the red boat, Kristen Ward Guerrero

Svetlana: I was always curious about the story behind this beautiful painting. Kristen painted this over a year ago. This week she finally sent me her story.

Kristen: I came to the [Meditative Painting workshop] at a point in my career where I felt uninspired.All the long years I had worked, all the projects I had stressed so much about completing, and all the deadlines I had pushed so hard to meet meant very little to me. I had no sense that any of my work had been contributing to what I felt my life’s work should be. Maybe I lost sight of what it was that I was trying to achieve, or maybe I had been on the wrong path all along. How hard had I been working to establish myself in a career that was not a true expression of myself?

Feeling tired, lost and confused, I found myself in the Alphabet City Sanctuary sitting on a yoga mat wondering what Meditative Painting was all about.

We began our collective guided meditation. It was in a state of relaxation, listening to Svetlana’s voice, that I saw a variety of colors and images flash through my mind. Eventually, there was an image that my mind held on to and started to define clearly. I saw a boat.

I saw an old, beat-up rowboat tied to a rusty cleat that was nailed to an equally old sun-bleached dock. The rope that tethered it seemed as pointless as the boat
seemed useless. The bottom of the boat was stuck in the thick mud that sat just beneath the shallow, murky pond water. It was clear that the boat hadn’t moved
from this place in some time, and it certainly wasn’t going anywhere soon. Its owners still kept the old thing, why? Maybe getting rid of it seemed more work than it was to let it rot where it sat?

As I looked more closely I began to reconsider. I could see that it was a sturdy boat, and very well made. I could tell from the worn seats inside that it had been well used. The chips in the paint revealed layers of color that proved it had been painted at least several times, so it was once well loved, or at least well cared for. It needed a complete overhaul to be a seafaring vessel again, but maybe it wasn’t worthless. It was blue.

The meditation ended and we were asked to approach the blank canvases that lined the walls of the sanctuary studio. I stood in front of the canvas with every intention of painting the scene I just saw so vividly. I picked up one of the paintbrushes in front of me. I hadn’t held a brush in months? No, longer. Years, maybe? Not years? Really? Had it been so long ago?

As I started to reacquaint myself with holding a paintbrush, the old familiar nagging critic in my hand seemed to start to wake up as well. I took a long breath, and convinced myself that this was only supposed to be a quick sketch in paint. I heard Svetlana’s voice telling me to trust that I was about to paint what I needed to paint, and that each stroke of the paintbrush was just as it needed to be.

I could see the image clearly. The boat was blue. Light blue. It had been a more vivid blue once, but the sun had faded it. After a deep inhale and a long exhale I dipped my paintbrush into the red paint. Red? Bright cadmium red. And my hand began to describe the outline of the boat in red as though it was translating my initial vision into a new language. The whole painting was born that way. I managed to trust that my hand would paint what it should, and not critique or second-guess myself as I was working. I was quite literally out of my mind and I felt relieved to be so.

When the painting segment came to a close, we all sat looking at the paintings and discussing them, and I didn’t really know what to say. How could I describe what had just happened?

First, I had never created anything in the past without sketching, planning, beating myself up during execution, and perceiving on what others might think about it. For the first time since perhaps I was a child, I hadn’t created a piece of work without constant negative dialogue in my head. It was incredibly freeing to work in the present moment without the weights of the past, or the anxiety for the future.

Next, I was struck by how different my finished painting was from my initial vision. It was as though my spirit was translating the sad scene in my head into something brighter. The hopelessness that I felt and saw looking at the blue boat during the meditation didn’t seem to make it onto the canvas. My hand was guided by something other- by some deeper thing. It was from this other place that the red boat was launched.

I never painted the rope tethering the boat to the old dock. I never painted the old dock. The water wasn’t muddy and murky, the boat wasn’t stuck, and the boat wasn’t blue! Those things weren’t part of this new image. This red boat was fully afloat in bright blue water that seemed to be reflecting a bright blue sky. The image had been filtered. The red boat still showed signs of age, the inside of it was dark, and the water beneath the boat was not calm, but my conscious self marveled that something happier than the sad blue boat image came out of my soul.

Whatever voice I was rusting in that day (my sub-conscious, my spirit, my essence, or that deeper thing) took hold of my hand and showed me that I was still there I was still seaworthy underneath all of the filters that made my red boat blue in my conscious mind.

I have heard it said that ‘the soul speaks in images,’ and on that day my eyes were opened to the phenomenon of seeing my soul speak to me through my own work.It was beautiful to witness.

- Kristen Ward Guerrero