Zen Buddhism, Disasters, Burnout and Painting

Last week I painted every day.
Previous to that, It’d been 3 months since I’d blogged or spent any significant time in the studio. I just didn’t feel like it anymore. But why?

Summer gardening calls and the heat debilitates me. Our kitty’s downward spiral and eventual death in August further distanced me from painting. And then there were the US elections, global warming, fish die-offs, wars etc. factors.

Like millions of people world-wide, I’m alarmed at the galloping shift to the right taking place in Washington. In our co-op gallery, Bear River Artworks, I spoke with American visitors who expressed a mixture of embarrassment, worry for the future and disbelief.

Journey through Laos
©Flora Doehler, 2017
16″ x 20″

But how could an election in another country or news flickering across the internet affect a painter in rural Nova Scotia?

A few days ago in the studio, I listened to an interview with Zen Roshi Joan Halifax on one of my favorite podcasts, On Being. In her talk, Buoyancy Rather Than Burnout in Our Lives, she suggests  that we enter a state of ‘Moral Distress and Futility’ or ‘Empathic Distress’ when we are overwhelmed by the barrage of current disturbing world news. We know that what is happening is wrong or immoral, and at the same time believe we have no power to change things. This results in feelings of depletion or burnout.

If you look at complex dynamical systems, we’re in a fascinating breakdown… environmentally and socially and psychologically, and when systems break down, the ones who have the resilience to actually repair themselves, they move to a higher order of organization. And I think that this is characterized by something the complexity theorists call robustness, that we can anticipate both a time of great robustness, which we’re in, with tremendous potential to wake up and take responsibility, and, at the same time, we’re in a lot of difficulties, and we need resilience to make our way through this change. – Joan Halifax

Joan Halifax suggests actions to help us to ground ourselves again. Actions like meditation, stillness, appreciating the beauty around us.

This is what I experience when I paint. There is no doubt in my mind that any act of creation can involve those same elements. Whether cooking, building a structure, writing or making a clay bowl, getting lost in the act is a type of mindfulness that it so all-encompassing, we are transported beyond daily and global events.

Later that day, Zenhabits popped into my inbox with some beautiful words about mindfulness called, Resting in the Open Nature of Life that pointed to more self-grounding techniques that are simple, yet profound.

All of this information is good news. While there are multiple factors about why we can neglect doing the thing that we previously loved, an awareness of how we are affected by alarming events is helpful to our personal well-being.  It IS possible to pull back from a steady diet of bad news and to, ironically, become more resilient in dealing with it.

The Voyage Home
©Flora Doehler, 2017
Watermedia collage
10″ x 20″

Taking action is still required and it’s what I need to do to get back to that creative zone in my studio.
My steps are:

  1. Limit my news watching.
  2. Attend a 4 day painting workshop that I’d signed up for 5 months ago while I was still actively painting.
  3. Commit to an art show next year where I need to create entirely new work.
  4. Push myself to spend time in the studio everyday doing ANYTHING…..even looking through paintings while listening to a podcast about appreciating beauty.
  5. Resume blogging and sending out a monthly newsletter.

More about that in my next posts.

I’d been interested to read your thoughts on this topic.

5 thoughts on “Zen Buddhism, Disasters, Burnout and Painting

  1. Good to hear from you, Flora! Yes I agree very much with you about what an impact the overwhelm of the News can have on us as artists. I hardly ever watch news reports on tv and when something happens, I try hard not to get involved in the endless spiral of going over and over that the news media serves up…too much negativity, all the time! We all need to find a balance in our lives, or else something will suffer. We cannot avoid direct tragedies in our own lives,cats die (my cat also died, back in early September, btw, and the first thing to go was my art time!) family members get sick, life throws distracting curve balls. We can’t avoid that! But, we can certainly reduce the impact of the other stuff, by not exactly avoiding, but, turning down the volume a little. And yes, I also think that showing up and going through the motions will do much to hold the door open for the art to flow back in! Best Wishes with your efforts to get back on track with your art….YOU CAN DO IT!!! 🙂 🙂 And keep blogging, there are some wonderful people, ready to support, here in blog-land! 🙂

  2. Hi Hilda! I’m sorry to hear about your cat. They hold such special spots in our lives, don’t they? Amazingly, a little lost kitten wandered into our lives a week later and she has been such a brightness in our days. I wouldn’t have picked one so quickly, but the fates foisted this little bundle of energy on us.
    Thank you for your encouragement and for the inspiration I get from your work. 🙂

  3. I love this post. I’ve been trying to practice mindfulness and my painting definitely helps. I am just starting to look into Zen Buddhism and finding it very helpful. I like your blog and your paintings are beautiful.

    1. Hi Kate…thanks for your visit. I just hopped over to your blog and I look forward to reading it more carefully. I like your post on anger…. oh how all the emotions affect our creativity, among other things. So glad you like my paintings. 🙂

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