First Love Yourself

My constant companions in the studio.

“And what do I risk to tell you this, which is all I know?
Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world.”
Mary Oliver

Joe keeps coming back to the quote from Mary Oliver from the poem, To Begin With, the Sweet Grass, that is really resonating with him right now. “And what do I risk to tell you this, which is all I know? Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world.” First love yourself has become somewhat of a motto around our house. Not as some sort of orgy of self indulgence, but as the much needed prerequisite of the real work, namely to “Then , Love the world.”  To Love the world is to offer your gifts to the world whole heartedly.

Since the bugle of cancering woke me out of my life I have been questioning what my gifts to the world are.  The work of leaning into first love yourself has been helping me to get there, to sort through what my skills are and to seek my inner bliss. In many ways first love yourself sums up any healing journey.

Steamer filled with leaf printing silk – unrolling them is a bit of mystery, you never know what you will get…

These last weeks since leaving the clinic I have also been doing a bit of the forget about it part. I am finding myself working in the studio in ways I haven’t for many years.  Namely a bit obsessively. Just when I thought that any inner motivation to make things had left me, and that I was in many ways drifting into who knows what aimless place with no creativity, I find myself with ideas, too many, crowding the aviary of my mind. I find my focus on the process to be so compelling that there is no room for anything else.

Observing myself now it is possible to recognize how some of these old habitual work practices are not based in a foundation of “first love yourself.”  There is within many artists a kind of possession that happens when the fires of creativity are burning.  Remembering to eat, stopping to rest or go for walks become unwelcome interferences. I am seeing that these practices may not a good fit me any more. I am having to become a student to a new way of working.

Repurposing a garage sale sweater to better fit what I like – I can’t help but feel the parallels to my life in general…

Also for the first time I realize just how Joe and others supported me in past years while I was indulging in various studio binges. Joe kept our life afloat, and kept me fed. Part of this new way of working requires that I be the one who keeps my life afloat. I need to remember to take time to eat and rest and even, Gasp! be social.

To return to art making after a decade away is an excellent opportunity to question everything.  To confront the puppets who propose that Real Artists  starve themselves, Real Artists are recognized, and that Real Artists are not able to do anything but their art. Real Artists PRODUCE! The stereotypes of what it means to be an artist are many, and often unhealthy.  There is no small amount of shame imbedded in many of the stereotypes.  If I have called myself an artist, and then walked away from it – then by definition I am not a REAL ARTIST.

Back in July when I visited Hai Shan Clinic I had a brief conversation with a lovely elderly woman in the waiting room. One of the first things she said to me was ” I can tell you are an artist.”  At the time I was both happy and surprised, and also observed within myself that being seen as an artist was very gratifying on a certain level.  This is a bit of an inner conflict, as I also fiercely believe that creativity is the birthright of every human being.  To be human is to be creative, even if it has been hidden, suppressed, or numbed. So here is the conflict, a desire to be special in someway, while also believing that I am not. That “not” is a dangerous puppet.

Being “recognized” as artistic is a double edged sword.  It calls into question my self image as someone who loves color and to weave, dye, sew and create for the pure pleasure of creating.  If I get an emotional pay off for being recognized for something I have made, does that indicate that making things is a bid for attention?  Perhaps she recognized me not by my dress, but by my somewhat careless attention to hair, face and nails – a slight slovenliness that is not accompanied by an air of depression must point to a certain brilliance?

Laying out pattern pieces on madder dyed cotton to make a new dress – you need to cut away some unnecessary parts in order to create the form you want.

It is a basic human need to be seen. This is not vain, it is a necessary prerequisite for connecting. Connection is what makes life not only wonderful, but possible.  Judging ourselves for seeking ways to get our basic human needs met violates the first love yourself principle. Of course it is pleasurable to feel seen, of course it is pleasurable to feel like I belong. That pleasure is not an indication of some dire sin.

While trying to observe my thoughts and practices while doing creative work, I am confronted with many of these faulty premises that sleep within the collective unconscious and my own subconscious.  It is like trying to find a campsite in the dark, and tripping over roots. Using a flashlight to find them is less painful.

MT just finished listening to an academic book about the Salem Witch Trials, and we have had many conversations about the group think, and culture of intolerance which fed the craziness.  Looking at this piece of history highlights how prevalent puritan ideals are in America today and how those ideals sabotage the First Love Yourself principle.

Puritanism replaces the idea that God’s Love is the most powerful force in the universe, with the idea that the temptations of the Devil are the most powerful force on Earth. Also believing that our weakness biases us towards aligning with the forces of darkness. At the core our “weakness” is nothing more and nothing less than having basic human needs of any kind. The Quakers hold the radical belief that God can be experienced within every person – I can’t help but wish that they had had a more dominant influence over the formation of dominant American culture.

Hanging the silk on the line is very gratifying – the sun illuminates them until they glow.

So these are the thoughts I am having these busy days in the studio.  As we approach the Eclipse I am sorting through ideas, and choosing what serves me on my path towards loving the world wholeheartedly.  By seeking to go through the door of loving myself I think I will get there, even if I need to walk through the shadows to do so.

May the energies of the powerful eclipse bring light to the shadows that are holding you back so that you might joyfully release them.



7 Comments Add yours

  1. Iridacea says:

    Reblogged this on Dream Bird Studio and commented:

    Here is a post on my other blog, Riding the Pooka, about creativity.

  2. Nancy Spaan says:

    Thanks Iris! This is one of my favorite of your writings- just beautiful.

    1. Iridacea says:

      Thank you Nancy- this means a lot coming from you. So nice to see you at the Summer Bazaar! did you open up your scarf yet? xo

  3. peaceof8 says:

    Oh! My word artist friend! THIS was beautiful. So much of this spoke to my own heart. I struggle daily with this desire to be noticed and approved of as a writer and an artist instead of just making art for the sake of betterness, of soul relief. And the self-abandment that has so often comes with the process makes me cringe. We abandon ourselves and we abandon the world, making the art potentially null. I am learning this balance. Slowly:)
    PS The silk: magnificent. Im so intrigued!

  4. Bree says:

    Hi Iris, it is so exciting you were able to go to this dyeing workshop! Her work is amazing. Your fabric turned out beautifully! My mom is undergoing a second round of chemotherapy and wants to use alternative/natural therapies as well. She is having a hard time learning about this, and I was wondering if you have any recommendations of who to talk to/websites to visit/helpful contacts? We would both really appreciate any information.
    Thanks, Bree

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