Know Thyself Elsewhere

I have discovered that there is indeed an altar in the Elsewhere museum. Know ThyselfFrom what I can tell it’s a place where people have put objects that mean something to them. One day we were preparing for an event to celebrate the newest edition of a a magazine called I Don’t Do Boxes, and someone placed a chair in front of the altar with all the glow worm toys he or she could find in the museum along with a plaque that said “Know Thyself”. There was something about this set up that touched me.

From what I have been able to tell, the idea behind I Don’t Do Boxes is that it’s hard to fit people into the commonly used rigid labels. The phrase “Know Thyself” implies to know thyself outside of society’s boxes… that to know oneself is to know thyself on a deeper level –a level that society has not yet figured out how to recognize… and there is something powerful in that.

This then is my challenge.. to know thyself, to stop defining myself by other people’s boxes… and to invite others into a safe place where they can do the same.

While growing up in the church, I often struggled with declaring my beliefs. Inside the church any beliefs or thoughts I had always seemed too wide, and outside the church my beliefs seemed too narrow. I sort of learned how to speak the language of whatever community I was with but there was also a hint of an apology behind my words. My inconsistency with how I expressed myself was born out of fear of rejection, but it was also an act of ignoring the song of the divine within me –a song that sought to show me my self.

On the artistic side of things, I never thought I deserved the title of “artist”. I was too much of an amateur, with no right to label myself in such a way. I became convinced I couldn’t paint, sculpt or do anything else that I thought would make myself “artistic enough” – which also meant I didn’t try. When I finally gave myself permission to paint whatever I wanted and however I wanted, the artist within me could finally breathe after years of being suppressed – and my spiritual life never made so much sense. I was living into my true self – my divine calling.

Now that I am at Elsewhere I find myself caught between a divinity school and an artist community. I once again feel the tension of trying to talk about my beliefs. Art (of all kinds) plays a significant role in my life and for me art is tied to spirituality – I can’t talk about one without the other. And so there is a tension at Elsewhere that I feel when ever the question is asked “what brought you here” or “what are you studying?” I don’t know how the faith side of myself will sound to them, and I fear a similar rejection I felt when i was younger. I try to be quick with my words, to explain, to help them understand before they label me and put me in a “Christian” box. My hope is that maybe my words will unlock something for someone else, maybe they will see my own openness as an invitation to freely express themselves… that maybe they’ll see that despite whatever boxes we have been put in, that they are really not that different from me.

In turn, they show me that I am not much different from them. They help give me permission to call myself an artist. A particularly meaningful moment for me was when one visitor asked me if I was one of the artists, to which I very simply stated no. He however, cut me off, looked me right in the eye and said “You are an artist.. you are here, you are an artist.” I hadn’t meant anything by denying his question, for I am indeed not one of the Elsewhere artists in residence, but I was made speechless by his comment. He saw the artist within in me and wanted me to know it and recognize it as he recognized it. It’s this kind of freedom that I hope for other people to find. Granted, not everyone is going to want to paint or make sculptures out of old thrift store items, but we all have a creative side… we all have something divine within us waiting to get out, to be expressed…  and thus all have permission to explore that side no matter the boxes involved.

I have discovered the freedom of having confidence and joy in what I believe in – the presence of a background apology fades a little more every day. The more difficult part of this is finding ways to express this tie between art and spirituality in more open and active ways. Theology is not the language of Elsewhere when talking about art, so I need to figure out how I can express the theological side of myself (in a similar way I look for ways to express my artistic self at the divinity school). Part of my challenge is that I am technically there to be a graphic designer in their communications department… not a spiritual explorer.

But a graphic designer is just one box you can put me in… and a spiritual explorer is another… and an artist another..  and I am free to express all of them as I see fit. For me the art and the faith weave together to form its own thing (a burst of color and passion!) and it speaks to me… its my very own box, that I enjoy decorating with my own unique style. To take time to step out of society’s boxes –to spend time making my own box– is my way of knowing myself and is something I hope to invite people to do. The challenge is in not apologizing for our boxes, but proudly own them! To make one’s own box is a step towards freedom.

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