I thought to have a tent by five square stones, decorated with the sun and with brighter stars… angelic glory ought to be in it. Topaz ought to be its foundation and all gems its structure, wtih its stairs made of crystal and its street spread with gold. I ought to be a companion of the angels, because I am the living breath which God sent into dry dirt.
- Saint Hildegard of Bingen, 12th Century.
As an artist & teacher of creativity I have developed a way of working in groups that I call Art Synthesis – participants are guided to connect with their feelings and to the unconscious in order to discover an authentic self expression using colours, paint, clay, writing, sound & movement. I teach meditation and an understanding of the human energy System, in order to facilitate and deepen the creative work. Creative expression can teach us to concentrate & centre ourselves, and thus to discover & explore dimensions of our being not accessible through intellect alone. Healing happens when we link our feelings to our expression allowing finer energy from the spiritual area of our aura to move through our body and energy field. This faster moving spiritual energy will bring to the surface whatever blockages are in its way as it seeks to bring us into a deep intuitive connection to ourselves. Practised regularly, creative expression linked to awareness is a form of spiritual practice that will guide us towards health, inner harmony and home to the depths of our being.
You can imagine my great delight and pleasure when I discovered the work of Saint Hildegard of Bingen, an extraordinary woman who lived in Germany between 1098 & 1179. Abbess of a convent, she was a visionary, naturalist, playwright, poetess, healer, and musician. In 1141 she saw tongues of flame descend from the heavens and settle on her. Thereafter she devoted herself to a life of passionate creativity writing texts about spirituality, natural history, medicine and politics. She was a mystic in the creation spirituality tradition, believing that each living being is part of the divine and that when we create we gain access to the joy and jubilation that is contained in creation.
She exhorted women to express themselves and encouraged people to access their spirituality through creativity. For Hildegard self expression through art was the ultimate form of healing. For a long time in her life she held back from expressing her visions and her feelings and this she wrote made her ill: ‘I refused to write for so long that I felt pressed down under the whip of God into a bed of sickness’. Although she had had many visions and deep experiences, she had refused to write ‘because of doubt and erroneous thinking and because of controversial advice from men!’ (the exclamation mark is my addition.) After much struggle she finally took up her pen and ‘received the strength to rise up from my sick bed and under that power I continued my work to the end, using ail of ten years to do it.1
I was fascinated to learn that Hildegard got her strength back through expressing her original beliefs and her inspired visions. I experienced a similar process in my own life – intuitive painting and writing helped me to overcome many difficulties and gave me access to dimensions of my being that brought me deep insight and joy. I have seen this time and again in working with people and truly believe that one of the deepest forms of healing is the restoration of the ability to create, if this has been lost. As I mentioned above it is when we link feelings to expression that we contact our Essence energy or Source and through this we gain access to an intuitive body/feeling intelligence, a natural body-based spirituality. The art process is as important as the finished product.
I often use slides of Hildegard’s colourful illuminations (which are illustrations for her book Scivias or Knowledge of the Ways) when I teach. One of her illuminations entitled Original Blessing or The Golden Tent provides us with a condensed & inspired teaching about creativity and the spiritual journey. (See illustration to this article.) In her commentary to this illumination Hildegard writes that God gives each of us a folded up golden tent (symbol of our divinity) at our birth and that it is our duty through our lives to erect this golden tent (express our qualities.) Look first at the top left hand corner of the illumination and you will see a golden square – which symbolises the Soul held within the all knowing, all seeing God. Hildegard writes that the Divine Essence enters the Soul at birth. The people surrounding the seated pregnant mother carry different cheeses, symbolising different kinds of people who each can find healing in their lives. Behind the people in the background is a hint of the demonic forces or enemies who try to obstruct us in our lives, symbolising the obstacles and difficulties which will try to prevent us from putting up our golden tent. Despite life’s difficulties Hildegard encourages us to persevere and struggle to find wisdom in our home and our daily life.
Hildegard’s writing has some similarities to Buddhism that teaches that we have a Buddha nature that we can access through transforming our emotions and negative karma. This confirms the understanding that I gained from working with the human energy field – that our spiritual nature and inner wisdom is obscured behind layers of emotional/ thought disharmony which create blockages in our aura. I have found that through self discipline, self awareness and creative practice we can indeed tame these destructive forces and gain increasing access to our spiritual nature and our inner wisdom.
If we now look at the bottom right of the illumination and move our gaze upwards we will see different ways that the person is beset by all kinds of demons and difficulties which seek to prevent them from erecting their golden tent. Hildegard comments that the pain and suffering involved in the struggle to erect the golden tent (express one’s deepest truths) is eased by remembering her divine nature and the goodness of God. At the top right the golden tent is finally erected and although enemies still fire their disruptive arrows -they are unable to penetrate the tent.
When you are absorbed by your own energy, for example in a creative process, your energy field expands and this makes you less vulnerable to outer disturbance and to the penetration by others emotions. After painting or writing for several hours I always experience a big expansion in my aura. I call this ‘putting up my golden umbrella,’ so I was especially delighted to find Hildegard’s description of the golden tent. Bob Moore with whom I studied Healing taught that people who were working with creativity had a stronger link to the Essence energy which is both in the centre of the spine and reflected into the outer level of the etheric part of the aura. Inspired creative expression allows this Essence energy to expand. Many health problems and emotional disturbances exist because people are held into restrictions and energy blockages such as fear which do not allow them to have the correct energy movement which would bring them into a deepening contact with their intuition and thus an energy expansion. Some teachers of Chi Quong – a Chinese meditative movement practice -teach people to come to an artistic expression through connecting to their chi energy. Once energy blockages are cleared so creativity is simply a natural expression of free flowing vital energy which can move spontaneously into any art form.
In one of my recent Art Synthesis retreats whilst Simone was working with clay she contacted a feeling of suffocation and strong emotions about her elderly father who is suffering from Alzheimers disease. She felt that her arms wanted to be free and needed more space. Getting up from her chair she began to dance, at first slowly and tentatively but gradually a much stronger, powerful movement took over. She danced what she said later was a dance of life, reminding her to live, to be joyful, and \o find freedom that she needed to let this energy flow through her body & not block it off because of responsibilities. Then just as this energy had welled up, so naturally it subsided and she continued her clay work -her whole body tingling from the energy that had been freed.
We have great intuitive wisdom within us that we can access once we allow our blockages to surface and be transformed. Creative self expression is a wonderful way to learn how to link feelings to action, and we can use spontaneous creativity as a spiritual practice if we work regularly with it.
Trust, as Saint Hildegard so beautifully expressed in the twelfth century, that you have a golden tent (the divine nature within you.) It is a necessity and not a luxury to express what you deeply feel and believe in your lives, this helps you to put up your tent and transform your emotions. When you are struggling with difficulties stop for a moment and remember that your golden tent is indeed there, and that if Saint Hildegard could put hers up so can you! Hildegard’s music was her spiritual practice that led her to experience the ‘ glory and beauty of heaven.1 We too can learn to experience the great joy of being in the present moment, at one with all that is, through our creative expression.
Hildegard of Bingen : Fiona Maddocks ISBN 07472 6297 7
Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen :
Commentary by Matthew Fox ISBN 093968021
Hildegard of Bingen : Canticles of Ecstasy by Sequentia WDR Music
The Songs of Hildegard from Bingen by Air Ensemble Oreade Music
It is a necessity and not a luxury to express what you deeply feel and believe in your lives