Diving deep

Another Place, Anthony Gormley

[Wo]men are only free when they’re doing what the deepest self likes. And there is getting down
to the deepest self! It takes some diving.

D H Lawrence

I’m lucky enough to have spent most of my working life doing things that I like.  This hasn’t made for the greatest career path, nor has it usually brought in much money, but for the most part I’ve enjoyed the work and have loved the variety.  What I realised recently, though, was that I’ve seldom given myself permission to go for what my ‘deepest self’ wants.

As Lawrence says, ‘it takes some diving’ to get down that deep and, once down there, some courage to admit to what that self wants and an openness to believing that it might be possible to have it.  It’s easy to fool yourself that you have indeed dived deep, when in fact you’ve only gone just under the surface and the real truth is waiting for discovery, on the ocean bed of who you really are.

I’ve been interested in art since I was a child, but it was never encouraged and, despite winning a couple of (very) small prizes in local competitions, I didn’t believe that I had any talent.  As I did have talent academically, this was the route I was directed down and it wouldn’t even have occurred to me to think that I could have a career centred around art.  If I’d understood it as a possibility at the time, I might have studied art history, but art itself? – not an option.

But that deep part of me that craved for artistic expression kept trying to come out.  When I was first married it got channelled into interior design, sewing, knitting, and painting bits of furniture; it showed itself in creating displays when I worked in a bookshop; as a hypnotherapist it got expression through working with creative visualisation and metaphor; and I understand now that I trained as a colour and style consultant (I wasn’t cut out for it in any other way) largely because it offered an opportunity to be creative with clothes and colours.

But I wasn’t diving deep enough and these things only partially satisfied what my deep self wanted, which is one reason why I never stuck with anything for long. I was doing my best to give my deepest self what it wanted, but in a modified way that fitted with what I thought I could have and – sometimes – what the people around me thought it was OK for me to have.  I would have said that I was doing what I really wanted to do, and in a sense I was, but I wasn’t going deep enough.  Finally I acknowledged the deep me for long enough to sign up to some drawing and painting classes and got up the courage to ask my tutor if she thought I could get into an Access course for Art and Design.  She said yes, I applied, I got in, and I discovered photography.  That was the beginning of diving deep, and it only took me, oh, about fifty years to get to this stage.  Never too late, of course, but I mourn a little for the lost years.

Even now, I don’t dive deep enough.  Teaching has always been my vocation and when I started to teach photography I thought that finally I was doing what I most wanted to do.  That might have been true for a short while, and it was certainly something I was very happy to do (although that’s true of most of the things I’ve done), but it wasn’t the aspect of photography I most wanted to teach.

Recently I’ve allowed myself to – at last! – give voice to my deepest desires, and that’s to work with contemplative photography.  It suits me – it brings together my interests in art, philosophy and psychology, and my love of teaching.  It also frightens the heck out of me, because it’s not like showing someone the way round a camera, which is nicely cut and dried – press this button, adjust this dial, and this is what you’ll get.  The questions rise up – am I able to do this? how am I going to do this?  where should I start? shouldn’t I just stick to what’s easy?

I was, like many of us, brought up to think not only that I couldn’t have what I most wanted, but to believe that I was wrong for wanting it at all.  A recurring phrase from my childhood – one that horrifies me when I think about it – was ‘those that want don’t get‘.  It’s a Catch-22 recipe for not allowing yourself to even acknowledge what it is that you want and I sincerely hope no-one ever says this to their children anymore.  Over the years, after much self-therapy, I was willing to think that it was OK for me to want what I wanted, but still the habit sticks of only allowing myself to want what I think I can get – to dive just under the surface and fool myself that I’ve gone all the way down.

Those depths are scary places.  You might find yourself unable to breathe, you don’t know exactly what you’ll find there, it’s dark down there on the ocean bed, and bringing what you find back up to the surface to have a better look at it makes you feel intensely vulnerable.  And there’s the getting down………in real life, I’m rather buoyant and I have to use a lot of energy and strength to swim underwater.  The deeper I try to go, the harder it is – I just bob right back up again.  So true that the physical world often reflects the mental one.

I hope that many of you who read this have had the courage – and encouragement – to dive deep.  For some of us it takes a lifetime, and some of us, sadly, die with our song still in us.  And even diving deep takes us only so far – we still have to act on it.  But that’s a whole other story……..