The first state of our being, from the sensation of the womb, to the first moments and early periods of life, is that of unity. This period of our collective lives, can be characterized as being connected to the totality of the universe, no feelings of separateness exist. The baby and mother are one, however soon this period wanes as we experience our own separateness or “somebody training”. We reach up to the body of our mother and the experience of touching her changes from “us” to you and me. It is at this period in existence that we are thrust into a dualistic experience of life, of polarities- you, and me that and this. The connection to the unity of all things is shattered. At times, our separateness to the universe is transcended. Two lovers embrace and the feelings of you and me dissolves, thrust once and briefly into the present moment and the warm embrace of returning to that state of unity. In psychological terms, the ego, the critical and reasoning function of the mind is transcended as our being is moved to our soul or heart. Buddha said that suffering was the result of the clinging mind, to move beyond the awareness of the ego into the heart is to exist in a greater awareness. To shift the awareness from the ego is the cultivated practice of yoga and meditation. Yoga meaning union, is to put the body in specific bodily poses (asanas) as to allow prana (energy of the breathe) to move through the body in a specific way as to begin to shift ones awareness first from the mind to the body, then to the subtle body and then to rest in pure awareness itself. Pure awareness or one pointed mind, shifts awareness into the totality of the moment.
These works are the outward manifestation of an inner journey. They were spurred in their making by an existential crisis of being, of understanding the subtler and sublime energies that exist in the creation of being, and the termination of life. The title of this exhibition Life Cycles- Samsāra Samadhi is the stepping board to understand the metaphysical challenges that are steeped in human life, consciousness and awareness. Samsāra, in Tibetan called “Khorwa” meaning “continuous flow” is the repeated cycle of birth, death and rebirth within Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, yoga and Sikhism.
According to these religions, our current life is one in many, stretching back before our birth and forward into our future incarnations. During the present lifetime, the quality of ones actions (karma) determines the future destiny of each person. Buddha taught that there is no beginning or end to the cycle, however there is liberation from samsara known in Buddhism as Nirvana and Moksha in Hinduism. Self Realization (atma-jhana) is the key to obtaining Moksha. The Hindu is one who practices one or more forms of yoga- bhakti, karma, jhana,raja, knowing that God is unlimited and exists in infinite forms, both personal and impersonal.
My cultivation of bhakti yoga before beginning painting, served to open up the channels necessary to let the works come through me. Paintings that through their creation, served as glimpses to other planes of awareness, works of metaphysical symbolism, peering into the perpetual void, cosmic landmarks of form and subtle understanding, woven with the touch of the other, of the beloved. Physical manifestations of states of mind, “behind the looking glass”. Works evolved from original birth and death imagery. Experiences brought about by yogic practices, vipassana breath, chanting, music and Kundalini awakenings, brought in a new wave of clarity on the energies that were emerging through the painting process. Yoga was an instrument for the mind, body awareness’ to meet in dialogue through the physical asanas. Observation was brought to the body, to the minds awareness and then relieved from the clinging of the mind in the moment of awakening (seen in this series as the male and female in the egg- Samadhi). The moment, Samadhi, or one pointed mind, is the intent of Hindu and Buddhist practitioners through their preferred method of spiritual opening. At this awareness, the ego is surrendered to a greater energy, an energy that speaks through you not at you. Through the Christian tradition this is described as “dying into spirit”, surrendering first through the body, then the mind till awareness is merely the vehicle for a greater energy to work through you. In this state of consciousness, the heart and mind are both open, and ones awareness sits as merely the “witness” of the act of painting.
Kundalini awakenings, or awakenings into spirit, involve the use of the fine subtle pressures of spinal positioning, and pushing energy through the body, opening the chakras and being released through the crown of the head. Awareness then sits at the crown of the head in the “third eye”, seen through scientific and mystical literature as being in the pineal gland, a dormant sixth sense and organ that is opened through the yogic or spiritual practice.
An account of awakening by the Indian Saint Ramakrishna is as follows: Ramakrishna (1836‐1886), who in the practices of this yoga was a veritable virtuso. "There are", he once told his devotees, "five kinds of samadhi;" five kinds, that is to say, of spiritual rapture.
In these samadhis one feels the sensation of the Spiritual Current to be like the movement of an ant, a fish, a monkey, a bird, or a serpent.
Sometimes the Spiritual Current rises through the spine, crawling like an ant. Sometimes, in Samadhi, the soul swims joyfully in the ocean of divine ecstasy, like a fish. Sometimes, when I lie down on my side, I feel the Spiritual Current pushing me like a monkey and playing with me joyfully. I remain still. That Current, like a monkey, suddenly with one jump reaches the Sahasrar. That is why you see me jump up with a start. Sometimes, again, the Spiritual Current rises like a bird hopping from one branch to another. The place where it rests feels like fire. .Sometimes the Spiritual Current moves up like a snake. Going in a zigzag way, at last it reaches the head and I go into Samadhi. A man's spiritual consciousness is not awakened unless his Kundalini is aroused.
"Samadhi is the journey from individual to collective consciousness. The steps of Samadhi are the steps towards reaching the collective consciousness. In meditation, the more we radiate love, compassion, peace, harmony and tranquility, the more is our contribution towards the collective consciousness. The more we positively contribute towards the collective consciousness the more is our progress in Samadhi." - Amit Ray
My own experiences are as follows.
My personal space is in my bedroom, positioned before my yoga mat is the window with curtains open to the night sky. Lights are turned off, a candle and stick of incense is lit in front of my yoga mat. This serves to centre my awareness. Breathing and observing my awareness from a position of the witness, allows my consciousness to not be fascinated and engrossed in the coming and goings of thought in my mind, till my awareness rests in my body. Asanas are performed, which are physical pose gestures which push through states of awareness. At an early stage, my awareness does not lie in the egoic conscious mind, pulling the strings and generating reality, but in a state beyond where I merely feel the energies and poses move through me, as a conduit for the consciousness of the kundalini, which becomes aroused in the base of the spine. This energy moves up through my spinal column, twisting and sliding through the chakra points of awareness, These are felt physiologically, as awareness is stuck in each chakra point and then released up through the spinal column, emerging out in the exhale through the crown chakra. As this intensifies, sensations of confusion, disassociation from awareness of the “self”, as being either the personality or the body dissipate, and my awareness is focused in releasing the energies in the body. As these feelings further intensify, heat, physical sensations and feelings of bliss build up. At the final moment before awakening, or Samadhi, there is a feeling of being in a metaphysical egg. The moment of awakening occurs and awareness is pushed out of the egg, symbolic of a rebirth experience, or as described in religious experience, being “reborn into spirit”. At this level of consciousness, perceptible reality is seen through different planes of existence. The physical world of material objects becomes not the only perceivable plane of reality. Other planes that are available are the soul realm, the realm of being not identified with either body or mind, but eternally drenched in love. Another plane is the realm of pure ideas, which is passed through the creative act of painting. This mythic realm is also the domain of the archetypes, structures and sub structures of ideas being passed through the conduit. In the plane of the mythic archetype the artists is merely the passenger or conduit of the awareness passing through him perceived through the witness as being the hand at work in the creation of the work. Another plane is the void, or abyss. The void is everything and nothing. The experience of being in the void is present before the awakening during the yogic practice. A feeling of being lost into nothingness and everythingness is present, and the mind is trapped in the rapture of the void. The forms of the void encompass all emotions. The work Circle of Life, Void, is a portal into the perpetual void.
With this perspective, see the works as existing not from a personal standpoint or personal narrative, but as mythic, metaphysical works that are portals to realms of human awareness.
As these works unfolded before my eyes, my belief system changed after each successive opening experience. Intial understanding of this form of consciousness was vague but land maps from other spiritual seekers shed light on my own experiences. Books and lectures by Ram Dass, an American Harvard professor who experimented with psychedelics’ in the 1960’s, then travelled to India to further understand the psychic consciousness maps that unfolded themselves led him to meet his guru in the Himalayas. His guru, Neem Karoli Baba or Majaraji, existed in a place called MahaSamadhi, his body was merely the vessel for his incarnation on the physical plane, his awareness though, was with God. Study of Hindu, Buddhist and Christian theology and art, became an interest and led to the creation of Icon works. The figures of Buddha, Christ, and Shiva, became material imagery for the state of mind these enlightened beings existed in. Two other works, Christ with Mary, and Christ with Mary Indigenous are works that serve both as devotional imagery and iconography, but are symptomatic for the rich relationship between Mother, Birth and Incarnation. Born into death, is a metaphysical work underpinning the physical reality of being born to die. In a sense, death is a witness to birth, all beings must die, but serves as a visual reminder that death is only a realm on the physical realm of reality and serves as a purpose to relinquish awareness from the body and mind and into the realm of the soul.
The metaphor of the tree of life, is present in the work “death leads the hand of man through existence”. The tree of life is a metaphysical concept present in various religious mythologies. The sun and the moon are present in the direction of time as death leads man to his physical termination. Above them, the tree of life, or the “axis mundi”, is a metaphysical device between planes of being. The base of the tree exists on the earthly realm, the branches reach out to heaven, while the roots dig into the earth into the underworld. The kundalini experience is a metaphor for the axis mundi, being the doorway of opening into the higher states of being, or Samadhi. Holy sites, such as mountains or places or worship can serve as the axis mundi into the higher realms. Places such as Uluru, Mt Sinai and Mt Tabor have a long history of spiritual awakening.