[Editor Note: we’re exploring a completely different format for this 20-month-long blog!]
It is interesting to observe the various ways in which people react to frustration. Some people become merely irritable. Some become outright angry. Some break out into tears. The presence of frustration says to us that the status quo is no longer sufficient; the cruel irony in this awareness is that frustration does not immediately indicate what comes next, and this unknownness gives rise to our various reactions.
When I am involved in artwork I often experience frustration. I sense that what I’m doing is now merely doing what I’ve done before. I sense that the work needs to evolve, to become what it has never yet been… and I haven’t a clue how to effect that! Over the many years of being involved in artwork I have come to recognize that the presence of frustration means that the work is on the cusp of “becoming”. Instead of fleeing frustration I have learned to stay in its presence, to not take its presence as some kind of personal assault upon myself. I have learned that the presence of frustration has something to tell me.
In Orthodox monastic tradition a disciple goes to his spiritual master and says, “Abba, give me a word.” This indicates that he wants to hear what needs to be heard. In regard to frustration, I have learned to take the same approach: “Give me a word.” In order to hear the word, it is essential to calm the self down, to not flee, to embrace the patience of listening and waiting for the word to reveal itself. In the spiritual life I have found that this approach to any of my emotions is required in order for me to grow: “Give me a word.” In other words, clue me in, reveal to me what I haven’t yet caught onto, enable me to gain a sense of what comes next.
On my bulletin board I have a cartoon that shows this enormous wooly mammoth completely unperturbed by a tiny arrow sticking out of his side. Further over to the right are two cavemen hunters crouching behind some boulders, one of whom fired the arrow. The other one is asking, “Now what?”
When I am staring at a piece of evolving artwork I often ask aloud, “Now what?” Our spiritual life, no less than artwork, requires the same questioning.