I’m sure the impact of the pandemic has made itself felt in your life in many ways. I don’t need to tell you about plans and lives de-railed. And in the insanity, there’s a whisper to come home; to not be swept away by the media hype. While we care deeply, there comes a time to turn it off, aware the attention grabbing, energy draining cultivation of fear and hopelessness.
I love the phrase come home. No matter where one is, it’s possible to feel at home within; to settle into the goodness of being with what is right now. This has been such a challenge for me, and it’s always been, well, since I was around 4 years old, that playing with colours and shapes has brought me home to a profoundly calm, creative state. I believe everyone can find their element; where human doing and being merge and creative bliss happens effortlessly.
Creativity is such beautiful energy. Sparkling and still at the same time, when this divine whatever-it-is happens in one’s being, self-consciousness dissolves and one is a resonant, responsive servant to the process, while at the same time feeling completely free, returned to one’s true nature. Home.
Whether one experiences a joyful sense of homecoming or a great loss, the words of Tony Robbins come to mind – it’s happening for you, not to you. Having some health issues, I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately.
This brings me to thinking about two books I highly recommend; one by Jean Shinoda Bolen – Close to the Bone: Life-Threatening Illness as a Soul Journey, which sounds confronting but is actually very encouraging with regard to doing one’s creative work.
Painting Peace & Tassajara
Four years ago to the day, I was in Berkeley studying with Kaz. Diving in the deep end again, a beginner in East Asian Calligraphy, the impact of that month has rippled through my life ever since, inspiring the evolution of ‘Paint from the Heart.’ I will always be grateful to Kaz & his wife Linda for their patience, kindness and hospitality.
I first learned of Tassajara upon discovering The Complete Tassajara Cookbook by Edward Espe Brown, in 2012. On one of my Perth visits after my partner’s passing early that same year, I found myself intuitively (logic was beyond reach for some time) following in his footsteps to the places he loved. One of those was The Bodhi Tree Bookstore Café.
I may have had a subconscious wish Grant might turn up there, and maybe he did guide me to the cookbook! When Kaz suggested doing his retreat at Tassajara, following that inner prompt years ago suddenly fell into place. Isn’t life amazing?!
The pure beauty of Tassajara Zen Mountain Centre is a cradle that nurtures creativity. Physically, the valley is cradle-like, and I aim for Paint from the Heart to have that quality of holding and supporting. While being delivered one-to-one, it seems to fit the person who has opened their heart and mind to the processes. Something else takes place beyond my control. Powerful intention seems to be an invitation for creativity, where everything and everyone involved is transformed.
Some of you know I was supposed to present a mindfulness art course at Tassajara last year (or this year depending on my Visa). Almost a dream come true! Teaching artists have had to find other ways to make their work accessible in the world. Consequently, I’ve been doing some teaching and mentoring online, and redeveloping course material so my main program can be available online and far more accessible.
Cultivate a friendship with Oneself
Developing any kind of mindfulness practice cultivates a healing friendship with oneself, and seems to be both challenging and effective when it comes to creative expression. One might create something that exceeds one’s previous experience, and that is exhilarating. On the other hand, one’s ‘issues’ around being good enough, getting it right, wasting time, being embarrassed … all that stuff can come up too.
Back in 2006, in my first university Art School job as mentor to first year painters, I saw up close that learning to paint was a crash course in personal development and I did not have the skills to help my students. Enter The Journey Method*… more about this in a moment.
Listen to your heart?
The introduction to Paint from the Heart is, naturally enough, about the heart. Returning to the heart is not so much a Western way, so when I heard that common exhortation – listen to your heart – my immediate response was How do you do that?!
Guided meditation and self-enquiry can be life-changing, helping with letting go of over-thinking and instead attend to sensations in the body, curious, allowing feelings to discover what’s deeper than the usual busy surface of life: truth, freedom, love and wisdom.
The Journey Method* taught me how these qualities can naturally arise, and the processes are essential for fast-tracking my students fearlessly into their creative development. They then have the skills to listen to their heart for good.
(*A Journey Accredited Life Coach and Practitioner, I’ve been using The Journey Method professionally for 11 years).
Aside from the spiritual aspect, I do not teach in a media focused way. I refer to different media as I demonstrate and guide my students to experiment and match the media to their intention. Much can be done with the most basic materials.
Awe and gratitude naturally arise in the exquisite quality of space within and around a person in creative flow and is somehow infused in the creative work. Walter Benjamin called it aura; the mystical something that was part of, and surrounded an original work of art; something the copy did not have.
Aura is more likely to resonate with us when there’s a sense of spaciousness and calm within. And Aura can trigger a poignant experience, perhaps the same as that coming-home, centred feeling. Have you ever seen a painting that stopped you in your tracks? That’s what I mean.
Gaston Bachelard’s intimate immensity in The Poetics of Space comes to mind too: the poetics of the spatial merging of the inner experience with that of the immense outer world. He goes on to write, when human solitude deepens, then the two immensities touch and become identical.
Making something, immersed in and attending to the constant Q&A of creative process that has dissolved the boundaries between the maker and the made into a whole environment of creativity rather than being a channel for it. Personal, expansive creativity is a form of intimate immensity .
Back in 2015, when I first starting teaching my meditative art weekend courses, I did not expect to sense the magical quality of creativity in the air. A survey the following year, revealed 18 of 19 students believed their creativity had been re-ignited! I looked carefully at what I was doing, and realised I had a system. A work in progress, it has changed with my ongoing art practice, teaching and research from the neuroscience of creativity and meditation, to teachings from the world’s great wisdom traditions.
Renowned teacher and artist Chögyam Trungpa, in his book True Perception, called any creative work that springs from an awakened state of mind, characterized by directness and unselfconsciousness, as Dharma art. The creation of Dharma art provides a vehicle to appreciate and express the nature of things as they are, without struggle or desire to achieve. Instead, a sense of dignity, he says, comes from the artist’s attention to the details of life and their experiences.
I hope this post provides a sturdy background for ‘Paint from the Heart’ which might otherwise sound like a throw-away line.
As always, I’m touched to receive your emails, photos and news, and thank you for the lovely letters sent during this year. I’m blessed to have such beautiful connections around the world. Thank you very much!
Talk is free!
If ‘Paint from the Heart’ sounds like something you might be interested in, either live, one-to-one via Zoom or as the online course coming soon, there’ll be more information at the end of this newsletter. You can book a time to meet online and talk more about it here.
“Art is what we do when we’re truly alive…art is who we are and what we do and what we need.” SETH GODIN
More about Paint from your Heart: A 6-week Creative Experience To Nurture Healing Creative Bliss without worrying about getting it right!
Many people think you’ve got to be an artist in order to paint, and that’s why I wanted to offer a program that’s accessible for people who have perhaps never done an art class, or have not been happy with their art education or simply have a heart’s desire to paint but don’t know how to start.
Usually the course runs like a retreat over 5 days one-to-one, with preparation before and mentoring afterwards. I have given it online, live, too. Now it’s becoming a 6-week course that you can do at your convenience in large or small chunks, an hour with me when you complete the course in 6 weeks.
The featured photograph is Jeanne painting during the ‘Paint from the Heart’ course in Canberra, January 2021
‘Paint from your Heart’ is a call to stop worrying about what you or anyone else thinks and experience art as a mindfulness practice. There is no bar, and the risk is experiencing creative bliss!
No prior painting experience is necessary, just curiosity, willingness and openness, and a bit of patience helps too!
Each week, you’ll be guided to practice painting skills step-by-step that build on each other and become your unique visual language that you’ll be excited to develop and enjoy for years to come.
Paint from your Heart can help prevent procrastination because it offers you the structure to immerse yourself in a creative space where you can steady your mind and know how to nurture creative mindfulness as a daily practice.
The benefits of mindfulness colouring have been shown in several studies to drop the stress hormone cortisol in a short time. My personal experience from which this course was born, was how mindful art-making is a way to ease away anxiety, come home to yourself and replenish the soul so you can feel comforted and fulfilled.
The first seed for this program was sewn when I was an honours student and came across these words by Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet: “Try, like some first human being, to say what you see and experience and love and lose.”
Those words were a guiding light, and led to my University Medal Award winning painting project Love in the Violent Day, inspired by the poem of the same title by Muriel Rukeyser.
When I became a university painting teacher, I wanted to help my students reconnect with what they loved. I trained in coaching to help them clear ‘stuff’ around creativity so they could confidently make the meaningful work they needed to make; to know in their bones, yes, this comes from a deeper place. This is the place where art and love meet, and become expressed as signs of our humanity.
If you’d like to talk about any of the above, or find another way forward, make time to chat with me – no cost and no expectations – except that you receive great service. Just book a time to meet me online via Zoom