A few years ago, I came to realize (through hardship and a great therapist) that I had a problem with self-differentiation. In my most important relationships I was being driven by a deep-seated fear of rejection and abandonment. My sense of self was WAY too tied up in others and outside forces.
Self-differentiation is a concept introduced by Dr. Murray Bowen, and here I’ve copied some text from The Bowen Center to describe a well-differentiated self.
A person with a well-differentiated “self” recognizes his realistic dependence on others, but he can stay calm and clear headed enough in the face of conflict, criticism, and rejection to distinguish thinking rooted in a careful assessment of the facts from thinking clouded by emotionality. Thoughtfully acquired principles help guide decision-making about important family and social issues, making him less at the mercy of the feelings of the moment. What he decides and what he says matches what he does. He can act selflessly, but his acting in the best interests of the group is a thoughtful choice, not a response to relationship pressures. Confident in his thinking, he can support others’ views without being a disciple or reject others’ views without polarizing the differences. He defines himself without being pushy and deals with pressure to yield without being wishy-washy.
thebowencenter.org – Differentiation of Self
This is hard shit if you didn’t grow up in a family with healthy attachments. Honestly, it’s hard shit for anybody.
With the help of a this therapist, I began to try and rewire my brain, in what I now recognize as my first steps into mindfulness training. It began with a constant reminder that became a mantra: Orient Self To Self. My aim was to move away from looking to others/outside to see if i’m okay, Rather I can look to myself (hello, mindfulness!) and also commit to being the kind of person that I am proud to be, giving myself grace and forgiveness when I don’t live up to my own expectations or the commitments i’ve made to others. To be free to be okay when others may not act in the way I expect or hope for.
I’ve made some progress. Most day’s I earn a “B” in this category. Some days and strings of days, I really lock into a healthy mindset that’s even better. But on the occasions when my more intense anxiety surfaces, and my ability to access these new skills becomes compromised, I can actually observe myself getting pulled away from wise mind, sucked into fear and muddled thinking, feeling unworthy and unloveable.
Tara Brach, in her excellent teaching on the RAIN of self-compassion, refers to this as a trance, “a narrow, distorted reality that lasts for a time.” The trance narrows one’s focus to only see what’s wrong, forgetting the larger context of life. She proposes that the only way to widen perspective from the narrow focus on what’s wrong, is to shine a light on the trance itself, which I suppose is what i’m attempting to do here.
I’m going to write more another time about how I’ve been attempting to integrate the RAIN concepts into my life this year. It is slow and vulnerable work, and rewarding.
These last couple of weeks I have been battling the trance with some big wins and some sad losses. Wish me luck.
I’ve had the Sayre Park painting hanging in the living room to observe for the past few weeks. It’s been a great reminder of the kind of work i don’t want to do. Through talking about this with Zion and Josiah last weekend, we decided it looked more interesting turned on its side. Once I did that, the painting was crying out to become an underpainting for something new.
A couple of days later, an artist named Katie Vernon posted a painting to her instagram that inspired me to start my new painting in a particular way. Here is her painting:
Last night I found just the right photo source for the new painting and got to work. I starting blocking white, then gray, then blue and brown and greenish grays. I made a few passes over it and really got into a flow and had a lot of fun. I’m absolutely loving the direction this took and I’m looking forward to digging back in to it.
Covered a lot of ground and had a really fun painting session last night. I blocked in more of the hills and mountains in the distance, and put in a couple of washes on the lake itself. I expect the final painting to not look much like this at all, but it’s heading in the right direction. Next passes will focus on sky and some elements in the foreground that haven’t been painted yet.
It feels inevitable that all this diving into observational painting is just taking me the long way back to complete abstraction. I’m not trying to go there, but as I continue to incorporate mindfulness into everything i’m doing, it’s hard to ignore the bursts of excitement and delight that I get when I’m making marks for marks-sake. Who knows!??!!!!
Put in time last night doing an underdrawing and putting some paint down on this 48×36″ panel. Lately i’ve been trying to just work on whatever i’m drawn to in the moment, and last night I was feeling this big one. I lost a little momentum looking for the right source photo. to work from. I landed on a view of The Loch, a lake I hiked past on the way up to Sky Pond in Estes Park.
One thing i realized right away was just how much this change in scale changes the game for the way I’m painting, and really the way i’ll *be able* to paint. This one is going to be a challenge but i’m determined to learn as much as possible.
The main drawback of jumping into this painting is that I won’t be able to iterate as fast, which is going to slow down the overall learning cycle. To this end, i’m going to get one or two smaller works going over the weekend so when i’m not ready to dive into the big one, i’ll still be able to make progress.
Working on freeing myself up a bit more, so I’m going to be making some low-risk, low-stakes landscapes on paper. I have some ideas about what i’ll do with these but I’ll discuss that when I actually do something. I’m thinking this needs one more pass before calling it “done.” This scene is inspired by a photograph I took on my hike to Chasm Lake, just after climbing above the treeline.
Everything about this roughly two hour painting session felt good. It had its ups and downs but more often than not I was experiencing a flow state. I succeeded in not overworking anything, and I now have a clear vision of where this painting will end. I am toying with a tone change in the sky but I want to add the foreground elements before changing anything.
one thing that has been working well when my intention is to paint looser and more intuitively is to put on improvisational jazz music. The last couple of painting sessions were powered by Makaya McCraven. Something about the groove and the open ended improvisation really helps me get out of my head and paint more by feel.
I was finishing up sanding a few freshly primed wood supports when I came across an old project I started about two years ago. I had cut up the solid wood top of an unused drawing table to use part of it for another project and was left with a 22×15 inch panel that seemed to have potential. I decided to use wood carving tools to carve a series of grooves into the wood, then pushed magenta ink into those cracks and wiped the top surface down (kind of like inking an etching). I then filled the cracks and covered the entire surface with about 1/8 inch of resin. This is where i stopped (my original plan was to layer further groove/fills, but I put the panel aside).
Upon seeing that board again, i had an urge to paint over it because i’ve found that starting with an old painting seems to work well for me right now. I took the panel outside and sanded the resin down to a paintable surface with 150 grit, wiped off all the dust, then got busy.
Using a photo I took from above Sky Pond, I started with a pencil sketch. Feeling the momentum, I decided to white out the sky as a base, then make some green marks. I really like where this is headed, it’s got a lot of potential and it feels right.
I decided to relieve myself of the impulse to make another tonal, semi-representative work by forcing myself to work with a non-representative palette. I painted this over three sessions and I feel pretty good about it. The one thing i really learned while painting this is how much the music i’m listening to influences my approach to making marks.
I struggled quite a bit at first to get into a flow with this painting. Zion was also painting in the studio next to me and I let him pick the music. It was a great mix, but around halfway through the session some kind of more improvisational jazz type of music started playing and the groove and the energy of the music started influencing my painting. Zion noticed it too and commented on it. I’m going to start to experiment with different music as i continue this painting practice. There is really something here to use.
In my second sitting with this painting I brought in the sky and sea, and I have to say that it was thoroughly enjoyable and I like the outcome. In particular, I love this section of the shoreline. I’m making a conscious effort to evoke the essence of the scene without getting too precious.