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