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Before and after the recent eclipse, everyone was using the phrase ” the totality” to refer, of course, to the sun being completely hidden behind the moon’s shadow. Being a word person, it got me thinking about “the totality” of being human.

Merriam-Webster defines totality as a) an aggregate amount : SUM, WHOLE and b) the quality or state of being total : WHOLENESS, ENTIRETY. Totality of being or existence. Totality of our humanness. Totality of knowledge. Totality of purpose. We don’t often use it to think about ourselves, though.

What does it mean to be totally you or totally human, or more importantly, to embrace the totality of our selves and our humanness? I think of our totality as the sum of all the parts of ourselves, good and bad, even or maybe especially those that we don’t particularly like or would rather hide. Those are myriad and some definitely differ from person to person.

But others? Wrong-headed ideas and attitudes, prejudices, fear of missing out, feeling unloved or lonely, judging others, wondering if and where we fit in, worrying about things that haven’t yet happened, on and on. There are so very many things we all do at one time or another, to greater or lesser degrees, things that are just parts of our humanness, bits and pieces of it that we all possess, try as we might to ignore them. I’m reminded again of Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Hello, old friend,” in response to some of these troublesome things we all think and do.

My “Four Dogs” print, though inspired by Matisse’s cut-outs, expresses the totality of me.

With art, our best pieces will be imbued with the aggregate of who we are, what and who we love, made of colors we love with tools we love to use. So my best work expresses the totality of me. Yet for the last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to create a still life for our next local arts exhibit. I had said I would submit to each of the gallery exhibits this year but I had very little confidence about painting a still life or painting anything at all realistic. So I had resorted to looking at abstract still lifes on Pinterest for ideas. I can tell you that this project had, as a result, been highly unsatisfying. No fun. Poor results. The work did not reflect me. Until today.

Today, mostly as a result of writing this letter, I’ve realized that I was looking away from myself rather than into. I asked my son’s opinion on what I was doing, instead of trusting my own–all because I was thinking of my own totality as lacking. I can’t paint anything realistic. Don’t we just do this so often, and to our own detriment? I can’t. I’m not good enough.

As an artist I have been advised to look to my own best work and to what I love for inspiration, rather than looking outside myself. But here I’ve been, all tied up in knots, trying to create work like something I’ve seen, while at the same time thinking about totality. One should have informed the other, but I’ve been at cross purposes. Until today. Shaking my head. Suddenly remembering that my art is mine and therefore needs to express me. It needs to reflect my totality and not someone else’s. How often do we have to learn the same thing?

So as of 5:30 p.m. I’ve had a breakthrough, with TWO pieces that I love. Yippee!! I don’t expect or need to win a prize (though I would like at least one of my pieces to be accepted into the show). I feel the joy one feels from having produced something that is genuine and authentic. Yeah. These little paintings are ME. That feels so good.

In everyday life, as in art, we are our best selves when we embrace our unique totality and accept those of others. I am happiest when I’m being authentic. We all are.

“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” ― Lao Tzu

“Explore yourself in silent contemplation. You will find a breathtaking person you were completely unaware about.” ― Hiral Nagda

“The closer you come to knowing that you alone create the world of your experience, the more vital it becomes for you to discover just who is doing the creating.” ― Eric Micha’el Leventhal

If you’re looking for my cards or art, you’ll find all of that on my website. If you enjoy these letters, feel free to forward this one to anyone you think might like it. And if someone forwarded this one to you, you can sign up here to receive the letters right in your Inbox. Finally, you’ll find past letters and poems here.

Thanks for listening,

P.S. MerryThoughts is the name of my first book, out of print at the moment. The word is a British one, referring both to a wishbone and to the ritual of breaking the wishbone with the intention of either having a wish granted or being the one who marries first, thus the “merry thoughts.”

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