William Morris: Golden Lily
Will Day: Creative Arts Therapist. Practitioner of various creative arts. Camaldolese Oblate.
A Quiet Day with a Friend.
Over the past few years I have met with a friend at Holy Cross Retreat Centre in Templestowe. We find a small room with a table and we lay out our art materials. Sometimes we light a candle. Then we sit quietly allowing the silence to nourish us for a while... out of which one or the other may share a poem or short piece of writing which speaks to them at the time, or we may share a concern, or delight, or some other thought about an aspect of our lives and spiritual paths... we sit with that, and reflect on it a while, exchanging responses... then back to silence.
During this first phase of the session a particular mood is established, certain interests or concerns are there in the air... and from this ground we commence to draw. We draw in silence for a period of time, simply allowing ourselves to express, explore and discover.
When we have finished drawing we sit for a while in silence, then return to a period of discussion and reflection based around our drawings, our thoughts, our lives and our respective spiritual paths. And then we bring the session to a close and go into the gardens to share lunch.
We both find these sessions particularly rich, nourishing and encouraging, feeling held by the Silence, the Presence, by the atmosphere of the holy place, by our friendship and our shared creativity. I believe we learn and grow.
And of course there are many possible variations on such a session. The energy of the session may move to a place where you flow into a chant or song, then back to drawing. You may conduct such a session in parkland, or go into your garden and make assemblages in situ with what you find there, then look at each others and reflect on them (What do you See?).
This kind of thing is a special mode to share with a friend; in the contemplative mode, and in the creative zone, the talk that arises is different, the rhythms and patterns of our speech change. There might be a lot more natural silence, and out of that a rich, more spontaneous and gently enlivened conversation emerges. Time changes too. I particularly notice, in the creative zone, how time evaporates and we are dropped into the nowness of now – we become different people too in that zone.
If you participate in a series of such sessions you build a container for these particular ways of being, of exploring, a time of revelation and sharing. And these modes may more easily enter into other parts of your life.
Sharing Creativity with Others.
It is so very beautiful to meet with a friend, or friends, to engage in creative pursuits and creative exploration.
Instead of going out for coffee, or to a movie, or to a talk, you might gather with friends to have a sing, either the shared songs in your heads (childhood songs are great) or print off some words so you are all 'on the same page'. You can experiment with harmonies, and percussion instruments. Printing off the words is preferable, it seems to me, to finding lyrics on our phones while gathered together. Smart phones are miraculous but also invasive; ABC radio recently informed me that research indicates that conversation is more superficial if a phone is in view, and apparently there is also research indicating we sleep more lightly if our phone is in the bedroom.
My friend Paul is an artist who doesn't drive. Most days he is on public transport, and he draws while he makes his way into the city, or out into the suburbs. He often draws portraits of his fellow commuters and so he makes all sorts of incidental connections with people who are curious about what he is doing. He regularly tells me about a sweet exchange he has had with someone on the tram during the day, and he sometimes establishes ongoing friendships. I think of him as bringing the spirit of lila onto the tram with him; he begins to draw and others catch that spirit and want to engage.
He told me he recently met a young Pakistani fellow. They began talking about smart phones. The Pakistani guy works in IT. He told Paul that when he meets up with his friends he asks them to give him their phones. He turns them off and puts them away in his bag until their social event is over. There's a thought.
Gather to share poetry: Have a meal together, then sit and read poetry and share your responses... the shared poetry opens a new kind of conversation. Experiment with accompanying your friend’s poem with wordless singing, or humming, or toning, or hand claps, finger clicks...
Gather together specifically to share stories from your lives, or your ancestors' lives... tell them artfully.
If you have a friend who is a musician, writer, dancer or poet, it can be lovely to organise to meet for a coffee simply so your friend can talk about their creative work and their creative process. You might be surprised at what they tell you, and you might be surprised at the questions you find yourself asking. This will nourish your own creativity.
If you have an artist friend, invite them to an art gallery to show you some of the work there from their point of view, to talk to you about the art works which captivate them.
Give Yourself a Retreat.
Give yourself a Retreat Day, or Retreat Morning. If something is on your mind, or you feel you need some space and quiet, or you simply feel drawn to be more completely with the Presence, the Silence for a while, you can give yourself a retreat at home. Or if your home is a busy place, perhaps a friend will let you use their place while they are at work, or while they are on holiday.
You might commence by setting the intention that you will be spending the next couple of hours, or the day, opening to silence, to your soul, and to the sacred presence.
You can design your retreat time to suit your needs. Let your creativity guide you. Perhaps you might include periods of Silence, Chanting, Reflective drawing, Journaling, Dance etc.
If you've spent the morning meditating, chanting and drawing at home, in the afternoon you might take yourself to a park or a waterway and spend a couple of hours simply sitting and walking, letting the natural world commune with you, and you with it...observe, idle, reflect, pick up objects and really look at them, look closely, reflectively at trees, flowers, birds, bark...
Collect some objects, sit under a tree or on a bench, and make an arrangement, a tableau, a picture, a story. Reflect on it a while. Sit in silence.
And then you might return home, perhaps journal a little, following which you might close your retreat with a period of prayerful silence, and gratitude.
Writing a song sounds daunting for many of us, but anyone can find a line of scripture, poetry, song or text, which speaks to them, or intrigues, puzzles, delights, comforts, strengthens... You might invent a line that speaks to you, or it may be something a friend has said, or even wordless sounds which move you. You might like to add Allelulia, Amen, Gloria to your chant.
And you can make a tune to fit it. Just experiment. If you're unsure, start with a tune you already know and change it a little, experiment...enjoy experimenting and discovering... choose a simple line... choose a simply tune...
If there is something on your mind, something troubling you, you may like to choose a relevant line, or write a relevant line, and make a chant that will work in you, will work with the issue.
If you play an instrument you may like to accompany your chant, or you may use handclaps or other body percussion. Karatalas also known as 'bells' are small finger cymbals popular in various parts of the world; they are a lovely simple way to add to your chant and help you to keep a rhythm. Investigate.
So once you've made your chant, when you've got your line of words, and your tune, you simply chant the line over and over, perhaps varying volume and pace. You might initially like to experiment, but eventually the Spirit will guide you. In the Hindu world a very common pattern is to begin the chant slowly and reflectively for some minutes and then build pace and volume to express an intensity of love for some minutes, then winding down again until the chant almost disappears into silence.
The silence that opens after chanting for a while is very very special. Everything seems so very still, the atmosphere resounding silently with the devotion of the chant. The Presence can be so palpable.
A friend of mine was up at Tarrawarra Abbey many years ago speaking with one of the very old monks who was regarded as a holy creature. The old monk told my friend that many people came into the chapel there to pray but few stayed after praying to hear God's answer. It seems to me that the silence after chanting is like that, it is full of God's answers…