One Devil at a Time

For those of you who have been following, I am continuing to explore Marie Howe's poem: Magdalene– The Seven Devils, one devil at a time. Today the devil is aversion, from the Latin: avertere ‘turn away from’.

Small Wolf With Forest: Painting by Holly Roberts
Small Wolf With Forest: Painting by Holly Roberts

Marie Howe says:

The fifth was that I refused to consider the quality of life of the aphid, The aphid disgusted me.

We all have our aphids– the things that disgust us, that we refuse to consider. This is what aversion is: the impulse to turn away from something.

But how is this important to the creative pattern?

It is vital, I think, because if we want to create work that has substance, work that aspires to timelessness, we must first notice, and then open to what we turn away from.

Let me give you an example:

The universal stories that have been passed down through the ages have power because there is a situation, a dilemma and a solution. There is a conflict that is resolved. There is no story if Little Red Riding Hood doesn't have to face the Big Bad Wolf. The same is true for visual art: if, in our rush toward resolution, or our desire for pleasing the market, or even our love of beauty–we skip over the conflict necessary to reach some place that is new, we have nothing of import.

This is why, the world over, the creation stories begin in darkness. It is from the dark that creation and inspiration come from. Inspiration literally means to inhale, to breathe life into.

To breathe life into our work it is essential to breathe into the darkness, into what we do not know, into what we wish to turn away from– or we have nothing more than a pretty picture.

Another example comes to mind: How many of you are teachers? Or students? What I have noticed as a teacher, is that often the student that comes to my class with the strongest aversion to what I have asked them to do– (generally some form of being hurled into the unknown)– this student, if he or she stays in spite of this feeling, often gets the most insight, the greatest breakthrough from the class. She finds something unexpected, compelling and authentic on the other side of the aversion. This discovery makes her work alive. I often learn something important from this student.

Just noticing what we turn away from– and bringing it into our experience instead of pushing it away– becomes fuel for the creative pattern. Combining this attention with being in the natural world, which does not hide death or impermanence, can put us back together again– bring us gifted moments of being a part of everything. It is what I love about going to Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. The stars and the moon, being in the silence of the desert, put us back in touch with the bigger cycles of time– the miracle of a moon that for billions of years, in spite of everything, vanishes and reappears every month– a praying mantis on your screen door, a shooting star, a sunrise- all of these things bring us into concert with the immensity of the world we are suspended in– the smallest with the largest, the aphid with the sunrise, the local with the universal.

Mary Oliver reminds us:

Well, there is time left– 

fields everywhere invite you into them.

And who will care, who will chide you, if you wander away

from wherever you are to look for your soul?

Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!