3 October 2019
I’m about to launch my new art venture which in its initial stage involves trance and painting. I am calling it meditative painting but my meditation ability fluctuates from day-to-day.
Having located an old black shawl, I drape that over my head to try to cut out the light better than a silk scarf. I’m sitting cross-legged on my cushion amongst all my painting paraphernalia on a reversed waterproof sheet (to save the carpet a further ink catastrophy), with this found shawl over my head and shamanic drum beats playing loudly through the computer.
I’m alone all day in the house and the neighbours are away, hence the loudness. Today proves the ideal circumstances in which I can paint as freely as I like. Perfect, in fact, because the delivery man arrived with my order of A1 paper at 10am this morning, so I’m all raring.
Just now I gladly launched into a relaxed state with spirit guides and imagery to hand, right where I needed to be and visiting a tribal camp back in the eons of time somewhere, when I remembered I hadn’t prepared paper ready to begin my 'blind' mark-making. I hastily ask all to bear with me and halt a moment so I can grab a sheet of paper, but realise I have to get my inks ready too.
The 3D clock ticks and the spiritual moment passes. The Lower World image I had a hold of [more on shamanic worlds another time] starts to fade: I’m no longer visiting an ancestral tribe engrossed watching their resident ‘artist’ paint a large wooden mask in chalky white clay. I can’t quite recall the shape of it – the grimace of a downturned mouth – like I want to, but I try my best on my 21st Century manufactured, 300gsm, watercolour paper…
And it’s not great. Weird as hell, I’ll give it that. Some sort of mask/creature/bird with odd eyes, however you tilt your head to examine it. Then I do the thing I’m really not supposed to: I overwork it with open eyes, assessing it’s aesthetic appearance. I’m ‘Middle World’ judging it, never a good outcome.
The past week I have struggled with meditation, painting or not. It doesn’t always work when my mind is frazzled or in a flurry. Anxiety can knock the practice right out and the 21st Century life keeps on knocking. Daily routine enables conditioned human thought to flow freely instead: the humdrum shit floats up in our heads that keeps us all fixed in reality and not the sublime spiritual existence I for one would like to be, or at least visit regularly for spiritual sustenance.
Generally, my meditation practice has to be in the evening, preferably quiet and dark with the door closed on the outside world. This is how I am able to summon the correct state. However, this is not conducive to trance painting. Painting at night is not the way to go because half of me wants to chill not get creatively fired up before I go to bed.
The argument could be that Spirit (energy) doesn’t want me to be painting what I experience or any semblance of it. Spirit is not to be exploited but respected. Spirit is not a parlour trick – that was a Victorian form of deception. And Spirit will not stick around the more I dip in and out faffing where my inks are. Quite rightly, it (they) will have better places to be.
In human terms, it is difficult switching between checking email, doing lunch, answering the door to a delivery man, putting out the washing, researching on Google, and getting deep into meditation and entering dark recesses of the imagination.
Nevertheless, some days the trance painting does happen quickly. Some days I fall right into it, and a striking image forms on the paper in front of me, unintended, unpredicted, unplanned, semi-unconscious.
I may have colours in my head which I choose ahead (to save the faffing part), but other than being physically and practically prepared, the only one focus in my head is on 'falling', on getting to the right state; of loosening my grip on reality and letting go, allowing myself and my imagination to travel up or down, whichever way is necessary at that time. My focus is not on what marks I’m going to make or what kind of image I want to create or portray.
And then, some days it just doesn’t happen. Six or seven creations I’ve done today: willow charcoal with light ink washes, and two larger ink/watercolour pieces. Sadly, I don’t feel one of them fits with the remaining set I have so far listed in my log book.
My disappointment isn’t so much in the artwork results but in my meditative ability – or lack of ability, rather. It’s not happening because my mind has been in frantic mode for a good 10 days. In this state, there’s no pushing at it or pushing it aside, it just is.
Such as it is, I shall clean up, put my paints away, make a cup of tea and schedule a pure meditation session for later.
We have to keep on trying, as we embrace our failures and recognise we can’t produce consistent energy levels, artwork or meditation states on demand. Not only as artists but because we are only human.
A ubiquitous term, but this all began with a 'journey'.
A journey entering into ever deeper, darker territory, into the soul, where reality, ego and physicality are consciously left behind.
A test of inner strength in battling and quieting the mind – of allowing the imagination and the brave, curious inner child lead the way.
Two years on and many journeys later, the creative spark is re-lit. It emerges unconsciously through spirit, in fluidity and colour and bold marks, reflecting feeling, emotion, shadow aspect...
The journey for me began ten years ago, in actual fact. It has been a long decade of self-discovery and learning to let go a lot of emotional baggage, unwanted thought patterns and engrained behaviours. It has involved psychological support, self-learned methods of healing, creative therapy – such as writing and learning drums, and dabbling in all sorts of weird and wonderful subjects that have not only helped open my mind further but revealed the high expectations and limits I put on myself and also placed on others.
I'm not going to delve into all that now – maybe another time, when we know each other a little better. This is a new era of anticipation and excitement; a new start. Tinged with anxiety, I admit, but being an intense sort of person, I rarely experience one without the other.
I do know that the threads of where I am now began in childhood, with a depth of imagination I don't think anyone around me realised was quite as vivid as it was. I kept that a secret like many other things. Such as my creative exploits. To me creating was precious and magical, somewhat sacred, the act as well as what came of it. The experience was mine, for me alone, and I liked nothing better than being free to explore it for hours and days at a time, without interruption or being brought back into the real world with a holler and a thud.
Little has changed. In later life and hitting middle age, I have accepted this is me. Imagination and creating is my core existence. The years I fought off the temptation to delve, and instead tried to fit in with others and their reality, practically ignoring my soul urge, I became ever miserable and deeply lacking in inspiration. It was like having the light and life sucked out of me. I told myself a graphic design career provided all the creativity I needed, but really, that is pretty much about satisfying briefs, about pleasing the client and whatever company you are working for. And behind what you produce are 'trends' rather than your own unique style.
Much of my life centred around others, around work, family, friends: whatever anyone asked of me, I tended to fit in where I could, even as an introvert and a highly sensitive person, factors I've come to understand about myself much more recently. For a long while, I was dutiful and loyal and did my best to keep others happy, forgetting about the little girl in me that needed to find joy, to experiment, to be left to do her own thing however odd it seemed to others. The truth emerged that she needed me to show my loyalty to her.
I believe she waited in the shadows, biding her time, silent and watchful. She waited until I began to lose my grip, to slip into lost memories and start remembering her. In her surrounding chaos sits the need for control, relieved only by creating. Only in that space can she be her true self, feel free and alive, and be open to the pure flow of ideas.
That is where the art happens – in flow, where consciousness falls away and as creatives, where we enter alternative, unconscious states.
I practice shamanic journeying, specifically, which all began with visualisation techniques and mindfulness exercises undertaken in 2013, if not right back when I was very young and open to letting my childlike mind wander into dream states more often than I cared to admit.
If you have never meditated, the very first practice you might try is breathing: deep, single breaths. In... Out... Until the lungs reach maximum capacity, until there is nothing left to bring in or let out. Seeing and feeling your thorax rise and fall, the rub cage expand. Then the word I remember my yoga instructor using is 'sinking'. Lying down, let your self, your body, sink into the floor or the bed; feel reality slip away and fall back as if dropping softly into layers, like soft feathers, or cloud.
This is essentially the first stage to entering a state of trance. It is no great magic, though the effects can be. As you let go the physical, and the mind (the ego's will to control and daily thought chatter), then the imagination and the little boy or girl in us steps out to lead the way. However young they may appear, sometimes they know what's best for us, as we get caught up in the illusion and disillusion of reality. Try trusting they know how best to enter into the soul of an artist. Trust they know the way to go.