Learn From Rembrandt: Success and Peace Come From Accessing The Spirit Within

David Gerken
6 min readSep 6, 2019
Rembrandt, Self-Portrait — 1661

This self-portrait of Rembrandt hangs in my office. Why? It’s my constant reminder that connecting with the inner genius inside us all is absolutely paramount in life. Not just to achieve great things in your work, but also to lead a peaceful and fulfilling life. Call it inner genius, the spirit, the universe, the life force, chi, Shakti or God. Call it whatever you want. If you connect with it, and live your life through it, powerful and positive things will happen to you.

The reason I’ve chosen to focus on Rembrandt is that his work actually captured his deep connection with his spirit in his paintings. Meaning, you can literally see it. This is why Rembrandt is thought by many, including me, to be the greatest painter who ever lived. Not because he painted sublimely beautiful works like Raphael, Renoir, Monet and scores of others. No. Rembrandt, working in 17th century Amsterdam, is thought to be the best ever because he depicted the human spirit on canvas better than any artist in history. He was, by all accounts, a simple man whose towering accomplishments resulted from the direct connection he had with his soul.

So first I’ll show you, through three of his paintings, what I mean by Rembrandt capturing the spirit on canvas. Then I’ll recommend a practice that will enhance your ability to connect to your genius within.

A caveat: Trying to express in words Rembrandt’s rendering of the human spirit is not easy. As Vincent van Vogh wrote of his idol, “Rembrandt goes so deep into the mysterious that he says things for which there are no words in any language.” I’ll try…

Rembrandt, The Apostle Paul — 1657

The Apostle Paul: The painting portrays Paul, the second most influential person in Christianity, writing one of his letters to a congregation. Rembrandt’s most important tool in evoking the human spirit was his use of chiaroscuro, an Italian word meaning “light and dark.” Look at how the light on Paul’s nose, temple and forehead works to evoke a sense of profound contemplation in his eyes, which are shaded in dark tones. Rembrandt’s placement of the left hand on Paul’s forehead further…

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David Gerken

Meditation and Mindfulness teacher. Dad of three precious kids. Former writer for THE WEST WING. Follow me at davidgerken.net.