There is a talk by Brenee Brown which I really like, about empathy versus sympathy, that's been beautifully animated as an RSA short. She has such a great way of approaching difficult subjects with humor. In the animation she defines empathy as "feeling with people." It's like saying to someone in a deep hole "Hey. I know what it's like down there, and you're not alone." What makes something better she says is connection, rarely a response or a silver lining. So to all the people who are in some kind of pain at the moment, I want to share these images with you and say... you're not alone.
The table below is from the book No Boundary, by Ken Wilber. It's the kind of book that can be a total life changer, and a good read if you want your mind blown! In it Wilber argues that opposites are two sides of the same coin, and when we separate things in terms of positive and negative and only want the positive we create a boundary between the two and an opportunity for conflict. In the same way, when there's something we don't accept in ourselves and we project it on others we experience a conflict. And this conflict comes in the form of symptoms, like anxiety or sadness. Wilber says that by being aware of our shadows we can begin to reconcile the conflicts in ourselves.
According to this table, anger is the shadow to sadness. So for my drawing I looked for an animal that could symbolize anger, the lion, and to represent sadness I found the Lone Cypress, a famous landmark on the road near Pebble Beach, in the Monterey Peninsula.
To show the conflict of separation between sadness and anger, I wanted to have the lion somehow hidden in the drawing. I tried a few sketches and then came across the logo for the Pittsburgh Zoo, which gave me the idea of using an illusion and make the trunk of the tree shaped like the silhouette of an angry lion. Then I added the bird, the house, and the moon to complete the composition.
The second drawing is where I resolve the conflict between the symptom and the shadow. Which means in this case to bring the lion out of its hiding place and calm him down so he's no longer angry and the bird can be his friend. Free from the lion the tree can relax and transform into a baobab, and the moon makes way for a shining sunny day. I wondered about the house, but it didn't fit in the new composition so I just left it out.
The original drawings I did a couple years ago only had a single color and coming up with a way to express the concept with multiple colors and textures took me a few days. In the slideshow above I'm showing a few work-in-progress shots and as you can see I went through a lot of trial and errors. What made this one especially challenging I think is that I wanted it to make as beautiful as possible, because being sad and suffering is a difficult pill to swallow.
After I was done writing my stories I ran a search on Google for lion and bird, curious to see if there was some kind of myth that linked the lion and the bird, and perhaps new insights to consider. I had a vague memory of an Aesop fable about a lion, but it turns out it was with a mouse, not a bird. But I found a couple treasures via Google images I'd like to share with you.
The first one is a ceramic figurine of a bird and lion by Lisa Larson. She has a whole collections of animal figurines, all completely charming. My mom had a ceramic studio when I was a kid and I remember making a series of animals. In some ways the process I'm going through to fill in the shapes in photoshop is kind of like sculpting clay, gradually improving a form by adding and subtracting. To me pixels are just like clay ;).
The other discovery I made was the children's book The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc. It's the story of a lion who rescues a wounded bird and they becomes friends. The lion carries the bird on his head and brings him into his house. Kind of strangely similar to my story, no? And the author is French Canadian just like me! When I first made the drawings I didn't put a house in the second one because there was no room for it, but when searching for a baobab image to put in this post I saw that they are hollow trees.. and sometimes used as a house. Fun coincidence!