Pause for a moment.
Notice your breathing.
Pay attention to the feeling of the chair you are sitting on, or the ground you are standing on.
Now let your eyes dwell on the artwork below. Let your eyes wander.
Follow a contour. Follow a line. Dive into a pool of color. No rush.
Now, let your mind dwell on the questions below. Let your mind wonder.
- What captures your attention? Locate areas of the image that are you immediately drawn to.
- What makes you feel uncomfortable? Identify aspects of the image you would rather gloss over.
- Find an area to call your home. Magnify the image, if necessary. Settle into this sanctuary.
Notice your breathing once again.
Ask: “Who is looking at this image?”
Perceiving with untamed eyes
Curiosity and contemplation are the twin fuels of life. We all recognize the spark in the eyes of a child for whom the world is still wonder-filled – non-conceptual and untamed. The image of a child’s insistent “But why?” in response to their parent’s fumbling attempt at a logical, reasonable explanation for a phenomenon may be stereotypical, but it holds truth.
The same twinkle appears in the eyes of adults or the elderly, when for a brief moment something or someone lets them drop their daily concerns. Their familiar state of “but that’s just how things are” is replaced by a state of wide-eyed wonder. This state of rapture and receptivity is often associated with falling in love or encountering an object of desire.
Culture has a way of shattering that curiosity when it places emphasis on rules and norms. Templates and directives will easily douse the spark of our personal source of passion. Culture is simply a conglomeration of agreed upon concepts – and concepts are tools of communication (that’s why I can write this blog). But concepts can never replace direct personal experience.
When we listen repeatedly to how things should or could be rather than trusting how they feel for us in the present moment, we may forget what moves us, and lose touch with the edge of our curiosity and source of life energy.
Let your mind wonder again. Return to the image above. Do you feel differently about it knowing that the artist has titled it The Sister Star? Does your response to it change knowing that it belongs to The Guild of Stars Collection?
Culture does not only refer to large-scale community practices. Even if you consider yourself a highly individualized and independent soul, you may find yourself under the pressure of cultural conformity. If culture refers to the grouping of ideas and behaviors with certain predefined expectations and morally-loaded outcomes, then culture can arise anywhere. It can be prevalent between a group of friends or a small family. It may even arise between two individuals. We all run the risk of getting so caught up in these cultural stories that the inspirational answers we seek become obscured.
The art of contemplation
Artful Contemplation is a daily practice for keeping your spark of personal curiosity and contemplation alive. It assists you to ‘see through’ the many voices clamoring for your attention. Contemplation includes wondering about . You can ask “where did this originate from?” Or, “what is my relationship to this?” Or, “how can I work creatively with this energy in my life?” Contemplation can also be a process of wandering about. You allow yourself to deviate from the well-worn path, and to linger longer at places that inspire you. You opt for a circular path home, taking time to observe what brings you a sense of integrity and peace-of-mind.
With daily Artful Contemplation practice, you learn to ask questions that do not demand a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Instead, your questions will open up worlds of potential, possibility and inspiration. Remember the child’s insistent “Why?” This question gets asked of anything and everything. Children ask questions that surprise (and often embarrass) their elders because their boundaries of awareness and delight have not yet been moderated by moral dictates. In fact, it becomes their greatest delight to function very close to this boundary of social taboo.
Nature as inspiration
There is no doubt that spending time in untamed nature is a catalyst for our curiosity and contemplation. Mages, artists, philosophers, poets, shamans and seekers throughout time have recognized that an attuned and resilient human nature is dependent on intimate contact with untamed nature. Nature is both persistent change and constant pattern – a harmony made up of infinite variables.
Certain art has the power to inspire curiosity and activate our personal sense-making ability. As Ken Wilber points out, “Conventional art is an expression of the self or world as it is now. Transcendental Art expresses something that you are not yet but that you can become”. Transcendental art, visionary art, sacred art and intuitive art do not place emphasis on a literal interpretation of the known world. Rather, this is art that taps into the infinite variables of nature. By entering a state of receptivity, the artist offers harmonious patterns to depict what is happening at a rate and intensity too great for our common eye and rational minds to conceive. This is art that draws both the artist, and the viewer of the artwork, into a practice of mindfulness.
Slow looking, deep discoveries
In our current technologically-rich age, images flash and dance before our eyes continuously as gifs, videos and animations. It is challenging to use a still image as a source of deep contemplation. We have to slow down to enter into the frame of opportunity being offered to us.
We are all seeking a purpose-filled life. Deep down we know we are worthy, we know we have something unique to offer. More often than not we want to feel empowered to extract personal value and pleasure from our daily activities and encounters. We long to live permanently with wide-eyed wonder. Artful Contemplation is a gentle reminder of our intrinsic capacity to explore the infinite realms of perception.
Have you experienced a direct encounter through art? Feel free to share your insights.