Every morning when I step outside my building and look across Ocean Avenue at Prospect Park, I repeat this e.e. Cummings poem out loud:
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
There are so many extraordinary things happening in this poem. Speaking these words out loud changes the chemistry in my body and changes the trajectory of my day (and fyi, this is where the name of my online yoga program Amazing Day Yoga came from).
The line I have been most infatuated with lately is “i who have died am alive again today”. It rings so true! The previous day was lived, then I slept, and in that sleep all of yesterday’s experiences and encounters dissolved into the night. By morning, there is a rebirth, and I am again at the brink of the unknown: what in the world will today bring?
The high art of trusting yourself is the high art of trusting life to present circumstances and encounters that will point you exactly in the direction where your work is. It means you stride willingly forward into the praise and rage that comes with being a “human merely being.”
Or, as eloquently stated by Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living and the unlived life is not worth examining.”
Whatever happens, look at it as though you asked for it to happen. And then proceed to consciously process it. You will either adapt and transform through each experience, or strengthen your resolve, sharpen your gaze, and forge straight ahead.
The high art of trusting yourself also means that you’ve got your own back. If you choose to speak your truth, and the other guy responds in a way that causes you to cringe, you don’t turn on yourself. You instead trust that you made the best choice for yourself in that exact moment and you will continue to make the best choice for yourself in the ever-unfolding present moment. No one said this life was going to be easy, but it can always be interesting.
You don’t know how others will respond to you, and it’s actually not even your business, it’s their business. Neither of you are wrong and neither of you are right. There is no cosmic score card. The winning is in the playing of the game! So make enough space for dissonance as you rub up against the world… and then marvel as it sparks and crackles with the static of life.
The painting above is a self-portrait by my great aunt Alice Neel (she was my paternal grandma Alice Booth’s cousin). Neel was a bad-ass liberal Civil Rights supporting feminist painter from the early 20th century. I didn’t know how impactful her work was until I was in London strolling around the Tate Modern and I happened upon one and a half rooms devoted to her paintings. Racy stuff with dude’s genitals hanging out, naked pregnant women, and portraits with haunting eyes.
Here’s a description of some of her history from her website www.aliceneel.com:
“Alice Neel was one of the great American painters of the twentieth century. She was also a pioneer among women artists. Neel was never fashionable or in step with avant-garde movements. Sympathetic to the expressionist spirit of northern Europe and Scandinavia and to the darker arts of Spanish painting, she painted in a style and with an approach distinctively her own.
“Neel was born near Philadelphia in 1900. She became a painter with a strong social conscience and equally strong left-wing beliefs. In the 1930s she lived in Greenwich Village, New York and enrolled as a member of the Works Progress Administration for which she painted urban scenes. Her portraits of the 1930s embraced left wing writers, artists and trade unionists.
“Neel left Greenwich Village for Spanish Harlem in 1938 to get away from the rarefied atmosphere of an art colony. There she painted the Puerto Rican community, casual acquaintances, neighbours and people she encountered on the street. In the 1960s she moved to the Upper West Side and made a determined effort to reintegrate with the art world.
“This led to a series of dynamic portraits of artists, curators and gallery owners, among them Frank O’Hara, Andy Warhol and the young Robert Smithson. She also maintained her practice of painting political personalities, including black activists and supporters of the women’s movement.”
Finally, here’s a super exciting description from Wikipedia of that self-portrait:
“Neel painted herself in her eightieth year of life, seated on a chair in her studio. She presented herself fully nude… The white color of her hair and the several creases and folds of her bare skin indicated her old age. When Neel’s unconventional self-portrait was showcased it attracted considerable attention. Neel painted herself in a truthful manner as she exposed her saggy breasts and belly for everyone to see. Yet again in her last painting, she challenged the social norms of what was acceptable to be depicted in art. Her self-portrait was one of her last masterpieces before she died.”
Talk about a role model! This woman practiced the high art of trusting herself on so many levels, when many people and systems did not approve. Look at her face. Look at her beautiful “sagging” body! Do you trust yourself enough to face the world like this?