A practitioner investigates how art can save us, and shares the experience of an integrative arts festival
by Elizabeth Russell
If there is one thing that I’ve gained from my relationship to art, it’s an appreciation of the role the creative process has in restoring connection. Whether that connection is to oneself, to one another, or to the wider living earth, the journey of self-expression has a central role to play.
In my late twenties, I was a recovering activist, painfully familiar with the emotional toll of carrying the world’s weight in my hands. I had become so accustomed to my internal narrative about the world that it became a positive feedback loop, creating and reinforcing itself. Maintaining connection to such a heavy story was too much, and over time I quietly dulled my sense of belonging in order to ease the weight.
Gradually, I began to collect tiny disciplines and supports to build a new ground for being in the world. I was grateful to discover the shining resource of body intelligence, meditation, and creative self-expression in metabolizing the difficult circumstances of our time. In the face of all that is difficult – social disparity, planetary crisis, increasing pace of change, and being personally overwhelmed – expressive art-making and connection with our living breathing selves and the larger world can make us more resilient. These practices open the door to a greater capacity to respond, and they awaken a sense of belonging and connection.
Art as a spiritual discipline entails paying attention to images and opening ourselves to their unique expressions rather than trying to fix the problems we think they represent. The unsettling image is an ally of the soul that helps me reframe how I am looking at life and living it. (Shaun McNiff)
In particular, the integrative arts festival known as Life.Art.Being is like a visit to the well, inviting us to dip into disciplines that stretch our beliefs and expand our range of expression. When we gather for the Planetary Dance, for the Truth Mandala, or for practices in becoming present with our body and senses, we push the boundaries of our own comfort zones. Throughout the week, we lean into the wind and play with the edges of both familiar and unfamiliar means, and link the merit of our efforts to heartful concerns.
By the close of the festival, we have each arrived at something of our own. Something that connects us in a supported and authentically joyful way. And that is what we share through our writing, through our drumming, through performance offerings, through our willingness to be seen.
We arrive at a fresh way of perceiving the world and our place in it. The world’s situation doesn’t change in the brief time we share during the festival, but the way we carry it changes considerably. We discover deeper levels of support for engagement and, using everything, we gain a broader view.
Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart. You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world. You are willing to share your heart with others. (Chogyam Trungpa)