Art, Healing, Learning Discipline for Freedom, Play & Loving of Enemies

Healing dualisms can occur in art as meditation.  M. C. Richards comments: 

“Snow,” a haiku and image by MC Richards. From the collection of Julia Connor. Published with permission.

Life is bipolar. Everything contains its opposite…. Because of the law of polarity, if we devote ourselves too exclusively to one pole, our world will tend to go flat. It is not a formula we are involved in, but a mystery.  

The centering process is itself dialectical and can unite what we  inherit as separate. The potter pushes the clay and is pushed by it: the writer writes ideas, but is also formed by them.  The same holds for students (who are also teachers) and teachers (who are also students).  From this dialectical process, the birthing actually takes place.

Richards in her writing 

pushes as far as I can push, to birth and death, life and death, getting them centered, unseparated…. Always I try to go toward, not formulation, but organism.

Art as meditation teaches us the “discipline of freedom.”  Freedom is not the same as “anything goes”–it is “freedom with order,” as Pablo Casals so fervently insisted. A freedom born of discipline.   Says M. C.: 

“A tactile meditation on the art of pottery | Rain Pot: In the hands of a ceramicist-animator, pottery is a cyclical, elemental art form, deeply connected to the rhythms of nature.” Aeon Video

Pottery has helped my poetry because I was less instructed in the handicraft and therefore less inhibited. I permitted myself a kind of freedom in the use of clay which I would not have known how to find in the verbal world.

This freedom to play is won by hard, determined work. It is the freedom to feel again.

We must be able to have fun, we must feel enjoyment, and sometimes long imprisonment has made us numb and sluggish. And then we find out that there are, paradoxically, disciplines which create in us capacities which allow us to seek out freedom…. We become brighter, more energy flows through us, our limbs rise, our spirit comes alive in our tissues.

Centering in Pottery, Poetry and the Person by M.C. Richards. Photo by Matthew Fox.

We learn to respond and to yield.  

We redeem (our energies) not by wrestling with them and managing them, for we have not the wisdom nor the strength to do that, but by letting the light to shine upon them.  

Our “responses are values,” says Richards, born of discipline.

Discipline is hard and sometimes unpleasant but this too art as meditation teaches us—to persevere.  

The discipline comes in when we have to pay attention to what we don’t like, aren’t interested in, don’t understand, mistrust… when we have to read the poetry of our enemies—within or without.*

*From M. C. Richards, Centering in Pottery, Poetry and the Person, pp.96, 116, 5, 22, 35, 64.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Wrestling with the Prophets, pp. 232-238.  

See also Fox, Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet.  

And Fox, A Spirituality Named Compassion.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image “Offering Bowl” Pottery by the late poet/storyteller/artist/permaculture designer Bonnie Ann Burnett. Published with permission.

Queries for Contemplation

Discipline and paying attention to what we don’t like within or without: How important is that on your spiritual journeying?

Recommended Reading

Wrestling with the Prophets: Essays on Creation Spirituality and Everyday Life

In one of his foundational works, Fox engages with some of history’s greatest mystics, philosophers, and prophets in profound and hard-hitting essays on such varied topics as Eco-Spirituality, AIDS, homosexuality, spiritual feminism, environmental revolution, Native American spirituality, Christian mysticism, Art and Spirituality, Art as Meditation, Interfaith or Deep Ecumenism and more.

Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet

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.
“Matt Fox is a pilgrim who seeks a path into the church of tomorrow.  Countless numbers will be happy to follow his lead.” –Bishop John Shelby Spong, author, Rescuing the Bible from FundamentalismLiving in Sin

A Spirituality Named Compassion: Uniting Mystical Awareness with Social Justice

In A Spirituality Named Compassion, Matthew Fox delivers a profound exploration of the meaning and practice of compassion. Establishing a spirituality for the future that promises personal, social, and global healing, Fox marries mysticism with social justice, leading the way toward a gentler and more ecological spirituality and an acceptance of our interdependence which is the substratum of all compassionate activity.
“Well worth our deepest consideration…Puts compassion into its proper focus after centuries of neglect.” –The Catholic Register

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8 thoughts on “Art, Healing, Learning Discipline for Freedom, Play & Loving of Enemies”

  1. Avatar

    We do not ordinarily like discipline. Discipline keeps us accountable for doing what we said we would do, for doing what we should be doing. We prefer to operate under ‘the radar’ as if ‘love and light’ cannot find us, cannot expose us. That then becomes our self-imposed shame and guilt. How is it possible to hide from ourselves, but the majority of us live this way. Our inner soul, the divine within us, ‘sees all’ and ‘knows all’. Discipline asks us to seek that which is within that we have been avoiding.

    Discipline is also strong in that it allows us to ‘say no’ to others who look to heap shame and guilt upon us. Discipline gets us up early in the day before dawn has broken and gives joyfulness a reason to rise within us before all else. Do what joy begets before all else every day. For me sitting alone in quiet and stillness, my joy starts with reading, contemplation and writing while drinking and savouring the aroma of a few black, dark roast coffees. — BB.

  2. Avatar

    Really enjoyed the video Rain Pots and the way in it which captured how the imagination intuited, inspires connection and relationship with; creatively shifting and expanding one’s perception of things… beautiful!

    With regards to Mathews comment about imagination not being permitted use in the educational system; this is sadly true. My husband whom taught in the Photographic Digital Arts Dept. was told by the College, not to include the words imagination and creativity in the course syllabus outlines. Next Fall he is teaching a class in the Fine Arts Dept. and he recently received a memo for the new semester that states, teachers are not permitted to establish a personal relationship with their students and that all communication is to be solely focused on the course syllabus only.

    How absurd is this, to oppress and suppress in the arts themselves, imagination, creativity and relationship and the meaning and value of this within our College Educational Institutions. Clearly these nonsensical rules are rooted in ignorance and fear designed to silence the freedom of expression that arises through imagination, creativity and the connections of relationship with, that these gifts intuitively inspire; with oneself, others and all of creation.

    These College Institutional rules will be uninforcable without compliance and conformity…for the life of the arts and artists will go on elsewhere, just as M.C. and others have taught and lived.

    1. Avatar

      Exactly, it is beyond absurd. As a retired teacher, I know that imagination, creativity and relationship are the heart and soul of good education. What that college is ordering is fear, sameness, control, it is anti-life, anti-joy, and anti-soul. It does not mean you don’t pursue rigorous facts, but without imagination, creativity and relationship, the paradox is that you end up with stultifyingly boring, dead curriculum that not only is the opposite of inspiring, it can actually descend into the illogical madness of anti-intellectual authoritarianism and compassionless conformity.

  3. Avatar

    Much appreciated, not often enough considered how discipline is significant in aspiring to live a virtuous life and the goals aspired to. However, as always, moderation is important. I believe discipline helps in forming good judgement and balanced decision making. I worked in campus ministry and encouraged the students to balance their academic studies in a spirit of discipline in order to succeed in their goals established. A student, a sports player, a race car-nascar driver who lacks discipline, will lack good judgement and end up likely being set aside or crashing into a wall.

  4. Avatar

    “Paying attention to what we don’t like within or without as part of our spiritual journey…”would probably be confusing for most people who are not aware of the value of integrating our own ‘shadow,’ a very challenging truthful discipline of our spiritual journey. Matthew, you have written about this as part of the ‘via negativa.’ Carl Jung, depth psychologist, is recognized for having made a major contribution to human self-understanding and spirituality by writing about the personal and social ‘shadow’ in ongoing human history and spiritual evolution. Many of our personal, interpersonal, and societal problems are related to not being aware of our personal/social ‘shadows,’ therefore not integrating them and consequently projecting and demonizing (egs.: wars, racism and social inequities) others who are different.
    On our spiritual journeys within/among/toward God’s Spirit of Loving Diverse Oneness Present in our hearts/Souls, we must be aware of and integrate our human/social ‘shadows.’ Besides our own history of self-destruction with one another, we have been destroying Sacred Mother Nature/Earth with our ongoing ignorance and accumulative actions stemming from egocentricities and duality that separate us from our selves, others, Mother Nature/Earth, and the Divine Cosmos….

  5. Avatar

    Discipline has taken on very negative connotations as meaning some kind of punishment, rather than the practice of being open to and paying attention to our own shadows and the shadows in our world. Centering prayer, the welcoming prayer, and other practices help me with this, but I am constantly amazed at the persistence of my most unwelcome feelings and behaviors! So, the practices help me not to be ruled by these but simply to be aware, to apologize genuinely when necessary, and to be humble. Noticing what rouses my anger in someone’s behavior reminds me that it is most probably a mirror to my inner shadow.

    The attacks in the state of Florida on intellectuals and imagination are consistent with the ideology of despotism, to get rid of any sources of possible resistance; Stalin and Mao sent people to “re-education” prisons, which is happening to many young LBGQT+ people in the several states where it is legal. The fact that teachers are leaving in large numbers, along with immigrants, legal and otherwise, and LBGQT+ families , is exactly the point of all the draconian laws—-so that a “purified” population is left to be ruled by the white supremacists/Christian nationalists.

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