Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Enduring Heart

Some of you will have already seen this post, but it's so dear to me and such an indicator of why painting and art are so important to me that it's worth sharing again. To me, this is a monumental demonstration of how healing art can really be.

Reblogged from my profile on the BIG website. I took the course in the Summer of 2012.


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We've just finished week 3 of BIG, A Fearless Painting Adventure and I've thrown myself so completely into the process and the painting, as well as taking the time to really love, heal and reconnect myself to the things I need that I haven't shared anything about it yet. When time is sparse, you can only do so much, sadly.

But tonight, I find myself with a glass of wine and an empty house (save the husband and animals, who are all curled up on the couch in the other room) since my friends have gone home and I figure it's time to share a bit. I've been sharing my experiences with the other gals who make up the current BIG Tribe, so I'm going to share the same experiences with all of you now. This is going to be long and very emotional, fair warning. Some bits have been copied and pasted from my original postings on the BIG forums, so they may read a little oddly.

For background, the first week of BIG was spent scribbling, doodling and generally getting into the groove of letting our intuitions guide our brushes, to let go of over inflated expectations and to get comfortable with the process. We also became familiar with our fear gremlins, those little voices inside of us that tell us something is ugly, or stupid, to give up or not to share this and that - the voice that stifles as it attempts to protect us. Now, what I'm going to share is my painting and process for week 2. Connie, our fearless leader, asked that we work with Memory in our first real, honest and fearless BIG painting. To just pick a memory, the first one that comes to mind or the one that keeps reappearing and popping in to say hello!

I watched the intro and the first video, popped over to the first discussion and read through it. My paper was out and ready to go and I closde my eyes, let my mind go and waited to see what the first memory that comes across my mind is because that, THAT is the one I'm going to paint...

And my mind goes blank. There are memories there in the depths of my mind, oh are there ever. Big bright shiny ones and deep dark terrifying ones but none jump forth and say 'paint me!' So I wait some more. Then I distract myself with some music, who knows? Maybe in setting up this small ritual I've scared them off, over thought them without even realizing it. Hours go by and nothing. I wait to hear something... yet nothing comes.

There are the obvious ones I could go for, like getting married, buying a house - you know, big life things. But when I think about using them for the project I get this feeling in my gut that says, nah. Not this one. Keep waiting.

When I decided to undertake this adventure, it was partially in order to break down my difficulty in not overthinking things, to learn how to trust and to let go of total control and expectations of the finished product. While I'm not consciously aware of doing any of these things while waiting for my memory to come, I wonder if they aren't hindering me somehow just the same. I continued to wait and sat down at the desk in my studio, opened youtube and this song was in my recommended que (not sure why - I suppose the Universe needed me to hear it.)



My guts churned, I cried. I knew what I needed to paint.

I'll admit, I was (and still am) a bit scared to share my memory painting. Opening myself up wide and laying my innards bare and raw for people I've 'just met' to see isn't something I do, ever. (Hell, sharing this level of myself with people I know well is rare.) So, I'm taking a fearless leap here, one of faith and of trust and I'm going to share the process and the memory here - to let it and myself be seen.

I was caught up in choosing a memory, but it was given to be by the universe in a song and a rush of clenched guts and tears. I know that it was said that we didn't need to dive into a deep, dark, heavy memory as we get our toes wet in the water of fearless painting... but that's what my guts, my soul, the gods above brought forth from the depths for me to work with. And I did.

The memory dredged up wasn't a one time event, but rather a period in time. In my late teens, my small world shattered around me. I was in an abusive relationship, my parents were divorcing and kept putting me in the middle of their spats as referee and bargaining chip, my younger siblings clung to me for love and stability. I fell into an incredibly dark and desperate place, barely clinging to any real will to continue to exist... I began to self hurt. Or cut myself, in more blunt terms. Over the course of those few years, I covered myself with hundreds of marks, always hidden by clothing as they bled and subsequently healed. 8 years after the last time, I still have 22 very visible scars just on my forearms and wrists, which people seem to be drawn to ask about. When they do, I become uncomfortable and nervous, worried they'll judge me for something that is long past. Terrified they'll look at me as 'one of those crazy people'. I decided to follow my gut and paint this time period in order to attempt to lay to rest those feelings and make peace with my past.

I put the song back on as I chose my colors; grey, grey-blue, blue, red. I let the tears fall as I sketched the shape on the paper. Hunched, cross armed, trying to maintain a small shape in the large space.


I just let it roll out of me and then, I added the heart. My fear gremlin went wild - she was livid and terrified all at once. How dare I expose my heart? Isn't that why I existed in that dark place, to shelter myself from further hurt? Isn't that why I hurt myself - to relieve the emotional pain? To remind myself that I was still alive and could feel?

I poured her a glass of wine and we cried together. I held her close and told her it would be OK. To trust me and our gut. She hid behind me as I began to fling blue onto the background. Grabbing red next, I slathered it over the blue. As I painted, I wanted to get physical with the process, so I tossed my brush aside and went at it with my hands and fingers - mushing red into blue, creating bruised purples. (In retrospect, I think my sub-conscious was putting the colors of my hurts onto the paper, as I was always badly bruised around the cuts afterwards.) Barely stopping, I grabbed the gray and began to fill in the body - as I covered the heart, my gremlin sighed in relief. It was safe, hidden - protected. As it should be.

Dipping my fingers in red, I cut at the wrist and the chest, swooped outlines around the figure in vibrant blood tones. Looking at the wrist I felt revulsion and tried to cover it back up with gray, resulting in a pink mess. My gremlin was upset but my gut said to put the red back and taking a deep breath, I listened.


Quieting my mind and the gremlin for a moment, I really dig deep and let my guts talk to me. I cry again, the sort of deep, heaving cathartic cry that comes on when you've been holding something in too long. I let the music in the background wash over me (I had a playlist on, not the same song on repeat just in case anyone was worried I was torturing myself) as I sat on the floor and cried. The gremlin came back over, patted my shoulder, trying to tell me I'd revealed too much - see? It told me I'd get hurt. I understand that it's trying to help me out, to look out for me, but I shoo her away. Not unkindly, but firmly. We need to do this, my guts have never, ever steered me wrong when I've taken the time to really listen to them.

And now, my guts tell me to get up and paint. I've got a lot of work to do. I grab a dark brown and add in hair, straight and stringy, falling forward to obscure some of the face; yet another safety mechanism that I only recognize in retrospect. Taking out the black, I give her big, bold outlines. My gremlin pops up again - 'That's not your style!! That's not how you paint!! She's cartoony, ugly!' I shush her again, after all, this isn't my typical subject matter nor is it a particularly pretty memory. I keep on, this part of me, this woman on the paper - she wants to be seen. She NEEDS to be seen. And big bold lines catapult her into view, where she cannot be ignored or pushed aside.

Stepping back a moment, I don't want to cry - for the first time since starting this. I don't feel lost, miserable, ashamed when I look at her though there is still some melancholy there. A sort of heavy eerie feeling down in my bowels. My gut chimes in, since my goblin has washed her hands of this - I'm not listening to her anyway - informing me to paint white circles in the background. I get to work, filling half the background with them before my gut says 'stop!' Step away and stop. And I do. I clean up my brushes and leave her, knowing somehow that she's not quite done with me yet.


As I look at her, she strikes me as sort of pretty and sort of powerful. Maybe not in a traditional sense, because there's a lot of pain and darkness surrounding her, but she's sort of light upon the page. Like a bright spot. And those circles, they make me feel hopeful when I look at them.

I let her sit on the easel in the studio for a day and a half. Friday, when I was on my lunch break journaling about this painting (she's taken up 10 pages in my composition book so far) I realized I was excited to see her. To get home and ask her what she needed, to work with her. The 4 hours of work were the slowest I can recall in recent history, not work volume wise, but to my rapidly spinning mind and needy heart.

When I bounded into the studio and grabbed my palette, my heart shouted 'Grab the red and the the yellow! And your favorite color blue! Oh, and white too!' And I did. Adding deeper hues of shadow to her, giving her more definition and somehow, despite blue being very melancholy - brightening her up a bit. I scribbled yellows and whites around her side, a sort of aura of hopeful energy - a sign that there was still so much life in her. A will to continue, to live. And then, my gut and heart whispered the most important part conspiratorially to me, quietly, so as not to wake and anger the sleeping gremlin. The finishing touch, the final lesson that she has to hand me:


To live, to let my heart beat fierce and free. That time is over with and not only did I live, I thrived despite all the anguish and pain. I pulled myself out of that darkness and rose like a phoenix into a new life, in which I wanted to let love back in to my heart. And how can you do that, if you lock it away?

This process, this painting, helped me in ways I can't even quite express right now because I am still absorbing it all. I plan to pin her to my wall for a while, to let her lessons sink in further, to have her help in overcoming the last remnants of shame I feel over my past like a great guardian angel birthed from a black seed in myself. My gremlin is pursing her lips at me for sharing all of this, worrying how this will be judged and for right now, I'm ignoring her and feeling so very, very free.

This journey, this adventure, has been bigger for me than I ever expected. I'm not learning new techniques, not fussing over the outcomes. Just letting the the process take me where it will... and it is an exhausting, magical, spiritual, beautiful process.

1 comment:

  1. She's beautiful, Danni, and so very powerful. Keep ignoring your fear gremlin... she may be afraid, but you don't need to be. You are strong. Amazingly so.
    My tattoo covers most of my forearm scars... except for the biggest one, where I cut the deepest. It kind of frames that one, caught right between the bloom of the rose & the stem. A reminder, I suppose, that I chose to claw my way up & climb out of the abyss, instead of letting it have me.
    I hope any remnants of shame fall away & drown beneath the massive love you are finding for yourself, and the love those around you feel for you.
    This is an amazing piece. I love all the bold lines & colors. But I love the heart the most. I'm really glad you gave your gremlin some wine & sent her on her way. ^-^
    Keep letting your heart light shine. You spread warmth and joy everywhere it touches. ^-^

    XOXO

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