Thoughts on the role of art in life’s struggles

I’ve been pondering how people handle pain and discomfort, in situations where walking away from it either isn’t an option or isn’t a choice they are willing to make. Possibly triggered partly by a book I’m reading in which a woman overcomes her demons by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, learning in an extreme way how to deal with discomfort (because it couldn’t be avoided on the trail).

It seems like leaning in to the discomfort has to be healthier than chronic avoidance and comfort-seeking – but surely there has to be some relief sometimes too?

There is this concept of “self-care”, but when I think about that, it just seems like more effort on top of the effort of working through life’s stressfulness: having the discipline to go to bed early; making the effort to get some exercise, and to cook yourself proper food (and resist those comforting takeaways and sweet “treats”)…

Meditation is also this thing that is supposed to help, but for me it always requires Herculean effort too, and however much I tried, I could never be completely convinced that developing a “second-order awareness” wasn’t just a way of detaching and ceasing to be so moved by things – which is too scary an idea.

I was still in bed this morning when I suddenly registered another approach: making art. Art in the broad sense, including things like music, poetry, prose.

I suppose the whole point of leaning in to discomfort is to find a way through it, through growth, through learning new ways of being, through insight. Art can accelerate that process. Art is the human engine of meaning creation; art is where deep connection with the discomfort brings relief. Art is vulnerability; art is connection with others. Art is reconnection with oneself.

Perhaps art can actually power those imaginative leaps that lead to growth: even counselling, or journalling, is narrative construction and that is art. We might think we are organising facts and experiences but in reality we are telling stories.

In this view, art is not a luxury, or the preserve of the talented; it is a vital life-line.

I am going to give myself permission to learn to use it in more ways.

This entry was posted in meditation, personal reflection, self-improvement, suffering and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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