In a popular book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, one of the first lessons is to turn a picture upside down and use it as a guide to draw the same object. The lesson demonstrated that when you look at something recognizable, your mind interferes by telling you what it “should” look like. It’s almost like having a template on top of the picture, which is deceptively similar to the original. On the other hand, by turning the drawing upside down, it becomes a grouping of lines, abstract and undefinable. Once the object’s label is gone, you can truly see it. I was amazed by how much more accurately I was able to recreate the picture.
I wondered if I could apply that concept in another way. Let’s say the picture represents my true self and the act of drawing is how I express myself in the world. If I look at the picture upside down, it would allow me to take action (draw) in alignment with my true essence (the original picture). At the end of my life, when I compare the original drawing to the one I created, I would hope to find a match — demonstrating that I lived in concert with my higher self.
Over the past few years, in my attempts to identify the best way to earn a living, I have traced a template of what I should be instead of drawing who I am. For example, I have applied the template of “responsible” to my picture. All sorts of adjectives come along with it — safe, practical, self-sufficient. Each one affects the choices that seem available. My job is stable, pays well, provides health insurance, allows me to work from home. I use my skills as a writer, I have built a career in this field. Why do I want to leave? Why doesn’t the drawing match?
The template was covering up the signals from my body. This same job makes me physically and emotionally ill. It affects my quality of life in a myriad of small ways — sleeplessness, depression, poor eating, anxiety, stomach aches, migraines. I ignored or downplayed how much the job affected these symptoms, looking for a way to keep my template intact. Being responsible is a socially approved template, after all, stamped by authority figures.
Using the template felt safe and familiar. It was so close to the original. I kept hoping with a few tweaks, it could work. But I don’t fit inside it.
Instead of following a template, I will turn the picture upside down. This approach requires a lot of erasing and fixing to get it right, but with the template gone, I can see who I am, in all my confusing but beautiful entirety. Drawing free hand is quite liberating.
Photo courtesy of photographer Heather Hanson