At the insistence of a friend, I took a workshop called the Painting Experience with Stewart Cubley. This was a revolutionary experience. Stewart encouraged us to paint not for results, how it looked, or what it meant. Instead he simply encouraged us to be in the moment, to pick up a color that called, to listen to what wanted to be born.
During the workshop, Stewart asked the question, "Can you meet your painting on its own terms?" He was not concerned with how we would like our paintings to look, or what we wanted them to be; he wanted us to simply relate to what is. Stewart’s question echoed in my thoughts for the first few days of the workshop.
My body felt so tense that week and the muscles in my neck resembled steel cables. I lay alone in a hot tub early one morning and wondered – could meet my pain on its own terms. Can I live in harmony with what is, rather than engage in a constant struggle to change or get away from my pain?
With that thought came a feeling of fullness in my chest. My heart felt like an over-filled water balloon, stretched and heavy. Back in the studio, I began a painting a big weighty heart. Soon a large human heart bloomed on the page. My brush caressed the bulging heft of its sides, thick arteries wound their way off the page, and a wide fissure appeared in the center of the heart. A small figure pushed itself out of the opening.
I thought it was a baby with a large head until, spontaneously, I painted lines on its forehead. This made the face look old and wise, and I realized that this baby is a Buddha. The group stopped for lunch and left the studio. I looked at my painting and felt a distinct swaying, as if I were standing on a small boat in gentle ocean swells. There was no image, only this movement. I took a large brush and let my body and arm sway with the feeling. Lines of blue moved in an undulant rhythm in a low arc back and forth across the page.
I was entranced with this rocking motion while the paper filled with waves upon waves, becoming an ocean. The motion slowed and came to a gradual stop. As I was leaving the studio I noticed how soft I felt, the ease of my walk and a freedom in the swing of my arms. All of the pain and tension in my body had dissolved in the ocean waves on the paper back in the studio.
I continued to ask and live the question — what does it mean to ‘too meet life on it’s own terms’? I find that by meeting the world with acceptance, the world meets me with equal acceptance. My body still experiences its aches and pains, but now I feel softer and more spacious inside.