In all things human

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” 

“Every block of stone has a sculpture inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

– Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni


Michelangelo had the ability to see the form inside the sculpture.  He carved away that which was not necessary from the marble in order to reveal the beauty of the form already underneath.

We are like Michelangelo’s marble.

When we think of aspiring to be our best selves, we often think about slathering on more duties and obligations.  We feel that we have to do more – exert more – in order to reach some sort of far off potential.   But we’ve got it backwards.  Our best self is already innately inside of us.  The form is there.  Our highest creative calling is to discard that stuff that is getting in the way so that our best selves can be fully revealed.

What do you need to carve away?

For many of us there is the literal stuff.  Here’s some of what’s on my list:

  • Mom’s old pots
  • dress that hasn’t been worn in five years (because you never know)
  • crazy, high uncomfortable heels that I will wear….when, exactly?
  • cosmetics from the 90’s (seriously, this stuff is practically dangerous)
  • notebooks from college (makes me feel smart)

How is holding onto your stuff serving you?  Is is protecting you or holding you back?  What would spring cleaning look like?  After the initial pang, how would it feel to let all that go?

We  perform a similar kind of plaster job in our yoga classes by overlaying tension on our asana.  Rather than trusting ourselves to find ease and work less, we over-engage as some sort of admission price for advancement.  Not realizing that if we actually stopped working so darn hard, the yoga would have more space to emerge.  Now, I’m not saying we don’t work in asana.  We do.  Just like chiseling a rock is sweaty and deep.  But we want to do the real work and find where we actually need to be stronger, rather than simply engaging everything and hoping for the best.

A bit more tricky to identify our emotional baggage. The relationship that is no longer working.  The job that doesn’t allow us to express our best selves.  The habits we casually fall into that keep us from doing what we ACTUALLY want to do.

The Road Home

Rather than adding on more obligations to your day, get out your chisels, and start carving away what is not working from your life.  Start with the externals.  Do a spring cleaning.  Get rid of Mom’s old pots – she loves you even if you give them to Goodwill.  In your asana practice, start finding more ease so that the parts of your body that need to be stronger will actually have the chance to work.  And the parts that love to over-effort can finally find some space.  When we let go of what no longer serves us, the opportunity appears for the luminous parts of ourselves to emerge.  Sunshine appears through the chinks of the armor.

As we blow away the dust in our physical world, the emotional and mental baggage starts to become clearer.  The quiet whispered messages from your deepest self will begin to get louder.  You already know what you need to do.  Can you let go of what is getting in the way?

So maybe today you make a tiny tap into the marble, then tomorrow more of the rock falls away.  Eventually, if you keep chiseling, more of you will be revealed.

A Warning

Despite the fact that he is widely regarded as one of humanity’s greatest artists, Michelangelo’s works weren’t all that proportional or even always pretty.  Powerful, yes.  “Pretty?”  No.  David’s hands are too big and Jesus would never actually fit on Mary’s lap.   And it is exactly this unreasonableness that makes his works so genius.   Michelangelo wasn’t interested in “reasonable” art; he created from his soul.   Similarly, as we carve down into our most essential selves, what we unearth may not be “pretty” or “reasonable.”  We may not fit neatly into the social box anymore.  We may find that the old habits feel confining rather than comfortable.   Others may not understand.   Like Michelangelo’s works, you will be more than “pretty.”  You will be powerfully and uniquely yourself.

Pull out your chisels.  Make a small nick.

And remember: “I am still learning.” – Michelangelo

Recent Posts
Showing 2 comments
  • Alan Bartolic

    This reminds me of the bodhichitta – the Sanskrit word for “noble or awakened heart” I learned of reading Pema Chodron’s “When Things Fall Apart – Heart Advice for Difficult Times”. In it she writes, “Just as a jewel that has been buried in the earth for a million years is not discolored or harmed, in the same way this noble heart is not affected…It is here in all that lives, never marred and completely whole.”
    Michelangelo’s “angel” is like the bodhichitta of the marble.
    I have often struggled to pick up that chisel out of fear – fear of exposing what Chodron calls “the basic fragility of existence”. But anytime I have chosen to make a tiny tap into the marble, not only does rock fall away, so too does fear. Although I’m certain my “angel” will not resemble Michelangelo’s, it will be mine
    Thank you for encouraging my inner sculptor.

  • Rachel

    This is a beautiful parallel. 🙂 Pema’s teacher also says, “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves again and again to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found.” The more we carve away, the more of our eternal self can be revealed.

Say Hi

Please send me a message. I look forward to hearing from you!

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt
%d bloggers like this: