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Art as a Lifeline

Art as a Lifeline

 The key theme at the 2012 Aldeburgh poetry festival was LIFELINES. Can poetry and other creative arts offer a lifeline during those times when we are troubled, in crisis or extremis? Can they be a source of consolation and inspiration?

When I think of the word ‘lifelines’ I imagine something to grasp hold of when it seems we are almost lost and beyond help. Something that brings hope at a time of hopelessness; something that offers us a secure mooring as emotional storms sweep through our lives; something that reminds us that strength as well as vulnerability is part of our human heritage; something that allows us to imagine a different way of being in which there is a more sustained sense of wellbeing, and to strike confidently out in that direction. If we cannot conceive of a different life for ourselves we have nowhere to go but the painful reality of the present. As  Rumi the great 13th century mystic poet entreats us ‘don’t get lost in your pain/ know that one day your pain will become your cure.

A few years ago a wonderful anthology of poetry was published by Bloodaxe called Staying Alive – real poems for unreal times. They are the kind of poems that when one feels overburdened by the harsher realities of life, they can help us ‘press back against the pressures of reality’. Poems and other forms of creative writing have real power to strengthen and inspire us when we feel that sense of overwhelm.

There is nothing exclusive or unique about the written word in this respect, many creative experiences can act as lifelines: the visual arts can take us both out of ourselves and into ourselves in safe and healing ways; music, whether sung, played or listened to can help us express the inexpressible with subsequent relief and release. Siegfried Sassoon the First World War poet wrote a wonderful poem from the trenches: Everyone suddenly burst out singing/ and I was filled with such delight/ as prisoned birds must find in freedom ……If the song can fill the human spirit with delight in circumstances of such horror what can it do in the face of the ordinary miseries of everyday life? Dance too can embody feelings powerfully, as Rumi once said dance when you’re broken open. All these can be lifelines in times of duress.

Many stories, perhaps most, are based one way or another on the mythic hero’s (heroines) journey, and at some level we identify with this universal theme, as we ourselves are the hero’s of our own life journeys. Despite the travails and perilous nature of the journey we can, like Odysseus, find our way ‘home’ eventually, even thought it might take years.  All stories have a resolution, just as we ourselves search for a resolution to the challenges and dilemma’s of being human! Joseph Campbell, in his fascinating book on mythology and personal transformation – ‘Pathways to Bliss’, observes that we all find ourself at one time or another at the edge of a dark wood knowing that the test, the challenge, is to find our own pathway through to what ever it is we seek -wholeness, peace of mind, well being, our true selves, what Campbell calls our pathway to bliss.

Inside Out offers everyone who joins us as a participant student an opportunity to discover their own lifelines through the arts: one previous participant who had experienced the deadening hand of severe depression for lengthy periods in his life said …….. ‘It was like being been borne back to life on the creativity of the group’. Another participant student wrote …..’ the blank page became my friend; what I wrote,  although fictionalised, was my own story, my own secrets and fears, and I began look upon myself with kindly eyes. That was the beginning of my recovery’.

Copyright Peter N. Watkins 2013

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