Taking in art is a spiritual practice

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Ohhh my gosh, you guys, perhaps my favourite topic ever: art as spiritual practice.

I heard an interview with one of the co-founders of SoulCycle the other day, and one of the things she talked about was creating a safe space for people to use exercise as part of their spiritual practice. She described how exercise has always been a meditative practice for her, and that as an anxious, type-A hustler, she needed an active way to calm her brain and get into an uplifting higher state, and for her, the answer was always exercise.

I totally get it.

Full disclosure: I am also extremely type-A. I like to say I have two speeds: Netflix-and-coma and On Fi-yuhhhh. As a former colleague once said, when I shifted gears in a work emergency, “A Kayleigh in motion is a beautiful thing.” It really is my natural set point to (as we say back home in Saskatchewan) “frickin’ give ‘er.”

But, over the past few years (and through two very painful but incredibly instructive rounds of full-on burnout), I’ve learned to love meditation. I meditate every morning before I do anything else (okay, I have coffee first, obviously), and it’s made a huge difference in my happiness and wellbeing. However, after that first infusion of calm, sometimes I need a little reset later on in the day, and it’s really hard for me to hit the breaks completely and find it again. And, I only meditate for about 15 minutes, and while this is great for daily maintenance, it isn’t always enough for deep refreshment, searching, or discovery.

Cue: active meditative spiritual practices.

I think a lot of people – and, particularly, a lot of women – feel like I do: that time not spent doing something is time you’ll never get back, and that creates a lot of anxiety and inner conflict. I used to think that what I needed to do was relax more, but sister (or brother, or friend, or relational-name-of-your-choosing-because-this-is-a-place-for-everyone), what I needed to do was find activities that I could use to find relaxing flow states. I needed my SoulCycle.

For me, forcing myself to sit down and relax for an hour is stressful if it’s not where my head is at. Yes, sometimes I’ll gladly read a whole book on a Saturday, sitting on the patio with my dog, watching my husband mow the lawn and shoot hoops. But this is not a natural, enjoyable feeling for me in the middle of an average day. Getting the gardening done, however, feels great. If I go out, as I will later today (because it’s gardening day on my weekly chore calendar… I told you, type-A), and efficiently but mindfully comb through our massive flower garden, pulling weeds and tidying up plants and pruning roses for an hour, I will inevitably settle back into that comfy calm place that is the true me, and I’ll be able to turn things over in my mind in that restful state. For that reason, I often look at gardening not as a chore, but as a spiritual practice.

This is also how I feel when I go to the symphony.

It soothes my achiever-ness. I get dressed up. I look up the pieces before go. I get there early to hear the pre-concert talk. I order a glass of wine for intermission ahead of time. I find my seat and read my program. Then, it gets dark and quiet, and I have uninterrupted, active spiritual time. 

Active because, while you think you’re just listening to music, when done right, you’re really mulling over the great questions of life posed by the composer whose work you’re listening to (even subconsciously! Meditatively, even!). You’re celebrating the achievement of other human beings in your heart, which is deeply soul-inspiring. And the vibration of sound, the ways in which notes and scales and chords are created through the sheer magic of physics – that is transformational. The ability of composers to make you feel like you’re unlocking something in yourself, even if it’s simply pure joy, is incredible.

Taking in art is a spiritual practice. It can also just be fun. It can also be cerebral. It can also be relaxing. But it is absolutely spiritual. Its core themes are about the nature of the human experience and the virtues of the divine. It’s very essence is made up of colours and emotions and sounds – those parts of our world that are from beyond us.

And you can commune with it easily, actively, and with a glass of wine. Can’t do that at SoulCycle.