GABRIELE GORIA: Active Silence, Reinventing Spirituality through art-research
Test all things, hold fast what is good. (Saint Paul)
Three years ago I began an exciting artistic research in the field of spirituality at the University of the Arts – Theatre Academy of Helsinki (TeaK) . I was still attending my Master’s studies and I could not even imagine that what seemed to be just a routine-schoolwork would become my vocation in life. I was supposed to develop a brief research, both practical and theoretical, by leading workshops and by analyzing my pupils’ feedbacks, on a topic of my choice. I decided to combine my passion for art with my love for meditation: the main aim of my research would be to look for meditative approaches to performing arts and on the other hand to maintain a creative attitude towards spiritual practices.
Now, three years later, I realize that such research is undertaking a much wider mission than the mere development of creative interactions between different fields. In a very unusual way and with artistic sensitivity my research-team has been carrying on interreligious dialogue, by diving into solid artistic and spiritual traditions and by breaking their dogmas in order to reach their own essence. Passing through failures and exciting revelations, we have been contemplating the birth of what I have baptized as ‘Experiential Pluralism’: an artistic way of dealing with spiritual practices, respectful of their own philosophical backgrounds but still flexible and free from any religious boundary; an art of understanding different spiritual paths ‘from within’, by sharing practices and not just by the mere reading of books; a place where people like me, with a multilayered spiritual background and the difficulty of choosing one single path and worldview, can find a direction or at least encouragement and support in their own spiritual search.
In this book I will describe the whole experience from my own personal point of view, as I was a participant in and the leader of the research-project. Even though the following pages may look like the tale of a lonely researcher, I have been blessed by the active collaboration of many companions: our research-team is currently composed of artists, monks, nuns, hermits and spiritual seekers from different religious backgrounds. Many other versions could be written for each one of the participants in the project, and I have the impression that they would appear rather different from mine. Yet, I am pretty sure that one fundamental common denominator would emerge: we all had the precious opportunity to walk within ourselves, to challenge our own beliefs, to reinvent our way of being artists and spiritual seekers. Our lonely paths were like small rivers all running towards the same ocean: the deeper we went with our personal researches, the closer we came to each other.
The first part of this book, Moving the Silence, will describe the beginning of our research. Throughout the two years of my Master’s degree programme I focused on the topic of ‘Active Silence’: a quiet dimension of being, calm but not passive, characterized by a high level of awareness, openness and concentration at the same time. Our experiments began in the form of workshops and culminated with the production of a performance. I will provide a detailed description of this work and the development of my personal conceptions about teaching.
According to the different phases of the research process, my research question developed into three consecutive steps:
– How did the participants of my workshops experience Active Silence?
– How can I develop a dialogue between different disciplines related to the practice of active silence such as meditation, T’ai Chi Ch’üan (the Chinese ‘Supreme Polarity boxing’) and expressive movement, without the use of speech?
– How can meditation be a performance and vice versa?
In 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 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 written feedbacks, which became the main material of my analysis.
In September 2012, I further developed my experiments on the uses of silence in teaching arts, by creating a team with the dance-pedagogue Eerika Arposalo.
Together with the University-Chaplain Rev. Henri Järvinen, we organized a two-week-workshop, where we explored several meditation-techniques, expressive movement and dance. Furthermore, we made use of Ikebana (the Japanese art of arranging flowers) and T’ai Chi-techniques. An exceptional characteristic of the workshop was that, after a brief introductory explanation, work proceeded in silence.
The working team developed the project into a performance, by deepening various methods of analysis and use of silence. The working method was reminiscent of silent retreats: each rehearsal began with a one-hour meditation and continued in silence, including pauses and lunch-breaks. The same method was applied later on during the performances.
The Moving the Silence – performance had its première on 9th February 2013, after four months of work without use of speech .
The second part of this book, Hermits in Progress, will report the further development of my research, after my graduation: a one-year process which gave birth to a series of artistic-spiritual retreats, named Hermits in Progress. This long-term journey aimed to develop ways of making ascetic practices available to a large audience and to produce retreats opened to the general public. The possibility of creating a performance out of this is still work in progress.
Initially, our basic idea was to gently taste hermitic life (= voluntary seclusion from the world), exploring some of its various possibilities. The Hermits in Progress project provided twelve experiences of voluntary solitude in the form of short retreats, throughout a whole year.
We spent days living in a forest, cloistered in a city-building or sleeping on the road, we had walking-retreats in the countryside, we lived without electricity or money, we experienced fasting and full-day meditations. But, most of all, we focused on developing simple ways of transforming daily actions into opportunities for awakening mindfulness.
The main questions of our research were:
– How did the participants in the retreats experience their encounter with nature?
– What kind of strategies or tools did the participants develop throughout the retreats in order to maintain a high level of presence and awareness?
– How did participants experience solitude?
These questions will be answered in the Make your retreat Chapter.
The private practices I planned to individually work with were:
– Contemplative practices: Catholic Rosary, Kriyā Yoga and Vipassana
– Body-mind energizing practices: Pa Tuan Chin and Energization Exercises
– Artistic solitary practices: Kung Fu and Chess
The reasons for the choices of silence and hermit-life as topics of my research are very personal and they will be presented in two chapters on this topic (Why silence? and Why Hermits?), respectively opening the first and the second part of this book.
In the Before and in the After –Chapters I will share some aspects of my art-teaching and spiritual life, in the attempt to illustrate how such a passionate research process effected changes in my worldview.
Helsinki, 14th September 2014
11 FOREWORD – by Kaija Kangas
13 PROLOGUE AND THANKS
29 PART ONE – MOVING THE SILENCE
30 WHY SILENCE?
35 LIVING THE SILENCE
37 Time perception
40 Perception of silence
42 Active silence
57 MOVING THE SILENCE
63 T’ai Chi Ch’üan
70 Orazio Costa mimic method
75 Creative interactions
81 Master silence
85 Basic structure
87 How can meditation be a performance?
91 How can a performance be meditation?
98 SILENCE PEDAGOGY
108 Looking back and forward
110 PART TWO – HERMITS IN PROGRESS
111 WHY HERMITS?
121 Contemplative practices
126 Body-mind energizing practices
131 Solitary artistic practices
136 Retreat 01 – Breathing in the Woods – September 2013
139 Retreat 02 – Urban Seclusion – October 2013
143 Retreat 03 – Roaming Contemplation – November 2013
146 Retreat 04 – Daily Mysticism – December 2013
149 Retreat 05 – Simple Living – January 2014
154 Retreat 06 – Walk your Path – February 2014
158 Retreat 07 – Meeting Hermits – March 2014
163 Retreat 08 – Homeless Night – May 2014
167 Retreat 09 – Full day Meditation – May 2014
171 Retreat 10 – Sharing Practices – June 2014
174 Retreat 11 – Living Forest – June 2014
178 Retreat 12 – Empty House – October 2014
183 MAKE YOUR RETREAT
192 Examples of rules
206 AFTERWORD – by Henri Järvinen
GABRIELE GORIA: Active Silence, Reinventing Spirituality through art-research
- BBC-Radio 4 – Spiritual Economics with Mark Tully and Joseph Prabhu
- Raimon Panikkar, Ecosofia la saggezza della terra, Jaca Book 2015