In our third Without a Net Creativity Class, our topic was “Welcome Everything,” a call to embrace not only beauty and happiness, but even the aspects of life we’d rather skirt around.

To get class going I read out loud the poem, The Guest House, by Rumi, which I’ve posted before. It speaks for itself.

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi

I chose our topic for this particular time of year because the class fell on January 24, according to some psychologists and other thinkers, the worst day of the year. Here are some of the reasons:

Most of us have just received our credit card bills from the holidays. The weather (as in lack of sun) promotes depression, and most of us have broken our New Year’s resolutions. Many of us still have extra weight from the holidays. We’re now totally back to the old grind, and there are no big holidays in sight. We’re being pressured to have new hopes and inspiration for the new year, but we’re in primal hibernation mode. So, we’re collectively depressed.

There’s no strict science behind the worst day of the year, but from the first time I heard it, I decided that at Red Dot Gallery, we’d acknowledge it and celebrate it. Knowing that we’re all down at the same time seems to help. We acknowledge that it’s OK not to be OK.

My Without a Net paintings are about welcoming everything. Instead of hiding from my shadow side, I decided to become familiar with it. I never liked my shortcomings and difficulties, but I wanted to be real about them and accept them, knowing that self-honesty leads to transformation. My experience with facing shadows has shown me these three options will be outcomes: I’ll find myself being healed and changed from a source other than my own willpower. OR I’ll find myself able to take transformational actions on my own behalf that I wasn’t able to before. OR I’ll just learn to put up with myself, which gives me lots of compassion for others.

If I don’t get more acquainted with my shadow side, I’ll never be comfortable, really. Much about me will remain hidden and unexamined, including all the wondrous qualities that are wrapped up among the darker ones. I want to see all of my parts as fascinating and natural under the circumstances.

Here’s a quote about just that.

“What if, as poets and mystics have log intuited, the reservoir of human darkness is         not so much a disease as the raw material of our transformation? [Our best self] comes into being as a kind of sacred alchemy, through the conscious acceptance and integration of our shadow side. It’s not so much the curing of a pathology as a birthing of something that never would have existed apart from struggle.”          –Cynthia Bourgeault

Our first project used the Without a Net Cards. I spread out the whole deck around the room and everyone picked a card that reminded them of a trait they weren’t proud of. Then, using the card as inspiration, we wrote about how that trait played out in our lives, specifically how it affected our self-talk, our actions, our emotions, and our view of ourselves. It sounds complicated, but with the pretty maps we drew everyone was able to come up with revelatory insights quite easily. Our sharing afterwards revealed that no matter what shortcomings we have, underneath we have the same human frailties. We learned more about each other, and lightened our load of personal secrets, both cornerstones of growth.

The courageous project left us all ready for some lighter play.

First we had a paper airplane contest to see whose could fly the farthest. No one knew how to make paper airplanes, so our competition may have been eligible for the World Record for the Shortest Distances Ever Achieved by Paper Airplanes. Serious failure can make for the most laughter, so our endeavor was successful.

Our next activity was to take piles of objects and sort them into categories. The goal was to come up with creative reasons for our groupings. Each person had a different pile, including colored pencils, plastic fruit, old boxes, junk, and some ceramic figurines. Some creative categories were: things with tongues, things that cling to other things, things from other countries.

Our day allowed us to be brave with our tough stuff and jubilant with the easy stuff. We marveled at our very different viewpoints and our striking similarities. We dug deep into ourselves and stretched out to connect with the bigger group. I’d say we had a victorious day of welcoming everything.


(There’s an excellent book by Father Richard Rohr called “Everything Belongs” which expresses similar ideas in a way only the author can, with eloquence and deep wisdom.)