031 | Radical transparency
Closing the distance between ourselves and the world.
Welcome to a new issue of Beginner’s Mind. If you’re a new subscriber, hello 👋. My name is Christian Solorzano and I’m a writer, photographer, artist, and designer based in Chicago. I began writing this newsletter as a way to share musings and teachings with the world. The newsletter focuses on mindfulness, creativity, and ways to be integrated with the world and each other.
In the sky
I began writing this issue, a week ago, on Saturday, April 23rd. I was on the airplane. The night before, I had gone to sleep at 11 pm, woken up at 2 am, to catch a 3 am Uber, to the airport for a 4:30 am flight. The airplane felt cold and despite being upgraded to first class, I felt restless and unable to drift off to sleep. A week later, I am writing this from the comfort of my Airbnb, in Tucson, where I’ll spend another week.
This is impermanence and it’s important to be reminded of it. Exactly one week ago, I was restless and tired — now I am restful. Things change and when remembering this fundamental truth, we can take ourselves less seriously. But it won’t be long until I am once again tired and restless — in the sky, on the road, or wherever. Impermanence is like an oscillator — constantly fluctuating between various states. Now I am a was.
On the airplane, I sat next to two men, one with a Bible in his back pocket and another one who listened to Christian affirmations on his smartphone. Two tough-looking men, full of grace.
The human condition is fascinating and the stories people carry — the mystery of their lives, the complex messiness, the ugly, and the beautiful. Curiosity is my companion, it walks beside me everywhere I go, becoming a window through which the world enters.
It’s this curiosity that fuels this newsletter, Beginner’s Mind. The desire to understand the world and each other with depth and wonder.
Last Friday, April 22nd, my friend John Hatherly, had an exhibition at Chicago’s Other Art Fair. John’s work is direct — its focus is on radical transparency and non-violence. They create work centered around the idea of positive cultural value, and they do this through their design studio Sondwerk.
And I say their work is radical because it challenges assumptions that we often make about the world. John’s work begs us to slow down, ponder on our existence, and carefully reconsider how we navigate life’s turbulence.
But the positive cultural value piece is what intrigues me most. If we take some time to think about cultural values, it is obvious that especially in the West, we are ruled by an obsession with time, profit, individualism, control, and competition. These values, although they might make way for innovation and growth, often fail to get us closer to a spaciousness that allows us to determine for ourselves what we find valuable. It’s almost as if values have been pre-determined for us, and I find this to be grotesquely concerning.
John’s work tackles the idea that what we create should be driven by cooperation, wisdom, humility, and love which as a result will foster a healthier, more sustainable future today.
I couldn’t agree more.
Most recently, in response to the war in Ukraine, John set about doing a guerrilla-style planting of sunflowers in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village. Armed with pockets full of seeds, John planted what will hopefully be a decorative and emotive addition to a neighborhood in Chicago which is compassionately on high alert in regards to the destruction and chaos in Ukraine.
I met John in 2020 through Instagram. Thanks to the algorithm, our paths crossed and instantly we became friends. I remember reaching out to John asking to connect via Zoom because I was curious to learn more about this person who was creating work that resonated with me deeply. When we spoke, we discussed meditation, wellness, graphic design, typography, stillness, sobriety, and more.
John’s recent exhibition, much like their work, was profound. They created a space for vulnerability and what they call radical transparency in which artwork was the catalyst for confession. John created a series of face masks decorated with dried flowers. In and of themselves, they’re beautiful but if you wanted one, the cost was to submit to transparency.
You have to wear a mask and sit on a cushion across from John.
John begins by sharing a personal story — something vulnerable and worthy of making you itch your ear with discomfort — not so much because of the story but because of the rarity of raw vulnerability. Somebody is sharing something personal with you, something private — you now hold a secret of theirs. It now becomes your secret.
John cracks open their heart and spills their inner truth on the floor before you and in reciprocity, you are asked to do the same. So you share something, you gulp your nerves, and suddenly, you travel to a new space — a beautiful mess concocted by two truths. As the radical transparency space comes to a close, you gently feel lighter with a sense of freedom. Something binds you both.
A bond has been formed all around the central idea: art.
This is friendship. Friendship and connection require vulnerability. And both John and I, believe that art can spark this, and believe this is what positive cultural value is about.
What can you do to create spaces for self-expression to take place?
How can you plant seeds of compassion, understanding, and belonging, everywhere you go?
Closing the distance
Growing up, the word vulnerability meant weakness. If you are vulnerable and open up too much, you become weak. My own mother would warn me to never let people in because if I did, it is a sign of weakness. Fortunately, we’ve moved beyond this toxic myth but as a teenager, I often felt like an outsider for being so emotional and expressive.
But I found solace in my heroes who were all artists that poured their hearts into their work. If they could do it, well, why couldn’t I? However, it took me years until I felt comfortable enough to chip away at the walls that I build around myself — the imaginary walls that I often see so many people reside in.
Lou Reed granted me access to stories about another side of life — a gritty underground that challenged just about everything. When I first listened to his somber voice, I realized that it is okay to be serious and monotone, yet still have something to say.
Most recently, somebody at work provided feedback to me and suggested that I show more enthusiasm in how I present my work to clients. This person bluntly said that I often come across as too comfortable and passive and need to be less Zen-like. It’s complete, nonsense, right?
But there’s comfort in having artistic forefathers to seek refuge in.
The rich son waits for his father to die
The poor just drink and cry
— Men of Good Fortune • Lou Reed
Leonard Cohen taught me about heartbreak, loneliness, and grace.
And when I first listened to The Smiths, I was transfixed by Morrissey’s eloquent directness. Because I suppose at one point or another, we’ve all been fascinated with the idea of our own mortality and what it would be like to share it alongside a loved one.
And if a ten ton truck kills the both of us
To die by your side
Well, the pleasure,
The privilege is mine
— There Is A Light That Never Goes Out • The Smiths
And most recently, I’ve been consumed by Bob Dylan.
You see me on the street, you always act surprised
You say "how are you?", "good luck", but you don't mean it
When you know as well as me, you'd rather see me paralyzed
Why don't you just come out once and scream it
— Positively 4th Street • Bob Dylan
We don’t need to create songs but we can be inspired by the public vulnerability of artists and share our own stories, in whichever shape or form we choose.
It’s apparent that we appreciate the vault of others’ experiences yet tightly we hold dearly to our own truths — and in refusing to open up, we minimize the distance between ourselves and the world.
So as I write this, I think about vulnerability and what it means to express our truth, and how in doing so, we make way for others to follow.
John’s radical transparency piece is a testament to how vulnerability cultivates a sense of belonging. When we express the depth of who we are, we honor ourselves and begin to detach from that which often holds us back.
Vulnerability is the heat that breaks the shackles that hold us back and it is what sets us free from ourselves. It sheds light on the fragility of the human condition and paradoxically only makes us stronger. Vulnerability nudges us to see the interdependence in our worlds. When we open up, we walk lighter and freer and are more aligned to who we are, not who we think we are.
We befriend our shadows and skeletons.
What do you think?
I’d love to hear from you and what vulnerability means to you.
Beginner’s Mind | A Playlist
If you follow the Beginner’s Mind playlist below on Spotify, every issue, it’ll be updated with new music. I’ve also added the titles of the songs below.
Love Letters Bryan Ferry
There’s Always Tomorrow Alain Whyte
Positively 4th Street Bob Dylan
Be A Rebel New Order