Setting Free the Angel

by Jennifer Paros

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. 

                                                        --Oliver Wendell Holmes 

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2011

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2011

In creating a piece of writing, or in moving toward any goal, there is a strong temptation for me to gauge where I am in relation to where I want to be.  But when I check on a project - looking for progress and assessing the work – my energy splits in its focus and it becomes hard for things to advance.   I’ve often heard the analogy of a seed used to explain the nature of allowing a project to grow.  We plant a seed and we wait.  But if we constantly check on it by digging it up and looking for its progress, we never see progress. 

In Greek mythology, Orpheus’s wife Eurydice gets bitten by a viper and dies.  Upon finding her body, Orpheus travels to the underworld hoping he can sway Hades to release Eurydice.  Hades does agree, but under the condition that while returning to earth, Orpheus must walk in front of his wife, never looking back – a directive Orpheus ultimately fails to follow. 

Orpheus actually already “has” Eurydice – they are almost home. But to want something so desperately that we stop trusting it isand can be and seek evidence outside ourselves, is the point at which the dream seems lost. 

When my husband ran track in high school, he quickly learned that to turn his head and check on the nearest runner pretty much ended his chances of winning.  At that moment, there was a break in his energy; he was sending it away from the finish line.  Even though he was still in the race, it was no longer about him running; now it was about checking, and in checking he left himself and the power of his focus behind. 

The fear that motivates trying to watch ourselves from the outside skews the actions we take toward getting where we want to go. Worrying is an example of trying to control outcomes by mentally checking on a subject repeatedly.  Liberation and expansion require allowing ourselves to stay focused on what is within us that we wish to bring forward, because that is where we want to go.  

Inside us is the creative drawing board for our outward experiences.  Everything we want is here already – like the seed with its complete potential for becoming a flower.  But the seed doesn’t splay its energies with jealousy of other flowers, concern about how long it’s taking to grow, or doubt in its ability to bloom.  If it did, its energies would cease to be unified and successful in the process of growth. We believe in ourselves by believing that what we want is already in us, waiting to be brought forward, waiting to be lived externally.

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


Setting free the angel - as book, business, painting, or any expression of ourselves we most value  - happens inside us first.   That’s the reason checking the outside can interfere with growth. Michelangelo didn’t see the angel in the marble because he was staring at the marble; he saw the angel in the marble because he was looking within. He went beneath the surface of life’s presentation for connection to what wanted to come forward.  His attention to inner life made it clear that by carving, he was revealing what had already been made present to him inwardly.

The perception that we’re reaching for something over there or to get there is misleading.  The opportunity is to embrace what is within and in doing so create new expressions in the world.  We’re not getting anywhere; we’re expanding our expression of ourselves and our inner landscapes externally. 

The race is not won by checking; the statue is not built by assessment; the book is not written by judgment.  The flower does not bloom from the outside-in; it is hard-wired to bloom. And so are we.  But where our focus goes is where our energies are working.  And the fulfillment of an idea or a life happens in sync with the moment of communion between us and our inner lives, never from an external vantage point. 

Orpheus is unable to set free what he loves because he cannot trust that he already has her.  We can free anything we want into expression in our lives, but it must first be witnessed, owned, and lived from within.

Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle. Please visit her website at

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