I have had a few lessons in humility and surrender; one recent lesson was stimulated by writing for this Spiritually Speaking blog.
As a visual artist I confidently teach a course about Art as Spiritual Practice, I am confident of my ability to teach and demonstrate the practice. Recently I became become a regular contributor to this blog, in which I write about the spiritual aspects of my art practice and interview artists about theirs. Yet when asked to write an article for publication in the print edition of the Times Colonist I found myself unable to write. During a walk the forest, I laughed my way to understanding why.
When the sun showed promise I drove to Goldstream Park. The promise was not realized and as the rain fell I walked near the river and remembered a conversation. A friend had asked which of my students were the most difficult to teach and I had answered ‘those who come with an urgent need to create Art’. I remember pounding my fists together to demonstrate the urgency. ‘They want to make Art NOW! The need is immense, the time short and they need the Secret!’ I remember wondering why this conversation was coming to my mind when I heard the river laughing at me. Then I joined in, long and loud with the realization that I had been approaching writing about art as spiritual practice in the same urgent way! I was completely ignoring the lessons I have learned in visual art-making and was approaching the writing from a place of desperation, filled with urgency of time constraints and self-consciouness. All my lessons about surrender and acceptance were lost in translation between painting and writing. It was an excellent lesson in beginning a new form of expression. In the words of Gene Fowler, “Writing is easy: all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” An exaggeration to be sure, but also an accurate commentary on trying to force creativity.
Years ago I took a course in Reiki with Sister Eileen at Queenswood. She told about learning to surrender her will to that of God through the gentle process of Reiki energy healing. How before she had learned to surrender, she had implored and begged and pleaded to little effect and that surrender had allowed opening for learning and healing that she had not previously imagined. Over the years I have often thought about her story and I have learned that surrender is an important step in any deep communication with the divine.
Surrender is integral to my process of making art. I call it contemplation or quietly sitting in the landscape. I call it letting the ideas come to me. I trust my ability to discern what wants to be heard and I no longer worry about what other people may think of my choices. Writing, however, is a new medium and a humbling experience. That I choose to write about what is most dear to me is worrisome and made me freeze as I contemplated moving out of the safe blogosphere of likeminded individuals and into the more risky environment of ‘everyone’.
I am a novice writer. The language of my visual art has no words and I have learned to surrender my expectations about what others will see in my artwork. With a pen I have not yet learned to surrender in the same way. This experience taught me much respect for poets and a renewed compassion for my students who are new on this journey. I thought I understood surrender. Now I realize that my understanding can be lost in translation as I move from one type of art-making to another, from an area of home-like comfort to one of unknowing. I realize too, that these skills are transferable if I attend to them. That connection to the divine can occur in drawing, writing, dancing, music making, watching a child sleeping and in so many other activities in our lives. In fact, we are able to be connected all the time and then as we learn to laugh at our human failings when we slip off the path our ‘failures’ can become windows to greater awareness.
Joanne Thomson is a professional artist living in Victoria BC. www.joannethomson.com
If you are an artist whose practice is spiritual I’d like to talk to you.
You can read more posts from our multifaith bloh, Spiritually Speaking HERE