I tried sitting still once. It was during a 12-day Buddhist meditation retreat in which my body screamed for movement while my mind futilely attempted stillness. Only during the few meditations where movement was allowed did I experience a welcome and quiet joy.
I expect that I am not alone in this. There are abundant practices that join body and mind to create space for the spirit: yoga, Qigong, Tai Chi and Eight Threads movement meditation are a few. I would like to add drawing to that list. With paper and a pencil, I am able to sit for hours contemplating what is in front of me. The movements, though smaller, are focused and precise.
The connection between the body and the mind is one of flow and reciprocity. The practice makes space for connection, and my most satisfying paintings grow out of drawings made during these experiences. The rewards of connection and contentment have motivated me to deliberately make space in my life for drawing in nature.
I have found that novice artists and non-artists can experience the stillness of this connection quite easily. I deliberately lead beginning students into the experience of stillness by instructing them in blind contour drawing using complex subjects that require their full attention.
When the connection happens, it is audible in the silence that fills the room. The joy happens later, when they laugh at their drawings.
A number of years ago, before I thought of drawing as a potentially spiritual practice, I taught a group of volunteers from The Land Conservancy. These were active people used to hiking and removing invasive plant species.
The idea was that drawing nature would enhance the participants' ability to observe nature and therefore increase their enjoyment of being outdoors.
One man assertively questioned the usefulness of drawing. His quest was to see all of the largest trees in the Northwest.
He would hike in, snap a photo-graph and hike back out. After the workshop, he told me of a visit to a tree near Port Renfrew. He had hiked in and snapped a photograph. Then he sat down and drew the tree.
His email stated, "It was like the spirit of the tree went down through the trunk, into its roots, up through me and out through my hand. Awesome!" He had made the space to experienced connection.
Last weekend, I attended my first full-day Sacred Circle Dance workshop. Another participant enthusiastically expressed that the dance workshop was a great opportunity for "making space."
I found myself contemplating this as I danced. I was easily able to move into a place of nonver-bal connection as the floor became my paper and my feet became my pencil responding to the rhythm of movement and music. There were 20 other dancers in the room all dancing in the space that was made sacred by our dancing.
After the event, I asked for clarification about the meaning of "making space." What I under-stand from the reply I got is that it is a good practice to make time to step out of our ordinary lives so that we can better observe our own habits and learn to move beyond them. What wasn't mentioned was making space for the sacred within our lives. Perhaps that can be an understood.
Sacred Circle Dancing is dancing that specifically makes space for the sacred and names it as such. Drawing can make space for the sacred as well. Perhaps the time has come to name it.
Joanne Thomson is a visual artist and art instructor living in Victoria.
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