by Joanne Rocky Delaplaine
I like to make things: a gesture, yoga pose, poem, pie, quilt, a collage. Why?
Some things I make have a practical purpose: a quilt warms you on a cold night. But a poem or yoga pose? Not so much. Originally I began yoga to relieve back pain, but when I went to India in 1993 I saw yoga practice and art-making in a different light.
At the Iyengar Institute in Pune, the staff would drape fresh garlands over a statue of Patanjali, and each class began by chanting thanks to this sage, as if he were present, for his centuries-old contributions to yoga, medicine, and grammar.
The importance of life as an offering and a communion was reinforced when I traveled to Orissa and saw village women paint the exterior walls of their mud homes with rice paste. Their art was bold, modern, fanciful, abstract. Miro or Picasso might have been envious. But these mural-sized paintings were not done for fame, fortune, or posterity. The whimsical drawings of elephants, cattle, flowers, sheaths of rice, and geometric forms, were meant to last a week or two, then be erased. When I asked the women why they paint, they said to offer thanks to the Hindu goddess Lakshmi for a plentiful harvest, or as a prayer for protection.
I was knocked out by the beauty of their art, and by their lack of self-consciousness while painting so publicly and on such a large scale. They were modest about their creations, yet satisfied with the outcome and joyful in the activity. They credited their mothers as role models.
Returning from India, I understood that if I could see my practices of yoga/art/poetry as an offering, rather than a performance, I could transform my own relationship to making. If I could approach my work as a way of expressing gratitude or communing with the sacred, rather than seeking to achieve permanence, it might help me view more challenging states such as pain, fear, or anxiety as ephemeral, and their grip on me might ease.
Now, when I write a poem, sculpt with clay, or put myself in a yoga pose, I try to give thanks for the mystery I inhabit and adopt a process of inquiry. It’s an inside job, quiet, momentary, like swimming in the Potomac, listening to the rain, watching the clouds, saying a prayer.
Republished by permission of Voices of Unity Woods. Aug. 4, 2016.