The Embrace of Wholeness


“Envision coming upon two conflicting parts

of yourself while walking down the street.

Extend your arms in welcome, encircling them both.

What do you feel in this inclusive embrace?”

- from The Book of Calm -

This blog is dedicated with gratitude to Charlotte McMillen,

my junior high school art teacher.

When my husband said we were going to paint over the ugly wallpaper and fix the bathroom door in our travel trailer, I groaned inside. I didn’t realize it would take three weeks, or that my idea to collage the door in handmade papers would turn into a comedy routine as we jumped into the art project one night, outside, the door supported by two sawhorses. When the hot, dry wind picked up, the many sheets of paper did what handmade paper does in imperfect environments—it bubbled up and crinkled.

The door required great care and multiple fixings, its imperfections making it more beautiful and true to the materials. It also became the fountainhead of a profound insight—I saw and felt our small travel trailer transform into our tiny house, an incredibly cozy and functional space that is now our sanctuary. In a phone conversation with friends the insight kept speaking to me as I heard myself say, “This decision to live in our tiny house while we build our home . . . we’re collaging our life.”

A few days later I created the impromptu assemblage* pictured above out of scraps of the handmade paper used on the door, a decidedly sturdy leaf I’d been carrying around, and yarn from the fringe of a new rug for the floor of the tiny house.

I played with shapes, color, and balance while staying curious and ready for the moment that its many parts became a wholeness—a unity of being that would speak to me visually and viscerally. That moment came eventually, wind playing its mischievous role as it blew in through the screen door, a tweak here and there, a final decision to not glue it in place as I realized its rightness could change (or not) the next time I viewed it.

I put all the pieces in a plastic bag, in anticipation of the moment when I feel ready to allow clipboard and paper, yarn and leaf to become one cohesive whole, eager to find that special place for the finished piece in our new home.

As individuals, we are walking collages, made up of contrary and disparate parts. In the weeks since we collaged the door I’m re-remembering the similarity between art and living—it is a vital practice to our wholeness and well-being to continually move our awareness and curiosity toward the parts of ourselves that feel jagged, dissonant, out of place, and in need of adjustment.

To let go of what is no longer beneficial—and constantly re-create the ways we inhabit our days—results in a deep knowing that we are ongoing creations, living every moment as the artists of our lives.

*Collage is two-dimensional, assemblage is three-dimensional.

NANCY G. SHAPIRO

FINDING CALM IN THE MIDST OF CHANGE