Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Creativity and Freedom: A Guest Essay by Esalen Faculty Adam Wolpert

I am a painter of nature and have had the pleasure of teaching painting at Esalen for the past 16 years. I have thought a great deal about the dance between the poles of limitations and the limitless as it pertains to creativity, and Esalen is a good place to contemplate both.

As a young artist, I thought the connection between creativity and freedom was to be taken at face value. It was obvious: to be creative you must be free. I thought that limitations would squash my true creative self. As a landscape painter, I was always searching for new horizons, traveling to fantastic vistas, driving off into the sunset or sunrise unfettered and untethered. I could not imagine anything more inspiring than painting a fresh subject on a new scale with new colors or making a composition of something I’d never seen before.

But as decades of living and painting brought new insights, I began to see that creative freedom is not such an obvious matter. I realized that, paradoxically, too much freedom can in itself be limiting. When I stopped pursuing the novel, I settled down to observe one place, and I found that a new world of depth, substance and creativity opened up to me. As I narrowed my artistic scope by deepening my relationship with this one spot I call home, I found myself feeling more creatively inspired and, oddly, freer.

A couple of years ago, I set myself the task of painting the same tree by a rural pond over the course of a full year during which I completed a 70-painting series I called the Pond Series. I painted this subject with a limited palette of oil paints, out-of-doors, from the same point of view, on the same size canvas with the same composition, every time. The things that changed were the external realities (the time of day, the weather, the water level of the pond and the season) and my inner state.

I wondered if I would be too limited by all this structure. I wondered if I would lose touch with my creativity. To my surprise, instead of becoming bored by repetition, or feeling caged in by all my restrictions, the opposite happened. Each day, I saw more in the subject as I felt it open

itself to me and every dawn I found myself excited to re-engage. All the energy I used to pour into finding novelty was suddenly available to spend on deepening my painting practice.

I felt held by the strong container of the project, free, liberated, more able to experiment than ever before. I became more focused on deep and subtle things. The work engaged my relationship to place, my feelings and how they affected my painting, even my relationship to the paint itself. This project became a meditation practice on being present, and even allowed me to explore the way I construct visual reality.

The fact that these are paintings of a simple tree by the corner of a simple pond, all so ordinary

and so predictable, became central to the effort. The unremarkable became the great gift. I found, to my surprise, that this simple, seemingly repetitive gesture was more than enough to hold and inspire countless hours of creative expression. This realization made life seem more generous and made limitations less of a concern.

I found all I needed here in this tiny corner of the world, and in fact, I realized that we can learn to revere the world and our place in it by coming into relationship with any tiny part of it. I found also that small and simple subjects close to our hearts can be gateways to an infinite universe of creative exploration.

Adam is teaching Painting the Outer and Inner Landscape this week at Esalen.

Enjoy this short film about Adam’s Pond Series.


“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.

Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?


Esalen Team