Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mudras: Gestures of a Different Kind

A recent visit to the Rubin Museum of Art in New York brought to mind the wonderful blog post about Mudras that Indira Govindan had written for us last year.  I decided that I definitely wanted to re-read it, and that maybe some of you would enjoy reading it again (or for the first time) too.

If you did yoga, you may have used a few in your practice. If you were a Buddhist, you may have seen them on the icons. If you ever sat on a slow crawling traffic, you may have been tempted to create a few of your own. They are hand gestures or _hasta mudras_ as they are called in Sanskrit.  Of course, there are hand gestures and _hand gestures_. Gestures have culturally specific meanings and in Asian cultures the word mudra raises the meaning of the hand gesture to a spiritual and artistic plane.

In the image worshipping Asian faiths, the deities are portrayed in their multifarious aspects with the use of _mudras_. In the photo collage above, there are eight basic mudras. The two mudras that are common in both Hindu and Buddhist iconography are the _abhaya_ and the _varada_. The abhaya is the gesture of “fear not” and is indicated by the right hand raised to shoulder height, the palm of the hand facing outward, the fingers upright and joined. The varada is the gesture of granting wish and is represented with the left palm facing down and outward. Symbolically, the two gestures speak to the salvific aspect at the core of these two faiths of  “surrender to me” and “I will protect you”. Along with abhaya/varada, two mudras that are specifically associated with Gautama Buddha are the _dharmachakra_ (turning of the wheel of law) and the _bhumisparsha_ (touching the earth). The dharmachakra mudra symbolizes the preaching of the first sermon in the Deer Park in Sarnath after the Enlightenment. The bhoomisparsha mudra symbolizes Buddha taking the earth as witness to his transformation from Gautama (ordinary human) to Buddha (the Enlightened one).  My personal favorite in the collage is the _dhyana_ (meditation) mudra where the back of the right rests on the palm of the left with the tips of the thumbs slightly touching each other with both hands resting in the lap. In the collage, it is stylistically represented with the knuckles touching. Another one worth noting is _vitarka_, gesture of discussion or argument where the index finger and the thumb touch each other in a circle and the remaining fingers are held straight and joined together. The palm faces outward in abhaya motion. Contrast this with the modern gesture of argument in which the index finger is held straight while the thumb rests on the other three fingers. The collage has a couple of variations of vitarka and vajra (strong, confident).

The meanings conveyed by mudras are simultaneously simple and multi-layered. If you are a scholar looking to write a book on mudras, they are a treasure trove. But, for the faithful, the mudra’s appeal is transcendent. For me, as a practicing Hindu, the appeal of abhaya/varada is direct and immediate.

The *yoga mudras* are used for healing purposes. The hand is considered a source of energy (_prana_) with each finger representing one of the five natural elements—the thumb is fire, the index finger air, the middle finger ether, the ring finger earth and the little finger water. An imbalance in any of the elements causes diseases and, can be corrected with the use of mudras. The most familiar one is the gyana mudra, in which the index finger and the thumb are brought together with other fingers held straight. This mudra is used for developing concentration, memory and spirituality. This is the same as vitarka and founders of religious faith such as Buddha are often depicted in this pose. This mudra is also practiced for developing extra-sensory perception. The other familiar ones are the _prana_ and _shunya_. If you want to read more about healing mudras, there are two popular books:  Healing Mudras by Sabrina Mesko  http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/0345437586/1000markmindb-20 and Getrud Hirschi:Yoga in your hands http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/1578631394/1000markmindb-20.

Finally, there are the dance mudras used in the classical south Indian dances such as _Bhartanatyam_, _Kathakali_ and _Kuchipudi_. The classical Indian dance places a great importance on _bhava_ (expression) and it is conveyed through _abhinaya_ (gestures). There are a total 52 basic hand mudras and a number of permutations and combinations have been created out of these basic mudras (see photo for a sample of Kathakali mudras).

This blog was written by Indira Govindan of www.dharmakarmaarts.1000markets.com. She is a member of the Mind Body Spirit Marketplace.

Photos courtesy: www.creativecommons.org and Indira Govindan

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Book Review: The Gospel of Thomas

"Become passersby." - The Gospel of Thomas

What a controversial figure Christ has become! To some, he is Messiah, Savior, Lord. To others, he is Prophet, Teacher, Rabbi. And still to others, he remains an enigmatic mystery; his real identity shrouded in myth and parable. Perhaps, however, to discover more of Christ's true persona, the seeker must look not to the Christian canonized versions of his story, but rather to texts that display his wisdom and his teachings in a more Gnostic association.

The Gospel of Thomas is such a read. It begins, first and foremost, by declaring that it contains the secret sayings of Jesus. A bold proclamation this may seem, but one glance inside its richly unfolded landscape of personal parables and quotes, the reader will find herself captivated by the Christ depicted therein. Whereas the traditional Gospels, as read in the New Testament canon, seek to bring the reader toward an expected end and the promise of a heavenly hereafter, The Gospel of Thomas takes the opposite approach, rather instructing the seeker that the paradise to be obtained can be found only by revisiting the beginning!

The text serves as a manual of sorts, or a handbook, to instruct and guide the student-seeker on a path toward enlightenment, and that path to enlightenment - the Christ therein proclaims - is the method unto salvation. This manuscript is a complete departure from the four canonical gospels, and portrays Christ as a sage, the very embodiment of wisdom, cast more in the tradition of the Buddha than in the heretofore understood role of Savior. Its controversial but worthwhile substance signifies not only its importance, but also provides understanding of why its text has not been canonized, and why it remains highly controversial.

This book, quite simply, is a must-read, regardless of personal faith or spiritual persuasion. It is sure to provide an intimate glance into one of history's most controversial figures, and will simultaneously enlighten and uplift with its richly developed rhetoric and sharp, poignant truths.

The Gospel of Thomas - Unearthing the Lost Words of Jesus
an annotated translation by John Dark and Ray Reigert
Seaston, an imprint of Ulysses Press, copyright 1998

~ Christina Dudley
Capricorn Soap Company

Monday, August 16, 2010

What Motivates an Artist?

I originally published this piece on my blog "In A Creative Context" a few months ago.  I thought I would share it with the Mind Body Spirit Odyssey.  Great food for thought for those who create art as well as those who view it. enjoy!
~ diane fergurson

I was looking through my sometimes mysterious, almost always captivating "keep" drawer the other day and I ran across an interesting handout that had been distributed years ago in an art workshop I attended.  It was titled "Artists Motivation".  I have no idea who wrote it, or what book it may have been copied from.  The premise of the article is that when working in the area of artist development, there are core commonalities that underlay the creative impulse.  Most artist's choose to express themselves for a reason and the reasons coalesce into specific creative motivations.

Of course I recognized where I was on this list right away.  What fascinates me, however, is that I can think of specific artist friends that I have who would slot right into each one of these categories.  A few people may blur between a couple of motivations, but for the most part it seems to be pretty cut and dried.  This seems to somewhat contradict the belief, by some, that we don't necessarily peg ourselves one way or another in what we create....we just let it happen.  I guess though, we just "let it happen" from a more common place then we would like to think.  As explained at the end, these motivations can also been viewed as stepping stones taken through one's creative development.

Below is a revised synopsis of the list.  Do you know what motivates you when you create?

-  Artist-scientists:  These artists have a personal mission that is similar to scientists.  They attempt to make the unknown, unseen word...real.  They experiment with art simply for the sake of inquiry.  Many times they have no interest in finishing what they begin....especially if they have found the answer along the way.  Like Einstein, they also believe that whatever the ultimate answer... it must be beautiful.

-  Artist-mathematicians:  Precision and the harmony of perfection is sought by this group of artists.  They often engage themselves through a different language to other artists-mathematicians.  Kind of like an art shorthand, similar to mathematicians speaking in formulas.  I imagine those artists interested in Sacred Geometry would find motivation in this grouping.

-  Artist-explorers:  Innovators on a quest to find the new and different.  The cannot stand to duplicate or replicate.  Their truly original expression has ultimate value and they constantly sharpen and hone that singularity.

-  Artist-activists:  The creative impulse of these artists stem from the need to rectify an unfair situation or even the playing field.  Examples of their causes include the environment, gender or racial equality, reproductive rights, poverty or homelessness.

-  Artist missionaries:  Artists lit with an inner fire.  They have found some sort of answer through their art and need to share it with others.

-  Artist-warriors:  Artists who take the activist role to an extreme by using their art form to combat forces that they find unreasonable. The artist-warrior is often on a crusade to fight with personal demons or forces.  Whereas the activist-artist grapples with external forces, the artist-warrior battles internal ones.

-  Artist-healers:  Artists who are healers feel that their art can actually mend the mind, body and spirit of an individual.  They have a revered way of referring to their art form.

-  Artist-mystics:  Artists who believe that a higher force is working through them.  They believe they are a conduit for the universal power of spirituality, love and enlightenment.

The article then goes on to say that an artist who works in education may combine many of these motivations.  Also that these motivations can be seen as developmental steps on the way to full creative blossoming.

Working with students actually facilitates artistic development through many of these motivations.  For example an artist-warrior, missionary or healer would be a good choice to work with at-risk populations.  The scientist and mathematician artist is often brilliant in creating new curriculum programs.  Artist-explorers work wonders on new classroom projects.  Of course the mystics and healers would be good working with people in art therapy and situations with divine inspiration.

Artwork:  Mandala #3 Illusion by Diane Fergurson 

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Friday, August 6, 2010

Part 3: From Jing to Qi to Shen, An Interview with Healer Darren Orr

 Question 5:  Some people believe that you can never fully emotionally heal after a loss (like a death)...and although they may suppress and manage those painful feelings...they continue to carry it with them and it unknowingly impacts their lives greatly.

Yes, you are right, this is a very frequent situation that I see in my clinic and have had success in healing and ameliorating problems or imbalances associated with it. I firmly believe you can heal from a loss, you simply need to shift your perspective via self-cultivation.  Many if not most people believe they can never fully emotionally and spiritually heal after a loss such as death and they carry it with them and it does unnecessarily and unknowingly impact their lives greatly, very often negatively.

I understand this sentiment, yet it stems from a fundamental misconception. Firstly, if life is looked at in it's entirety from the macrocosm of the universe and mother nature to the microcosm of the internal universe of the human body, you will see that life consists of change. With loss the first thing that must be understood is that life is change. Change and death are the only things you can count on. The last change is the change of wardrobe at the moment of death from the cumbersome confines of the human body/mind to the invisible spiritual energy of the eternal soul. In America there is a stigma associated with death and dying and it is virtually taboo to discuss it. This is the underlying basis for our youth obsessed and age driven culture perpetuated by the media, multinational corporations and us the individual people, who buy into it.

This question is getting into the Shen (spiritual) level. Most people believe they are this separate individual being consisting of a body/mind that is confined in space and time. That is the great fundamental misconception about life (that we are the body/ mind).  We believe and mistake ourselves to be a separate, finite being consisting of only physical matter that lasts 100 yrs at most. This creates a fundamental fear and insecurity in people which our culture plays off of generously with its media, marketing and advertising.

In truth we are Spirit. We are spiritual beings having human experiences not human beings occasionally having spiritual experiences. We are not our bodies, not our minds/personalities/ego's, not our thoughts, feelings, information, experiences or emotions. We are none of them. As the ancient sages in India used to say Neti, Neti: Not this, Not this. They are simply tools used by the eternal soul to learn, evolve and grow.

In TRUTH we are an invisible eternal spiritual energy that is housed within the body/mind, in what the Daoists called the Taiji pole, similar to a person driving a car. When a person drives a car they don't mistake their identity for being that of a car, but due to life's stresses and our cultural upbringing we mis-identify and believe ourselves to be a body with a personality ie. false self or ego instead of spirit which is driving the body/mind. Again this disconnect usually occurs in childhood between the ages of 5-9, by the age of 12 the acquired personality/ego has taken root. Up until then a child understands the world primarily through spiritual intuition, innocence, energetic sensitivity, a spontaneous openness and exuberance for life. This spiritual disconnect of our children perpetuated by our materialistic culture is the main reason a childhood stress management curriculum needs to be implemented alongside the academic curriculum. If our children never lose their connection to Source/God/Christ/ Dao/Buddha/Allah etc.. in one generation we would have a global shift and uplift of consciousness about life and death.

You cannot have life without death, they are inseparable, yin and yang. Death needs to be discussed openly in our society. The stigma and taboo associated with its discussion in the public forum needs to be radically changed. If our attitude and awareness about death changed then our lives would change. The destruction and degradation of the Earth by the hands of man can only be explained by a fear of death. If we simply saw death as the transition, change and transformation of matter into energy that it is, then we could develop a culture and society integrated with the cyclical changes of nature like the ancients and thus live in harmony with the Earth and not opposed, disconnected, separated and segregated from the natural order of life like we currently are.

Death is the one thing we are ALL going to face. No one escapes it. In essence birth is a death sentence and we all have a terminal disease. Most are petrified of contemplating their own death. Many feel if they think or talk about it they are bringing death and negativity upon themselves or others. As if simply talking about death is a curse. The only way to truly live life is to come to terms with death..to learn how face it, to embrace it and not fear it otherwise whether you know it or not your life is being dictated by fear. When done properly and you contemplate and meditate on your own death you come to such a deep and profound appreciation, gratitude and acceptance for you life, for being alive, for this very moment, to be able to breathe, look at the sky, animals and trees. You can come to terms with death while you are alive and healthy using death as a deep meditation tool to keep you centered, open, peaceful and rooted in the present moment. For if you examine your mind carefully you will see that your spirit only exists in the present, while the acquired ego/personality only exists in the past and future. If you lose your fear of death, what do you have to fear from life? You can do anything if you are not afraid of death. The Buddha has said " of all meditations the meditation on the moment of your death is greatest of all".

 Everyone realizes they are that invisible eternal spiritual energy at death yet most have lived their lives in complete disregard of the spiritual principle and life force that creates, maintains and sustains them. I see it so often when I give medical qigong and reiki to terminally ill patients and their families. My real job and sole intention is to connect the person to that invisible eternal spiritual energy residing within the center core of the body in what the Chinese call the Taiji pole or the River of god so that they can re-awaken their true nature (Wu Jing Shen/enlightenment/Christ consciousness) and fulfill their destiny.The way people heal from loss in whatever form whether it be death, divorce, break-up, job loss etc... is for them to begin self-cultivation and the rooting out of the negative acquired habitual tendencies, behaviors, desires, attachments and aversions from their body/mind and reconnecting with the subtle invisible spiritual core of their being (Taiji pole.)

Here's a poem that popped into my head while writing this Shen level question:

Life is love manifest
You are not the emotions, thoughts and feelings
of the body and mind
confined in space and time.
                         You are the Divine.
                         The eternal invisible subtle
                         spiritual energy of the formless oneness.


Discussion to be continued...

Interview part 1 
Interview part 2

Thank you very much for your thoughtful and informative insights Darren.
We will be posting an addition to this interview in the near future.  I had a follow up question for Darren, but turned out to be an entire subject in and into itself.  We wanted to do it justice, so I will be posting it on it's own in the upcoming weeks.

If you have questions for Darren or wish to inquire about his teaching and Private Practice you can post via our "Comments" section of this blog post.
You can also email him at: Bodhichitta8@hotmail.com    You may also enjoy reading:Namaste- An Explanation of a Very Old Greeting     ~ diane  Follow us on FaceBook   



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