visual arts

The Heart of Creativity

By Aleksandra Kumorek mb65-TheHeart1

The work of artists, creative practitioners, and those working in the media has an impact on the collective consciousness. But which seeds are being watered? What would it look like to live and work according to Buddhist ethics? How can we be part of a wholesome, supportive community of creative practitioners?

“Together we are one,” reads a calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh. This statement became the motto of the first retreat organized by the Mindful Artists Network, which took place at Findhorn, Scotland, in June 2013. Fourteen dancers, musicians, actors, writers, and visual artists from Germany, Great Britain, and Canada came together at the Victorian retreat centre, Newbold House, in order to meditate, dance, celebrate, and practice creativity. Under the spiritual guidance of Sister Jewel (Dharma teacher in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh) and Sister Hai Nghiem, and with co-facilitation by the network founders Susanne Olbrich and me, this newly formed “tribe” spent a weekend enjoying the magical Scottish midnight sun.

In the opening ceremony, everyone placed an object or image on the “altar of creativity”––something that represented each person’s connection to his or her individual creative source. It was an act of consciously joining the great stream of our ancestors, inspirations, and influences. This marked the beginning of an intense weekend of shared joys and tears, dances and performances, deep reflection, and heartfelt laughter.

In addition to sitting and walking meditations, the focus was on creative practice. Sister Jewel introduced the InterPlay* method and dance meditation, which helped us connect deeply with ourselves and with each other. In the large, walled garden of Newbold House, groups created mandalas from natural materials and then gave impromptu performances. In small groups, we reflected on ethics and the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

An informal tea ceremony provided a frame for participants to present their own creative work: music, dance, painting, sculpture, performance, movies, photography, and poetry. One of the particularly memorable artists was a most uncommon “Zen” master: a clown who works with terminally ill children in hospitals and who made us laugh that night.

By the time we parted Sunday afternoon, we’d grown into a loving community that had brought Thich Nhat Hanh’s statement to life: Together we are one, indeed. We couldn’t resolve the world’s problems during this weekend, and living our lives lovingly and mindfully will continue to be a challenge for each one of us. We know we must not allow the seeds of greed, stress, and competition, which are so dominant in our society, to be watered. We must remain true to our way of compassion and non-harming in everyday work. But we know that we no longer walk this path alone.

The next Mindful Artists Network retreat is scheduled for July 17-20, 2014, at the Source of Compassion practice centre in Berlin. It will be guided by Sister Jewel. Please visit www.mindful-artists. org for information about the previous and upcoming retreats.

*InterPlay (www.interplay.org) is a creative practice that integrates movement, storytelling, silence, and song to unlock the wisdom of the body.

Amb65-TheHeart2leksandra Kumorek is a writer, director, and lecturer in Berlin. In 2012, she became a lay member of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing. She has practiced with the Sangha Source of Compassion in Berlin since 2005. She and pianist/composer Susanne Olbrich launched Mindful Artists Network at Plum Village in 2012.

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Seeing Ourselves in Each Other

The Collaborative Art of Brett Cook mb51-Seeing1

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Brett Cook is committed to bringing collaboration and healing to communities all over the U.S. — through passionate creativity. Guided by the ideal of interbeing, Brett applies his training in visual art, education, and contemplative practice to lead community members in cooperative art projects. And the results reach far beyond their stunning works of art. In communities that have been divided or wounded, Brett offers a bridge between conflicting beliefs and painful histories. By leading people through dialogue and art-making, he generates healing and peace.

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A practitioner in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, Brett has traveled to Deer Park Monastery and Vietnam to practice with the Sangha. He’s blended art and mindfulness practice in communities from New York to California. Last year in Durham, North Carolina, Brett facilitated a project called “Face Up: Telling Stories of Community Life.” Hundreds of people took part in community conversations about neighborhood goals, then traced and colored drawings of local heroes in large public art installations.

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The Face Up project featured portraits of human rights activist Pauli Murray (1910-1985). “For me,” Brett explains, “Pauli was an exemplification of emptiness; she wasn’t one thing, but all things. She spent her life expanding for other people, as well as herself, the idea that we don’t have to be limited by one identity, particularly from the world around us. We can be seen as infinite and connected to all things.” As the community worked together to create images of Pauli and other role models, they had a chance to “see themselves in each other” and in their artistic creations.

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For more information about Brett Cook’s Sangha building and art, including video clips and art slide shows, visit www.brett-cook.com.

— Natascha Bruckner

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