Berger: And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos

Reading John Berger’s And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos is like going to bed with a lover who is at once familiar and intoxicating. Each section of this quiet little wonder is written with a tender personal tone, even when Berger turns from the autobiographical to things more essayistic. Most famous, perhaps, is his section on Caravaggio:

“One night in bed you asked me who was my favourite painter. I hesitated, searching for the least knowing, most truthful answer. Caravaggio. My own reply surprised me.”

Amid so many underlined passages in this book, these four words — “least knowing, most truthful” — have become foundational for me in my practice. Being asked to name your favorite artist (or movie, book, album — fill in the blank) can become less of an exercise in honesty and more an attempt to impress or prove oneself. Trust me, having spent all of my 20s working in classical music and trying to earn my stripes in an industry dominated by older men, I can attest to a decade of being more knowing and less truthful.

Waking up to our basic nature, our inherent worthiness, allows us to surrender the neuroses that lead to us prioritizing being knowing over truthful. If we can let these go, we can more authentically show up as ourselves, and be true to that basic goodness within us. Or, to quote Gestalt therapy’s Paradoxical Theory of Change, “change occurs when one becomes what they is, not when they try to become what they are not.

In that light of truthfulness, our own answers may surprise us.

Today’s Contemplation: Sit with your breath for 5 minutes. Know when you’re breathing in, know when you’re breathing out. Feel all of the feels that are going on even as you focus on the breath — what are you in truth feeling versus what you think you “should” feel in a meditation? Consider that whatever you’re feeling is the truth of your experience. Whatever you feel is okay.