Temenos 1: Into Beginning

This is the first image in the series of Temenos paintings. The introduction to this sequence work can be found here.

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We see a child on the swing, reaching that momentary point of weightlessness, giddy and free with a crudely painted halo. The symbols are taken from the icon of Christ the pantocractor meaning a word which means ‘almighty’ or ‘all powerful’ . There is something important about envisioning such a figure at play: Christ laughing, learning, stumbling, picking himself up off the ground with grazed knees and beginning again.

This first image of thresholds into sacred temenos space invites us to lay aside everything we feel we have achieved, in learning, in wisdom and spiritual experience, to find the right perspective on all we have built for ourselves and realise once again the child-spirit that leaps for joy within us.

I remember reading “The Interior Castle” by the medieval mystic Teresa of Avila. In this book she envisages the spiritual journey as a mansion with many rooms and describes the process of going deeper as movement from one room to the next. When I came across this work I had been trying to follow Christ for nearly 25 years and had been engaging seriously in contemplative prayer and meditation for around a decade. I have done this with varying degrees of success and discipline over the years; as with physical exercise these things manifest themselves in my life more in good intentions than actual practice. My feeble attempts at meditation notwithstanding, I thought that I would at least have travelled deeper to some profound spiritual plane after all that time. But reading Teresa’s words brought home to me that, in her great mansion of spiritual experience I was only standing at the gate. I’d walked down the driveway, stood at the doorway and congratulated myself on having such a remarkable deep experience without realising that if I pushed on the door, which was unlocked all along, I’d discover that really I had only been paddling in the shallows, the real depth was still in front of me.

After 25 years I was still beginning. And after another 25 years I will still be beginning.

The gift of the child-Christ is that the place of beginning isn’t a source of despondency, where we fret over so little progress made after so much time, but a source of liberation at the notion that the very idea of progress is anathema to the deeper journey. We are always simply beginning.

To begin is to be open to be taught and everyone you meet has something to teach you. To begin is to realise that it’s not just OK to make mistakes but that mistakes are inevitable and that there will always be times when we fall face down in the dirt. But above all the beginners soul is playful. There is a lightness and a joyfulness here.

I don’t want to romanticise a child’s example, children can be as fretful and avaricious as all of us, but seeing a child jump into a swimming pool to come up delighted and gasping for air, to see her run across a beach whilst holding no energy back, to see him at the top of the swing’s arc shouting “higher!”, we see moments of such focus and singularity of vision. Moments of pure freedom.

Human beings seem to be the only ones in the universe who have difficulty with this. The swift, swooping down to skim clear water and looping in the twilight air doesn’t yearn to be something else. The waves rising from the ocean to break and fall and sink into sand only to rise and break and fall again and again don’t worry that they should be doing something more productive to justify their existence. The swift, the ocean, the mountain, the tree simply are as they are and in their being they are at peace.

Perhaps that is why we struggle so much: we think it should be complicated. We think there is a trick to it or 10 essential steps to be enlightened when in fact the tricky bit is stripping away those illusions that cleverness or goodness or some technique will make us worthy of some beatific vision. The beginner’s soul has the joyful naivety of being liberated from such pretensions: In all the things to know and experience in the universe you know so very little, you are as you are, and that is OK.

So whether your life has been spent in pursuit of ancient wisdom for decades, soaked in profound meditation or whether you have never given such things a second thought. Whether your life feels sorted and together, building success upon success or whether everything has crumbled to dust and there seems no way out but despair. Take a breath, open your eyes and begin again.

 

 

The full set of Temenos paintings along with accompanying poems by Ian Adams are available to exhibit from September 2017. We are now taking bookings from those interested in showing the work in a public venue and simply ask that transport costs are covered. In addition an artist’s talk, poetry evening and/or led meditations that engage with the work can also be arranged.

For more information contact rjstott@hotmail.co.uk

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Temenos: Introduction

“There are lost wavelengths and Atlantic sensations, ways of thinking and feeling that are conditioned by long term living on the Ocean’s edge – events of the mind that could only occur on the coasts”

Robert Macfarlane The Old Ways

 

Macfarlane writes about “events of the mind” that can only occur on the coast, in the edge and transitional spaces between land and ocean. Place has a significant impact on what events of the mind (and heart and soul) are possible. Place has the potential to beckon out from within us aspects of our deep self that may otherwise have been hidden, perhaps for our whole lives. Our being and our knowing are intrinsically bound to where we are standing and there are times when I travel somewhere new with the sense that the place has a gift for me.

So, it was that I found myself 7,000 miles from home on a bus winding its way up the mountain slopes of the northern territories of the Philippines. There are many stories to tell about that journey and that place held many gifts for me, some of them weren’t easy to receive, but this is where I discovered the word temenos. You may already know of it, you could have found it in a book or stumbled upon it online but as it happened I had to travel a third of the way around the world to discover it.

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My hosts had taken me to a shopping mall In Baguio, a city in the mountains, where clouds roll in and engulf you as you drink coffee on a café terrace. In some ways familiar to me in the way that city malls around the world resemble each other but in so many other ways there were a million little sights entirely alien to my comfortable frames of reference such as the tropical butterfly alighting on the escalator or food stands mixing up sweet tofu. Only a few days into my stay I was still reeling from jet lag, humidity and the disconcerting culture shock that comes from the realisation that billions of people across the world live in ways that are entirely outside of my own limited realms of experience. It’s a realisation that, whilst self evident in many ways, only really hits home through encounter with the other.

We wandered through a large bookstore, the type that sells office supplies and cheap art materials alongside piles of books. Whilst my friends browsed, my eyes drifted over the shelves, not expecting to find anything to pique my interest but in the midst of that strange daze and sense of dislocation I saw a familiar name. A book by the artist Keri Smith called “The Wander Society”.  I’d read some of her work before, it is charming, quirky and enthusiastic about enabling people to engage deeply and creatively with the world around us. Seizing on the familiar in an unfamiliar place I paid the Pesos and took it with me.

And here is the uncanny thing about finding this wonderful little book at the edge of my world: Smith unfolds ideas about the importance of wandering in places both strange and mundane. She explores the richness of the impact of place on our being, our doing and our creating, in fact, she describes exactly why it was that I travelled to the Philippines in the first place. So far from home, in the corner of a bookshop in a Philippine shopping mall I had wandered into a text that enlightened my wandering.

I don’t know whether it was coincidence or something else but really the distinction is irrelevant. These moments of synchronicity enable us to fold meaning into our lives. In my experience, the more I live with a creative heart that is open to risk and possibility the more these synchronicities occur. Living with our eyes open and our hands outstretched enables us to receive the gifts that we stumble upon. Furthermore, whether coincidence or not, I find it is invariably true that when we follow the pathways that these moments of grace open up then they lead to fruitful ground, rich in creative potential. For me this is a statement of faith: There is a kindness and a generosity in the universe that we will find if we choose to live with our eyes open.

John O’Donohue encourages this in his book ‘Eternal Echoes’:

 

“The very nature of the universe invites you to journey and discover it. The earth wants our minds to listen attentively and gaze wisely so that we may learn its secrets and name them. We are the echo-mirrors of contemplative nature. One of our most sacred duties is to be open and faithful to the subtle voices of the universe which come alive in our longing” 

 

Tucked away in the pages of Smith’s book was a page outlining the concept of temenos: A sacred space or grove set aside for the gods, a special place that enables the exploration of different ways of being in the world.

Discovering the idea of temenos was the discovery of a name for something I had been working on for the previous few months, a series of 10 paintings that are thresholds into sacred space. They each form a gateway into the sacred grove that the word encapsulates. In addition the poet Ian Adams has written a piece to accompany each picture. The paintings overlay image, colour and gesture and the poems weave words that open up spaces and invite each viewer to bring their personal stories and experiences as we move into the temenos.

Over the next few weeks I will be posting the images here with reflections about their creation along with some of the stories of gift that I encountered in the Phillipines.

 

Deep in the belly / unseen, new life stirs, seeding / flowers into spring. 

Ian Adams

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The full set of paintings and poems are available to exhibit from September 2017. We are now taking bookings from those interested in showing the work in a public venue and simply ask that transport costs are covered. In addition an artist’s talk, poetry evening and/or led meditations that engage with the work can also be arranged.

For more information contact rjstott@hotmail.co.uk