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Being seen and holding space for others
The myth of success and performance, and coming out of our shells
Perceived and surveyed
As the seasons change and the colder weather invites us for times of reflection, slowing down and hibernating, I perceive an inner resistance in me — a struggle to tune into my own and nature’s cycles to keep up with society’s rhythm. The rush, the running behind, the chasing an end line that keeps on moving.
(Who are you running for?)
I have talked about slowness before and claimed the importance of respecting our inner timings regardless of what the norm is. But comparison is inevitable, and it often occurs in the artistic process: “Am I too old for this?”, “Why is my progress so slow?”, “I should have started earlier”… When one does not feel adequate it is challenging to even have the courage to take up space and show up for who we are. But are the ones who are “behind” (in relation to some standards that are ultimately made up) threatened by something terrible? By which (unnecessary) metrics do we determine if someone is behind or ahead?
In this regard, it is key to reconsider what success is, why we think about it that way, and challenge it. Is success blowing up and being above others? Is it passing milestone after milestone? Is it tied to your age? Is it truly aligned with your values and how you want to relate to others in this world? Is it the only way to feel accepted?
(All eyes on me)
It all seems to be a matter of perception — how we think we are perceived by others. In Ways of seeing, John Berger says “We never look at just one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves (…) Soon after we can see, we are aware that we can also be seen.”  Maybe changing the word “seen” to “surveyed” (as Berger later does when discussing women and the way we hold our presence) can make more evident how the idea of performativity and looking at ourselves through the lens of performance affect our choices and actions.
Seen and present
The struggle of being seen is a complicated one for artists, as part of being one entails showing your work to the world. Many things can get in the way: perfectionism, the embarrassment of being seen by people you know, the embarrassment of being seen trying (with the probability of failure), or the feeling that you need to protect that creation of yours that comes from a place of vulnerability. Faced with this, it is vital to remember that one of the most joyous things that come from art making is sharing it with the world. It takes courage and it takes resilience, especially if you are a private person. It can be uncomfortable. But taking up space is beyond value judgments, meaning one deserves a place in the world even if you do not receive any feedback, or even if what one makes is not great.
At any point in life, one is going to be a beginner at something (we are always a student, one may say). There is value in sharing an experience while one is still untangling the mess of figuring things out. Art is presentable at any stage. The finish line is relative. Making it look like we have things figured out all the time or waiting until something is “worthy” of being seen is unsustainable and it is just the way we act under a performance lens.
Just like that, it is not feasible to be fully prepared before taking action. Being seen is showing yourself for yourself, with all the highs and the lows. As Pat B. Allen says: “Fixing (…) isn’t the point at all. The point is being in the river and enjoying all the twists and turns, the rough parts, and the calm.”  Taking up space is becoming comfortable with the space that is already there, one stretch at a time, showing patience and kindness to the process. Even if we have the means to do something in the material sense, it is important to respect our inner timings and understand why it has to unfold a certain way, seeking that balance between waiting until we are ready and taking the plunge before we wait too much.
Accompanied and safe
The same eyes that can instill in us a fear of opening up can also be the ones that hold us and make us feel sustained. A practice of empathetic witnessing and holding space for others is one of the most beautiful connections we can have as humans. Feeling heard and accepted can propel deep changes, and the link that it creates is a double channel of transformation for both parties. Seeing from a place of curiosity and not judgment or projection, and listening with respect (always within your own capacity) can create an environment for others to bloom.
We tend to relate to each other from our subjectivity, creating bridges between what the other person says and our experiences and knowledge. My suggestion is to try and see and meet others attending to their uniqueness — turning off our default ways and maybe interact without an intention to reply, to interpret, to break the silence, or to even aid, and instead, trying to understand the person and where they come from.
As Martin Shaw beautifully writes: “Move from seeing to beholding: To see a situation is to catch the facts of the matter. To behold it is to witness the story. (…) Seeing is assessment and analysis; beholding is wonder and curiosity. It’s not that we don’t need the former, but when we crank it up excessively, we always damage the latter.”  In re-writing the myths that shape our perception of the world (through our art practice and everyday rituals), this idea of how we see and how we are seen plays a determinant role.
Thank you for your kind eyes — for I keep them here (and here)
References + Further reading
—  Ways of seeing by John Berger
—  Art is a way of knowing by Pat B. Allen
—  Navigating the mysteries by Martin Shaw (Emergence Magazine)
— Slow painting days: creativity, cooking and resting by Caro Arévalo (Love how she talks in her vlogs about being a slow artist and accepting and honouring that her detailed work takes time and moves at a different pace)
✸ Go somewhere and just listen to your surroundings. Try to de-prioritize your own voice, your own narrative. Listen to the undesirable sounds too. Challenge the attention economy.
✸ Start a new practice and tell everyone about it. Show your beginner mistakes.
✸ Journal about the areas of your life where you feel small. Reconsider how you can start taking up space and shine bright.
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