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How Am I What I Am Not?


For as long as I can remember, I have known there are things I am and things I am not. For example, I have always thought of myself as a musician. I play instruments, have played in ensembles and orchestras, have taught the piano, I love to sing, both in choirs and solo. It's very much a part of who I am. And then there are things that I am not. Like an artist. I cannot draw to save my life. Art was the elective I never took at school so I could avoid the humiliation of being the one in class with the unrecognizable still life piece.

So at the Leaders’ Quest Pow-wow in Rajasthan last month, when all 94 of us were invited to paint our individual "soul-scape", I knew I was going to be taking a little trip outside of my comfort zone. Painting my soul-scape? Gulp. Louis Parsons was our facilitator and guide. He explained to us how to use different tools, from an artist's cloth with which we could smear a mass of color onto the canvas, to the plastic knife for thicker paint, and a fat brush to blend the colors. He made it look easy. He asked us to take a moment to listen for a time in our lives when we felt fully alive. What were the feelings, the colors, the vibrations, the sounds, the smells, the temperature of the moment? We were to use these to inspire our painting.

I listened beyond the "you are hopeless at this" voice in my head to Louis who went on to say there is no such thing as a mistake, just a "happy accident". If you drop a blob of paint where you didn't intend to, you just make it into something else. It's all good. Somehow I missed that instruction in art class at school.

Experimenting with colors, brushes, water and happy accidents was fun, liberating, and challenging. I noticed how I wasn't entirely satisfied with the end result. Should I add a little bit here or a little bit there? I was struggling to make the connection between what was on the canvas and the story of my moment of aliveness. When we completed the activity and were asked to share our artistic renderings with the others at the table, I volunteered to go first. "It goes this way up," I said with a giggle. The others were to give feedback and I was to say "thank you" and nothing else. Beautiful vibrant colors, one person said. I love the movement and the energy. It is an elegant piece of work. Wow, you can really tell you have done this before, said another. I see birds flying off the canvas, said Lisa, who was sitting next to me. I was stunned! Stunned by their appreciation of my artwork, and most of all by how a group of people I have only just met could see the essence of who I am shining out of my painting.

As I reflect on the experience, I am aware of how sometimes we need other people to help us see beyond the limitations we place on ourselves to the richness of who we are and who we are capable of being.

Maybe, just maybe I am an artist after all.

How about you? How are you what you think you are not? Who can help you see?

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