And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.
When I am disturbed,
It is because I find some person, place, thing, situation —
Some fact of my life — unacceptable to me,
And I can find no serenity until I accept
That person, place, thing, or situation
As being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.
~ The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
I’ve been a member of a 12-Step program for a number of years. When I’m process painting and find myself struggling with a particular image or color or brush stroke, I often remind myself:
“And acceptance is the answer . . . .”
I painted this elephant recently and was quite distraught by her appearance. I noticed the shame and despair I was experiencing.
“It’s so . . . so . . . what? So what? Stupid?”
“What’s my judgment?” I asked myself in an attempt to move toward my disturbance. I couldn’t quite name my specific judgment and I began to feel anxious.
Creativity implies feeling, acting and thinking in new ways
One of the understandings I’ve embraced over the years of process painting is that creativity implies feeling, acting and thinking in new ways. This elephant was unfamiliar and unwanted. If I were to have stopped painting at this point, torn up the paper, covered the elephant and refused to accept her the way she showed up, my anxiety may have temporarily subsided. I might have felt better, saved from that particular discomfort. But this kind of safety is stagnant — and it rarely lasts. I understood that I needed to accept my anxiety to avoid inertia and open the possibility of moving toward something new.
“Risk!” I told myself.
I dug deep to find the courage I needed to take a chance that this elephant looked exactly the way she was supposed to at that moment.
“She’s so what?” I asked myself again.
“Silly” came to mind.
“Okay, she’s so silly.” Might I move toward the silliness? I painted a light blue something on her head and then more images arrived without planning.
Take a look:
We all want to be at peace with ourselves
We all want to be at peace with ourselves, with our lives, with whatever situation we find ourselves in. We don’t know how to do that, so we are always struggling and fighting with our reality, trying to bring about some harmony and relaxation, some lessening of worry and fear. But all we need to do is to quit struggling with ourselves and with reality . . . . Enlightenment is not a matter of not feeling pain but of not fighting it. ~ Facets of Unity, A.H. Almaas
Process painting offers me an opportunity to get in touch with my inner self and provides a form of expression for feelings that cannot always be easily identified or put into words. Through acceptance of the colors, images and forms that I paint, I experience something new, beyond my habitual and painful emotional patterns.
In a safe environment, I can practice staying and relaxing, feeling into the “isness” of what I paint. Honing this practice in the studio, on a simple piece of paper, strengthens my ability to accept what arises in many other places in my everyday life.
Addicts often struggle with powerful emotions in early recovery
When we’re just beginning to recover from any kind of addiction, we frequently remember past actions or behaviors that we’ve ignored or that were hidden by our addictive patterns. It helps to have an outlet to channel these intense emotions.
David was a weekly process painter in my studio for two years. Recently, David wrote, “I was fortunate enough to experience the healing experience of ‘Paint to Discover’ thirty-one years into my recovery from alcohol addiction. I found the experience to be a deeply welcoming addition to my ‘practice’ of recovery. Meditation, exercise, eating well and 12-Step meetings are all important aspects of living a full and meaningful life beyond addiction. The addition of the creative process of mindfully painting contributed enormously to the state of mind I seek on a daily basis. Acceptance, being present and taming that inner critic contributes moment by moment to the serenity of recovery that addicts long for.”
As David’s story illustrates, to gain sobriety from any kind of addictive behavior, we have to change many aspects of our life. Process painting can ease the way by offering an opportunity to integrate important elements of recovery such as acceptance, learning to not be in control, coping with not knowing, risk taking, self-expression and healing our inner conflicts.
Additionally, the process of creating without knowing the end result provides direct experience of the nature of healing and recovery. We discover value in taking small steps, in staying connected to our essential self, to listening from within. We observe how we assign our own meaning to our paintings, and that such meanings are not always “the truth.” We learn to listen to a deeper stream of consciousness that resides in each of us. That stream has the power to transform our awareness and understanding.
With unconditional acceptance, genuine self-expression can flourish
The work of process painting is deeply personal and meaningful to each painter. Addiction can seem like a wasteland—even a death—of self-expression. Hiding our addiction from family and friends means our individual truth cannot be revealed or shared. One of the benefits of conscious art-making of any kind, in an environment of safety and unconditional acceptance, is that our genuine self-expression can flourish. We learn to reflect upon and attend to our feelings. We stand to gain fresh perceptions and perspective, offering new ways to look at life and ourselves.
From August 25-27, Aziza Balle and Anne Pechovnik will be facilitating a Painting Experience workshop in Ashland, Oregon. To learn more about the workshop and other upcoming opportunities to paint with us, visit our Programs page.
Aziza Balle is an affiliate with The Painting Experience and a retired elementary and high school counselor. She has been facilitating process painting with children and adults in her home studio and in elementary and high schools for the past nine years. For more information about Aziza and the process painting classes she offers in the Portland, Oregon area, visit her website, Paint to Discover.