Thoughts on Teaching, Listening to Life and a New Prayer Painting

contemplative painting practice, Hali Karla

Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about-quite apart from what I would like it to be about-or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions…..Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live-but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.

~ Parker Palmer
There have been threads in my life that have been with me all along. Threads that weave ropes that connect me to some source, sense, memory or dream of who I am. Ropes that I can feel in my hands, and tug on, to orient my heart in this life - no matter what's going on. I write about them here... art and creative process, self-empowered healing, nature as teacher, intuitive spirituality, the power of relationship for personal growth.


I tend to believe we are each here for something... or that some sort of purpose is moving through us, even if we never really get to know the full extent of what that means. These threads are part of that - and we each have our own unique set.


contemplative painting practice wip, Hali Karla
Being of service is one of those threads for me, as well (or part of all of those threads, perhaps). Even as a very little girl, I wanted to help people feel better, to feel loved, to feel at peace in themselves even when conflicts arise - to feel like they had the power to give this medicine to themselves, as needed, and to be with the deeply uncomfortable things we face because... well, they pass. Especially when we learn about presence. I learned about this from my own trauma and abuse as a child... we are incredibly resilient creatures, especially as children, perhaps because we are still so close to our soul-source.


Looking back on my life, the way this call to  'service'  so often presents itself to me is through teaching. In all the jobs I've held (and there have been many), I've moved up quickly to positions of leadership, mentoring and teaching. Even nursing was so very much about interactive and contextual education, that I might even say I learned the most about how to teach effectively there, in the midst of some of life's most tender topics and realities.


Seeing connections and exploring ways of expressing relationships seems to come naturally to me, and life seems to keep telling me that teaching is a natural way to bring what I see about this process out into the world in a potentially helpful or inspiring way.


The way I 'teach' has never been traditional, though. It is really more about presence, exploration and questions than dissemination of information and solid answers. I'm not the sort of teacher that has it anything figured out. I am the sort that feels it's important to always be a student, listening, curious, evolving, expanding our ways of seeing and sharing.


When I taught in a more traditional setting, I used to tell my students two things: 1) That they would hear me say, "I don't know" a lot - and then we could look for an answer together, and 2) that if they left with more questions than they came with, but with a clear idea of how to find an answer or why one answer would not suffice, then I had done my job.


There are things that I want to say here - that I'm certainly not getting at adequately - about connections between this prayer painting, my current process, teaching, healing, creative practice, listening and being good people to each other and our world.


And maybe that's the thing. These aren't the kinds of connections I can break down into quick lists, how-tos or concrete evidence. These relationships are 'felt truths,' as a dear friend of mine says. They take experience and practice. And while they are not precise in conventional ways, they can lead us in a right direction, toward center, remembering who we are, what we need to learn, and what we are here to help create or discover. Even if that is the discovery of what we don't know, or that one answer will not suffice the vastness of our most important questions.


If I've learned anything, from all the ways I've been called into the place where creative expression and service become the environment for soul-healing, joy-instigating and truth-telling work, it's that no one can teach you what it ought to look like. That's the beauty of it - and also the frustrating part for our minds, at times.
contemplative painting practice wip, Hali Karla
So it's been a predicament for me, at times, to find clear ways of 'teaching' that allow each person to discover and empower their own answers and way, as part of a greater network of infinite threads of seeing and being. We each bring something to the teachings we explore together. We are each students and teachers, guides and seekers... an important question to ponder, perhaps, is how open are we to this? In ourselves and one another? How open are we to what our own life is telling us? How do we respond in thought, action and ways of loving and living? Are we true to who we are, at our core AND in our outer life?


See what I mean? No concrete answers to those inquiries - except the ones you try on in the mysterious unfolding of your journey. And sometimes, it's also just good to put a few answers down to lighten the load in the name of living true to the waves of the moment. Which is, perhaps, the paradoxical point of it all anyway.


I spent this Spring in Jen Louden's Teach Now course, as a quiet participant, to further reflect and develop my skills as an effective teacher for creative practice and the ways it can offer insight and healing perspective. Because so much of what I teach is about catalyzing and deepening your relationship to your own wisdom, artist and healer within, I wanted to refresh and consider grounding ways of delivering content and holding space for that kind of very personal work and play.


One of the thoughts shared in Teach Now, and not uncommon to those who reflect on this work, is that teaching, like creativity and healing, are practices. And that while sometimes we teach what we know, the sustainability and real juice for any effective teacher, is coming from who they are. Practice what you teach. Teach what you practice. My kind of integrity.
contemplative painting practice wip, Hali Karla
This painting has been created while quietly holding space for over fifty women in RELATE over the past three weeks. The collective energy of the group has been deeply moving this year. I love the space women create when they come together with shared focus and a sense of safety for their own creative exploration. I found myself in a distinctly new experience of felt clarity this year, as well... the content hasn't changed much, but how I internally embraced my natural way of showing up has.
I suppose my natural style of teaching is to organize the details cohesively, be present, listen closely, offer the content as a container, and then to let the creative process do the real teaching - unique and customized by and for each individual, not by me, but by the heart of their own process - and supported by the collective experience and energy of the group.


As a facilitator, a 'teacher', it is always such a deep honor and joy to witness others sharing so intimately and discovering nuggets that are important in their lives right now. There are themes and transitions we all move through as humans... suffering, relieving, grieving, releasing, calling in, making space, doing the work, facing something, truth-telling, shifting perspective, loving, relationships, aging, caregiving, mental blindspots, bringing dreams to life, listening to the life we are living with.... When we find ways to share them, we strengthen our sense of connection and honor the truth of who we are and this precious life we've been given.

  I am feeling grateful to be part of this life moving through me, and for the immensely beautiful people and experiences that continue to teach me and enrich what life is telling me.

Listen in. What are the values you cannot help but live by and offer in the world? What has your life been telling you all along?

contemplative painting practice wip, Hali Karla