It finally arrived!
I had been waiting all morning, checking my phone, tracking the number of stops until it got here and then, “cuh-thunk”, the satisfying thud of a heavy box unceremoniously dropped on our front porch.
I pulled the box inside and grabbed a knife to slice the cellophane tape along the top seam, and pulled open the bulging cardboard flaps to find…
A NEW BOX OF PAINTS!
Yes, all of this excitement and anticipation for a new box of 16 different colors of paint in shiny new, yet to be caked over and dented, tall plastic bottles of kids tempera paint. If you have painted with us before you know the kind: soupy, syrupy liquid of enticing ecstatic colors that hold so much hope but also the fear that they are destined to break our hearts.
Why? Because with every new box, every new, unopened bottle is the promise of what might be. Our heart soars at the thought of what will come off the tip of our brush on to the fresh white paper just waiting to fulfill our every dream.
We start with so much enthusiasm imagining what it will mean, what it will bring, where it will take us. “This will be the one” we think, the one that finally proves all of those things that we are not even aware of that we are hoping for. This will be the one that ends the suffering and makes us feel whole and may even justify our existence.
For some people this promise may be that they will finally be good enough to be called an artist. Others that it will solve all of their relationship problems by giving them special insights. And still yet others hoping to see in the images they create some proof of their worthiness of love and to be alive. The painting yet to be painted holds the promise of all of the things we wish to be true, all of the things we wish to become, and all of the healing we have been longing for our entire lives.
And as we paint, what do we find? Each brush stroke becomes an intolerable torture, “will this black line prove I’m no good?” “If this turquoise runs over the yellow does it prove I’ll never have love?” “Do I have to fill in all of these hundreds of circles to prove I have suffered enough?”
Our minds love to play this game with us. We love to turn even the simple act of putting cheap paint on to cheaper paper into a high stakes drama that can feel like dueling with death. Our stomachs hurt, we clench our jaws, hot angry tears may flow, and our hearts feel like they will leap out of our chest if that drip of red travels just a quarter inch more into the safe haven of yellow that we have convinced ourselves is the only sanctuary and solace we will ever find in this creative torment.
But what’s really happening here? What is really going on? We may perceive this as the painting doing this to us. Or the paints and brushes have betrayed our innermost desires and shown us things we don’t want to believe are true. We project on to the painting so much power to define who we are and are terrified about “what it might mean.”
Instead of holding the paper and brushes responsible we have an opportunity to step back and ponder, “what is happening inside of me? What happens to me when I see something I don’t like or don’t feel comfortable with? Why am I reacting so strongly?”
And, more importantly, we have an opportunity to bring compassion to ourselves in these moments. All the painting has shown us is what our hope and fears are. All it has brought to awareness through the haze of the mundane world, is all of those parts of ourselves looking for love, witnessing, and understanding. The parts that may have been waiting our entire lives.
We have a choice to make. We can continue the judgment, rejection, and rage at the painting and the outer world. We can also direct our ire inwards and feel like we are failures for not achieving mastery.
Or we can hold ourselves with as much compassion as we can muster and say to ourselves, “I see you. I see what you wanted, how hopeful you are. I know you only want to be seen, accepted, and loved for you who are unequivocally. I get that you have been waiting to come out and express yourself.”
We have an opportunity to accept ourselves in all of our glorious mess and imperfection, all of our striving and yearning, all of our contradiction and confusion.
Paintings are always self portraits so our reaction to what we paint is really how we treat ourselves. Every time we choose to fix a drip or smooth a line we are telling ourselves, “you are not good enough.”
But what if we held painting as a practice of love and learned to honor as much of ourselves as we can in any given moment. Can we hold our hopes and our disappointments? Can we forgive ourselves for not being the way we think we should? Can we find delight, curiosity and joy where we once found judgment, fear and rejection?
While we can’t really control what actually comes out of us and what it looks like or what others may approve of, we can always make a choice about how we hold and honor ourselves.
The promise of a new box of paints is not the reward of happiness and approval. It is not the satisfaction of getting what we want or a final end to our suffering. It is not the confirmation that we are finally good enough.
Rather, the promise of a box of paints is the constant invitation into the journey of our own experience. It is a siren song celebration of our desires and the voyage that they lead us on as they pull us deeper into knowing this life. A box of paints becomes a mirror to our true selves that opens to reveal what we want and need most.
It gives us the opportunity to hold ourselves with love, compassion, and delight. That holding does not need to be hard work or effort. Instead it is a letting go and accepting. An acknowledgement of what is and what isn’t. A sobering and clear understanding of who we are and what life is. And finally a sense of relief that we are fine as we are and nothing needs to be done except just being present and welcoming of our authentic selves into this moment.
And that’s a pretty good deal for a box of paint so go grab that fluorescent orange and get painting!