My retreat partner Anna and I are preparing to take another group of women to Java for the March Creative Spirit Retreat, and it has got me pondering, what is it about the combination of art immersion and meditation practice that makes these retreats so powerful and so popular?

To be honest when we started Creative Spirit Retreats a year ago, we didn’t get too philosophical about it. It just felt right. Having experienced that rare and very beautiful instant connection when we first met, Anna and I have gently steeped each other into our own worlds. My home is now adorned with exquisite pieces of art that Anna has sourced and recommended for me. Many of which I have found and fell in love with on our retreats. She’s the only art curator in Singapore that I completely trust, not only for connecting me with artists who are aligned with who I am and what I love, but also every piece she has recommended has ended up being an excellent investment. (Which is always a winner with my husband too!). And Anna has been a regular at my meditation courses and circles since we met and has embraced the beautiful path of conscious inner practice. It was at the conclusion of another lovely meditation course that we both felt the strong impulse to draw our worlds together in an offering for others. And after a couple of conversations and one email out to our communities our first retreat was fully booked and away we went.

It is now, after taking several groups to the beautiful sacred and artistic centre of Java, Indonesia, that I am delving more deeply into why Art and Meditation make such a gorgeous pairing. Artistic expression generates the same brainwave response as meditation does, however there is a deeper underlying reason, and that is that they both provide gateways for one of the human spirit’s main requirements – expression; and to enter that gateway of Creative Spirit, Art and Meditation follow the same pathways in.

Many artists describe the process of producing a piece of art as if it already exists, within the blank canvas, block of marble or fabric, and their role as the artist is to bring it through into something that can be experienced and that stirs and changes perceptions of reality. Michelangelo spoke of this regarding his sculptures, and that carving them was an act of liberation. He said of one of his beautiful angelic sculptures,

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

This is a beautiful perspective and it is exactly the process with meditation and inner practice. When we ‘go in’ through meditation, we can sense within the canvas of our being, beauty and a part of ourselves that lies underneath our ordinary reality and the person that we present to the world. And just as the artist brings through the work into outer reality, so too does the meditator. The ultimate goal of meditation, is not so much to master the approach, but to bring through the highest aspects of the spirit into how we engage with the outside world, our relationships, view of self and life. The process for both is the same. To achieve both artistic and spiritual expression, the practitioner needs to enter the inner often and become so familiar with the forms, patterns and movements of their inner terrain, that the expression of it is a natural result. It’s no surprise that most of the artists we share time with on retreat are deeply spiritual people and attest to entering an altered state of consciousness when they are creatively expressing.

“Every artist dips his brush in his soul and paints his own nature into his pictures.”
– Henry Beecher

A beautiful piece of art generates an energy shift within space and time. The forms, colours and feelings captured within the canvas can completely change the vibration of a room, hallway, gallery and similarly meditation does the same. The ancient sacred sites that we visit on the Creative Spirit Retreats are wonderful examples of this interplay. The World Heritage site of Borobudur, ancient temples and the wilderness trails we visit all resonate with the energy of millions of people who have engaged with them before us for spiritual expression. Every single one of our retreat participants returns from meditating in these sacred places, changed, expanded and connected with their spirits and sense of wonder.

Meditating in an ancient temple
Silent meditation at 1000 year old forest temple

The incredible talent that is apparent in the traditional and contemporary art world of Jogjakarta and surrounds is a result of a wholesale choice of the artists to hone their skills and express their spirits. It’s a lifetime commitment, and it shows. Once they have tapped their creative spirit in this way, their lives become an ongoing act of expression and they reach for mastery of their talents. Inner practice works the same way. To engage in spiritual exploration and meditative mindset, requires a choice and that choice needs to be actioned. This is when true expression starts to flow; when we see and experience results. And the human system is designed for it and rapidly responds at a physical, mental, emotional and energetic level that enables deeper and more profound experiences of spirit. Just reading about, or doing courses in how to paint or how to meditate, amounts to nothing, unless this knowledge is put into action, embodied and expressed. That’s the point of it.

“What art offers is space – a certain breathing room for the spirit”
– Updike John

Copyright Nasirun – Private Collection

The artistic community in Jogjakarta is connected and mutually supportive of each other. Many of the seasoned trail-blazing artists have assumed the roles of mentors to upcoming artists and custodians of the art treasures being produced. Similarly, with meditation, communities naturally form between meditators and spirit-seekers and the connections are profound, supportive and beautiful. The vibe attracts the tribe.

For both artists and meditators to develop their perspectives and go deeply into their respective practices, seeking inspiration outside of the specific focus of expression is an imperative. Most of the artists that we visit on retreat travel frequently and study abroad, bringing back new influences and ideas to their works. And the same is with meditation. Different teachers, settings and experiences of meditation broaden the meditator’s pallet of practices and perspectives for deeper exploration. This is why on the retreats we hold many different forms of meditation and we also hold Sangha evenings where we invite local personalities, philanthropists and teachers to join us and share their stories. It expands the awareness of the groups and connects us more deeply with the land, the people and the energies of the place, and it’s also very fun!

One of the many beautiful shared meals of local delights at artist’s residence post Fire Ceremony

And the other pairing of these two beautiful pursuits is the importance of patronage. For artists to have the space, resources and support for their artistic expression, it requires an altruistic and highly passionate foundation of patronage. To understand this is an important aspect of the retreats and we spend time with the key patrons of the Javanese art scene, at the national gallery, with private collectors in their homes and senior artists at their galleries. Sharing the passion and importance of artistic expression deeply stirs the Creative Spirit as does our conscious patronage of our inner exploration. Meditation and a conscious spiritual journey also requires the patronage of our awareness and choice. And when we make that choice and engage, we connect with a beauty and power within, which raises us and how we perceive our ordinary reality…just like a beautiful piece of art does.

What would it be like if you lived each day, each breath, as a work of art in progress? Imagine that you are a masterpiece unfolding every second of every day, a work of art taking form with every breath.
– Thomas Crum

Creative Spirit Retreats are hosted by Anna Layard (art historian and curator) and Dani Van de Velde (meditation teacher and spiritual guide) in the beautiful surrounds of Java’s Borobudur and Jogjakarta, Indonesia.

The March retreat (March 18th-23rd 2018) is now open for bookings.

Click the link to find out more, or email Dani at [email protected] for details. Places limited.

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  • Danielle Van de Velde

    Meditation Teacher and Spiritual Guide

    Dani Van de Velde is the founder and principal teacher of The Meditation Teacher in Singapore. She is a qualified meditation teacher with over twenty years of personal practice and over ten years teaching experience. She is also a Usui reiki Master and Healer. Dani helps others understand and master the art of meditation and inner practice through private coaching and courses and tailored programs for schools and organisations. She is also a popular speaker at networking forums and workshops, a writer and holds regular spiritual guidance and healing sessions and retreats in Asia, US and Australia. Dani is a member of the Meditation Association of Australia and the International Meditation Teachers Association, recognising the standard of her teaching and program development. Dani’s teaching is experiential. She draws from techniques and wisdom of numerous world traditions, current research into neurology and cellular biology, and her own experience. Her focus is on enabling others to understand and work with the design and function of their mind/body/energy system, and engage in transformative inner practice for self-healing and intuitive living.