I have just returned from a week on a nearby farm where I attended a Shambhala Art Retreat. The invitation stated, “Shambhala Art’s purpose is to explore the creative process and the product we call art from the viewpoint of a meditative discipline. It is a viewpoint that encourages us to see things as they are, rather than just how we think or imagine they are. Shambhala Art does not teach a particular skill or technique such as painting, sculpture, or dance. It is about the source of inspiration, its manifestation, and how it speaks to us beyond the limits of its container,” This multi-sensory opportunity was facilitated by two talented women who are steeped in the tradition of the Shambhala School of Buddhism. They have trained in a unique mind-expanding process of enhancing the student’s perceptual abilities.
Shambhala Buddhism is a comparatively new approach to interpreting the ancient texts. It was pioneered by Chogyam Trungpa in the 1970’s. He trained as a monk as a youngster in a local monastery in Tibet, where he was born. He is believed to be a member of a traditional dynasty of leadership. Trungpa came to the west as a young man to study at Oxford University. He subsequently went to America where he created a contemporary interpretation of the Buddha’s thought and philosophy which is now taught in over 100 centres throughout the world.
He was a multi-talented man who created the “Warrior” approach to enhancing our lifestyle. “The Shambhala teachings are founded on the premise that there is basic human wisdom that can help solve the world’s problems. This wisdom does not belong to any one culture or religion, nor does it come only from the West or the East. Rather, it is a tradition of human warriorship that has existed in many cultures at many times throughout history.”
Warriorship in this context has nothing to do with bravery, but embraces the concept of not being afraid of who we are. The teachings of Shambhala helps its adherents to face up to their own challenges and those of the world around them using the multiple senses of the mind and the body. Chogyam Trungpa realised in the 1970’s that a new way of thinking was required to tackle the changes taking place in the world. And, how much more does this hold in the third decade of the 20th century? I am hoping the insights of the Shambhala lineage, may play a role in helping me to come to terms with the contemporary challenges of environmental pollution and the degradation of our environment.
What fun it was to participate in this small group of Warriors to explore meditation, Japanese calligraphy, drama, yoga, and cognitive flexibility. We underwent a training to understand the difference between a sign and a symbol. We looked at objects to see that they could be used for multiple purposes, other than those for which they may initially appear to fulfil. We had time to meditate and walk aimlessly on the beautiful farm hosting this retreat. The emphasis of this training is to get in touch with our thought sense, rather than our knowledge sense.
We were offered the opportunity to play freely with a wide range of tools, objects and materials in order to explore our own creativity. Some of us created music with a range of authentic African musical instruments, combined these sounds with contemporary recorded music. Others practised extemporaneous dance exercises. There was also the opportunity to create art work with paints, crayons, scissors and multiple other paraphernalia which we last used when we were in junior school!
A highlight for me was co-creating the piece of art which is photographed at the top of this blog. It took a group of three participants to construct this calligraphic rendering which was produced on a sheet of paper measuring 150 x 225 cms and placed on the ground surrounded by protective black plastic.
The participants had been exploring the concepts of Heaven, Earth and Mankind. Each member of the team was assigned the task of creating one stroke to represent each of these three elements.
The activity was performed with presence, slowness, dignity and unlimited restraints of time. As the initial participant, I needed to create the stroke to represent Heaven. My first job was to mindfully choose a tool – one of the five different types of brushes, ranging from a plant tied to the end of a stick, to a rag also joined to a suitable handle. I chose the plant and slowly, yet meticulously charged my brush with black ink. The superfluous paint was slowly allowed to drain back into the pot. I then took up my position, stood erect in front of the paper to contemplate the single stroke I would use to represent heaven. In this instance, it was my stroke which formed the reverse S flowing from the top right-hand corner and finishing at the bottom on the right. Vocalisations were allowed so my accompaniment was an elongated sound, “whoooooooooosh!”
My contribution was followed by my co-creator who made the representation of Earth – the black horizontal line on the lower left of the work.
The third member of the team made the prominent mark red mark representing the Human. She slowly and mindfully picked up the rag-ended tool and dipped it in the red paint. Meditatively she allowed the excess paint to drip back into the container. The participant then took up her position at the head of the page, gradually raised her mark-making tool above her head and with a loud gesticulation of “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh” the marking instrument was swooped down onto the paper from the overhead position creating a loud bang as her tool met the the ground. It produced the large central splatter in the artwork. A spontaneous round of applause was rendered by the audience.
This brief sampling of the range of experience which accompanied my excursion into Shambhala Art is an attempt to share my impressions of a unique experiential journey. I have tried to give a feel for the innovative, inventive, original opportunity in which I was able to explore my personal creativity. How grateful I am to have enjoyed this wonderful space with two gifted teachers and a small group of wonderfully imaginative and creative co-participants.