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Week 19: Resistance

unnamed-7It’s likely no one else has noticed that it’s actually been two full weeks since my last portrait. But oh have I noticed… and been acutely aware of the growing length of time passing by. And still no portrait. The frustrating part is that I’ve actually had the idea for well over a week now… this really powerful visual about the tension of being stuck between two worlds… but still I’ve done absolutely nothing but expertly avoid it. So instead, I decided to share the sketches for the next image and talk a bit about that really freaking annoying thing called resistance.

In every long-term project, resistance will rear its ugly head. Logically, I know this. I’ve done other long-term projects in the past, so I know that there will be points along the road when I will just plain get TIRED of doing it and want to drop everything. I also know this is totally normal and happens to everyone. Yet somehow, I still get completely frustrated with myself when it happens. Which just makes me resist and avoid it more of course. The worst thing about resistance is that I don’t usually know why it’s there or how to make it UNhappen. But I’m thinking what it boils down to is a mixture of exhaustion and fear.

Exhaustion is definitely a big part of it. A long-term project requires a lot of stamina, discipline, and focus. This one in particular is also requiring more and more depth of emotion from me the further I get into it. Mix in a few other variables like commissions and more marketing and trying to locate a publisher for the photo book of the project next year, and it’s easy to start stumbling around and losing focus. This is really the first time on this journey as an artist that I am having to juggle other variables more heavily and also stay committed to the project. And I gotta say… it’s SO not easy!

I’m also flat out TIRED of feeling and examining every last raw emotion that goes through me on a daily basis. This really isn’t anything new. I’ve been feeling exhausted from grieving for two years now. The difference seems to be, that for the first time since my fiancé died, there is beginning to be some room in my heart for things that are not my grief. My counselor has told me this is a huge and awesome shift, that all the hard healing work I’ve been doing all this time is beginning to allow me to embrace more of life again. And it’s a beautiful thing. It means there is suddenly space for new friendships that aren’t focused around grief. It means there is room for new aspects of myself to begin developing – like being a mentor and guide to others, and challenging myself to become healthier and stronger physically. And it’s all really exciting and beautiful – but it’s also pulling me in two very different directions and leaving me exhausted on whole new levels.

And then there is fear. Fear that I won’t finish out the project (despite knowing myself well enough to know that I will NOT allow myself to quit on it). Fear that I’ll run out of good ideas and good images. Why does this keep nagging me? For nearly six months now I’ve proven to myself that the ideas continue to keep flowing – yet still, that fear persists. And of course the fear that once I finish this whole thing, I won’t be able to find a publisher to back it and it will end up in the pile among the myriad of other forgotten projects. And the other side of fear too – fear that it might just blow up into this huge and well-known project and that suddenly there will be all these expectations on me about what I will do after it is done. I think getting so close to the halfway point of this thing is what’s really setting in the fear, because I’m so far in, and so much closer to my end goal, but that’s also where all the pressure lies. Momentum is building, and as it does, it requires more and more energy to harness this beast.

Looking at all of that, it’s no WONDER I’ve been resisting creating my next image. I mean hell, who wouldn’t be? If you were to ask me what the single most important tool is for working past the walls of resistance, I would say to sit down and talk to someone about it. Just discussing this with my counselor for an hour yesterday helped me to see that even if I didn’t get a portrait made this week, I could still create something of value out of this experience and share it here. There is always another way to look at a situation, and sometimes we need another person’s mind to help us out with that. Talking or writing it out also helps it to lose it’s power over us. It gets the block out of our heads which will begin to leave room for us to feel creative again. Somehow just writing this gave me a lot more gusto too… I’m feeling ready to get out there today and make this shoot happen, no matter what. And I’m reminded to not give up. To keep on pushing and challenging and growing and trying. No matter how much resistance might get me stuck sometimes… it’s not the end, its just another part to learn how to work through on this crazy creative journey. Thanks for listening.

 

If you’re new to this project, you can read more about it in this post. Or to see the full image gallery visit 2014 PROJECT. Please share with anyone who you feel can relate to the imagery, my hope is that it gives many others a visual for something they are going through in their own lives.

 

Week 18 // Battle On

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“I just want to crawl out of my own skin” is a thing I said often in the first weeks and months after he died. For the whole first year really. That was my existence much of the time. Every cell of my body – every hair, every pore, every organ, was reverberating a constant and loud message of denial. Every cell of me, bumping up against the truth at every turn, abrasively, painfully. And then violently pushing and pushing, trying to thrust the truth out of my world. No, no, no, no, no, NO, NO, NO NO, NO!!!… vibrating loudly within every inch of me, trying to fight off a reality too painful, too unbelievable to comprehend. This single aspect of his death was by far the most agonizing of all.

I have wanted to create this image for almost a year now. It came to be randomly one day, just an image in my mind, and I knew that it needed to be made. Sometimes I find I need to sit with these visuals a while though, until I feel the time is right to create them. After a session with my grief coach this week, I instantly knew it was time.

I was describing to him my experience of joining the gym - how working out each day and watching my body change and become stronger has so deeply empowered me on so many other levels. And I said to him… “I feel more comfortable in my own skin than I ever have in my life”. He had to repeat it to me in fact, just to make certain I grasped the sheer magnitude of that statement. And he was right… wow. Because just two years ago, I wanted to crawl out of my skin. That is when I knew it was time for this one to happen.

There’s something else I feel I need to share here too. When I sat down in front of this final image tonight to write about it, I was so overwhelmed by how much of my past it spoke of…

I was in an abusive relationship in my early twenties, several years before meeting my fiancé. It was another extremely dark time in my life, and a very lonely one. What I did not expect to find in this image tonight, was part of that story, too. Not only the fear and pain of that past, but also the inner strength that came out of it. Because when I look at the woman in this image… she has not only been through the unbelievable pain of losing the love of her life. She has – at a much earlier time of her life – been pushed and intimidated and made to feel small and forgotten and scared and alone. She has been made to feel worthless and shameful and flawed at her very core.

The woman in this image has been through all of that. And she has fought with every inch of her life for nearly a decade to heal all of these pains. She has fought to become strong so that she could guard herself well enough to remain soft. She is now a woman who is never pushed nor intimidated, and who does not tolerate anyone who makes her or others feel small. She knows her worth, she is not ashamed of who she is or where she comes from, and she knows she is beauty at her very core. She knows how brightly she can shine.

We all have our own story like this. We all have the battles that we have fought, or are fighting through right now. The pains that break down our doors and leaves us battered and bruised. The pain that makes our very foundation of a future crumble beneath our feet. Even if it cannot be seen on the skin… all of it still lies within me, and within you. And I hope that when you meet such pain that you stand up when it knocks you down. That you square your shoulders and look it right in the eye. That you are mindful of what you can gain from it – strength, wisdom, and a radiant inner beauty that surpassed anything you ever imagined yourself to be.

If you’re new to this project, you can read more about it in this post. Or to see the full image gallery visit 2014 PROJECT. Please share with anyone who you feel can relate to the imagery, my hope is that it gives many others a visual for something they are going through in their own lives.

Week 17 // In the Ruins

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It can be so easy to not want to sit in the middle of our pain when we loose someone we love dearly. Often times in the process of trying not to feel it all or identify with it, we can wind up in an endless loop of keeping busy and finding distractions. While distracting ourselves IS important – we all need a rest from the heaviness of grief – it’s equally important to give ourselves time to sit in it… to rest ourselves down within the ruins of a world that has crumbled beneath our very feet. To observe. To take note of how this world within us is changing over time. Sitting in the ruins is not about being in a depression or punishing yourself with sadness - it is going into your pain with watchful eyes so that you may know yourself and what has shaped you even deeper. It is to go through what is left and find things of beauty – ripe with sacred meaning and timeless memory - that can be found nowhere else in existence. Things like a deep compassion and understanding of others, or an unwavering inner strength from the fire.

I am continually battling my desire to avoid this place and my knowing that I need allow myself to be here… especially as time has gone on. As I heal, it becomes more tempting to become quiet about it all, to stop writing about it and stop photographing it, to start covering it up and instead fill up all my time with other things. And as we all know, society as a whole prefers this, so it’s all too easy to get caught up in it at times.

I think I’ve been doing that since I came home from Hawaii – where this portrait was taken. For those two weeks in Oahu, I was so beautifully distracted and surrounded with wonder. Not only did I not want to come home to hot Texas summers, I also didn’t want to come home to my story. To my own ruins. That reality which requires so much daily work. Sitting down to write this piece feels like a step in the right direction though… a step towards sitting myself down and allowing it all to be seen and felt.

I realized some important things in Hawaii. While seeing incredible sights and hiking for miles on end, I found myself feeling so ready to welcome new adventures. In a way that I haven’t felt able to since he died. It’s a beautiful realization, but also complex and emotional. A new phase of sorts. For a while now I have felt halfway between two worlds… and now I feel as if I am leaning into the new. Immediately it is scary. And I’m having to learn how to integrate the new into my existing world that still houses these ruins and my grief and my love and my memories. Like being hit my an avalanche, each new turn on this journey seems to surprise me with how it is just as difficult – in completely different ways – as all the parts I have traveled thus far within my heart. But for today at least, I am allowing myself to take a moment to just sit, and breathe, and rest wherever I am.

If you’re new to this project, you can read more about it in this post.
Please share
 with anyone who you feel can relate to the imagery, my hope is that it gives many others a visual for something they are going through in their own lives.

Week 16 // The Listening Place

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When life as you know it ends abruptly, you fall into such a dark place. It leaves you questioning everything. In the space of grief you lose all sense of the faith and trust in the world you once so effortlessly knew and trusted. Things like waking up tomorrow. Or everyone you love waking up tomorrow. And that you’ll go to work tomorrow and do all the other normal life stuff that you’ve done every day before. When that normal life is shattered, you are shocked into whole other kinds of existence that is unpredictable and feels dangerous.

Suddenly nothing is certain or known, and all of life becomes an unfathomably large volume of big and complex questions and fears. It is that carefully complex system that goes on underneath my skin at all times. A whole undercurrent of questions and thoughts and scenarios that run through me… like “Where are you? Are you up in the sky somewhere, or right here next to me still? What is God really to me? How do I truly define that higher power and what is my honest soul connection to that? How to establish a connection to you, and to God? What do I do with all of this? Do I have a purpose, and if so how do I find that? Am I being led right now, right this very moment? Will I meet someone today who is going to be an important part of that purpose of mine? And will I know it? When will I love again? Am I even capable of falling in love again? What am I supposed to do now?” That’s just a tiny fraction of the things that continuously course through my veins now. Even in the middle of a crowd of people, often times this is where I truly am… in the listening place.

I am learning gradually to sit in this space – still and quiet – and to listen for the guidance I need. Listening for the soft whisper of the answers I search for – which often times comes in the form of just one word: Trust. Trusting is a lot easier when your life is settled and you feel like you know what to expect every day. It’s a whole other battle entirely when you cannot see anything in front of you. When you’re walking into blackness. When nothing feels like a known and everything feels like danger. That is the place where you can build something powerful though. The kind of inner trust and faith that moves mountains and is unshakable.

I have found when I remain quiet and allow myself this protected listening space inside of me, that I am able to connect with something larger than myself. And from this listening place I find a deeper trust than I ever knew existed… in myself, in a higher power, in the love of my soul mate, and in the unknowns of the journey ahead. That guidance does not always come quickly, or clearly. And it takes me an incredible amount of energy sometimes to decide to trust things a world that feels so unpredictable now. But I keep on trying, trusting, listening, and asking for guidance… and in the stillness of the listening place, eventually, it always seems to come.

If you’re new to this project, you can read more about it in this post.
Please share
 with anyone who you feel can relate to the imagery, my hope is that it gives many others a visual for something they are going through in their own lives.

Week 15 // Surrender

Portrait_Week15

I’m in Hawaii this week and next visiting a friend, so this week’s portrait is from the beautiful island of Kauai! I wish you could see it here – lush rainy jungle the likes of which I’ve never seen. Powerful coastlines, ancient volcanic ruins, and an immense canyon where you would least expect it. It’s one of the lesser inhabited islands as well, so there are many areas where it feels almost as if you’re the only people who have ever been there. I would venture to say the spirit of this place rivals the Grand Canyon for me – which is my favorite place on earth.

I’ll have to post some more pictures soon just from the hikes we’ve done, but for now… the portrait…

I stumbled upon this incredible location right down the beach from our hotel Friday morning last week. We’d tried to book several other hotels with no luck. Being that I am a firm believer in how the universe and those in spirit guide me… I have no doubt I was led right to this spot to capture my next image. I went out early in the morning while my girlfriends were grabbing breakfast, just to climb around on the lava rock and take some pictures… and my jaw dropped when I came across this broken-heart rock – split almost evenly three ways.

In the journey of grief, to lay in our pain is to lay also within our love. The heart may be broken, it may feel a pain that is unbearable, but it is only because that is where our love resides so deeply. Losing my fiancé has taken me on a journey of learning to find acceptance of my pain… learning to surrender into what is broken. It’s never an easy thing to do. I can always feel the cracks and the breaks beneath me. Learning to accept today does not mean I’ll be able to accept it tomorrow necessarily. It’s a constant exercise to practice in order to find some level of peace.

This image also reminds me of surrendering to something greater than myself – be that called God, the universe, or my spirit guides. A medium I visited once told me – when I feel the most lost and the most in pain – to lay myself out on the ground and spread my arms open to the sky…and to lay this way and pray. I’d never thought to pray in such a way before (and was never really big on praying to begin with before Drew died), but I have done it many times since my visit with her and there indeed has been something powerful about it for me. It feels like I am physically giving myself to some greater whole and I end up always feeling comforted and connected instead of isolated and alone. This image reminds me that - in the raging waters of life, in the pain of a broken heart, there is still a space of peace to be found. I need only be still, and open my broken heart, and love will come through.

If you’re new to this project, you can read more about it in this post.
Please share
 with anyone who you feel can relate to the imagery, my hope is that it gives many others a visual for something they are going through in their own lives.

 

Week 14 // Debris

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The debris we are left in during grief can seem insurmountable. Let’s face it – for a while – it IS insurmountable. For a while – months, maybe years, you just have to learn to be in. You have to learn how to find some version of peace with it. This image talks about being stuck in that aftermath of losing someone you love. You are surrounded on all sides… by grief, by pain, by anger, by every other raw emotion in existence. You are also surrounded by thousands upon thousands of pieces of yourself that have exploded out from you – particularly if it was sudden loss. And there you are… right in the middle, knowing that there is no way you can ever fashion this mess back together into the life you had. The pieces are too many. And the most important piece cannot be put back where it was.

There was something about this boggy, dark place that spoke to me when I was out looking for places to shoot. It called to me. It LOOKED like a place I have been and sometimes still find myself. And I will tell you… it was NOT fun to crawl down into this muck. It was scary. I could not see what was below the surface, and all kinds of debris was stirred with each step – slipping past the skin of my legs – feeling like danger. It was dirty. I had big and small bits of debris all over me… in my hair, covering every inch of my body. It was COLD. Being that we just had an unusually cool week here in Texas – that water literally stole my breath away as I dunked myself down in it. Definitely NOT pleasant.

I got to thinking as I began to write about this image though… isn’t that what it should have been? For me to create something that symbolizes a place so full of pain and despair… shouldn’t it feel uncomfortable? Shouldn’t I be willing to crawl down into the mud and the rotting debris, into the icy water that steals my breath? Shouldn’t this project sometimes require me to get extremely uncomfortable? And is it worth it? To both of those, I answer yes. It’s worth it if it makes a different in even one person’s day.

As this project has progressed… I’ve started to have a much different feeling of its purpose. In the past month or so, during the process of each image, I am initially thinking of my own feelings and searching for what will express my story. But immediately as the idea forms, and as I bring the images into the computer to work them, it’s no longer about me. Instead, lately I am thinking of the one person that this image is meant to go to. This is a bit strange to explain, but it feels like being a vessel I suppose. As if my soul knows the exact person it wants to create this image for – someone I have never met nor talked to or seen before. The reason I’ve started to feel this way is because I have found that person several times already. They will write to me or I will hear of their experience seeing my image, and I know instantly that they are the one I made it for and that it found its rightful place. I’m not sure how I know – it is just a knowingness inside me. It’s kind of an eerie concept to me, but there it is.

My hope is of course also that these images will help many many people feel less alone in their grief. Because we always need more of that. I have an enormous support system of amazing people, many who are grieving themselves, and I still have moments where I feel completely and totally and profoundly alone in my grief. That will always happen. Because my grief is not your grief. My loss is not your loss. And there will always be parts that are only mine. But I believe that the more ways we express our grief and engage in the grief of others – through words, music, paintings and photos, kindness – the less alone we will feel. And the more beautifully we will heal. I suppose that is why I make these. I want to feel less alone, I want to heal more, and I want to do it in a way that might help others to do the same.

“Still, Life” is a year-long self portrait series about living on after loss. If you’re new to this project, you can read more about it in this post.
Please share
 with anyone who you feel can relate to the imagery, my hope is that it gives many others a visual for something they are going through in their own lives.

Week 13 // Frozen

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Something incredibly deep happened with this week’s portrait. I honestly do not think I can put into words how this image goes straight to my core – and how shocked I am that it came out of me. As I got further into processing it today, I found myself with tears wilting down my cheeks at least a dozen times. There’s no doubt in my mind something outside of me was channeling through.

Quite often as I bring my images into the computer, a certain song begins to play in my mind. I normally don’t share the songs that accompany the images, but I felt very strongly compelled to share this one, so I hope you’ll listen as you soak it in and think of this song in the light of loss - where a life shared with someone so dear now often seems as though it were a dream: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZ44x0GnKh4

My idea was to capture the feeling of being trapped, frozen just on the other side of where life exists so lush. It is the feeling that my fiancé’s death gave me – being so completely surrounded by vibrant and beautiful life and being so unable to reach it or feel it. Essentially, for me, it is about navigating your daily life with an empty, haunting, deep pain that prevents you from experiencing the beauty right before you.

It is a feeling we will all experience at some point in our life – whether for years or fleeting moments. It might not even come from the death of someone we love. It might come from another darkness we are in that slowly freezes us below the surface just the same. Some of us might spend years here. Some of us might not ever make it out in our lifetime. It’s true. But here is one good thing I do know about this state…

Even in the hardest winters of your life – when you cannot feel a thing for how cold you have become and you feel as close to dead inside as possible - you are still alive. You are hibernating. And if used wisely, this can be a time which gives you incredible strength. A time in which you can come to know yourself to depths of which you have never known existed. And one day, there will come a moment when something will warm your life again. And when that day comes, you will be stronger. You will be wiser. You will be more deeply present to feel every touch and smell every scent of it. And it will be ten thousand times sweeter than anything you knew before the winter. I have known death. I have known abuse. I have known pain and darkness most of my life. And if there is one thing I know for certain, it is that life is always waiting just above the surface. Keep your eyes open and your heart fearless… your spring will come.

“Still, Life” is a year-long self portrait series about living on after loss. If you’re new to this project, you can read more about it in this post.
Please share
 with anyone who you feel can relate to the imagery, my hope is that it gives many others a visual for something they are going through in their own lives.

Adam Robert Young

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