“The paintings proved a cathartic experience on many levels”, and in our intimate chats and discussions, at times we switched our roles of patient and therapist.
We as women hear it all the time, “Beauty is from within”, and on some levels we understand this, but the reality is, that when we wake up in the morning, having a bad hair day, skin, or god forbid, a fat day, the beauty within scenario is the furthest thing from our mind, and our value’s are once again in question.
“With each brush stroke to the canvas I saw imperfections, imperfections that slowly revealed themselves as the most perfect version of myself that I had ever seen”. – Cynthia
In Search of Happiness
“All beings have in common the desire to avoid suffering and to achieve happiness”.
(The 14th Dalai Lama)
What is happiness? Where is real lasting happiness to be found? Have we not all asked ourselves these questions? Life is beautiful and precious but also full of problems and challenges, the ultimate of which the death of our loved ones and our own. All beings are hoping to discover lasting peace but it seems as if many of us are still struggling to find the answers to these deep questions.
This collection of paintings, some of which go back to my early teens, represent my ongoing spiritual journey in search of these answers. Through these character studies, I have traveled within myself, I have explored the most private spaces, the bedrooms, the dens, the nests, the wombs and the hearts where the deepest emotions can be found. In these spaces the light is often dim, the backgrounds can feel solid and impenetrable like the walls created by some of our most frightening emotions. All my models, like me, are universal beings dealing with modern struggles deeply rooted in ancient ancestral fears. As with Eve and Mary Magdalene, with whom I so much identify, we search to understand the ancestral guilt of the original sin, the guilt of sexuality, the guilt of our fantasies and dreams, the heaviness of religious dogmas. We all share these emotions collected from childhood, inherited from our parents and grandparents, from previous lives and deeply stored in every one of our cells. We attempt to confront our emotions, we glimpse at the dissatisfaction provoked by the realization that ephemeral and constantly changing experiences cannot produce lasting happiness: a pair of golden shoes, lavish hats, jewelry, money, thin beautiful bodies, fame, fun parties, relationships, always the next most pleasurable experience. But a little voice within us is screaming: “Is this really where real lasting happiness is to be found? Why am I not happy then? Why am I always chasing after something more than the present moment? Something different than what I am already? Why do I want to be somebody else? Is it possible that by their very nature all of these are nothing else than attachments, constantly changing illusions of happiness? What is my real life purpose?”
The definition of “happiness” seems to have different meanings changing from country to country. There are many people who are happy simply to have food and shelter and to be safe from violence and horrible conflicts. For many of us happiness might come in the form of wealth and success, for others it can be health and freedom from painful diseases but it is certain that for all beings happiness comes in the form of freedom from emotional problems. So how do we solve all our problems once and for all and then be happy?
In its search for happiness, humanity has developed many faiths and philosophies which, although often the reasons for misunderstandings, violence and holy wars, also seem to have in common the universal message of generosity, love and kindness toward all living beings. It seems to me that human beings who appear to be genuinely happy, no matter which spiritual path they might follow, have chosen compassion and generosity as their life’s main purpose. Like Buddhist Lama Ringu Tulku Rinpoche says, in his wonderful book Mind Training: “Being altruistic leads to real fulfillment. Developing a deep compassion for ourselves and for other beings, gives a method of learning to be less self centered and selfish. The paradox is that our compassion for others eases the distress we find around us and also heals our own unhappiness”.
With each painting, hour after hour spent with my models, just like during meditation, I started to experience the fundamental truth that our happiness, or unhappiness as it might be, comes from inside us. Our joys and sorrows do not depend on external circumstances, no matter how good or bad they might be, but from the way we chose to react minute by minute to life’s events. Most of our distress and suffering is self created by unrealistic expectations and negative reactions produced by our own minds. As Rinpoche adds: “External situations alone are never the deciding factors in our happiness. It is only our inner attitude that determines whether we will suffer or not; anyone can train their minds towards a more positive attitude to life because when we are in a more positive state of mind, no unfortunate experiences can defeat us. We develop confidence and inner strength in facing the challenges of life. Rather than excluding negative and disturbing things, like some of our most troubling emotions, we do the opposite: we slowly learn to accept them and this unexpectedly, turns our problems into possibilities making us realize that working towards helping to dissolve our own suffering and the suffering of others makes life much more worthwhile and fulfilling. Ultimately it is our decision whether we are going to be happy or not. Being happy is a habit we can learn.”
A big thank you and deep gratitude to Lama Ringu Tulku Rinpoche and Lama Rinchen for these teachings and to all great spiritual teachers of all times, to my beloved Mum and Dad and to my husband and all my family, friends and all beings.