The thought of a life-threatening illness freaked me out, but you’re in it for months, so freaking out is not a sustainable option. And I found it impossible to meditate, so I drew instead. My art practice became my meditation at a time when I was the most anxious I’d ever been – and a big surprise to me was the more I dived into my new creative project, the more anxiety faded and then stopped. And I recovered. While there’s a lot more to this story, that was the beginning of the work I do now. Now, my way is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s easy, methodical, can get you into the lightness and joy of flow, and has had surprising results for many others since I started teaching it 7 years ago.
My work has evolved into two main streams. Putting it simply, for those who want to feel the joy of self-expression through painting, and secondly, for those who want to experience soothing, meditative, contemplative forms of visual art-making. One focuses on finding your own visual language through painting to express from who you are, and the other on a range of methods and media through guided projects. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or have experience to participate in either program.
I spoke with a professional recently who reminded me of my younger self. She told me she’d wanted to paint for a long time but kept putting it off because she didn’t have time… but when the desire kept nagging and she decided to dedicate the time, she investigated painting classes and discovered none of them appealed to her. She was a little scared too. I understood completely.
Back in my early thirties, I had a creative outpouring of writing poetry and painting after my marriage had ended. A quiet, creative person all my life, mad about Leonardo da Vinci, I’d drawn for fun and solace since I was a young child. I felt the pull to work with paint. However, the thought of going to an art class with experienced students, a critical teacher and people commenting on my work was… off-putting. And my fears were confirmed in one particular class (omg)!
Good at procrastination, from when I first wanted to seriously learn to paint, it only took six years to get started with my teacher! And when I did, I was like the kid in a Lolly Shop, entranced by the many options … but how to choose?! What were the right colours, how to mix them, what brushes to use and what did the labels on the paint tubes mean? Twenty years later, I’ve learned a lot, and go more gently, and am still recovering and discovering!
There was stuff holding me back that I didn’t realise at the time that might be helpful to share. Deep in my mind was the belief that my creative life was not important. But I had a dream that my soul was emaciated – part of me was saying ‘help, NOW!’ Plus, around that time, two of my patients were diagnosed with secondary tumours. There’s nothing like going to a funeral of someone you care about, to realise the precious gift of life and following one’s heart’s desire.
However, following the pull to feel creatively self-expressed can sometimes mean stepping way out of your comfort zone; beginning again with learning skills and trusting processes you don’t know much about. Creatures of habit, there’s a cosy certainty about the ‘same old’. ‘Pet’ ways of staying safe are ways of avoiding attending to heart’s desires. Work harder and excel instead; just do more; care for others; watch TV, have a drink or several, or go to sleep! For most of my Physio career I tried to be as competent as I could, so by the time I changed track to art, my immune system wasn’t working properly. I’d been exhausted for years but didn’t realise; the depletion happens so insidiously. Here’s a clue for you. How do you complete “I long for…”? Be curious about what comes up immediately.
What are three quick and easy things to stop the old ways and replenish instead? I’ll give you some sweet little hacks, but they don’t work so well unless the inner work gets done. There are many ways to do that, and I use The Journey method of guided introspective self-enquiry which harnesses your memory and imagination with your intention so you can get to know your inner world better and get free of false ideas about yourself, put down burdens you may have been carrying for years. And forgive. Very powerful, The Journey methods can help you clear the decks for beautiful feelings – such as gratitude, joy & freedom.
Now for the sweet hacks!
1. Chances are you know this one: ask ‘What am I grateful for?’ but be curious – what does that thing give me? And what else? Gratitude can deepen further this way. I use particular gratitude practices in my courses and wonder if they saved my life, because gratitude is what essentially and radically shifted my experience of the journey through cancer treatment.
2. Next, find something that makes you smile. Perhaps look at Leunig cartoons. Imagine you are the whimsical Mr Curly, or the duck, just for a few moments. Notice how your face softens. And if it doesn’t, Dawn French can usually help.
3. And of course I’m going to say this: get lost in making something, anything, and discover something you did not know before. Be comforted getting out of your head and into the sensuality of materials instead… Be amazed that the whole is not the sum of the parts you put together. Magic really does happen.
Then congratulate yourself for even stopping long enough to ‘come home’ and drop your stress hormones. Because each of those things will have the flow-on benefits of a healthier biochemistry especially for your brain and yes, your heart.
I just love the open-hearted tenderness my students allow me to see. I am honoured by their trust in me and the processes I take them through. I love seeing what they make.
I love my method that has developed through blood, sweat and a hell of a lot of tears… and it’s been worth it for seeing how it has become a way of helping others creatively transform their lives.
I love making ideas real; the feeling of painting; the timelessness and spaciousness of being/doing – the Zen of painting.
I love the curiosity, wonder and surprises that happen and the mystery. The mystery is awe inspiring.
Making something with mindfulness and without expectations, brings body, mind, heart/soul back together. In an era of anxiety, the mystery of creativity brings the certainty of being whole and complete without the worries of whether one feels ‘good enough’, ‘creative enough’ or ‘talented enough’. Mostly, in healthy circumstances, the ‘little me’ becomes quiet when engaged in flow where the depth of calm can sparkle effortlessly with joy and crystal clear insights one after another.
Each day during ‘Paint from the Heart’, we practice a powerful method so that by the end of our time together, you’ll know how to change brain channel from the monotonous treadmill of worrying to nurturing the lightness of being of creative flow. And if you’re worried about being a beginner and how you might deal with harsh criticism from yourself or others… you’ll discover how to pass through such creative blocks with ease. A safe space is created, each person honoured, and you too can find the extraordinary in simple methods as I continue to do.
‘Paint from the Heart’ holds a large chunk of my life’s work as an artist, teacher, coach and woman in recovery. I’m blessed to ‘know the ropes’ for both the technical stuff of painting, and how to nurture the creative processes to bring forth the alchemy of an individual’s creative expression. Not for the half-hearted or faint-of-heart, commitment and bravery are necessary. Willingness, essential.
People will block their desire to feel creatively expressed. They’ll say, for example, I’d love to paint, but I can’t draw… except for stick figures! In my classes, we bypass the need to be able to draw in the conventional sense. If you can see colours and hold a brush you can do this course. One of the top five regrets that dying people have, is not having been more creative.
If you like the idea of painting/visual art, and want to allow your natural creative expression, abstract painting is a wonderful way to do that, because you get to create your kind of beauty…for no-one else but you. I can show you how to find your way of speaking with visual language – colour, marks, textures and shapes – our language before words.
Both grounding and uplifting, there is nothing else like creative expression. Through creative processes we can get in touch with our feelings and feel more alive! Decision-making becomes easier, imagination boosts creative thinking and new skills give us a vehicle to express from the heart, and touch the hearts of others.
If this sounds like something you might like to do or talk about doing, , book a time to have a conversation and have your questions answered:
‘Paint from the Heart’ Group Course: Tumut, Regional NSW Australia 19-24 April, 2020 …there are 2 places left (maximum 8 participants)
OR discuss booking a course for yourself and friends at your place
OR find out about a VIP Retreat to suit yourself wherever you’d like to learn.
International retreats are available from May to November 2020.
Private Course at your chosen location: By application
Paint from the Heart has evolved out of my Abstraction course and uses abstract methods – here’s a testimonial:
“Your Abstraction course was a remarkable surprise and so much more than I had expected. It has completely changed my way of seeing the world around me. I have a new and exciting understanding of abstract art. It was so satisfying not only on an intellectual or creative level, which I had naturally hoped for. It was the way I was touched personally and spiritually that amazes me. In fact, I would describe it as not so much a ‘course’ but a life changing experience… I find my self filled with awe and inspiration for the magic of light, form, space and colour, expressing feelings and abstract ideas that cannot be realised in representational work…It has been a re-valuation that has transformed my vision of myself and my place in the world. I am not sure words really express the magic I have discovered…” PARI GILMOUR 2018