I have been thinking a lot about what is required to grow beyond who we have been in order to become who we need to be. What parts of our identities and how we have previously known ourselves do we need to acknowledge, relinquish, expand and what parts are in need of tending and care in order to experience the fullness of our humanity?
On a cold night in February of 2005, I walked into the tattoo studio and sat down to wait for my appointment to begin. “Are you sure that you want to do this? This is your last chance.” “I am sure.”, I replied.
I sat on that stool for two hours as the word WARRIOR was engraved across the top of my back. Upon my arrival home, I went into the bathroom and turned to look in the mirror. All of a sudden it was very hard to breathe. The knowledge of the commitment that I had just made to myself and to all that I believed in felt very large. Too big for my lungs to breath in and exhale out. That night as I slept, I dreamt of wild horses running free through the streets.
In September of 2018, I would once again step into a tattoo studio in order to refresh the ink in the WARRIOR tattoo. At the time, I believed I was recommitting to my original idea and understanding of what this word means and what it means to have this intention permanently marked into and upon your skin and body.
Speaking of words, how about the word "strong". What does it mean to truly be strong? Throughout my adult life, strong is a word that has been attached as a descriptor for me with a certain amount of regularity. Strong for being a single mother. Strong for standing up for what I believe in. Strong for being an activist. Strong for not giving up on my vision of being an artist. Strong for surviving abusive relationships. Strong for putting myself through undergraduate and graduate school while being a single mom. Strong for raising a child whose skin color is not the same shade as mine. Strong for directing organizations. Strong for having an identity other than straight. Having a strong constitution. Having a strong will. The list can go on.
At the beginning of this then unimaginable year of 2020, something shifted deep inside me. I cannot say that it was the result of any one particular experience or event. I actually believe it was the culmination of many. The culmination of many "strongs" so to speak. Strong had lodged itself inside my identity and I believed it to be such an established component of my makeup that whatever the other side of strong was or is...well...it terrified me. I was terrified to admit that I did not always want to be strong. I was even more terrified to admit that I wanted to experience the other side of the coin. I wanted to experience vulnerability. I wanted to be open. I wanted to learn to soften.
This shift did not look like what you may expect. In fact, the only way that I was able to continue to see and honor it for myself was through the acquisition of a pink, fuzzy, luxuriously soft sweater. I needed a way to signal to the world and to myself that there were times that I needed and wanted to be treated with care and with gentleness. A way to signal that I was more complex and layered than perhaps even I had been wiling to admit in this regard. I needed a way for me to physically feel my willingness to embrace vulnerability and the softening that I longed to experience.
When I was a little girl, I boycotted the color pink. I believed it was the color that had been invented to ensure that girls could not do what boys could do. I believed that pink was a signal to the world that you were anything but strong. Enter the pink fuzzy sweater. The first time that I wore my emblem of vulnerability it was quite a surprise to the people who knew me. Every time that a comment was made, I explained that I was embracing my softer side and enlisted them in shifting the way that they had grown accustomed to seeing me. I am still a warrior. I will always be, however my definition of what that means and how it feels to wear it has expanded.
Often while I was painting Warrior I burned sage and incense. The smoke trails that resulted often played tricks with me, revealing faces that would be visible only out of the corner of my eyes. On one occasion I was certain that someone was standing slightly to the right hand side of where I was painting. When I turned to speak I realized that no solid, human form was there at all. The canvas itself continually revealed faces or images that I did not intentionally place there. These faces emerged, transformed and shifted as the painting progressed. The faces are still there, watching and looking. I sense the majority of them reside in the background, the colors of the red earth holding the spirit of those gone before me and those yet to come. Profiles are also evident in the middle division line of the canvas. These are closer to the surface, closer to this world. Their energy and spirit are closer to the line of crossing over.
The gratitude, peace, and love that I feel as a result of this creation are immense. It is a humble prayer. I ask to be a warrior. I ask to be constantly aware of the connection between all life and all that is. I ask that my life reflect the wisdom that each thought, decision, and action has an impact on the entire web. I ask that I have the courage to face my fears in a way that will create true strength. I ask for the courage of a warrior to do what is right and not what is easy.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness
comes as an unexpected visitor,
Welcome all and entertain them all!...
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in,
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond
In Love, Art & Spirit,