It’s never been easy for me to stay in one place for very long. I always seem to be wishing that I was somewhere else. Growing up, I dreamed of living in a big city. Everyone seemed so glamorous, interesting, and important. My weekend trips to New York increased my fascination with city life. Adventure beckoned at every street corner, intoxicating me with each step I took down the avenues. Every experience seem magical, even the mundane moments like crossing the street.
“Maybe one day I can live there. Then I can be glamorous, interesting, and important, too” I would wonder to myself every morning I woke up somewhere else.
When the city became my reality, my experience was stripped away of all of the magic and idealism. The frenetic pace wore me out. I never seemed to have enough time or money. Working long hours, taking the subway, and walking down the cement-encased open spaces made me feel like a caged animal. I longed for the solitude and peace of the forest. And quiet honestly, this was a pattern. I moved to a foreign country, to California and still felt the same way. When I was single I wanted to be in a relationship. When I was in a relationship, I wanted to be single. If I was making art, I longed to make money. When I achieved financial success, I worried that I had abandoned my creative life. Would I ever manage to be happy where I was? Or would I always be chasing something just out of my grasp?
One day, I talked to my friend about this. She smiled while I expressed my bewilderment and frustration. Then, she asked me to draw a tree. I scurried around the kitchen to find paper and a pen. The tree grew effortlessly from the ink I held in my hand – a sturdy trunk; tall, willowy branches that reached skyward; and a few delicate leaves. There was no foreground or background, just the dark ink of the tree centered on the white paper.
In three minutes, I forgot all about the city, the country, and if I would ever really be happy. I was just sitting in my kitchen with a friend – drawing and talking – doing things I loved to do. When I finished, I presented my drawing to her with a big grin. Then she pointed out to me: “You didn’t draw any roots! That means you had a difficult past. Maybe that’s why you can’t stay in one place for too long. But it also means you are free to be spontaneous and go where ever you’d like.”
In my pursuit of happiness, I became confused. I somehow misunderstood the act of pursuit as happiness. The planning and idealism of obtaining a goal became a joyous fantasy, but when I finally arrived the journey was over. When it was finished, I was sad and frustrated. But why should I be? Both the journey and the destination are enjoyable. In the moment of drawing a tree for my friend, I realized the duality of my thinking. Life is both doing and being. It isn’t one or the other. Life is about experiencing the contrast of opposites.
I realized this contrast of opposites appears not just in my love of both the city and country. It shows up in my painting, in my photography, and in my relationships. The truth is, all opposites need each other. Black implies white. Form must occupy an empty space. A subject needs a verb. Self implies other. When you see the unity between opposites, things change. There’s no need to choose one of the pair – city or country, black or white – because you need both. One simply cannot exist without the other. When you realize duality implies unity, every moment becomes magical again.