Painting and Spiritual Integration

Henry Wuorila-Stenberg

On goal in life, where we find our security and our life’s meaning, our spiritual tradition and what we pursue within it, all this has an effect on how we are integrated.

Life is a process of trying to find security and meaning. Mostly we take refuge in things that cause suffering, though we all look for happiness.

Painting has always – starting from childhood – has a part in all the things I have taken refuge in. My desires, my worldview, my goals – also the ones I have hidden from myself – have all been part of this taking refuge in painting and have driven it forward.

On the road towards integration, painting has made a release from a separate self possible through merging, but only for a moment. This integration is on a superficial level and turns into a compulsion, an enforced journey that leads me deeper and deeper into subconscious worlds. It attracts conflicting forces, energies I cannot control, let alone integrate in any depth.

Now I am also certain that if painting is connected with selfish aspirations, with a desire for fame and power, greed and craving, anger and hate, it is possible for it lead into great depths and brilliant paintings – but the activated forces will also destroy the painter.

Luckily one does not always succeed in what one craves and wants. There is failure, loss, suffering. These make possible a moment of insight, an insight about oneself. They give a chance to stop and to act creatively.

It has slowly begun to dawn on me that painting, while it is central to my aspirations, must contain an opening through which I can look deeper into the unknown. In this opening resides the spiritual ideal and through this opening flow ethics and spiritual practice. This unknown I want to integrate myself with. This spiritual integration I want to practise in my painting.

In practice, this means painting in a way that makes me face my conflicting sides. I become familiar with them and direct them towards one spiritual goal. I make my whole life into a mandala in which spiritual commitment is at the centre ans I channel everything in my life toward that goal. In this way painting also becomes positively integrating. It becomes a road to individuality.

The activated forces are not destructive anymore, they are helpful. There are many spiritual practices. If they are genuine, they lead towards spiritual integration. I personally do not know whether I will ever reach my ideal, nor do I know when I shall paint my last painting. But I know that I want to bring my ideal and my painting together.

I try not to forget my moments of insight and I try to carry on painting. Because painting and where it has brought me has given the Good a chance to express itself to me personally. And with this I must stay.

Contribution to a panel discussion at Valamo, 29th November 1997
translated by Jukka Nuutilainen and Pirkko-Liisa Key