19 January, 2012

The canvas is just another kind of mat

Today was encaustic class with Deborah.

You might be saying to yourself "Huh? I am not familiar with every yoga technique, but I'm pretty sure there's nothing called 'encaustic'... Maybe if you said something like 'Intensati?"

And you'd be right.

Today, I took an art class. It was the second, in a series of several classes. I am not an experienced artist, but I decided that I'd like to try. And what I found was that being present while creating art, and staying in the moment, without judgment, without self-criticism, without fear, is so similar to the feelings and experiences I've been having on the yoga mat, that it is uncanny. Last week, I took the first class in the series, and it went pretty well. I felt like I was making pretty good progress on my first piece. I spent the entire week thinking up ideas of how I would finish the first piece, and what all the other ideas were for pieces I wanted to do next. I'd already finished my first piece, in my head, and I had set myself up for coming in and having that visualization become reality in fifteen minutes flat.

That's not the way it went down.

Encaustic is an art form that involves brushing layers of wax onto a surface, and maybe adding other things into the layers such as paint, ink, materials, images, other objects. It's a very forgiving art form, but it is also one that might require a lot of patience and practice to get things to do what you want them to do. Sort of like trying to get Warrior II just right. There are more ways to do it wrong, than there are to do it right. But also, like Warrior II, you can make adjustments and, at the very worst, you can just try it again tomorrow. Moreover, there comes a point where you need to stop making adjustments and just be. I was trying to write some lettering on the wax using a graphite transfer technique. It was not coming out right. First I smudged the letters and had to remove and try again. Second time I created smudged letters straight out of the gate and had to remove more wax to try again. The frustration was brewing and I accidentally removed too much wax and started damaging the image that I'd embedded in the wax. Imagine the metaphor of getting fatigued in a yoga class and starting to hyperventilate which then leads to more fatigue and anxiety.

The downward spiral.

The instructor sensed that I was starting to unravel and she helped me a lot. But my thought was of running out of there and never returning. I looked at the other three students in the class and was asking myself "Why are they having such an easy time?" I started feeling like it was only me who struggled. I was defective. I want to run away. Never return. But I didn't run. I thought about yoga class. Oddly this made me feel badly too because I thought of all the work I have been doing on my mat to not spin out, not lose the moment, not run away... To breathe. Why couldn't I do it there, in the art class?

I realized afterwards that I did do it. I didn't spin out. I didn't run away. I got help. I finished my piece. Even though I thought it was ruined it wasn't. It turned out better than expected. And I stayed in the room. I had the negative feelings but I let them happen without reacting. Thinking about it a day later, I see the small victory. And I see that my practice is transferring to my life off the mat. I also see that to practice is not to be without ups and downs. It's not to be without pain or disappointment. But it's to not react and make it worse. To observe and also to remember that a mistake or unhappy moment does not necessarily need to be followed by more self-created misery.

As Cassandra would say, "resist the urge to create drama." I thank my practice and all my instructors for giving their time and their heart toward creating these opportunities for me and others. I thank my partner for making me come (kicking and screaming) to the mat in the first place.

But most of all, I thank myself for showing up.

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