You may have seen my recent post summing up my experience last month at Squam Art Workshops in the rustic woods of New Hampshire. In that post, I promised to follow up with more in-depth posts about my individual classes. So, I’ll start at the beginning, my first class, Joy of Intention with Alena Hennessy.
I wasn’t really sure what I expected to get out of this class, but I know it wasn’t the particular brand of self-insight that I left with. Prior to the class, I was already familiar with (and a believer in) the act of intention setting, so to be honest, I expected to just skip into the class, “make a wish” as it were, blow out the candle, spend some time mingling with other artists, playing with paint, yada, yada, yada and happily leave class at the end of the day knowing I put some great concept out in to the universe and would soon see it materialize in my life. That’s not exactly how it materialized however.
Alena had us start class by going outside. We did some introductions as well as some breathing and light yoga exercises to warm up our minds, bodies and spirits—to basically make room in our hearts and heads for what it was we were going to be doing that day. We were instructed at one point to announce the first word that came into our head. I said acceptance. After we said our word, she told us that that would be our intention word for the day. I felt she’d tricked us! I wanted time to carefully select my word—much like when you close your eyes to make a wish on a star. You know, you run through many fantasies and ideas in your head, you narrow it down and then you decide on your wish. But that isn’t what happened. I felt stuck with a word that I would never have hand-picked because it seemed so . . . I don’t know . . . predicable. Later on I discovered others felt the same way and were chagrined at such words as compassion or change. You’re with me, right? It’s not that these are bad words—far from it—it’s just that, well, you know, I was regretting that I didn’t end up with a more mysterious or unusual and provocative word. Nope. Acceptance—that was my word. Of course, I said to myself, it wasn’t like I really had to keep the word. I could always see what sort of better words came up as the day went along and then grab onto those.
You know where this is going right? Alena knew exactly what she was doing when she didn’t give us time to think about picking our words. By simply intuiting a word, she knew that our subconscious (which, we all hate to admit sometimes, always knows what it is we really need) would have a chance to be heard and that whether we liked what it said or not, we stood much to gain by listening.
But, at that stage I wasn’t listening too closely just yet. After we were done stretching and breathing, Alena said it was time to start getting some ideas down in our journals. She suggested we walk around a bit and experience the incredible beauty of the natural surroundings we were in and to just observe things we liked the composition of. Then, create a series of small thumbnails in our journals to capture the essence of what we saw. I felt stymied, but I pushed through and did my best with the exercise anyway. But instead of walking around, I was compelled to sit under the picnic pagoda that was our gathering place. I sat and looked out across the field at the trees, I looked down at the ground and I actually looked at the structure of the pagoda itself and for whatever reason was as fascinated with it as I was with the natural elements. I also jotted down little words or thoughts that came to me while looking at the sketches I made.
While we were making our sketches and jotting things down in our journals, Alena told us to also think about our intention word and what it was that we wanted with it. I worked backward a bit with this. I thought about what area of my life I most wanted to see change in and it wasn’t too difficult to come up with. Like many people, I continually struggle with having enough compassion for myself and without getting into a lengthy discussion on the benefits of loving oneself in order to truly offer the best love to others, suffice it to say that I’m hyper-aware of the situation which generally only tends to exacerbate it. So, with that part down, I thought about acceptance and how what I was really was in need of was acceptance of myself—imperfect as I was. And I knew exactly what this meant, though it was in no way clear to me yet how it would ever come to fruition. The majority of my struggle comes from always feeling like I stop short of living with as much purpose as I’d like. It’s incredibly important to me to feel like I am doing all I can to make a difference in this world and I get down on myself when I don’t accomplish this with the flying colors I desire. I knew this was going to be tricky.
So here’s what happened: I was sitting there thinking about all of this, and making new sketches and my sketches seemed to include manmade structures more and more as I worked and with the final little thumbnail I created, the ah-ha moment came. All of the structures I was drawing were made from wood. Trees are wood. I love trees just as they are, yet they also provide us with a substance to build with—a distinct purpose. The most revealing thing for me was the realization that while the tree does have its wood to offer mankind if we want it, but it also serves a purpose (albeit a type of higher purpose if you will) just being. It contributes it’s own value to the universe by existing as beautiful as it is. And the tree does not go on a search everyday looking for someone to give its wood to; it lets us come to it for what we need. This was huge for me.
Now of course I’m not saying that I should stand still in one spot like a tree and wait for the world to come to me, but I felt a huge sense of relief knowing that maybe just like the tree, it really is possible that I can accept myself just being as I am—already complete, yet with something else to offer if others need it. I decided I would use this last sketch as the composition for my painting that day. It was probably the most fulfilling time creating a painting that I’ve ever had and I really had such an enjoyable time in the class, bonding and laughing and sharing with my classmates, including my tablemate, Meri.
Now I have a piece of art that acts as not only a souvenir of a special day, but a reminder to accept myself as-is.
I still try to pack as much into each week as I can, but I’m starting to get better about not feeling bad over what I don’t accomplish. I’m grateful to Alena and her process for helping me set this intention and I would recommend her as a teacher if you ever get the chance to take a class or workshop from her. She really has a lovely spirit about her and you can feel that she genuinely wants to help you. Alena’s new book, Cultivating Your Creative Life (Quarry Books) is due out next spring and I know I’ll be doing even more inner cultivating when it comes out.
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