Societies everywhere designate certain individuals as taking on the role of “shaman” for their group.
The shaman is said to co-create with the spirit world and is always subscribing to the powers that animate nature to disclose sources of dis-ease. He or she will always source from direct experience and so will arrive at his/her own experience-derived conclusion about what is going on in the universe, and about what term is most useful to describe reality (Harner). The shaman is said to have supernatural powers that are used to serve the greater collective or community. The shaman engages in the active pursuit of knowledge to see clearly in both this world and the spirit realm. This knowing of the spirit realm engages at symbolic, literal, mythic, and essential levels of understanding. This seeing of what is undisclosed to the untrained eye embraces the Evenki term ‘shaman’ which translates as ‘the one who knows’ (Scott, 2002).
Shamanic practitioners share the conviction that all entities–animate or otherwise–are imbued with a holistic life force, vital energy, consciousness, soul, spirit, or some other ethereal or immaterial substance that transcends the laws of classical physics. Much of the shaman’s long training is dedicated to developing a high ethic, a value system founded on a deep reverence for all life (Tedlock 05). The Indian Prana, Polynesian Mana, Lakota Wakanda, Peruvian Causay, Chinese Taoist Ch’i are conceived of as powerful forces that permeate everything.
Shamans cross culturally appear to hold the worldview that in the web of life, all things are interdependent and interconnected and that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between different dimensions, forces, and entities of the cosmos.
Shamans organize this complex reality by saying the world is constructed in a series of levels connected by a central axis in the form of a world tree or mountain (Tedlock 05). Shamans journey to these worlds moving up or down through the cosmic levels and sometimes sideways into alternative worlds upon the earth. The shamans of the mountains in Peru travel through a three-world cosmology: the Ukupatcha, the underworld, the Kaypacha, the middle world, this world as we know it, and the Hanakapatcha, the upper world. There are sub-worlds of stones, plants, ancestors, angelics and more. The shaman will travel to these worlds to perform soul retrievals, destiny retrievals and healing for the community.
Shamans recognize extraordinary forces, entities, or beings whose behavior in an alternative reality affects individuals and events in our ordinary world. They understand that actions or rituals performed in the ordinary reality can lead to effects in the alternative sphere.
At the heart of shamanic practice is the active pursuit of knowledge. Shamans are primarily concerned with the maintenance or the restoration of equilibrium in all elements of the individual as well as the cosmos. Shamans, like scientists, personally pursue research into the mysteries of the universe, and believe that the underlying causal processes of that universe are hidden from ordinary view (Harner).
Mountain Shamanism is an intimate relationship with the land founded upon direct experience. When we are able to listen to and commune with the wise energies and spirits of the mountains and the nustas, we can live in a way that is nature-informed. This loving exchange is strengthened when we journey to the mountains and the waters and make ceke lines with our feet, through offerings, and when we invoke the natural forces in healing and ceremony.
Your connection to the land grows stronger as you build your medicine bundles or mesas. These altars are comprised of tools for your personal and collective spiritual practice as well as stones acquired from places of potency. The initiatory processes within Mountain Shamanism activate and transform these stones into kuyas, power objects, which begin to inform you of both your strengths and the guidance that is available to you.
What sets Mountain Shamanism apart from other Andean traditions, is the manner in which altered states of consciousness are attained. In this lineage, breath practices, drum and rattle work for journeying, mantra, movement, and ceremony – rather than psychotropics – are used as technologies for shifting perception, healing, and reaching trance states.
The Medicine Wheel
Medicine Wheel has been a tradition in the world over since time immemorial. These sacred hoops are used to facilitate health and healing. Medicine Wheels and their meanings are as diverse as the cultures that use(d) them. They are typically artistic representations for the four directions, Father Sky and Mother Earth and turn in a sunwise or clockwise direction.
Medicine in this context is not what we understand in Western medicine. This type of medicine is the honing of healing power of the four cardinal directions, the sky, and the earth, that nature herself has a vital life force we can tap into to bring things back into balance. The Medicine Wheel is the mapping of our cosmology, philosophy and teachings that will help us return our lives to balance and be of service to the world around us.
In this tradition, we construct several things that represent these very intentions. Sandpaintings, mesas, and other artworks are used to represent the journey we take back to ourselves. Also, by imbibing our art with our intentions for healing we can integrate the work that we do, weaving it into the fabric of our being. This kind of healing, this medicine, means turning the page in your story, rewriting it, and dreaming your world into being. It’s finally letting go and saying yes.
The Four Directions of the Mountain Shamanism Medicine Wheel
The Mountain Shamanism journey begins in the South, this is The Healer’s Journey. Here we have the Serpent archetype from which we draw the inspiration to shed the past, begin to detach from wounds and personal stories as acts of power and love. Here we are initiated with rites of passage which will assist in building a mesa and lead to Healer’s Rites.In the West, we embark on The Warrior’s Journey. We meet Jaguar, who teaches about life, death and rebirth. We gather our courage and face our fears by learning about love. In the west we also embark on radical forgiveness, living with impeccability and step across the rainbow bridge walking as warriors without enemies in this life or the next. Here we receive the seeds for the initiation rites as guardians and keepers of the earth.
Our third direction is The Teacher’s Journey. In the North, we meet Hummingbird who teaches us we are enough. Learn to taste knowledge directly, to manifest the impossible, and to receive ancestral knowledge. We also call in the mountains and come to know our lineage, stepping into the space in time that has been kept for us. Here we will receive the seeds for the rites as keepers of the mountains.
The Visionary’s Journey is our last direction of the Wheel. In this final gathering of the East we explore Eagle, who teaches us about destiny and daring to go where we have not gone before. We also learn how to see with our hearts and create a vision of peace. Here we receive the seeds for the rites of the star beings.
Shamans are people of percept. When they want to change the world, they engage in perceptual shifts that change their relationship to life.
Alignment with Non-Dual Shakta Tantra
The worldview of the Tantrik yogin is commonly differentiated from classical Patanjali Yoga and is considered post-classical Yoga. Tantra’s worldview is that absolutely everything arises from a divine source, that includes all aspects of lived experience. Classical Yoga denounces sensual experiences and desires on the material plane of living. They are considered as illusionary and not divine. The esoteric principle of Tantra is that liberation is coessential with enjoyment (bhukti); that the spiritual is not inherently separate from the world (Feurstein 2008, p. 20). Tantra claims the original form of non-dualism. The emphasis on oneness and expansion are principles expressed by the practitioners of Tantra experiencing life’s fullness, expanding the mind beyond ordinary limitations. A large part of Tantra focuses on the more subtle elements of the body, mind, and life.
Chakras, nadis, yantras, kundalini, asana, meditation, pranayama, visualization, and invocation of deities are all primary practices in Tantra Yoga. Tantra was always intended as a householders’ practice; every person’s practice, and was often referred to as the poor people’s religion of India. Tantra always rejected patriarchy and the caste system. While women were prohibited from learnings in the Vedas, in the Tantric tradition, women and people of lower castes were encouraged and respected as teachers and practitioners.
The Tantrik teachings from the Shiva and Shakta non-dual yoga schools teach that there are three malas (meaning impurities or limiting concepts), or three veils that hide our true nature from us. The Tantras then taught four upayas- skillful means, by which the methods and practices involved would remove those impurities for self-recognition with divine consciousness to be possible (Kempton, 2018).
The Three Malas
- Anava-mala: The impurity of smallness. This mala operates through the heart. It is the source of the primal feeling of sadness and lack. The feeling separated from the All.
- Mayiya-mala: The impurity of experiencing oneself as a particular individual. This mala operates through the mind as a contraction of knowledge and power.
- Karma-mala: The impurity of action. This mala operates through the body as a contraction of our power of action as we see ourselves as the doers of limited action.
The Four Upayas
- Anava Upaya: The method of the individual. Anava Upaya is the antidote to karma-mala. The skillful means of Anava are asana, mudra, pranayama, selfless action, dedicating one’s actions as service, chakra, visualization, and ritual. It includes any of the methods and practices that direct the practitioner to expand their experience from identification with the body.
- Shakta Upaya: The method of empowered means, of Shakti. Shakta Upaya is the antidote to mayiya-mala. Shakta upaya practices through the mind to go beyond the mind to expand understanding. Thus, it is also called jnana upaya, the means of knowledge. Practices of this upaya use the mind with a mantra to identify the self with a deity, so when practicing it, one is contemplating enlightened thoughts, witnessing thoughts as consciousness, seeing their stories as just stories, and recognizing the energy behind particular thoughts, to name a few examples.
- Shambhava Upaya: The method of Shiva, the Absolute. Shambhava Upaya is the antidote to anava-mala. Shambhava upaya practices through the will. Practices of this upaya must be non- conceptual. If they have a concept, then they are Shakta upaya. The practices in this upaya are to rest in recognition of one’s consciousness being all of the consciousness, using the will to stay in experiences of spaciousness.
- Anu Upaya: The method of no means. Anu Upaya is not a practice, but a direct, spontaneous recognition, or awakening, of the tantrika’s divinity (Kempton, 2018).
The goal for the tantrik sadhaka (seeker or aspirant) is jivanmukti, which translates as “embodied liberated soul” (Iyengar, 1966, p. 529). The vehicle of the body is used to liberate the sadhaka to enjoy the divinity of material existence. Much of tantrik practices imbue the living body with consciousness through mantras and deities and visualization for this purpose of embodying divinity. The embodiment of divinity is synonymous with the embodiment of freedom in this context. In this case, freedom is not solitary; it is living in this body as a fully self-realized being. Self- realized means to be living with sustained spacious and universal awareness, untouched by any conditionings, and where “Jivanmukta, the embodied liberated one, has abolished time and history; spontaneity is the return to a situation that is non-conditioned” (Eliade, 2009, p. 340). Eliade describes the practices for jivanmukta: “The flesh, the living cosmos, and time are the three fundamental elements of tantric sadhana” (p. 204). In some tantric schools, liberation is pure spontaneity, and perfection is satisfying all one’s desires. In the Guhyasamajatantra it reads:
…all contraries are illusory; extreme evil coincides with extreme good. Buddhahood can – within the limits of this sea of appearances – coincide with supreme immorality, and all for the very good reason that only the universal void is, everything else being without ontological reality. The purpose of tantric sadhana is the reunion of the two polar principles within the disciple’s own body (as cited in Eliade, 1958, p. 206).
Tantra is called the school of mystics because of its adherence to non-dualism, and the goal to ultimately dissolve in a state of non-dual unity and peace where all dualities and conflicts and opposites are no longer. The school teaches those mysteries that direct the practitioner to see the resonance of life force in everything. Followers are taught that “The universal human quest for union with the Divine Source is in Tantra and in all world’s wisdom traditions” (Bjonnes, 2017). In Tantra, this world of opposites is not an illusion as claimed in other schools of philosophy, this world is real but dissolves in divine consciousness or divine source, the underlying being of all reality. The tantrika’s way out of the world’s entanglements is not to retreat from it but to engage with it as an expression of divinity. Tantra is the path of ecstasy because the practices of embodied liberation are to love the world, and, if necessary, to change the world. Tantra identifies the problem that arose from creation, the separation, the malas or veils that keep us from realizing our true nature. All Tantrik sadhanas serve to remove the veils and free the sadhaka from unnecessary suffering. In acknowledging man’s very existence, the tantrika must realize “The creation and the becoming that arose from it, represent the shattering of the primordial unity and the separation of the two principles, Siva and Shakti, in consequence, man experiences a state of duality (object, subject) and this is suffering, illusion, bondage” (Eliade, 2009, p. 206).
Chakras, nadis, yantras, kundalini, asana, meditation, pranayama, visualization, and invocation of deities are all primary practices in Tantra Yoga.
Shamanic Yoga is the ancient practice of yoga placed in an opening of shamanic sacred space, inviting and invoking personal growth and transformation through pranayama, asana, energy work, song and journeying. By weaving these rich traditions together, the student is offered an experience steeped in indigenous, collective consciousness that aims to guide one back to the path of their homecoming; to themselves now in the present moment and who they dream themselves to be. In order to hold the seat of the teacher, we must first have walked the path. Only by having a lived experience are we able to transform knowledge and understanding into something we can share: wisdom. By living the truth of personal, direct experience, teachers are able to hold a sacred, brave and loving space for their students to unfold, let go, and discover their power. Nature and landscape are primary themes of the Shamanic Yoga practice and are woven into dialogue, invoking the students and the natural world to co-create their relationship with one another.
Breathing techniques, asana, mantra, song and energy work are all used along with journeys and visualizations to invite a conversation with the unknown throughout class. Classes are also sequenced with intent to open certain areas of the body, facilitating a release, a reclaiming or a remembering. In this way, the student is supported to inquire, excavate and discern what needs to be changed and what needs to be retained. By consciously creating one’s body and reconnecting with one’s form, the student is encouraged to nourish themselves in a fundamental way.
The vision of Shamanic Yoga is to take the power of both yoga and shamanic practices and knit them together to create a strong venue for personal transformation and healing. Several tools are offered that facilitate an intimate connection with one’s both inner and outer world. Being heart centered, this connection helps one move from fear to love. This powerful shift creates the opportunity for one to forgive, reclaim personal power, step out of old stories and begin to create a new story, dreaming their world into being and living the life they were born to live. To participate fully in one’s life is the promise of Shamanic Yoga.
Expressive Arts Therapy uses different art modalities, ritual, and play to assist the client/artist to make contact with his/her/their authentic self. “The practice of expressive arts therapy is an aesthetic practice” (Levine, 2005, p. 202), so the EXA therapist may choose from any one or combination of dance, drama, music, visual arts, and poetry. Other disciplines are used if the therapist has expertise in that particular discipline, for example, video or photography. Each discipline brings special strengths and abilities in bridging the expanse between the literal reality of “here now” and the world of the imagination, where life stories are written in mythic form and life experiences are held in symbols (Essex, 2007). A key distinction of Expressive Arts Therapy within the creative therapies is its “intermodal” approach. Expressive Arts Therapy often uses more than one art modality within a session to deepen the experience and access new perspectives since “Chaos always enters practice; one can never predict or control what will be uncovered or discovered in the therapeutic encounter” (Levine, 2005, p. 202). This use of more than one art discipline gives the therapist a better ability to follow the impulses of the client/artist as creative urges move from kinaesthetic sense to auditory or to visual image. Interrelatedness between forms is created through changing art modalities and is connected to the human imagination that functions through multiplicity. It is in finding this interconnection that “The expressive arts profession carries a commitment to making connections between forms” (Essex, 2007). They use verbal reflection to help make sense of and more deeply understand the art making process and of the art produced. S. K. Levine shows the process of reflective awareness to be critical in the process:
But the work-in-the-making can never be predicted; it is only afterwards that it all makes sense. One could say that the work arrives to re-organize the field that preceded it. In the light of the finished product, what was before makes perfect sense; however, before it arrived, all was obscure and unclear (2005, p. 41).
The term “expressive arts” is used to distinguish this way of working from entertainment or purely aesthetic uses of art making. Essex describes Expressive Arts Therapy as “having a purpose to make art, which not only creates a vessel or container for the suffering and conflicts of a life, but gives a voice to life’s joys and grandeur as well” (2007). Creating art is an inherent faculty of all human beings. In the act of creating, the client/ artist actively participates in his or her own healing, using the language of his or her own psyche, thereby being guided from within, rather than imposed upon from external sources.
- Philosophy: Ministering to the Soul
“A philosopher’s system of thought always arises from her autobiography” (Nietzsche, 1966, p.33), and in this context, experiential memories can lend great insight. The next term of engagement in philosophical growth will come from what Levine (1992) speaks of as “truth that can only be thought by being lived” (p. 7). It is important to discuss some of the philosophical thoughts that Expressive Arts Therapy has been born from and built on. Expressive Arts Therapy holds a humanistic approach, trusting in an inherent impulse towards growth in every individual, an innate capacity of each person to reach toward his or her full potential (Rogers, 1993). Expressive Arts Therapy ministers to the soul. It then becomes critical to discuss Expressive Arts Therapy and its philosophy in relation to itself and the concept of the soul. Although a more complex definition of soul will be later expounded, for now, the word soul will be used as defined by Hillman (as cited in Knill, Levine and Levine, 2005) as, “the quality of existence that gives vitality to our experience” (p. 54). Hillman’s definition of soul can be compared with the way African-American traditions speak of something as having or not having “soul.” It is the archetype of the anima, which animates the psyche, which brings soul into the world in Hillman’s framework. The anima as the central archetype for Hillman represents everything meaningful and vital that is foreign to the ego. What the ego lacks most is soul. One must look away from this clarity of consciousness to find that which gives our lives value. Soul dwells in the depths, in the dark, obscure places of the psyche, especially in its pathology (Knill et al., 2005).
What is the philosophy of human nature, the conception of human existence that permeates Expressive Arts Therapy and gives it meaning? This conception of human existence, in German, is referred to as a Menschenbild, literally an image or picture of the human (Levine, 1992). Poiesis, in Greek, refers specifically to the activity of making in general and signifies a particular medium of art, poetry. Poiesis carries the general sense of any activity that brings something new into the world, as defined, “The conception of poiesis in the philosophy of expressive arts therapy is particularly appropriate to a decentred world in which this culture can no longer be taken as a norm” (Levine, p. 6). Expressive Arts Therapy itself is a postmodern phenomenon. Poiesis is central to the Menschenbild of the postmodern perspective of Expressive Arts Therapy.
Stephen K. Levine (1992), one of the forefathers of the Expressive Arts Therapy field, considers the activity of working through disintegration to be at the core of the creative and therapeutic process. As mentioned, he calls this act “poiesis” and considers it to be at the centre of human existence. The essential moment when things fall apart, disintegrate, and fragment and human beings experience despair is when the possibility of creative living arises. This experience of the disintegration of the self and becoming the void allows a space for new forms of existence to emerge. The creative act, poiesis, happens at the death and rebirth of the soul. It is a soul-making process when we are called upon to re-form ourselves, and, as such, “This new identity only lies in the actuality of the creative process. Poiesis as soul making” (Levine, p. 2). Poiesis is used as integrative affirmation and always emerges into a form. The soul finds its form in the arts. Poetry is the speech of the soul.
III. The Third
Expressive Arts Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that keeps art and or play at the centre of its discourse, and practice between client and therapist. The art that emerges is referred to as ‘the third’ and is given the value of being alive, similar to viewing the world animistic-ly, as the shaman does. In the field of psychotherapy, we know the emergence of the transmediated/ imaginal realm stems from the arrival of the “third” (Knill et al., 2004). This emergent “third” is used in an Expressive Arts Therapy session as the main tool of transformation. Artists will always subscribe to the power of their work depending on their ability to have a serving attitude towards the emerging image, song, rhythm, scene or message. This “third” is important in Expressive Arts Therapy because of its central role in the human experience of the arts. When a participant agrees to the existence of a third, they are allowing the process to give transformative power, and the difficulty in that is “Such a readiness for surprise requires discipline and surrender in a process that asks for technique in its original meaning- skill, method and knowledge” (Knill et al., p. 23).
Chakras, nadis, yantras, kundalini, asana, meditation, pranayama, visualization, and invocation of deities are all primary practices in Tantra Yoga.
Besides the personal transformative effect that is noted above, “The particular power of the expressive arts in the field of social change is to help us find our ability to make a new world together” (S. Levine, 2011, p. 29).
Expressive Arts as a field is constantly innovating and evolving, its nature is creativity. The most inspiring branch in Expressive Arts is found in its expansion of training and education in the areas of social change and social justice and conflict transformation. In 2007, Ellen Levine, one of the great female pioneers in Expressive Arts, started the certificate program in Expressive Arts and Social Change at the European Graduate School in Switzerland. This program grew quickly, connecting more voices and teachers from around the world to gather and study these ways in which the arts could be used for social transformation. The vehicle for change present within the arts is the subject of this branch of practice and study in the Expressive Arts. The impact of the work becomes bigger than just the individuals present in therapy. The aesthetic responsibility of the expressive arts in social change is in the shaping of our interventions. The goal of this practice is to “help the people we are working with regain the capacity for creative action that they have lost” (S. Levine, 2011, p. 29).
The prime theory of practice in the expressive arts and social change is one that believes that both individuals and groups inherently have the resources they need to deal with the situation. This precludes the necessity for the groups or individuals to be aware of these resources. One of the goals of expressive arts therapy is for the participants to become aware of these resources through the process. This belief is based in the expressive artist’s experience; they practice faith based in experience, like the shaman before them. The expressive arts and social change agent bases their practice on the faith of this belief of inherent resources, and venture into the unknown field of play to mine for these resources. This can be very chaotic and requires the expressive arts change agent to improvise and follow their intuition and the art itself. The response to the moment is the action of expressive arts and social change. The faith in the unseen resources and the capacity of the art itself to hold and transform the conflict are the two pillars of practice. The art promotes, holds, inspires and transforms in the forum of social justice and social activism. Expressive Arts- at its most inspiring- is art in action. Michelle Le Baron is a leading female teacher in conflict transformation and the Peacebuilding branch of Expressive Arts. She describes the work of Expressive Arts and social change as:
… a stream full of gold. The stream sparkles with surprise as it de-centers our assumptions about linear processes. It courses with possibility, carrying both gold and lead. The lead is the heaviness of understanding that linear processes of intervention are often too static and confrontational to yield transformative results. The gold is the realization that expressive arts theory and practice offer ways to find fertility even in eddies of desolation. (2010, p. 17)
Differing World Views: Tantra Yoga and Expressive Arts
What is interesting about this synthesis of the methodology of Yoga and Expressive Arts is the different worldviews that they both bring to the table. Yoga is inherently a spiritual system of philosophy and practices. Expressive Arts Therapy (sometimes referred to herein as “EXA therapy”) is a postmodern philosophy and practice whose foundations are phenomenology and poiesis. It does not utilize a spiritual worldview into its philosophy and practice. The Expressive Arts will reference the soul frequently when laying the grounds of the theories and philosophies of the work. The soul in this context is open to interpretation for the artist and practitioner. Expressive Arts is a psychological approach to healing that uses the arts, it is not a spiritual field of practice. Expressive Arts as a field stays away from any spiritual leanings and language in favour of the phenomenological approach of studying consciousness. The goals of both methodologies are different. Expressive Arts is aimed at emotional wellbeing; revealing resources through the Expressive Arts Therapy process that could aid the client out of places of restriction. The art made is not interpreted from a particular perspective. The artist may express a longing for, or experience of, spirituality or simply share a relevant experience within the sessions and beyond.
Tantra Yoga traces back to shamanistic roots of worship when Tantrikas practiced on cremation grounds. Tantra sets itself apart from other forms of Yoga by its shamanistic view that the material world is animistic and is an expression of divine consciousness. Tantra Yoga began as a grassroots response of the Indian lower castes who wanted the right to express their spirituality freely, and was a radical counterpoint to strict protocols and rules of conduct for the adept.. The overall worldview of Tantra Yoga is that all life is an expression of the Absolute (cosmic consciousness, Shiva, Devi, divinity). All Tantra Yoga practices align the practitioner with the divine and with having an experience of that. The capacity to sustain the experience of aligning one’s self with divinity is enlightenment. An enlightenment is a happening which acknowledges that, “Everything in the universe is made of the same divine energy taking innumerable forms. This Awareness—which is the heart of everything, which holds everything— is understood to be free and filled with love” (Kempton, 2019, personal communication). Can these two distinct practices (Tantra Yoga and Expressive Arts Therapy) support and hold each other, or will the marriage of methodology give rise to something that muddies the waters of consciousness for the participants and does not add resource, clarity, or liberation? Neither Expressive Arts or Yoga are considered religious practices, but they both claim an openness in their methodology of practice that could include any person and their religious beliefs.
JOINING THE CONVERSATION
Art and spirituality have a long and intimate relationship. Prior to the Industrial Revolution where art and spirituality became estranged, art was an acknowledged vehicle for illuminating spiritual truths (Farelly-Hansen, 2001, p. 18). Art was used and is still used today to show the visions of the shamans and the sacred narratives of cultures and their creation stories. In the book Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1911/1977) one of the great masters of modern art, Russian artist Kandinsky, argued valuing art as a spiritual expression and that art and spirituality serve as an essential spark to ignite inner life (Franklin, 2017, p. 55). There is a long line of artists, healers, poets, shamans, and political activists that have been working with the arts and spirituality for thousands of years. The work I am propagating with the combination of Tantric Yoga practices and Expressive Arts has the intention of transcending art for the sake of self-expression and aligning with the aesthetic traditions of India. Such traditions believed that “The search for the form was the search for the essence of the soul imprisoned in the material; the artist is the translator of the universal spiritual intuition cast into visual terms” (Khanna, 1979, p. 132). Tantric Art, as well as the poetry of the Upanishads and the Yoga Sutras and many other texts of Indian philosophy and scriptures, are all without claimed authorship,apaurusseya (authorless). This is a very touching aspect for me: the total lack of ownership of these contributions to humanity. In sanskrit the word sruti, meaning “that which is heard” describes these texts and artworks as of divine origin. These are differentiated from other texts called smriti, a text which is remembered. The intention of the work I am doing is not about self expression as it seems to pass through that level of consciousness in the Expressive Arts therapy work. It is a stage that is a part of the practice, however. The sequencing of tantric methods before the Expressive Arts is engaged in is specific to the intentionality of the work: the spiritual and art becoming one within the imagination. For this reason, my research intended that “Art [in this context] exists beyond mere representation by remaking rather than representing the universe” (Franklin, 2017, p. 73).
Also, as further noted in Franklin’s book Art as Contemplative Practice: Expressive Pathways to the Self (2017), which is aligned with much of my own thinking, I want my own practices to uphold the views that:
Cultivating accurate forms to hold spiritual content provides means to penetrate Divine truth rather than serving as a badge of successful self-expression. For the traditional Indian artist, skillfully created art forms referenced the containment of symbolic, archetypal, transcendent truths. These acts of devotional creativity occurred when the ‘knower and known, seer and seen, meet in an act of transcending distinction’. (Coomaraswamy, 1934, p. 6 as cited in Franklin, 2010, p.73)
Spirituality in art predates the written word with archeologists dating Goddess worship through artifacts to some 30,000 years back. Suffice it to say that this is not a new conversation or idea. Spirituality and art have maintained a relationship for a very long time. Some of the modern influential leaders in the conversation of the therapeutics of art and spirituality together are Shaun McNiff, Pat Allen and Bruce Moon.
In one of his earlier works, Art as Medicine (1992), McNiff brings in Hillman’s psychology of the soul and art making encouraging the shamanistic framework for the Expressive Arts Therapy practices. Allen in her books, Art is a Spiritual Path (2005) and Art is a Way of Knowing (1995), brings forth the idea that the process of making art is like any spiritual discipline. She describes the art as a “form of practice through which knowledge of ourselves can ripen into wisdom, like any spiritual discipline” (Allen, 1995, p. X). Allen advocated bringing art out of the studio as a spiritual connection. Moon, in his book Art and Soul (1997) emphasized through arts based therapeutic case studies the curative power of the creative act. Catherine Moon (1989), an early voice in the field of arts based therapies, brought analogies between art and prayer to the conversations that were building the fields of art therapy and Expressive Arts Therapy.
In many ways this reminds me of the futility of documenting historically the beginnings of tantra. The concept of Expressive Arts and spirituality is prolifically alive in the working artists and healers of all ages. It makes me think of the Raw Art movement, where the artists were untrained and thus considered unconditioned by the art world and society making the “raw” connection to the nerve of the psyche. If we look into the lived world, there are countless numbers doing this work that acknowledge and use as a resource the usefulness of creative expression in relieving suffering and valuing art as a spiritual expression, or at the very least, seeing its use to hold that which is beyond words and even understanding to promote health. These ones I am referring to are not professionals attached to any field. These are the frontline workers of transition houses, homeless shelters, drop-in yoga class teachers, children’s counsellors, mothers, wives, environmental leaders on the ground. These are all people that use the resources that are at hand to try to understand the human condition and transform sufferings. These people use the arts and imagination to dream a different perspective. They will utilize any resource that is available to touch the human soul and bring it back to a place that is livable for the one in front of them. They would never strip their connection with their spiritual resource. They use the arts to find the resource that goes beyond themselves as a healing salve for one’s suffering soul. They weren’t trained to do this. This is natural for humans since the beginning of time, to depict another world beyond the material existence, to use the arts to explain beyond words the creation cycle of birth, decay and death.