Under the Echo of Bumblebee Wings (c) Vivian Zapata. One of many beautiful works of art in LFAC’s exhibit The Creative Soul: Art & The Sentient Being running 1/15 – 4/26/16
In 2016 at Life Force Arts Center, we decided to explore what art is and why it’s important. Just a minor task, to answer a question that artists and philosophers have been debating for centuries!
Of course, there are a million ways to answer the question, “What is art?” and every one of the million different opinions is correct from its own perspective. As the Artistic Director of Life Force Arts Center (LFAC) I was only trying to define what we mean by art at our arts center. I knew that the meaning was inherent in the Life Force Arts Manifesto, which I wrote as the statement of principles that Life Force Arts Center follows and is dedicated to manifesting in the world.
It took me the longest time to find just the right, dynamic title for the series of three exhibits that we were planning to embody this theme of “What is art?” Sometimes people ask me why I get so particular about titles. The answer: names define the entity. From the title flows the intentions, the goals and the activities. Giving something a good title or name is half the battle towards success.
To me, a key word for why art is important is sentience, which means “the condition of being alive, feeling and conscious.” Art connects us with the universal energy that flows through all that is. In that sense, art is inherently spiritual: it is about that energy.
In graduate school, studying concepts of aesthetics, I came across the wonderful book Homo Aestheticus by art historian Ellen Dissanayake. I can remember literally jumping up and down in the stacks at DePaul University when I read the following in the book: “…other worlds [are] invented in play, invoked in ritual or fabricated in the arts.”
Art expresses the soul: the energy that makes one animate rather than inanimate. Art helps us become more alive, feeling and conscious (sentient). The arts heighten perception and expression of the various senses: seeing, feeling, hearing.
Art is aesthetic, increasing one’s sensibility; the opposite of aesthetic is anesthetic. The greatest antidote to the lack of feeling and awareness we have in the world is the arts.
But “sentience” is not a term many people are familiar with. For a title, I wanted something more accessible. I searched for a short, commonly known phrase to express the idea of sentience, to indicate why and to whom being alive, feeling and conscious is important.
Talking this over with LFAC’s Associate Artistic Director, Steven Blaine Adams, the idea of “soul” came up as part of what we were trying to express.
In the Shamanic Training Program that I created and have taught since 2001, we make a distinction between Ego, Soul, and Spirit.
Ego in this training means the superficial, false self that is based in what one thinks “should” be done. It is often created by living out the expectations of others: parents, community, societal norms in general. Making judgments about what oneself or others “should” do – judgments surrounded by feelings of disdain, anger, guilt, etc. – is a sign of the Ego working.
Spirit is the great Cosmic Soup that contains everything in the universe past, present and future; the realm of all possibility; the Greater Self. It is a place where anything can shapeshift into anything else. It is wonderful to experience this mystical oneness and power. But it can be ungrounding. Also, there is a temptation to bypass Soul, the individual energy field, and just stay in the realm of Spirit to avoid dealing with one’s individual experience of woundedness.
There is a different level of Self, which we can call Soul, where Spirit manifests itself into the world through each of us.
Soul is the vital essence of the individual. Soul means two things: the individual’s personal energy field, and the individual’s gifts and mission. Each person has unique qualities and talents that they have come to this planet in this lifetime to share with others for the healing of the world. No two souls are alike, each is unique, precious and necessary. Your soul is your life energy that you came to this planet with to help the world. As James Hillman says, there is no such thing as a mediocre soul.
We access soul by connecting to our heart. Energetically, this means the energy is flowing freely from heart chakra to all other chakras: to the third eye so I can perceive what my heart desires, to the root chakra enabling me to take action, and on to what each chakra enables within us. What does the small, quiet voice within tell us we should do? What path “has heart” for us? When we live this way and make decisions this way, we are living from the level of soul. When we live this way, life becomes easier because we simply ask: am I doing this as part of my mission in life? Is it what I came here to do, what my unique qualities are suited for?
Living from Soul means we understand our personal energy, our gifts and our mission in life, and that we go about firmly planted in this awareness. It is ultimately creative: singing our song, dancing our dance, being one with the flow of life.