Articles

The Golden Tent – Creativity as a Spiritual Path

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.

Original Blessing - "The Goldent Tent, Hildegard of Binge"

Original Blessing – “The Goldent Tent, Hildegard of Binge”

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.

Bibliography:

Hildegard of Bingen : Fiona Maddocks ISBN 07472 6297 7

Illuminations   of   Hildegard   of   Bingen   :

Commentary by Matthew Fox ISBN 093968021

1

Music

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

Growing Back Our Own Hands

Integration and Healing Through Spontaneous Painting

I have long been fascinated by the fairy tale most commonly known as ‘The Handless Maiden’ or the’ Girl with the Silver Hands’ as there are many parallels between this extraordinarily wise story and the healing process that can happen through the practice of spontaneous painting. The tale begins with the loss and sacrifice of the feminine, an innocent young woman, not properly protected by her father, has her hands cut off by the devil. In the same way, many of us go through trauma as children and so grow up ‘without hands’, without the necessary strength and discernment to make healthy life choices, without an authentic expression of ourselves and with a limited contact to our own creativity.

Suffering and loss often mark the beginning of a search for wholeness, a call to leave the limitation of the known and no matter what it takes, find a means to access greater depth and a conscious connection to the Self. The young woman bandages her wounds, leaves home and travels alone through the countryside. Without hands she does not have the means to take care of her own needs, to feed or soothe herself, she can only follow a call to go deeper, to find inner healing. One moonlit night she comes to a castle with a moat, beyond which is an orchard. Helped by a spirit guide who drains the moat, she reaches a pear tree that bends down and offers her a fruit which she eats. The next night the young king, his gardener and his magician watch her eating a second pear. The young king falls in love with her, marries her and makes her a pair of silver hands. We may live our lives without a true expression, without true soul nourishment until we are touched by being ‘seen’ and valued by a significant person, or until we find an activity or therapy that helps us to repair our trust in our feelings and in their expression.

The story does not end with the marriage, but continues with seven years’ separation and a further series of initiations (involving the devil and a wise old queen) that permit psychic growth and integration. At the end of the seven years the king, young queen and their baby are reunited. To the king’s surprise his young queen no longer has silver hands, but has grown her own hands back. Through her endurance and through inner work she has healed her connection to her deepest self and to her expression.

I see parallels between this story and the practice of Spontaneous Painting that provides a safe and joyful discipline within which we can explore, practice, and persevere. For many people Spontaneous Painting is like being given a precious tool to access the nourishment within their own psyche – it is like being given the silver hands to reach their own pears.

I started to paint spontaneously, when I was living in Zurich about 27 years ago and could not speak German. Although I was happily married with a young baby, I felt cut off and isolated and was longing to find more freedom of expression. I joined a Spontaneous Painting (Ausdrucksmalen) group and painted there for 4 years and since then have never stopped. Besides my wish to paint and to feel freer in my expression, I wanted to see what was inside me and what would come out if I did not direct myself with my thoughts. It was the beginning of a period of great exploration, inspiration, integration and intuitive learning through an evolving contact to my creativity. In this period I was working professionally as a therapist (speaking English or French) and practicing meditation which certainly strengthened and deepened my creative journey. I became fascinated by the connection between creativity, healing and the human mind. For the last 22 years I have been running workshops on healing, creativity and spontaneous art and keep reflecting on the question of empowerment or healing through art.

 It is not necessary to have any particular artistic skill to paint spontaneously. When we practice spontaneous painting we do not learn a technique or a new skill, or aim to produce a masterpiece, but simply express our feelings using art materials. This may at first be challenging because we have grown up with many ideas about talent, art, artists and results. We have to forget about all these, about product, and allow ourselves to experiment with letting go into the process, into a natural flow of ‘connected doing’ (the connection between the king and queen, the inner feminine and masculine blend.) Another word for this is playing.

When we play a natural connection happens between our feelings, our inner world and our expression. Recently I was sitting by a lake and watched two little girls arrive and very quickly start a magical game of building dams. They were singing, clapping and making rhythmical body movements to accompany their dam building. They became so happily concentrated in their own world that it was very difficult for them to stop when their parents called them to leave. This is an example of what I call the natural ‘creative cycle’ – being drawn into feelings and expressing them with nothing coming in between.

When this state of absorption happens we open to deeper states of awareness and on an energetic level this allows light or faster moving energy to be drawn in and move through our bodies. Spontaneous Painting can thus be a door (to the moonlit orchard) that enables us to go beyond our problems, beyond the repetitive thinking mind, into another state of consciousness (where we are nourished by the pear /stillness/ an opening to inner wisdom). It is an active meditation.

Anyone who is creative in any way must have access, if only momentarily, to non-thought, to stillness, a state of alertness that brings newness, freshness, and is thus empowering. Creativity comes when we enter a state of thoughtless awareness, even if only briefly. That’s where the treasures come from, from beyond the mind. They may later be given form by the mind as music, painting etc.

- Eckhardt Tolle

Like the thoughtless father in the Handless Maiden who does not protect his daughter, our culture has not taught us to really nourish ourselves, to value and access the right brain feeling part of ourselves. I believe that much of the suffering in our society – consumerism, addictions , greed and the search to possess more and more, comes precisely from this pain of not being able connect to stillness which is also love and joy. I am convinced that in order to feel happy and balanced, we need to regularly lose ourselves in play and creativity in some form or other. It is a restorative, revitalizing and naturally therapeutic activity that not only children need.

One of the reasons there is so much interest in creative expression today is because of the breakdown of many structures that acted as authorities and once gave people security in their lives. In the last fifty years the balance has shifted away from external authority structures to an increasing number of people being in an ‘individuation process’ and seeking to find the means to connect to and trust their own inner guidance. Like the healing journey of the Handless Maidenspontaneous painting gives us the means to transform the impact that external authority has had on us and to discover, explore and find our own treasures that lie beyond the limitations of our conditioning. As medicine men or shamans in traditional cultures often used some form of artistic expression to transmit what they had seen on their inner journeys, we too can bring out our inner visions to enrich and help others.

Spontaneous art gives us the means to move out of intellect into play, to bring multi-dimensional feelings into non-verbal expression. Regular practice helps us to develop endurance and a trust in the creative flow that draws us beyond good and bad, beyond judgement and towards equanimity and wholeness. In the fairy tale there is a period when several messengers travelling between the wise old Queen are intercepted by the devil by the river. On an inner journey we need to stay awake, to develop discernment in order to distinguish between the voice of our intuition and the voice of our fears and doubts that may seek to sabotage our growth.

Regular spontaneous painting linked to an awareness practice will draw us down into the living water of our bellies, the ‘area of creation’ in our own bodies. This is the connection to the Hara energy center, the seat of life, vitality, power and passion within us. Persevering with creative practice we can process, digest, and integrate whatever has touched us deeply and had an impact on us. This can be painful as well joyful, mystical experiences that are beyond words. Spontaneous painting opens a way for own wisdom to be drawn in through our bodies. It gives us the means to go into the unknown within ourselves, to explore and discover dimensions of our own being that lie beyond the thinking mind. I see many people who work regularly with spontaneous painting being drawn into processes of learning and reflection through their own feelings. This allows transformation to take place at a deep level within the psyche. (Isn’t it amazing that at school we had to learn almost exclusively from books! )

So much self- discovery, self-expression through vibrant colours, forms and images happens as if by magic and fills up the walls in the art room. Such themes as life, birth, death, partnership, a connection to the elements, a deep feeling connection to nature and animals, often appear in paintings without any prompting. Sometimes people access a causal level that links to the transformation of hereditary or karmic structures. I see people spontaneously painting their personal connection to spirituality, to healing processes, to dreams, to guides, to non-physical dimensions, to stillness. Of course, some people discover that they simply love painting that they have a genuine artistic ability and go on to develop this, and that is fantastic because for some people it is really discovering their true vocation. And last but not least is the joy, the aliveness, the passion and the fun that is freed when we open up to the creative flow!

One very passionate painter has come up to me several times after a painting session, with shining eyes, and said to me: “I feel so wonderful that if I had to die now, I really would not mind, because I just feel so, so alive.”

There are of course different paths to heal the split between the masculine and feminine, to access and trust inner guidance so that we can be nourished by this and then share this in our lives. This has been my own inspiring way of growing back my own hands, that I see also brings healing, joy and empowerment to others.

Marie Perret is a Psychotherapist and Artist, trained in Transpersonal Psychology, Mindfulness, and Spiritual Healing. She runs regular workshops and trainings in Art Synthesis in Co Kilkenny and S.W.France .

Her book ‘Healing Art: Transformation through Creative Expression’ is available from www.amazon.co.uk