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Revisiting “The Other Plan B” (the “missing” Tuesday post) September 14, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Life, Movies, Philosophy, Science, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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The following “missing” post for Tuesday, September 13th contains some information previously posted in two 2020 posts. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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“David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart….”

 

– quoted from 1 Samuel – The Old Testament (17:32 NIV)

Today, I’m going to tell you a story. It’s not the story I used to tell on September 13th, back when we were doing all of this in person. This is a story I started telling in 2020. It’s the story about what you do when things don’t go according to plan – or, you find out things will work just as you planned, but that that’s not the way you want things to work out. Have you had days like that?

Every once in a while it happens. I start off the day, working on a plan, and something in me says, “No, not that today.” So, I go to Plan B – and sometimes I get really into it, get really excited about it, and then something in me will say, “Naw, I don’t think so.” So, I either go back to the drawing board or… I fight it. Yes, it’s true; sometimes I don’t listen to that “still quiet voice.” Sometimes I think the big capital “I” (which is my ego) knows better than whatever is moving around in my heart. Sometimes, I get halfway through the day, or all the way to the end of the day, and think, “Oh, maybe that’s why I should have paid more attention and been more present.”

There are, however, times when I absolutely am open to the Spirit and open to the moment. There are times when I let go of my frustration at things not going the way I planned and I breathe…. That’s it. I take a breath and open to the moment. I still have a plan. In fact, it’s the best of all plans, That Other Plan B: Breathe – keep breathing; be open to the present; believe and be aware of “what it is you have to offer.” 

Today, I offer you a story about David. It’s actually two stories… about the same David – even though it is simultaneously the same story about two different Davids… with a little side note about two additional Davids. (You might especially appreciate that “confusing” statement if you were around for this past Saturday’s practice, but that’s a whole other story.) To clarify today’s offering(s), the first story and the first David is the one from the Bible, specifically the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament. You remember that David?

People love the story of that David, because it is the story of the underdog. When faced with the towering figure of Goliath, David used his inner resources. He drew from the experience he had as a shepherd (rather than being preoccupied by the experience he didn’t have as a soldier). He focused on what he could do (not on what he was “trying” to do). His inner strength, courage, and wisdom were what he took into his reign as king. Yes, King David made mistakes – he was human; but his legacy is firmly established by the story of his victory against Goliath, his son Solomon (who is considered the ruler with the wisest heart in the history of the world), and the statue by Michelangelo.

This brings me to the “second” David and the second story: the story of Michelangelo’s David.

You may already be familiar with the basic premise of the story: On September 13, 1501, a 26-year old artist named Michelangelo was commissioned to create a statue of the legendary David. That marble statue, unveiled in Florence, Italy on September 8, 1504, continues to captivate people to this very day. At various times throughout history, it has represented the epitome of the male form. It established Michelangelo as an artistic powerhouse, a giant in the art world. People started calling him “Il Divino” (“the divine one”). They praised, and even envied, his terribilitá – his ability to provoke intense emotion through his work. 

But, Michelangelo was not the original sculptor. In fact, when the piece was first commissioned by the Overseers of the Office of Works of the Florence Cathedral (the Operai), it was part of a series of large Old Testament statues intended for the Florence Cathedral. And, at that time, in the early 1400s, Michelangelo wasn’t even on the short list of those being considered. Granted, the main reason he wasn’t on the list was because he hadn’t been born yet, but that’s beside the point. The point being that Michelangelo, like David, wasn’t Plan A or Plan B.

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

 

– Michelangelo

In 1408, at the same time that Nanni di Banco was commissioned to carve a marble statue of the prophet Isaiah, Donatello was commissioned to sculpt a marble statue of David. Both statues ended up abandoned in the workshop for about seven years. In 1410, Donatello made a statue of Joshua (an assistant to Moses) and may have been Agostino di Duccio’s mentor when the latter was commissioned, in 1463, to create Hercules. (Hercules is an odd choice for the series, yes, but there he is.) Donatello’s Joshua and Agostino’s Hercules were terracotta – and Donatello would create a statue of Saint John the Evangelist shortly after those terracotta pieces were finished. 

In between all that, around 1416, Donatello was asked to make some changes to his David – perhaps to make it more “generic” – and that altered David was placed at the Palazzo della Signoria, on top of an engraved pedestal. This clothed version of David is not, however, the primary David (statue) of today’s story. (Neither is it Donatello’s most famous depiction of David; the mostly-nude bronze he created in the 1440s, which was initially placed in the Palazzo Medici). 

“Pro patria fortiter dimicantibus etiam adversus terribilissimos hostes Deus praestant victoria”

[Latin for “God provides victory for the country fighting strongly even against the most terrible enemy.”]

 

– Possibly the original (1416) engraving on the pedestal of Donatello’s marble statue of David (which currently reads “Pro patria fortiter dimicantibus etiam adversus terribilissimos hostes dii praestant auxilium”*)

 

In 1464, Agostino accepted the commission for the second marble statue of David. The idea was to create the statue from several blocks of marble. However, in 1465, Agostino found a large block of marble in the Fantiscritti quarry in northern Tuscany and had that transported – by sea and river – to Florence. He didn’t get much done – just blocked out the shape of the legs, feet, torso, and some drapery – before Donatello’s death in December of 1466. At that point, Agostino lost the commission and yet another artist (possibly Antonio Gamberelli, a. k. a. Antonio Rossellino) was commissioned to finish the statue in 1476. However, it doesn’t seem like this second artist got very far. The marble, that may or may not have even had a gap to distinguish the two legs, was left abandoned, exposed to the elements for 26 years.

So much for Plans A and B.

Of course, that hunk of “badly blocked out” marble was expensive (and represented the additional expense and effort of its acquisition). So, in 1501, the Operai started looking for a master artist – someone with experience – to take on what they referred to as “Il Gigante” (“The Giant”). 

Yes, it is kind of ironic that the unfinished statue of the biblical underdog who took  on “the Giant” was referred to by officials of the Church as “The Giant.” Perhaps it is most fitting, then, that while several artistic giants, like Leonardo da Vinci, were considered; they did not receive the final commission. Instead, the commission went to the artistic equivalent of the underdog, a young Michelangelo.

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

 

– Michelangelo

Consider what it would be like to be 26-year old Michelangelo, staring at a chunk of marble. To the outside observer, it is nothing. But he sees inside. Seeing inside takes effort and may be harder for some than for others, but the artist who is literate in their craft may not think much about the process: They just do what they do. 

To someone who is not an artist, the artistic process may seem magical and impossible. If a non-artist were to undertake such a task, without knowing what to look for and what steps to take, the process would be frustrating. The final effort might even be embarrassing. That’s not to say that one of us non-artists couldn’t do it, it just means that we would require more steps, maybe more training and more practice.

As neuroscientists Dr. Beau Lotto pointed out in a 2017 Big Think video entitled, “The Neuroscience of Creativity, Perception, and Confirmation Bias,” we all have “a space of possibility” that, based on our history and experiences, establishes our logical next steps. Ergo, what the artist does can be very similar to you reading this post (or even me writing this post). Yes, it takes effort and energy; however, if you are a literate adult – who learned how to read as a child and doesn’t have a reading impairment – you don’t think back to the struggle of the learning process every time you read or write. Even though the yoga philosophy defines this exchange of words and meaning as one of the “powers unique to being human,” we don’t always think of our ability to communicate as anything more than a tool. It’s simply part of our landscape… like the rocks on the ground before David picked them up. Or, like the hunk of marble before Michelangelo got to it.  

Post Script: I didn’t love the way I wrapped up the 2022 Noon practice. Serendipitously, just before the evening practice started, some of us had a conversation about the movie Hidden Figures and it made me think of the acceptance speech Taraji P. Henson gave when the cast won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast (or Ensemble) in a Motion Picture. Her opening words (“Steady yourself heart; talk to me God; listen…”) could be the words anyone says before undertaking a big task. But, what she says about the women at the center of the movie – Catherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson – the giants on whose shoulders the cast stood, perfectly described the mindset of underdogs like David and Michelangelo:

“They didn’t complain. They focused on the solutions.”

 

– quoted from Taraji P. Henson’s speech during the 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, January 29, 2017 

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “09132020 What Is Inside, II”]

 

*NOTE: According to some historians, the current pedestal engraving for Donatello’s marble David is not the original and may have been changed for political/religious reasons. Interestingly, the most common English translation – “To those who fight heroically for the fatherland (or motherland) the gods provide help even against the most terrible foes” – may obfuscate an error (in the Latin) made by someone in the 16th century.

 

This past Thursday (September 8th) was the anniversary of the unveiling of Michelangelo’s David and it was also International Literacy Day. For the approximately 775 million people worldwide who are functionally illiterate and lack the basic reading and writing skills to manage daily living and employment tasks, my blog posts can be like Goliath. (I know, I know: Even when you are literate, these blog posts can be like Goliath – but, if you are literate, you are David and you have what it takes to conquer!) To read more about why International Literacy Day is important, you can click here and scroll to the end of my original “David” post or go directly to the official United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) International Literacy page.

### DREAM. BREATHE. DREAM. BREATHE. ###