Everyone has his or her own way of working. For me there are times when I need to step back from the creative chaos that has taken over my studio, let the paintings germinate, and re-create order. This is the phase I am in now. I began this week by cleaning, organizing, sorting– letting go of things I no longer need. This is a somewhat difficult task to stay focused on, as all along the way I come across scraps of papers with phrases like: “old and broken boat” and “the festal intention of these flowers was revealed” * – with no note about where these words came from. Without knowing what it means, something happens when I ponder the festal intention of the flowers. I feel lighter.But it’s almost Thanksgiving, and I must get back to creating order, making room for something to happen.
My mind goes to the story of Psyche and Eros– to the first archetypal task that Psyche (from the Greek word psukhe meaning breath, soul) is given: creating order out of chaos. You may remember that Aphrodite is not gentle– she grabs Psyche by the hair and throws her to the ground and demands that she sort seven seeds (millet, poppy seeds, wheat, barley, peas, lentils) that fill the room from floor to ceiling, by nightfall. This is what it can feel like when we are faced with difficulty or chaos: impossible, overwhelming. (And sometimes it takes being grabbed by the hair to get our attention). In spite of Psyche’s efforts, she falls asleep, despairing of what seems unattainable– only to wake up to see the last of a line of ants marching out of the room, having sorted every seed.
The old stories are timeless, reflecting our human dilemma, and the significance of showing up against impossible odds. The latter is what Joseph Campbell referred to as “answering the call”. The stories remind us that help comes from unexpected places, and that we can ask for guidance from invisible sources.
With Thanksgiving approaching, it made me think – these timeless stories – that this is what they are about: that we answer some internal calling to do more than what is simply required of us. The stories express the universal patterns that we humans experience: the cycles of order and chaos, loss and retrieval, asking and receiving, winter and spring, death and life. And while I sorted, I thought of the bountiful hopes of every generation. And how those squash and ears of corn, pumpkins and vegetables, all began as seeds in the dark underground before becoming even one small blossom. The thought came to me that hidden within the blossom, within its color and fragrance, was imprinted yet another pattern– an intimation of the feast to come:
The festal intention of these flowers was revealed.
*from Marcel Proust, Swann's Way