This painting’s genesis lies in the mystical. I was attending a retreat conducted by the abstract surrealist artist Rassouli, whom I first met in a course he taught at Agape, “Painting with Spirit,” in 2006. My participation in the class itself was the outcome of a long and hard negotiation I had the temerity to make with God.
I felt a strong call (I am being gentle here, it was actually a forceful push) to enroll in an introductory spiritual principles course at Agape. The only thing is, I didn’t want to.
I believed at the time that I was already on a rewarding spiritual path, albeit a self-guided one primarily consisting of tending to my garden on Sunday mornings, reading mystical and self-help texts, and lots of journaling and dialoguing. With God.
After years of intense studying, writing and thinking—I had attended Yale and was working as a journalist at the time—I was grateful to have dived and delved deeply into intuiting the Invisible, the Indescribable, the Intangible. The last thing I wanted to do was to retrofit what I perceived as beyond words and thoughts (to quote metaphysician Joel S. Goldsmith) into a classroom setting and intellectual framework. Couldn’t I just be contemplative, organic, and free, instead of studious and ponderous with my spirituality?
When the commandment came (yet again) to sign up for the class at Agape, I finally relented only after someone handed me a flyer for Rassouli’s class as I wandered about in the spiritual center’s parking lot market of mandala paintings, vibrant ethnic robes and organic cuisine that sprung up each Sunday.
“Well, if I have to get into my head about all of this stuff,” I reasoned, “I’m going to have to find a way back into my heart.” Painting with Spirit seemed the perfect counterbalance, a much-needed antidote to potential overt overthinking and spiritual constipation.
The class would become so much more. I still vividly recall the surge of excitement and delight I felt during a painting retreat as elements miraculously materialized out of the paints I had playfully thrown onto a canvas. Instead of deliberately rendering images on the canvas by replicating a real-life model, Rassouli had guided us to let the images mystically emerge.
Ah, earth! Ah, mountain! Ah, sea! Ah, sky! “Landscape” struck me as the perfect title for the painting I created that afternoon—and which now graces the cover of this book.
Then, the class’s facilitator, Monie Ordonia, gently rotated my creation into a vertical position. “Look! It’s a woman!” she exclaimed. I stared, squinted and surveyed, performing a dervish-like dance from various points in the room so as to catch Monie’s vision.
“What woman?” I asked.
The woman in the painting refused to manifest for me, remaining unseen and languishing, at least to my eyes, within the green, brown and yellow speckled hues and droplets of water that had fallen from my brush. As far as I could tell, the image was that of a landscape. But there would be no Mount Rushmore of a female form painstakingly carved out of a majestic mountainside. This woman lived in the Ineffable, the Ethereal, the Ephemeral.
When I returned home from the retreat I hung the painting vertically on my family room’s wall. It became a spiritual Rorschach test, a vision board into what I could not yet see with my eyes, but what I surmised through faith (a teensy, yellow-ochre pigmented mustard seed of faith) must already be visible from the windows of my sometimes doubting soul. The idea of her existence haunted me.
It would be another two years before the woman emerged. And she would do so without much fanfare, softly stepping across some unmarked threshold—a diaphanous veil separating her world from mine. At the time, I wasn’t even searching for her. A casual glance up from my desk, and suddenly there she was quietly greeting me. Her long locks. The curve of her back. Her vaguely familiar profile. She looked like me.
In that moment, I recognized I was living out the words of Derek Walcott’s poem, “Love After Love”: “The time will come when, with elation you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror, and each will smile at the other’s welcome.”
I had found my way back to me.
I like to make stuff...and think about stuff.