One of the highlights of my recent trip to Rome was seeing some of Michelangelo’s sculptures (gawking at his frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel wasn’t too shabby either, though definitely tough on the neck…they ought to have chaise lounges in there). I had seen his Pieta once before when I was 8 years old at the World’s Fair in New York City, albeit briefly, as the throngs of people passed by it on a moving platform. I recall vividly being moved to tears in those short moments by the energy, the emotion and the real-ness of it; I remember being convinced that Jesus was going to slide right out of Mary’s lap in any moment. It was no less amazing and moving this time around, almost 40 years later.
I love what Michelangelo said about one of his sculptures: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” For me, this is a beautiful metaphor for our individual spiritual unfolding. We recognize that our original goodness, our true essence, is still present and active in the core of our being, and our work is to carve and chisel away at everything we’ve layered on top of it. This is the purpose of our spiritual practices. So we learn to forgive, to let go of patterns of thinking that limit us and lead to suffering, to release guilt and worry and judgment and the need to be right and the tendencies to take things personally and to sweat the small stuff. Essentially, we learn to stop thinking, speaking and acting as if our deepest beliefs weren’t true; we learn to stop being who we are not.
Michelangelo took up to 4 years to complete a sculpture; for you and I, uncovering “the angel” seems to take considerably longer. One of the reasons for this, I believe, is that you and I tend to get attached to some of our stuff. We carve off pieces of marble and then pick them up off the floor and stick them right back on. Michelangelo never had to deal with that!
I’ve done a lot of release work in my life and I’ve often noticed that some of the things I’ve released keep showing up like unwanted relatives or recurring bad dreams. This noticing used to lead to a lot of angst and self-abuse. I see now that part of the reason they kept returning and blocking the emergence of the angel that I am was all the mental gymnastics I engaged in when they did reappear. “I should know better.” “Why is this happening?” “Who’s to blame?” “I’ve been working on this issue for 25 years…what’s wrong with me?” When I do this (and I still do sometimes) I just get more attached, I just give the issues more power. I just make them more a part of my very identity. No wonder they love to hang around and jump back on!
Now, whenever I notice something show up that I’d previously released, I just release it again. I am learning to do this with less and less self-judgment, self-pity and resistance. I just acknowledge the familiar scrap of marble, and let it fall back down to the floor. Sometimes, I gently flick it off my arm as I might do with a tiny bug. This always leaves me feeling very empowered because I’m establishing where the power truly is—within me.
I’ve become convinced that release is not something we do once. It’s a moment-to-moment, ongoing process. Indeed, all of life is a process of releasing who we are not. It’s a moment-to-moment, ongoing process to remember who we are. I intend to keep that in mind and to keep on flicking. As I’ve done this, I’ve noticed that I may still have some of the same issues I had 25 years ago, but I have released a lot of my seriousness about them, my hatred of them, my self-criticism over them, my shoulds and yeah buts around them, and my identification with them. I have indeed left more marble on the floor than I used to think, and I know that my angel is emerging more and more and more.
So happy flicking!
And if that’s all we remember, that’s more than enough for now…