I light a candle, voice my intention to Spirit, and approach my palette, loaded with glops of primary colors. Tempera poster paints, just like kindergarten. I approach the six pieces of paper I’ve taped together, guessing at how big my painting might end up. I know from experience that I really have no idea. Dipping my brush into red for no good reason at all, I begin with a red circle. I have no idea where this is going.
This is Painting from the Source, taught by friend and art medicine woman, Aviva Gold. I’m lucky, because she lives right up the road, so I’ve taken a couple of her weekend retreats, and have followed up at home. The wall in my studio where I tape up my paintings already has streaks of errant paint that won’t wash off. This is not an orderly process.
Spirit is not orderly. It’s the mind that wants order, rules, reasons. Not the heart, however. The heart is wild territory. The wilderness, with all its beauty, life, death and grief. And we live on the edge. The mind, the spiritual teachers at the Institute of Applied Meditation say, is just the surface edge of the heart.
Not everyone wants to go deep. Not everyone even loves the wilderness. There are some who want to live in coffee shops, bars, stores, condos, personal dramas, and within this mainly heartless culture. And then there are those fools like me who live on the edge and always want to venture out into the unknown.
The unknown is dicey. We humans have soft flesh with no fur or big teeth or claws or spines to protect us. And, we have soft hearts, hearts that we have often armored in an effort to survive on this earth plane.
For those who see our time here as a sacred journey, our mission is pretty weird. Be born without any memory of your divine nature, build up your defenses against whatever suffering you experience, and then come to a crisis point where you have a choice. Will you continue to build up that armoring, or will you accept Part II of the mission, which is to take it all off and learn about the soft side, the wild side, the untamed heart within you?
In my already lengthy life, I’ve seen a number of those crises, and this time we’re in is certainly one of them. So how, I ask my precious heart as I paint, do I keep you open and available when I am in grief about so many things, and when my mind is angry and disillusioned?
“Keep painting,” I hear my teacher Aviva say. So I paint like a wild woman. First, multicolored rays emerging from the sun-like circle. Then colors coalescing and raining down into forms, returning to bands of color. What does it mean? “No story,” Aviva would say. “What does the painting say back to you?”
As a shamanic practitioner, I love this part. To me, it’s not crazy to let the voice of the painting speak through me. I’ve become accustomed to summoning the voices of invisible beings that might land someone else in a psych ward.
“This is life,” the painting says. “Beneath the layer of pain, contradictions, violence, inhumanity, injustice, meanness, relationship problems, disease, poverty, destruction of the earth, and the rest of your list of complaints, there is this: the life force. See how full it is, how radiant, how juicy, how colorful, how fluid, how firy, how vibrant it is! This is just one frozen frame in a multi-dimensional experience you’re having here. Can you just be in wonder over it? Can you be unafraid? Can you feel safe, even though you have absolutely no control over this?”
I think about this as I wash my brushes after the second day of painting. I think about my life, and about all the hard parts of it, the deep disappointments. Where are those in this cheery-looking painting? What is the message here? Put on a happy face?
I look up at the painting as I write. The masking tape is coming loose and the paper is curling, like a dried leaf ready to fall. But the energy in it persists. When I look at it, I can still be aware of all those disappointments and worries, and also feel the joy and vibrance and color before me. After all, that’s what came through me.
When I consider all the trials of my life, I see how a golden thread has woven them all together like an old tapestry worked from the back. Each trial, even the ones that closed my heart at the time, have ended up opening it a bit more. My heart, and the greater Love it represents, has been persistent. Persistent physically, as it beats without being asked. And persistent emotionally, as the tidal quality of my relationships keeps returning me to the shore of love. And persistent spiritually, as I surrender more and more to that “peace that passeth all understanding.” And to the Love, Beauty and Harmony that holds everything together despite appearances, in a way beyond the reaches of my mind.