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Monday, March 8, 2021

How a Paintbrush Helps Me Face Isolation and Heartache | by Bronwen Henry

It seems unreasonable, but it is true. A paintbrush, together with some pigment and a blank canvas, is a key conspirator helping me navigate isolation and heartache. These apparently simple tools have been essential in escorting me on a path to strengthen my sense of self, my connection with other people and my time of listening to the Divine.

The creative process is the opposite of numbing. When I create, a doorway opens to be present with my own suffering and the suffering of others. Though it is a solitary act, I find creativity helps me to identify with people near and far. The creative act gives me space to breathe, imagine, hope, cry, and pray.

The creative life has awakened in me a radical degree of compassion for myself and others. It is a space where I reckon with anxiety, fear, heartache, and failure. It is also a space where I dream and imagine a world within and around me that is more beautiful.

Let me give an example with a recent series of paintings. At the beginning of the pandemic, I released my first book, Radioactive Painting, which was focused on the surprisingly poignant topic of navigating isolation and finding compassion and creativity. To launch the book I had created a collection of round canvases.

These canvases each held prayers inspired by the Buddhist practice of lovingkindness or metta. In this practice of metta one holds expanding circles of awareness of people from self to unknown other, to friends, to people you may be in conflict with, ultimately to all sentient beings. Each canvas is created and named to reflect the intention to extend to ourselves and all beings these phrases of lovingkindness. In metta, we offer phrases such as “May we be protected. May we be surrounded by love. May we be courageous.” If at any point it becomes difficult to offer kindness to another you return to offering kindness for yourself.

While creating I often return to the metta meditation, wherein you offer kindness to self and others, in expanding circles, with no limit. More recently with the continued national movement awakening around racism, my time at the canvas has been a space for me to look deeply at my own history of privilege, the ways I contribute to and benefit from existing structures.This self examination is painful, confronting and necessary. This time at the canvas gives me the courage to look deeply at my complicity and flaws. It is also a time where if I stay with the discomfort and if I am patient, I find hints and insights on how I can be part of change.

I spend consistent time each week on my practice. Color and forms delight me as they emerge on a blank canvas. At the same time I do not put the results of my creative practice above the process. It is truly the process and how it transforms me and motivates me to participate in the world with more compassion that interests me the most. Though it appears I am the one doing the creating, the truth is that the creative act itself has shaped me. It is a space for my own identity to expand and grow in courage, compassion and a deep sense of connection to others.

Note About Author: Bronwen Henry’s faith has roots in a Christian context and continues to grow as a student of many faiths with much alignment found in Buddhist teachings and A Course in Miracles. Bronwen began painting in 2013 when she faced a thyroid cancer diagnosis that reignited her passion for (and prioritization of) the creative process. To read more of her story check out her book, Radioactive Painting, and to see more of her work check out or follow her on instagram.

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