Sometimes it seems impossible. There is no way to get from here to there. My bones are heavy. A rock sits in my body. My mind is full of “no” – no way, no more. Done. Finished.

The very idea of squeezing paint out is horrible, futile and wasteful. I am full of distain and tiredness. It feels like depression. It grips the body in the same way. It seems to have the same pathology. It plays the same tune. But it is not depression. I know this place. I have been here before – many times.

Usually it kicks in when I return to the studio after being away. It is especially likely after a week or two of teaching when I am talking, talking , talking. I talk about our natural creativity, about how when painting goes well it is easy. I work with people on how to deal with difficulties. It seems to know that all this talk ‘about’ things, separates me from my silent work. It can tell I get too cocky. I start to believe what I say. I’m in the words of possibility not the reality of it, which can only be found in the work itself.. I’m in the propaganda. I become an easy target busy with my mind and the ideals, constructs and methodology of painting. Words words words. I forget that it has to be met where it lives and for the painter this is in the studio, alone. I forget that I have to go like Joyce advocated, “for the millionth time to confront the reality of experience.” Each time a confrontation – each time a new thing. I forget the advice of Shitao that here in this place, “no method is perfect method.”

It cannot be met theoretically or with words, or by helping others deal with it. It is much more personal and cunning for that. It knows when I go to the words, away from the studio, that there is an opening. It comes in with a vengeance. Even though by now I know it is coming, I should be prepared – ready for it – I am not. It flattens me. I always have to start from there, flat on my back, weighed down by impossibility, with no apparent hope or way back. It seems to manage to take everything away. It has plenty to latch onto and it does. Plenty of ideas or other things I should be doing. Clear evidence of the absurdity of trying to paint. It does not mess around. It goes for the life force.

It has to be met. It has to be turned. To do this I have to be smart and patient. It needs time. First I have to not allow judgments to take hold. Let them come and go. Nobody gets the last word. I start with small things. A short time in the studio organizing. Not organizing to paint – just organizing. Don’t give the game away. Stay close in, under the radar. Maybe next day I can put a canvas up. It is nauseating but still I put it up. Time alone. Maybe go to a coffee shop and just sit. Maybe a coffee shop in a bookstore. Even open an art book looking for energy. Letting some energy from the images or the quotes come in low in my body. Small steps.

Start answering the questions and negatives. One at a time. There is not enough time scheduled to really get into the painting. Schedule time. I have no idea what to paint or where to start. This cannot be addressed outside of the process of painting. The paint will answer this. Call it on its lies and its false barriers. Little by little leaning back into it over a few days. Patience. Slow shifting – looking for any movement. Loosening the soil around the edifice. Slow work. Stay in close. Gradually the moves become bigger. The weight shifts. Energy starts to come in. At first it may be imperceptible. Don’t look for it, don’t measure it. Just work in close. Then it does start to move. Things become possible. Paint brushes can be organized. Paint tubes checked. It is still tricky. It can still roll back on you. You are looking for a tipping point. At the exact moment the process calls for an assertive push – a stepping up. For me this is the squeezing out of the paint. I have to make myself do it. This is the moment of embarkation. The stepping into trust.. Sometimes the head wind is strong that I have to do it with out looking into the wind. Head turned away squeezing out the paint.

If circumstances are favorable and there are no interruptions, the light is good, and I’ve made the right choice of canvas, then the door will open. This can happen if my basic bodily self is engaged. It takes over. I can go with that, with pleasure of it, with the pure paint of it. Then it can happen. I can get taken into that silent world, where I can move into the river of consciousness.

Here resistance has no footing. No words to hang onto. There are no judges and critics here, just the discernment of the navigator – the attentiveness of the alchemist. There is no accounting or conclusion. Here we step into abundance and possibility – every impulse and twitch, a catch, a connector to experience. Here we step into the spaciousness of our being. Here we can spread our wings and go.

One reply on “Resistance”

Wow. Dear Tim, it’s funny how something is put in front of you right at the moment that you need it, and this wonderful essay appeared to me today at just that moment.

To make a long story short, I had just recently established a daily painting habit, expelling that inner critic and making every day precious. I couldn’t wait to go to the studio, and to the quiet and space it gave me to create and just be.

Then I decided that my house needed a couple of renovations, and for the past month I have hardly picked up a paint brush (although I think about art all the time). The distractions of the construction process and the necessity of my being home to answer questions, oversee progress and direct various sub-contractors as to what I wanted filled my days. I allowed it to take me away from what I love and need so much…expressing and creating.

Soon I will go to NH for a month and immerse myself in nature and quiet, and time to paint again. It is there where I am most happy and at peace with myself.

Thank you so very much for your words of wisdom, which were so comforting and encouraging to me — and the thoughts so recognizable, confirming the importance of community for the artistic spirit.

A special friend of mine, Judy Caldwell, has shared with me the wonderful experiences that she has each year when she attends your workshop in the hills of Pennsylvania, surrounded by nature. I would like to attend a workshop sometime, possibly first in one of the cities/towns where you teach. I’ve been painting for about eight years, first in watercolor and more recently exploring acrylics and oils, after having worked in. Teal and stone. In the past year I have been drawn to paint abstract paintings, from memory or from something I see (usually in nature, something that strikes a chord). I don’t have a website yet that shows my current work.

With heart felt thanks and appreciation,

Susan Hale

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