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Shambhala Art

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

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.

Warriorship

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.

Activities

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!

Co-creation Highlight

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.

 

As I was about to enter the eighth decade of my life, I was constantly hearing from my friends about their memory loss. Or, about their confusion when navigating familiar parts of their home town, or their difficulty in maintaining concentration on everyday tasks. However, it had not occurred to me there was a recognised field of training for people who wished to assist others in slowing down this cognitive decline.

A Chance Encounter

During my daily exploration of the internet, in February 2006, I came upon an international newsletter from the University of the Third Age. There was a seemingly innocuous phrase in this newsletter which piqued my interest. It said, “Dana lives in Prague, and she is a live-wire.” I would certainly like to meet a live-wire during my anticipated trip to Prague in a couple of months. My son was due to be married in Amsterdam, and my daughter and I planned to visit Prague after the wedding.

I double-clicked on the relevant email address and composed a quick email to Dana. The message read, “I am planning to visit Prague in July and would love to meet you and take you out for a cup of coffee,”

A Live-Wire indeed

Within the next 24 hours, I received a response from Dana. Unfortunately, she would not be in Prague in July, as she was to be in Turkey facilitating a Memory Training Course for members of the University of the Third Age who live in the United Kingdom. “But,’ she said, ‘You are welcome to stay together with your daughter in my flat when you are here.”

The Concept of Memory Training

I was excited to accept her offer of hospitality and enjoy her well-equipped residence while visiting the capital of the Czech Republic. In addition, I wished to know more about the course she offered in Memory Training. It took merely a couple of emails, and a few days to arrange that Dana would travel to Cape Town to offer a three-day course in Memory Training. So in June 2007, 200 members of the University of the Third Age in South Africa had the opportunity to attend this course.

Her course was stimulating, engaging and a great eye opener to all who attended. ‘But,’ I asked her, ‘what is going to happen now you are going back to Prague? Please give me some ideas on how I can continue the momentum you have built up.’ ‘If you want to continue my work,’ she responded, ‘then you must come to my week-long course in Prague next February. I will then be running a training course in English under the auspices of the Czech Society for Memory Training and Brain Jogging.’

International Training

So, for the second time in under a year, I was destined to visit Prague. This time it was in the middle of winter, whereas the first time it was a summer encounter. Quite a contrast, but Prague is a beautiful city at any time of the year. Now I had the opportunity to join students from Scotland, America and Tasmania who were also interested in memory training. By the week’s end, I was tested on my ability to recite the 43 American Presidents from memory. Additionally, I could recite the memorised decimals of pi to 100 digits.

‘But what is this Memory Training all about?’ you may ask. ‘And who wants to know the American Presidents off by heart?’ ‘And, I am not interested in pi,’ I can hear you saying to yourself. Your reaction would be the same as the majority of people when they first hear about these exercises. When you engage in the course, you grow to understand the significance of the use of mnemonics as a tool for assisting the memory. Mnemonics is a powerful associative tool giving the learner the capacity to memorise long lists of both numbers and facts.

Sharing my New Skills

When I returned to Cape Town I wasted no time in gathering together a small group of people to share my new insights and trainings. I researched further areas for maintaining our cognitive faculties, and as time has progressed, I have incorporated additional skills into my training program.

Realising that memory training and the building of a cognitive reserve is intimately connected with emotional control, a study of emotional resilience and motivation have become part of my teachings. Recently Mindfulness and Meditation are being rapidly embraced within Western society, so the understanding, practice and appreciation of these concepts have also become part of the range of skills we embrace in our non-directive facilitations.

Maintenance Skills

When we are at school and university, and subsequently in a work situation, we are called upon on a daily basis to exercise our mind. To stretch our intellectual faculties. To absorb new pieces of information. However, during the time of retirement, these external factors no longer form an integral part of our daily life, and the temptation to live a semi-indolent existence is ever-present. However, the trouble is that if we do not use it, we lose it. This expression applies to our mental abilities, in the same way as it applies to our physical abilities. If we are to retain our optimal level of functioning, slow down memory loss and maintain our perceptual faculties we need to adopt some daily routines into our lifestyle. To preserve our manual dexterity, sustain our balancing abilities and maintain our muscle tone, these skills have to be exercised in a consistent and stimulating manner.

Role of Blogging

And, perhaps the best way of all to retain one’s cognitive reserve is in the discipline of blogging. The weekly effort to draw insights from my experiences has become an effortful way of exercising concentration. It ensuring my creative skills do not become dormant. If you do not wish to blog, then daily journaling is a recognised pursuit for those who wish to practice their cognitive skills and ensure their faculties remain intact.