Painting board at For The Joy Of It!
One day an old friend came to see my studio at For The Joy Of It! He walked up to my painting board and said, "Oh, so this is what you are doing with your art now!" That gave me a good chuckle. Actually, this is the board where so many, over the years, have placed a blank sheet of paper, stood quietly, and asked for whatever might want to come. Their paintings unfolded each in their own way. The paint spilling out on all sides, made this community work of art. So each day as I place my blank sheet on the board, I am supported by all those who have come before. In that sense, this board is like a pilgrimage site. I experience it as a sacred space.
After some time away from it, I've returned to my practice of painting most mornings. It feels like a coming home. Each day, I am amazed at what emerges. It is always a surprise. My paintings are like waking dreams. They come from the same place that dreams come from and like dreams, the images serve as a bridge between my inner landscape and my outer world. I would be lost without this connection.
For me, painting each morning is a treasured ritual, a practice, like life itself, of facing the great emptiness and making something out of it each day. Whether we realize it or not, we do create our own lives. Certainly, structures set up from the past impinge on our freedom, and outside forces move us here and there, but knowing that we have lots of choice along the way is important. It is what makes change possible. Otherwise we are just passive victims in the world, controlled by our past. tossed about in the present and unable to take aim at our future.
Placing a blank, white piece of paper in front of me each day, reminds me that there is more openness in my life than I ordinarily acknowledge. Maybe we all shy away from that much blank space because in our society, emptiness scares us. We are constantly filling up, our gas tanks, our calendars, our houses, our minds, our bodies. What would it be like to acknowledge the emptiness that sits just beneath the surface of our too busy days? It can be scary, but I like the reminder. So each day before I make my first mark, I take a moment to contemplate the empty page. It is a pregnant moment, that can trigger many responses. Indeed, some of them are uncomfortable. But if I can stay in the present moment, my mind soon flips and I become aware of the endless possibility that lives in the blankness. With this realization, I touch my creative center and that excites me.
It is the "endless possibility" that pulls me forward when I look at all my little buckets of color and dip my brush into the wet paint. There is a feeling of excitement about what might happen next. But I have to stay centered in the pleasure of that moment, letting what attracts me pull me forward, or my judge pops up and stops the magic from happening.
Nothing shuts down that world of possibility like my judge. He is full of instructions about how things should be and what I should do. When he appears I thank him for sharing, invite him to go outside while I go on painting.
I need allies to keep me free of the judge. I have always loved this poem by Shel Silverstein.
Listen to Mustn'ts, child, listen to the Don'ts.
Listen to the Shouldn'ts, the Impossibles, the Won'ts.
Listen to the Never Haves, then listen close to me.
Anything can happen, child, Anything can be.
I think we adults need that poem more than children. It is an excellent mantra for my morning painting sessions. With it, my painting becomes a daily practice of being in the moment, and letting "the still small voice" inside me direct my actions.
Making my first mark is a most powerful moment. It sets a ball rolling in a direction, and my energy begins to roll with it. This morning I started with the red lines in this painting. It grew stroke by stroke, color by color, shape by shape as I stayed centered in the pleasure of the moment and listened for quiet direction from within. I just had to stand back and let it happen.
I would never have thought up this creature in advance. I couldn't have imagined it ahead of time. Have you ever seen or heard of such a creature? When it was finished, I called it "My Antlered Bear." I am touched that she wears a star on her forehead and that the spiral in her center is attached to stars in the heavens. I'm happy that a bright, wild, leopard speckled sun, shines down on her, and that the multicolored stars are out in bright daylight. None of this was planned, but rather revealed itself as I went along.
The painting speaks to me now, of day and night as one. This creature is of the earth, but attached to the heavens as well. The words, as above, so below come to mind. I recognize a truth here that is deeper than the words I find to describe it. One thing I know for sure, my antlered bear is me. This is a self portrait even though I wasn't intending to paint one. The painting brings this moment of recognition.
My judge would never have allowed this painting to happen. Had he stayed around, I would have been robbed of a moment of truth from my inner landscape. Recognizing that moment of truth is why I paint. It is a body experience, beyond words. It feels like an arrow shot from my bow has landed right smack dab in the middle of the target. Bulls Eye! Eureka! I have found it! A place called "home" inside of me.
It is completely satisfying to feel the accuracy of our truth emerging from deep within. Words and meaning can follow, are interesting and useful, (I am always interested in exploring that) but I have a sense that the root experience is far more important than any words we put on it. Letting our deeper truths emerge is an open door to experiencing the love at the center of our existence and offers an immediate experience of belonging to something much larger than ourselves.
Imagine what our lives would be like if we filled our days in a similar way. Imagine acknowledging the emptiness, letting endless possibility draw us forward, staying centered and listening to the "still small voice within," tuning into what is attracting or calling us, not getting fearful or distracted, taking a first step towards what is enticing us, following with the next right action, staying with that thread until we reach completion and then standing back and witnessing what we have manifested. That would be a creative life, an inner directed life, a life where inner and outer meet and are in balance. There would be much to trust in a life built that way. It would be infused with meaning and a deep sense of belonging.
So this is what I practice each day in my painting. This is the life I would like to live, the life I am aiming for. Of course, I fall short. That is the nature of being human. So I continue to practice. Over time, I find the blank page less and less intimidating and more and more inviting. My painting time becomes like breathing, a filling up and a letting go, inspiration and expiration, one following the other, again and again. From blank page to finished painting, from emptiness to manifestation, the breath of creativity moves through me each day.
This blog is dedicated to the healing power of nature and the arts. It encourages a different way of looking at the purpose of the arts in our lives. While we can all appreciate well known artists, musicians and writers, it is good to remember that expressing ourselves through the arts belongs to all of us. It is part of being human. The arts and time in nature take us out of our small selves into something so much bigger. We need this larger perspective to guide our daily lives. I have a Masters Degree in Psychology, am a Registered Expressive Arts Therapist and am owner and founder of For The Joy Of It! Creative Retreat in Mendocino CA.