Reading Progress:

The Artist in All of Us

This piece is part of a series meant to give readers an inside view of the Clearing the Lens Retreat held in June. Participants cultivated awareness within themselves while engaging with others to deepen Sangha while gaining tools to live happier and more meaningful lives.

The workshop was led by Aaron Stern, president and founder of the Academy For the Love of Learning ®, and Marianne Murray, a member of the core faculty at the Academy. They were joined by the Namchak Foundation’s founder Lama Tsomo who shared Tibetan Buddhist meditation practices during the workshop. Similar retreats will be offered in the future.

To begin this month’s theme of Play, it seems fitting to talk about reconnecting with your inner artist. This artist may be sleeping or hiding in a secret corner of your person, but the artist is in there. It doesn’t matter if your inner artist ever becomes famous, but it does matter that it gets a chance to express itself.

At the Clearing the Lens retreat in June, I was surprised by how good it felt to create a visual representation of my feelings. I participated in a non-dominant (for an explanation of “right hand vs. left hand, see this article by Kim Ranegar on hand-drawing exercise. I wouldn’t say it was a comfortable exercise, but it did help me create an honest picture of how I felt. I’m sharing my experience in hopes that you can repeat your own version of the exercise. You may find this exercise helpful if you’re looking to process or express some internal happenings.

The exercise was done the first morning of the retreat. After completing introductions and receiving an overview of the weekend, we were invited to explore our introjections (see this article on, by making a list of our “shoulds,” which set the tone for the weekend and gave us areas to explore. “Shoulds” could be related to our gender, messages from families and society, and various life experiences. One important part of the exercise was to write down the first things that came to mind without too much analyzing or editing. Here’s my list, which I think a lot of people can relate to:

  1. You should be pretty all of the time.
  2. You should be quiet and never complain.
  3. You should be agreeable at all times.
  4. You should always be helpful.
  5. You should be small.

A little dark, I know. Don’t worry, we’ll get to the fun drawing part soon!

Once we had our lists, we discussed them with a partner and were told to choose an item that we wanted to explore further. I didn’t want to choose just one, so I decided to summarize them all with one short phrase, you should be attractive and needless. Once we had our one phrase to focus on, we went to another room to draw.

Tables with various drawing supplies were in front of us. Marianne directed us to write our phrase somewhere on the paper, then to draw with our non-dominant hand whatever came to mind. Initially the non-dominant hand thing was super uncomfortable, but then I just found myself not caring how bad my drawing was simply because it was my non-dominant hand. Marianne played calming music and encouraged us to draw without hesitation, which became easier and easier as the minutes passed. She gave reminders to breathe and to feel our feet on the ground and our bodies in our chairs. I found that helpful, as parts of the drawing process evoked strong emotions. I was soon completely focused on my drawing and not feeling bad at all for my lack of drawing skills (non-dominant hand drawing is awesome for shutting down the inner critic.) Soon I had drawn a small version of myself on an island about to be swallowed by dark waves, and I felt lighter and seen. It was so satisfying to look down at my drawing and see the raw depiction of how I felt inside.

I encourage you to try this or your own version of it. The steps in my own words:

  1. Take two minutes to sit and scan your body/mind.
  2. Avoid second-guessing yourself and take 5-10 minutes to write down what is troubling you (doesn’t have to be a list of “shoulds”).
  3. Choose or summarize the core issue.
  4. Have a seat with a blank paper and the drawing supplies of your choice and write the core issue somewhere on your paper.
  5. Use your non-dominant hand and draw what comes to mind when you read what you’ve written.
  6. Tell your inner critic to step aside as many times as you need to and let yourself be messy and imperfect.
  7. Draw until you feel a sense of relief.
  8. Discuss with a friend or as part of your Learning Circle.

It could be useful anytime you’re feeling overwhelmed, struggling to express yourself, or struggling to stay present in your practice. How often do we take the time to express ourselves artistically? Whether it’s writing, drawing, painting, moving, etc…I know I don’t do it often enough. Think of how often most children get to draw. Most kids I know do something artistic at least once a day. Perhaps we would be better at expressing those hard emotions to others if we took the time to express to ourselves just what the heck is going on inside. It’s a storm in there sometimes (for me anyways), so to get it out in a messy way first, without judgment from my inner critic or others is immensely helpful.

So what if your art is never sold for huge sums of money! If artistically expressing what is going on inside calms the storm, then that art is worth more than gold.

Published on Jul 03 09 : 00 am