You Can’t Manage the Mystery

Nov 29, 2016 | Articles

The good news is that nothing works. There is simply no way to manage the mystery. (The Painting Experience Blog)

The good news is that nothing works. There is simply no way to manage the mystery.

The beginning of a painting workshop holds a special poignancy. People of many ages, backgrounds and degrees of experience have committed their time and energy to an inner exploration that’s totally unknown to them. As they gather for the first meeting, there’s an electric mixture of excitement and fear in the air. They’re wondering what they’ve gotten themselves into—and perhaps whether it’s not too late to back out. At the start of one session, a man laughingly said, “Why do I keep finding myself in groups of such talented and creative people?” He meant, of course, that he didn’t think of himself that way at all.

True Creativity Puts Your Sense of Self at Stake

What’s at stake in the creative process is what we hold most dear—our sense of self. The ego is on red alert as it enters the studio and sees the blank piece of paper on the wall. It knows it has no way of predicting what is about to happen, and it panics at the thought of there being no “instruction.” It quickly devises some strategy to handle the lack of defined goals and standards. “I’ll start with just two colors and work only with straight lines,” the frightened internal voice might say, trying to find some way to contain the alarming prospect of unrestricted freedom. “I’ll stick with abstract painting, that way I won’t be embarrassed by my lack of ability. I hope the first session is taken up explaining the theory behind this process, then I’ll have a sense of what to do.”

It’s fascinating to watch the persona scramble to find some reason to avoid the profound state of not knowing that is both the first and the last step in the creative process. Without guidelines to determine its progress toward an imagined goal, the mind is robbed of its sense of self. The simple act of being with the moment appears dangerously empty because it’s unimaginable, and the mind will go to surprising extremes to avoid the void.

The Painting Experience Blog | You Can't Manage the Mystery

“I’ll watch my breath and let that be my guide,” it decides with a sense of relief. “The creative process is a dance with the divine,” another voice reasons, “I’ll move between the paints and the paper with the fluidity of a dancer, the flow will move my brush.” Or the analyzer steps in, constructing something “meaningful” to at least feel some sense of accomplishment. “Since this process is about facing the void, I’ll paint a central huge black hole with nothing in it, surrounded by all the structures man has created in the world.”

The Good News 

The good news is that nothing works. The best-laid plans eventually end up at the same destination—a state of dissatisfaction devoid of passion, energy or enthusiasm. There is simply no way to manage the mystery. All attempts to organize the territory beyond the perimeter of the known are just reworked combinations of that same old terrain, and therefore empty of the vital force behind the drive to create.

Sooner or later, you’ll have to admit, often with a feeling of great failure or loss, that all has come to naught and there is nothing to do but drop your expectation. This is the crucial moment when you finally see that the need for certainty is a distraction, and you cross over to the unconditioned dimension where the creative seed has its source.

The Painting Experience Blog | You Can't Manage the Mystery

More Information

To further explore this topic and more, listen and subscribe to Stewart’s series of monthly podcasts. You might begin with the episode The Power of Not Knowing.

To find out about opportunities to participate in The Painting Experience, see our Programs.




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