“Untitled” from “The Emperor’s Pear Tree,” from an as yet unpublished folktale, © Susan Sorrell Hill
The Illustration Friday word of the week is repeat.
Have you ever been stuck in one of those no-win situations where the same unwanted (read: bad) results repeat over and over despite your well-intentioned and best efforts? Of course you have. It’s an all-too-human scenario that frequently—and maybe even necessarily?—precedes “learning,” that grand goal of Life. Nevertheless, it is a painful feeling to find oneself, once again, in the middle phase of a seemingly-endless process.
“This too shall pass!” is the handy phrase invented to balm the suffering of those of us in such a learning cycle. Notice that I put a positive spin on it? It seems necessary to keep in mind, if only for one’s sanity, that there is a larger purpose for this suffering, that something is asking, insisting even (if you’ve been in some particular cycle for a while) for Change. It’s not that the Universe is simply hostile, and that your suffering is Valid Proof of your favorite version of “What’s the use of trying anything at all?”
I love the way Portia Nelson’s poem, Autobiography in Five Short Chapters (quoted here from Dan Millman’s book, No Ordinary Moments: A Peaceful Warrior’s Guide to Daily Life) describes this process of change so matter-of-factly and compassionately:
Chapter One: I walk down the street and come to a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in; I feel lost–helpless–but it’s not my fault. It takes forever to find my way out.
Chapter Two: I walk down the same street and come to a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it, and fall in again. I can’t believe I’m in the same place–but it isn’t my responsibility. It still takes a long time to get out.
Chapter Three: I walk down the same street and come to a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it–but I still fall in. By now it’s a habit. But my eyes are open; I know where I am . I take full responsibility; I get out immediately.
Chapter Four: I walk down the same street and come to a deep hold in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
Chapter Five: I walk down another street.
Brilliant! The next time we’re in this dreadful, albeit useful, cycle, let’s try asking ourselves, “OK, what am I supposed to be learning here…?” Who knows, we may even be able to skip Chapters Two, Three and Four, and happily get on with our journeys!
“Untitled” (watercolor, pen & ink, colored pencil) “Even Aiko’s best cooking was refused.” One of the illustrations from my as yet unpublished children’s folktale, “The Emperor’s Pear Tree.”