Shutting Up for Healing Art
In that span of unproductive, intangible time that stretches between Christmas and Epiphany, I took advantage of the public’s holiday food and gift comas and stole away to a silent yoga retreat on an ashram in forest in central Virginia. Many eyebrows were raised as I announced to anyone in earshot that I, Lisa Markuson, hyphenate-collector, would forego blowing horns and making out with a stranger on December 31, in favor of sitting cross-legged on the floor in a lotus-shaped shrine silently meditating, adrift in the inky sea of my own consciousness, exploring the foundation of the human condition and our connection to the universe.
So that’s why I totally missed your party. :(
Over the five days that I spent at Satchidananda Ashram in Yogaville, I took over 50 pages of handwritten notes, most of which are totally incoherent. While advised to refrain completely from any sort of communication - talking to each other, using the internet, calling or texting anyone, even eye contact was to be minimized - we listened to various speakers, had workshops and classes, and could read from the library at our leisure. And, perhaps not surprisingly, when one cuts off communication outside of one's head, the amount of thoughts and feelings that well up from the cracks is enough to fill volumes.
Leaving Yogaville after five days of blissful/excruciating/shocking/redemptive silence, I feel like a power hose has scoured all of the grime from every pathway in my brain. Thoughts are more striking, breaths are deeper, hell, you look prettier to me. But aside from these and other surprising effects, I was struck by the retreat's strong focus on the arts for therapy, self-discovery, meditation, and recreation. Through music and visual art, our teachers and leaders helped us meditate and learn about ourselves in surprisingly simple and accessible ways. I’ve decided to name it “healing art.” Here are a few ways you may be meditating already and not even know it, you hippy.
Vision Boards - You may think vision boards are just the 1990s version of Pinterest, but you are so, so wrong. There have been a lot of studies about the inherent power of visualization and "positive thinking," and the seemingly mindless act of just flipping through magazines looking for images that grab your eye for any reason, and laying them out in whatever fashion seems natural to you, can speak volumes. All you need to do is grab a few old magazines and collect images that strike you, and paste them together in any way you see fit. You may surprise yourself at the interesting themes that take shape. My board ended up with a lot of blue, green, and cream colors, a quote from Mr. Rogers, old fashioned illustration, and phrases like, "revolutionary medicine," "grandma's wisdom," "questers," and "GOATS AND THE CITY." Using this as a guide, I have decided to become a goat herder and use their milk for homeopathic remedies for the elderly. When your board is complete, you can either keep it in a place where you can consider it often, or set it aflame or do some other dramatic disposal process. Martha Beck swears by them, and she may or may not be able to communicate telepathically with animals, so think about that. If you don't believe me, do believe Oprah.
Mandalas - I didn't know what a mandala was, until I realized I did know what a mandala was, so you might too! It is a circular image, usually utilizing various geometric forms and a wide spectrum of colors, which is believed to tap into the deepest reaches of our psyche, and perhaps something that some would describe as "universal" or "divine." Carl Jung was a huge fan. While at Yogaville I read a whole book on the topic without noticing (these things happen when you have no clock and haven't spoken to anyone in days) and we did an exercise in mandala coloring as well. They may look a bit cheesy at first, but they are legitimately mesmerizing to look at, and why not just give yourself a bit of time to color and explore shapes and see what happens? No one has to know you are having fun, I swear I won't tell.
Humming, playing your cello, or singing “Row Row Row Your Boat" - Vibration is a very important part of integral yoga and many different schools of meditation. They say that at their most pure and advanced levels, science and spirituality are uncannily similar, and focus on vibration is one thing that both seemingly disparate fields share. Scientific instruments are cleaned using sonic vibration, and sound and other waves are used often in western medicine. String theory revolves around the fact that everything is vibrating and infinitely connected. Similarly, the vibrations of an "OM" or a chant, or the playing of a musical instrument, is believed to cleanse your body and mind, and work therapeutically through meditation. I was skeptical, but I chanted "hari om" with the best of them and you know what? It feels damn good. And listening or playing calming music can help guide your meditation or just make you feel nice, so give the head banging a rest for a moment and just see how a meditative chant like "Row Row Row Your Boat" feels (literally).
These are just a few examples of some of the extremely weird things I did while at Yogaville. We practiced hatha yoga for 4 hours a day, woke up at 5:30am to the sounds of a 90-year-old monk playing violin, consumed no alcohol, drugs, meat, sugar, nicotine, or caffeine for the duration, and I even made the terrible mistake of participating in a candle-lighting interfaith ceremony representing Hinduism in front of the entire ashram. The experience was very foreign and at times uncomfortable, but the detoxifying effects of the whole process are totally worth it. It reminds me of an experience I once had in a Turkish bath in Antalya - but that is a completely different kind of healing art.
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