What Painting Buddha Taught Me About Writing

buddhaFrom the time I was old enough to color, I wanted to paint. I kept saying “When I get older, I’ll paint.”

I guess I’m older now. It’s been poking at me with more persistence than normal. When I sunk into the mental process of deciding what I wanted to paint, I found myself drawn to the East.

I’m not religious, but I am very spiritual. There’s a clear difference to me. I see religion so often as a vehicle that carries people farther from the Divine instead of closer to it. They seem to get so wrapped up in coffee and cake meetings that love, compassion, and appreciation of the diversity of creation elude them. I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to work, but if you study world religions that’s so often what happens. Each group thinks the rules they follow are the right ones and everyone else is simply misguided. Some religions are more tolerant of different thinking than others, but arguably any structure by its nature secretly (or not so secretly) feels right.

For me, Truth strings through them all. I have always been keenly aware that there is an amazing Source greater than me and yet somehow connected to me. My goal is to strengthen my alignment with that Source (or God or Creator–all names seem insufficient and okay at the same time) daily and by doing that, to evolve the world in a loving way rather than one filled with hate, discrimination, and fear. Simple, really.

Recently, I watched a documentary called “Inner and Outer Worlds.” It showed how to keep our inner worlds balanced in an outer world that’s constantly whirling about Tasmanian-Devil style. While watching, I found myself (as I have at various times in my life) drawn to the images of Buddha. The stillness and space of the images. During this same time frame, my husband had been looking for a Buddha picture that had been given to us from his dad years ago.

The signs seemed clear. I knew the Buddha would be my first painting and it would be for my husband. For a flash I was reticent about launching my introduction to my new paint class as the “Buddha Girl.” I live in more of a “crosses” kind of town right now. I’d be way better received if I were to paint an angel or Jesus on the cross. I suspected my Zen bend would make the other people suspicious of me. Not one to live according to what people think about me, I let it go as quickly as it came. After all, if I can’t be who I am at 50, I am certainly not connecting my inner and outer worlds well at all.

So I brought my many Buddha shots to my paint class. I flipped through them with my instructor and settled on the one above. I was excited that my new paint teacher, Sandi, said I could paint this in my first class with acrylics. That meant I’d have it in time for our anniversary. I felt the reactions from other painters. Some were intrigued, others suspicious as I’d suspected. Sandi was enthusiastic and highly creative. I knew I’d found a teacher who would let me play and develop my own creative channels.

As I brushed red on the white canvas, I thought about how similar painting is to writing. You start with a blank page. Tabula Rasa. From that, you create something wholly different than white. Ideally, anyway. You pour out part of your soul. You add color and contrast in characters and places you create. Your inner world has found a visual path to the outside.

While the first layer dried, I thought about the role time plays in the creative process. If you try to rush things, it can get goopy.But my real epiphany came while watching Sandi at work. One of the other painters had asked her to help paint an “eye” on a child painting she was making of her grandson. As Sandi dabbed her fine brush around the pupil, she talked about how every painter should paint portraits because it makes a person so observant. I loved the metaphor, eyes being windows to the soul and all.

So goes writing. I especially love watching comedians who write their own material. I’m an avid follower of “Last Comic Standing” for just this reason. The way the current comics are able to create humor from their fine-tuned powers of observing the mundane causes Roseanne to say nearly every week, “I love your ability to find a new slant on the mundane.”

That’s the sweet spot of creating anything. We all have it inside us. If only we quietly observe, we have all the material we need to create a masterpiece.

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