The greatest teachers and mentors on my path were - and are - the ones who would challenge me time and time again, coax me out of my comfort zone, let me look into the hungry eyes of the limiting thoughts I had had about myself, watch me teach my own mind about its infinite potential and wait for me on the other side of the all-devouring stream I had never thought of being able to cross. Those were the teachers that were fine with me finding my own way and not follow the path they had walked on, who would fuel the spark of creation within me and not belittle me for being different and try to extinguish my flame. Every single one of them used patience and love as their teaching tools, they were strict, but never unfair, and what they had experienced in their own lives, was passed on as healing wisdom and never used to open up or inflame the same wound in the student they had been entrusted with.
"White Lion Tamarin", white pastels, Kristin Raphaela Otti (2023)
When I was kid, I loved painting and writing. I got fascinated by painting with pencils and thus shading, working on light and shadows and taking in how both light and shadow were needed to create a picture that was whole.
When I started high school in 1994, I got to choose which subjects I wanted to specialize in. Naturally I chose arts. Our professor was Artur Hanzer, the principal of our high school. He was an artist and teacher. From the very beginning, his wicked sense of humor made us feel very comfortable. After our first lesson I approached him and asked him, if we would also paint with pencils and not just use watercolors. I told him that I loved painting with pencils and that I wanted to get better at it and learn more. I hesitated for a moment, then I told him, that I had some paintings I could show him if he wanted to see them. He did. He looked at them and then he looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Very complex trees. You are a very old soul, just as complex.”
“I knew you could do it.” I just stared at him. That had been the first time in my life, that someone had told me that.
Then he thought about something and asked, “Did you participate in the art competition last year?” “Yes.” “I hope, you were among those rewarded. Were you?” “Yes. Are we going to paint with pencils?” He started smiling and said nothing. He knew. What I had not said was, that I had won the competition. I did not care about that, all I wanted to do was learn. The sole reason, why I had entered the competition in the first place, had been, that my arts teacher at my old school had told me, that I was not good enough, that there were hundreds of people better than me at painting with pencils and that I had to use watercolors instead of pencils. Naturally, I used pencils and handed it in. I won and my arts teacher back then never spoke another word with me again. He simply ignored me for the rest of the school year.
My new arts professor, Artur Hanzer, said, “There is not much left for me to teach you, but what I know, I will show you. I want you to promise me to attend the extra art lessons in the afternoon so I can.” I did not understand, what he meant, but I realized that I would be allowed to learn. “Thank you!” Then, like an afterthought, he asked, “Is everything alright at your home?”
"Rocks", a single ballpoint pen, Kristin Raphaela Otti (1994)
The next lesson he told us that we would paint rocks so we could work on shading. I lit up immediately. Pencils. That meant painting with pencils. He proceeded to paint rocks on the blackboard, just using white chalk and nothing else. I stared at his painting, open-mouthed. He had just used a single piece of white chalk, the same piece our Math professor had been using only a few moments before that. Not a set of differently graded pencils. Then he smiled at us, looked straight into my eyes and said, “You will use a single ballpoint pen. Nothing else. Begin!” I froze. My mind told me that it could not be done. I looked down at the piece of paper in front of me, then at him again, brows furrowed. He kept looking at me, smiling. His smile held no contempt, there was no hint of aggression or anger in his energy, only peace. I set my pen on the paper and started to draw. After I had drawn a few lines, I looked up at him again.
Every single one of them used patience and love as their teaching tools, they were strict, but never unfair, and what they had experienced in their own lives, was passed on as healing wisdom and never used to open up or inflame the same wound in the student they had been entrusted with.
He was still watching me, his whole being completely calm. I continued drawing, at first reluctantly, then I stopped thinking. Time ceased to exist. Then he told us to stop and started to go from student to student, looking at the paintings, commenting, explaining, smiling. Then he reached my desk and looked at my painting. He waited until I was ready to meet his eyes, then he said, “I knew you could do it.” I just stared at him. That had been the first time in my life, that someone had told me that.
He passed away a few weeks after that. It came as an utter and complete shock. I remember crying. As a kid, I did not cry. That day, when I got the message, I did.
Fortunately, right before his passing, he had granted me permission to change the subjects, I was specializing in under the condition that I would attend the art lessons in the afternoon. We had a wonderful conversation about learning that day.
"White Whale", white pastels, Kristin Raphaela Otti (2023)
He was a universal genius, a philanthropist and a proponent of his students learning as much as possible. So he allowed me to go from the arts department to the jazz department, so I could study jazz guitar and meet another teacher, who would challenge me during the following years.
Every single being you meet on your path, is a teacher, just like you are a teacher to every one you encounter. Cherish the ones that challenge you and don’t just hand everything to you on a silver platter, the ones that do not place rocks and mountains before you, but guide you to the rocks and mountains your own mind has created and show you, that the same energy, that has created the challenge, holds the very key, the learning, that will allow you to grow, so you can simply step over any mountain as if it were a mere pebble.
I still have the painting I made that day in 1994. It looks battered and it is torn in one place. It is part of my altar now.
Every rock, that I have painted, is a mountain I overcame the moment, I painted it. There is no challenge, no mountain, nothing you cannot overcome and turn into healing wisdom and strength.