While you are busy being bored—that is, not finding the excitement and stimulation you are looking for—often you will not be noticing how much you are abandoning yourself in the process. ~ Edward Espe Brown, from No Recipe: Cooking as Spiritual Practice
We started this blog about two years ago. In that time, I’ve made multiple attempts to get someone to write a post about painting at home—in particular, about not wanting to do it. Some of you will know what I’m talking about: You’ve taken a workshop and you think painting at home sounds like a great idea but you can’t quite get there. Or you’ve set up a home painting space and sometimes you do use it, but you have to drag yourself to the painting wall almost every time. Then, after you get a brush in your hand and the colors start to work their magic on you, you remember that you love the painting process and you wonder why you fight it so hard.
Finally, I realized that of all the people I was asking to write about this experience, the person with the most obvious resistance to painting at home is me. I make regular dates to paint online with my Painting Experience cohorts, but I almost never want to show up when the time comes. My resistance often manifests as boredom and an urgent feeling that I need to do something else—almost anything besides taking the lids off the paint jars and picking up a brush. I once sheepishly confessed that I had disappeared during the middle of an online painting session to go shopping for shorts online. It’s true that I was leaving the next week for a summer trip and my only pair of shorts didn’t fit, but did I have to go to The Gap right that minute? Probably not.
Yesterday I was reading an excerpt from Edward Brown’s new book, No Recipe: Cooking as Spiritual Practice, and I was struck by its parallels to my experience of the painting process. He talks about working with boredom and resistance in a way that makes a lot of sense:
Boredom can be a precursor to more intimately engaging with the present moment. Instead of busily dismissing the present moment with a condescending, “Hey, meditation, you don’t do it for me,” you shift to, “What more can I find out? Is there something I’m missing? Tell me more.” You open, or allow, for something bigger.
While you are busy being bored—that is, not finding the excitement and stimulation you are looking for—often you will not be noticing how much you are abandoning yourself in the process. While you are busy looking elsewhere, what is apparent is not yet realized. Realization is everywhere. And you? Where are you spending your time? Daydreaming about being elsewhere? Or digging in and finding the black dragon jewel exactly here.
Sometimes I push away from a painting many times during a painting session, feeling this painting just isn’t doing it for me. And I encounter these points of resistance much more often at home than I do in a workshop, where the strength of the container and the stimulation of the environment—the swirling dance of people and color—engage me and hold me more easily in place. At home, it’s so much easier to drift away. That’s why I make arrangements to paint with others online and I do my not-always-perfect best to show up at the appointed time.
If it’s so hard to show up, why even bother? I make the effort because I also know how it feels to dig in, to surrender to the painting experience and be taken into the flow. At those times, the numb places or sharp edges dissolve and I enter spaces of possibility and surprising connection that teach me not only about the creative process but how I can be in life. In the most immediate sense, I often come to a painting session feeling draggy or distracted but by the end, I feel relaxed and alert, and I’ve forgotten to be bugged by whatever I thought my problem was.
After seventeen years of imperfect painting practice, I have given up thinking that something will make the resistance and spasms of boredom disappear for good. Instead, I’ve learned not to take those things too seriously. I’ve also learned to do some things that help me show up, like making dates to paint with others. In the end, to experience the benefits of a life lived in process, all I need to do is be willing to come back to the paper (or the meditation cushion or the ingredients on the kitchen counter or whatever presents itself in that moment of living) as many times as I have pushed away. As the Japanese proverb says, “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” Or, if the math of that one bothers you—I’ve never understood how you can get up more times than you’ve fallen, unless you started on the ground—there’s this version, sometimes attributed to Rabbi Hillel:
“I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing.”
It may be true that within our group of online painters, I am the one who most predictably says, “I really didn’t want to do this today.” But almost as often, I end such a session feeling energetically transformed, saying with gratitude and relief, “I’m so glad I did.”
Shae Irving is the communications manager and secretary of the board for The Painting Experience. She writes, practices meditation, intermittently paints for process and always loves birds, among many other things. She likes to get a lot done a little at a time.
To paint with us in person, see our full schedule of upcoming process painting classes and retreats.
To learn more about Edward Espe Brown's teachings in the kitchen and the zendo, see his website: Peaceful Sea Sangha.