Sometimes people have feelings when they see my artwork. That can lead me to feel like I've done soemthing wrong because I've made them uncomfortable. What I have to realize is that I haven't necessarily done anything wrong - they are having feelings. I can't change their feelings or cause them to have them or not to have them - that's on them. I am but a vehicle for the words and images which come through me. I am not even the origin of them.
In my co-counseling session* just now, I got attuned to the following:
I'm painting what other people see as ugly and am making it so beautiful they can't stop looking at it.
I realized that when I was younger I believed that my feelings were too ugly to be allowed. I held them in and didn't even feel them until I'd done four or five years of therapy and learned to feel again. I was thirty years old before I allowed myself the then very frightening experience of letting my anger surface.
One of my former partners was so uncomfortable with my feelings and his own feelings that he would do whatever he needed to in order to keep me from having mine or provoking his, including being harsh and sometimes cruel to me.
Gradually I learned that it's OK to have my feelings. They are completely valid and OK. They're even safe. It's so much better for me to have my feelings than to try to suppress them. When I shove them down, I overeat, or I get rigid and controlling, or I get very angry, or I shut down to those around me who love me and want the best for me. I need to keep the flow going and to be wide open, both with my "good" feelings and the ones which are harder to be with. It is such a joy to be uninhibited and honest. It feels like the Universe is my partner in goodness erupting all over the place.
When I was in session with my co-counseling* partner, I thought about how I really feel about my heavy models. Their bodies are not the aesthetic I was raised to believe is beautiful. I saw Mom as beautiful - she dresses well, her face is beautiful - yet Dad kept telling her she needed to lose weight. It was so confusing to me. I wanted her to be beautiful - she was beautiful - I wanted her to feel beautiful. I wanted Dad to tell her she was beautiful.
As I paint these overweight women, I am trying to learn what my mother looks like. I don't know. I have never seen her body naked before. She wouldn't undress in front of us except in the most secretive, veiled fashion. When she was in the hospital lately, the nurse was helping her dress, and I asked Mom if she wanted me to leave the room so I wouldn't disturb her modesty. I turned away as she took off her pajamas and put on her shirt. But before I turned away I saw some of her belly flesh and just the side of her right breast. I tried to burn the image into my brain. I felt such a yearning to know how she really looks. I can still see the image strongly enough to paint it as if from a photograph.
I want to take my mother in my arms and hold her and rock her and tell her how beautiful she truly is. I want her to feel my compassion and sorrow and I want her to heal the deep broken places within her.
My co-counselor asked me if I want to heal the wounds of the world with my work. I think she wanted me to recognize the futility of that, but I am aligned with the desire. Yes, I want to heal the world, and especially my mother and other women I know who hate their bodies so deeply.
As I paint the women whose bodies others judge, I will honor them with the loving attention they deserve. In so doing, I will heal the deep wounds in my psyche where I believed I was too wrong, too intense, too sensitive, too strong, too "feeling" to exist. My sensitivity and intensity are my greatest strengths in the work I am doing. They allow me to feel acutely the nubs of canvas under my fingers and the beauty of the women I am painting.
For the first time in my life today, I am feeling exquisitely gentle towards myself and towards all I have felt and will feel, recognizing fully and completely what a gift my sensitivity is to me and to all those in my life. Not a curse. Not something to be hacked off with a butcher's knife or a cruel man's tongue lashing. Rather, something to be honored and revered and trusted and held as the sacred blessing it is.
*Reevaluation Co-counseling is a healing modality I practice with a friend. To learn more about it, see the following: http://www.rc.org/ It has been a very powerful tool for me in my search to get to know myself better and to love myself more.