My biggest struggle has always seemed to be the mental effort required to sort through too many thoughts and ideas. Simple task felt enormous. And I felt I was dropping the ball. What was stopping me from finishing? For my future self, I needed to find out why, and fast.
Since childhood, art has given me a place to play and find expression when words were not enough. Over time I came to discover a painting process that helped me navigate obstacles that stood in the way to my personal fulfillment. The journey of self-discovery that followed shaped a personal philosophy that drives my art life teachings: the art process infused with mindful practices. Today my work is devoted to helping others access untapped creative resources and to know their own resilience.
The ART of Opening: A Path to Self-Understanding
As a young mother in my twenties, I hadn’t had the time, energy, or money to focus inward. Out on my own for the first time since college, I started to look at where I’d been and how I wanted to go forward. Throughout my life I’d struggled with mental overwhelm, which sometimes manifested in an inability to conquer even the smallest of tasks, like stopping for gas, taking clothes to the dry cleaners, or making phone calls. As an artist, my work became seriously compromised as I struggled to bring each painting to completion.
This was the lasting impact of journey to understand the dynamic of being still (mentally). My mind tended to freeze up just as my hand did while in the middle of a masterpiece. Once I became aware of the relationship between my body and mind, I began to use my art to deepen that understanding, to make it concrete. To try to get past this inactivity, I started creating small paintings in an art journal, illustrating everyday behaviors that were keeping me frozen and noting how I felt.
The ART of Letting Go: The Effort to Leave Old Patterns Behind
With each new painting, I found myself laughing instead of feeling hopeless and stuck. Now that I could visually “see” the dynamic in front of me, I was able to consciously change each small habit of procrastination. But although small changes were easier, I found myself still challenged by big efforts like starting a new project or finishing a painting. I wondered if it was possible to get myself moving, physically and mentally, every morning or whenever I hit the wall by simply moving a brush on paper. The journal entries had been carefully drawn with paints before being painted onto larger surfaces. I envisioned this new approach as less careful and precise, more about taking risks. While I still felt a form of paralysis was at the bottom of initiating bigger ventures, there was also an element of fear involved, fear of making mistakes. Making things up on paper rather than studiously planning would let me exercise and stretch my creative and forward moving “muscles” in a safe way.
After several difficult starts in which I found myself still critical of my work and still trying to create art with a capital “A,” I began to work each page as a form of improvisation, that is, making things up as I went along. I paid attention to my inner critical voices and stopped taking them at face value. What I did was to give each critic a face on the page – some were monstrous, and some were downright funny. Taking risks step by step on paper translated into my everyday life, giving me the energy and resilience to leave a bad job, launch a workshop, and eventually make a new life.
The ART of Moving On: Sharing My Process with a Wider Audience
While I know my artistic life is not everyone’s experience, we all suffer and feel the need to move on at some point, whether from a job, a relationship, or a habit. Getting stuck depletes needed energy for everyday activities and lowers self-esteem, as in, “why can’t I toughen up and just get over this?” This is the time to set conventional wisdom aside; trying harder doesn’t always work. When logical thinking lets you down, it’s time to try something else. In this case, I’m advocating a switch from using our brain’s intellect to activating our brain’s creative circuitry. Unlike the typical linear path, working from point A to point B, creative improvisation emphasizes the process and works like meditation and mindfulness, essentially taking a wandering path to stumble on breakthroughs and new ideas.
Painting as process enabled me to step into bigger shoes and move my inner junk. Today I work as an artist and art life coach. The workshop I have put together is to be a culmination of the self-discovery I’d made through painting myself into a state of “being”. I wanted to share what I’d learned about unlocking the creative energies necessary to live in an ever-changing and fast-paced world.
Like a muscle, creativity is a “use it or lose it” capability!
With each new painting or teaching I feel the return of missing physical and mental stamina. I can better weather periods of ambiguity when answers don’t come right away. The “aha” moments in the middle of one journal painting that tell me maybe I needed some guidance with myself. So, I signed up to help others break their problems down into smaller tasks through art, mindfulness, and meditation.