The Art of Being a Mess

This is a messy subject.  How does one approach the “Art” of being a mess when the very nature of being a mess is anti-Art?  “Art” implies finesse, centeredness, a manner worth noting as wise and forgiving.  Art (in the sense of behavior) may not always be “pretty”, but it is always clear and reflective.     

I am writing to the sometime messes of the world who care about personal transformation.   The problem is when a person is acting like “a mess” there is often little “Art” if that person is swept up in the distorting chaos of harmful thoughts, words, or actions.   The keyword here is harmful.  So, being a mess may be defined as acting and thinking in a way that is harmful to yourself or others.

There are big messes and little messes.   Some people become a big mess when reacting to something like a personal crises or a relationship break-up.  There are little messes, like when someone becomes upset when a friend does not call back or when things do not go as planned.   Most people, when feeling like a mess, can hide it long enough to get through the day; there is a certain politeness to their mess.  They may get their work done, have a smile on their face, and look fine, but on the inside, they may feel awful.

The art of being a mess comes down to cultivating certain qualities, in particular a certain willingness to become aware of and take responsibility for our feelings.  Becoming aware of how we are feeling, allows us to bring some grace and mindfulness to any situation.  Taking responsibility means steering the situation (like a ship in storm) until the messy feelings subside.  How a person handles the storm of emotions and finally returns to a feeling of balance is the Art of being a mess. Some people call it patience or skillful means.  In many ways, this is the ability to choose how you want to respond to yourself or others.

Another way to return to balance is to become aware of what you are saying to yourself in the background of your mind; that stream of thoughts and self-talk that is humming in your head.  What message are you giving yourself?   Negative self-talk can sustain a mess long after the storm has calmed down.  If you are focused, then your mind is on the task at hand.  That is why work can be like a vacation from your messy life, because you are required to focus on things other than yourself or personal problems.

The Art of Being a Mess is the Art of being aware of your messiness.   It is not enough to admit you are a mess, though forgiveness and apology may go a long way.   The Art of Being a Mess is how you transform yourself moment to moment.  When are you happiest and most secure?  Can you re-remember that feeling when you are insecure?  Sometimes we call this “self-soothing” which is a manner of self-care.   We may not be able to change the stormy weather around us, but we certainly can choose how to respond.  That is the Art of being a mess.

Marc Aronoff