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«Meditatve Art Forms Chris Lund Prairie Yoga 200 hour Teacher Training Summer 2012 Meditatve Art Forms I choose the topic of Meditative Art Forms ...»

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Meditatve Art Forms

Chris Lund

Prairie Yoga

200 hour Teacher Training

Summer 2012

Meditatve Art Forms

I choose the topic of Meditative Art Forms for several reasons. First and foremost, I’m

an artist and have made my career in arts education. I have always loved the visual

arts. Even as a young child, with limited resources, I found myself drawing, coloring,

imaging and creating. To this day, if I find myself struggling, I remind myself to find a

creative outlet for my energy.

I have just retired from a thirty year career as a elementary and secondary art teacher.

It was a career I loved and found the combination of working with children and the arts very much to my nature. Children’s creativity is fascinating to me and I was always amazed at what happened within the space of the art room. Creating a space for creativity is something that I’m very aware of. I’m not talking directly of the physical space, although that is important, it’s the openness of the creative space allowing for freedom of one’s spirit and true nature, thought and experimentation. It is in this same direction of creating a space for meditation within an art form that this report takes it’s place. I wanted to explore how the arts and in particular the visual arts can bring calmness and peace.

As an artist, others often comment that it must be nice to enjoy the calm that comes over you when you create. In all honestly when I’m creating my mind is anything but calm. It’s completely engaged with color, form, shape, texture.......It’s completely engaged with self-critique. Rarely have I been involved in creating and found true peace within as I create. Although I have experienced the sense of blocking out everything but my work, it’s typically the rare occurrence than the norm. This is not to say I don’t love the experience of creating artwork - I’m totally alive in the moment totally engaged. But calm and meditative are not words that describe the experience.

My report is intending to look at meditative art forms in three case studies. First, with children as they created mandala designs from India. Second, a personal exploration with an art form I found called Zentangles. Finally the bulk of the report with experimentation of creating a snow labyrinth and inviting guests to walk the labyrinth and respond to the experience. Each step of this journey has been very engaging and interesting to me personally. I welcomed the challenge and introspection it has brought me.

Mandala Designs As an art educator I have experienced the art classroom through just about every medium possible. I can attest to the busyness of the art room. Children are excited to create and express. Children welcome any opportunity to explore new materials and techniques. My biggest joy was just stepping back and watching the creativity and comments flow. But it’s anything but meditative!!! Often if I found the chatter to be about what’s being created, the joy about what’s happening with this new art medium, or the excitement of a child just wanting to share their creation as one of the gifts of educating a child in the arts field. Music and art teachers often joked that they turned their radios off on the drive home for a little peace and quiet. That being said I did discover times when the art room was indeed very peaceful and calm which was a direct reflection of the intention of the artwork that was being created. This was the case with the Mandala’s from India. I have done mandalas lessons with elementary students for several years and the results during the drawing stage always quieted the space within the room. The mandalas photographed for this report came from my long term subbing assignment this winter in Long Grove, IL. They are created by third grade students. The project was in progress when I started the subbing and I observed the completion during my stay.

Mandalas can be found in many cultures - Buddhism, Hindu, Celtic and Native American to name a few. Mandala is the Sanskrit word meaning circle. For this lesson mandalas from India were discussed. Their bright colors and intricate designs are of interest to the children.

Personally I have always found the circle motif very calming and the mandala starts as a circle and the design revolves around this center. The mandala created by the children starts with a circle with dividing lines separated into quadrants. There is balance within the geometric composition of the visual elements.

Sand mandalas are created by Buddhist monks based on the meditation of impermanence, a central teaching of Buddhism. The intricate design in made of sand, meditated on for a allotted time, and then the sand in brushed together and placed in a body of running water - distributing the positive energy and blessings to the world.

Several years ago I witness the process of creating a sand mandala at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. In the past when I mentioned this to my students they had an interest in the development of such a established work that is then washed away. This concept of impermanence is one that I will revisit with the snow labyrinth.

The process and not the product is it’s importance. A somewhat difficult concept for children to comprehend but I find it very fascinating as an artist and a yogi. It’s truly living in the moment and developing that sense of non-attachment that is at it’s core belief.

Children are very quiet in the drawing and designing of their mandalas. Are they meditative? Not sure you would say that per se, but there is a peaceful and calm spirit in the space of the room when they have started the repetitive nature of filling the quadrants with their designs. The centered based mandala, whether they see it as meditative or not, makes them focus on a center point which in my interpretation calms the spirit. It takes quiet concentration to make the radial balance design. It quiets the mind in this concentration. Thoughtful, mindful drawing by children often quiets them.

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My personal art has always been varied. As an educator, I have experimented with almost all mediums. Some come natural to me, some I struggle with.....but I love the exploration and always appreciated a career that let me “play” with things I loved. I still love a box of new crayons as well as spending time in the art store exploring. I have made it a vacation habit to visit art museums around the world. I love looking at art on all levels. The masters, the untrained artists, artist collaborations, fine art crafters, old/ young - I just like to witness people creating. As an artist, when I’m not an educator, I have enjoyed watercolor, drawing, weaving, wood working and printmaking. My art is private to me and my creative spirit is one I cherish.

Zentangles came through my research on meditative art forms. The Zentangle method was developed by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas. Rick spent years living as a monk practicing meditation and other spiritual exercises and Maria worked as a botanical art illustrator. Together they developed the method of drawing entitled Zentangles that they believe will allow anyone to feel peace and relaxation while creating their art. They now have workshops teaching others these methods so they can share their passion. Their students become certified Zentangle teachers and continue to share the benefits of tangling.

There is a big emphasis on the fact that the method doesn’t require any artistic talent and it has the appearance of doodling. At first I thought, oh this is doodling and I had long ago recognized that doodling for me can be mediative. I had sat through numerous staff meetings and created ongoing doodles that I finally came to realize that others were sitting by me to see what would be created. I knew I was listening and aware of what was going on but with pencil/ pen in hand the marks on the paper made me connect to the speaker more.

I would say that I felt that creating Zentangles does take artistic decision making all be it not formal drawing skills. There is an emphasis on simplicity and no required outcome.

You were asked to limit the number of decisions you make as you tangle thus keeping yourself calm, focused and relaxed. There is an acceptance of abstraction in the tangles which helps with the anxiety that is created by realism.

I started my exploration with some ideas in the Tangle directory. All tangles are make on small white square paper. They are initially created with pencil and black thin markers. Color and shading can be added later but I felt for my research the drawing became the meditative aspect for me. After a few tangles that were suggested for beginners I explored on my own. Doodling comes natural to me so ideas come easily.

They emphasized that the difference between doodling and the Zentangle method was that doodling is mindless and the marks are made randomly. Zentangles pen strokes are very deliberate and intentional. I’m not sure I believe doodling is mindless but I do see the repetitive nature as very calming and meditative. It has the same calming effect as the repetitive drawing done on the mandalas with the children. The repetitive nature eases the mind as to what’s next - the making of the marks on the paper has already been decided and so your mind rests. I absolutely believe that drawing the Zentangles relaxed me. I lit a candle, put on some quiet music and spent several hours creating my tangles. I know that I’m calm when I’m drawing for the most part - especially if it comes with the intention of not creating with a realism intent. There was this sense when I was creating the Zentangles that the concept of impermanence came back into focus for me.

I wasn’t creating permanent works of art - it was art for the present moment I was creating in. I would gain whatever it gave me at this time and move on.

I enjoyed my exploration with Zentangles. Recently, I heard that Living Well Cancer Center in Geneva is offering a class in the Zentangle Method. A wonderful addition to creating a time, space and the opportunity for participants to discover a meditative art form.


Joy of Zentangles - Drawing Your Way to Increased Creativity, Focus and Well-Being Suzanne McNeil, Sandy Steen Bartholomew, Marie Browning Yoga for your Brian - A Zentangle Workout Sandy Steen Bartholomew Zentangle untangled - Inspiration and Prompts for Meditative Drawing Kass Hall

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The snow labyrinth came as an idea which was two-fold. First, I love snow and I love to walk. I love to walk in all kinds of weather but there is something about walking during and after a snowfall that I have always found quieting. The covering of the earth with a white blanket is lovely to me. I have very fond memories of hours spent in the snow with my siblings when we were children. Secondly, for my meditative art report I was looking for an idea that would involve others and how they would respond to some form of meditation through art. I was looking for a means to encourage others to think about what meditation might mean to them and how it might enhance their lives and if they ever considered ways to quiet their minds.

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The origins of labyrinths are Greek and later they can be seen in Roman art before spreading to other European countries. Simple labyrinth designs could be found on pottery, basketry, wall images and floor designs. The classical walking labyrinth starts out as a four seed pattern that develops into a seven circuit labyrinth. Even within the classical labyrinth framework there are great variations. The classical labyrinth is developed as a single path that is walked until you reach the center which is considered half the distance. The labyrinth is not a maze as mazes include a choice by the individual as to what path or direction can be taken. Labyrinths are a single non-varying path towards the center and not meant to be difficult for the participant to navigate.

Mazes offer choices and labyrinths take this option out of the equation so the walker can focus on centering their thoughts.

Walking a labyrinth can be viewed as a cultural pilgrimage. The opening representing birth, the center God, and the walk towards that center enlightenment. In some research it was mentioned that labyrinths were created as a substitute for those who could not travel to holy sites and lands.

The labyrinth is an metaphor for life’s journey. It is considered a right brain task which involves, intuition, creativity and imagery. It relates to wholeness through it’s circle image providing a meaningful journey to our center.

Today we can find labyrinths at churches, hospitals, health care facilities, retreat centers, schools, parks, memorials and healing centers. They are created with a wide range of materials. Labyrinths are used as a meditation, relaxation and spiritual tool where the focused walking can reduce anxiety as well as enhance greater powers of concentration and a sense of control in one’s life. All the benefits of a meditative practice - mindful concentration, a sense of control in one’s life, the reduction of anxiety, a receptive mind set were all mentioned as benefits of mindful labyrinth walking.

Through my research I found many testimonies about life lessons learned while walking a labyrinth but my favorite was by a walker who found himself cutting short his walk because of two points - his overriding fear he was going to be “late” for the next retreat speaker and his avoidance of someone who was annoying to him on the labyrinth. After reflection he found that he missed the true meaning of the experience behind the message of the slow mindful walking of the labyrinth....to become a better and happier you. His quote...”The labyrinth has lessons to teach - let the labyrinth teach you.”

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