Monday, August 31, 2009

Are You Brave Enough To Be Authentic?

That is a serious question. Do you consider yourself to be creative....or do you leave that to the people who seem to fit the label? You know, those writers, artists, designers, composers, musicians, dancers, film-makers who create the great works. Surely, not you. But what if your great work of art is to create an authentic life, with all that means for you and for the world, and you never do that? What if, by refusing to create that which you were put on this earth to do, that regret is what ultimately kills you?

When I found MontMartre....the hill in the18th arondissement on the Right Bank of Paris, authentic parts of my heart found a home. The hill, whose name means “mount of the martyr,” has great religious significance. It is the place where St. Denis, the patron saint of France, is said to have been beheaded in 250 AD. Before that, legend says it was a Druid holy site. Martyrdom is not why I feel connected to this place, however.

The streets are a jumble, circling 'round buildings and tiny, multi-sided squares, rising rapidly through breath-snatching steps, seeming to cut through alleys that emerge onto respectable cobblestone byways, that disappear again under archways and end at stout iron-wrapped gates. This place has been synonymous with theater, art and music, famed actors, dancers, musicians, artists and writers for over 150 years. At its peak, rising above the jumble of streets and visible throughout Paris, are the distinctive alabaster domes of the Basilica of Sacré Cour, built to honor the heroes of the 1871 Franco Prussian War. Our word courage comes from the French word for heart, or coeur.

No coincidence, I think that this place's visible symbol is sacred heart – sacred courage. For the artists and writers who made Montmarte home knew what the brave always learn. That acts of courage come directly from our center of being. And to create anything, requires an ability to channel that heart to action.

We spent an entire day wandering Montmartre. Not just the tourist-crowded streets, sites of raucous dance halls and seedy rendezvous on the front side, but the quiet, vine draped back streets near the monastic vineyard. Up and down the steep cobblestone paths we tracked the homes of Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Anaïs Nin...the haunts of artists like Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Monet, Utrillo, Van Gogh. All of them drew courage to create in this place. Not just works that represented entire departures from the way things had been, but works that hang in the Musee d'Orsay. Works that drew deep upon their authentic selves.

In Montmartre, time slowed down. Musicians tuned away at odd corners seemingly just for joy, with not even an open violin case to receive tossed Francs. On that early spring day, when the raw tree branches were barely softened by spring green leaves, artists plied their paint brushes and photographers sat waiting for the light be be right. Writers could be seen propped up against stone walls, laptop computers and pens at the ready. Even in the hectic Place du Tertra where art commerce was in full swing, the mood was bright, full of possibility.

When it came time to begin the descent from Montmartre, I was not ready to leave. Big parts of my heart were home. Rather than be intimidated by what had been created here, I found myself buoyed by the courage at its center.

Summoning the courage to find ones true self is the heart's creative work. How creative are you?
©2009 Jan Johnson Wondra

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