Life is an artistic process. Whether we are aware of it or not, we sculpt ourselves with every thought, every behavior, every action. Each of us holds extraordinary creative power within, yet many of us tend to harness only a fraction of this power. As a result, our art only partly achieves its great purpose, that of bringing out the potential magnificence in ourselves, our relationships and our world.
Imagine a husband and wife, both made of clay. Imagine that one day they scrape together some extra clay and begin to work at it. It is soft and malleable in their hands, and quickly takes on recognizable shapes. A little clay body forms, then little clay arms and legs, even a little clay penis and presto, it’s a little clay boy.
With great love and commitment, mom and dad mold in the boy their dreams of what he might become. Before long, little clay brothers, sisters and friends come along. They too work at the boy, playing with him, challenging him, pushing and pulling at his form. Teachers appear, and aunts and uncles and neighbors and grandparents. All take turns working at the boy, sculpting in him that which they feel best suits him.
From time to time, when the clay boy has a moment to himself, he wonders about what he is becoming. He enjoys the moments of quiet, free from the constant poking and prodding at his being. He lies in the grass and watches the clouds roll by, observing how mysteriously their forms shift as they cross the sky.
As the days and months pass, the boy finds himself subject to an increasing number of elements in the world around him—elements like peer pressure, grades, television, marketing campaigns, and scary questions like, “what are you going to be when you grow up?” Weathered by these and other forces, the clay boy begins to harden.
One day he finds himself feeling rather fixed and inflexible. Fearing that his formation is nearly complete, he looks to the clouds, asking, “is this what I’m supposed to be?” The clouds drift by, shifting their forms, seemingly indifferent to his concerns.
Not long after, he falls in love with a young woman. They marry, and soon create a little clay girl of their own. This soft little bundle of love fills his heart to the brim. Any worries about his own form are instantly put to rest. He silently promises to sculpt in his daughter all the things he wishes that someone might have sculpted in him.
Years pass, joyous years, during which the spontaneity and enthusiasm of youth come to itch at him once again. He eventually begins to wonder:
What if I am like the clouds?
What if I can change my form at any time?
How does one sculpt one’s self?
In a swell of inspiration, he goes to the store and buys a bunch of self-help books, each of which offers some useful tips. He finds a therapist who, by exploring the elements that caused his hardening, helps him to recover some of his softness of form, his youthful flexibility. Then, at forty years of age, he finds himself at the start of a new life.
Sadly, he notices that his sixteen-year-old daughter is now harder than he. There in her form he sees so many qualities of his old self, qualities that he had molded in her. He tries to share his new tools with her, tries to share his therapist, but his daughter turns him away, resentful for all her years at the hands of other sculptors. In an impassioned grab at self-expression, the girl begins to acquire a series of unusual body piercings.
One night beneath the stars, lying in the grass beside his wife, the clay man thinks to himself:
What if my child had held the tools of self-development when she was soft and young?
What if she had learned to masterfully sculpt her own being?
What self might she have created?
And would that self include so many piercings?
We are all born with the tools of our own sculpting innately hardwired within us. Yet we are raised in a society that teaches us to be overly dependent upon peers, parents, teachers, politicians, counselors, medications, media, a host of commercial products and other external factors. Many of us pass through the prime years of our development without ever really learning to use the intrinsic tools of personal development.
Whether you dance, draw, make music, make field goals, build houses, tune engines or sit around all day watching television, you are an artist. Your single greatest work is your self. As with any art form, the more you understand and develop your talents, the greater the ability with which you can create.
The Users Guide To Being Human is a self-help book that examines sixteen inherent aspects of our humanness, those underlying talents that drive our personal growth each day. Compiling thousands of years of human inquiry into the nature of learning and development, this work aims to help each of us understand and make use of the tools freely available within.
Imagine a coming of age ceremony where a teenage girl—the tools of her own creation dangling from her artist’s workbelt—takes over as head craftsman of her self, celebrating the end of a long apprenticeship, the end of childhood. Imagine a world where everyone consciously makes art of themselves each and every day, continuously crafting themselves into greater quality works. Imagine families and communities of artists openly sharing their tools and techniques with one another.
What might that world look like?