Preparing the Way

First, the oil painting, then the story behind it… make sure you don’t miss a guidepost that could change your direction.

Watch me paint “Lenten Flower” in under a minute (time lapse)

“I mentioned earlier about learning something new, during our Easter experiences at our new Southern church … I’d been focused on Lent being about the past- repenting, letting go, pledging to change. What I hadn’t spent much thought on is that when we let go of something it makes room for something new …
The depressing and sometimes challenging process of examining our lives and deciding what we need to change is only the beginning of the journey. We do this to prepare the way for something better, something new. It may require a leap of faith, and the journey is bittersweet, but the destination is beautiful.”

– from the book “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by Savannah, Georgia” by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

Update to the above story…

The world has changed dramatically since I painted “Lenten Flower“. The reflective journey that millions of people take every year is now forced upon us, as the world remembers global events unfolding during the spring and Easter of 2020 that would alter the lives of nearly everyone on the planet. Because of this, the process of examining our lives and paving the way for positive change has become a universal challenge.

This could be nothing more than a temporary cultural fad and a sign of the times we live in… or, it could be much more. Are we entering an age of enlightenment? Possibly.

But regardless of what everyone else does, we are not a “collective” (who we are), but we can work collectively (what we do). As unique and wonderful individuals, we can focus on our personal journeys. And in doing so, we will then collectively elevate the whole.

Now, let’s grab a cuppa (coffee, tea, hot chocolate?) and reflect on how to prepare the way for change with a focused scientifically-measured plan. I can assure you that a serious effort works. No matter how intangible our goals may seem, we can find a way to measure our progress and hold ourselves accountable.

Oil painting "Lenten Flower" by artist Natalie Buske Thomas
“Lenten Flower” oil painting by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

Physical goals are often easily measured by numbers. Math doesn’t lie, but sometimes it doesn’t tell the full story, so always look at a variety of factors. We can measure body weight (weight gain, loss, or stable), body mass index, cholesterol levels, the amount of blood sugar in our blood, and much more. Harder to diagnose conditions such as allergies, eczema, and immune system disorders can be measured by keeping a diary of symptoms, and numbering the severity of each.

When we measure our progress scientifically, we achieve objectivity. We become an observer, a witness, and an analyst who studies our own lives in order to create positive change. When we start with a physical goal, it is easier to see how to address our intellectual and spiritual needs.

After a physical goal is set (perhaps a simple plan to get more vitamin D from the sun into your week by committing to 15 minutes outdoors every day for six weeks?), you can then decide how to measure your progress, such as keeping a diary and assigning a number from 1-5 of how strongly you experience symptoms such as skin problems, fatigue or depression (whatever pertains to your situation). This process of setting a goal and measuring it can then be applied to intellectual and spiritual goals as well.

But what if we don’t know what we want to change? Then that’s where we start. Our goal could be “discover what I’d like to do to expand my thinking”. We could commit to spending 15 minutes a day browsing through books, articles, and blogs, looking for ideas for what we’d like to study. Try this search string: “interesting topics to learn about”. If truly serious about enlightenment, we’ll find our passion.

When we discover a path we’d like to explore, then the process for intellectual change is similar to a physical journey. Set a measurable goal. Use math as much as possible. For example, “I’m taking a 6 week course”, or “I’m spending 30 minutes a day reading about this subject”.

Keep a diary to measure progress that is less tangible, such as how much energy you feel at the end of the day when you commit to expanding your thinking (assign an energy number, from 1-5). Journal your progress: how is expanding your mind in one small way leading you to new ways of thinking in bigger ways?

Spiritual change can follow this same pattern: explore what we want to change, create a way to measure our progress, analyze our journey. The good news is, once we are practiced and disciplined in this type of reflection, we do it intuitively. We don’t need to measure, track, or record our progress. It is simply how we live.

Some of us arrive at this place after life-changing trauma. Others are “born older”, wise souls from birth. But many just have to find their way. Regardless of when we start, or how many times we must begin anew, the journey is for each of us, uniquely and wonderfully ours.

Reflection doesn’t mean condemnation, but forgiveness, mercy, and letting go of the past. Judgement is unproductive; examination is helpful. Change your words, change your life. All of these things sound like cliques, but these are concepts that work.

That’s why people say the same things. Not only do these methods work, but our journey never ends. No matter how enlightened we are, we can always be “more”. And from time to time, the words from others will hit us at the exact moment when we are ready to being a new quest toward positive change.

Maybe that day is today. Do something good for yourself. When you push toward bigger things, you bring all of us with you. Whatever your heart desires, I wish you success and happiness.

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