Today I invite you to pour a cup of your favorite tea or coffee and sit with me for a few minutes to ponder the concept of witnessing.
Although I am no expert on this topic, I have a sense that it may be one of the most important benefits of being in the Bead Journal Project and (on a much larger scale) the whole idea of blogging.
Let me digress for a moment. Many years ago I took a life-changing class called Process Painting. The idea is to hang a large sheet of paper on the wall, stand very close to it, grab a paint brush and, with a minimal palette of Tempera colors, paint marks on the paper. It is not about proper painting. Rather it is about inviting an inner truth to come forward through the paint… spontaneous and uncensored, quick, gutsy, raw and private.
Our teacher says:
Don’t step back and judge… Stay with it, up close.She encourages us to paint with the self-promise that we will NEVER show our paintings to anybody…. not ever! Nor are we allowed to look at our classmates’ work… not at all, not for the entire three days of the class! This gives us an exhilarating freedom to open the closet door (no sugar-coating) and to let go of having to do it right. We paint like children, without constraints.
If you put one more color on this paper, what might it be?
If you paint one more thing on this paper, where might it be?
If you have one more thing to add to this painting, what might it be?
But a few weeks after the class, I break the rule. I trust my best friend, Liz, completely. She loves me as I am. She rarely shows any sign of judgments. She is always supportive about my art.
My paintings are strange. They don’t look like anything I’ve ever done before. They frighten me a little. They are not pretty, yet they are extremely compelling. There is an element of strength that I do not recognize as belonging to me. I want Liz to know these things and to help me understand the paintings.
So I invited her to witness them.
Although I have broken the rule, it feels really great to unroll my paintings and pour over them with Liz. We talk about every detail of my paintings. She honors me with her caring attention and witnesses parts of my inner being that I keep hidden (even from myself).
I do not show my paintings to any family members. I do not show them to my boy friend. I do not show them to other art friends.
I am afraid they might judge, critique or analyze them psychologically. When I put my most inner being on paper, it needs to be respected and accepted exactly the way it is. If I do not choose my witnesses wisely, I may be swayed into a position of non-respect, non-acceptance and judgment. And that position can be a huge block to creativity and satisfaction with life.
Now here is an odd thing! I sense that most of the Bead Journal Project members and other blog readers are like Liz. Whether my work is raw or common, many of my blog viewers/readers tend to witness, encourage, seek understanding and share their own personal experiences through their comments. If they verbalize a judgment at all, it tends to be positive. In fact, I am quite surprised by the amount of witnessing I receive through my blog and how important it is to me…. When, through my art and words, the authentic me comes forward in my blog, I often feel tenderly witnessed. I see the same type of witnessing in many comments on other blogs as well.
Conventional wisdom proposed by my process painting teacher (also Julia Cameron in the Artists’ Way and even Pat B. Allen in Art Is a Way of Knowing), suggests that we grow and heal, become authentic and find peace through the process of making art or journaling, especially when we keep it entirely private. At the most, we must choose our witnesses carefully. Wait!!! Doesn’t my experience with blogging go against this wisdom somewhat? So it seems to me.
I find this very curious. It also seems odd that I trust and look for witnessing from the blogging community more than from my family and friends.
I’m very interested to hear your understanding about the concept of witnessing and how/if it applies to your experiences sharing your BJP pages, other art or personal stories and thoughts on your blog. Do you seek and receive witnessing from your family and friends?
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By the way, I looked up the meaning of the word witness and found this:
Verb: To witness is to take note of something, to observe or to gain knowledge about something.
Noun: A witness is someone who has personal knowledge of something or can attest to a fact or event.
Word derivation: from Old English (1300’s) wit, which meant knowledge.
There were also two other slants on the meaning of witness… religious (to preach) and legal (to give evidence in court). These are not relevant to my use of the word in this post.