Kristin Armstrong on Mastering the Art of Love
An old boyfriend once asked me what I thought the purpose of life was. I think he was feeling rather purposeless when he asked the question, or he was testing me to see if I was for real. I was. I am.
I answered before I even knew I was answering, before I had a chance to pause, think, filter or find the perfect word-lover way to express an answer to a question of that magnitude. “Love.”
The word came out of my mouth as easily as it comes out of my heart, ringing clear and true and effortless. A huge question answered succinctly and profoundly in one word. The word is as vast as the question, spanning a lifetime, or lifetimes.
I have been on quite a journey since he asked me that question, and every step I have made on my spiritual path has confirmed what I already knew to be true. There is no higher purpose, no more relevant calling than Love. At the end of life, no one will actually care where you worked, or how much money you made, or what car you drove, or what you wore to a party. No one will care about your house, or the photos you posted from the fabulous vacations you went on. No one will care about how pretty you once were, or how long you managed to stay that way. No one will care what degrees you got, your titles or accolades or awards. I remember when my grandparents moved into their final stop in an assisted-living home in Arizona. They had a total of 7 boxes. A lifetime of stuff, and it all whittles down to nothing. Because stuff is ultimately nothing. Striving is ultimately nothing. We spend so much time and energy on things that don’t matter.
Practice looking at your life with an artist’s eye and with love as your medium.”
Here’s the thing. No one may care about or remember how fancy your house was, but they will remember how it felt to spend time in your home. I have a photo framed in my office next to my computer of me sitting on my grandmother’s lap, her soft arms wrapped around me as a little girl. That photo, that woman, was pure comfort to me, the human representation of unconditional love. She did not care what I wore, what I weighed, what my grades were, what job I had, who I married, what the world thought of me. All she cared about was me. She loved me completely and just wanted me to be happy and healthy. All I have to do is look at that photo for a moment and I can call to mind the security of her lap. I can conjure up the feeling of being loved like that. I keep that photo in plain sight because I like thinking that the little girl in me can climb back into her lap anytime I need to, and when I do, all is well.
Loving well is an art. It starts with the awareness of something larger than ourselves, call it God, Source, Universe, whatever term feels yummy to you. The knowledge that Divine Love loves you is the beginning of your love story. We have to let that in, receiving it and believing it. Being loved well allows us to love ourselves well, and that has to happen before we can ever even think about loving someone else well. The alchemy of the human and the Divine creates the template.
And once we get this, really get this, everything changes. Then every single interaction becomes an intentional opportunity to choose love, to be love and to live love. The art is in the infusion and integration of that Love into everything. We can put it in a meal, a memory, a moment, a holiday, a conversation, a letter, a smile, an offering of forgiveness, service or grace. My daughter Isabelle refuses to make her own grilled cheese sandwich even though it would fit easily into her culinary repertoire. She says mine always tastes better. “You know why, right?” I ask her every time I make it. “It’s the love,” she says. She’s exactly right. Twenty years of sick kids, making chicken noodle soup and grilled cheese, the same thing my grandmother and my mother made for me. You better believe it’s the love (and the butter).
Practice looking at your life with an artist’s eye and with love as your medium. You will be amazed at the difference in this perspective shift, and how many opportunities you have to create.
MORE FROM OUR ARTS ISSUE:
Nine Artists Who Make Austin a More Vibrant City
UT Landmarks Program: Explore Public Art in Austin with This Illustrated Guide
Expert Art Adviser Shares Secrets to Curating a Collection at Home