Alar Jurma of Montreal, Canada is an artist who practices yoga. He writes, “My interest in meditation came from a realization that the condition of my mind had a lot to do with how I painted. Clutter in my mind showed up as clutter in my work. Also, my creative mind had wandered to other things. My zeal to continue painting began to wane. Then I went to California to study and practice Zen Meditation. I found that trying to awaken Kundalini energy by self-effort alone was incredibly hard work. It’s the energy we use to drive our car, digest our food, paint our paintings. But it also has a spiritual aspect, which lies dormant in every human being until it becomes active or “awakened.” In this awakening, one’s understanding changes and a process of purification begins.”
“I had a very powerful experience of initiation or awakening just by being in the presence of a great master. The experience lasted for about nine hours and it changed my life. I had a glimpse into a state of awareness which was free of thought and filled with great joy and peace. Everything became an extension of myself. Time was suspended and all doubts about what is real and what it is to be human were erased. I now paint entirely to honor the divinity of all life, including that which resides within myself. When I paint, I try not to get in the way of Kundalini and her playful self. She likes to be free and so do I. My part in these undertakings is that I just stand back and watch it happen, mostly in a state of wonderment.”
Thanks for that Alar. So here’s what we all want to know: How does it work? What types of art do yoga-influenced artists do? Are they any better, happier, more productive, than those who don’t? Do they substitute spirit for technique? Does yoga tranquilize or enhance vital creative energy? Is it a genuine pill or a placebo? I’m asking yogic artists to send examples of their work and a statement of their experiences. We’ll publish a cross section in a future clickback and we’ll all have a look.
PS: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” (Shunryu Suzuki)
Esoterica: Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Shunryu Suzuki is a popular account of Zen practice. It’s based on informal talks on how to practice Zen, including posture and breathing. It includes Right Practice, Right Attitude, Right Understanding, and other techniques on the Buddhist path.
The following are selected correspondence arising from the above letter. Thank you for writing.
Tap into creative centers
by Cassandra James, Texas, USA
I find the benefit of yoga is that it provides a certain mental discipline that stills a cluttered mind and allows it to tap into creative centers of the brain that we don’t often access. It’s the place you go when you look up, it’s 3 hours later, you’re covered with paint and have no clear recollection of making a painting. Seems to be the best work, too. Feels like the work has pretty much painted itself — that one was possessed as it were, but in fact the rich, fertile sources of your subconscious mind have painted it, with the knowledge of technique you already had. Not a magic pill, but a way to move beyond technique. It’s a mistake to believe this sort of passion can overcome lack of technique.
by Norah Borden
I’m not sure whether my inspiration/productivity can be solely attributed to my yoga practice, however it certainly helps with my peace of mind and well-being. My inspiration comes from self exploration, discovery and love of art… that is what motivates me as an artist.
by Karlene Ryan, Fresno, California, USA
I don’t think it is appropriate to compare art work as better, more inspired etc. that is yoga or meditative based. All along you have referred to the inner light that motivates our work. I do believe and approach the moment of my work with a spiritual mission statement that I know has a Divine source. I know that I am at a spiritual centering place when I paint and that I want to get out of the way of ego and pray that my work has that spiritual radiating quality. I know that if I am more relaxed and free of tension and distractions, I can “let go” to this freedom: however, I question how you can set up a judgment statement about work that will be sent from yoga practicing artists? Maybe it will shine through and be very evident. It should. Of course I do need to remember some footwork like wisdom of skills that “The Painter’s Keys” talks about.
In the zone
by Elsha Leventis, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
I’ve worked both with and without meditation; I find that doing art itself is meditative — the world ceases to exist and I’m “in the zone.” When I’m in a meditative state by practicing meditation before I begin to paint, I’ve been amazed at what I produce. It feels as though the work is coming from a higher power through me, and my hands are just doing what is required in the moment. It’s an awesome experience. Is the art better? Judgment of artistic merit ties into going to sources outside the self for validation; the experience of meditatively producing art is an internal one. As an artist I feel connected to my work in a way that goes beyond judgment to a sense of awe that has nothing to do with its artistic merit, and everything to do with tapping into my higher self. To quote Martha Stewart — “It’s a good thing.”
by Claude Courvoisier, Nova Scotia, Canada
Yoga and Zen are two different spiritual experiences entirely, which come from two different religions: Hinduism for Yoga and Buddhism for Zen. In yoga you move, you take different positions, in Zen your body position is the same for hours at a time and the purpose of Zen is to empty the mind totally. Zen is not easy to achieve and used by the Buddhist Monks I have had both experiences but unfortunately not with a great master. Instinctively when I am not “in the mood” I don’t paint. Now I realize that not being in the mood is having distracting or conflicting thoughts. If one can apply either one of these techniques in her/his day to day life it sure will be a great benefit for her/his activities including painting. I just caution that not everybody can do Zen meditation. You must be free of any circulation problems otherwise it can be dangerous to stay in the same position for hours. You can read about Zen meditation at http://www.mro.org/zmm/zazen.shtml. This site is related to storytelling in Zen and Taoism religions. I was lucky enough to read parts of a book on Taoism and appreciate the philosophy of this religion, which obviously is easy to understand for everybody and not destined to an “elite” but to be used by everybody everywhere. Zen meditation is online at http://www.do-not-zzz.com/. This site explains the different Zen teachings including the one teaching in our western society like California. As for yoga, this is my favourite site on Yoga and Hinduism. http://www.geocities.com/RodeoDrive/1415/indexb.html
Now about me: I think spirituality is at the core of all religions. However, all religions have forgotten this core and fiction seems to have replaced fact. Religion has come to mean ‘blind organized faith’ and has become dogmatic and fundamentalistic in its views. Spirituality is a one-on-one communication with the Divine, without the influence of any organization or a set of dogmatic views. It is based more on personal experiences rather than the experiences of others. While I was born and raised Catholic I will be always a “Spiritual” person but won’t belong anymore to a “dogmatic” religion. This ‘freedom” allows me to be open-minded to any without excluding and to learn more than I could ever dream of if I was part of a dogmatic religion. The only way we can have peace in this world is accepting each other with our differences.
Requires to agonize over painting decisions
by Ron Stacy
I’m pleased for Alar that he enjoys painting again, but I certainly don’t want to stand by and watch what my muse paints on my behalf. Also I don’t want to be free of thought. Even when I pursue the relatively mindless act of being entertained by the TV world, (which is really a medium for delivering commercials geared to consume and other propaganda) my brain insists on being itself. With that in mind, I won’t be handing my Id over to yoga or any other influence in order to take a rest from being. I require to agonize over my painting decisions. I require that I use skills that I have pursued. My paintings are supposed to be an expression by me. I don’t think I’ll be subscribing to painting by yoga, but I’d like to see the results of same. Who knows, I may be all wet!
by Suzanne Northcott
I, too, am a yoga practitioner, years of ragged practice cobbled together from several different teachers. I also am part of a meditation group. My most recent work has been influenced by this, in spirit and intellectually. I work from impulse, so the work in this group came without an explanation attached. I am trying to represent the interior space I seek to create and hold during yoga or meditation as well as thinking about the possible ability of a painting as an object to “hold a space” for the viewer to have an emotional or contemplative experience. In both cases I would really like to use the painting to open up time a little. The meditation and the yoga and the painting and the living of my life and the thinking about all those things are very wound together and each one definitely informs the other.
by Bonnie Evans
That’s all well and good for someone in a perfect world, but if you start your day with diapers, or lunch making, or laundry, or dirty breakfast dishes — well you get the picture. The rest of us don’t live in a bugless world… and personally I think working to “unclutter” your mind while painting takes you to a deeper place.
by Rose Moon, Sedona, Arizona, USA
I’m responding to the letter about enlightenment and art. Since 1965 this has been my path also. When I am not in my studio painting or dealing with art business, I am a student of the Dahnhak Korean Center in Sedona, AZ. Sometimes I am there everyday for meditation, yoga, ki kong, and other mastery skills. It helps to keep me grounded, focused, peaceful, and energetic. One of my art students is the daughter of an enlightened master.
Don’t waste your time
by Walt Evans, Klamath Falls, Oregon, USA
As far as today’s mental masturbation goes, yogurt is a lot of crap. Get your butt off the floor and start slinging paint. These introspective nitwits have been out in the cold too long and their have lost confidence in their selves and must breast-feed from some mysterious quack. You have it or you don’t. Go learn the fundaments of the “art medium” the “art laws” and get with it. You start with an empty canvas, and if when you’re done, you have a full one or nothing, if you like what you see, screw the small-minded world. Always ask yourself, how did the so called teachers get there? Knowledge? Experiment — that’s how, experimenting! So go play after you learn the rules, break them and be a Van Gogh, or stay painting the boring barns, landscapes, join some art league, or worst yet work in the “Bill Alexander” style. Don’t waste time meditating. Attack the canvas, and have joy, just know of course what a brush is, and which end to hold and follow some of Robert’s instructions if they make sense to you. I’m a painter of hundreds of paintings and thousands of colored drawings, all bad and full of life and joy. They are all over the world, and I did not meditate once or medicate.
Higher sense of purpose
by Rob Zeer
Like Alar described elegantly, I also believe that it is important for an artist to be awakened to a higher sense of purpose in order to create “meaningful art.” Though be careful, Zen is not Buddhism or any other religion. Like art, Zen defies any set description or prescription. Even though Zen, like art, is impossible to describe or understand we should endeavor to do so. Through a style of meditation developed by the master Gorasama, available in San Diego, I experienced an awakening and tasted a great joy and peace, as described by Alar. It has profoundly changed my undertaking in life as well as art. I have gained my best understanding of Zen from my meditation and from west coast author, Ray Grigg’s book, The Tao of Zen. Here are some Zen quotes from his book: “If you see Buddha, kill him.” “Zen is seeing into one’s nature, and not of practicing dhyana (meditation) or obtaining liberation.” “The true mind is no mind.” “There should not be any particular teaching. Teaching is in each moment.” “By yielding… overcome. By bending… remain straight.” “Look, it cannot be seen — it is beyond form. Listen, it cannot be heard — it is beyond sound. Grasp, it cannot be held — it is intangible.” “Selfless action somehow connects the artist to a larger order. Making beauty is like practicing Zen.”
Red flag goes up
by Neil Locke
I fully agree with Alar that meditation is a perfect way to stabilize our lives and help us minimalize the clutter that many of us endure. I would encourage everyone, especially artists, to investigate this. Alar then said that he went to California and, with a great master, awakened Kundalini energy during a nine hour meditation session. This is where the red flag goes up and I become concerned.
The Kundalini energy constantly works subtly, but is never dormant. It is always being fed by the things we experience in our past, present and future life, both good and bad. When it is “awakened,” it is akin to a bolt of lightening coming from above to the earth below us, then a very strong flame rushing up through us. It is something that should only be approached in the presence of a great master or guru, and never done as an initial exposure to yoga or meditation. Not only do you feel your positive life energy, but you also experience the negative. The result of the latter can be depression, illness or even a shortening of life. The Kundalini energy is non-discriminate as it knows neither good nor bad and should be treated with the ultimate respect. It is YOU that you will be experiencing. There are many forms of yoga and meditation to participate in that give great rewards and can nurture the creative spirit. If you do wish to venture along this path and experience the Kundalini please do the following: Be patient, allow you and your guru to cross paths, become a student, practice, and only approach this when you are ready with your guru present. This person will know how to temper this energy so it is safer for you to experience.
Lives in permanent receptive state
by Marti Adrian, Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada
It is through meditation that I find my greatest inspiration. I do not substitute spirit for technique. The technique comes through spirit. In meditation, in awareness of the Universal mind, in reaching for our higher selves, we are able to access every technique that we have ever learned or seen, and apply that to our painting. I do what I call ‘spiritual’ paintings, but I also am an equine artist, and a sculptor. I cannot be in a creative mind without also being in a spiritual mind as well. The two are synonymous. I find that since I began the practice of meditation, then yoga, and finding that connection to my higher self, I live in a receptive state almost all the time so that these images and any others I need for my paintings and sculptures, are always very close at hand.
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