Starting with fire, people and watching the mind
Originally written 08 April 2020 | Maastricht, Netherlands I used to keep a small notebook in my back pocket and a 4-colored pen hooked onto my front right. I maintained a habit of writing down thoughts, feelings, questions, and especially observations from life which struck me as aha-moments or insights. I would often weed through these scratches of pen on paper and translate them into paintings on fabric and clothing. I had a clear process and toolkit for making and expressing those observations:
📒 harvest ideas (jotting in my notebook),
🎨 translate ideas using artistic tools (sketchbook, pens, paintbrushes and fabric),
🤲 share with people (those who’d receive the pieces).
About four years ago most aspects of that creative process (observe→ write-down→ imagine visually→ paint) began to transform and lead me through new trials. I dipped myself (to various depths) in performance art, poetry & prose, immersive theater, installation, sculpture, speculative design, house construction, facilitation, intentional space-making and participatory methods of social organizing. While this interdisciplinary play opened me wide to new methods, I had to leave behind the certainty of expression which I had before.
All of these forms of expression held similar core concepts — namely reconnection of the human with the self, other selves and more-than-human beings (i.e. animals, plants, fungi, stars, wind, etc). Umbrella topics were empathy, mindfulness, and collaboration. I was guided by the question,
What is alive with-in and with-out and how can I feel viscerally more in-touch with it all?
I was in the forest with nine friends ranging from longtime lover to newly-acquainted. A pandemic-sparking virus had just arrived from the lung of a single person in China to the lung of another right here in the Netherlands (social-distancing restrictions hadn’t yet been mandated). The world felt more interconnected than I had ever known it to be. The forest was hollow of human life and electric with birds, soil, insects and wind.
I followed an urge to initiate a circle for our small group to share. I asked, “With what intention or non-intention do you hold for this day in the forest?” Together we held an adventurous, open-ended, playful and breezy mood. The sharing-circle revealed possibilities for relating with each. We offered to share our various foods, books and toys with each other. Then, we were off into the trees, muddy slopes and caves.
I spontaneously converged with three friends and we decided to try a short fire-meditation which I had come across in the book Rewilding by Micah Mortali (an insightful and practical resource for relating body and mind with the outdoor environment). The three of us collected dry fallen twigs, grass and leaves as well as bits of tissue and lint from our own pockets. I moved slowly here. I felt the motion of curiosity rolling in my gut — curious to watch the sensations arising in me with every step of this new mediation. Aiming to build a well-burning fire, we clumsily offered words of guidance to each other — “make it like a teepee!” “I think we need more air in the center,” — doing our best to keep a ‘mindful’ tone of voice. We finally had a flame.
We used the flame as an object to hold our attentions. Silently, we fixed our attentions on the quivering flame in the same way we would tend the flame itself to continue burning—with care, gentleness and focus. The tiny twig fire rose, lowered and faded to ash in a few minutes.
With a full breath in and out to close the process for myself, I stepped out of our small circle and moved to sit beneath a nearby tree whose trunk was just a bit wider than mine. She supported me with her grounded roots and body. Sitting there with her, I noticed a softly rising inner storm of physical sensation, ideas, and conceptual connections.
Internally I danced in waves of relief and excitement. I observed this process from the perspective of a witness. A curiosity to explore new tools for expressing bubbled in me like foam emerging on a wave from the sea. “I want to continue to share my inner world of feelings, ideas, opinions, and life experiences in a way which other people can experience too,” I knew.
The spontaneous self-guided fire meditation led me to see a faded patch of my heart. It was once vividly colorful and alive with expressions of brush strokes, paint and fabrics. I used to explore life itself and communicate outwardly with these tools. That artistic heart-place had been left untended in pursuit of new fields of interest and practice — namely facilitating relational and introspective group experiences.
Three years after pausing my artistic works with paint and clothing, my process of creative expression formed a full-circle. One which met again with its origin. In the meeting of two expressive methods a spiral begins. The spiral brings together the use of my voice, physical presence, space and people to express both previously and newly cultivated ideas.
I found a new 4-colored pen in mindfulness practice, new fabric in weaving people, new brushes in physical presence, and new pigments in sharing my spoken words. I’m grateful to identify these new artistic tools for continuing this exploration of that familiar question: what is alive with-in and with-out and how can I feel viscerally more in-touch with it all?