Art & Yoga

It’s interesting isn’t it, what we pay attention to, and what we look for? It sounds like such an innocent question, yet it is a reflection of who we are, and how we have been shaped.

I went to a Matisse exhibition when I was in London. What struck me was a comment he made as an older man (with only fourteen years of life left to him) that now he had to learn how to ‘see’. And this seeing would take him on a totally different path, and would revolutionise what was considered art.

Of course artists, poets and mystics have always been involved in a kind of stripping of the layers, and cleaning the windscreens of perception of dust. Whatever we spend time thinking about, how we have chosen to live, we will become, and this will shape our seeing, hearing and feeling.

Matisse would learn to see each object and give it life.

As I live my life now, away from the familiar, practicing in a bedroom with few props and no buddies, I am interested to see what I think my practice is. Is it to stay open and flexible, change a mood, do I do it because I always have?  As I start with those so familiar poses, what then?  I hear the same things in my mind, and often the instructions from the outside in, those instructions that Iyengar yoga is so well known for. But acting on instructions is not the point, they are meant only to guide the intelligence.  But subtly we can be seduced into thinking that these instructions, this knowledge, as the thing itself. I sit at dinner parties and the conversation is about things, but rarely are our fine gifts of intelligence given any room to develop and discern. We become governed by our world of thoughts and rarely do we have access into actually looking at the thinker of the thoughts.

Of course this is what a yoga practice is about, yet the mind is very interested in what it has thought before, what it already knows, it is rarely interested in what it doesn’t know. It will be interested in unknown facts to increase the stockpile of facts, because this can appear as intelligence (aren’t we often impressed by people who know a lot about everything!), but are we really curious about entering into the wordless world?

Not having a formula for our movements puts us at risk, and we grope blindly. We often need to invite silence to hear what is initially wordless. Our darker places inside emerge: fear of the unknown, risk of being wrong, seen as lacking.  Yet all of these qualities keep us on the wheel that spins faster and faster as we seek to be in control.

So, like Matisse, aren’t we also developing ourselves to become sensitive, to see from our own experience?  But the first thing is to know that we will need courage and a kind of solidarity with ourselves.  Matisse would live his whole life outside of what was acknowledged as “good art”, yet now people will queue for months to taste and see this freedom.

The trick is that we are the only ones who can do this, there is no formula, the only pointer is that others have set this course and have done it before us. Usually people we admire, they show us how. I often wonder if we want enough for ourselves, I mean the deeper desires, those that will really satisfy us. Our fellow travellers may not appreciate us at the time, but it will certainly bring aliveness and creativity.

The last part of Matisse’s statement was that in truly learning to see, we learn to love. That sounds like a good outcome.

Caroline Coggins
July, 2017

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