Fatigue, Conflict and Transcendence: April Sketchbook / by Sam Abelow

April is, of course, a transitional month, as winter moves into spring. The weather was no doubt chaotic and unusual; this seemed to effect me greatly. Further, it perturbed and baffled me slightly to notice how, despite a bodily fatigue and mental tiredness, interesting and sustaining compositions continually arose.

The first half of these sketches were done on the train to New York City, when I saw Sandro Chia’s recent exhibit. The second half were done while waiting to go to a graduation event for my older sister, also in the City.

Anyways, it seems that the friction of travel and bodily discomfort was a caustic catalyst for these inventions.

The Narrative of Life

My sketchbook cuts off during the last weeks of April, as I found time to recharge and focus on painting. On May 6th, I attended a lecture at the Carl Jung Foundation for Analytical Psychology in New York City. The workshop was titled, The Incarnating Self: Suffering, Destiny, and the Redemptive Power of Meaning, and was led by Melanie Starr Costello.

The Jung Center website describes the workshop this way:

“In Biblical narratives, profound suffering precedes the actualization of a life’s calling or a fulfillment of a people’s sacred destiny. What is the psychological significance of this recurring motif and what light might stories of heroic struggle cast upon the human journey with its inescapable hardships? In this seminar, we track the relationship between mental and emotional suffering and psychological maturation.”

Satan inflicts boils on Job, by William Blake

What particularly struck me was Starr’s treatment of The Book of Job. I learned about the Old Testament Story, where Job lives perfectly under God’s rules. Satan decides to mess with Job and test his faith. It isn’t until Satan effects Job’s very body that doubt and cynicism arise.

Job, overwrought and distressed, eventually calls out and is given a vision of reality by God. Now, Job can see beyond his initial conception of God as pure goodness and order; God, or rather the mystery of reality, contains all dualities and is far beyond the individual man and his limited, rational understanding. This expanded view of God is a realization born out of suffering and anguish.

For me, the Book of Job also points out the arbitrary pain and “bad luck” that can occur, as Satan chooses him out of the blue. As embodied beings, we are all bound to confront suffering, and it may not always be our fault. This inevitability is not something to shy away from.

Rather, each of us have the choice to create a meaning, or narrative for life’s occurrences. As life unfolds, we must accept and adapt, bringing the unexpected into our model of reality. Otherwise, we become filled with regret, shame and hatred.

Furthermore, it seems that it is conflict and tension which often brings us to the next stage of development, strengthening and revitalizing our lives.  Carl Jung points out in The Development of the Personality, that ”the only thing that moves nature is causal necessity, and that goes for human nature too."