Over the last several years, I’ve had the privilege of meeting people whose lives are much different than mine.
In the past, I would have seen their goals, their opinions and their values as unconventional—perhaps even odd. In truth, these people might have annoyed me in the past. I had little patience for the notions “genius is pain” or the romantic portrayal of the suffering artist. Fortunately, my meditation and mindfulness practice have opened my eyes to the rich colors, the hues and the beautiful nuanced perspectives these people can bring to my life. Not the least among them are artists.
These painters, sculptors, designers of jewelry and musicians seem to have a more acute sense of appreciation for the world—for being in the moment—both in life’s joys and sorrows. While their lives are no less vulnerable to disappointment and heartache, these artists give us the gift of vulnerability by sharing their work. Risking rejection, they put their own joy, their pain—their perspective of the small and large moments of life—on display for all of us. If we would but pay attention, we would realize are they using their mediums to open windows to our hearts.
Recently, I’ve made a new friend. A painter. She allowed me the opportunity to see work few others have seen. One piece, a haunting image, provoked a surprising sense of compassion within me. In oils of gray, green and orange, I became witness to heartache and hope, despair and determination, fatigue and resilience. As I reflect on the piece, I’m still surprised that I—someone who has only recently discovered an appreciation for sculpture and painting, a historically type-A, left-brained, middle-aged man—could be moved by the experience.
My life has been relatively free of pain and heartache. I’ve led a remarkably charmed life, being born into a middle-class family with loving parents who provided me with an appreciation for hard work and education, along with the means to ensure I could pursue my dreams. I’ve enjoyed the unmerited benefits of simply being six feet, six inches tall.
Being white and male has helped a lot too—once again, something that has brought me unmerited benefit. But my journey into art, mindfulness and meditation (and probably a divorce after a very long marriage) have changed my perspective, my way of seeing the world. Maybe I see the hope and joy and pain in the eyes of friends and strangers more clearly because of them. I hope so.
My new friends—painters, musicians, and sculptors—probably don’t realize the profound impact they have on my life. Most of them will never “make a living” from their work. Yet they are the Gauguins, the Rodins, the Dylans of my life. They wear their hair differently than me. They dress differently. Some of them drink green drinks or fragrant teas of unknown origin. A few of them even indulge in the use of a particular class-one controlled substance that allegedly creates uncontrollable urges for Krystal hamburgers, Doritos and Chips Ahoy cookies. Yes, we are different. And I’ve learned to love that.
If your life is full of people just like you—insulated from the remarkable tapestry of our differences—perhaps you should open your heart and mind to the art that surrounds all of us. It’s not that hard. You just have to pay attention.
Author: Jim Owens
Image: Unsplash/Luis Dávila
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina