Dating lessons from a sand painter

Sometimes we get lessons on dating — and life — from unusual sources.

The sand painter arrived early for the demonstration at the Arizona resort. He looked different than I expected — I made the stereotypical assumption that the demo would be by a Native American. He was not.

Although this activity was promoted on a sign in the lobby, I was the only one to attend. He and I chatted until the announced start time. I asked if it was OK to talk to him during the demo. He said that while sand painting is really a prayer, he didn’t mind talking while he did it as long as it was related to the art, not chit chat. I agreed.

Sand painting, he explained, was a ceremonial art often used in healing ceremonies. Rarely is a non-Native American allowed to see an authentic painting, and it’s even more uncommon for someone like him to be taught the process. He was taught because of his great interest in learning and the trust he earned from his teachers after decades.

He began by rolling out a cloth on the table and pouring various colored sand into small dishes. He told me what rock the sand was from and generally where he’d gathered it. Some rocks were harvested after days of hiking in the mountains. His native spiritual elder guides took him to sacred places with rare stones, sites usually only shared between Native American medicine men. He carried out the rocks in his backpack, then carefully ground them into sand in his studio at home.

He built the sand painting by taking fistfuls of a color and letting it flow out of his fist like a funnel. He would make broad designs this way. More subtle shapes were achieved by taking a pinch at a time and carefully creating the pattern he wanted.

I asked if he had a design in mind when he began. He said the design revealed itself in the moment. I asked about the prayer nature of the work. He said that since he was not a medicine man, he could not make his prayer about healing. So when he was working with the sand, he thought about what he was grateful for. The design was a thank you to the Great Spirit. The whole work was a meditative prayer of thankfulness, which is why he did it in silence or chanted when he wasn’t doing a demo.

As he put finer detail into the design I asked how he knew he was done. He said he just knew. It felt done. He said he was done with this piece now. He’d “painted” and we’d chatted for 45 minutes. The work was beautiful, full of hues — blues, reds, greens, bright yellows — we would not normally associate with sand.

He began to pour the sand from the individual bowls back into their bags. I asked what he would do with the painting he’d just created, since he couldn’t transport it as it would not retain the design. He said he will leave it for the guests to enjoy until the next morning. But then he’ll pour the sand into a bag and take it back into to the desert where it came from. He’ll chant a prayer thanking the Great Spirit for providing it. And he’ll start on the next piece.

This artist revealed a lot that applies to our dating journey — and to life.

  • He was mindful and appreciative of every step of the process. Even when the process was difficult, as when he had to hike days into a canyon to get a particular rock then carry large chunks out on his back. Dating can be difficult, as we get “dated up” only to have the coffee encounter go nowhere. Or we fall for someone then learn the feelings are not reciprocated.
  • The painter was fully present when he was in the process, not letting his mind stray to everyday tasks. He was focused on what was before him. Sometimes on a date we may be distracted if the conversation isn’t 100% scintillating, drifting to thoughts of chores we need to do when we return home. When we aren’t fully present to the person in front of us, we may miss that sly smile, a witty joke, or a twinkling eye.
  • He was relaxed and calm. He didn’t worry if he was doing it “right” or if I would like what he was creating. Sometimes on a date we can be concerned about what the other might think, rather than just relaxing and seeing what evolves.
  • And finally, he had no worry about permanence. He enjoyed what he did in the moment. If he really liked a design, he took a picture of it and recreated it in oil on canvas. In dating, sometimes we are so focused on determining if we want to see each other again, and whether he has the qualities we are looking for that we forget to just enjoy who is in front of us. We need to just allow it to evolve into something more enduring or not. And just like if the sand painting isn’t something we want to keep around, we can always pour the sand into our bag and release it — with gratitude. And then we can begin our next piece of art — our next coffee date.


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3 responses to “Dating lessons from a sand painter”

  1. Emily Booth Avatar
    Emily Booth

    This was a wonderful post. Thank you!

  2. Chelle Avatar

    Great analogy…me like!

  3. The Seductress Within Avatar

    Great analogy.

    I especially like relax, enjoy the process and don’t try to MAKE something happen.

    Women often do try too hard and then risk not acting natural- who they really are- while increasing dissapointment when things don’t work out.

    The Seductress