SkyBlue -- The Ways of Imagination and the Quest for Creativity
I don't know why, but on reading an account by anthropologist and shamanic teacher Hank Wesselman, I felt the urge to rewrite it in my own words.
It is about his experiences with Spirit. Here it is, in my own words:
Leopard man came to me when I was three years old.
At that time, I had only seen leopards in the zoo. It was a thunderbolt in the serene sky of my childhood. For days on end, I dreamt of him: leopard man.
My mum took me to the zoo often and I grew up smelling the scents of wild animals in the midst of New York.
On that winter day, though, I stood spell-bound in front of the elegant spotted creature that paced a narrow cage.
As I looked, the leopard gazed into the depth of my soul and I felt a mutual recognition.
Afterwards, leopard man came into my dreams and visions.
We would meet in the park, near bushes and tall, thick trees.
He was to become my playmate and guide.
When I grew up, I became a postgraduate student of anthropology, I had my first fieldwork experience in South-Western Ethiopia.
One day, as I worked at the fossils excavation site in the Lower Omo Valley, I had an eerie sense of being watched.
As I gazed around, I saw a sudden "break" in the air and the quick, liquid vision of a spotted creature appeared.
I asked what that was to my fieldwork companion, an Ethiopian young man who had been watching.
He grinned -- because he had seen it too.
"Shaitani" -- he said. In Swahili it means "Spirit."
And he bent a brass bracelet around my wrist, in acknowledgment of our common tribal past: the ancient tribal past of an Ethiopian young man and a native New Yorker.
Picture by courtesy of Yigithan Bal, via pexels.com
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In Do the Work, after the “Foreword” by Seth Godin, Steven Pressfield writes the following sentence:
“On the Field of the Self stand a knight and a dragon.
You are the knight. Resistance is the dragon.”
This scenario certainly evokes an epic battle, such as those of medieval romances and fantasy novels and movies. We are to engage in battle.
But how on earth does the dragon come into the world in the first place?
It is our “enemy,” the one who is here to prevent us from entering the cave where the treasure is hoarded. And the treasure is our creativity and its great potential for achievement.
Yet, the dragon is none other than our own shadow, because both the knight and the dragon stand “on the field of the Self.”
I think the dragon comes into being as a crystallization of our fears, internalization of so many self-limiting beliefs and prescriptions we have been given throughout our life, that we barely remember or recognize them.
It is a monster, a compound hybrid creature the knight needs to dismember in order to make sense of its power.
Maybe, the knight could befriend the dragon, let it speak for a while, the time of receiving a gift and an explanation. Then something miraculous might happen: the dragon would turn into an ally, a giant pet, whose power the knight could harness for good.
What if, instead of battling our way through our creative projects, we could play with the dragon, through visualisation, narrative and dream incubation, or other ways, playing with the dragon’s unique message for us?
There will certainly come a moment we will have to tie the dragon to the post of discipline, but it will be much meeker and understanding of our aspirations than it was in the beginning of our project. It will even support us with its fiery breath and stamina.
Instead of going to battle and drawing out our wilful sword, let us be playful, for something amazing could happen in the process: as the dragon becomes our pet, we may turn into children again… and be greatly inspired.
Our adult self could deliver the child to the playground every day out of great fun and decide to supervise the child’s games.
Together, they could bring into the world their best work, our best work.
Yesterday, I spent a whole afternoon at the Gustav Klimt Experience in Rome, an electronic, immersive display of the Austrian painter’s major works.
I soaked up the cultured atmosphere of late nineteenth and early twentieth century Vienna through paintings, pictures and music. I was immersed literally in Klimt’s work, as his paintings were projected onto the walls around, as I sat in the middle of the hall, bewitched and completely unaware of the passing of time.
Whatever information and knowledge I took in came to me through sensation, emotion, music and images, only seldom through written words.
I noticed how Klimt’s work evolved, spanning three phases: from the earliest classical themes, to the golden symbolism, to the expressionist jubilation of shapes and colours.
Klimt found himself uninteresting and was spell-bound by women, feminine shapes and nature.
He had no words for self-justification and preferred painting to explanation. He said:
“Whoever wants to know more about me, should carefully observe my paintings to find out who I am and what I want.”
“I don’t have time to personally take part in certain discussions… When I finish a painting, I have no intention of spending entire months justifying it to certain people. I don’t care how many people like it, but who it is that likes it.”
Well, I certainly admire those words. Yet, I care both about who and how many like my work – within reason.
I can’t help but think that Klimt – and other great artists and writers of the past – would have felt the same, had they lived in an age of digital opportunities such as ours. Nonetheless, I admire his integrity and fearlessness as an artist.
He suffered bouts of self-doubt and went through a major personal crisis, yet making art was his life and he persevered.
His sensual feminine figures, his love of water and women seem more relevant than ever today; to him the two were closely allied and were the source of all life: physical and spiritual.
My yearning for beauty was satisfied in his sinuous paintings, which, however, never eschew the foreboding of decadence and death. Yet, his work celebrates life and beauty because of and in spite of death.
I sat in the darkness, transported to fin de siècle Vienna, sailing in the wake of Beethoven’s and Mozart’s music, celebrating, feasting even – at the same time being blissful and anxious with Klimt’s every brushstroke, with each single painting unfolding before my eyes: a vast panorama of human life, a statement on what is of value in it…
Thank you, Gustav.
My picture of Danae by Gustav Klimt