Fearless Living: Working with art and meditation to find our own truth

Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.”

Pablo Picasso said that. I agree, to the extent that there is such a thing as “truth,” our own “truth,” rather than some larger universal “truth.”

This summer, I have been blessed enough to work with a group of teenagers, to watch as they began to chip away at all the cover-ups life seems to demand they create, as they turned off their naysaying demon brains and just enjoyed the sheer experience of music and movement and meditation and improv and art.

Life is beautiful. Sometimes, with the weariness of work and the impossibility of relating, we can forget that. But we need to remember. We need to teach our children the valuable lesson that beauty — however we behold it, however we feel it — needs to be valued.

It is scary, really — the idea that we can unlock so much of ourselves through artistic means. It puts so much power in our own hearts and souls to make things happen. We cannot blame anyone else but ourselves. It is up to us to pay attention to our bodies and our minds — to do something, anything, to change the way we feel when we don’t like how we feel.

We drummed. Picking up the theme of the day, like “trust” or “kindness,” we played out the rhythm of the concept, tuning in first to our own selves and, with time, to each other. The development over a month’s time has been extraordinary, from timid uncontrolled bursts to intentional sustained harmony.

“Can you feel it now, how to play out the different themes?” I asked them recently, knowing myself the answer but happy to see their nods of agreement. It doesn’t really matter what I think, it is up to them to believe in their ability to express themselves rhythmically.

We meditated on the themes as well, focusing in on our bodies and our breath, attempting to push along undesirable thoughts and stay in the moment. At first, no voices joined me in the extended output of breath, in the “om” that signifies the primordial vibration of the universe. Now, at the end, we create a beautiful shared chant. We can get in tune.

We used paints, markers, chalk and glitter and sat outside, along the Eastern edge of Prospect Park Lake, to see how to capture our own perspective in watercolor. Like Picasso and so many artists throughout history, we now had the hubris to replicate beauty with our own hands.

We saw how other artists express themselves through various media with visits to the Whitney Biennial and the amazing Open Call exhibit at The Shed. We followed up with artist Kiyan Williams by video conference after the kids sat for a long while in front of the non-gender-conforming artist’s site-specific installation, Meditation on the Making of America, on the exploitation of Africans in the diaspora. What emerged was the idea of artists as coalition builders, as change-agents, as the dissectors and doers whose creativity causes a change of frequency and vibration for both social issues and personal emotions.

We made delicious summer rolls with chef Sung Uni Lee, trying new ingredients and listening to our bodies’ true needs in terms of nourishment. The kids worked seamlessly together to create the delicious lunch they ate with relish.

We danced in two different Brooklyn dance studios with the awesome teacher Jess Grippo, a force who believes in reclaiming our sense of self through moving our bodies openly and creatively. Jess helped the kids choreograph their desired and undesired character, and dance out their purpose. The beaming smiles of all four teens as they chose movements that expressed their thoughts, and worked together to form them into a collaborative dance, were a highlight of the summer.

We did improv in my living room with the venerable Ruby Frazier of Drama for Success, acting out kindness and how to create a dynamic life through games and scenes. After a brief nervousness, the kids were amazingly adept at playing out their concerns and their resolutions. Life, after all, is merely a stage.

We did a deep meditation and painted on the terrace amidst a variety of healing crystals with artist Agni Zotis in her Chelsea studio/home. With this work, we tapped into Agni’s philosophy of life and art that she talked about recently in The National Herald:

“Everything in consciousness is vibrating energy in the process of transformation. There are similar patterns that occur in molecular structures, in nature, and the universe, reflecting the relationship of the microcosm to the macrocosm. Painting allows me to channel creative flow states with pure expression transcending all boundaries.”

Achieving a “creative flow state” was indeed our goal as we toured The Vessel, a series of spiral staircases overlooking the Hudson and much of Manhattan, listening to ourselves as we decided which way to climb and descend. We continued the theme by working with Brazilian artist Claudia Vieria at her Chelsea apartment, replicating her own use of drawn and taped lines to connect the body and space by creating tape “drawings” on the glass of her beautiful balcony high above the High Line. What a blast.