My son is an amazing artist, I do not think it is just because I believe he is brilliant and he belongs to me, it is really a remarkable gift he holds.
This recent self-portrait invoked curiosity in the process, and I was launched into thinking about what is required to be able to produce something that is such a profound reflection of Self. The process has to be something like what it takes to reflect on our lives, who we are, and how we got to be who we are…our stories. Both demand self-compassion.
The first requirement of a self-portrait is to look in a mirror or photograph. I do not think this is an easy task. Have you ever attempted to look, really look, gaze at yourself in the mirror? For some of us, gazing upon ourselves is brutally painful. Being seen can be painful and we spend much of our lives trying to hide from ourselves and others. I can only imagine how closely an artist is required to gaze upon themself, know the contours of the face, and understand the landscape of each feature. Yet..they have to know this intimately.
The other part of this process that stands out to me is that the details come last. When I asked my son about his process, he shared “it’s all in the final details” . This is where the fine tuning begins and the self portrait begins to resemble the subject. It makes me wonder if we can know ourselves to the point of appreciating the fine tuning of who we are. I think this takes immense self-compassion. To know the landscape of our face, its flaws, blemishes, its wrinkles…this is to gaze upon our face.
What would it take to gaze at ourselves in a way that does not bring criticism and judgment? I would assume that an artist cannot spend much time in judging and criticizing their subject. In the case of a self portrait, if they did judge and criticize then the portrait might not look like themself. They have to acknowledge the judgment and take time to look closer.
I can imagine that creating an accurate self-portrait is a complex process. I also believe self-compassion is a complex process that does not come easily or quickly. I have recently engaged in a 31 day course that has invited me into the practice of self compassion. It does not require me to gaze at myself in the mirror, but instead begin to gaze upon my feelings and my thoughts, the inner workings of who I am.
I have begun to have an understanding and appreciation for the process of an artist who has to study the landscape of the face, the intricacies and particularities of every shadow and shape. As I have been exploring self-compassion, gentleness and kindness have been invited in. As I study my internal landscape, I am noticing that it takes a focused awareness to notice and respond to my internal rhythm of cruelty. This awareness allows me to make a choice in how I want to respond. I have to move slowly and get closer to hear what the criticism says and then I can begin to shift and respond with a kinder message.
When I watch my son work on his portraits, he often has to sit back and take in the bigger picture to see what area may need closer attention. This is how it works with the process of inviting self compassion. We often have to sit back and take a measure. This requires us to take in all the circumstances and situations into consideration and offer an acceptance rather than a “should.”
We cannot begin to explore our stories without self-compassion. The moment the “should” comes in or the critic enters, our stories can no longer tell us what they need to tell us, instead we are driven by want we wish they would tell us of what we think they should tell us or what we assume they tell us. My hope is that as you begin to explore your story you might approach it like an artist approaches a self-portrait. Can you begin to take the time to simply notice the fine lines, the deep scars, and the supple landscape?
Invite kindness. Invite gentleness. Take the time to softly study the details and move slowly. Know that just like the artist, your job is not to judge but instead to reflect. You might be amazed with the masterpiece of who you are as you begin to gaze and see the details.