Use a stick if you have to, but be thoughtful.

In painting we use various pigments, types of paint and methods of applying colour and texture to surfaces be they canvases or brick walls. When I first started painting again in my forties, I went back to school and studied with Dave More. He’s since become a life long mentor and friend. I recall him telling me that it doesn’t matter how we get the paint onto the canvas: ‘Use a stick if you have to.’ The point was to begin, to make one stroke after another in a thoughtful way. Carl Grimm, one of the world’s top conservators of the world’s masterpieces of fine art, told me that every stroke on a canvas should be applied with meaning, that it’s there to do something. These two ideas,  to begin and to be thoughtful, apply to all forms of creative expression. Combined with experimentation and practice these ideas provide us a useful metaphor for creating and shifting our identities in the world. Nuance and skill take time to learn and develop. Practice is essential as we learn any form of creative expression, identity expression is no different.  

In every creative practice there are tools that we use to create masterpieces. In music we have a framework of scales and tones which develop rigorously, and rather beautifully, from the mathematics of soundwaves, through systems of notation and a vast range of musical instruments which produce an almost unlimited range of sounds.  At one extreme is the sound of the symphony orchestra, sometimes with soloist, producing an extraordinarily complex soundworld. There are decades of practice and training behind each performance. In contrast,  we’ve all heard people sit down at a piano with no training and hammer the keys in a way that makes us want to plug our ears and hope for silence to return.  So it can be, when we are around people that haven’t tried to master relational skills. How can we develop our skills towards the relational equivalent of symphony orchestra, chorus, and solo singers and players?

If we imagine our identities as composites, developed from the many relationships that we are in, then we can think of them like we do painting or music, each composition rich with textures, and layers, and colour that give us each our own unique aesthetic and make us individuals like no other. To create our own personal masterpieces of identity we need to consider the materials and tools at our disposal. And then we need to practice and develop skills that enable us to shift our identities in ways that are unique to us and express what we might call our divine selves, an expression of ourselves that rises close to our ideal imaginings. 

The raw materials that make up our own personal masterpieces – our individual identities – are indeed the various and shifting relationships in our lives. The skills and abilities we use as we interact to create meaning in these relationships could be conceptualised as our relational aesthetic.  

I suggest that we engage in four distinct types of relations. These influence who we are in the world and can limit or enhance our ability to realize our divine selves, particularly if we are unaware of their influence.

four primary relations

We might think of these relations as: 1) people – who we know, 2) place/things – where we go, 3) activities – what we do, and 4) ideas/concepts/words – the tools we use to make meaning.

If we take the above diagrams and write in our strongest relations for each of these four types we might begin to see the underpainting, or hear the melody, of our relational aesthetic. Who we are might be just a little clearer and begin to raise questions about the importance of each relationship to our well-being and challenges.

You can read the introduction at: An identical paradigm shift. This is the second post of this series. As always I invite you to connect with me below by engaging in discussion, and by signing up for future posts at the bottom of this page.

An identical paradigm shift.

James Thurber said, “Don’t get it right, get it written.” And so I begin this book about identity and change. It is perhaps the very essence of my blog, conscious evolution. How do we evolve as individuals, communities, and society as a whole? Can we be conscious about how we change over time? What are the questions we need to ask of ourselves and the world around us? Are there things that we can do to help ourselves be happier, well, and more fulfilled? What factors might be a play that enhance or detract from our ability to change in the ways we’d like?

First let’s address a debilitating assumption: in much of the world, but primarily the west – although likely spreading – we hold a belief that, as individuals, we are wholly autonomous in our actions, decisions, and choices, that our identities come from some inner source that makes us unique and different from everyone else. For most people I think that this belief is held unconsciously. There is ‘us’ and then there is ‘them’. With this thinking we are solely responsible for our own success or failure.  It all rests on our shoulders, just as we believe that the problems of others rest on their shoulders.  With this assumption we are alone but we are fully free to do what we like and create ourselves as we wish.  As I write this, I think to myself, how can we possibly believe this? Yet when we watch the news or engage in conversation we use words that reinforce this assumption. Perhaps it’s time to move past this idea.

We might consider a different view. What if there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’? What if all of our actions, decisions, and choices are influenced by, and flow from the relationships we have with other people, with place, ideas, and things? What if we think of ourselves as a composite made up of those relationships? It may still hold true that we are unique and different from everyone else, but the source of that difference is derived from the relationships themselves. In this view we would not be solely responsible for our success or for our problems but we would share them with everything and everyone we are in relation with.

You can visualise those relationships as a diagram, a painting with multiple colours, shapes, and layers, or as music with various instruments working together and in harmony or dissonance. The image you construct of these relationships, their strengths, closeness and distance, volume, and texture could be thought of as your identity. How they influence you and how you influence them over time we can describe as the aesthetics of living.

By thinking of our identities as composite, made of relationships, we can begin to see how we might evolve through consciously choosing which relationships to activate, enhance, feed, develop, starve, sever or weaken. The possibilities for change are then nothing short of magical.

In this work I hope to share with you a way of inquiring about our identities, and the aesthetics of living, so that we might become more aware of the influence we have over our own happiness and well-being, and also more aware of the influence that the world has on us and we have on it.

The universe will unfold for you with the questions that you ask. Our goal here is to ask the very best questions, the ones that have the most power to invite what is good and useful for yourself and the world around you. I’d like you to discover your superpower and to put it to work in the world. I invite you to explore together how to bring it to life.

As always you are welcome to comment. I appreciate questions that help me clarify and write more as we go. I invite you to subscribe to the blog so that you’ll receive notifications when new posts are made. There is a place to comment and also to sign up placed below.