Making the case for Arts & Consciousness as a collaborative process

Dear A&C friends:

If you are reading this, it’s quite likely that you have invested, or will eventually have invested, two, three, four or more years of your life in making contact with your inner self — your soul, let’s call it — the part of you that interacts with energies, the imaginal, the symbolic. The part of you that has learned to some degree to dip into the stream of the great Mystery and come back out of it with new information, which becomes the art we make.

This is special knowledge, which each person has learned (is learning) in a certain way that is unique to who s/he is.

So what do we do with this? I’d like to share a couple ideas…

Idea #1: The Mosaic

I’m writing this email to advocate for the idea that being a conscious, spiritual or transformative artist is, by definition, meant to be a collective activity. That we’re each bringing back aspects of a whole that is meant to be assembled through sharing what we find and figuring out how it fits together. What is the picture it makes? What forms take shape amid the reflections and relationships that are revealed when these works of art are brought face to face in some fashion?

Perhaps you have heard of the book Original Wisdom, by Robert Wolff? I first read it in 2006 and its description of the collective life of an indigenous Malayasian tribe as experienced by a Western medical professional (yes, it’s one of those, but bear with me…) made a profound impression on me in terms of suggesting what becomes possible when a group of people commit to sustaining a collective connection to the imaginal. Here’s an excerpt:

In the morning, we might not all wake up at the same time, but those who woke up early would lie quietly, waiting for more people to awaken. And somehow, as if by magic, we would find ourselves sitting in a circle, rubbing our eyes, stretching to get the kinks out. One person would say, “I saw a bird, a beautiful bird.” Someone else would say, “Yes, I too saw a bird.” “What kind of bird was it?” another would ask. And so we would create a story with images from our dreams.

They did not think that they were sharing dreams as we think of dreams. The Sng’oi believe that the world we live in is a shadow world, and that the real world is behind it. At night, they believe, we visit that real world, and in the morning we share what we saw and learned there. The story that was created around the memories that four or five people brought back from the real world set the tone for the day.

Sometimes one of the group would take the lead in soliciting input from each person in the room: How about you? What do you remember? Other times the story flowed without help. A few times no story emerged at all. It was very obvious that when a more or less coherent story was created around the images we shared, we who had slept in that shelter would live that story that day. Usually the stories were simple: a bird had shown the way to a tree that was bearing fruit. Later that day some of us would find that tree, and of course it did have ripe fruit. Or the story was about a bad storm. People would stay close to the shelters all day, and yes, there was a big storm in late afternoon.  (pp. 88-89)

In 2011, I was a T.A. with Karen Shojolm for Creativity and Consciousness. During the classes dedicated to sharing artwork (at the end of each three week phase of working with one or both opposites), we had some opportunity to observe the relationships between the different pieces within a room. It was very interesting: there definitely were colors and images that surfaced in more than one person’s work. It’s possible to say this is a result of people being in the same class and part of the same discussions, but what if the group really was touching into a collective imaginal space, and that space was coming through in the artwork?

In 2010-2011, elizaBeth Benson, raven reyes, and I also midwifed collaborative installation art experiences at the Poet Tree House, a multi-story live/work loft into which we invited groups of interdisciplinary folks to create three-dimensional imaginal spaces — each show attempting to create a spatial atmosphere with a particular theme (show 1: the Enchanted Forest; show 2: Paris, (show 3 was a little different)). We learned some very interesting things: of particular note was the discovery that kicking off the development of each show with a storytelling circle during which people shared their personal connections to the theme (memories, daydreams, feeling-states…) helped establish an imaginal container for the show. We then created a material installation world that let us enter into and embodily inhabit our shared symbolic space. (For me, this was a big wow!) This is a slightly different example in that the storytelling and artmaking were directed around a particular theme rather than arising spontaneously, but I still think it’s a noteworthy example of the potential of what can be manifested through the collaborative imaginal.

Idea #2: Partners in Healing

Maybe, like me, you’re not sure if you’re first and foremost an artist or if you’re a different kind of *someone* whose work is still very much related to the creative process. What is the creative process? What is Transformative Art? My working definition is that when you’re transforming materials of any kind, there is a simultaneous transformation of self also occurring–and it’s the transformation of self part that I want to focus on. Some of us who go through this program are driven to create work; others have a compelling wish to support people in the transformative process. I think they go together.

A few weeks ago, during a meditation, I had one of those moments of understanding that sometimes happens, and the info was this: these gifts that we have — teaching, healing, facilitating, creating — they’re meant to be shared. That we’re actually supposed to put all the things we know and are learning into practice and heal each other — that by sharing our healing and teaching gifts, we’re creating ways for energy to come into and become part of this realm (ja, I know how this sounds…). The important point is that this collective work, and the field it creates, is actually what helps us all get to the next level.

What would this look like? Maybe you’re a bodyworker, and you can exchange sessions with someone else who does sound healing. Or maybe you’re an herbalist and you can do an exchange with a visual artist who will listen to your  story and then create a healing drawing or picture for you. Maybe you have a special connection to animals, or places, or colors — you can help other people learn these things too. Maybe you’re really awesome at leading people in meditation or guided imagery and you double up on teaching a workshop with someone else who can help people read their own and other people’s energetic states. Maybe you’re a musician and you would be willing to play music while someone else is helping people learn to paint. Maybe you’re extremely grounded and can hold a safe container for groups: I’m pretty dang sure there’s a semi-hyper, very eager teacher somewhere out there who would love to collaborate with you.

The point is: we know things, each person reading this knows how to do some piece of this. These things are not supposed to stay hidden any longer.

I remember, back in the thick of my dive into books about indigenous cultures, I kept coming across books that had a common theme: “For centuries this knowledge has been held secret by my people, but now the elders have said it is time to share it with the world.” Again, this could be seen as a marketing ploy, but what if it’s not? What if we really are living in the age where esoteric knowledge needs to see the light of day and be put into practice in real and exchangable ways that become as normal as any other part of community life? Isn’t that kind of the description of the world that we came to JFK hoping to find or help make happen?

Isn’t it?

Well, here’s our chance.


Thoughts??  (plz click on “leave a comment” up above in green…)

In determined alliance with y’all,


Making the case for Arts & Consciousness as a collaborative process


4 thoughts on “Making the case for Arts & Consciousness as a collaborative process

  1. Brilliantly and perfectly said! Catherine this is inspiring. Speak of indigenous wisdom, your words remind of that famous quote from the Hopi Elders. I know we’ve all heard it before, but I think it’s important to keep saying it. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

  2. Kayla Kirsch says:

    Love it. I appreciate that you are taking the time to share your process and your thoughts touch a resonating chord. The idea that it is time to share what we know and have learned does resonate, as well as re-membering that our work is a shared experience rather than an individual endeavor. I am not yet ready to go full out into the world but know that I will be soon, and I will know when. Thank you. I look forward to the next installment!

  3. Roseanne says:

    Yes!!!! I agree with all that you have said. The trick is finding how! And finding receptive places and people that are willing to make change. Sadly, I am always amazed at how many folks are resistant to all this wonderful stuff!

    It seems to me that an integral part of all this is just slowing down. Everyone is so caught up! Busy, rushing, anxious over things that don’t matter (myself included).

  4. cate white says:

    I totally agree. Right on sis. I feel like what keeps us separate and not all waking up at the same time together and telling our shared dreams is that our lives are so damn complicated and the pace is so fast that it’s totally overwhelming to try to ‘put together’ another meeting or workshop or whatever. Ya know? Or maybe that’s just me. I think the problem is so embedded in our culture: from the way cities are designed, to architecture, to the economic system that keeps us all grubbing for wages, to our normalized patterns of living that disconnect us from ourselves and each other. It’s a challenge to just get together with enough space to act creatively. I’m not saying your vision is unrealistic or anything like that. I’m not sure what I’m saying except that I long for a life of easy, natural community and creativity and I feel frustrated with the obstacles to that–inside me and in the culture. Yeah, so, nice piece of writing CB.
    Cate White

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