The Indelible Mark

I saw a play long ago about Georgia O’Keeffe.  There is one scene that will stay with me forever.  In the scene, she agonizes before her empty canvas.  She is disheveled, tormented, ready to paint and, yet, not ready to paint.  She holds a brush.  The paint is there, ready, as well as her clean slate of a canvas.  Waiting.  Waiting.  The audience holds its breath.  I am holding my breath.  Stieglitz enters the scene.  He watches O’Keeffe.  Her eyes do not leave the canvas as she says to him, “It’s the Indelible Mark!  Oh!  The Indelible Mark!”

Georgia before her canvas

Georgia at her canvas

You see, she is waiting.  She is waiting for some unseen force, some unspoken agreement that allows her to BEGIN.  Once she puts her brush to the canvas, the Indelible Mark will be made!  But what is the Indelible Mark?  The Indelible Mark is the start of something fantastic, creative, and inimitable!  It is the mark that cannot be removed.  It is the indelible/permanent marker that my mom used for marking her frozen garden produce before it went into the freezer.  It is the indelible/permanent ink used for tattoos.

Georgia's hands

Georgia’s hands

But wait!  There’s more to this concept of the Indelible Mark.  Georgia was agonizing over it for a good reason.  The first mark is crucial to the outcome of the completed work of art.  The indelible mark is a commitment.  Once it is made, there is no going back.  The mark takes on a life of its own.  The brush and the painter become the instrument for the creation of a master piece.  If you make an indelible mark on society, you will never be forgotten, your songs will be sung, your poetry will be quoted, your theories will stand solid and become a foundation for scientists or philosophers.  Georgia knew that once her brush touched the canvas, she’d be on a journey, a journey on uncharted territory.

How does one produce something so magnificent?  It seems she is asking the same question.

How does one produce something so magnificent? This photo seems she is asking this very question.  A true journey of uncharted territory.

So why would a yoga teacher,  such as myself, take such interest in Georgia agonizing over the Indelible Mark?  Because the hardest part of any yoga class is the first few seconds, the opening, the start!  There I am sitting before the class.  I am observing the energy. I am watching.  I am waiting.  I am reading energy.  Is the class energetic?  Are the students lying over bolsters?  Are they chatty or are they frighteningly quiet?  Like Georgia, once I begin, I am on uncharted territory.  I never go into class without a preconceived class plan in mind.  In fact, for the first four years of teaching, I used to write out my class plan for each session.   Once I begin teaching the yoga session, I am Georgia O’Keeffe at her canvas.  I am a river rafting guide.  I am leading the class  on a river run and I am steering the raft. I only have so much control over the current.  The river flow is stronger that I am and we will just have to go with it as safely and sanely as possible.  I will use my wits.  I will use my experience.  I will do my best to get us home  –to shavasana- safely. I am your pilot, but sometimes if is as if I am not in compete control of where the river is taking us and I am left to channel and become purely intuitive through much of the journey.  I have to stay focused and alert to every bend and run of the river.


Sounds crazy, I am sure.  However, if you are a teacher (and most people are teachers and don’t even realize it!),  you will know what I mean.  It’s all in how you start which generates the course of action and will eventually lead you to completion!

Completion!  Sheer genious.

Completion! Sheer genius.

Whether the session is one hour long, one hour and fifteen minutes, or a two- or three-hour workshop, time becomes duration, and the asana (postures) become the means to create something exquisitely unique!  The indelible mark, the artist at the canvas, the teacher before the class, and the parent before the child are integral parts of a journey of uncharted territory with the possibility of a uniquely exquisite outcome!

A contemplative Georgia O'Keeffe

A contemplative Georgia O’Keeffe


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4 Responses to “The Indelible Mark”

  1. Tina Koyama Says:

    Wow! I can see that as a teacher, you have a responsibility to all your students and the experience they have, so what you’re saying makes total sense. But as an artist and writer, I think O’Keefe’s Indelible Mark is an ideal way to get writer’s or artist’s block! To make art, I have to believe that what I do today is no big deal at all. If I don’t like it, I turn the page or get another canvas. If I like it, I turn the page or get another canvas. Of course, I’m no Georgia O’Keefe. 🙂

    – Tina


    • frangallo Says:

      Tina, thank you for your comment! You are right…Georgia O’Keeffe did have artist’s block before the start of a great work of art. Her dilemma came from how she felt about her artwork and she was more like the violinist who stands before the stage and cannot afford to get a single note wrong. It might happen, but it will affect the performance as a whole. Like you said, though, O’Keeffe could have started over again if the first attempt didn’t work. It wasn’t as if she had an audience in the room with her. I think she was just waiting to ride the wave, waiting for the inspirational wave to come, and she knew that once she started, she was going to be surfing the wave and she produced her creations in that purely spiritual and inspired state of being. I am sure many artists just start and if they don’t like what they have done, they start over again. -Fran


  2. caronharrang Says:

    A beautiful essay Fran. It makes me think of what psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion said late in his career when he left note taking behind and determined to approach every session with every patient “without memory or desire.” What he meant by this was to enter the experience with another without striving to remember what had happened before or striving to get to attain a certain outcome. Just wait and see what actually comes to mind, for the patient and for himself and work with that. Waiting, however, is an anxious affair. No one, not you or me or Bion or anyone can wait without some sense of trepidation about what will happen next. It’s part of being awake to life and to the creative impulse.

    As I write this I am myself in the middle of creating a psychoanalytic essay on what’s called the termination or ending process in analysis. I realize that after the indelible mark has been made there is another scary moment, which has to do with figuring out when the creative act is complete! How to start? How to proceed? How to end? The basic philosophical questions of life, I suppose, that we’re all trying to grasp.

    Thank you for making your mark on my mind with this essay and as you regularly do in your work as a yoga teacher.



    • frangallo Says:

      Hi Caron, Interesting approach by Bion. Perhaps in his approach, he was able to be more intuitive and more in the moment. And you bring up another interesting point in figuring out when the creative act is complete. So many questions to ponder and figure out. Thank you for your thought provoking comment. -Fran


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