Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Reaching for the color

Several years ago a friend whose son is rather a handful told us he'd taken the boy to stay at a farm for the weekend.

The boy, who was in his early teens at the time, had grown up surrounded by electronic gadgets and video games, and had a great deal of trouble adapting to an environment which had none of those attractions, no TV's, and no computers.

After a time the increasingly frustrated teen apparently threw a tantrum, and the phrase he kept screaming over and over was this: "I am not in my happy place! I am not in my happy place!"

Remembering that incident, I am struck again by the aching poignancy of that cry. There is a self-awareness in it, an attempt to articulate a frustration that remains wordless in many of us.

But what makes it particularly sad is our understanding that his awareness of self is clearly not yet balanced with an awareness of reality, of other, of place, culture, or responsibility; with the discovery that not only do we not always get to live in our "happy place," but that for the most part society doesn't really care if we're not in that space.

My mother-in-law once informed me that the job of a parent is to civilize her children. The dictionary defines civilize as "to cause to develop out of a primitive state," but for her that meant raising children to be responsible, cooperative, productive, contributing members of society. The primitive state, as she defined it, was self-centered; the civilized state would be other-centered. And the sad thing is that many of us civilized folk are as out of touch with our self centers as that young boy was with the realities of civilization.

I got lucky this morning. I began reading Cynthia Bourgeault's book, The Wisdom Jesus, and for some reason my meditation period this morning was clearer, less cluttered, more like a "happy place." And for me that means that there were moments in the time that were filled with color.

Color has always been a key indicator for me: as I have mentioned before in this column, I am a synaesthete, so in my world words and letters and thoughts and dreams all have characteristic colors. Which means that when I am making decisions, I have learned over time to select the choice which comes draped in color; to walk away from the browns and the grays. And meditation lately has been definitely mired in browns and grays, so it was a delight to find the rainbow again, if only for a moment.

The trick is to understand that sometimes the only way to the color is THROUGH the browns and grays. And how can we ever know when to leave and when to play through; which colors are false and which colors are true? As I watch my marriage and my meditation practice both cycling through their seasons of dark and light, dullness and color, I also watch my friends as they progress through jobs and relationships, and I find myself aching both for those who leave too soon, always drawn to the appearance of color elsewhere, and for those who stay too long and forget there even IS color.

Somehow we need to find the balance -- between dark and light, between colors and grays, between self and other -- because I think it may be in that balance that the truest, richest, deepest, most saturated colors live. And I suspect that working to achieve that balance is not just the work of a parent -- it's the work of a lifetime.


Anonymous said...

The photo is delightful (I clapped my hands with joy when I saw all the beautiful COLOR), and the images that your written word evoked are wonderfully instructive.

Do you ever wonder if you go through these colorless times in order that you might help those that are struggling with the same bleak vistas and views? (I'm one of those.)

Anne Lamott said that she writes so that others might have that "Really?? Me too!" moment. When I read your work I have moments of "Huh. That's a really interesting way to look at that." And I walk away feeling more peaceful and a bit smarter.

Contemplative Photographer said...

That's so cool -- I can't imagine a better job than to help people feel peaceful and bright; definitely makes it easier to walk through the bleak. And I'm honored to even be in the same paragraph with Anne Lamott. Thanks!

Stacey Grossman said...

I love this picture and your words about color. It reminds me of a class I took all those years ago in college - a color class - in which we did projects to learn color theory. At the age of 19 I was stunned to learn that black was a color...so many shades of it...and white as well. Coming out of a rather black and bleak 2008, I must say that I appreciate vivid colors (not black and white!) even more! Thank you for this website, your work, and for inspiration!