The first painting I did ever do by myself (not under the guidance of somebody else), years ago, was “Of Who I Am” (see right, click to see bigger, sorry for bad quality). That one surprised even me with how shining the colors were and how right it seemed about me. But it also got me thinking – I don’t think people perceive me like this. Actually, a friend once told me how surprised he was that my paintings always have such vibrant colors and dynamics. That he would have thought they would be darker and gloomier. And he is a friend, someone who knows me quite well!
What is truer then? The picture I drew myself, from inside of me, which I felt was true to the last line – or the picture those closest to me had of me? It took me a while to realize that they are both right. They are not distinct and different, but the same person seen from different perspectives. Just like the parable about blind people, who describe an elephant – one touches a leg, the other an ear, etc and so their descriptions do not and cannot match. That was the same about me and other people. I, the extrovert inside myself, can see myself – but others see my dull and blurred gloomy shell that I have laid layer by layer on this interior.
But why have I hidden it so well? And then I did another painting, Nothingness on the offensive (see right, click to see bigger). That is when I had realized, that I am not the only one that is so shiny, vibrant and dynamic inside. Everybody is. Everybody is special, trying to show that vital self but also frightened of the possibility that somebody could see it leak out. Frightened, and hiding it. Hiding it and dulling whatever is left of what is seen by the others, pretending it is not what it is. Showing only vague glimpses of themselves to their most trusted ones.
I saw this bright self most clearly when my sweet child was just learning to live in his first years. How brilliant he was, how passionate! How spontaneous, how direct, how trusting! And that is how it shows, the shining, vibrant self.
At the beginning we all are like that, even the introverts like me. We try to connect, to share what we feel to be ourselves, but we are not always welcomed to do so. We cannot be so selfish, we are thought – even before we know the word. We cannot do everything we want, we do not always get what we want. We are thought to behave, to follow orders, to do the way it is done.
It couldn’t be any other way. If we want to live together we need the rules, we need the limits, we need respect for other beings that are older and more knowledgeable – or weaker and uninitiated in the ways of human social life. We are called to order, we are taught the right behaviors. This can be done lovingly, carefully, without damaging the self inside, without hiding the real personality inside, let it be open to others still, but in a socially acceptable way.
But others are not ourselves, they are themselves. They can themselves be hiding, they might themselves have trouble protecting themselves, intuitively growling and biting to protect what they perceive as an attack against their most precious treasure. They can be busy living the way it is done, they can be busy acting properly, they can be busy distracting themselves from their true life. They are not really sharing themselves any more, they are afraid, hidden in the shell. That is why too often the tempering goes farther than is needed. Our ego gets bitten, our passions are ridiculed, our notions are laughed at, our thoughts dismissed.
The pain of the denial of that primal closeness that we feel to be our birthright! The pain and loss of that precious shining self! There is no bigger pain than losing part yourself! There is no bigger fear than the fear to lose yourself! And we’ll shelter it intuitively. Shelter it from the hurt, shelter it from the loss. We will lay the layers of the shell, we will hide ourselves behind the proper behavior – or in our bitterness and pain lash out to those that we think can help us be ourselves. We lay the layers one by another, we learn from the disappointments one after another, we cut our tentacles that are trying to reach out still to others, trying to connect the others and in that connection brightening ourselves. Some shelter it so hard, hide it so well, that they themselves even forget that it even exists.
How difficult making that connection can be from inside the shell! How difficult to entrust someone else with something from inside it! The shell is there to make it difficult, but still we long for it. We long for the connection with family and other people. We long for the unity of all people through connected vibrant selves. We long to share and take part. But only in showing yourself can this connection be made. So we show glimpses of it in hope the others will not diminish us and accept the connection. If not, the shell is hardened even more. If they do, we have made a connection, gained a friend and we might be encouraged to carefully show them more and more. And this is what we long for, that sharing of ourselves. This is what we love, the inner selves of others when we have in their passion given a hint of what it might be.
But nobody can share all of what they long to share – the shell is there, the shell is forever. The shell is needed. We cannot share it all. We must always be at our guard, because even the closest friend has their own shell, their own self to protect – and in doing so they might harm ours. So we share only a little, something that is just barely visible through the shell, but is there nonetheless. To be seen, to be heard, to be connected to. And we hide it – behind belittling it ourselves, behind lies, behind pretension. We do this dance of showing and hiding, tempting and then escaping, forever, never really opening up all the way.
And vice versa – we long to see the passion in others, we long to see their inner self, yet we know we cannot break in to get it. We need to give a piece of ourselves in return to get the other opened up voluntarily. And more than that we are afraid that what is offered is rejected – ridiculed, belittled, burned, bitten, torn. And so we’re afraid of it, so some of us don’t.
Still some have so desperately sought the connection that whenever they see a glimpse of the other’s they want to get it so much that they engulf them with everything they can, to incorporate it in their starvation for connection, to rip this tender self apart in the need to connect to it.
Still others have hidden it so well they have forgotten it’s there. They ridicule the notion it exists, they have a shadow of a connection through shared vicious denial of the possibility and then call it friendship. Yet they are always on guard that somebody in their midst could find out they too have that self hidden inside. Some of those say that it is negligible and they want to end their whole life – yet they come to say it to others, searching for connection with others through the impossible notion of giving up the possibility to live – and receiving only pity or contempt, which do not come close to that friendship they inside themselves had envisioned.
But everybody has it, whether they recognize or not, whether they show it or not. Here, here you have part of mine. This shell doesn’t have to be that thick and dense. It might let some of the light through. It might let you connect with friends; it might be your biggest strength instead of a liability to be hidden. This inner self is what gets things done the way you need to be happy. This inner self gives you the source for creating your meaning in life, for connecting with people you wish to connect to. Without it you are nothing. Go search for it inside you! Nurture it, love it – and you will get the connections you long for. At least I believe so. I am not there yet, but I am on my way and I can sometimes thin the shell to give a glimpse – though I am afraid, I am very much afraid of doing so.