What Compels You?

At the Point, 14″ x 14″, Oil on Canvas
Click Here if you would like this painting to live on your wall.

I tried to paint a different spot in that creek the night before, with no success. I knew instantly why it hadn’t worked. I was trying to paint everything all at once, and everything at all at once doesn’t work in any part of my life.

Saturday had been an incredible day of painting in the Pennsylvania countryside with my mentor. Work and an upcoming ear procedure had receded to become a blurry part of another background. I had meditated with the trees and the past their prime daffodils as the clouds chased the sun, and an occasional mist called me off.

Saturday had been a success, because I had stopped to meditate on the trees, intertwining with each other, and taking the time to answer the question, “what compels you?” What part of this part of the natural world compels you to simply stand and exist in the moment, without making plans or replaying conversations where you wish you had said some thing else?

What compels you to just let go?

That was the question.

Sunday morning I struggled to find that focus. The upcoming procedure was closer, and that evening reality would creep in with homework and budgets.

Now, my mentor and I stood on the rocky shore of the creek, watching a group of horseback riders waiting for their mounts to drink and splash. It was a magical moment teeming with characters and details.

I turned away from the charming story playing out in the creek, and something that looked like a heron standing on a jagged shore further down caught my eye. The rocks around him gleamed in the sunlight, and the water quietly eddied around the larger stones that fortified his peninsula. My mentor and I stared in its direction for a while, a different element, capturing each of us.

“I don’t think that’s a heron,“ she said.

I tried to zoom in with my camera, but it was no more accurate than my eyes. For a minute I thought of that scene in Harold and Maude, when Maude insisted that a remembered, flock of seagulls would always be glorious birds to her. I decided that even if that glimmer of light on the shore was a carefully hung T-shirt, or a spiky stump, I would let it remain a glorious bird that had first drawn my eye to a sliver of sunlight in the middle of the river and got ready to paint.

I knew what compelled me about that scene, and it wasn’t the possibility of a glorious bird. It was bright clarity of simplicity emerging from the murkiness of “everything all at once.”