A love note to A Sunday on La Grande Jatte

publishedabout 1 month ago
3 min read

Make your life a work of art.

It sounds pretty, no? Draw on your creativity to shape your life into something beautiful, electric, energizing.

I’m all for it.

Except that art is messy, exhausting, and sometimes anguishing. It’s filled with self-doubt, the opinions of others, and failure. Life too.

We think those parts of our life keep us from making our life a work of art, when in truth, all of it is art. Our self-doubt. Our tiredness. Our moods. Our sense that we are intended for more but don’t know how to get there. All of it – art.

This week I went to the Art Institute of Chicago to see the Van Gogh exhibit. When I saw his self-portrait, I felt tears prick behind my eyes.

I’ve seen this painting reproduced so many times but never in person.

Looking at it, I thought of everything behind that painting. The self-doubt. The rejection. The pain. The uncertainty.

I find it so moving to be in the presence of singular, extraordinary, irreplaceable art. Perhaps you too have had this feeling. It's not even the beauty of the art, although it's also that -- it's the extraordinary experience of being there with the art.

What if we felt this way about our own lives?

We too are singular, extraordinary, irreplaceable. We too know self-doubt, rejection, pain, and uncertainty, and we judge ourselves for it.

But all that is actually our art. The extraordinary moments and the junk mail piled up on the table. The argument with our mother and the moment her eyes caught ours and we felt the intense love between us. Our disappointment at the things that haven't worked out and our gratitude for all that has.

What brought tears to my eyes in Chicago was the effort that went into the glorious paintings on the walls. The training. The discarded canvases. The seventy studies Georges Seurat created on his way to painting A Sunday on La Grande Jatte -- 1884 (I had no idea).

Whatever is worth your repeated effort is your art. What is it you keep showing up for? Maybe it's your repeated efforts to exercise or meditate, to take care of yourself. Maybe it's finding the right help for your child or your parent. Maybe it's the way you find your way back to your partner after a fight, or back to yourself after a bout of self-unkindness.

Your life is already art. You just have to see it, by honoring the effort you put into your messy, imperfect human life. Those repeated efforts are not a sign you’re doing it wrong. They’re a sign that you’ve committed to the art of being human. And paradoxically, the more we embrace the difficult moments as part of human life, the less difficult they feel.

This week, when you hit a bump, think of Seurat’s seventy studies for a single canvas, and remind yourself that this – whatever has caused the bump – is not a sign that you're doing it wrong. Remind yourself that all of it is your singular, extraordinary, irreplaceable life.

We make our lives a work of art by seeing how it already is one. ❤️

Seeing our messy, imperfect human lives as art builds our tolerance for our own humanity. That tolerance also helps to counter the #1 painful thought, the topic of this week's podcast.

Episode #63: The #1 painful thought & what to do about it

This episode focuses on a thought I'm calling a "dead mouse" thought. You know how cats bring you dead mice as a gift, but you don't receive it as a gift? Our brain offers us thought like this. It's trying to help but it's not welcome help.

The thought is: It's my fault.

You might hear it when your spouse leaves you, or you get into a fight with your aging parent. You might hear it when your kids don't get along, or when you get a difficult diagnosis.

You might not hear, "It's my fault." You might think, "I should be more patient," "I should have taken better care of myself," or "If only I had paid attention sooner."

Our brain offers us this thought because it knows we like to feel in control and sometimes life feels very out of control. So it offers us this thought, which is not only very painful but also not helpful.

To counter this thought, we can recognize our brain's desire for control and certainty, and give it a better story that highlights our own courage and strength.

Take a listen and see what resonates for you.

Love, Rachel

P.S. If you know someone who might resonate with this week's message, can you please send this to them? If they want, they can sign up here to receive their own. Thank you!

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Rachel Baum

I'm a life coach, college professor, and former president of the Overthinkers Club. I also host the Making Midlife Magic podcast. I love helping middle aged people dream again and create lives they love.

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