I’ve just returned from an extraordinary week of process painting in Taos, New Mexico. Two days before I left to drive down there from my home in northern Colorado, we had about ten inches of new snow. I was hoping the mountains in Taos would not be full of the remainder of that snow and make the driving tricky. It is May, after all.
For most of the week the sky was that magnificent New Mexico blue that comes from low humidity with fat, contented white clouds sprinkled here and there around the mountain tops and over the rooftops of the town. Only once did we get a real spring thunderstorm rumbling and crashing through one afternoon, beginning and ending over the course of a couple of hours. For a few minutes rainwater poured off the roofline of our painting studio before quickly disappearing, leaving the sage and juniper lush and fragrant in the temporarily humid air.
The Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos is a wonderful place to retreat and live in seclusion for eight days of hard work. Our group had a lecture on the nature of creativity and painting every morning with the creator of the process I find so brilliantly stirs my soul. Her name is Michele Cassou, and her process is all about living without rules. Of course there are some “suggestions” about what that means as it applies to paining, but the whole point is to try to free yourself from expectations and judgments enough to just paint for the joy of it. This turns out to be much harder than you might imagine.
The mind, it turns out, is not a happy camper without anything to grab onto. “Start by picking a color,” says Michele. “Just let the paintbrush find its way. Follow the line around. Creativity always knows where it wants to go. It will never let you down.” Oh my, so much easier said than done, I think.
The few days after I return home are full of insight. It seems as if my intuitive soul has been cleared and opened. I see subtleties of color in the awakening plants as spring spreads over the land around me. I hear the slightest emotion in the words people speak to me. I review the paintings done while I was in Taos, and remarkably the process seems to have picked up where I left off so many years ago. The imagery is no more or less colorful or descriptive, but I can see my own evolution as a person.
The process is ever so much more profound and deep even than therapy, and I’ve had hours and hours and hours and types across my life. It is ever so much deeper and quieter and gentler than what I know of religion.
I think I am beginning to understand the meaning of what she is saying when Michele suggests that this type of painting can be, and to her actually is, a spiritual path. What is “creativity” but the creative power of our life force flowing through us? And where does that come from, one might imagine. To me the answer is at once simple and profound. I did not give myself life. I do not sustain my own life, except to feed myself and do my best to keep myself healthy. There is a Power far greater than me at work. Even if I try to copy an image that appears in the painting of one of the other members of the class, the way it comes through me is different. Each of us is, indeed, unique.
“The Universe is benevolent,” Michele said to me one day in a workshop years ago as I was sobbing over something I had painted that brought up very deep feelings.
“Yes, it is,” I can say now. It doesn’t matter that some of what I’ve gone through in life has been hard to bear. It doesn’t even matter that some of life has been beautiful, or full of love. What matters to me is that I realize I am part of a greater whole. The fact that I can’t define it, or limit it, or put words to it leaves me in awe. To me this is proof of “things unseen.” The hand of God, in other words. I am so fortunate to have taken this workshop.
The drive home through the mountains in New Mexico is beautiful. Here and there snow still touches the tops of the peaks. I can wind down and enjoy the landscape before I hit an Interstate again. I can preserve the inner space that helps me remain open in the week that follows. I look forward to how this experience will continue to blossom in my life. I feel it at work, stirring and moving. “How will it show up?” I ask myself. I can’t answer that right now. I am only left with one certainty. All is well. No matter what is to come. All is well.