Episode 40: Esalen Diary – Process Painting Workshop Takeaway, Part #1

Join me this week as I (vulnerably!) share parts of an audio diary I kept while I was on a process painting retreat at Esalen in Big Sur, California.

In today’s episode, I share:

  • What I was thinking about on the first day of the retreat
  • Realizations around achievement, performance, and attachment to certain results in creative work
  • Creating for expression (rather than for results/to create something that will be shared)
  • My personal background with painting, when and why I stopped, and how to create without a pre-made plan to be executed
  • How all of this relates to my twelve years making + selling creative work  

Episode links:

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Let’s become a generation of creative women who are examples for the people in our lives of what it looks like to prioritize our work (AND recognize our impact).

x, Jen

Full episode transcript below:

Welcome to today's episode, Esalen Diary: Process Painting Workshop Takeaway  #1, a nice long title.  When I was at the workshop I went to a few weeks ago in Big Sur, on the way there I had the idea to record a daily audio/ video diary. I really wanted to capture what I was thinking about, what I was learning day to day, not just like the top takeaway, but what I was actually thinking about and the process that I was going through each day.

I think I had a sense that it was gonna be pretty transformative for me, and it was. And I was thinking about how I wanted to share this. I was like, okay, I'm gonna do like a top five takeaways and I was going to comb through everything I'd recorded and try to reduce it down to  takeaways that I could share with you.

And then  I was re-listening. I decided, you know what, I'm gonna share parts of the audios with you. It's really vulnerable for me to share these because I was literally just talking out loud to myself. I am not a huge verbal processor, but I was just talking it out with myself and I thought, I wanna share this in its raw form, as vulnerable as it is for me, because number one, I think it's a common experience. I think a lot of what I was thinking about in processing is really common. And number two, a few years ago, I would've just loved to hear from someone when they were in it, and when they felt like they were going through a change or a process or a cocoon phase or some people say a dark night of the soul.

I do feel like I'm in that right now. I feel like a lot of stuff is going on  kind of underneath the surface. I'm not exactly sure where it's leading me yet, which is very interesting to be living that moment to moment, and to just not know, but to be with it. And at this point I've learned to really trust it.

So I'm sharing part one with you this week, and I think next week will be part two. I think it's just gonna be two parts, but we'll see where it ends up. 

In today's episode, I talk about what I was thinking about on the first day. I talk about realizations I had around achievement, and performance, and being really attached in my creative work to results and something that could be sold and was for commerce rather than creating for expression purposes, which is really what the workshop was about for me.

This workshop was so much more than I thought it was gonna be, and in the absolute best way possible. I'll share it here so that you have it, I'll also put in the show notes. The website for this workshop is  processarts.com. The teacher's name is Stewart Cubley, and it's called Process Painting.

It's really about teaching us how to come back to the process, the expression, staying with ourselves moment to moment, and expressing from there, rather than being attached to creating a result and wanting something you can share with people or show off or even sell. 

I've thought a lot about how does this work with people who do creative work for a living, and this is where I am right now with it: I think it's a totally separate practice and process. And I actually think it can be really cool: what I experienced is it can actually inform the things that you make to offer for sale. Um, that's probably a different discussion, but just want to plant that seed if you're starting to wonder about that, because I definitely was.

I'm a huge fan of this work. I can't speak highly enough about it.  It's a gentle, nurturing, encouraging container to work in and they offer a lot of stuff online, so doing it in person would be awesome. If you're ever able to, I would be emphatic in it's worth doing it, but there's a lot available online too. They make it really accessible and supportive. 

So if this is interesting to you, definitely check it out. If you have any questions, let me know. I am really happy to share my experience with you and let's get into it. Here is the recording that I made on my first day at Esalen as I was processing all of the things I was learning and thinking about.

So I'm thinking about how I loved to paint when I was younger and I loved to, to draw. And something that occurred to me on the plane yesterday was, it really struck me. So this workshop is all about process. It's not about the product. It's not about the end result. It's not about creating a super realism or technically good painting.

It's about the process while you're painting, which I mean, I just feel like this is so apropos for me right now in this moment, and all of the things I've been thinking about and all of the work I've been doing even over the past few years and just being here and being immersed in this very different situation is, I don't know.

I'm kind of like, I can't imagine going back like even to performance, to product. I'm thinking about work, and I'm also thinking less about work than ever. And I think part of it is the lifestyle here is simple and so much of Western culture is about achievement and wealth and competition, I think ultimately. Like you wanna do better than the people around you, or at least be doing as good as them so that you can afford all of the same things.

And I'm looking at the people that live on this property and help take care of this place so that people can come and have these experiences and, and I'm like, they seem quite happy. I know that they're working and life isn't perfect and all of these things, but they choose to be here on this land, that is truly a priceless land.

I mean, it's just absolutely stunning here, and I don't know, there's something that's always been compelling about that to me, probably because of some other things I'm thinking about, but... yeah, it's like I don't think I realized until stepping back and coming here and you're immersed in a very different type of place, or I am right now. 

Even though I think that I'm very intentional with how I spend my time and what I am working on creating and what I wanna see more of in the world, like the vote that I'm putting out into the world, it's making me realize how all of that has still been constrained within a certain system that I could not see. 

So this is getting a little heady, but I'm just thinking about how, I don't know it still seems restrained to me. It still seems constrained maybe is the right word. And how,  like that metaphor of  a frog boiling in water, like they don't realize it's happening because you start 'em at room temperature. It's a terrible analogy, but you don't realize the limitations that you're living within until you have the ability to step outside of them and be like, whoa, look at how different all of these people are living, or whatever. It's not even the people here. It's so many things and I didn't even realize the ways in which I was still participating in something that I thought I was more removed from. 

So that's very top of mind for me right now. And I think it's related to the bigger point of the workshop that I'm taking, which is all about process and all about,  it's like so hard to put into language, but all about staying with yourself moment to moment, paying attention to the tiniest things that are calling to you, like which paint color, which paintbrush, having no idea what you're gonna put on paper and make. And I keep looking around the room. I think there's 30 people in the workshop and I'm so touched, like it's even making me emotional right now by the bravery of really opting out of the ways in which we have been conditioned to participate, to make creative work.   

And bravely staying in the unknown, which is a lot of the therapy work I've done over the past several years. It's so interesting to me how  all of my kind of interests are  coming together in one fine point, which is opting out of  the conditioning that I've undergone specifically. I can only speak to myself and I'm not gonna keep making this super broad about achievement, about what I should want, about, you know, going through the motions to create the American dream, blah, blah, blah.

 And if I don't continue to choose that in, this is a moment to moment decision because it's so ingrained, then  I can't pre-plan what I would do in each moment and  I think so many of us rely on pre-planned execution. Like we just know what we're gonna do from X to Y to Z, and then when you take that away, it's terrifying. But it's also thrilling because, ugh, gosh, this is, I think what's really hitting me. I started working on my second painting this morning and they, they're not technically good.

I have not painted since I was a teenager because I became so strict with myself. Okay. I've painted a couple times. I haven't like done it reliably or consistently since I was a teenager because I became so strict with myself about how things needed to look and  there needed to be a lot of realism and they needed to be technically good.

I think I'm a pretty creative person. I think a lot of people look at me and think, oh, she's so creative. She's done creative work for 12 years, blah, blah, blah. And this is so tragic to admit to me, but for me to admit, I mean, but I feel so much of my work when I look at it, I'm disconnected from.

Because I didn't make it from a place of this moment to moment attunement, I made it from, I want this to look a certain way. I want for pottery, I want it to be really lightweight For jewelry, I wanted it to be really technically perfect, and I limited the forms that I made because I emphasized the technical work over the expression. 

I look at so much stuff I made, and this is not everything, but a lot of the pieces that I've made and I, I feel nothing when I look at them, I don't feel because they're still flawed. And so that's what I focus on is even though I sacrificed my connection to these pieces, my moment to moment attunement to make, to try to make them perfect, they're still not perfect.

And that's what I see. And that to me is tragedy. It's tragic. And I don't think I'm alone in this.

 I don't know if it's like a generational thing, like people around my age and in my generation, you know, we just had so much opportunity, but also a lot of responsibility put on us by our parents, our grandparents, whatever people in our lives. And I think of the generation underneath me, I guess they would be Gen Z, I think is what they're called.

And they're like bucking all of that. And I'm like, good for them. I think there's, you know, there's some stuff there, but they're not buying into the like perfect American dream bullshit that a lot of us were raised under. 

Anyway, that's a little bit of a tangent, but so, I started my second painting this morning and yesterday was really hard. We had a session last night from eight to 10:00 PM which for me is  10:00 PM to 12:00 AM. And I was just exhausted after a really long travel day. And so it was really challenging to feel connected to myself and also to actually paint because I think I was tired. And so therefore, of course, this like very critical inner voice was really loud, like just monotonous, you know, and just like, like terrorizing me basically. But I did it and you know, it was very interesting last night to watch as I painted. I think I painted for around an hour, maybe an hour and 15 minutes before I just got way too tired and ended up leaving early to go to bed. 

But   watching my attachment when I thought something was going well, watching my disgust when I put something on there that I didn't like, and then thinking, did I really feel connected in that moment when I did that? Or did I start thinking too hard about what needs to go here to balance this piece, and what color might be here to like make sense with all the other colors? And just getting really, leaning back into the the technical aspect.  It was just so fascinating to watch.

 Okay, that's what I have for you today. I hope you enjoyed tuning into my thoughts,  listening to this audio diary, and all of the things I was thinking about and processing, and to be honest, still am. Stay tuned, Next week I'm going to share part two of this, so you'll get to hear it kind of come full circle and hear the completion of this audio diary. 

Thank you so much for listening. If you have any questions, let me know.  

I am so glad that you were here, and then we get to walk our paths together. See you next time. Same time, same place. Bye for now.

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