During one of Ram Dass’ lectures on psychedelics back in the ’70s, he encountered a curious woman seated in the front row. In contrast to the usual types drawn to his popular talks — twentysomethings, dressed in white, long hair — this woman wore a little hat speckled with plastic cherries, a print dress, and black oxfords. And she was around 70 years old.
No matter how far-out Ram Dass’ talk got, the woman kept nodding her head in agreement. Intrigued, Ram Dass pushed things into the realm of the truly mystical. Still, she hung in there, nodding quietly to herself as his stories got more and more bizarre. Afterwards, she thanked him for verifying her own beliefs about how the Universe worked.
“How do you know? he asked. “What have you done in your life that has brought you into those kinds of experiences?”
She leaned in close, “I crochet.”
As this story aptly illustrates, spiritual truths often arrive wearing unexpected disguises. It’s wrong to assume that the only way to get “there” is by sitting in deep meditation on a mountaintop. True, that method might work for you, but there are limitless ways to arrive at some of the deeper understandings about the nature of Life that don’t require walking traditional routes. Take crochet for example. Or in my case: painting.
Begin In Darkness & Move Towards The Light
When painting, realism is best achieved by beginning in the darkest areas of a given subject first (the shadows) and then moving slowly towards the lightest areas, building dimension and shape one brushstroke at a time. The same basic idea applies in life. By learning to accept and embrace the darkest aspects of our own psyches, we gradually come to a deeper and more compassionate understanding of not only ourselves, but of our fellow beings as well.
True Colors Arise With Time
After working in acrylics for several years now, I’ve discovered that the most accurate shade of any color arises only after it’s had enough time to dry. And even though acrylics dry very quickly, it still takes about 12 hours before their “true” colors can shine through. It’s the same with us. Uncovering the purest and most authentic “you” — whatever that is — takes time. Unfortunately, many of us give up the search for our true “Self” out of frustration, anxiety and impatience.
Flip It For A Fresh Perspective
While it may seem odd, flipping paintings over and looking at them upside-down actually helps you identify problem areas. Too much negative space, objects out of proportion to one another, inaccurate shading…these kinds of issues are easier seen when viewed from a different perspective. And yes, so are our lives. Like any work of art, they too deserve a fresh perspective every now and again. Are there areas of “negativity” that need some compassionate attention? Is there a sense of balance to your life, or does it seem “out of proportion” in any way? Do the colors seem correct, or is there a feeling of insincerity to the whole picture?
Straight Lines Are Best Done Fast
If you ever need to draw a straight line without the help of a ruler, you’ll get the best result by doing it quickly. The same applies to all geometric shapes. Over thinking it is the surest way to end up with something you don’t want. Whenever I over-analyze a decision, I’m either less apt to act, or more likely to make mistakes. Don’t get me wrong, the intellect is “an exquisite servant,” as Swami Vivekananda once said, “but it’s also a terrible master.” You can’t just “think” (intellectualize) your way through life; it takes “feeling” (intuitive wisdom) as well. That, and trust.
The ways in which we arrive at spiritual truths are as varied as there are stars in the Milky Way. Believing that your particular practice is the only course worth taking is an all too common mistake of our clever egos. For me, the light of truth emanates from the tips of my paintbrushes. For writers it appears through language. And for those who crochet, perhaps it’s the intricate patterns woven in fabric that point the “Way.”