Become Empty in Order to Heal

I heard mention the other day of the concept of “becoming a hollow bone.” I did a bit of internet research and found that Frank Fools Crow, a revered Lakota Holy Man, said in his work as a healer, he became like a hollow bone in order to be a source for all creation to flow through him and serve others. I’m not an expert on nor do I have lived experience with this practice or tradition, so I will say no more, but I will tell you why that image gave me hope.

We Americans are rugged individualists. We value our sense of autonomy and strive to maintain control over our own lives. We tell our kids to be good to others and to care for those in need, but always with a whispered caveat: “Remember, God helps those who help themselves.” We have a hard time asking for help when we need it and a hard time offering help without judgement (stated or otherwise). We were taught in school that America was a place of equal opportunity and as long as you worked hard, you would succeed. We now know that wasn’t always true for many of our citizens.

As artists we’re often called on to advance social justice even as we’re told to keep our opinions to ourselves. We’re expected to be eccentrics who “talk” to our invisible muses, but also to be able to move efficiently and diplomatically through polite society. Many artists know what it feels like to be hollow to the bone when inspiration strikes. It often feels like what we’re creating came from somewhere outside of ourselves, but we have to be careful how we phrase that. We wouldn’t want to sound too religious or too woo-woo. And our egos wouldn’t want it to sound like we didn’t do the work or don’t deserve the credit.

Many artists know, though, when we empty ourselves, we’re often filled again with something powerful or beautiful that works through us to land on the canvas, the page, or the stage. We see and feel our audiences react from their souls with tears or laughter or even anger. We know that the work we’re doing is not just for us, it’s meant to connect us all. Sometimes that looks like a political poster to be carried at rallies, sometimes it looks like a children’s book about fairies.

To keep creating, I must trust that my work as a writer has had meaning and has hopefully advanced certain causes and ways of thinking, but I am able to do so only because all of my art has been created from a place of authenticity. It comes from my passion, my curiosity, my ever-growing view of a just world, my love of history and language and art. It comes from opening myself up and emptying myself out and letting myself be surprised and transformed. It comes from allowing a spirit to move through me, however you choose to define that spirit.

Going back to the concept of healing, I believe good art can heal, but sometimes laughter helps us heal, sometimes a good cry does the same. Don’t be too quick to judge how a thoughtful artist chooses to show up in this complicated world. Give them space to be the conduits they’re called to be. Because some days each of us need a piece of art to fire us up and some days we need it to provide a place of rest. Sometimes we need it to open our eyes and sometimes we need it to soften our hearts.

This past difficult year has taught me, reluctantly, the importance of emptying myself and embracing the mind of a beginner again as I learn and relearn what art and social justice mean to me. It’s still scary for me to feel so hollow, but I’m starting to feel the whisper of spirit flowing through me in a whole new way. Whatever direction my art takes, I know it will come from a desire to serve, to be a healer in the best way I personally know how in this time, at this moment, knowing it (and I) will always be a work in progress.

Teresa R. Funke

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