a creative rhythm conversation with Abbey of the Arts founder Christine Valters Paintner
Christine Valters Paintner is an author and Abbess of AbbeyoftheArts.com where she combines expressive arts, spirituality and contemplation in a virtual monastery focused on compassionate soul care. I discovered her from a friend I met at a creativity retreat.
Christine had me at “virtual monastery” and her Monk Manifesto! What’s not to love?!
I immediately resonated with her approach and love what she has created, especially being someone who needs regular silence and healthy amounts of solitude. Offerings include books authored by Christine, an online community, self-study and facilitated online classes as well as in-person retreats in the United States and in Europe.
I love how she describes how she integrates and honors her creative rhythm and contemplative practices into her business life.
I am a huge fangirl of AbbeyoftheArts.com! What is your background and how did your experience lead you to found the Abbey? Who do you think of reaching with this work?
Thanks so much Joy! It is such a delight to have folks who have been with me long-term and are committed to what the Abbey is about. Most of my work has been the result of an organic process. While I am someone who does enjoy making lists and plans, my strongest growth has come when I continue to work, but release my own agenda and pay attention to how my work is unfolding. I call it “following the thread” where I honor the things in life that bring me alive and shimmer as clues to the next step.
I honor the things in life that bring me alive and shimmer as clues to the next step.
My background is in academia. I went to graduate school for a Masters and doctorate in theology and Christian spirituality with every intention of teaching at a university. I did teach for Seattle University for several years as an adjunct, both undergraduate and graduate classes, and I enjoyed it. But I also found academic life stifling, too many restraints on what I could teach and how I could write.
At the same time I started a blog – my first blog was called Sacred Art of Living, and I still hold to this idea that our first art form is the living of our lives. It was on my blog that I slowly tried to develop my voice away from the academic standards I had been so shaped by. I wanted my writing to reach people and mean something, not be stuffed away in a textbook that only a few people would read.
I have complete respect for academics and for what they write. I have a very scholarly heart and am grateful for my academic training and the rigor involved, because I do think it made me committed to bringing spiritual resources of real depth to the world. So much of what is out there doesn’t have a solid foundation in anything.
In graduate school I also discovered my love of monasticism and became a Benedictine oblate, which means I am a lay person who makes a commitment to living in a contemplative way, right in the midst of daily life as a married woman. Now my work centers largely on supporting others in becoming “monks in the world.” No longer is it necessary to go off to a monastery. My website in its current form, is a virtual monastery, so I offer support to folks in this commitment to living life differently than what the dominant culture values.
What was your first offering?
My first online class was called Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist, and it brought together these two loves of mine: contemplative practice and creative expression. The class filled within days and I was stunned. With online teaching I can reach a wider audience and people can participate at lower cost than traveling to learn from me. So it really opened the door for me to shift into this work full-time.
Your book, Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice, and blog reflect some of the ways you stay connected with your center. What are your personal practices or rituals for working on your creative offerings? How do you decide what the next project or step is for you in your business? You offer people many paths to tie various forms of expressive arts to their spiritual and soul care work, I’m curious what specifically works for you.
My fundamental practice is mindfulness and presence. I don’t believe in multitasking. Really, the way I can be so productive is giving my full attention to whatever I am doing in the moment. I have a tendency to plan many things and feel pulled in many directions, which can create anxiety. So breathing and returning to what is before me is essential. And I get far more done than when anxiety is ruling my world. I never want to market contemplative practice as a productivity strategy, but I do think that our focus on doing multiple things at once really drains our capacity for showing up fully for our work.
I have a rhythm when I am working at home which definitely includes contemplative walks and photography. I find physical engagement through walking, swimming, yoga, and dancing another essential element of nourishing my work. I also have a tendency to live too much in my head, so when I feel “stuck” nothing frees me up faster than movement or being out in nature. I am very fortunate to live by the sea in Galway, Ireland, and long walks along the bay are part of my daily practice.
I also have a practice called lectio divina (sacred reading) which my husband and I do together each morning. Essentially it is an ancient way of reading sacred texts (which can be scripture from any tradition or poetry) in a contemplative way. This has become such a touchstone for me, because the texts I read always have a line to offer me which can shift my thinking about things. In the practice, we listen for what shimmers and what the invitation is out of this. Much of my discernment around new projects arises from this space. I am also an avid journaler, and find journaling a place of such clarity, where I can dump everything that is going on in my chattering mind onto the page and sift through it until something emerges.
Rest and retreat are also essential practices for me. I love to take naps, which also help to shift my perspective when I have been thinking too hard about something. Getting away for some silence and solitude is very grounding and important for me to reconnect with the source of all my creative ideas and tune in to what is calling to me most strongly.
Really, the way I can be so productive is giving my full attention to whatever I am doing in the moment.
Do you yourself complete all the exercises in your books and courses?
When I teach the expressive arts, one of my fundamental principles is that folks should always experience an exercise they plan to lead with others. So I try to live by that myself as well and engage in whatever I am offering to others. It gives me valuable insight into how an exercise might be experienced and places of resistance.
How does working this way feed your productivity and your business/marketing? How do you incorporate rest, or nourish yourself when you feel depleted?
I have really learned from experience what depletes me and what nourishes me. I come from a very monastic approach on this and try not to invest my worth in doing and what I achieve or produce. I think of it as a service to the world, an offering of my gifts. But there are times when I need to pull back and take some time for deep rest. Humility is absolutely essential.
I think of it as a service to the world, an offering of my gifts. But there are times when I need to pull back and take some time for deep rest. Humility is absolutely essential.
This past year is a good example. My husband and I embarked on a great adventure last spring, selling everything we owned and moving overseas first to Vienna, Austria, and then to Galway, Ireland where we now live. Through all of our transitions and travels I have been running my business full-steam.
So I have discerned that I really need time this summer off from teaching, off from deadlines and the need to produce on schedule. I need restorative time for my body to recover from the many demands I have placed on it, as well as time for dreaming and pondering of possibilities. I find open space like this really sparks my creative inspiration. After some time for just rest I will still be working, but in a more open-ended and playful way, seeing what is really calling to my heart.
Thankfully we try to live fairly simply, another monastic principle, which also gives us the freedom to make choices like this and follow the rhythms that most nourish us.
Where is your creative energy these days? And what is on the horizon?
My heart is really being drawn to the power of pilgrimage, after having explored it on such a personal level these last several months. I have a book in the works, based on an online art retreat I led last year, about the archetype of the pilgrim in each of us. I hope to have time this summer to work further on it.
This past spring I led a writing and photography pilgrimage to Vienna and I loved witnessing participants fall in love with a city I adore. My husband and I are right in the midst of making plans for a pilgrimage to the west coast of Ireland in spring 2014 to explore the many ancient monastic ruins here as inspiration for how to live as a monk in the world.
Resources mentioned in this conversation:
AbbeyoftheArts.com: You can sign up for her 7-day ecourse on becoming a “Monk in the World” here at no cost.
Monk Manifesto: You may download a PDF version, or a German one!
My favorite book from Christine is The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom.