“Tell me about this one,” Ursula said, pointing to a painting in Thea’s cozy living room where they’d been having tea. Thea rotated her paintings often and this was one she’d never seen before..
“Ummm. That one is still something of a mystery,” said Thea, hands on her hips. She stared at it for a few breaths. “It was a breakthrough painting.”
“Is it new?” asked Ursula.
“No. I did it in a fit last year when it was pointed out to me that I was busy telling myself the story of each painting like I already knew what everything symbolized. Or thought I did,” she added ruefully. “What was the point of all this exploratory painting if I had a pat answer for all my own questions, even if they only turned up as I painted.”
“What made you take the leap in the first place away from your accustomed style?”
“That was an earlier stage. I often tell people it was because I was bored, but I’m realizing that’s not quite right. I knew there was something more I craved than that standard kind of beauty. Beauty was part of it, sure. But I wanted to know more about myself, rather than the outward landscape of the world. I needed to jump off the proverbial cliff. Be The Fool. The tarot deck I had just bought made me realize that there was a whole level of my psyche I hadn’t been able…. willing?…. to explore.”
“I know how that feels,” said Ursula. “That realization was what made me leave my church. Charley and I took up meditation with a teacher for a while, but then I felt like even meditating in an organized way was keeping me in too much of a box. Charley still gets a lot out of it. I started doing ritual when Stella came to town and wanted to start a women’s spirituality group. Everything evolved from there. But how did you make the leap?”
“I think for some people it’s important to switch creative realms entirely. Garden instead of paint. Write. Sculpt. Learn bodywork. For me it seemed to be enough to switch mediums. Using acrylics and oils loosened me up, made me forget all the rules I’d internalized…. most of the time.” She smiled, remembering the occasions she had been called out on that one. “I took a Process Painting class where the instructor would say, ‘Why not use a startling color that makes you uncomfortable?’ or ‘Which is more important? A piece of paper or your life?’ That one really got me cause I realized that what the end product looked like actually had become all-important. That, and…. What. People. Thought. Of. Me.” She emphasized each word realizing as she spoke how very important that had been to her. Still was, if she was honest with herself.
“In another class we painted with a question for three hours and then spent three hours discussing the work. Not as capital ‘A’ Art. I had plenty of that in school and it doesn’t interest me any more. Rather we talked about the paintings from the point of view of the psyche. The teacher was sort of a Jungian with art therapy training. She also was pretty darn psychic. This painting came out of a question she fired at me one day…. a challenge really. She told me to do a painting I didn’t understand. Boy, did I squirm with that one.”
“And this is the painting?”
“Yep. I did it with my left hand to try letting go of my thinking self. Sometimes it seems like I need to just cut off my head. There’s a painting of that too.”
“Is that a woman’s torso?” asked Ursula.
“I’ve always thought so. See how her legs sort of sprawl there? I think that’s a paintbrush dangling near where her knees would be. I’ve done a lot of figures since that have a paintbrush.”
“Yes, like the Bear one in your studio upstairs.” Ursula always noticed anything involving her beloved Bear. “Looks like you at least left out the head in this painting. I certainly don’t see one.” They both laughed at Ursula’s observation.
“After it was done I cried and cried whenever I looked at it so I knew it was important.”
“Does it still make you cry?”
“Not really. Now I feel frustrated cause I still don’t get what that swirl is.” Thea hoped she didn’t sound like she was whining. This was an on-going question for her and the reason she had put the painting back up.
“Isn’t it on her belly?”
“Sort of. But it could also be her boobs or her…. cunt.” She spoke the forbidden word hesitantly. “I don’t get what it’s telling me. I’m still waiting for one of those ‘brief glimpses of the blindingly obvious.’”
“Shall we draw a tarot card about it?” asked Ursula.
“What a great idea.” Thea reached towards the shelf behind the couch for the brown decorated bag that held the round MotherPeace cards. She handed them to Ursula who sat down on the floor and spread them out to mix them up. “My old friends.”
The golden swirls on the floor were beautiful and enticing. Thea’s hand hovered above them and then dove for a card. She hooted as she laid it face up in front of them.
“Daughter of Discs. I consider this the vision quest card. Duh – tell me something I don’t know.”
“Good call – it’s exactly the situation you are in. Discovering yourself, pulling yourself away from your normal world. In this card it’s a desert scene but our coastal temperate rainforest is every bit as challenging for you. Like in the card, you’ve drawn a proverbial circle of stones around yourself for your questing and you’re holding up your staff to the light. Perhaps even attracting celestial help of some sort….”
“My pipe in hand. You know I smoke pot sometimes to be in ceremony and to deepen the paintings.”
“I’m doing that more these days than I used to. Take another card.”
This time Thea drew the Priestess of Wands. A strong looking naked black woman, dreads flying, had her hand on a lioness whose head nestled into her lap. A rainbow arced between the sun and a pot of gold tucked in the rocks.
“Bravo, she’s got all her tools and allies,” said Ursula.
“I don’t know what that odd instrument is in her hand but I’m declaring it a paint brush,” said Thea. “Is that a lizard next to her or a salamander?”
“Hard to say, but if we’re talking about our ecosystem it’s more likely to be the bog-loving salamander or a newt. I’d keep an eye out for them and a feline ally. Maybe it’s Gato here or maybe something bigger. The flowering plant is witch hazel. Take one more. It would be cool to get a definitive answer.”
“Ha! It’s the pregnant belly one.
“Joke’s on us. Should have known we’d get a card describing the situation rather than a foretelling.”
“One can always hope.”
“This 7 of Discs tells us again that something is ‘aborning.’ Again like the Bear painting upstairs. You are on a quest, you’ve got your tools, but it’s still gestating. Like those fat juicy melons around her. You know, all these women are naked. Like your paintings. Brown too. I’m getting from this and from your paintings that your body is your teacher – perhaps there is something inside there. Can you go on a cosmic treasure hunt to find out what is being birthed?”
“That’s exactly what my painting journey is. A cosmic treasure hunt. The gestating of a seed…. I just wish I knew what that seed was.”
“Maybe that’s what your painting up there is about…. See that green in the roundness of the belly?”
“A seed! You’re right. A green seed…. or an egg which is a kind of seed….” Thea felt that lovely buzz of a revelation resonating deep in her core.
“There are folks here who could help you with the search for details. Owen does Soul Retrievals. That’s a shamanic process where he ‘journeys’” Ursula raised her fingers to indicate quotes, “to find parts of yourself that were lost in your childhood. He doesn’t do sessions often but I think he’s really good and should be doing more. Could do more. I don’t want to ‘should’ all over him.” Ursula smiled. “Also June‘s sand tray counseling process. Her office has a delightful room full of miniature figures – everything from trees to monsters to princesses to crystals. You use them to make scenes in a small sandbox and then talk about what is showing up there – not unlike your painting process. You can interact with it as part of the quest – bury the wicked stepmother, select an animal to befriend you, light a candle for a prayer. The possibilities are endless. I never tire of it and always learn something new, whether on my own, with Charley as marriage counseling, or even in a group.”
“I’ve heard of both of these processes. Sounds like good next steps since I don’t have a painting group. Though sometimes I think maybe I should start one…. or teach a class….”
“There’s work to be done in company and work to be done alone. That Priestess of Wands card tells me you’ll know. Have fun.”