By Sue Caulfield
As I noted in Chapter 2 (posted January 11, 2014), my composition, “Remind Me,” consisted of the following interwoven words: joy, challenges, hope, community, believe, forgiveness, loss, wonder, dream, balance, imagine, love, kindness, peace, trust and blessings.
That piece hung in my first exhibit, at Borgess Woodbridge, an exhibit scheduled to hang for three months. Within a couple of weeks, I was contacted that a man wished to purchase the piece. When I contacted him, I asked if the purchase could wait until the exhibit ended. He asked that he not have to wait, as the piece was for a friend who, he said, would really benefit from the piece, given events occurring in her life. The purchase took place soon thereafter and the purchaser called me days later to tell me that the recipient cried when she received it.
Other versions of “Remind Me” sold at their first showings. As I noted in Chapter 2, “Remind Me” was inspired by a piece done with paper, “a composition that drew me inward and helped me see the complexity and, indeed, the simplicity of life.” I still see that paper piece once in a while and it continues to draw me in each time. [Note: The paper piece is titled “Kaleidoscope” and hangs at Transformations Spirituality Center in Kalamazoo.]
I believe these pieces touch a person at their very core, at their soul. If our soul is our essence, art is one of the ways we tap into that essence. We need more ways to tap into the essence of our soul, especially when we live in a culture that promotes the ego more than the soul. Some traditions suggest that it is our ego that leads to more suffering in life. I recently read a book on stress and spirituality (Stand Like Mountain, Flow Like Water by Brian Seaward] and it reaffirmed for me the need to do more letting go of ego talk/work/focus and do more engaging of soul work.
Soul work certainly does not require the use of words, nor does art that touches the soul. One of my all-time favorite pieces of art is Van Gogh’s Starry Night. There is something in that composition that grabs me, something beyond what I can articulate with words.
While words are not required to get to one’s soul, they can be a good ally in that regard. One of the most lasting lessons in this regard was one I learned 17 years ago, on my first retreat with Angeles Arrien, a cultural anthropologist. Arrien taught that in indigenous cultures, if a person were to go to a shaman or medicine man because they were feeling ill or disheartened, the shaman or medicine man would ask the person four questions:
When did you stop dancing?
When did you stop singing?
When did you stop being enchanted by stories, particularly your own life story?
When did you stop being comfortable with silence?
Arrien says that when someone has stopped any of these things, that they have experienced soul loss (see Arrien, Gathering Medicine). Arrien explains that the shaman’s way to wholeness is to reconnect with yourself at the deepest internal level. This soul work can utilize imagery, dream work, storytelling and reflective questioning to help a person integrate inner and outer experiences.
Thinking about these questions in our modern culture reminds us that the solution to our current challenges may in fact be found by reconnecting with joy, with dancing, singing, stories, and silence. Imagine if you went to a western doctor and were asked these questions. How different would that be? Imagine what prescription you might walk out with instead of a prescription for a drug. Imagine…….
Versions of this piece continue to be among my more popular pieces and I believe that is because it resonates at the very core. When I think back to my college creative writing instructor and others who have chastised my writing and art work as too direct, too functional, I believe they have missed the point. Yes, I can look at Van Gogh’s Starry Night and feel movement in the composition, perhaps even be inspired to dance along with the swirling stars. Yet, on other days, my soul seems to need a slap upside the head, a more direct and clear question: When did I stop dancing?
Many “When Did You Stop?” pieces serve this purpose for people. Granted, one could simply post the four questions on card stock around their house, but the pieces bring an added dimension. Soul work, along with beauty.