Living the Silence – exercises

 “The world has forgotten the joys of silence, the peace of solitude which is necessary, to some extent, for the fullness of human living. Not all men are called to be hermits, but all men need enough silence and solitude in their lives to enable the deep inner voice of their own true self to be heard at least occasionally”.

(Merton, 1957)

foglieIn March 2012 I led a one-day workshop with the title “Living the Silence” in seven different environments (among them: a school, two monasteries and a Theatre Academy), where I explored many possible combinations of art and meditation, making use of analogic drawing, Ch’i Kung (Chinese breathing techniques developing inner energy) , T’ai Chi Ch’üan (the “Supreme Polarity” -boxing), Orazio Costa mimic method (an Italian method of body expressivity), writing and reading exercises, in order to understand how the participants experienced active silence. I collected their own written feedbacks, which became the main material of my analysis (see my “Living the Silence” -page, on the top board of this blog).

The “Living the Silence” – workshop provided a flexible sequence of exercises, meant to taste several artistic approaches to silence, looking for meditative ways of dealing with creative processes.

Here below you will find a brief description of the exercises I proposed during my sessions in March 2012. Some of these “earlier experiments” evolved later in the much more complex “Moving the Silence” -workshop (November 2012).

Beyond the word. This exercise is based on an ancient Indian prescription: if you read for one hour, write for two hours and meditate for three hours. Such a proportion avoids students to become blind recorders of externally imposed words and encourages a personal dialogue with text, developing critical capacity and building the habit to confront intellectual knowledge with intuitions experienced in deep meditation.

I proposed this exercise at least twice during the one-day-workshop, lengthening the time of execution at each repetition. Maintaining the time proportion, it is possible to start from a minimum of one minute reading + two minutes writing + three minutes meditating, gradually reaching longer timings. In my “Living the Silence” -workshops I joined the maximum of 10 minutes reading + 20 minutes writing + 30 minutes meditating.

Here you are a more detailed description of each phase of the exercise.

Reading. I gave the participants a paper with quotations from spiritual writers and philosophers of all the world, dealing on the same topic. Offering a variety of different points of view and perspectives, creating contrasts and analogies, proved to trigger inner critical dialogue.

Writing. Participants were encouraged to write freely, without interruption, following their own personal interest, possibly putting in dialogue text with their own actual life situation.

Meditating. Participants were invited to go beyond intellectual reasoning: they could focus on one sentence or single word and mentally repeat it as a mantra, or they could focus on their own breathing.

Creative approach on a personal problem. The primary theoretical source inspiring this exercise has been the study of the renowned arts professor Betty Edwards on methods developing creativity. In this context, I used the analogical drawing technique suggested in her book: “Drawing on the artist within” (Edwards, 2011). Analogical drawing is a useful tool to analyze the way we perceive reality and ourselves in relation to the world, from a not-rational perspective: every aspect of our life-questions may be translated in terms of lines, shapes, spatial dynamics and relations, weight and speed. I have been adding a phase of body-movement exploration and sitting meditation in pairs.

Here below you will find all the sequence.

Choosing. At first, participants were invited to sit still for five minutes, with closed eyes. Then they were invited to focus on a problematic aspect of their own actual life situation, whose solution was felt as being important. They could chose something extremely personal in total safety, since their problem was not meant to be shared with other participants

Drawing. Participants were asked to draw the frame of the problem, which could have whatever kind of shape. Then they produced the analogical drawing of their own problem: without planning it in advance, they had to focus on every single aspect of their own question, one by one, and according to the emotion growing inside they allowed the pencil to produce signs on the paper. One basic rule of analogical drawing is avoiding use of symbols and representation of concrete objects, and allowing pencil to express emotions freely, without rational control. It is recommended to use a pencil and not a pen: it is easier to express nuances such as lightness, heaviness, quickness or slowness, etc.

Observing. Participants were invited to observe their own drawing as a piece of art, forgetting the problem behind, memorizing as much details as possible for five minutes.

Moving. Participants had to translate shapes, lines and dynamics of their drawing into body movements. They could start using hands, gradually involving the whole body.

Describing. Participants wrote down a detailed description of all physical dynamics they could observe in themselves during the moving improvisation and possibly all details they remembered of their own drawing.

Verbal sharing. Participants chose a partner and worked in pairs. Person “A” closed her/his eyes and described aloud all details of her/his movement improvisation and of her/his drawing. Person “B”, with opened eyes, had to observe and listen to person “A”, as a silent witness. After 7 minutes they shifted roles.

Resting in the eyes of the partner. During last 5-10 minutes, the two partners of each pair were encouraged to look into each others’ eyes, in stillness and silence. Resting for a long time in the sight of another person may be an embarrassing experience, yet I encouraged to remain in an attitude of openness and acceptance, as if we were looking through the eyes of our partner, opening our own soul to her/his own soul. You can find the analysis of feedback about this exercise in my “Living the Silence” -page, at the top board of this blog.

Dynamic meditation. In this exercise I have combined a Ch’i Kung breathing exercise with the long T’ai Chi form, Yang style, and a basic exercise from Orazio Costa mimic method.

Chi kung. For a period of 5-10 minutes I invited participants to stand in the basic meditation posture of Ch’i Kung. They were taught how to follow the breathing-flow along the two acupuncture meridians Jen Mai and Tu Mai.

T’ai Chi Ch’üan. Participants were invited to follow without any previous explanation the classical form of T’ai Chi, attempting to remain in the flow, ignoring any possible self-judgement about the inevitable “mistakes”.

Water mimic. Participants were invited to move their own hands into a container full of warm water. Then they had to use such a direct experience in order to “transform” the whole body into water: they began to move and breath as warm water. They had to magnify their movements gradually, and when they felt they joined the maximum level of expansion, they could start to condense their movements till stillness. They had to keep the movement-sensation just inside the body, for about five minutes.

Return to Ch’i Kung and T’ai Chi. Keeping the sensation of water running inside the body, participants were asked to repeat the Ch’i Kung exercise and then to follow again the form of T’ai Chi.

Extra exercises

Pa Tuan Chin. In the very beginning of the class, I lead this traditional Chinese warm up, in silence. The sequence provides eight basic exercises, and I invited the participants to follow freely the whole sequence. Then I explained in detail one of those exercises, without words, in silence. Same system may be used with whatever kind of guided warm-up.

Speed drawing. After a period of five minutes, during which participants had to observe an object of their choice (their own hand was good too), they were asked to draw it at a high speed in one-minute-time.

Blind drawing. Participants were invited to draw the same object very slowly, ignoring possible rational definitions like “that’s a finger, this is the palm or a nail,… just following lines and shapes they could see and at the same time drawing them on a paper. It is useful to suggest to watch at the empty spaces in between the parts of the object as real shapes to be drawn as well. Participants were turned in such a way that they could not see their own drawing: their eyes had to be 100% on the object.

Semi-blind drawing. Participants executed the previous exercise, but this time they were turned towards the paper. Their own focus had to be 90% on the object, with possibility to look every now and then at the paper.

Analogical drawing of feelings. Participants were asked to divide a paper into eight parts and to give a title to each sector: joy, peace, anger, depression, energy, femininity, fear, love. They had to focus on the title of each sector, recalling one moment of their own life when they perceived such a feeling. They were asked to execute one drawing for each title, following same rules of analogical drawing I have explained in the previous chapter: “creative approach on a personal problem”. At the end they could compare their own drawings, looking for analogies and focuses of interest. In any case, the best interpreter of an analogical drawing is the drawer him/herself (Edwards, 2011).

I hope you enjoyed this list of exercises and you could take some inspiration.