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How Do We Know When Something Is Finally Finished?

Everything in life is okay in the end. If it’s not okay it’s not the end – John Lennon

 

 

How do we know when a certain project we are working on or a life transition has come to full completion?

 

 

Endings are layered and complicated. Sometimes when we think something is finished it is. But sometimes it isn’t because our fears stop us from completing it.

 

 

In the painting workshops, when we thought we were finished with a painting, part of my teacher’s completing process was asking us what color our name was to sign the painting—whatever color intuitively flashed through our mind in the moment.

 

 

The first time, when I though the self-portrait I was painting was finished, Michele asked me what color my name was.

 

 

I said, “Black” and went to the table, put the paint on my brush and then signed my name in the bottom right hand corner.

 

 

My inner-judge told me that was where any artist’s signature should go. But it needn’t have to. I could get the black paint and put my name anywhere. It could be big or small; smack dab in the middle of the painting, on the side, on the top, in the way bottom, inside an image, in the background, anywhere.

 

 

The intention was to be fully present with the ending and signing the painting was a part of that process.

 

 

Now, over twenty years of painting for process, there hasn’t been one time that I can remember after putting my name on my painting at least a tad bit more of paint needing to go somewhere. Small dots might scatter, a thin line around an image, an intricate detail that I could not conceptualize previously.

 

 

It’s miraculous really. The whole painting takes on a new dimension, moving me deeper into the experience.

 

 

After six years of painting with Michele, I was turning thirty-four years old and starting to train with her to become a teacher. Those that wanted to learn her teaching process, if she accepted you, could follow her around the painting studio as she worked with each student individually.

 

 

The first day I followed her at a workshop at Esalen in Big Sur, it was hard for me to focus. I was trying to pay attention to her and each individual student, but I was bored.

 

 

I thought I was hiding it well, but on our lunch break Michele asked to speak to me. She wasn’t happy. I had asked to learn from her how to teach her painting process, but was instead distracting her by my incessant yawning.

 

 

I thought I was tired because I didn’t sleep well the night before, but when I checked in with myself, I became aware that rather than paying attention to Michele and the student she was working with, I was looking at my own painting, pinned to the wall in the corner.

 

 

What I was truly wanting was to be painting myself and not following Michele around the studio.

 

 

“Why do you want to teach?” Michele asked me.

 

 

I had to be honest. “Because I want to feel like I’m not just painting for process and I’ve arrived somewhere.”

 

 

Painting just for process didn’t seem like enough. Becoming one of her co-teachers made me feel important, this seemed the next step I should take. But my ego was in my way, wanting recognition.

 

 

I thought I should make money at it, rather than continuing to pay for workshops. When I humbled myself, I discovered all I really wanted was to just keep painting. It was the fun of the process that made me most happy.

 

 

After lunch I returned to my painting in the corner relieved. The pressure was off. I didn’t have to be a teacher. I had permission to paint again without the labels I thought I needed to become something, to prove I was doing something more. I could just keep on being and painting.

 

 

When I went back to my painting instead of become a teacher, for a little while I thought I had failed because I gave up. I worried I might have missed an opportunity that was supposed to take me to my ultimate destination.

 

 

But that’s not how nature works. It doesn’t just sprout and grow on one straight linear path. It drops seeds and then twists, reaches, stretches, and dies. Then those seeds grow into something new and fresh.

 

 

The point is life is a process. We don’t have to search for endings—but when they come we know it—because all feels right in our world.

 

 

Wishing you a feeling of relief and contentment!


 

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Lynn Newman