David Paladin and Art As Meditation

Navajo painter David Paladin was put in a Nazi concentration camp at the age of fifteen during WWII.  When he was liberated two and a half years later, he weighed sixty-two pounds and was a paraplegic.  His elders taught him that all that pain was an initiation into becoming a shaman. 

He says, “Shamans know that those wounds are not theirs but the world’s.  Those pains are not theirs but Mother Earth’s.  You can gift the world as shaman because you’re a wounded warrior.  A wounded healer and a wounded warrior are one.”  Instead of returning pain for pain, the warrior-shaman raises above his own dead body and says, “I have died, too.  Now let’s dance.  We’re free.  The spirit is ours because we have died.  Now we are resurrected from the ashes.”

“Sacred Deer Fetish / The Flute Player” by David Paladin. 30×30″, acrylic on linen, 1978.

Art speaks to the spirit, that is, to the depths of human experience.  To undergo art as meditation is to bring in more than just the human spirit–the spirits of the ancestors, the spirits of the more-than-human ones, the Great Spirit or Holy Spirit as we saw in our previous meditation arrive through one’s creativity. 

Palladin remarked that he was “sick and tired” of white people telling him they were not artists.  “If you can talk, you’re an artist,” he used to say.

For Paladin, his art was his life as well as his paintings.  Choices he made to live outside the box of the professional art world include his becoming a Unitarian minister to chaplain both prisoners and police.  His choices bear witness to his desire to serve, to heal, to make compassion happen, to walk the Navajo way of beauty.

“Guardian of the Six Directions” by David Paladin. 28×38″, acrylic on canvas, 1982

David Paladin’s search for his spiritual roots as a Native American (his mother was Navajo and his father was European American and Christian) found expression in the tradition of creation spirituality.  I was introduced to his work by his widow who told me that my book Original Blessing was very meaningful to him in uniting his indigenous and Christian roots. 

Whether our everyday lives and the countless decisions they demand of us are creative or not depends most of all upon our attitude and our sense of self.  We can choose to be creative or not.  Art as meditation assists us.  Paladin put it this way: “Look at yourself as magicians, as healers, as lovers of humanity, as givers and sharers.  From that perspective living becomes an art in itself.  Then everything you do becomes magic!”

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet, pp. 173, 220.
See Painting the Dream: The Shamanic Life and Art of David Chethlahe Paladin, Forward by Matthew Fox, p. vii (Bear & Company, Rochester, VT.  2003).
Banner image: “Kahdam” by David Paladin: 22×30″, acrylic on handmade paper, 1982.

Prayer in Motion

Art as Meditation

Have you ever tried using your creativity to deal with pain you have experienced?  Put the pain into poetry; or dance; or painting; or music.  That too is meditation, art as meditation.

Look into Palladin’s paintings found in Painting the Dream and meditate on them.  What do they say to you?  How do they touch your soul?  That too is art as meditation.

Recommended Reading

Because creativity is the key to both our genius and beauty as a species but also to our capacity for evil, we need to teach creativity and to teach ways of steering this God-like power in directions that promote love of life (biophilia) and not love of death (necrophilia). Pushing well beyond the bounds of conventional Christian doctrine, Fox’s focus on creativity attempts nothing less than to shape a new ethic.

By David Chethlahe Paladin
A glimpse into the remarkable life and visionary artwork of spiritual artist and activist David Chethlahe Paladin. Exploring the spiritual traditions and shamanic history in the creation of his artwork, the book also features commentaries by Matthew Fox and others on Paladin’s life and art.

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