Sunday, April 5, 2009

Art and the Body

For the longest time, I thought that as an artist, all I needed was a strong mind, a good eye and good hand- eye coordination. Body? As long as it was alive and could move my hand, I didn't give it much thought..... it was there but it was just THERE if you know what I mean. It was the reject child of my life that brought me nothing but disappointment. In art, I could be totally free and powerful. I could communicate ideas and thoughts that I could not articulate in real life. I could secretly nurture my hurt and protect myself from pain. And, I could go on adventures and do the things I knew I could not do in real life. But anyway, I digress. Back to this artist's body.... Most of us artists have spent countless hours behind the desk or at the torch, studying to get the skills and technique of our craft down. We live on caffeine and fast food....anything that will not take time away from our precious studies. Where does that leave our bodies? At the bottom of the 'to do' list. How did I feel? Like my body looked—terrible. At 42, I felt my life should be over. I was in a lot of pain, chronically tired (anyone who remembers me from back then will remember just how exhausted I was) and sick, sick, sick all the time. I think at one point I was sick every 6 weeks. I secretly wondered if this was all there was to life. I decided I had to do something to turn things around, but I didn't think it was possible. I felt lost. That is when a friend introduced me to my now trainer, Alona(thank you Dana!). With her help, I started on the path to rediscovering my body and learning that it is possible to have a healthy body if I give it the same love and attention I give my art. Now, at age 45, I feel like I did when I was in my 20's. That feeling of mortality has slowly shifted away. I am Alive. But what does a healthy body have to do with art?
I am learning, kicking and screaming(yes, it is emotionally not easy to come to grips with!), that I need to have a healthy and fit body to do good and happy art. Feeling alive and vibrant pushes you to take more chances. It clears the mind and allows space for true freedom. And only being sick about once a year ain't bad either. All this sounds like a given, doesn't it? What was the old saying? Sound Body Sound Mind? Well, there is a difference between knowing it, and experiencing it. And that is just it. Knowledge stays in the brain, but understanding goes through every cell.
And here, we arrive at M11. This work deals with physical and mental healing through dynamic flexibility. We learn to move our bodies in ways that we never have before, to open up the body's natural healing response. At first, it seems too simple to believe, but like art, the more you learn, the more you realize there is a lot of complexity behind that simplicity. What is this natural healing response? The body, through blood, nourishes and replenishes itself constantly. If there is an infection or wound, white blood cells aggregate to protect and heal. The more blood flows through an area, the quicker toxins are removed, cells are nourished and the faster everything returns to homeostasis. As we age or are injured, we avoid painful movement. The more we do this, the stiffer we get. Less blood flows through these areas and we lose function. Leonardo Da Vinci touched on this notion in his notebook, he writes:
“The body of anything whatsoever that receives nourishment continually dies and is continually renewed. For the nourishment cannot enter except in those places where the preceding nourishment is exhausted, and if it is exhausted, it no longer has life. Unless therefore, you supply nourishment equivalent to that which has departed, the life fails in its vigour; and if you deprive it of this nourishment, the life is completely destroyed. But if you supply it day by day, then it renews its life just as much as it is consumed.......”
Of course, we learned this to be true in science class, but once again, this very simple statement belies the complexity of what actually is happening in our bodies. We don't understand our physical body(or the universe) as much as we would like to. We can, through experimentation, come up with hypotheses as to the nature of an ailment and find a good solution, but the human mind has a flaw—it naturally orders and compartmentalizes things. We think linearly—this action sets off this reaction and that reaction sets off yet another. But Mother Nature works on so many levels that we cannot even comprehend. We cannot see into the multiplicitous activities of the body. With this Dynamic Flexibility class, we learn to go back and trust our bodies and allow them to do what they were meant to do.Heal on all levels. It seems easy but is very hard to do. You have to let your brain stop trying to take control.
I do the work--it's been week 10 now--and physically here is what I am noticing:Sore back, gone. Shoulder pain, gone. I still have pain in my neck, due to chronic usage, but the flare ups I get have lessened to the point where I am healed overnight. I am a bit surprised to find that the nerve damage from my horseback riding fall is starting to dissipate—I mean, I have had this numbness for well over 10 years—how could it be going away? Pretty amazing. Mentally,I still resist much of it, I think because I hate being weak and it is like someone poking a finger on your weak spot continually over and over. All you want to do is karate chop that finger away and hide but in reality, the only way to stop the pain and frustration is to go through it and come out the other end. There is a lot of stuff I know I have to deal with, but I am fighting it tooth and nail. I don't know if mentally I can overcome things, but I am physically doing the work and I hope that my mind will follow. It's a strange thing to do for people who are used to leading with the mind first.
There's so much more to it, but really, it cannot be explained. It has to be experienced. I'm just a beginner in this work and there is a long road ahead. Will I be able to continue and progress? I don't know. It's scary territory. All these emotions come up and I don't know what I am doing. But I do know one thing. It is slowly freeing me of the mental oppression I felt doing my artwork. I cannot explain it. I stopped painting 5 years ago because it caused too much mental anguish. I would approach that empty canvas with dread and every brushstroke was pain. I won't go into it here because it's too personal, but it's enough to say that I almost gave away my beloved easel. And yesterday, for the first time in over 10 years, I did a life drawing and felt for the first time in five years, the urge to paint. So yes, in a way I cannot explain, the health of my physical body is healing my mind and that is why having a healthy body is so important to good art. Okay, I have to stop writing because this is too much for a Sunday morning.....but I will continue my reports here and there. I wish you all the very best in your artistic journey and may you all find what you are looking for.