“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
There is a shop in my town that has always confused me a little bit. It’s called Painting With A Twist. It seemed like a place where I could go to do a grown-up version of the paint-by-number books that consumed so many hours of my childhood. The difference is that, rather than numbered segments of a drawing of horse or a flower or a lighthouse telling you what color to apply to the page, here a teacher shows you what to do.
Honestly, when it first opened years ago, I couldn’t imagine that it would last. That is, I couldn’t imagine it until I went last night.
It turns out I haven’t left my childhood “artist” behind after all. (No, I’m not bragging at the end result. You can see my painting above and it’s certainly not brag-worthy.) We worked on our paintings for over two hours and the time went by in an instant. I was so completely engaged in the process of mixing and applying colors to the canvas in front of me that I kind of forgot that I was at a women’s alumni event that I’d been a little nervous to attend. In fact, when we took a break to blow dry our paintings, the casual chit chat that is never easy for me was a breeze as we laughed and commented on our works of art!
Yes, the evening yielded a notably comfortable cocktail-party-ish experience. Yes, the evening also provided an experience of falling into what is commonly called “the zone,” a highly desirable, fulfilling and calming state of mind that is, in part, one of the gifts of my yoga practice. Each of these could be something worth talking about, but I also had a bit of an epiphany last night.
As I happily chatted with the women in line for the blow dryer I couldn’t help noticing how varied our paintings were. Yes, they were all of the same red bridge across a pond. But they were all so different! We were all given precisely the same supplies – three paint brushes, two paper towels and a paper plate filled with the same little splotches of paints in all the primary colors (plus black and white), and a blank canvas propped on a paint-splattered easel. We were all following the exact same instructions given by the same teacher. Yet none of us painted the same thing. Not by a long shot.
I realized right then and there that I was receiving a glimpse of something usually kept hidden deep within. I was seeing tangible evidence of that bit of each of us that makes us distinctly who we are. The way we interpreted our teacher’s instructions, the way we naturally applied blobs of paint, the way we settled on our own shade of green or lavender was not evidence of our skill or talent. Truly, the teacher’s instructions were so easy to follow that all twelve of us created decent renditions of that red bridge.
Instead, I believe that our diverse, unique and deeply individual expressions of our teacher’s instructions revealed the fingerprints of our spirits within us.
British author and theologian C.S. Lewis once said, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” Yes, the body I am so lucky to have, the body that carries me through each day, the body that drove the car and walked down the sidewalk into Painting With A Twist, the body that has almost no training in fine art, painted a painting last night. So did the bodies of the eleven women with me. But if that’s all that were involved, each of our paintings would have been replicas of our teacher’s.
And they were decidedly not.
The paintings we painted last night were guided as much by our spirits or souls as they were by our teacher or bodies. That is why the each looked so different. From the arc of the bridge itself, to the time of day the painting captured, to the shrubs on the banks of the water, each of our paintings created a special “twist” on the image we were reproducing. We put this same special “twist” into everything we do – the classes we teach, the reports we write, the gardens we plan, the homes we design. We also put our own “twist” on we are everything we are – friends, employees, community leaders, sons, sisters, parents, spouses.
My body walked out of Painting With A Twist last night carrying a painting. My spirit left enriched and inspired to seek glimpses of special “twists” in my friends, family and students. I left yearning to witness and support the spiritual beings around me as they have their human experiences that we call living a life.
So today I invite you to do whatever you do with a your own special “twist!”