I am too tiny in this world, and not tiny enoughjust to lie before you like a thing,shrewd and secretive.I want my own will, and I want simply to be with my will,as it goes toward action;and in those quiet, sometimes hardly moving times,when something is coming near,I want to be with those who know secret thingsor else alone.
Secret: not known or seen or not meant to be known or seen by others, something that is not properly understood; a mystery.
Is the idea of keeping something secret, of privacy, of cultivating something in our inner world before it is said or shown out loud, getting lost? I am not speaking of those long, dark secrets– what I mean is sometimes we have the impulse to report immediately, to send an instant response– tweet! What I am trying to do is counter this impulse by pausing to find out where I am before I click.
The important things, the things that are essential, take time to reveal themselves: dreams, people, paintings and poetry. My best time for writing or painting is in the dark, before the world wakes up.My insights and ahas often come when I am still in bed, either dreaming or in the process of waking up.
The creative pattern has a gestation period that is reflected in the natural world, in the seeds beginning underground and in the baby growing in a dark womb. There is a sense of protection before something meets daylight. The same principle operates in the making of a painting, a poem or other forms of art, but is often forgotten in this world of quick things. To divulge an idea or an image before it is fully formed can cause a kind of abortion.
As artists, we often show something before it is ready because of a burst of initial enthusiasm or an insecurity about where it is headed. There is no rule about this, as often it can be helpful to have an objective voice. At other times, our efforts can be thwarted– if the idea or picture is not fully rooted within the artist, or is shown to the wrong person. Even a well meaning person can respond with an offhanded comment that sends us into doubt or even despair. There are many people who dismiss or criticize without really seeing or paying close attention to the work. One of my friends, who was working on what I thought was a powerful body of work, said some folks came by to look and just said: You've been busy! An innocent enough comment after much hard work can be more discouraging than it needs to be.
The idea of protecting our art as it is developing cultivates a sense of inner anchor with the creation, and makes us less vulnerable to what anyone else thinks. It works well with the meaning ofsecret as:
a valid but not commonly known or recognized method of achieving or maintaining something
It is a way of valuing the root meaning of secret,taking the time to be separate from the voice of others and sift through the material. There is a power in waiting until something is fully formed, in trusting our own sense of timing. It is the difference between "planting your future" (a phrase from Nobel Peace Prize winner, Wangari Maathai) and being inadvertently planted toward some end through lack of intention.
At the moment, in my new series of paintings, I have only a glimmer of a thread that I am following. I nourish it by showing up in my studio, and finding out what it wants to be, before I am able to make sense of it, or show ideas. The images you see above are from an earlier dream:
In my dream I was standing on the other side of the door of death. There was a white sheer curtain across the threshold. A voice I recognized said: You cannot come in here yet. A hand reached through the opening and gave me a basket covered in white cloth. The voice said (referring to this basket): You have everything you need to do your work.
It was a powerful dream, and I spent many mornings in meditation trying to "see" underneath the white cloth, to what was in the basket. I was sure that this would be the key to what I needed to understand about my work. One morning I finally got it– I wasn't meant to pry open the secret, but to let it remain a mystery, to unfold in its own time.
Here is an exercise you can try:
Write down your secret in private, on a piece of paper.
Obscure what you have written by at least partially covering it with paint, ink, collage, or stitching.
Now ask a question about the secret, writing on top of what you have obscured.
Now, as an envelope encloses or contains something we cannot see- place it in an envelope and send it to yourself.
I'd love to hear some of your stories.