I've picked up another book by David White, author of The Heart Aroused, whom I've blogged about in the past. In this book entitled, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity, Whyte encourages us to view our work as the arena in which our selves are discovered and grow. He begins by referencing William Blake, the famous 18th century poet.
"William Blake, that unstoppable creator...seemed to have a direct and conversational relationship wtih the wellsprings of work. Over a lifetime he exhibited a continual inspiration, a profound vision and an indomitable ability, despite his poverty, to follow through with the tiniest details of his art. Blake called his sense of dedication a firm persuasion. To have a firm persuasion in our work--to feel that what we do is right for ourselves and good for the world at the exactly same time--is one of the greatest triumphs of human existence."
But what about when our work is not suited to us, when "personal fulfillment"--that oft-quoted but rarely encountered entity--is non-existent? Whyte continues the chapter by saying, "To have a firm persuasion, to set out boldly in our work, is to make a pilgrimage of our labors, to understand that the consummation of work lies not only in what we have done, but who we have become while accomplishing the task." (my emphasis).
I remember years ago, while raising small children, I determined that even if child-rearing was not my forte, and even if I felt like I was not engaging fully in my vocation, I had the opportunity to use those family years as a means of growth. In fact, I had seen many who had done valuable things--even on a worldwide scale--whose families and personal lives had become bankrupt. If I had to choose, I would choose to raise my children well, and to develop my soul; further influence could wait, or not come at all.
It's in the rough and tumble of every day life, whether in work, or "at home" that we are engaged in the process of making our souls. A few weeks ago, I was in Bethesda, MD, visiting a friend. Entering an art gallery, I was instantly drawn to the paintings of the featured artist, Loriann Signori. Her exhibition, entitled "Quietude," consisted of many beautiful landscapes, mesmerizing not only because of the colors which pulsated and glowed and almost sang, but because of the layers that were used to create the finished artwork. In her artist notes for the show (which you can find at her website), she, like Whyte, takes up the metaphor of a journey.
Signori's creative process sounds eerily familiar to that of forming our own lives, themselves layered and textured. The art undergoes constant change, the paint may be glazed, then sanded, then glazed again, allowing a translucence to affect the next layer. Signori finds that even as she struggles to capture the image on the canvas, she needs to "surrender some measure of control and pursue the unanticipated." When she is finished, however, the paintings glow, infused with a magical luminescence.
I like what happens when I layer Blake, Whyte and Signori. They shore up my firm persuasion to become something good, even as I seek to do something good. As a pilgrim, I embrace my life as a piece of art, layered, textured, in process, something over which I "must surrender some measure of control and pursue the unanticipated." And still there are stages in this journey, including opportunities to stop and reflect, - moments of "quietude" - when I can walk through the gallery of my life, reflecting on where I've been, what I've become, and relish the beauty that's been created.