As we entered the art room and took in the paint-splattered tables and small plastic chairs, we felt as if we were back in grade school. We took our seats, and saw at each place a row of paint jars containing a variety of colors; large, flat brushes; and a medium-sized piece of white art paper.
The afternoon was part of a women’s retreat that included group meditations, hatha yoga sessions, nature walks, and guided group discussions. Today we were having an art workshop led by one of the resident artists at Ananda Village.
Our instructor was a joyful, free spirit who told us, “Paint whatever comes to mind.” Suddenly everyone froze. Woeful cries of “I’m not creative,” “I’m a terrible painter,” “I was awful in art class” filled the air.
But our instructor had heard all this before. She suggested, “Everyone look at the different colors in the jars in front of you, and then close your eyes and see which color fills your mind. Now dip the brush in that jar, and move it across your paper.”
To our delight, each of us was able to produce a large swath of bright color on the blank white paper. The instructor guided us in the next step: “Now feel what colors or shapes you would like to add.” At first tentatively, and then with more gusto, each one began painting whatever came to mind.
After we finished our initial attempts, and had broken down some of the inner resistances, we moved away from the tables and began painting on large pieces of paper taped to the wall.
Little by little, as everyone was able to relax, we put more energy into our painting, and began to enjoy ourselves. Our original self-critical and self-limiting thoughts of “I can’t” or “I’m no good at this” melted away in the enjoyment of blending colors and creating images.
Did any of us create a masterpiece? Admittedly no. Did many of us produce surprisingly nice paintings? Assuredly so. But did all of us have a great time filled with the freedom and joy of self-expression? Absolutely yes.
Paramhansa Yogananda taught the importance of creativity and a positive flow of energy for spiritual development. He challenged his students to try every day to do something in a new way they hadn’t tried before.
Whether it’s rearranging the furniture in our home, planning a project with our colleagues at work, relaxing with our family, or practicing techniques of meditation, if we apply creativity and self-expression to our activities we can discover the joy of feeling God’s creative power flowing through us.
God is, after all, the consummate artist. Every wayside flower, each fallen leaf, the smile on a baby’s face—everything from the tiniest pebble to the greatest Himalayan peak—is an expression of His creativity. This power lies also within each one of us, and will flow freely once we rise above self-criticism and limitation—the “no-saying” principle.
Yoganandaji offered this “Sacred Invitation” to us all:
Come out of your closed chamber of limitation. Breathe in the fresh air of vital thoughts. Exhale poisonous thoughts of discouragement, discontentment, and hopelessness. . . . Take long mental walks on the path of self-confidence. Feast unstintingly on creative thinking within yourself and others.
You are all gods, if you only knew it. You must look within. Behind the wave of your consciousness is the sea of God’s presence. Claim your Divine Birthright. Awake, and you shall see the glory of God.
With freedom of spirit,