I recently read an article entitled “How To Draw Better.” A few salient points made by the author, Jesse Miller, strike me as pertinent to spiritual development as well:
“Simply put, neuroplasticity means that our brains change their shape and structure as we learn new skills and information.
A scientific study into the development of drawing skills in students found that the best learners used a ‘strategic’ approach to learning. These students identified their weaknesses, and found tried-and-tested methods to practice and improve them. They also tracked the progress of their skills, and updated their practice methods accordingly.
Research has shown that the development of motor skills requires periods of rest between practices, when our brains can gather together and act on the information. Therefore it’s best to do this exercise little and often – practice it just once a day for as long as you can.
But recent studies into the neuroscience of creativity have found that looking at the works of others may indeed be essential to cultivating a creative mind.”
Surely, the soul, like the brain, is neuroplastic..or are the soul and brain one and the same? In any case, the soul is constantly adapting. Its development depends on spiritual practices. It does not grow and thrive on prayer alone.
The soul needs quiet and solitude to create the environment in which the Spirit can work.
A person who desires to live deeply into her/his spiritual life would do well to delve into the writings of the mystics in diverse traditions and pull out spiritual practices that fit with their lifestyles and belief systems.
Learning to draw is similar to spiritual development. If you are intent on learning either skill you will both enjoy and benefit from reading this article:
Once upon a time women would not leave the house without wearing a proper undergarment we called “a slip”..this explanation intended, of course, for a newer generation who is perfectly happy with laced thongs! A story from my tenure in high school dovetails perfectly with this poem that emerged this morning. My father introduced me to the world of 1950’s Hollywood musicals which I came to love, along with John Raitt. The spring I graduated Raitt stared in a production of “Oklahoma!” performed on the floating stage of the Aqua Theatre on Green Lake in Seattle. Dad took me as a graduation gift. I was walking on air to the Aqua Theatre with scores of other people when I noticed that my slip was slipping, the absolutely worst faux pas of 1962. I ducked behind the nearest tree to pull it up and emerged red-faced and relieved to have set the world right again.
My slip is Showing
when we get old we don’t mind anymore if our slip shows its shocking ruffle of black Chantilly sashaying under our outer armor.
let the young be shocked I say for shock shakes the souls of the old exposing the richest parts to innocent adoring eyes and transforms limitation to fine laced truth
While looking for food, a nomad in the Namib Desert might see this little Fringe-Toed Lizard doing his gymnastics to survive the otherwise unsurvivable heat. He lifts one appendage at a time, removing it momentarily from the sand’s heat. At noon he will burrow into the cooler sand beneath the surface. At dawn our nomad would enjoy the cool mist blowing in from the ocean, and with many other plants and animals, sip from its moisture left on leaves. The Sidewinder snake adapts its behavior by heaving its body across the sand, touching down in only two places at a time.
Adapting. And how do we human beings adapt our souls to meet the overwhelming challenges thrown at us by our environment? Like these desert animals, we are a resilient lot. We survive and we often thrive. Adaptation of the soul is analagous to adaptation to environments; however, unlike other animals, we can make choices- choices which get us and others into dire situations, and choices which redeem us. Apartheid imprisoned Nelson Mandella for twenty-eight years, and his spirit adapted and thrived. I can only conjecture about the details of Mandella’s adaptation. You have developed your ways of adapting to spiritual challenges, to “The Dark Night of the Soul,” as John of the Cross called it. These choices have redeemed me at times:
1. Be Faithful
To mantras that focus me, affirmations, rituals, other prayer forms.
2. Be Helpful
Seek out viable and positive service opportunities. Service takes us out of ourselves.
3. Be Creative
Paint, draw, write, compose music, play music) Creative activity often puts us into an altered state where we can forget our despair for a while, and unite with the Other.
4. Be Communal
Talk with a spiritual guide or trusted friend.
These adaptations get me through the heat of the day: Old truths embedded in a new metaphor.
The soul knows what she wants, even if our ego is confused. She casts out invitations, and like stones cast on gentle water, they ripple out, and touch every aspect of our lives.
Images from the soul are spontaneous lights from the Godhead. The soul casts them out, and stepping into the light, she waits until we are conscious enough to see and respond. We can teach ourselves how to be aware of the invitations by fidelity to two spiritual practices. First, we can view synchronous events as invitations from our soul, and daily ask for the grace to pay attention to them. With practice, we can learn to focus intentionally on our surroundings and interactions with people, staying open to the possibilities they “throw out.” For example, one day I may have a dream about a one-time friend, in which he wrestles with strong emotions. The next day I stumble upon an article about grieving that touches on my recent experience of loss, and I think again of the dream and become concerned about my friend with no apparent cause; however, I resist the urge to shrug it off with, “Oh, it’s ‘just’ a coincidence.” I ask myself what images surround my friend when I think about him? What images surround me? What feelings do these experiences evoke about him and about me? I decide to inquire about his well-being from a mutual friend, and learn that his mother died at the same time as I lost a loved one. The synchronistic event becomes an invitation cast out to me, and if I respond to its light, I grow.
We can develop our imaginations by devoting time to creative expression. Time spent drawing, painting, writing, making music, dancing, etc., is liminal time…the space in between, in which the soul casts her sacred images. If we work 9-5 and surround ourselves with people and frantic activity 24-7, there is no time to create, and we will miss the light.
Writing this reflection has been a good examin for myself. May the soul’s images astound us.