Last night I dreamed – blessed illusion – that I have a beehive in my heart and that the golden bees were making white combs and sweet honey from my old failures.
I love every kind of recycling or repurposing. I am delighted at the idea of making something as wonderful as golden honey from my mistakes!
Beyond that, my new idea, inspired by Connie Smith Siegel’s book Spirit of Drawing, is that so-called failures have actually been mislabeled all these years. I have decided that everything is an experiment. Every thing we do, say or think.
An experiment only fails if we are trying to achieve a particular outcome, and we can’t open to what is actually happening. The results are not personal!
I put kimchee on my egg and toast this morning and it didn’t wow me. Now, I may not choose that exact combination again, but it was no failure. I learned something valuable. I won’t curse my pre-biotic friends for their suggestions, or shrivel into a raisin of shame. Maybe we can rename so-called failures, offer these new forms to the bees in the heart, and wonder what they’ll make next!
Our stories, like dreams, start off soft and pliable, like honey, but quickly harden into rock candy, stacked up like walls, that confine us into narrow passages of beliefs.
This is all part of healthy brain function, where the mind is trying to keep us safe by replaying painful experiences, so we’re less likely to repeat them. Wisdom is sometimes described as learning from life experiences, and of course we want to build on these, rather than repeating harmful acts.
However, when we judge unpredicted outcomes as negative or dangerous, we can become rigid and fearful, so life becomes small and narrow, with fewer opportunities to grow.
For example, I really wanted to make gifts for my kids when they were young. I learned to knit, and pushed my skills to their limit by creating a gnome doll for my daughter. Of course I wouldn’t use synthetic, only wool for this stuffie. I was crushed when she tore open the wrapping, tried to hug this jolly, purple gnome and quickly pushed it away, saying it was scratchy.
A hurt part of me hardened, and decided that I shouldn’t make any gifts anymore, that I should have just grabbed a soft toy from the store like all the other parents. Instead, I knitted the next little piggy from mohair, and it was loved and cuddled next to those soft cheeks. It could have gone down the “failure” chute, but I was able to persevere, accepting the data from my experiment instead.
This is gentle but firm perseverance is essential with creative projects. I am enrolled again in the Creative Workspace I keep extolling. My first homework project this quarter asked me to use a skill I already have, but in a new way. After all these years away from the needles, I decided to knit a tree!
I adore my friend Jill’s oil paintings, so I modeled my fiber art project after her piece Jo Jo’s tree (see her glorious artwork at https://www.
With this new framing of life as an experiment, I accepted that I would likely be taking stitches out and starting over. With no pattern, I just went forward, translating what I could see on my digitized screen into a knotted creation in wool. I paused at the end of each row, looking to the painting for guidance.
I had to soften into a dream-like state to breathe into the essence of Jill’s painting of the birch tree, the way the light made white patches, the parts that felt like they moved or changed with the sun’s activity. Because it was all an experiment, maybe the first knitted tree ever, I was free of expectation. When my critic demons popped up,
I decided that the piece could just be an abstract, that nobody needed to know that I saw it as a birch tree. It all went really well.
As I told my class all of this last night, I stayed in my experimental mood. While I demonstrated the way the piece naturally curved around the edges, I discovered that it could wrap all the way around, becoming an actual 3-dimensional tree! We got to experience that moment together.
This project resurrected a part of me I’d left behind – the fiber artist. I’d given away all my materials years ago, and even decided that knitting wasn’t really art the way I wanted to engage with art. So maybe that failure is what my heart bees have alchemized into today’s golden honey.
I will risk irritating you by repeating my encouragement – go make something! Create a sculpture from sticks and moss! Draw a smiley face with squeeze mustard on your sandwich! Rearrange your closet by color order! Experiment with life!
As we get more comfortable with taking risks as experiments, we can reclaim the children we once were. Everything in the child’s world is research. The younger researchers are free enough to use their mouths, noses and ears to study. Allow yourself that fluidity of the dream-like viewpoint, let the outlines soften, and merge with your life. It is from this dream state that we can actually awaken more fully.