The moment you get into the quest for the Self and begin to go deeper, the real Self is waiting there to receive you, and then whatever is to be done is done by something else and you, as an individual, have no hand in it. ~ Ramana Marharshi
With twenty, thirty or even forty participants in a painting workshop, people sometimes ask how I’m able to guide so many as they plumb the depths of their inner lives all at the same time. I feel a strange trust when I begin a workshop. It’s not just a belief or philosophy, but an actual feeling about the background within which the experience takes place. There’s a certainty about the rightness of what arises. Of course this is sorely tested at times, and my ability to trust in the midst of challenging circumstances is an ongoing part of my own journey -- as well as being the point of confrontation for each painter in the process. But that fundamental trust is a presence without which the work could not proceed, and it’s always there on some level supporting me and each participant in a generous, accepting and tough-love sort of way.
The Power of Collective Intention
To begin, there are powerful currents of human intention. People gather together in a workshop or class with the sincere desire to explore. Already, that’s enormous. A group intention of this sort can’t help but provide interesting developments. Add to that the infinite variation and combination of motivations for participating -- each person brings a mixture of considerations that are at once personal, cultural, political, familial, philosophical and spiritual -- and you have a potent brew for adventure.
To watch as this internal cacophony settles down into the simplicity of painting is quite extraordinary. The intensity and agitation is not lost or erased; it’s channeled into one metaphorical act -- choosing color and applying it to paper. Everyone is there in the same place at the same time, held in the surprise of what’s about to appear next. In these moments, I know beyond doubt that all is as it should be, and that the various difficulties and challenges that will arise in the course of this exploration will be part of a larger whole, directed by an intelligence that if not knowable, is infinitely trustable -- in short, that we are in good hands.
Trusting the Gift We Are Given
This is not an idea I accept lightly. I have always had an aversion to simplistic concepts of a guiding principle that become casual and self-serving. History is full of examples in which the notion of “something beyond” has turned ugly, violent or demeaning. For many, the tendency to usurp the idea of the divine in order to create and maintain an advantage is appealing, as is the desire to cast it in the image of something concrete and manageable by the human mind.
Yet the intuition remains: There is a larger reality at hand, supporting us as we move toward a territory of greater dimension than the one we currently believe we inhabit. To hold to the truth of that intuition, participating with it without attempting to grasp or control, is the challenge we face in every particular thing we do, and by the human race as a whole. To meet it here consciously in painting, held in the benevolent atmosphere of mutual support and respect, is a true gift -- one that will be welcome when we reach our limits and the going gets rough.
This article is an excerpt from Stewart's interactive online course, Introduction to Facilitating Process Arts. Presented in three interactive modules including video lessons and live web conferences, this course can help you incorporate the facilitation practices of process painting into your own ways of working with others. It's designed to support therapists, art instructors, and teachers and guides of all kinds, as well as individuals wishing to deepen their experience of process painting. The class includes many of the methods developed by Stewart over decades that have effectively guided people on a journey of inspiration, creativity, growth and change. Learn more . . .