Have you ever seen a work of art that you think is just absolutely perfect? When my wife and I were traveling through France, we spent a brief few hours at the Louvre in Paris. We knew that if we wanted to see her (Mona Lisa, of course), that the best way was to get there early. Thanks Rick Steeves!
So, as we are half jogging, half walking through all these amazing pieces of art, we rounded the corner and there she stood. The most amazing work I’ve ever seen, but it wasn’t Mona.
Created sometime around 200 BC, in Samothrace (pronounced samo’ thraki), this captivating statue is a divinely feminine figure, announcing the triumph of battle. Appropriately, she is called the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Despite being on our “mission” to see what we were supposed to see, we came upon her and just had to stand there for a few moments, taking her in. Her power and majesty, the gossamer cloth being blown against her by the wind, the power with which she was marching forward, and the enigma of what she might be lifting or carrying. It stopped us in our tracks, and even after Mona, we went back several times to drink in Victory’s essence.
As I stood there, astonished at how the marble looked so soft and delicate draped across her belly, I thought, “How perfect! One nip more would diminish her.” And I thought of the tailings–the stone chips and dust that were discarded by the sculptor–and how they were perfect, too. Without them, there would be no Victory.
Often we say to ourselves after suffering though a difficult task, “Oh, I’m so glad that is over.” We are thankful to be out of the storm. The challenge was something bad that we had to endure, and NOW we can finally get back to the GOOD life, the happiness, the joy. But seeing Victory’s marble turned gossamer, I was struck by the perfection in ALL of it. Without those tailings, the chips nipped off and sanded smooth, she would not be who she is. Neither would I. Neither would you.
It is a part of this natural world that we experience opposites, the tailings and the sculpture, hard and soft, things we like and things we don’t. But I doubt very seriously that this sculptor hacked away at the marble with judgmental or vengeful ferocity. No, it’s just not possible. Victory could not embody her essence in this way if she had. Yet, that is what we do with our own lives. That 20 pounds of fat must go NOW! This relationship must END! I can’t stand this any longer! Then we throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Victory’s sculptor used great discernment to remove the bare minimum needed for her to display her own unique perfection. Perhaps I can do that, too. Perhaps there is a shift from judgment and separation, to appreciation, inclusion, and discernment that I can make as I shape my life.
What about you?
What are the areas of your life where you have hardened yourself? What would it take for you to grant them softness or flexibility? I don’t know what that is for you.
I invite you to try on a PRACTICAL PERSPECTIVE:
Consider that your view of the world shapes your experience of it.
For me, when I can, I view the struggles as precious pieces that I have not yet come to terms with. Does this fit for my life? Does discarding this reveal more of my essence, or would it diminish me? If I don’t know, I don’t even pick up the chisel. I sit with it, look at it, imagine what would my life be with it, and without it. Only after careful consideration do I then remove the habits and beliefs that no longer work for me.
I’ve recently done this with exercising. When I was younger, I was into bodybuilding and powerlifting. No pain, no gain! Remember that? Well, my 45 year old body doesn’t agree with that anymore, no matter what I tell it. Getting ready for a 5k run recently, I began lifting weights again.
I thought to myself, “I need to take it easy, don’t over do it,” because my pattern has been to, well, overdo it. So I didn’t lift the maximum I thought I could, but kept it smaller and what I thought was pretty manageable. The next morning my lower back was locked up and it was difficult to walk. Turns out that my core muscles are not even close to the strength I thought they were. While my legs and back could handle the weight, my core couldn’t. If you have ever experienced anything like this, look up the psoas muscle. That’s the one I have to pay attention to.
So, do I just say forget it, I’ll never lift like that again, oh, and I might as well not run anymore either? Perhaps. That is certainly one way to avoid that kind of pain.
But if I think of the Winged Victory, and sense into what that sculptor might have been experiencing, I see it differently. Mine was a precious failure, one from which I can grow, and learn, and contribute. There is no truth in that, by the way. Just a point of view. I like it, so I’ll keep it. I’m sure I can chisel something away, perhaps the myth of No Pain, No Gain. I’m rebuilding my psoas and strengthening my core muscles, and I’m going really…. really…. slooowww. And, I’m happy to say, it’s working!
WHAT’S YOUR EXPERIENCE?
Is there a different perspective from which you could view your current circumstances? Perhaps one that is useful, inclusive, and life giving? If you ask your mind these questions, it’s amazing how it will give you insights. Try it out…
When we grant preciousness to the struggles and challenges, we can begin to see their gifts. Perhaps you are struggling with something right now. Perhaps it holds a gift for you–the gift of greater enlivenment, of deeper connection, or further expansion. It takes commitment and curiosity to slow down in the midst of the conflict and say, “Wait a minute–how is this actually contributing to me? How can I grow through this? If there is purpose here, what is it?”
David Whyte wrote in his poem Sweet Darkness, “…anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.”
Lifting enlivens me. I don’t like the recovery sometimes. It can be painful. But I do like being able to run up the hill behind my house, and compete in Obstacle Course races, and ski, and wrestle with my dogs on the floor. The pain is a feedback mechanism, telling me what works and what doesn’t. Winged Victory’s sculptor could see into the stone before he took the next nip or chunk off. He could see ahead of time whether a nip with the chisel would be painful or enjoyable, whether it would diminish or contribute. I believe he viewed each tap with the hammer as precious, and I think we can do this in our lives.
Wishing you many blessings as you Create the Capacity for Change!