Making the Invisible Visible: Using Art to Deepen MSC Practice
Have you ever had difficulty articulating your inner processes or insights during a meditation or self-compassion practice? Or maybe you’ve noticed that your participants also struggle, searching in vain for just the right word or phrase? This is in part because so much is stored in the body, and cognitive access is limited. But through the creation of pictures, sculptures, dance, poetry, music and dramaturgy, we find that at last, we can playfully build hands-on bridges to connect with these embodied inner messages.
As an artist, art therapist, art educator, and teacher of metta and MSC, I’ve seen the immense potential of intertwining art, meditation, and self-compassion practice. I’ve developed artistic processes which can be incorporated in short form during foundational MSC classes or in longer form during art-based retreats.
I’ve learned over the years that one of the greatest powers of incorporating art in MSC and meditation is that it enables us to have experiences that go far beyond our purely cognitive-linguistic comprehension. Through art, we can get into intense contact with our own body, feelings, and emotions, transcending the limits of spoken language. (See exercise below for an example.) Participants often discover creativity as an expression of aliveness and as a way of experiencing, awakening, and cultivating spiritedness. Some people gain unprecedented access to their own being. Art makes the invisible visible without intentionally searching for it, and it opens additional levels of reflection for the individual and within the group.
Just as meditation and MSC are adventures, so are artistic processes. Our work as teachers is to support the participants in immersing with curiosity, amazement and open-mindedness, free of fixations on aesthetic or technical requirements. Many times, this also means teaching fierce self-compassion!
To see examples of the intermingling of creative process and MSC, please have a look on my website, POWERful-heART. You may also contact me, Helga Luger-Schreiner, in Vienna, Austria. I am looking forward to an inspiring, mutual exchange with everyone interested in creating new space through art to deepen the practice of MSC.
Body Picture (also called “Body Landscape”)
Purpose: This exercise helps you to get in deep contact with body sensations and makes them visible and memorable. You can do this artistic process in combination with other MSC practices, including “Compassionate Body-Scan” or “Affectionate Breathing.”
- I propose painting, drawing or collage (use watercolors, wax crayons, coloring pencils, scissors, glue, colored paper or old calendar pictures for collage, finds from nature, and so on). You may decide for yourself what appeals to you more, but you can also combine all the techniques.
- Likewise, the format is individually selectable. You can choose a format that fits your life-size silhouette, allowing you to create a one-to-one picture of yourself and your body sensations, but you can also work on small-format paper. If you wish, you can draw your body contour on your paper before the meditation.
Prepare your materials and lay them out in front of you so that you can easily go directly into the artistic process in between or after the meditation.
Begin your guided meditation as usual and then…
Remain in silence and continue to be in touch with your body sensations. Using your materials, bring your feelings and body sensations to your paper in whatever way feels most natural to you. Let your hands move freely, without an idea of what your painting or drawing should look like in advance. Choose colors and shapes, and begin to fill in your body contour. Be as playful as possible in the creative process.
Finally, appreciate yourself for your creativity. Or give yourself compassion when you have had a hard time. Perhaps you could let go of your ideal and find something inspiring in what it has become?
You can repeat this exercise often. If you have worked in life-size format, you will find enough space to continue on the same image. If you have worked in a small format, you can create a body sensation picture book with several works.