This is a powerful imaginative exercise for uncovering both how you see yourself now and for finding some clues as to where the journey of transformation may be leading you. It is an exercise you may wish to repeat many times. I have tried it on several occasions over the last twenty years and it always brings me fresh – and often surprising – insights.
If you are new to this kind of thing you might find it helpful to follow these few steps to prepare yourself:
- Find a quiet space where you will not be disturbed and can sit comfortably.
- Shut your eyes and sit with a relaxed, attentive posture. Try to keep your back fairly straight, your feet flat on the floor and your hands gently relaxed on your lap.
- Become aware of any tension in your body. You could try to become aware of your feet on the floor and then slowly bring your attention up through your body, gently noticing any areas which feel uncomfortable or tense. Sometimes it helps to tense these areas a little more, or move them a little, then let them relax.
- Now spend some time just becoming aware of your breathing: don’t change your breathing pattern in any way, just notice the breath entering your body and then leaving again.
Once you feel more relaxed and present, it’s time to start the meditation. You are aiming to picture and enter into this scene as fully as you can. Try to see it unfold in your mind’s eye as though you were living through it this moment in time: seeing, touching, smelling, hearing, feeling and reacting to what is before you. There may be times when you can’t picture something clearly or feel anxious because you can’t decide which image to focus on, but be gentle with yourself, don’t panic and just carry on with the meditation with an interested, kind attention.
You are walking down a road towards the house of an artist who has been working for several months on a sculpture or statue which represents you. This will be your first opportunity to view it.
You arrive at the artist’s house and s/he welcomes you in. You follow the artist towards the studio and then enter the room and look around. The artist tells you that the sculpture is beneath the sheet in the middle of the room and that you will be left on your own to view it. The artist then leaves the studio and when you are ready, you remove the cloth and look at the sculpture.
Spend some time looking at the artwork from every angle. Notice the materials it is made from, the size and impact of the piece, whether it is realistic or a symbolic representation of some aspect of your character. You might like to touch the sculpture, to look at it really close up or to see how different it looks from a distance.
Once you feel that you have seen the piece in as much detail as you’d like, withdraw to the corner of the room and watch as other people come in to view it. These may be people you know or complete strangers. How do they react to the piece? What do you hope they notice about it?
After all the other people have left the room, the artist returns. Are there any questions you want to ask about the work? What does the artist say about what they were hoping to express through the piece? Once the conversation is finished, you both put the sheet back over the sculpture and leave the studio. Then you say your goodbyes and leave the house.
As you go back into the outside world, what things will you remember most clearly about what you saw?
Once you have completed the imaginative exercise, you might like to bring your attention back to your body. Notice your breathing again and scan your body for any tension. When you feel ready, open your eyes.
You might not want to read this until after you’ve tried the exercise, but I thought you might find it interesting to hear about the first two times I did this meditation.
The first time I removed the cloth in my imagination, I saw a typical classical Greek sculpture made of white marble. It was of a woman with a very long neck who was wearing elegant robes and held one arm outstretched. Although I thought it looked beautiful, I felt rather ambivalent towards the sculpture. I liked the elegance of it, the grace and beauty, but there was something about it that made me feel uncomfortable. As I looked at it in more detail I realised that it came across as cold, distant and disconnected. The arm that was stretching out could have been pointing at something interesting, but I feared it was there to keep other people away. The whole thing felt too static, remote, hard and unapproachable, a feeling that was intensified because it was made out of marble. The focal point of the piece seemed to be the head and it gave the impression that the woman was rather cut off from everything else, including her own body.
A week or two after I first did the exercise, I decided to do it again and take a closer look at the sculpture and really explore my reactions to it. Up until the point where I removed the cloth, I expected to see the same sculpture before me; I remember being genuinely shocked to see an entirely different artwork. This time the sculpture was carved out of ebony. It was of a black woman sitting on her haunches with her elbows on her knees. There was a real sense of aliveness, almost of electricity about the piece. The woman was so alert, so aware, so ready to respond to anything that came her way – it was completely mesmerising. Although I couldn’t see how this sculpture could really relate to me in any way, I was totally captivated by it.
I did these meditations many years ago, but I am still uncovering deep truths for myself about these two sculptures. In many ways my spiritual journey since then has been about recognising the parts of me that are too remote, that depend on projecting a strong, acceptable image but deep down are isolated, cut-off and cold. Over the years since I have gradually learned to recognise and incorporate aspects of the second sculpture which I never would have guessed were accessible to me. For me this sculpture represents learning to fully accept and be present in my body, learning to be more deeply connected to the earth and to other people and nurturing a strong sense of self-awareness and self-love. It is about developing and trusting my instincts and knowing in my gut how to respond, rather than relying purely on my thoughts. It is about learning to be fully aware and fully alive.
Don’t imagine for a minute that this is a journey that I have in any sense completed… but these meditations are still giving me some really helpful pointers along the way.
I really hope you try this out, enjoy it and find it helpful, interesting and illuminating. Why not leave a comment and let us know about the striking and individual artwork that is you?