It cannot be denied that there are times when we have to do certain things in a certain manner regardless of our personal concerns and situations. It does not mean, however, that our neglected inner flow has vanished magically. It is there even if we decide to ignore it.
Then how can we acknowledge it and honour it?
I would like to explore this question, along with a picture book by P. H. Reynolds, Ish.
Ramon was a boy who loved drawing.
One day his brother laughed at his drawing. Ramon was hurt and started trying to make his drawings look “right” but in vain. He finally came to the conclusion that he was done.
Then he found that his sister made her room a gallery with his discarded drawings. She said she liked his drawings because they look their model-“ish.” That gave Ramon a whole new perspective on his drawings.
He began to draw again, and enjoyed expressing things in an “ish” way. He discovered that he could even draw “feeling-ish” drawings and write “poem-ish” poems. When he was experiencing something so wonderful which he could not capture in his “ish” drawing or “ish” poem, he appreciated the freedom not to capture the experience in a concrete way. He lived an “ish-ful” life from then on.
When Ramon’s brother laughs at Ramon’s drawing, his brother does not clarify what is wrong with the drawing. Ramon is hurt, however, and he is haunted by his brother’s laughter. His brother’s laughter irritates him probably because it stimulates his sense of inferiority; Ramon feels angry, sad and embarrassed. Then he starts struggling to get his drawing “right” but the love he used to feel for his drawing seems to be gone in his striving for perfection.
It is true that we sometimes require some kind of standards for certain things or occasions to make a judgement or evaluation that is appropriate in a given situation. We have to be careful to note, however, that such social standards are not absolute or static regardless of the contexts. Especially when considering the personal matters, those standards often do not work. What is “right” or “correct” for one person cannot be easily applied to another person because they are different individuals.
Nevertheless so-called social standards are powerful to bind us in many ways. We are easily haunted by them and tend to forget what is natural and unique for us as an individual.
Ramon’s desperate attempt to make his drawings look “right” deprives of all his natural pleasure of drawing. Moreover he almost gives up drawing. His natural and personal connection to drawing seems to diminish as he tries so hard to be “perfect” as an artist.
When Ramon’s sister suggests that his drawings look something-ish, however, Ramon’s whole attitude transforms. The “ish-ful” perspective changes his whole life. What has transformed in his attitude?
His sister's comment on his drawings makes him realise what is “right” for him is not restricted to what looks “right” for others. This discovery transforms his relationship to drawing. He finds that his drawing can express not only what he sees but also what he feels. Consequently he is open to other means of expression in addition to drawing. Then his relationship to the world changes; he appreciates his spontaneous experience of the world. He knows that he is free to express his experience in various ways or not to express it at all. In other words he is in harmony with the world within and without. His newly acquired attitude is what is referred to as being “ish-ful.”
Being “ish-ful” allows us to be ambiguous and playful. It enables us to bring our own inner flow to our life outside. In other words, it gives us more space to be truthful to ourselves, because what we do or what we feel tends to fall somewhere between two extremes such as black and white. It also helps us escape when we are trapped by "shoulds" and "musts."
Ramon is freer to express or not express what he sees and feels. When he honours the world within and without, he does not have to be active all the time; he can be passive, too, and just enjoy what is there and where he is.
I think Ramon’s story is touching because he struggles to live with his truth, which might be “not right” to others but makes his life meaningful to him. His journey seems to indicate a possible direction how to live a spontaneous and well-balanced, “ish-ful” life, where we appreciate to be ourselves.
(* This article is published in Personal-Development.Com Newsletter issued on 31 July 2014. Thank you!)