Breaking Through: Transformation through painting


My recent three-day journey into watercolor painting and spirituality at the Christine Center in Willard, WI was, in a sense, quite transformative.

Disclaimer: My last experience with watercolor painting was in kindergarten.

Painting? What was I thinking? Well, I wasn’t, at least not about the painting. That was the least of my worries. The bit of breaking from my destructive and dangerously affixed routine? That one had my mind spinning. I’m not a traveler. I’m not a stuff-outside-my-tiny-safe-box doer.

But my safe-box is crushing me.

Desperate for some spark of fire, of will for healing, I embarked on this personal retreat, leaving as a skinny, fading, hurt and hopeless white girl and returned as a…pregnant submissive Asian woman.

I was guided and encouraged by facilitator Dr. John-Anthony Parente, who holds degrees in spirituality, theology and art, and has worked as a professional artist and professor for over 30 years, in addition to being immersed in contemplative and monastic life.

As we viewed our wet-on-wet full-page color bleeds that we’d dried overnight, we were instructed to journal on what we saw. All I saw was a ridiculous “smiley face.”

John saw a face, too, but it took a gentle outline by him for me to see it, her, as well. Since I hated the platitude of my obvious vision, I went with John’s. Was I distrusting my intuition by accepting this direction? Or was I allowing the grace and guidance offered by a greater force?

As I practiced edging and blending, my happy face morphed into her hairpiece, and her profile and robe took shape. I didn’t feel connected to her, spiritually or mystically or emotionally or however I was supposed to be feeling about the image, but I painted on. I mean, I paid for the workshop; I might as well practice technique.

But it nagged me. This wasn’t representing me. I didn’t even see her to begin with. I’m not Asian, I could never get a hairpiece in my thin mop, and most absurdly I was working with this stupid stereotype of Asian women that kept creeping into my consciousness. Due to knowledge of Asian culture as deep as the media I’ve been exposed to (Madame Butterfly, Geisha stories, Tour of Duty, Miss Saigon…), I’ve held a ridiculous typecast of Asian women as submissive to men, which was my first reaction to developing her in my piece. Well crap – at a man’s suggestion, I’d painted my soul as a symbol of subservience?

I slept on it, and thanks to a bit of coffee, a measure of meditation, and a dose of expert direction, I began to see the un-ego-filtered meaning of submissiveness.

Surrender. Yield. Let go. Trust.

This is why I came to a spiritual retreat. Not to paint, but to let go of my tight grip and trust…the flow, the process, God. The painting process had supported that deeper awareness without my control. Imagine that.

So I gave her an arm, holding her heart as she gazed to the horizon (which I was told I edged magnificently!) And I was finished with her. I had my meaning, my significance, my ME in the painting.

Or so I thought. The finishing touches on this piece of my heart came from community. Upon final viewing, it was suggested to me privately by three separate retreat participants that my woman appeared pregnant. Honestly, it was something in her shape that I’d noticed but would not acknowledge, for a number of personal reasons. But the imagery was clarified by others as way beyond bearing children, and offered a sense of hopefulness. Something is forming inside me, preparing to be birthed…something originating from this relinquishment of ego-controlled reign. Something supported by the practice of trust in the present moment.

Maybe that something today is simply this realization. Or maybe it’s the somethings that will continue to rise from the horizon. I don’t know, but I’m going to keep painting the present, edging the emergences as they enter consciousness, glazing through the flow, and bleeding new beginnings. Trusting the process, and submitting to what surfaces on the paper and in life…the good, the bad, and apparently, the cross-cultural.

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Clare L. Polencheck is a certified yoga instructor and portrait photographer in Red Wing, MN. With an open mind and eager heart, she strives to live and write from a Christian-Yogic spiritual perspective, and is humbled to share tidbits of her lessons as a teacher of asana, a student of her students, and a pupil of Universe. Learning to go with God's flow is her goal and mantra.


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