“Where do we come from?” “What are we?” “Where are we going?” Paul Gauguin
It feels strange to have just turned the calendar over to August. Many unexpected things have happened, and expected events haven’t, along with numerous chunks of time lost to listening for updates and making adjustments to activities of daily life. My heart goes out to you who’ve lost loved ones; who’ve missed births, deaths, special celebrations, income, holidays, work and, with all that, belonging, meaning and purpose.
What I’m focused on right now, that gives my life purpose and meaning, is writing to you. I love that we’re connected across the planet and share values such as curiosity, wonder, imagination & creativity. Those are resources that cultivate the inner calm and higher thinking that will help us through this time and mess.
For 10 years, I’ve regularly re-read this inspiring and affirming quote from Wendell Berry because it struck a chord:
To deal with the problems, which after all are inescapable, of living with limited intelligence in a limited world, I suggest that we may have to remove some of the emphasis we have lately placed on science and technology and have a new look at the arts…. artists achieve elaborations of pattern, of sustaining relationships of parts with one another and with the whole, that may be astonishingly complex. Wendell Berry in his essay “Faustian Economics” 2010
Berry recognises artists are onto something. We know there’s much more to our thinking than logic, as Einstein said ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ So…how to cultivate imagination? Do what you love and grow your creative life, and if it’s not creative yet, then perhaps start here.
It wasn’t until listening to Michael Singer in a recently released lecture series, that I really got the miracle of you and I being on Earth, alive at the same time. Wow! (Here’s a free taste of Michael’s work as a teacher).
Sieze the day… smell the roses… we shall not pass this way again… many a writer has reminded us to be present valuing what is here and what we might make of the time we have. And fresh tendrils of possibilities are engulfed by the weight of the news. The over-culture steals the soul as it overloads us with frightening statistics. Quite reasonably, Clarissa Pinkola Estés commands – take the soul back! Intentional creative experience is a way to do that.
My father’s sister Nancy died 2 weeks ago, and as her adventurous life was reviewed in a country hall memorial service, with rain bucketing down, the tin roof leaking and PA system messing with the eulogies, the preciousness of this life came into sharp focus.
Nancy seized many days, but not as many as she would have liked, and now she is no more. Death is shockingly final; a stark reminder to hold dear who and what you love and let go of what keeps you small.
I love how Singer likens the letting go of painful inner blocks to removing rocks from the stream of your life so the flow of energy can move through giving you joy and freedom to live as you are.
The Journey Method of guided self-enquiry is one way to let go of old hurts, and I’m glad to have both benefited from this personal technology, and have it in my kit. Blending ancient and modern wisdom, The Journey powers my coaching system.
And I’m finding meaning and purpose in painting this week. I’ve been on a steep learning curve this year, so my work is changing, exploring the joyful and contemplative possibilities of shapes, space and colour.
These life-affirming paintings gather in threads from 2003; from when my Nana died (mother of Nancy). Kathleen Isobel was quiet, eccentric and creative; the 2nd woman to graduate from the School of Architecture at Sydney University when modernism was in full swing and women were frequently excluded.
Even in her 90’s, Nana wore jeans, and very occasionally, a dark pink silk dress with a heavy string of Pacific seashells. I realise now that her Zen-like ease was Self-acceptance; she did not care what anyone thought of her. She was such a free spirit who lived from good books and what she pulled up or picked from her garden, that it was heart-breaking to see her tied to a chair and refusing to eat what she didn’t consider to be food. By comparison, it wasn’t.
After her funeral, I took photos in the house knowing it would be the last time I would experience it as her place. It smelled earthy, and signalled freedom. I’ve not smelled any place like it. Nor have I seen the colour combination anywhere else except in my paintings. Nana’s colours worked their way into my palette: Coral red. Turquoise. A particular 1950’s green. A soft buttery yellow. And light. Light entered each room in a different way.
Kath, as she was known, designed the sunroom, inspired by Frank Llloyd Wright. She’d visited Fallingwater and met the Burley Griffins – who’d worked with Wright in the US and designed the city of Canberra – and cleverly attached a spacious, light-filled space to the rear end of a heavy Victorian homestead.
Eleven years later when my father died, I made four small paintings – Flowers in the House – setting them in the grid-based structure of the double screen doors from the kitchen of Kath’s house, his childhood home and where I spent a lot of time as a young one. Freedom in the structure for the light to play among the memories of flowers that were always in the house.
I’m finding meaning and purpose sharing all I’ve learned about painting; how life becomes your raw material and how painting changes your life.
Learning to paint is like learning to write poetry because there are skills to be gained, but the experience can’t be explained, just that it’s very good.
The goodness reminds me of the Pythagorean ethos summed up by well-known lecturer and author Keith Critchlow who’s bright light departed only a few months ago. Fundamental aspects of our nature, he wrote, require simultaneous nourishment:
Our minds require Truth, our values require Beauty, and our wholeness, our soulness, requires the ultimate Good.
Critchlow concludes that flowers provide us with this nourishment. Though not as immediate as beholding a beautiful flower, responding to how the natural world feels or looks requires one to see and receive another way – seeing until one with; marvelling rather than naming.
Learning to paint can be a parallel journey to Zen and the Art of Archery. A hero or heroine’s journey, Zen and the art of painting happens when skills have been developed and practiced; the mind is clear of limiting beliefs and fears, and trying and achieving have been overridden by something much greater. It makes sense to help my students ‘clear the stream’ so we do that too, and learning happens faster.
Learning to paint is a creative mindfulness practice. There’s so much information to attend to, I’d feel like my head could not fit it all in! I’ve developed a step-by-step method to help reduce the overwhelm; one that includes comprehensive preparation and turns inward, providing rich conditions for inspiration to arise and creative flow to happen.
Painting as a spiritual practice just means you’re aware that the practice of painting reconnects you with your Self. Painting is one way to intentionally transcend the busy mind, where instead, the brilliance of your mind and openness of your heart can meet and merge with creativity, and you get to experience being in flow.
Since cancelling my group course ‘Paint from the Heart’ twice, I’ve shared it as a solo course. It’s been absolutely wonderful to work one-to-one, beholding each student soften, lighten and unfold more as their beautiful Self. That might sound a bit mad, but I really do see miracles happen!
Clarissa Pinkola Estes asks Have you started your creative work yet? We each have a hero/heroine’s journey and what we create, discover and experience is what we return to share. Find out much more by watching the film (on Youtube) ‘Finding Joe’ about the work of Joseph Campbell. Like many of you, I’m up to a ‘return’ stage. Watching the film gave me more clarity about what I’ve brought back, and it might for you too.
From 2006-2016, my art practice focused on painting light. During those exciting and difficult years, I was teaching what I was learning from my doctoral research. In the middle of that time, my life as I knew it was fractured and completely rearranged. Twice.
Before, there was ‘teaching’ painting – a mix of technical stuff, seeing and guiding students to understand what one was seeing.
After, my work expanded into the territory of personal alchemy: nurturing the creative Self and discovering one’s own visual language.
I had a bridge to build to connect before and after, and it took a long time. I had the skills and the space of the dark night to do it, and while the intention was in place, I greatly doubted the process unfolding without vision or understanding. It happened anyway.
I have two main kinds of retreat-courses that I now offer privately and online.
Solace, Colour & Light is 8 x 3 hour sessions of learning about and making easy visual art as a meditative practice. And it can be taken daily, as weekend intensives, or weekly over 8 weeks. Find out more here.
Paint from the Heart is 6 x 4 hour sessions: as a 6-day retreat or weekly foundational painting course for beginners or those who wish to experience their unique visual language of colour, shape, mark… Find out more about it here.
How are you finding meaning and purpose?