Painting is My Greatest Teacher

*This is an eleven year old journal entry about painting and expectations. Unfortunately, those pesky expectations still follow me around on a daily basis. The good news is I don’t hang on to them as long as I did back then. Painting really is teaching me how to live.

“Painting is teaching me how to live.” I can still remember hearing those words from a fellow painter over a year ago and now I was writing them in my journal feeling, as she must have felt, grateful and in awe of the process. As I write I realize painting is the only work I can do that transitions naturally from the page out into my daily life.I’ve read tons of books. I’ve meditated and chanted and gone to a lecture here and there. But painting allows me to face myself and my choices each time I put paint to paper.

The other night as I began to work on a painting that had been unfolding for several months, a beautiful woman began to emerge effortlessly from a pink and powerful flower. She was silver and fuchsia with black outlines. I was there for her with every paint stroke, providing the muscle and love needed to create her.It was a smooth and pleasurable experience. The genuine joy I experienced that night was unmatched and I was genuinely sad to leave her.

I didn’t paint for a few days and began to miss the warm connection the fuchsia woman and i had shared.I was excited to see her again! When I was able to paint again I got right to it knowing she must have been missing me as much as I missed her. As I began to paint I could tell immediately something wasn’t right. Things felt awkward and forced. I was expecting a repeat performance of the other night and she wasn’t cooperating. Where was my joyful bliss-filled connection? It would seem my joy had been replaced by an ugly cold shoulder, a blatant refusal to bend to my direction and do as I expected. All I wanted was to give her a beautiful face and it wasn’t working. In fact, the harder I pushed the more contorted her features became. I simply could not accept the fact that her face wasn’t going to look the way I wanted and it hurt me to look at her misshapen features.

Why was it so important to me that she appear beautiful? Was it easier for me to deal with a beautiful face? I had expected our time together to mirror our last meeting and when that didn’t happen I clung to the idea that I could change her and the moment to give me what I wanted. I pushed and pulled against the current that night, trying to make the situation feel good.It never occurred to me that I could accept what was happening and just go with it… maybe even get a little curious about what the situation had to offer. That night, instead of being present for what wanted to show up, I made the choice to try to fix things and focus on all that I perceived to be “wrong” with my painting.

Later I realized this was how I was choosing to live my life. I was constantly attaching certain expectations to everything and everyone. It was starting to dawn on me that by creating these expectations I was setting myself up for all sorts of disappointments. Admittedly this was not a foreign concept to me. Reading all my books and going to my various lectures and workshops had allowed me to visit and revisit the idea of living without expectations. But that night, nose to nose with my painting, I felt it. For the first time I truly took it in and understood that I was the one who was making it so hard. I was choosing to struggle when I could just let go.

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