This past week I witnessed the birth of a woman who, at 60-something, has glimpsed her lost desire to build sandcastles. Her awareness of self had been buried deeply by life’s difficulties: she said she didn’t know she had a self, and now she does. It was a miracle spoken softly in a small room. It was a shout to the heart and mind. “Ah-ha!”
We are architects from the get-go. Plop a child on a beach with a bucket, she soon will be carving her space—digging, scooping, and smoothing—building sandcastles, unconcerned that the tide will wash away her creation. What, then, prevents us from being designers of our lives at any age? What suppresses that natural instinct to carve a place where we desire to be in the world? What blinds us to that childish abandon—the belief that we can and deserve to see our visions and dreams fulfilled—if only fleetingly, impermanently. The impermanence being the rule of the game, enjoyed by children stomping on their own sculpted turrets, helping the tide at day’s end.
The sandcastle metaphor is useful at any age, at any stage of creativity. Artists continually discover self and manifest it in their work. This is not to say “selfish.” It is a continual spiritual exploration, a digging into a deeper place, a cracking open onto the world.
In life, we go from sandcastles to dollhouses, treehouses, dorms, apartments, homes. In the interior realm of self and spirit, we remain the child with shovel and bucket, digging and carrying, heaping and shaping, untangling pearly shells and damp feathers from driftwood and seaweed. We labor in the sun, unaware how our tender shoulders and cheeks are reddening. The tide ebbs and now rises. We race against time, carving a moat, fashioning drawbridges from flotsam. The foamy water rushes in, encircling the castle, undermining the foundation. We shore it up, all seriousness and squealing with delight at our failure. The bridges collapse, doors fill with sand, turrets disintegrate. Someone calls our name—oh yes, there’s dinner to be eaten, chores, sleeping—so we leave it. The next morning, we begin again, down the beach or at our same spot, refashioning the sodden heaps of sand into a place where we can live fully for the time being.
This is the creative life. Every “ah-ha!” a miracle, a privilege and a gratitude.
Alright No. 3 from Island Songs, Oil on canvas, 20 x 20 in.