September 26, 2021

Michelangelo and the Prisoner in the Stone

Ogni blocco di pietra ha una statua dentro di sé ed è compito dello scultore scoprirla.” – Michelangelo

(Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it)

The work of a sculptor has always seemed to me extremely fascinating. Think for a moment: you have in front of you a block of marble and you begin to carve with a chisel. Little by little, from the stone a “form” begins to appear, the stone begins to have a “meaning”, and this form and meaning represent the materialization of an idea that was in your mind as well as the manifestation in the physical plane of your creative power. It’s something that makes us similar to the gods.

This process can appear trivial, but there are some aspects that deserve to be explored: the block of marble is a space of infinite potentiality, it contains an infinite number of statues of which only one will materialize. It is interesting to note that to sculpt a statue is a process that does not involve a real “creation”, as the statue is ALREADY inside the stone, but it implies the elimination of all that is unnecessary and prevents the statue to come to light and to manifest.

This space of infinite potentiality has practical limits: the most obvious concern the size of the stone. While it is true that every stone contains an infinite number of statues, it is clear that this statue that will be “liberated” will have inherent limitations due to the size of the block.

Other limits may depend on the technical capacity of the sculptor: it might happen that we can visualize a sculpture, that surely lies within the marble, but we are not able to materialize it due to our inability. Other limitations may appear due to errors in direction: maybe we started with one subject, but after a period of time our creativity has led us in other directions; unfortunately, the stone is not clay, and what has been removed, has now been removed forever. Surely, if we just start to chisel in a random way and we remove material without having in mind a vision, we’ll hardly be able to produce something of value.

What is certain is that at any time, regardless of the size of the stone or the deformed shape it has taken, due to mistakes in technique and direction, this stone will continue to contain an infinite number of potential statues, and – equally certain – it contains a sculpture that can become a masterpiece. Then, it’s the sculptor’s responsibility to choose between focusing on this potential masterpiece, or dispersing the attention to the statues that he can’t complete because of these limitations and therefore victimizing himself. It’s his choice, and the decision to focus on potentialities rather than on limits represents the true essence of free will.

We also have a block of stone to carve, that is our own life. At every moment we have an infinite number of possibilities to choose and to do whatever we want with them. Certainly, if we act in a random way, we’ll hardly be able to produce something that has meaning; and, as in the case of the sculptor, the manifestation of this value is not so much a creative process, but much more one of discovery and liberation of release of what we already are, however that remains hidden by emotional blocks, inhibitions, fears and limiting beliefs that prevent the full expression of potential.

Still, these potentialities are endless, yes, but still limited. There are a number of real limits, due to the initial situation, health, culture, past mistakes… but in spite of these limitations (which are often false and exist only in our minds, but that’s another story), regardless of how difficult, complicated, without any exit our situation may appear to us, we still have an infinite potential to manifest, and we have the chance to make something of our lives that can represent a masterpiece.

And the choice between focusing on the potentialities or on limits is something in which we are continually faced with in life: if, due to an accident, we find ourselves with legs amputated, it is clear that we are faced with a limit.

It’s up to us to choose whether to spend the rest of our lives complaining and victimizing ourselves thinking about what we can’t do, or choose to focus on the potentiality and to decide to make the most of the remaining resources, which continue to be endless. It’s our choice and – as in the case of the sculptor – it’s the true essence of free will.

There is, however, a fundamental difference between a block of marble to sculpt and our life, which makes the metaphor not completely comparable. While marble, when not used or when the sculptor thinks, waits, procrastinates,… it remains unchanged, our life – while we wait – still passes, and opportunities at our disposal diminish.

Picture the scene: you’re in front of your block of marble, and while trying to figure out what to do, the block becomes smaller and smaller. Until it disappears.

What are you waiting for, to make a masterpiece of your life?