“I think I’m going to shoot myself,” I screamed in exasperation.
“Why?” asked art teacher Barbara Kaufman in a soft, melodic voice.
“Look at what I’ve done with that blue paint!” I replied, pointing to my sad painting of a Buddha looking like an emaciated Project Runway model. “It’s a disaster!”
I thought I knew something about painting when I signed up for this retreat on creativity and mindfulness at the Spirit Rock meditation center in Northern California. After all, I’d studied traditional figure painting at the Corcoran College of Art and Design and had even spent time in Italy learning from the masters. But none of that seemed to matter now. The brushes were terrible and the paint—a fast-drying, water-based tempera—was so bright and cheerful that everything I did turned into a kindergarten birthday decoration. My painting had started out as a picture of the Buddha on fire but had somehow morphed into a muddy purple-and-gray mess like something by El Greco on happy pills.
“Let’s turn this into a learning experience,” says Barbara, trying to calm me down. “Why did you start to paint over the gray?”
“I thought it was looking too dark,” I replied. “So that’s…