Partner Painting

Healing & Meditation

An excerpt from Meera’s book, ‘Dancing into the Unknown’ where she explains a healing technique: painting with a partner – illustrated by a video from a workshop.

What is important in both roles is for people to come into the space of the present moment, because when we are really present, really here and now, with our full attention and energy, then we discover that the present carries with it the power of joy, surprise, expansion.”

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How do we discover and express what is hidden inside us? How do we let go of our limited identity? We’ve talked about exchanging paintings and becoming more aware through a negative reaction – “I don’t like what you did to my painting.”

We saw how such reactions point to qualities that may be missing in our own personal expression. Now we can go a little further through the structure of partner painting.

I guide people to choose a partner. There are two ways to choose. One is to find someone whose energy matches your own. This is the easiest and safest route, because if the other person is like you then nothing much can go wrong; the risk of conflict and misunderstanding is minimised.

This person will accept you as you are; this person will dance in the same way, paint in the same way, and this person will be hiding the same things that you are hiding. Naturally, you will feel safe, cosy and comfortable.

The other way is to choose the kind of person you usually avoid. In a workshop situation you can easily find such people, because you instinctively turn away from them, keeping a distance, making sure they don’t come too close.

With this kind of person, you’re more likely to see what you’ve been avoiding in your creative expression – how and in what way you’re saying ‘no’.

Sometimes, people enjoy a challenge like this. Sometimes they are not ready.

I encourage my participants to respect their boundaries, noticing how open they are to others. So, they have the option: they can start the easy way, choosing someone safe, then later, when they’re feeling stronger and more grounded, take on a bigger challenge. Or, they can jump right away and choose a difficult partner.

What Are Your Judgements?

For the purpose of this chapter, let’s say they’ve chosen a challenging partner, someone whom they would normally avoid.

First, I guide the two partners to stand facing each other, looking into each other’s eyes.

Then I ask, “What are your judgements about this person?”

To our normal, polite, social way of thinking, this may sound like a strange question. The rational mind may object: “I hardly know this person, so why should I judge?” However, the truth is that our judgements arise very quickly. We need only look at a person to immediately form an opinion:

Attractive… unattractive… too loud… too quiet… too fat… too thin… too ugly… too proud… too nice… too nasty…

It happens in an instant. And certainly, when we choose someone whom we dislike, or someone of whom we are afraid, such opinions are bound to be present. After all, these are the reasons why we have avoided contact.

One thing I make clear before the exercise: all judgements belong to you. Your partner is just a screen, a reflection, because you are looking at a stranger. You may have formed an impression, based on brief acquaintance; or perhaps he, or she, reminds you of your mother or father… but you don’t really know this person sitting in front of you.

The next thing to understand is that the judgements that you are directing at this person are an indication of something you are rejecting or denying in yourself. Again, it may sound a little strange, because in normal society we are in the habit of continuously expressing opinions about other people. All gossip is like that. All our favourite newspapers, magazines and TV programmes are full of it. We never pause to think that, on some deep level, we’re talking about ourselves.

“This is a valuable opportunity, not an easy moment, to be sure, but full of potential,” I tell participants. “If you’re ready to take responsibility for your judgements, to own them, to take them back and look inside yourself, then you have a good chance to see what it is you’ve been hiding.”

Bridging the Communication Gap

When people react to each other, get into a fight or an argument, what are they doing? They are throwing their judgements onto the other person. I criticise you, you criticise me, I blame you, you blame me… it’s a game of ping-pong that never ends and, as a result, the two people involved may never really meet.

But when you accept your negative opinions as your own, then your whole mental attitude changes. As a result, the quality of communication with the other person is also bound to change. A bridge may open between two islands that were separate and alienated.

Once people have understood how the process of judgement works, I invite them to leave their partner and walk around the room, meeting other participants, stopping for a moment, making eye contact and noticing what thoughts come into their minds.

“As you face each person, notice what you’re thinking,” I instruct. “Become aware of the opinions you are projecting on this person. There’s no need to talk. Recognise the thoughts that come into your mind, understand that they belong to you, bow down to this person, walk on, meet another… and so on.”

After meeting half-a-dozen people in this way, I invite everyone to find their original partner again and stand facing each other once more.

“You are probably thinking that a meeting with this person will not be possible,” I comment. “And who knows? You may be right! But let’s explore the situation.”

After inviting them to choose who is Partner A and who Partner B, I ask Partner A to stand passively and silently, with eyes closed, doing nothing. Partner B then stands behind Partner A.

Exercise: Seaweed Dance

Already, this simple shift changes the dynamic in the relationship. Now it’s no longer a face-to-face confrontation. Partner A is, in a way, helpless, so Partner B has the opportunity to become more sensitive. This leads into the ‘seaweed’ structure that will emphasise both roles.

“Partner A is seaweed, growing from a rock under the sea,” I explain. “Partner B is the water that ebbs and flows around the rock, moving the seaweed this way and that.”

I encourage Partner A to become receptive and passive, while inviting Partner B to adopt the role of the active, motivating force. For example, a light push by Partner B on the left shoulder sends Partner A’s body swaying to the right; a gentle push from the front sends the body leaning backwards… and so on.

“Seaweed has no resistance and no will of its own,” I tell partner A. “It follows the currents, the flow of the water, so just let your body move in response to your partner’s touch. This will help you become more aware of a quality of receptivity in you.”

After a few minutes, the partners change roles and now it is Partner B’s turn to be the seaweed and become receptive, experiencing what it feels like inside to let go of control.

Partner Painting

At this point, when the pairs have played both roles in the seaweed exercise, the group is ready to move into partner painting. Partner A sits in front of a large piece of art paper, which is lying on the floor, and closes his or her eyes. Paints, inks, brushes and water are available near the paper.

Partner B sits close to Partner A, usually to the side because this makes it easy to guide the hands of Partner A, although some people prefer to sit directly behind.

Then Partner B takes one of Partner A’s hands – it can be either one – and guides this passive hand to pick out a brush. Next, Partner B guides the hand so that the brush dips into the colours and then begins to paint on the paper.

When a few brush strokes have been made and the colours are on the paper, Partner B tells Partner A to open his eyes and look. It is like a snapshot, a quick photographic glimpse, which has the effect of making a vivid impression. After a few seconds, Partner B tells Partner A to close his eyes again.

He then takes the hand holding the brush back to the paints, dipping into new colours before returning once again to the paper.

“All you’re going to say is, ‘Open your eyes’ and ‘close your eyes’. These are the only sentences you say to this person,” I explain to Partner B. “You’re going to guide this person into a wonderland in which colours are magically appearing in front of his eyes.”

I encourage Partner A to pay close attention to what happens, inside as well as outside, because this is a unique opportunity. Partner A is going through the motions of painting, doing all those familiar things he might usually do when he paints, but has no control over the way it is happening.

Freedom and Resistance

“When your partner is guiding you, what is happening to you?” I inquire. “Do you resist? Can you relax and let go? Are you discovering something new, which you haven’t known until now? How much freedom, how much space, can you give to this new experience and how much are you preoccupied with resistance?”

I give plenty of time for the partners to explore painting in this way, then ask them to change roles and begin again. They experience both roles: active and passive.

After the exercise, when I invite feedback, many participants talk about their resistance to being guided. After all, it’s natural. We are accustomed to being completely in control when we paint and this way of painting with a partner is something totally unfamiliar:

“I allowed it to happen… I allowed myself to be guided… but still I felt some resistance because usually I don’t choose this particular colour… usually I don’t move my hand in this way…usually I don’t mix certain colours together…” This is how the feedback goes.

However, many people also taste the joy of surren­dering to the guide, enjoying the sense of surprise it can bring:

“I was surprised at how much I was able to cooperate… I was so available to my partner’s guidance! I discovered a totally different quality of colours… this way of mixing the paint with water can be beautiful…”

Taken into the Unknown

You may not have thought about it, but it’s a precious experience to be taken into the unknown. It’s not something we easily do by ourselves, simply because we tend to be creatures of habit, staying with what is familiar. We learn a certain way of painting, somehow it works well enough to produce results… and we stick with it.

But if you have the courage to choose a partner who is different from you, if you can allow yourself to surrender to this person, then you are automatically carried into an unknown space, painting in a way you have never done before.

The active partner also moves into an unfamiliar space. There is a person sitting next to you who is willing to do exactly what you want. It carries a certain responsibility and it makes people more alert, more present and more sensitive.

What is important in both roles is for people to come into the space of the present moment, because when we are really present, really here and now, with our full attention and energy, then we discover that the present carries with it the power of joy, surprise, expansion. Something outrageous can happen, because we are rediscovering the quality of innocence; we go into the space of a young child, remembering what it is like to play and explore without fear.

Dancing in Communion

To me, this exercise is amazing. I never tire of guiding people through this experience. In a short time, it gives people an understanding of what they’ve been avoiding and – as I’ve already indicated – this is essential in the development of any individual’s artistic expression.

Another quality that emerges is a sense of dancing with your body, because when one is guiding and the other is allowing himself to be guided, it is a kind of dance – a duet. As the active partner, your whole body is involved: you have to take the hand of your partner, reaching for the paints, moving the brush over the paper… soon you start to feel a kind of synchronicity arising between you.

It’s a non-verbal form of communication and this really helps, because so much of our chit-chat isn’t about communicating at all – in fact, just the opposite. We use it as a way of keeping people at a distance.

In just a few minutes, a small miracle has happened. You began this exercise by nervously choosing someone whom you did not like and then, by the end, you find that you have danced and painted your way into a communion of two spirits.

Video by Hamido:
Another excerpt from Meera’s book, ‘Dancing into the Unknown’: Intuition and Spontaneity
More articles on Osho News by and about Meera

Dancing into the Unknown by MeeraDancing into the Unknown: Osho Painting and Art Therapy
by Meera Hashimoto (1947 – 2017)

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