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The Art of Authenticity

Robin Rice

The painter picks up a brush. The writer runs her hand over a fresh sheet of paper. The sculptor arranges her tools. The potter moistens her clay. It may be the crack of dawn, or taken nearly the whole day to summon the courage to create, but the artistic process begins. One might think the artist is creating from scratch. A blank canvas or page, a hunk of marble or clay. It is not so. Each artist brings herself to the process. Her training, or lack thereof. Her recollections of all that she has seen before. The tools of the trade that others have created for her. Perhaps most influential, the hopes and fears of what might or might not occur.

No artist, at least in the early days, creates from a place of emptiness. Instead, it is as Michelangelo said of sculpting David~less a process of carving out something from nothing, and more a carving away of all that is not our masterpiece.

Certainly this is the process in the art of creating an authentic life. Even as newborns we are not free. We arrive with bodies, personalities, and who know what all in our genetic codes. We breathe into these forms a soul and whatever history our soul might have. Add to that our families, cultural conditioning, geographic opportunities and limitations. Even the moon and stars seem to have an influence. (Born on a full moon in Scorpio, were you? Well, well.) So many layers to wade through, so much that is not really “us” to discover and discard before that true light can shine.

The art of authenticity is a journey we come to when all the acquisitions and achievements we once believed would save us have proven not enough. When relationships based on what was supposed to work have failed. When we cannot be who we thought we should be, no matter how Herculean the effort. When life is no longer fun, and we want either a higher game or a way out.

It is not what we do not have that makes us miserable. It is our ideas of what that “not having” means. The idea of needing something other than what is there to work with is what we need to gouge out and sand down. As we pare down such ideas, again and again, the masterpiece emerges.

The process is reasonably simple, though rarely easy.

First, learn to sit still. Let the thoughts rise long enough to look at them. Even the painful ones. Especially the painful ones. Pain, too, is just an idea. Conjure up a formal sitting meditation, or just be lazy and watch the snowflakes fall. It doesn't matter. Just do it.

When something boils up (or better yet, over), prepare to waste paint, paper, marble and clay, not to mention money, time, and energy. Make mistakes. Tons and tons of them. “Mistakes” as a bad thing is an idea you no longer need. Edison made 10,000 discoveries of what didn't work before light emerged from a bulb with the flip of a switch. He never called these discoveries mistakes. If he had, we might still be in the dark.

Learn to be passionate about process but unattached to outcome. The artist creates because to not create is unbearable. We are pulled toward a light that cannot be denied, magnetized to something we cannot even describe. It is finding a way to follow the pull that is the prize, not the material product that will, like all material things, fade with time.

Now, forget your market. Authentic artists care not a rip about what the masses think. In fact, if the masses love it, it's not likely truly authentic. Cutting edges scare people like the edge of the nest scares baby birds.

(“But I won't eat!” you argue. If it's a strong enough argument to keep you from flying, so be it. You're not ready. Don't worry, you will be. When you're desperate enough to create something authentic, even the fear of not eating–I dare say even the fear of not being able to feed your own children–will not deter you. You will be close enough to the pull that trust will replace the fear. And, trusting, the food will appear. But that is another story...)

Prepare, too, to be called selfish. Every artist is. And moody as well. Oh yes, very moody. What painting works without shadow, what writing without conflict? Yet where do the even–keeled finger pointers think shadow comes from? Oh yes, yes, be prepared to be richly moody.

Finally, if you can't find a word for “fresh green grass at first light,” then make one up. You must steal permission from those who would call this cheating, but don't worry here either. It's really just a stealing back of what was always yours.

Will you be lonely? Well, yes, at least at first. Authenticity, by it's very nature, means there's only going to be one just like you. You won't be fully understood, and lucky if you fully understand yourself. Later though, with much diligence, you'll learn to hear the rocks cry out their appreciation and you'll find the “fresh green grass at first light” softly agreeing to tell you it's real name.

Which is, in the end, the whole point of why you'll do it. Because when the rocks cry out and the unnamed tells you it's true name you will, at last, know your own divinity. You will catch grace, in the words of Annie Dillard, “as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.” Even more, you will know yourself to be the grace, the man, the cup and the waterfall, all at once.

At this point in the pull, the vortex will swallow you up, and even the name you were given will fall away. In that stellar authenticity, that white light of pure energy, every eye you look into will be that of your beloved. You will hardly remember your days as an artist–in–waiting. You will flow, as Mother Theresa knew, like “a pencil in the hand of God.”

NOTE: This article first appeared in Natural Beauty and Health Magazine.