In the Hindu tradition we find the concept of “puja”.
It refers to the ceremonial worship or ritual, both at home or temple to offer devotional homage and prayer to one or more deities or to celebrate a special event or the presence of an honoured guest or their memories, when they die.
The word puja is derived from the Dravidian pu (“flower”) as in it’s simplest form, puja usually consists making an offering of flowers or fruit to an image of god.
I remember that, when I started out with my Yoga journey, I created a dedicated place, like a little altar in my home for it but than left the idea (and altar) when it began to feel more like “cultural appropriation” of a sacred tradition by some white non-hindu/buddhist like me,
who wanted to feel more “yoga”.
Eventually it came back to me, in my own personalised version.
In no way I mean to offend the tradition but I had to find a version that works for me, a kind of three-dimensional spiritual vision-board, simply based in the idea of puja.
Like the little picture of my deceased cat Peanut in front of a candle or
images of important teachers that I want to honour and be reminded of.
Teachers come in all forms & sizes and that’s more than ok, because as Ram Dass liked to say: “We are ALL God in drag!” It only has to work for YOU.
It only has to ring true to YOU, what- or whoever opens up something within YOU.
So, with that thought, over the years I extended my list of teachers who influenced me from the spiritual to the more worldly (because at the end of the day, what’s the difference?):
from Ram Dass, Swami Vivekananda or Alan Watts to people like Dolly Parton, RuPaul
and of course Bob Ross, who's little bubble-head figurine became part of my "puja".
But for those of you who don’t know him, let me fill that gap & let me introduce you to
the absolute JOY that is Bob Ross:
Bob Ross, born in 1942, was an American painter, art instructor, avid animal lover and television host who captured the hearts of viewers with his soothing voice, optimistic outlook, and signature curly hair.
His PBS show, "The Joy of Painting," aired in the 1980s and 1990s and featured Bob creating in about 20 minutes beautiful landscape oil-paintings while sharing his techniques and philosophies about life and art.
He made use of the ‘wet on wet’ methode of painting with oil, called “alla prima“. As you don’t have to wait for the paint to dry first, it allows you to create layer on top of layer to mix or blend, and he did so with big brushes and strokes.
It is hypnotic to watch him create these landscapes in such a short amount of time, which was also what many members of the ‘serious’ art world criticised about him, as they would work on a painting for hours, days or weeks.
But in a way that was also Bob’s point. He was vocal that his paintings wouldn’t ever hang in a museum and that it wasn’t to be compared to high art (despite the fact that he would make use of the all the important elements of art, like texture, perspective, shading, color and so on. He just didn’t bother to mention it much, he just did and took you along the ride.)
His message was that everybody can enjoy the act of paining and being creative, but without the pressure of creating something that has to be judged or valued by anyone.
The JOY is simply in the doing and the daring in itself.
Through this message Bob Ross might have done more to popularise art and the act of creating itself than any other painter before him.
He allowed us to not be afraid of starting something, and he encouraged us to leave behind the thoughts of what we think the process should be or how good we are. Bob called Talent simply “a pursued interest”, not just a god-given ability or aptitude.
“Anything you are willing to practice, you can do.”
(Can you see already the parallels to my classes???)
Bob's gentle demeanour and encouraging words made him a beloved figure and possibly the “grandfather” of all the ASMR videos on YouTube these days. Television people couldn’t really wrap their heads around the immense success of a TV-show, where a man simply stands in front of a black curtain and paints a landscape, but his success was undeniable.
His "happy little trees" and "happy accidents" have become iconic phrases in popular culture. Despite passing away in 1995, Bob Ross's legacy lives on through his paintings, videos, and the countless people he inspired to pick up a brush and create their own works of art.
So the next time you need to unwind and somehow your meditation isn’t working, just look up one of his many “The Joy of Paining” episodes on YouTube and be relaxed and amazed in equal measures.
I say to my possums that I want to be the ‘Bob Ross of Yoga’ as I want to remind as many people as I can that Yoga and spiritual practice can be for everybody and that it can be a joyous experience.
One thing about his paintings always struck me as important: his use of the big brush to create trees and bushes and clouds create a very realistic view of nature, mainly through its soft imperfection. Because that’s what nature is, perfect in its imperfection. There are no “wrong” trees or clouds or waves, it is their particular uniqueness & im-perfection that lets them be such a harmonious addition to everything else.
In my mind the whole universe is just a constant shifting & changing & transforming of energy, so of course energy will express itself into all possible forms eventually.
I mean look at what fascinating animals and sea creatures that inhabit this planet.
Only we human beings, the species with probably the most variety, get so hung up on what makes us different rather than what we have in common.
We are, as everything around us, part & product of the endless possibility of creation. In my mind I imagine creation just laying cosy in some metaphysical void on a lovely little metaphysical canapé and dreaming everything into existence.
And as in dreams, everything is possible;
as Shakespeare wrote so poignantly in The Tempest
“we are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little life is rounded with a sleep”.
In my mind Bob Ross, as many of my other teachers, inspired me to find the joy in what I practice.
And my job is to remind you of the same thing.
Here are some of my favourite quotes of Bob Ross and if you scroll down and you simply
exchange the words “painting” with “yogic practice” or “brush” with “body”,
I think a lot of my students will notice the inspiration for my classes or style of teaching there.
“I don’t try to understand everything in nature. I just look at it and enjoy it...”
“...let’s make some nice little clouds that just float around and have fun all day.”
“There is enough unhappy things in the world,
painting should be one of those things that brightens your day...”
“Every painting is going to be different, and that’s what makes it great.”
“This is not something you should labor over or worry about.”
“You have to have dark in order to show light, just like in life.”
“These things live right in your brush, all you have to do is shake them out, there...”
“We just show you how, but you make the decisions.
When you have this much power, you have to make big decisions...”
“We don’t make mistakes, we just have happy accidents.”
“And that may be the true joy of painting, when you share it with other people.
I really believe that’s the true joy...”
“You know me, I think there ought to be a big old tree right about there.
And let’s give him a friend, everybody needs a friend, there...”
“Anything that you try and you don’t succeed, if you learn from it , it’s not a failure.”
“And the more that you paint, the more that you are able to visualize... you really can learn to be creative as you paint. It’s like anything else, it just takes a little practice.”
“And success in painting leads to success with many things,
it carries over into every part of your life.”
“Isn’t that fantastic? I knew you could do it.”