Today is November 30 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you live with regret?” People who navigate the chaos, like American artist Georgia O’Keeffe, found a way to move forward in life despite feeling terrified of doing so. As O’Keefe noted “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.” Those who translate one dream after another into reality seldom let fear stop them as they choose to live a life of no regrets.
O’Keefe lived a life navigating one episode of chaos after another. Her family had money, then lost it all and lived in poverty. She fell in love, married the man of her dreams, and then had multiple affairs with both men and women. After a divorce she had to fight off one serious life-threatening illness after another. She suffered a nervous breakdown. Through all the chaos, O’Keefe studied art, learned to draw, and then committed herself to practicing new forms of art. She had multiple reasons to quit, could have used any number of excuses to stop pursuing her dreams, but never did she live with regret. Oscar Wilde followed a similar life path.
At the height of his fame and success Irish poet and novelist Oscar Wilde was arrested and tried for ‘gross indecency with men.’ After two more trials he was convicted and sentenced to two years' hard labour, the maximum penalty, and was jailed from 1895 to 1897. During his last year in prison, he wrote De Profundis (published posthumously in 1905), a long letter which discusses his spiritual journey through his trials, forming a dark counterpoint to his earlier philosophy of pleasure. On his release, he left immediately for France, never to return to Ireland or Britain.
As Wilde wrote in De Profundis:
“When first I was put into prison some people advised me to try and forget who I was. It was ruinous advice. It is only by realising what I am that I have found comfort of any kind. Now I am advised by others to try on my release to forget that I have ever been in a prison at all. I know that would be equally fatal. It would mean that I would always be haunted by an intolerable sense of disgrace, and that those things that are meant for me as much as for anybody else - the beauty of the sun and moon, the pageant of the seasons, the music of daybreak and the silence of great nights, the rain falling through the leaves, or the dew creeping over the grass and making it silver - would all be tainted for me, and lose their healing power, and their power of communicating joy. To regret one's own experiences is to arrest one's own development. To deny one's own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one's own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.”
De Profundis (Latin: "from the depths") is a letter written by Oscar Wilde during his imprisonment in Reading Gaol, to "Bosie" (Lord Alfred Douglas).
In its first half, Wilde recounts their previous relationship and extravagant lifestyle which eventually led to Wilde's conviction and imprisonment for gross indecency. He indicts both Lord Alfred's vanity and his own weakness in acceding to those wishes. In the second half, Wilde charts his spiritual development in prison and identification with Jesus Christ, whom he characterises as a romantic, individualist artist. The letter began "Dear Bosie" and ended "Your Affectionate Friend".
Wilde wrote the letter between January and March 1897, close to the end of his imprisonment. Contact had lapsed between Douglas and Wilde and the latter had suffered from his close supervision, physical labour, and emotional isolation. Nelson, the new prison governor, thought that writing might be more cathartic than prison labour. He was not allowed to send the long letter which he was allowed to write "for medicinal purposes"; each page was taken away when completed, and only at the end could he read it over and make revisions. Nelson gave the long letter to him on his release on 18 May 1897.
Wilde entrusted the manuscript to the journalist Robert Ross (another former lover, loyal friend, and rival to "Bosie"). Ross published the letter in 1905, five years after Wilde's death, giving it the title "De Profundis" from Psalm 130. It was an incomplete version, excised of its autobiographical elements and references to the Queensberry family; various editions gave more text until in 1962 the complete and correct version appeared in a volume of Wilde's letters. Both O’Keeffe and Wilde lived without regret. O’Keefe was always scared but never let fear stop her and Wilde refused to deny himself a life experience.
How often have you been terrified and then let that fear stop you?
How often do you remind yourself that you can be scared and do it (whatever “it” is) anyway?
How often do you live with regret?
How often do you deny yourself an experience?
How often do you allow the chaos of life to stop you from traveling your life path?