s Miller’s creation, overcome by a vortex of negative emotion, haunted by past transgressions, riddled with guilt. I was simultaneously running from the past, while carrying a backpack full of its pain.
I’d never let any of it go.
I didn’t know how to let any of it go. My life, my decisions, all revolved around masking the pain of my experience. All too often, through my own doing, pain built upon pain.
When I read Michael Singer’s The Untethered Soul last spring, something clicked. The book’s central premise is that we aren’t our emotions and they shouldn’t define or control us. His discussion of emotional pain resonated in me, his words a flashlight in my depths.
For years the pain will remain inside and actually become one of the building blocks of your entire life. It will shape your future reactions, thoughts, and preferences. When you deal with a situation by resisting the pain it causes, you will have to adjust your behavior and thoughts in order to protect yourself. You will have to do this so nothing aggravates what you have held inside about the incident. You will end up building an entire protection structure around the closure. If you have the clarity to watch this happen, and understand the long-term consequences, you will want to be free of this trap. You will never be free, however, until you get to the point where you are willing to release the initial pain instead of avoiding it. You must learn to transcend the tendency to avoid the pain.
Singer’s words allowed me to see the portrait of the young man being consumed as a self-portrait, of what happens when you don’t face or hold too tightly to the negative emotions that emerge from life’s experience.
In the months since reading The Untethered Soul, I’ve tried each day to take steps down the path of letting go. It’s rarely easy, but each night I look into the gaunt face of the downtrodden young man and pledge to let go of the day’s emotions, remind myself of those people and experiences I’m grateful for, and empty my cup in order to be filled again tomorrow.
I’m glad to report that this portrait hanging on my wall no longer reflects my regular state of being. I share this post to acknowledge where my head and heart have been in the past, and signal that I will unpack some of the more painful parts of me through my writing. Becoming untethered is a process and each day a revelation in it.