Have you been feeling the urge to join your local knitting club recently? Discovered the joy of cupcake baking? Taken up art journaling or dallying with learning the guitar you so wanted to rock out to once upon a time? It seems that in the uncertain and stressful times we live in, more and more of us are returning to the simple creative pleasures that require slowing down, paying attention and the joy of making something fresh from the realm of our imagination. In the spiralling busyness of the 21st century, there feels a need to counteract this mind-boggling stimulation. Art-making can become a prayer, a thread to the divine within, when all around us speeds up. Like yoga and meditation, and many other practices we may follow, art is a way to return back to our centre, to slow down, and return to the simplicity of living. Essentially making art is about returning to the realm of play! ‘Alchemy of the arts’ offers workshops, evening sessions, and retreats to join and explore these practices in a unique and heartfelt way.
Since the beginning of time human beings have chosen to express themselves through art-making, offering images in response to and in question to the experience of life and its mysteries. Shamanic cultures in particular have used image making to connect with the higher self, to bring about healing, and the art created was seen as a potent force of knowing oneself and the god(dess) within. In fact, using art in this way is an extremely relevant medicine tool, one we can all use to bring us closer to living from the resource of power potentially available to every one of us.
‘Alchemy of the Arts’ events offer an opportunity to combine the practices of yoga, meditation, dance, art-making, journaling and ritual. So what to expect from a workshop or retreat? Expect the delight in trailing juicy colours across paper or canvases; expect the sensual joy of turning a lump of clay into a symbol of your heart; expect images from fliers or magazines collaged together to create a vision board for your soul’s intention! Creativity is our birthright, and the childlike innocence we all once knew and rejoiced in, is celebrated and honoured. These events are open to everyone, no matter your level of experience.
In a session we begin with the practice of yoga, returning us back home into our bodies, opening out the breath to fuel us deeper into contact with our divine Self, dancing our energies unique pathway. Meditation, either silent, mantra based, or as gentle movement, focuses our minds, allowing us the space to become still, quiet or in touch with how we are in that moment, observing the dance of our mind. From here we set our intention, what it is we would like to explore deeper through the realm of art-making. Maybe that day it is the ache across our shoulders that needs our attention or we would like some clarity about some aspect of our life’s choices we are experiencing. Sometimes we may take as a starting point the shape our body feels it is holding, or the texture and hue of our energy or emotional state at that time. Essentially, our intention is merely the way in, a starting point.
Once engaged with the image and the materials chosen, we follow its guidance, practicing surrendering to its flow. Of course this brings up challenges, especially to our ego self! When we find ourselves stuck it is very easy to control what happens next, to lose our trust with the unknown unfolding in front of us. I have witnessed this hundreds of times, both with my students and with my own art practice. Yet here is the beauty of this practice. If we can stay with the image, through all uncertainty, take a risk to be lead by the hand of our energetic flow, then that’s when the miraculous occurs. It never ceases to amaze me when this happens. A new enthusiasm arises, a new image appears, the student flushed with this wonder, their eyes bright and sparkling. That is the alchemy that always takes place if we simply let go and trust.
Finally, we share our images, witnessing, a powerful and touching healing tool. Insight is often obtained, and the curious thing is that new reserves of energy are reported and felt. It is almost as if art-making has unlocked a pool of life force previously held closed within. The images often inspire us to live and engage a little deeper with our life.
As a yoga teacher since 2000, creative arts therapist since 2007, and visionary artist, I began to marry these practices around 2004 on a trip to Thailand, beginning each day with the creation of a mandala as a form of meditation to bring expression to who and how I was in that moment. I continued this throughout my 3 month voyage and was amazed and fascinated by how much I found out about myself through this form of re-connecting. Alongside my yoga and meditation practices I had found another gem, one in which the energy I was freeing and playing with on my mat, could be given a language to manifest itself through line, shape, colour, texture and symbols.
On returning to Manchester I began to offer workshops combining these techniques, and in 2007 commenced running retreats offering a longer opportunity to connect with and then to play with these practices. Immersing myself in ‘lila’, in playing, in dancing with the world, I return back to the innocence of childhood with the awareness of an adult self.
I am constantly in awe and humbled by the images and imagination offered and expressed by the many students I have had the pleasure to have worked with over the years. Many people openly declare their tentativeness of the art-making aspect of the practice, having recalled a not so encouraging message from their time at school. With the simple encouragement to paint as if you were going to burn the image, that we are not seeking a perfect outcome, yet merely we are dancing with the brushes, the paper, the paints, the student finds at some point the ability to finally surrender, to lose themselves, with awareness, into the pleasure of creating.
According to Sankhya philosophy, the unmanifest, the source, the Self, known as Purusha, is given form through the manifestation of the elements, the senses, language and our stories (Prakriti). How we bring our unique expression of that divine source into the world to be shared and experienced is in fact the simple ability to live as a human being. As soon as we are born we are in the first stages of imprinting our own vision onto the blank canvas of our lives. In fact we were all made manifest by probably the most creative act possible. To live a creative life, whether as a parent, a chairman, a teacher, a lover, or a yogi(ni), is to be human. The word for ‘human’ in Bali also means ‘artist’.
The practices of yoga, meditation and art are incredibly similar. They each invite us inwards, to become mindful, to be aware, to softly notice our edges, to celebrate our Self in its purest and richest form, to be authentic. They give us a beautiful and incredibly creative way of expressing our divinity, of dancing with spirit, Prana, our life force. Intention is set, to align with the divine, for clarity, understanding and healing. Commitment is needed, to stay with whatever arises. To surrender layer by layer into the process is the warrior tool we bring with us. And a compassionate curious mind is cultivated, to bear witness to the innate voice and stories within.
The sacred practices of yoga and art, each as old as time itself, offer themselves for our own unique dance. What will yours look like today?