Last night we wrapped up a 4-week process painting series at Unity Temple in Kansas City. The final night of class is always a little bittersweet, knowing that it’s the last night that this exact configuration of people will gather in this way… yet it’s just the beginning when it comes to the creativity that will hopefully continue to find expression in each person’s life. One woman shared that she felt she “touched a creative hunger that had laid dormant for many years—Yet there it was, never too late to access.”
Before the evening began, as I was setting up the A-frame table-top easels with care and then laying out each painter’s place with a cup of water, a paper-plate palette, a paper towel and 5 assorted brushes neatly aligned—it occurred to me that it felt like setting the places at a grand dining table for a meal. And sitting in the middle of all the dining tables was the “buffet of color”, aka the paint tables holding 28 vibrant colors in tiny serving cups, ready to be dipped into. Beyond the sacredness of the moment was a deeper recognition: Painting nourishes.
At a workshop, we often start off with a centering meditation. A few minutes to “arrive” fully and just breathe. To begin to feel our feet on the floor and our bellies rising and falling with the rhythm of the breath. To let the mind begin to rest (the practical mind, which got us to the workshop and navigated time and traffic, but is no longer necessary in order to paint.) We breathe and notice if any emotions are present, and if any stray thoughts pass across the open sky of our awareness. We breathe and notice if any physical sensations in the body call our attention. We breathe mindfully.
And then, painting begins. Picking up the palette/plate and visiting the buffet of color. Which color am I hungry for tonight? Oh the red…the red is on fire for me! It’s so alive, so juicy. Yes, the red. So I dip into the red and begin to make swirling strokes with the big brush onto a clean white sheet of paper. The tactile motion feels so good. Lots of red swirly blobs. And then from my gut, the awareness of “orange.” Yep, time for some orange. More thick, blobby swirls. Then, sky blue….sweeping strokes. Then some lime green. No one tells me which is next, and I can’t plan it ahead… I just listen and know.
A painter commented tonight on how hard it can be sometimes to trust oneself. In a world of conditioning and people-pleasing, this is often true. How do I even know what I want? And if I do know what I want, how do I know I can trust it? This process is about coming home to oneself. Specifically, to one’s heart/gut instinct. Because often the voice in our own head is not, in fact, “our” voice. It’s the amalgamation of our parents’ voices, our teachers, our boss, our spouse, etc—all disguised as our own. It’s what we assimilated as a young person trying to survive in the world and integrated into our psyche. And now it’s often running the show. So now sometimes it seems easier (safer, even) when we’re told exactly what to do.
So, what if I don’t know what I want in this moment? That’s okay. Just notice that. Notice the confusion. Notice, perhaps, the underlying sadness of being disconnected from oneself… And whatever is coming up: Feel it. Feel it, and bring self-compassion.
This is the beginning of the return. The return to ourselves. To our deepest sense of self. Our lives are a journey… sometimes we’re connected, and sometimes we’re not. When we’re not connected, we might find that we feel malnourished. Not in a physical sense, but on a creative and soul level. This could be the case when we always put others’ needs before our own and don’t take time to replenish. Or when we’ve been too busy living some else’s life. Or we’re struggling just to get by. Perhaps our creative spark was dimmed in the process (but not gone.)
Process painting is sensual and tactile. It involves the act of play, cultivating curiosity and a sense of discovery. It engages our whole being, and the concentration and quiet can soothe our weary minds. We’re often so stuck in our heads for most of the time that we don’t often realize until it’s too late that we’re stressed, depleted and malnourished. We need moments of stillness to reset our inner clocks and breathe life into our bodies. We need color to feed our eyes. We need music and movement to revitalize our bodies. We need any form of expression to bring our spirits alive and remember what is truest in our hearts.
I call it “living in the creative flow”… when we are able to show up to and express from our own aliveness in the moment. It’s not something that can be taught…but it can be remembered. Many of us did it naturally as a child. It’s what our soul-deprived world needs right now: More and more people who are awake to their own truth and living it fully. Trust your soul’s hunger. As you nourish your own heart and soul, your very presence will nourish and awaken the world around you.