A meditative drawing is an act of discovering our embodiment mindfully.
I have been running a course looking at mindfulness from a Christian perspective for a church in Ealing. One of the important questions that has come up is, ‘what do you do when a difficult emotion, thought, sensation emerges?’
I have been looking at the Lindisfarne Gospels over the last few weeks in the British Library, before it goes to its brilliant summer exhibition in Durham. On the page that is open, within its glass case, is a letter ‘P’ shaped like a dragon.
It made me think of difficult emotions I have separated myself from, which I have imagined to be dragons. I have kept myself from experiencing them with a glass wall of separation. Mindfulness helps to bring down that glass wall of separation, whether it is our body, thoughts, or emotions that we have separated ourselves from.
One of the other things that kept me trapped was the thought that I had to be strong, and not show vulnerability and so it was hard for me to tell someone else I was struggling. But as I practiced mindfulness I had to face the difficulties and experiences I was keen to avoid. That can seem overwhelming.
At that moment it is really helpful to let someone else in, a wise friend, a doctor, a counsellor. When I did that I was able to face the difficult thoughts and emotions and begin to name them and draw them accurately. They began to lose their power, and began to dissolve.
I am trying to draw this Lindisfarne dragon. It has such complex plaited interlace, initially I think I can’t recreate it. But the more I pay attention to it, the more its pattern begins to make sense and not seem overwhelming and beyond my mapping.
I believe we can do a lot to help ourselves. But the most important lesson I have learnt is to let others in to help us with our vulnerability. The dragon drawing isn’t finished yet.
A cat forms the right-hand margin of the initial Luke page of the Lindisfarne Gospels. It’s head faces the bottom line of text, apparently attentive towards the mass of inattentive birds on the other side of the page – of which it has already swallowed eight.
A little picture showing the importance of being attentive, and the perils of being inattentive; the importance of being mindful and the dangers of living mindlessly.
One of the lessons of the Lindisfarne Gospels was their slow, contemplative making. We can apply this practice to our children, marriages, work, relationship to the book of nature, peace. These things need a slow, contemplative making.
Michelle P. Brown’s book The Lindisfarne Gospels: Society, Spirituality and the Scribe would be one of my top three Christmas buys this year. In talking about the meaning of this book she says something deeply profound.
‘Jennifer O’Reilly has drawn attention to the patristic concept of the ‘inner library’ and the necessity for each believer to make him or herself a library of the divine Word, a sacred responsibility which Cummian referred to as ‘entering the Sanctuary of God’ by studying and transmitting Scripture. Books are the vessels from which the believer’s ark, or inner library is filled.’ (pp.398-399)
This says something about the meaning of our own lives, that there is to be a guiding inner ark. This ark carries not just our little self, but other things of the world, as the first ark carried breeding animals to save them. In our inner ark we are also to carry the presence of God.
What struck me was that this is a real carrying of what is there in the world. I might want to save the gerenuk, or Lindisfarne otters, and as I slowly contemplate them and grow in knowing about them, I begin to carry them with me in a way that might save them – because I bring this knowing to others.
Michelle P. Brown’s book was I believe a slow, contemplative making – and I write in praise of slow making. Inner arks, like books, are a product of slow making as well.
You could also read Carl Honore’s In Praise of Slow.