Sometimes, life's flirts take on a billboard quality.
I did not know how to get started with this one.
Sometimes it is like waiting, and sometimes it feels as though I am trying to pull it out of fragments of ideas that hover around my mind, all of them seeming disconnected and unworthy of (a) a whole newsletter and (b) your attention (which is something that is tremendously important to me).
Bearing in mind the precious component of Appreciation, I also hesitate at the edge of what can feel like a precipice when the idea that is most claiming my attention (flirting with me, as Arnold Mindell would say), seems like it could readily become a rant.
But then, sometimes, (and they can come in many forms), life’s flirts take on a billboard quality – although this one was a very tiny billboard.
Tonight, feeling the pressure of a deadline to get this written, and still no inkling of a flow, I was searching for a piece of cardboard to wedge between the frame and the beautiful but ill-fitting casement of the old sash window in my bedroom. I picked up a 4 x 4 cm card that came with a tea light holder candle my sister brought back as a gift for me from France.
I started to fold it over so that it would be thick enough to create a wedge to prevent the window from rattling when for some reason I was unaware of, I stopped folding and decided to read what
The tea light candle holder is printed with Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers.
This is what the little card said:
“Post-impressionist painter Van Gogh was a huge influence on developments in 20th Century art. He, however, did not live to see his artistry recognized and during his life, only a single work was sold.
At the age of 37, the lonely artist committed suicide, driven to despair by a destructive psychological affliction. After a decade of prolific drawing and painting, he left behind a substantial oeuvre, which provided an important stimulus to artistic movements such as Fauvism and Expressionism.”
And what I wanted to say all came together, in a rush.
I do a lot of listening to people, and it is a pleasure, a privilege, an honour.
Those words get bandied about a lot in my line of work, but I mean them most sincerely. Sometimes, however, it is hard.
I also get to teach Nancy Kline’s brilliant and beautiful body of thought – The Thinking Environment – and that is a joy, a delicious challenge and profoundly fulfilling. Sometimes, though, it is hard.
When both or either of these things get hard, it is often because I am having to face the consequences of what happens to the minds, and spirits of any of my clients and students when they have been or are being gripped by performance anxiety.
Performance anxiety, for me, acts like a destructive psychological affliction.
I thank the stars above me for the inexpressible power of generative attention, and I hardly ever lose faith in it. And yet performance anxiety can occur as a formidable foe to its catalytic ability to pave the way for an injured mind to break through because of the effect on a person’s self-worth and confidence by what is done to us in the name of making the grade.
And what is downright crazy is that this inadequacy is being felt by people who are outrageously talented, accomplished, qualified and immensely capable. And yet, their perception of themselves is clouded by assumptions of unworthiness.
Having spent the last 36 years listening deeply to people who are committed to living lives of contribution and goodness, I have come to wonder time and again what it is we are doing to our children when they are still wide open with wonder and awe to turn them into self-condemnatory critics who doubt themselves in this way.
The older I get the more I am in favour of all that is flawed, fallible, fragile and unfinished. I want to sing the praises of the ability to make do, be “good enough”, own our mistakes, talk about them, chuckle at ourselves, admit to feeling shakey, and above all, ask for help.
Imagine what would have happened to lonely Vincent if he had been able to reach out. Imagine how he would have felt if he had been able to see me, in my twenties, standing in front of his Cherry Blossoms with tears streaming down my face, moved beyond belief that anyone could capture the delicate froth of those flowers with oil paint on canvas.
I live for a world where we no longer waste what is unique and precious in each of us by turning it into a performance. Where, instead, we share what we think, and feel and want to say, with courage and faith and trust that we are more than enough, and that we listen to each other in that way.
Thank you for listening to me.