I’m a little in love with slogans.
I adore the zing of pithy sayings that keep me on track and remind me about what’s important.
We have a lot of them at the studio. And here’s a short list of some of the more popular mantras:
Trust The Brush
Ruin It Early, Ruin It Often
Resistance Is Futile
Don’t Poke The Painting Teacher With The Sharp End Of The Brush
OK. OK. That last one isn’t exactly a slogan. More like a ground rule for my students when they get cranky with me.
But one of my favorites is : You Teach What You Most Need To Learn.
So whenever I am wondering what it is that I need to be focusing on in my life right now I pay attention to what is coming out of my mouth when I’m teaching.
And lately what I have been yammering on about is the notion of simplicity.
This has been showing up quite a bit in my teacher training program because that’s the place where I’m trying the hardest to clearly articulate the core principles of the intuitive painting process. And what I notice in my students and of course in myself, is how incredibly complicated and difficult we want to make things.
A lot of what I do as an intuitive painting teacher is to sit with my students in front of their painting and listen to them tell me what they are experiencing as they paint. What I’m paying attention to is when they are tuned into creative messages from their essential and authentic self. And when they’re not.
And if they are… great. I smile, nod, and say something along the lines of “Cool!” and walk over to my next student.
If they’re in a difficult spot, and the flow just isn’t happening, I ask a few very simple questions to help them understand what might be hanging them up. And then a few more to assist them in finding their way back to what they already know inside themselves to be real and true.
And that’s pretty much it.
In my work with my students my objective is always to be a ninja of the heart.
Which means engaging in the practice of stealthy efficiency. To get in with a gentle reminder of their own wisdom and then to get out of their way as quickly and silently as I can. To come from a place of humility and to be as invisible with my opinions and ideas as possible. My motto and my intent is to leave no trace which means trying to make sure that I don’t make their process about me and how much I have to offer.
Like any master practice, these tasks are incredibly difficult to accomplish. And I am not always as successful in reaching that state of empathic detachment as I want to be.
I know all too well what it looks like when I lose connection with that elegant simplicity of loving attunement to another person.
The complications start piling up as soon as I assume that I have to DO something more than be available with my curiosity and compassion to be effective or to have value as a teacher. Like thinking that I have to be impressive or clever or entertaining. Or operating from the belief that I have to pounce on any challenge that presents itself with the attitude of needing to fix it. And buying into the idea that my role is to solve problems or to make things better and easier for my students.
I can get into huge trouble when I imagine that what people want from me is my brainy genius or my sage and wise advice. I then make the erroneous conclusion that I have to come up with an eye-poppingly exceptional strategy or a plan to improve their situation.
And things really go off the rails when I think it is up to me to take away someone’s pain.
When I am approaching my students from this place of fixing it’s because I want to feel like I am needed and important. That I have something special and worthy to contribute to them.
If I find myself scrambling to be the all knowing teacher or the magic healer it’s because I have lost trust in what I really DO have to offer. I forget that all those clever tactics I come up with are based in the energy of trying. And are more often than not my anxious attempts to control a situation that is making ME uncomfortable for some reason.
I forget that the valued contribution I so wish to bring to my beloved students is already there. That the truly important things don’t come from effort or will.
What really matters always comes from deep presence and an open heart.
I am constantly reminding myself that what most people are looking for is just a place and a space where they can feel seen and respected for the inner wisdom and inner healer that they already have inside of them. That they simply need encouragement to trust themselves. And they need to trust that I believe they CAN trust themselves.
What they don’t need is for me to heal them. Because the bottom line is, I can’t. And if I begin to lead them to believe that I can, I am doing them a grave disservice by creating an experience of mistrust in their own inner power. I am inadvertently teaching them that what they need to grow or to transform lies outside of themselves.
When you are coming from that place of trust in simply being, it can look to the ego self like you’re not DOING anything. But believe me, being fully in the here and now, listening deeply, having your full attention on tracking someone’s creative process…. while immensely satisfying work…. is still work.
It is the holy work of being awake and alive to your own inner process, and staying conscious of your own motivations, while at the same time being awake and alive to your students.
It requires diligence, devotion, and discipline to not let your frightened ego self get the upper hand and run amok with notions of its own importance.
This approach will probably not get you accolades for being brilliant or indispensable. But then, you also won’t need to continually come up with ways to be dazzling and remarkable. Which in the long run can feel like an awful lot of pressure and be quite exhausting.
It will, however, allow you to step into that place of bringing love to whatever shows up. And to invite your students, your friends, your family to do the same. And to share that quiet space of simply being present and in your heart which is the only thing that ever really heals us and allows us to grow in the end.