The True Light

Nov 1, 2016

"Self Portrait in Autumn, 2016, oil on linen, 33x24cm
“I said: What about my eyes?
He said: Keep them on the road.
I said: What about my passion.
He said: Keep it burning.
I said: What about my heart?
He said: Tell me what you hold inside it.
I said: Pain and sorrow.
He said: Stay with it. The wound is the place where the light enters you.”
Jalaluddin Rumi

The True Light

The process of painting is a journey of discovery. Even if we think we know a subject well, painting it always reveals something new and unexpected. I don’t know if this is because we are constantly changing, or because things and people contain deep, inexhaustible wells of which we never arrive at the bottom. This is no less true when one paints a self portrait.The last time I painted myself was almost four years ago now. I didn’t know it then, but I was about to embark upon a different type of journey, neither artistic nor geographical, but emotional and psychological. Please permit me to share with you a little of what I have discovered along the way.

 Harvest Time

Autumn, like spring,  is a season marked by transition. Darkness and light, death and rebirth. There’s the scattering of seed in the spring and then later, in the autumn, the cutting, gathering and storing of our crops. Our labours finally coming to fruition, during the harvest time.
It is also a time of letting go. But what does that really mean in practical terms? And how can we do that in our everyday lives? For some people, and I am one, it’s difficult to let go. I have a tendency to hold on, to people and things. However, I have redefined for myself what it means to let go, and it has made all the difference.
Letting go, to me, now means surrendering. It does not mean, as in the past, trying to forget a person or thing which is no longer present, perhaps through a relocation, or a breakup or death. That now seems absurd to me. Why would I want to forget? My memories, of people, places, and things I have encountered and shared time with are precious to me, each and every one, even the unpleasant ones, for some reason or another. Rather, I surrender to the thought, or more accurately, to the emotion behind the thought, and “stay with it”, without condition, and without trying to analyze its meaning. I simply allow it to be, and observe where it is located within my body. After a short time, something miraculous occurs. A calm. A light evinced, and a lightness felt, emanating from within. Where did this come from?! This is joy! This is peace. I have truly let go.
Joy, I have learnt, is not the same as happiness. Joy is calm, balanced, all encompassing. If happiness is a flower, then joy is the stem. The stem has roots which with time grow strong and deep into the soil.  The stem may bend and be flexible and weather a storm, and then spring back to its upright position.  Lately, I find myself more firmly seated in joy, enveloped in her warm embrace. And together we will encompass, indeed welcome, both the lightness and the darkness, with equanimity and without judgement or prejudice. The “dark” emotions, formerly cast-out, demonized, the threatening “other”, now as refugees from distant lands arriving on my inner-shore, hungry, in need of care and attention, but also bearing both secret gifts and part of my humanity. Welcome friends! You are home now. I will nourish and care for you now. You are with me, a part of me now. As a matter of fact, you were a long.  Does my heart contain “pain and sorrow”? Yes, much and often felt. But I also know that the pain and sadness, fear, grief, and heartbreak are part of what connect me to my sisters and brothers, to all life, to you. I wouldn’t  trade that for anything.


In some moments of our lives we, like our mythical heroes such as Odysseus, Orpheus and Aeneas, may be compelled or called to travel inward and downward. This is something which we must undertake alone, and it is not without difficulty and risk:
“Easy is the descent to Avernus, for the door to the underworld lies open both day and night. But to retrace your steps and return to the breezes above, that is the task, that is the trial. “
The Aeneid, Book 6, Virgil
However, it is profoundly enriching and worthwhile, an  integral and necessary part of our human experience, a rite of passage. And to put it plainly, you deserve “it” (i.e. peace) for yourself, whoever or wherever you are, and sometimes we must “go to hell and back” in order to really, finally, attain this peace.
What compelled my “descent to Avernus”? A personal loss, a physical malady, my current stage in life, all of these really, culminating in a depression. However miserable I was at the time, I now view this experience as a  gift, presented in an unlikely, at first unpleasant and unwelcome disguise, for which I am now most grateful.
I expect to return again, as we all must do from time to time. But for now, I intend to stay here. However as Virgil reminds us, the door is always there, open and waiting. I also intend for this picture, this “self portrait in autumn”, to serve as a visual testimony to the well being which I now currently experience. I feel balanced, whole.


Life does its work on us all sooner or later, in so many seemingly cruel and unfair ways. But in spite of this, or perhaps in response to it, we journey onwards and finally upwards. Despite all the losses, the injustices, the heartbreak and misery, we still find our moments of happiness and laughter. We somehow transform pain into beauty. We are magicians! We are also compassionate and merciful when we are called upon to be so. We prepare and share meals and drink wine together, we create families, we write novels and poems and songs. We tell stories and paint pictures. And we love.


I would like to thank poet, writer and dear friend  Christine Marie Budig for her outstanding editing and proofreading.

I would also like to thank Michael Brown, for  illuminating the way through  personal example, and for your book(s), so filled with experiential, unselfish wisdom .

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