“No man has seen the third hand
that springs from the center, close to the heart…”
(from the poem “Mystique” by David Ignatow)
While not something I explicitly write about, I had an experience several years ago that changed my life. When I was in law school I was severely depressed. Since then, thankfully, I have recovered but have not left behind the gifts of that experience. In fact, they inform my daily life and are a constant source of inspiration, strength, and wisdom.
One of the greatest gifts of that experience was being forced into a place so dark and defenseless that I could no longer rely on my usually quite tremendous reserves of willpower and endurance to simply carry on through an experience and life that was very bad for me.
One of the best ways I have to describe that experience, and one that still brings a lump to my throat and fills my eyes with tears, as if I were grieving from afar, was that there was a light inside of me, my light. , which was slowly darkening, being slowly suffocated. I hadn’t let my soul breathe, so its flame was slowly but surely dying.
He had the best of intentions, or so he thought. I really wanted to paint and write, and yet, since I had no training or education in fine arts and hadn’t really painted or written much (because I was also afraid and drowning my soul with perfectionism), I thought the reasonable and responsible thing to do What I could do was commit to something that I was capable of and actually quite good at: finance and law. I would do that and get a job that gave me the opportunity to satisfy my inner yearnings…on the weekends or after work.
The further I got through law school and discovered how absorbing it was (like a wonderful mentor who had once often quoted, “The law is a jealous mistress”), the more I realized that the real me, and a self stronger. , it would be in the background for a long time. I was a decent law student with some really bright spots, but not bright like some people, or passionate like others. I had to compensate for brilliance and passion with a lot of extra work and overtime (and all law students know that the minimum requirement, at best, is already impossible amounts of work and ridiculously long hours). I was rapidly wearing myself out in mind, body, and spirit.
But I didn’t want to give up or give in. I didn’t want them to leave me. My ego was so in the way that I didn’t realize that there was actually a decision being made here and that he was giving something up either way: give up the law or give up myself. In thinking that I would be able to focus on what really called me in life on street corners and on weekends, at best, I was choosing to give up on myself. And since then I’ve also come to believe that I was giving up on God because I didn’t trust that the God who made me who I am – artistic, a talented communicator, intuitive, compassionate – would also provide a way for me to let those gifts of my soul support my life. physical life in this world.
Thankfully, at this point, my soul took matters into its own hands and feels like I am spiraling into a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual crisis that I couldn’t escape just by working or trying harder, which had always been my modus operandi in the past. and it had worked quite well. Now any attempt at that has only sent me back into darker wells of despair and helplessness. Trust me, I didn’t want to be depressed. It was a miserable, terrible time. I did my best not to get depressed and I bet I convinced most of the people who only knew me from the outside in those days. I tried to believe that it would improve if I could pass, graduate and get a job. But I wasn’t convincing my soul and it was getting harder and harder to get out of bed, let alone make it through an exhausting day. So I had to try something else.
This is what I think the poet David Ignatow had in mind when he wrote about “the third hand” in his poem “Mystique.”
right or left prepare
a plate for the mouth,
or a thing to give,
and the third hand deftly
and invisible will change the object
of our hunger or our generosity”.
My right and left hands were doing a reasonable job in the world. The world needs good lawyers. I know some and they do a great service to their customers. Lincoln was a lawyer. Gandhi was also a lawyer. He also wanted to be able to function as a responsible adult and be able to support myself and contribute to my family and community.
But because I couldn’t see, it could possibly work for me to do that as an artist, writer, or life coach, which I secretly wanted to be ever since I read Martha Beck when I was in one of my pits. of desperation – I thought I would take matters into my own hands. I didn’t trust my soul, or God, enough to take care of mundane details like that and I didn’t want to be a hungry bum. I also didn’t want to sacrifice the success I thought I would enjoy as a lawyer and I didn’t want to put up with losing the respect and esteem of people who always thought I would do big and great things with my life, like being a lawyer, or even a senator or governor.
My soul could see that my left and right hands were actually serving my ego and my fear and so skillfully and unseen, it plunged me into a place where the options were to continue living a life that no longer seemed worth living or to give. in my true desires and deepest longings.
This practice of giving, really trying to release my ideas and expectations and the desire to control the results, and allow what wants to happen, and then listen to it and follow it, is still difficult for me. But very valuable. It’s something I practice daily because I know it makes my life come alive, everything bursts out in Technicolor, vibrant with richness and meaning. I know that from this place I can give so much more to the world, and it is this very act of giving that also satisfies my deepest hunger.
There’s also the fact that I know full well that the third hand will resort to mystical backdoor punches to get my attention and get me back on track if I start to ignore it.
Painting, especially the way I have been painting for the past year, has been a tremendous catalyst for this practice of surrender and trust: trusting my intuition, my soul, God, and whatever other good and unseen forces may be conspiring to help me. . me, even when it seems that they take many difficult, confusing and mysterious detours on their way there.
Take, for example, a painting I did last summer. I like to start painting the same way I start teaching a yoga practice, training a client, or going about my day, with a prayer and an intention. On the particular day that I undertook this particular painting, I felt very lost and alone. Although I believe that we are never really alone and that sometimes it is just that our level of awareness of our connection fluctuates, it was difficult for me at the time to transfer that belief from my head to my heart.
I started that painting with prayer and intention that if it ended up being something to someone, it would give them the feeling of being surrounded by love and people who cherished and adored them and “watched their back”. If you ever had a friend you knew you thought you hung from the moon, would crawl through a burning desert by yourself, who actually saw you and got you, and still loved you with a ferocity you didn’t think. you deserved it but he sure was glad you had…that’s the kind of presence he craved that day.
And since I also start each painting with the intention of letting go of how I think it should be and just allowing whatever wants or needs to happen to happen, I completed my sentence, turned on some music, and let it go.
Now is when I’ll let all my woo-wooness be known, but here goes (Goodbye to my skeptical and conservative readers! Thanks for waiting so long!)… I started painting, I got into the flow, I started doing movements and markings, and he didn’t really step back until a good hour had passed. When I took a break, I stepped back, took a good look at the painting, and every hair on my body stood up. I ran out of the room and up the stairs to my bedroom. It was late, late at night, and my husband and children were fast asleep, so I tiptoed into bed and pulled the covers over my head.
It wasn’t until dawn that I went back into the room and counted the number of figures and heads that clearly emerged from the random painting I had done but hadn’t seen until I stepped back (I think there were at least eight). While I admit that it still scared me a bit, I remembered that I had asked for a demonstration of loving presences. In the light, I realized that there was nothing threatening here, but there was something and it was this physical manifestation of the usually invisible that had made me feel so uncomfortable… even though it was precisely what I was longing for.
This is good for me to remember. Sometimes what I really long for has the potential to make me very uncomfortable. I may want to follow my heart, or the whispers of my soul, or the will of God… but if I’m honest, sometimes doing that terrifies me too. I think the reasons for this are multi-layered, but one that I suspect is often at play is that we’re just not used to so much profound power at work in our lives. It makes us feel out of control, which really means that it threatens our illusions about safety and control.
However, if you are like I was, and you grab a mask that you hold to hide your true face, hiding behind a mask of who you think you should be, who you think the world thinks you are, rest assured that while you hold on to your dear life, that third hand, the one that “comes from the center, close to the heart”, will work, on your behalf, I really believe, to release your true self.
May you live your life from the center, close to your heart…