Now I will proceed with a recounting of the events that led to that turning point on a Sunday morning in May; but to do so with clarity requires me first to lay out a context. That context is the very one that , in my view, every creative practice must confront - namely, what are the sources of creative inspiration, of novelty in the true sense of the term? How do we create something from nothing, not only in art but in the unfolding of each of our lives beyond biological, social, cultural or psychological expectations?
Obviously a big question, but for the purposes of this tale I'll narrow it down to a discussion of a controversial concept - synchronicity. I say controversial because in some intellectual circles this term is never uttered within the hallowed halls of the sanctified paradigm ( a paradigm I myself am inclined to inhabit from time to time). Yet I will posit that synchronicity in its many forms is a pivotal aspect of creativity, one that not only can't be ignored but, as a tool of creative practice, must be nurtured.
The originator of the popular meaning of this term was the psychiatrist Carl Jung, who brought it into prominence within the growing atmosphere of consciousness philosophy and exploration during the 20Th Century. In his private therapeutic practice, and in his own life, Jung noticed many curious coincidental arisings of symbols and events, so numerous and uncanny that he felt compelled to attempt to analyze and write about them His own fleshing out of the idea evolved over time, but can be best summarized as "a structure of reality that includes a principle of acausal connection which manifests in the form of meaningful coincidences". Being a psychiatrist, Jung was especially interested in how these uncanny coincidences seemed to be associated with subconscious archetypes - or deep symbols - in the psyches of so many of his patients, and at the striking usefulness in therapy of identifying and analyzing them. Most of us have had those moments of apparent synchronicities , so striking and unexpected and meaningful that they have a kind of numinosity, a glow of import.
As I understand it the criticism of the popularization of the concept (literally turned into a pop song at one point) comes from the observation that so many in this age of self-indulgence and psychological inflation take the appearance of these meaningful coincidences as somehow specifically manifested upon them from some divine source, as if the Cosmos was speaking directly to them. I would agree that this is a bit of an epidemic; call it post-modern narcissism or boomeritis or "The Me Generation". For many the appearance of a synchronicity amounts to a badge of honor - AREN'T I SPECIAL! - and that's as far, or as deep, as it goes. Thus, the term is easily ridiculed and ostracized as "magical thinking", hopelessly naive and regressive.
But wait, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater! The important aspect of a synchronicity is not its numinosity or ego-inflationary potential, but its apparent meaningfulness and its possible usefulness. I will suggest that meaningfulness can be coming straight out of the unconscious, whether from above or below, within or without. And if that is so then it may be valuable indeed, which is why Jung was so intrigued. If I am an artist, or a creator in any sense of the word, who is interested in exploring unconscious realms of the psyche and beyond, I damn well better listen when a synchronicity thrusts itself into my consciousness! In the visual art world we even have a term for one type of synchronicity - a happy accident. Most artists are quite aware of the necessity to tune one's antennae for happy accidents that open doors to new, unexpected and exciting possibilities.
Of course, if you still resist the term synchronicity, just call it morphic resonance... or dumb luck, if you please.
Back to my story....as I was struggling to emerge from the depths of my existential crisis I found myself looking for guidance in the form of books. Not self-help books, but physics and biology, consciousness research, philosophy. I restarted a meditation practice as a way of training my focus and looking deep within. I restarted my art practice, which had been dormant for almost a year. I was intent on clearing the fog, more single-minded in that regard than I had ever allowed; a vision of suicide as warm and snugly will tend to have that effect on you.
I spent a lot of time in the Denver Public Library, devouring books and letting the library gods guide me wherever they saw fit. During one period of exploration concerning the mind/body problem I kept running into references to the chakras. When I thought about it I realized I knew about as much as the average college educated Westerner concerning chakras; that is, next to nothing. Something vague about energy centers, etheric bodies, chi or prana, all mostly incoherent to me. I decided I needed to know more, so I found a few books on the subject and got... something vague about energy centers, etheric bodies, chi or prana, all mostly incoherent to me. It didn't help that most of it was presented in the form of translations from esoteric and ancient Indian texts, which was only slightly easier than reading Sanskrit. Then I stumbled onto a little book written by an American who had spent time in India studying and now lived not far from me in Boulder. Her name is Layne Redmond, and she is now a world famous drummer among her other talents. The book was Chakra Meditation, and it was written in plain old American, a language I had familiarity with. This was a Saturday afternoon. I took it home and that evening sat down to read.
Besides an explanation of the physical and metaphorical meanings of the chakras, Redmond had supplied a group of color prints of painted symbols for each chakra, known as yantras. In what is a typical style, each chakra was represented by a lotus flower, each with its own number of petals and its own color. A yantra is a visual devise used in some meditation practices - the practitioner gazes at the yantra, contemplating its meaning and significance, often while chanting. As a visual artist I found these chakra symbols intriguing and was drawn to their simplicity and mystery.
As I said, Chakra Meditation is a slim book - less than 100 pages - and I read through most of it that evening, leaving the final chapters on specific meditation instruction for the morning when drowsiness would not interfere with the practice. And so it was on a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning in May that I sat in my favorite reading chair to finish. The meditation instructions were highly specific, and an audio cd that came with the book included a guided-by-drum chanting session designed to facilitate a focus on the actual location of the chakras in the body. However, it was such a glorious Sunday morning I decided the outdoors were where I needed to be, so I put the book down, rose stretching and gazed out my 3rd floor balcony window, only to see a yard sale on a lawn directly across the street.
To back up a little, I had just that month finally secured an art studio I could afford, and had that week finished moving my tools and benches and supplies into the space. I bought a small coffee maker for the studio, and had decided I would, rather than bring a mug from home, let chance guide me to one appropriate to my new studio. When I saw the yard sale it dawned on me that every yard sale in the world had coffee mugs, and that special mug just might be waiting for me there. In three minutes I was browsing through the numerous mugs offered for sale. I found one, and pleased with myself I looked about for my neighbor to ask the price. My eye was immediately caught by a string of small pennants tied between two trees, waving in the light morning breeze. There were seven of them in a string, maybe 8x8 inches each, very colorful. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks - THEY WERE THE CHAKRA YANTRAS!
Now remember, until Redmond's book I had never seen, nor had any knowledge of yantras. If I had seen these pennants even the day before they would have meant nothing to me. And remember this as well - I had just put that book down 3 minutes before! Call it what you will, I knew something very odd was at play here. I found my neighbor, inquired into a price for both mug and pennants, and for $1.50 I acquired them and marched home delighted.
I must admit, my first reaction was AREN'T I SPECIAL! It didn't last long - after all, I had no self to feel special about, so that one didn't stick. But I knew there was meaning here, and that there was something to explore, and that an unforeseen and unimagined door had just cracked open. Where it would lead I had no idea, but I'm an artist, and if you're not adventurous in that pursuit you'll get nowhere. And so, in the months ahead I gently pushed open the door and stepped through......
To be continued....