Q & A: How Is Following the Energy Different From Compulsion?

Feb 10, 2019 | Articles

Woman working on brightly colored process painting

We receive some great, provocative questions about painting for process rather than product and we’d like to occasionally share them on this blog. We’ll start with a question a painter recently sent to Stewart about “following the energy” and his answer in return . . .

I have been intently listening to your podcasts. I’m able to resonate with most of the concepts as a painter myself. However, there is a question that keeps coming up and I feel I’d like to know your thoughts on it.

We talk about following our energy and being spontaneous in the present moment, which determines our quality of presence. We are talking about the painting here, but what happens when we apply this concept in life? Some things—places, people, relationships, food, substances—may have an energy that asks us to explore or respond, but those very things may not be the best things to succumb to. For example, there could be toxicity in relationships, substance abuse, compulsive sexual activity or other temptations.

I feel in that case it’s best to use our thinking minds and evaluate a situation. But the pull toward certain things is stronger. How do we approach that and how do we explain it in the light of process painting, where we are only exploring the idea of following our impulses and rejecting our rational mind?

I’d really appreciate your insight on this.

Thank you for the wonderful question. My question in response would be: When we “follow our energy” into unhealthy actions, are we actually listening to our feelings or are we rejecting our feelings on a deeper level?

Listening to Our Feelings

Here are a couple of examples from the practice of process painting:

One is when you dislike your painting intensely and there’s a lot of energy to destroy it, or at least to cover up what you don’t like. You’ll notice that when you do this there’s an immediate satisfaction followed by an emptiness. Acting on that impulse doesn’t really get rid of the disturbance that led to the action. Instead, it leaves you feeling more cut off and isolated.

Another is when you love your painting too much and are hesitant to add anything to it. You want to stop and preserve that state and not have it change. You’ll notice that when you do this you lose contact with your essential aliveness; it’s hard then to find a path forward.

Woman in blue working on a process painting with blue and pink colors

In both cases you could say you’re “acting on your energy,” but the result is anything but creative. Both actions lead to a dead end. You then have to reconsider the so called “energy” you were listening to. Were these actions taken to avoid an uncomfortable feeling? In one case, it would be the feeling of judging the outcome, and therefore judging oneself as creator of that outcome. In the other, there’s the feeling of fear of losing something precious and therefore losing something of oneself. Could there be in both cases a fear of losing oneself, of experiencing a transformative moment in which your sense of self is relinquished and utterly changed?

This is where I believe the practice of process painting can teach us something about life in the larger sense. It may be that our attraction to unhealthy action is a spiritual challenge at root. By facing our fear of losing ourselves, we have the opportunity to answer a call to a greater dimension of being.

Woman working on brightly colored orange process painting

More Information

To learn more, listen to Stewart Cubley’s podcast Following the Energy.

To find out about opportunities to participate in The Painting Experience, see our schedule of upcoming process painting workshops and online painting classes.


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