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Class of 2016

Equity School

 

It is an honor for me to stand before you tonight.   I take this privilege with great appreciation.  There is always a first time for everything, and this is my first time to be granted with this grand honor. I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for this opportunity and the trust placed in me.

A few months have gone by after my visit to you in your school grounds.  I was kindly invited by Mr. Rodríguez to meet with you and share about my passion in the world of psychology that day.  I don’t recall the exact nature of what I shared with you, all I know is that I was among a group of people who shared significant stories of success and inspiration, I must admit even I was deeply moved and inspired by what the others had to share.  So I ask myself, what could I have possibly said, that granted me this privilege to address these words to you tonight? Yes…. The very familiar voice of Self doubt has been lurking in my soul and mind up to this day.   I have learned through my almost half century of life, that self doubt is my own worst enemy.

Self doubt has a very convincing voice.  I wish it didn’t, but it does.  Let me share with you a few of her lines about my being here tonight.  “ They invited you because they must have been desperate”.  Their preferred option must have cancelled on them. They really don’t know who you are and they are terribly mistaken….and so many more such messages…   Self-doubt has a very loud internal voice, we hear its voice clearly, constantly.  The world seldom offers spaces in which we can voice our fears, our insecurities, or our questioning of ourselves. We attempt to silence it by comparing ourselves to others, by pushing ourselves into being all of what we think we must be, or all of what we are asked to be.  So our major challenge is our fight against that inner voice that destroys us.  You see, Passion lives on the other side of this voice. Self doubt is the obstacle we must overcome so we can claim our sense of our true selves, what I call our self worth.

Let me define self worth for a bit.  Self worth is not the same as self esteem.  Self esteem sometimes might trick us into thinking it is who we truly are.  It is not.  Self esteem is what we build through our interaction with others.  Their approval or not of our actions become our sense of identity.  If we have approval we feel good about ourselves, if we don’t, our sense of identity gets shaken.  Self worth on the other hand is a more internal experience.  It is about advocating on our own behalf.  It is about believing in ourselves despite the response of the outer world.  It is about going against the currents, it is about defiance… (in the good sense), it is about claiming the new and all of  what still remains unknown, and it is about all of what is yet to be discovered.  It is about all the things only we, individuals can bring forth to the world.  It is our calling, our mission, and it is only up to us to discover what those gifts are and how we might bring them as an offering to the world.

This venture in not an easy one.  I know that I have always been dependent, hoping, praying that someone might come and save me from my own fear and show the way.  And yes indeed, I have encountered a few angels in my path through self discovery.  Self discovery requires the help of others.  It requires people who inspire us.  We are not alone.  The most important thing to remember is that inspiration from others must not be confused with feeling obligated to be as they are.  Inspiration is about how others share their life experience so we might use their wisdom as building blocks in the creation of our own work of art.

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Let me tell you a few things that I have learned in the world of art.  As a child I always dreamed of being able to recreate my most beloved characters.  Snoopy for example, was a treasure for me as I knew he was my sister´s favorite character to reproduce. She, at a very young age was very prolific in her drawing abilities and I struggled to find the same talent to my own dismay.  Frustration always came instead.  I desperately wanted to be like her. My relationship with my sister was one of my early experiences of failure to try to become who I was not.  As I compared myself to her, I decided very consciously that art was not for me.  I claimed a disability. I crushed one of my dreams at a very young age.  Comparing myself to my sister, made me destroy every fiber of my desire to be who I wanted to become.  So you see, self doubt comes in many disguises.

Luckily, the voice of who we are is a flame that never dies.  It waits patiently for our time to turn towards it. Pencils, paints, paintbrushes, watercolors, markers, inks, pens, crayons, every art media that I can think of always waved at me fervently, reminding me of my deepest self.

I recently decided that I needed to unearth the artist fibers that I had buried long ago.  I declared myself a learner.  I accepted I had no talent but I decided to be courageous enough to face my frustration and disability by granting myself the courage to step into my own sense of incapacity and build a path towards accomplishment step by step.  I knew I would have to confront my monsters of self doubt and self criticism.  I knew their voice would be loud, and that have been.  My self critical monsters are many, they visit me often, but I have found a few friends that have helped me enter battle with them.

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In the world of mixed media, the blank page is the first obstacle we encounter.  Blank pages are like new beginnings, and they can be quite intimidating.  A blank page sets the stage for “don’t you dare ruin it”.  Don’t ruin it pushes us into perfectionism, and perfectionism paralyses our soul.  So the first thing to do in a piece of mixed media art is to get rid of the blank page.  This is an example of the description of the process of a mixed media piece.  I find it fascinating.  “Paste collage pieces or begin applying random colors….make sure you use some darks.  Darks are important as they offer the depth of the piece.  The more darks we use, the more contrasting and vibrating our colors will be.  Be sure not to think too much, don’t try to make many plans, just let your soul play and allow the colors to emerge and be blended with each other one by one.

Hearing these instructions referring to mixed media, inevitably spoke to me about life.  The darkest the background, the more vibrating our colors will be.

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This was a new, very exciting concept for me.  I had always run away from what felt dark, fearful and painful.  Mixed media urges me to embrace every bit of it.  To keep it in my background providing me with depth and meaning.  So new beginnings, fear of the unknown and pain of what I used to consider failure have now become my new companions for depth.  I know now that as I embrace them, they will be the clay that will shape my new form.

The second layer of a mixed media piece is what I love the most.  The layer of Gesso. Gesso has become my new best friend.  The background now gets covered with a light layer of gesso.  A white out.  A medium that allows for pieces to be pushed to the background.  We get to choose how thick we want the white out to be.  We can always go back to plain white, but there is no way to deny that a previous layer lies beneath.  It already tells a story, it already provides with depth.  Gesso gives us the opportunity to decide what to do with our previous layer, how much do we want it to show through or how much we want to hide it. Gesso doesn’t care, it doesn’t judge us, it is at our service, providing gentle acceptance of our very personal process.  After gesso is dry, we get to design the shape and color of our new creation.  Gesso gives us the doorway to new beginnings, a pathway to choose again.  It doesn’t matter how many layers of color and gesso we do.  The more layers we have, the more character we build.  Don’t be afraid to build your character.

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Adversity will visit you, be sure of that.  Sometimes adversity will be of our own creation, but most of the time adversity will come without our consent and without previous notice.    It will shake our foundations and our previous sense of stability.  Adversity will challenge us, it will break us, it will deprive us of what we once considered safe and familiar. Our sense of identity might get stripped away from us, and we might enter a deep questioning of our own existence. Stay firm in the face of adversity.  Let it transform you.  Let it burn the old sense of who you were and be present for the new version of you.  It is after adversity when we get to use gesso, take the fire to the background and begin building again, one color at a time.

Be sure protect yourselves in your path.  As much as we wish to have someone to protect us, remember only you can do that for yourselves. Discernment on what is good to us can be very tricky. Our brain is hardwired for blocking pain and it will respond automatically in the face of threat. The part of our brain that protects us is instinctive and very faithful to the preservation of our biology.  This part of our brain has a very loud voice and it will bypass the voice of our higher reasoning. When we feel tense or anxious, our instinctive brain will urge us to seek behaviors and consumptions that provide us with immediate relief.  This part of the brain is only interested in the relief of the moment, and it does not care about the future. The typical options for relief are fight, flight, or freeze responses.  There are many ways in which these responses get played out.  Some examples are the use of alcohol, drugs, compulsive sex, control, compulsive spending, compulsive eating and many others…  Numbing emotions and running from what feels uncomfortable is something that we learn well at a very young age.  This part of our brain thinks that surviving is in our best interest when in truth it keeps the other part of our brain which is of higher functioning out of line.  Stress response blocks us from accomplishing our goals, constructing plans for our future and pursuing our dreams.

We must strive to keep our top brain online.  It is in our top brain where our dreams and aspirations are built.  Drugs, alcohol, and compulsions give us momentary pleasure but destroy every possibility of a bright future.  They are thieves of our gold, don’t let them rob you.  To avoid threat we must build safety.  Safety is based in trust, and trust can only happen if we feel appreciated and accepted.  Be sure to build relationships in which you feel celebrated and in which you have no restriction to celebrate others.  Empowerment of others is our strongest asset.  Being critical sets the stage to be criticized and our self worth will never grow.  Be gentle with each other, be patient, be kind…this is the type of nourishment that the world is lacking today, multiply it by giving it freely.

A note to parents…as much as you would like to hear me say that your work as parents is done, I need to say it is not. Our job as parents will never done.  But you see, in terms of safety and trust, it is we who play the most important role in instilling safety in our children.    We must believe in them, we must show them we trust them even if they are showing us confusion and disorientation.  Trust that they will find their own way, let’s support them in their steps through self discovery. Our fears and insecurities must NOT be imposed on them.  They have their own fears to manage, lets not weigh them down with ours.  Trust that if we support them and believe in their ways of creating a life of their own, they will soar and become who they are meant be.  Please don’t try to invent them, be present to watch the unfolding of who they really are.  Be in awe of their uniqueness.  Our fears come in the form of judgement and control.  These don’t serve them, they need to experience our unconditional love.  Let us be that and only that for them.  Allow enough space for them to explore, to invite and live their new experiences.  They will surely trip and fall, let’s be a safe haven for them when they need to come rest and charge batteries. Our unconditional love is their best medicine.  If we want to protect them lets don’t judge them, let’s celebrate them, and they will surely show us the best version of who they are.

And finally, to the Class of 2016, let me remind you that fear will be your constant companion.  Don’t run away from it, embrace it, breathe through it, and exercise your muscles of vulnerability.  The most courageous are those who are unafraid of their inner fire.  Do not harm your brain, preserve it, and let your brain be clear enough to dream the most unimaginable dreams.  Keep your paintbrushes in hand, your palette of every color handy, don’t forget your darks to provide you with your depth.  Keep gesso at hand, and color our world beautiful.  Lead us.  Show us your masterpiece, let us be in awe of you.

 

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