An excerpt from Meera’s posthumously published book, Dancing into the Unknown: Osho Painting and Art Therapy.
Primal Painting is the backbone of my teaching. Childhood issues, which are always connected to the relationship with one’s parents, are touched in almost all my workshops and trainings. In Primal Painting, we make it the main focus, taking a long, deep look at attitudes and feelings that we’ve kept locked away inside ourselves since we were very young.
Everybody carries beliefs about themselves that were formed during those primal years, including all kinds of notions about one’s own creative abilities. Unfortunately, these beliefs are usually negative. It’s interesting for me to see that even therapists who have worked on childhood issues can easily say to me, “Painting? It’s not for me. I have two left hands!” Meaning, of course, they have no talent.
So, our method is: look within ourselves and see how such beliefs were adopted in the first place.
Natural Creative Ability
When I look at small children, under the age of three, they never question their creative abilities. If the materials are given – crayons, paints, charcoal – they just use them, following their curiosity and natural sense of playful adventure.
For example, I used to take care of my sister’s child when she was two years old. One day, as an experiment, I gave her several big pots of colours, big brushes and many papers, without any instruction.
I didn’t say, “Now paint a house,” or “Now paint a tree.” I just left her alone to do whatever she wished. She stayed there for hours, continuously inventing new ways to paint on different papers.
That’s when I understood it’s not right for adults to say things like, “I have no talent.” It’s pure nonsense. Of course, not everyone can be a Picasso or a van Gogh, but everyone can access their natural sources of creative energy. It’s our birth right. It’s a gift from the generosity of existence.
When I offer a course in Art Therapy, it is different from a regular painting training, in which I am basically teaching people how to make good paintings. From the therapeutic perspective, painting is more like a mirror, expressing yourself in order to see your attitudes, beliefs and fears reflected on the paper in front of you.
It is well known that pictures connect with a deeper level of the human mind than thinking and intellectual ideas. Hence, the real power of television and movies to impact an audience lies in the visual images they use rather than their words. So, when we begin to paint, we easily access unconscious layers of the mind that will influence the way we express ourselves.
For example, some people, when they begin to paint, quickly become attached to certain aspects of painting – they like certain colours, lines, shapes. Then it becomes difficult for them to move, or change. They may not be satisfied with what they have done, and they may feel the limitations they have imposed on themselves, but they want to keep it like that. Why? Because they carry so much fear about meeting the unknown, letting go of the familiar – they cling to what they know. They are reluctant to risk.
When this happens, it’s a great opportunity for people to examine their patterns and conditioning.
If they can drop their conditioning and open to a bigger understanding of life, they will have a different attitude towards painting and, naturally, this will be reflected in what they create.
So, let me repeat: in Art Therapy, we are not teaching people to make a good painting. Rather, painting is used as a mirror to see our conditionings, beliefs and fears reflected on the paper in front of us.
No Fixed Ideas
I invited another small child – he was about three years old – into one of my painting workshops in Denmark, and he remained intrigued by the play of colours on paper for hours.
I was watching him carefully to see how he managed it. And it was so simple. He was effortlessly bringing his energy and his awareness into the present moment, here and now, opening himself to life. When you do this, the present moment becomes magical. And that’s all I’m teaching in my workshops. That’s what Primal Painting is about.
Watching him, I had another insight. He would paint in a certain way until he became bored with it, then he would completely change the painting – by splashing bright pink on grey, for example – or pick up a new piece of paper and begin afresh.
He had no concept, no fixed idea, about creating ‘a painting’; he had no attachment to what he was doing, so for him there was no difficulty in self-expression. By observing him, I came to understand that any problem that pops up while we are painting must be associated with some concept or attitude we have already acquired. So, as we paint, we continually witness our own state of mind manifesting before us on the paper.
For example, when we sit down in front of a clean piece of paper, with paints by our side, we normally have the intention to create something particular. Perhaps we already know that it’s going to be: a seascape, a landscape, a still life. As our idea takes shape, we become attached to what we are painting, or, alternatively, frustrated by the fact that it’s not turning out the way we want. Within a very short time, we find ourselves confined by our own concepts about what we should, or should not, be doing.
So, the first thing I teach in Primal Painting is: “Forget that it’s a painting.”
As soon as you think, “Now I am going to paint,” all kinds of judgements and beliefs flood the mind: what is beautiful, what is ugly, what is right, what is wrong. All of these notions conspire to block your spontaneity.
When Your Creativity was Blocked
One of my first tasks in Primal Painting is to guide people back in time to one of those childhood moments when creativity was blocked. I begin by inviting them to sit in front of a blank sheet of white paper and pay attention to what memories and feelings are triggered by this simple act.
“Maybe you wanted to impress somebody – your teacher, your mother – and you couldn’t manage it.” I suggest, “Maybe you painted a picture and one of your parents expressed disappointment. Maybe somebody told you, ‘Don’t paint this way…that’s not right!’ Maybe you were pushed and hurried and told, ‘Get on with it!’”
“One way or another, you got the message to be somebody else rather than who you are, and in order to be loved, to be accepted, you trimmed and adjusted your creative energy to match the expectations of others,” I continue.
“Slowly, these restrictive patterns became an ingrained habit in all aspects of life. Whatever the activity – relating, working, dancing, or talking – the same negative attitudes were repeated.”
It’s time to make an investigation. I instruct the participants to close their eyes and invite them to become a small child again.
Then I ask, “What is this child’s intention? What does he really want to express? And why? Is it to gain attention or approval? Is this approval from your mother, or your father?”
It’s my aim to uncover those memories where shock occurred, because this is one of the keys to undoing the damage. Once you start remembering, once you consciously re-live a traumatic experience with the wisdom and compassion of an adult, healing starts to happen. The blocked creativity begins to flow again.
There are many methods for connecting with one’s inner child. For example, sometimes I invite people to sit with eyes closed, hands resting on their thighs, in an open position, with both palms facing upwards.
Then I guide them into an exploration, saying, “Imagine that in your right palm sits the child who got hurt, shocked and criticised. She sits there with all kinds of powerful emotions and hurt feelings. Take time to acknowledge and welcome this child as she is. Make sure to remember her age, her intention, her energy, what she was doing when she experienced this shocking intervention by her parents or some other authority figure. Look in her eyes, talk to her, listen to her…”
Opening a possibility for the child to express herself, the gestalt begins to change. Instead of being struck dumb, incapable of response, the child starts to share what really happened and how she felt. In this way, her authentic energy – suppressed or distorted at the time of the event and stored for years within the mind-body system – starts to find a healthy way of releasing.
When enough time has been given for this part of the exploration, I invite people to imagine another child, sitting in the left palm, saying, “This is a healthy child whose joy and creativity is not spoiled. She is always ready to play with you. She has not been scarred by our system of education. Look in her eyes, talk to her, listen to her….”
With this simple exercise, people can begin to understand how the creative impulse has been stifled and how it can be reclaimed.
All in the Same Boat
At the start of a new Primal workshop, it’s a good strategy to invite people to introduce themselves to each other through gibberish, which is speaking nonsense or using language they don’t know and also by using their hands to communicate what cannot be conveyed through linguistics. This helps people become looser, more expressive, less pretentious.
The contrast is clearly visible. When I tell people, “Now switch to using English,” the energy in the room immediately changes. Things become stiffer. Fun and friendliness are replaced by old habits of hiding behind protocol or introducing oneself in superficial ways. Already, through this simple exercise, people start becoming aware of how they inhibit their spontaneity and vitality.
Next, I explain the importance of group-sharing. Osho says, “If you hide yourself from others, by and by, hiding becomes part of your nature. Then you can’t come out from this habit of hiding.”
So, to create an understanding about the importance of sharing is one of the main foundations of working with people in a group. If you understand the importance of not hiding, you will soon be able to pinpoint the psychological issue that is affecting you in any given moment. Which means that the problem is almost gone, because exposure is half the journey.
At first, it may seem embarrassing or shameful to relate your personal experiences to others, but soon you start laughing because you realise everyone is in the same boat. So many times, I’ve heard people say, with relief, “I thought I was the only one with a problem, but actually everybody has the same issue.” Then you begin to relax. Then you don’t take your personal problems so seriously.
But old habits die hard, as they say, and transforming negative attitudes takes time. In my experience, a group like this requires at least five days to give people a solid understanding of their issues and how to overcome them.
As the days roll by, you experience good moments and bad moments, swinging like a pendulum between the limitations of the past and the freedom of the present, between ingrained habit and spontaneous creativity.
An effective way to gain the depth in sharing circles is to invite people to explore issues arising from their relationships with their parents. I will talk more about this in a later chapter where I’ll discuss working with a therapeutic method called Family Constellation.
For now, I will say that the origin of almost all our psychological problems originates in our family relationships. When we have exposed and resolved these original issues we gain peace and fulfilment.
Start of Chapter 2 of Meera’s posthumously published book, Dancing into the Unknown: Osho Painting and Art Therapy.