“Scratchy” best describes the antique Pendleton blanket draped across my pajama-clad legs.
The caw caw caw of crows echoes in the distance, and there is hovering lake fog where cool air marries warm lake water.
My hot mug of coffee in hand, on the old lake porch for the last time. It was sweet sorrow as I sat nestled in the womb of quiet as the distant loons and the jumping fish performed one last time to say farewell for the season … not “goodbye,” but “see you next year” … if it’s God’s will.
In stark, face-slapping contrast, my blanket is replaced by the thumping of a ceiling fan on the back porch, trying to stay cool in the oven they call Austin, where we returned last night after a drawn-out drive seeing Niagara Falls, the cornfields of Indiana, and the friendships of a life well lived.
“Contrast” best describes this Sunday versus the last. Cool versus hot, rich pine greens versus dry scrub oaks. Each beautiful in its own unique way.
Contrast, as it turns out, is another gift of life. My quiet summers on an Adirondack lake would be less sweet without the contrast of my insanely busy life managing kids, schedules, travel, and business.
Why Do We Suffer?
People often ponder the question of why we have to suffer or struggle. Contrast provides the answer. How else can we appreciate what we had before the hard moments, or what we have when the hard times are over?
Moments of joy are amplified and more spectacular when they are appreciated in contrast with the struggles of life.
Though no one seeks or wants trouble, embracing it for the contrast it provides somehow makes struggle easier.
When I teach painting, people naturally want the fastest solutions and instant ability … yet my own success is sweeter knowing I’ve overcome many of the struggles after two decades of learning and more to come. For my artist friends, it’s the struggle that creates the breakthroughs.
After going on one of our art trips to Russia, my friend artist Scott Christensen told me he was not sure he could ever paint again after seeing the great Russian masterworks in person. He struggled for months, unsure he could ever be satisfied again. In spite of wanting to give in and give up, he powered through, only to have the biggest breakthrough in his painting career.
Contrast is a powerful motivator. As a young man struggling to make a living, I had to get sick of only being able to afford to eat peanut butter sandwiches to become motivated and figure out how to solve my financial crisis.
When I started my business, I had gone without a paycheck for seven years and come moments away from losing my car, my business, and my house. The contrast with the sweet moment of that first small paycheck made me appreciate that milestone more.
The tragic loss of a marriage made me appreciate love once I found it.
My friends who have lost everything in a fire or a hurricane eventually appreciate little things more once they’ve come back from having nothing.
With so much focus on what we want or what we don’t have, looking back at where we once were provides contrast to appreciate where we are.
The Cycle of Growth
Contrast is why it’s important to embrace change and avoid being stagnant. Change provides discomfort, and discomfort provides growth — while offering contrast.
Four seasons provide contrast. It’s hard to appreciate spring without winter.
Aging helps us appreciate wisdom, in contrast to the inexperience of youth.
If you pause for a moment and ponder your toughest moments, can you see the contrast?
If you are living through tough moments right now, you have my sympathy, yet contrast will come and sweetness will return.
A Sad Day
Last week I experienced my first birthday without the phone calls and cards from my mother. It was my saddest birthday ever, yet the contrast it provided made my time with my dad and family members on my birthday so much sweeter, reminding me how precious these times are.
And being at the lake alone, just me and my son Brady, made me miss the joyful energy of having my wife and the other kids around. Yet that same contrast gave me precious time one-on-one with Brady, including a road trip halfway across America, creating a lifetime memory for us both.
In Chinese culture, they speak of the yin and the yang, while for us it’s the positive and the negative. It’s heaven versus hell. Dark versus light. Sad versus happy. Tears versus smiles. Hot versus cold. Love versus hate. Sunrises versus sunsets. Success versus failures. One cannot exist without the other.
The world is filled with victims. “Why is this happening to me?” they say. Yet there would be no more victims if they would understand that the brightest light comes after the darkest hours. That the cycle of life requires dark and light. That you can’t enjoy sweet success without hard times.
Embrace the contrast.
PS: Scott Christensen will share his breakthroughs at the 2020 Plein Air Convention & Expo next May in Denver. We’ve sold out two hotels and exceeded the last convention’s registration significantly, and are likely to sell out soon. I hope you’ll join us.
I just read your latest blog this morning. Somehow the week zoomed by too quickly…. I usually try and read it the day it comes out. I loved what you said about contrast, it is all so true. And a great reminder that this is part of life in so many ways, as well as in our art. I would truly love to sit down with you sometime and just talk. We share many of the same beliefs, and I admire your insight about so many things. I know your schedule is crazy, especially at the convention, but maybe someday.
I leave in three days for Idaho for four days of an intensive workshop with Scott and just three other artists. I went last summer also. I admire him greatly, not just as an artist but as a person. I can see why you are friends. I am excited about going to the convention in May also. Thank you for all you do for the art community. You are really a blessing to us all. If you ever get out to the central coast of California or even Monterey I would love to meet you. Ever interested in a workshop in Santa Barbara? 🙂
Absolutely beautiful article filled with the gift of wisdom. It makes me think about the lights and darks differently in my painting. Thanks for sharing.
Loved this. So true!
I must admit I do not read all your Sunday postings but this one really hit home. I love your idea of contrast and our need to have it in order to appreciate the moments we have. My dad passed this last year and there was no singing on the phone from him on my birthday, it made me so glad that I have always made the time to answer the phone and hear him all of the other years. To take time in our crazy busy schedules is a gift.
I met you on the first Cuba trip- I am the the black eye / stitches person that you and your wife so nicely helped.
Thank you for a wonderful “conversation”. You are so right about change bringing new light and a new “viewpoint”. So important for growth. Thank you for reminding me life is full of growth!
This story was an inspiration to keep on persevering and realizing that we all have undiscovered talents that are uncovered through our journey through life.
Packed with truth, Eric. Thoughtful and well written. Thank you.
enjoyed this story very much. Keep up the wonderful work
After reading your article regarding the power of contrasts I just had to comment on the power of your words. It summed up so well how we should look at life and the events in it. The contrasts should make us truly grateful for the good things and I don’t believe most people are. Hopefully your article will be inspiring to anyone who reads it. I know it was to me and I thank you for your insight into the human condition. As for me, when I’ve worked and worked on painting becoming frustrated in the process until I do make a breakthrough and then power on thru more frustration till the next breakthrough, it helped me so much to be able to view all that as a contrast. Thank you.
Belated Happy Birthday🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉
This letter is so beautiful…it really stresses that we be thankful for what we have,,,
I very much agree, Eric: like coming home after a long trip away. One appreciates the good that is a common thread in life, by facing challenges , obstacles and trials. The wisdom you spoke of evolves out of these. May the glass be half full instead of half empty. May we appreciate even more the light after having passed through the shadows. May we recognize in others the struggles that they have that are similar to our own, and treat them with grace and mercy. May we create in joy, in the knowledge that creation sheds light into all the dark corners. Thank you for this, Eric.
I love your Sunday letters. I’m always encouraged by your faith and your delightful outlook on life and art.
You often refer to Russian painters. Please recommend names or books I could order and study these works.
Hello. I signed up quite awhile ago for the next PACE.
I’ve not yet received any data on where it’s being held nor any data regarding setting up hotel reservations.
Please could you proved the above data so I can make reservations etc.
The magazine is great.
Thanks for the hard work to realize it.
Thanks for the “Contrasts” Eric. I had mine when my husband died instantly of a heart attack 3 1/2 years ago. The woes of my world went into perspective and brought me more firmly into the concept of “Life is good”. Who really knows what comes after that last breath and heart beat? It might be a big nothing. It might be the best something. It might be just a carrying on but just without a body – who knows. it doesn’t matter what it is cause what I can imagine it is still is not the grand “NOW”.
So rather than go on and on from my head I will go back to the “Thanks you” I started out with. I well imagine you get filled with lots of thank you’s – well deserved. Mine will be another drop in the ocean, but that said – I still want to express it. Keep it up dear man. You are making a beautiful difference in the world and in the quality of life for many people.
I am among the sea of people you have met. We may have actually hugged (I am a hugger so probably yes).
Here is another one.
Eric, this is one of the BEST “Sunday Sermons ” I have heard.
You have my attention with this philosophy!
This is a most beautiful read. Well said about life, health, sorrow, and contrasts. Maturity comes with time for all. Life is full of misunderstandings. As they say “youth is waisted on the young”, but aging is a privilege not everyone is able to appreciate, endure and understand. Thanks for your beautiful words. God Bless
Thank you so much for the reminder about “contrast.” It was very timely for me to read it just now. I really enjoy Sunday coffee emails!