Welcome, dear friends. We’re now a few days into the lunar New Year celebrated by the Chinese as Year of the Fire Monkey! I wish you Happy New Year and advise you that this monkey is fond of sudden change and ripe mangoes. Local sages recommend wearing red underwear to stay grounded and not get too caught up in monkey business during the next twelve months, though he does represent the restless spirit of creative genius. In compliance with this advice I bought a pair of red Armani briefs at the night market in Bangkok before travelling north to Nong Khai hoping they’re weren’t counterfeit. The price was too reasonable to be Armani.
From the vantage point of mind’s eye here in Nong Khai, watching Mother Mekong as she majestically sweeps these days along into uncertain seas, I catch sight of the Fire Monkey tumbling from branch to branch in the majestic mango tree that shades the rotunda at the Monkey’s Tale Centre in Batticaloa. Watching him I am reminded that our work on the Garden Path is to help kids develop nimble minds and good hearts so that they might find courage when the time of testing comes and it’s their turn to make the leap of faith.
We know of course that faith lays in the leap itself and not the destination. Through contemplative and artistic engagement with the toys of the Out-of-the-Box Curriculum and other creative modalities, the Monkey’s Tale Centre empowers teachers and community workers to inspire confidence in young people by encouraging them to recognize their innate capacity for creative and compassionate interaction with one other. In a country recovering from thirty years of war this is an indispensable requisite for reconciliation. We diffuse fear wherever possible and we infuse faith and imagination.
To understand just how useful MettaMapping (9th Toy in the Out-of-the-Box Curriculum) can be in managing our hyperactive – often hysterical – monkey minds we could do no better than contemplate Edvard Munch’s painting, The Scream, or its contemporary equivalent, 24-hour TV newscasts. I have a question or two. When that silent scream abates what do you hear? Why do most people feel uncomfortable with silence? Why do politicians, preachers, talk show hosts and media pundits talk so much when they have so little to say?
I suppose it’s because they get paid well to blather on, but is that also the reason they talk so fast and so loud? I don’t think so. I think it’s because they’re not listening to themselves or else they couldn’t bear it. They’re afraid and we’re afraid. Fear is escalating out of control these days and they promote it. Watching the US primaries I realize what we have for the most part is bad actors paid to reflect hysteria 24 hours a day. Why? There are endless profits to be made in the prophet business, proliferating fear among people. Best find the mute button on your remote and listen, as would a deaf man, to the Scream. You might also enjoy munching on Edvard’s Munchie Potato Chips to stifle the silent Scream yet more.
In the end who really what these pundits, preachers and demagogues rant on about because it’s always partial, selective, and carefully edited to serve the purposes of whichever master they serve. The game is to appear to know what you’re talking about and say it convincingly. That means volume and volubility. Hair is important. Make-up. The suit. The smile. Substance? Forget it. The game is going to change any minute. Putting a wrap on reality is strictly show biz. Marketing. Politics. Terror. Whoops! Did I just say the “T” word? Sorry. Very sorry! But it is the most marketable commodity going these days.
Is there a viable option to indulging this banal barrage of conflicting narratives? How about turning it all off – the smart phone, the I-pad, the HDTVs tuned to different channels in every room of the house. But then what do we do? Well… we can plant a garden, volunteer at the local food bank, go for a walk with a friend in the country, listen to the birds sing, watch the clouds dance, find flashy red underwear for Monkey in the market… these are poetic options, granted, but they are options and there are many more. Yes, social media play a remarkable role in remaking the world, but the technologies upon which they depend also distance people from deeper connections with each other. The tyranny of tick tock forbids intimacy.
Though we may be more interconnected globally than ever before an epidemic of loneliness accompanies selfie culture. Sensing that we may be lost in space we check in obsessively with friends – many of whom we may never have met – by means of various smart devices, but no matter how many little screens we’re watching reality continues to move away from us morphing with every fractal second into a new reality where rules that applied the moment before are no longer valid.
Though such fluidity engenders fear of dissociation it likewise presents the possibility of positive transformation through association. For this to happen we need to practice slowing down and maybe even putting on the brakes as a serious option. But how many of us even know where the brakes are? Stopping isn’t simple. For creatures as distracted and driven as we are, perpetual motion and pure contemplation are light years apart. Yet we can mind and mend this gap by practice and cultivation of the arts. We can come home to the heart.
The toys of the Out-of-the-Box Curriculum are basically a braking mechanism that enable us slow down and catch up with subtle soul aspects of being, in companionship with others who may hold different values than ourselves but who face identical challenges. We all face defeat in the end. We age. We get sick. We die. This sad reality is also the point of life – the still point – out of which compassion arises, if we let it be. Or terror, if we encourage it.
The Out-of-the-Box Curriculum is comprised of ten toys, each one an invitation to open to others in contemplative play, and through paradox, discern direction within the chaos. During a time of war we developed the toys of the Out-of-the-Box Curriculum to help propagate peace among children from communities affected by violence in their daily lives. One of the toys, MettaMapping, helped us plan innovative programs for these kids over an extended period by connecting them with seers in other times and places who personally experienced Munch’s Scream but rose above fear to find faith in themselves through art.
15.1 MettaMapping Alternative Realities
MettaMapping unites people through their artistic creations. Painting, sculpture, installation, ritual and performance art from around the world inspire new images, stories, music and theatre in communities weakened by war, poverty and natural disaster. This image-based, non-sequential planning tool facilitates dialogue between people, enabling them to bridge differences through collaborative art encounters.
The name MettaMapping derives from Greek and Pali sources. It resonates with echoes of both the Greek word “meta” indicating the “picture behind” or “the larger picture”, and the Pali word, “metta”, which means “loving kindness”. In this sense MettaMapping is a poetic device that delivers a practical outcome by providing an optic for viewing and experiencing what a more compassionate world might actually feel like. It inspires the creation of stories, art, games, tools and toys that nurture bonding and a sense of belonging within marginalized and vulnerable and communities.
The Butterfly Peace Garden possesses a reference library of art books dedicated to folk art, naïve art, art brut, aboriginal and shamanistic art, and the art of the insane from around the world. By studying and interacting with each other stimulated by the images and texts in these books we experience how mystics share the same view, and also how all systems, human and otherwise, are interdependent.
For the Out-of-the-Box Curriculum focus group sessions in December 2015 at the Monkey’s Tale Centre in Batticaloa we prepared a simple catalogue of twenty-six images and distributed them to four groups of participants. A MettaMapping session normally takes anywhere from one to two weeks depending on number of participants and scope of project being mapped. In this workshop of only four hours we only scratched the surface of the MettaMapping method.
MettaMapping is a journey into the collective unconscious of the human race shared with friends from different ethnic, cultural and religious communities. It allows us to travel together, perceiving the underlying harmony of the world even in times and places of great discord. It allows us design and engage in artistic practices and projects that transcend fear and prejudice. We see how the walls we build to protect ourselves also entrap us. MettaMapping provides time, space and a plan to begin dismantling these walls, ideally in partnership with those very persons whom we wish to keep out.
With MettaMapping we discover our originality, both personal and collective, as human beings. The experience of unity and common purpose behind dissenting inner voices opens space for fruitful communication. Beneath the wreckage of broken dreams lies the buried treasure of original mind. Images in the art books or from Internet image banks processed through MettaMapping sessions become seeds for cultivating a cooperative world of dreams and possibilities.
15.2 Setting Sail on the Image Ark
Although MettaMapping opens up the whole world for exploration its utility is site specific, motivating different communities to search out healing symbols, images and protocols that resonate with its particular history and needs. The MettaMapping sessions can be viewed as a contemporary “ark” carrying us to the far shore of creative possibility in hyper-violent times.
The four stages of MettaMapping include:
- RESEARCH into the journey to be undertaken with a particular client group;
- MAPPING of the journey through identifying resonant images by animators of proposed program;
- DISCOVERY of the right path to follow from beginning to end through duration of proposed program;
- EMBARKING on the journey, recording it, reflecting upon it.
The stories and exercises described below are translations of what I heard in Garden Path Out-of-the-Box Curriculum Focus Group No. 8, The Leap of Faith from Image to Identity, which took place on January 19, 2016 at the Monkey’s Tale Centre in Batticaloa. We focused on collaborative teamwork in creating stories, cartoons and healing rituals from imagery using the Out-of-the-Box MettaMapping Directory. Participants included 14 students from Swami Vipulananada Institute of Aesthetic Studies / Eastern University Fine Arts Department: Rohini Satkunalingam. Pirungthajini Prabhakaran, Myuri Ramash, Nusrath Banu Abdul Cader, Sanjeevan Kanapathipillai, Dishantini Nadarasa, Fathima Sarhana, Fathima Nufra Abdul Razeek, Yuwarani Rajendram, Shabesan Selvaratnam, Nishanthan Rasanathan, Sumanraj Vekaranam, M.H.M. Hassan, S. Anojan. As always, Madame Rajes Kandiah translated most capably accompanied by her neighbor and guest participant, Yvonne Miranda.
For the first half of this workshop participants broke up into four color-coded groups – Orange, Red, Yellow, and Blue – each with a MettaMapping Directory containing twenty-six images representing naïve and folk art traditions from around the world. From these images each team was asked to come up with an original story / image / ritual / game / artifact that would become the starter seed for program activities with a hypothetical client group. After a tea break, in the second half of the four-hour session, participants described their process and its outcome.
15.3 Avant Garde(n) Gleanings
ORANGE – Transform Darkness into Light
We live in a beautiful blue world as full of promise as it is fraught with suffering. Into this world we are born as individuals, each as different from the other as the fingers of the hand but all belonging to the same world.
Ours is an angry world filled with competing ideologies, world views, cultures and religions. There is very little peace on the surface but within the heart of things there is always balance. If things weren’t fundamentally in balance confusion would overwhelm coherence and we would destroy each other. Practice of the arts help us find coherence and equilibrium, transforming ignorance into insight, weakness into strength.
Hands shape the world but what gives them mastery over impulse, insight and intuition? Where do they find the motivation to carry on? Some people discover meaning in arts that don’t need hands such as story creation and story telling, while others find it in painting, sculpture, music, dance and other forms. By the practice of these disciplines it is possible to cultivate a noble character and make a better world.
But there are no guarantees. It is just as possible to go mad trying, as has been the case with many great artists and poets. There is always an edge to creative engagement with life, which is why most people shun it and follow the way of the herd.
Gleanings from the Orange Group: Story of the Healing Hand / Ritual – Finding Balance through Contemplation of the Human Hand
RED – Find Your Own Mountain
A young man just starting out in life finds the world by turn either flat and meaningless or too bewildering in its tumultuous changes to be taken seriously. He wants to run from it and seek salvation in one distraction or another. Everything is available on the Internet, and while he aspires to fulfill the wishes of his family, his religion and his society he becomes confused by indulging in experimental and sometimes illicit behavior. These experimental excursions don’t really suit him and he knows it. He begins to feel betrayed not only by the world but also by himself. He is not strong or smart enough to figure it all out on his own. He begins to lose faith in himself.
Just when he thinks he should take his own life, maybe hanging himself in the tree he is sitting under, the tree talks. It tells him he’s not the first to feel like killing himself and won’t be the last. On a distant mountain peak there is a swami. The tree tells him to go see the swami. So he climbs to the top of the mountain and after a long journey he finds the swami and tells his story. The swami smiles sweetly. The young man gets the impression that the old guru has heard it all before. “Welcome to the club, my boy. You’ve come to the right place but you can’t stay here. You’ll have to find your own mountain. Mine is too full… of me.” He laughs at his little joke and gestures to a nearby peak. “Why not begin over there?”
Gleanings from the Red Group: Story about Disenchantment as the Origin of Wisdom / Ritual: Man with Two Heads finds One Mind
YELLOW – Big Bunny Bonanza
In far gone days primitive men lived by hunting. Around here in Mattakalappua we had giant rabbits, a lot like the ones you see hopping around here today but bigger than dinosaurs. Before the rains came, when men from the village set out to find such bunnies, it wasn’t funny. It was a sad time of separation and worry. The women folk and children would see the hunters off, walking to the end of the trail where the jungle began. They wept when they said farewell and there was a big commotion. The men turned away and disappeared into the bush.
Not to be undone by dread the women and children got busy back home. They applied fresh mud on the walls of their houses and painted them with designs depicting their loved ones far away stalking the giant bunnies, slaying them with sharpened carrot spears, trussing them up and trundling them home. They wove mango leaves into amulets and hung from the windows and they made mango jam while the hunters were away. At night they painted their bodies with glyphs depicting reunion then danced around a bonfire, composing songs to greet their returning heroes, little ditties to lighten their load.
I wept for you
when you left home
now you’re back
so what’s in the sack
here you are again
wearing bunny ears
oh silly, silly me
I wanted more, you see
Gleanings from the Yellow Group: Anthropology of Prehistoric Bunny Hunters – An Overview / Bunny Hunter Tattoo / Bunny Dance / Bunny Hunter Dance / Bunny Hunter’s Wive’s Dance / Song 1: Calling my Bunny Hunter Home / Song 2: Got a Belly Full o’ Bunny / Protection Paintings for the One You Love / Weaving of Mango Leaf Talismans
BLUE – Up to You
The old farmer milked his cow every morning but she wouldn’t give him much unless he told her a tall tale while tugging at her teats. He had to milk the tale if he wanted to fill the pail. So here’s the story I heard him tell.
There’s this tree in our village, a small tree but versatile come to think of it, and real – not an myth tree like many people say nowadays. This tree is older than our planet Earth and sacred. It is actually transplanted from a temple in another universe. It does cartwheels when people aren’t looking. Suddenly the roots become branches. When that happens the branches become roots.
These changes don’t occur overnight. It takes time, sometimes months and years, for Flip Out to take place, but when the tree flips the whole world flips with it. We try to control this or at least we try to control people’s reaction to it. These kinds of unnatural occurrences can make people crazy. No one wants that so there are things we do to prepare for Flip Out. What kind of things?
Well, once we put bowls of water between the branches of the tree and gently tapped them at dawn. Different bowls made different sounds because of their relative sizes and the amount of water in them. When we did this the monkeys came and clapped their hands. This made everybody happy and completely changed the mood of village.
When the tree flipped again and we decorated colored balls and put them between the branches. This attracted speckled doves that cooed and calmed everyone down before night fell. We also painted the tree and yes – ourselves – with glyphs representing the many kinds of love we have in this world. We hung paper lanterns and danced around the tree at night. It was all up to us what we did with that tree. We loved the tree because whether the roots were up and branches down, or vice versa, we could always hang our laundry out there to dry.
Gleanings from the Blue Group: Story of the Cartwheel Tree / Sculpture or Carving of Cartwheel Tree / Ritual Embellishments (such as bowls or bells) for tree / useful stand or drying knickers
15.4 Tick Tock Tally
From this experimental exercise in MettaMapping lasting only 4 hours participants unearthed the following ‘artifacts and rituals’, which really are only clues requiring further investigation of the method.
4 Healing Rituals
4 Short Stories
Protection Glyphs for Homes without Male Protection
Protection Symbols and Tattoos
Mango Leaf Weavings
Songs of a Wandering Idiot
Innovative Clothes Stand for Drying Laundry
15.5 An Introduction to MettaMapping
Focus Group No. 8 – MONKEY’S TALE CENTRE, Batticaloa
Toy No. 9 – MettaMapping
Facilitation: E. Kularaj, K. Thevakanthan
Translator: Rajes Kandiah
Observers: Paul Hogan, Yvonne Miranda
Tuesday January 19, 2016 – The Leap of Faith from Image to Identity – 9 AM -12:30 pm
Participants: 13 students from Swami Vipulanada Institute of Aesthetic Studies, 3 guests
The Process of Collective Image-based Program Planning using MettaMapping
16 participants gather at MTC Studio Painting Hall on arrival
- Kurumpeti Circle in front yard under mango tree
- Water Labyrinth in backyard
- Gathering in circle around Crow’s Story Stone
- Period of silence – 3 minutes
- Body Wisdom exercises
- Reflection on The Leap of Imagination (Poho)
- Reflection on MettaMapping (Poho)
- Program for day outlined (Master Kularaj)
- Four work stations assigned with four participants per station
- Each station supplied with Out-of-the-Box Curriculum MettaMapping Portfolio
- Each group selects 1-3 images and plans an activity based on its selection
- Tea served during these small groups sessions
- Groups return to backyard circle for show and tell
- Use lap easels to draw explanatory images and diagrams
- Summation of session (Poho)
- Session ends with silent reflection for 3 minutes
- Comments and queries
How did you enjoy this program?
What did you learn from participating?
How does help you with your studies or life in general?
How can you share it with others?
You can re-cycle things without throwing them away and not just your household garbage. In this Garbage Age, garbage is guru. We learn from it. We can make new poems, songs, images and stories for the journey out of those things considered cast off and unimportant. Cultivation of imagination and an artistic mindset makes this possible.
From one image we proliferate a whole range of new images with new meanings unfolding from them. Maybe this what is meant by modern art?
Nusrath Banu Abdul Cader
I feel I caught a glimpse of what modern art must be about. Especially in the Mystery Paintings I saw. I’m very inspired by them and by this encounter in MettaMapping today at the Monkey’s Tale Centre. Thank you!
I never knew there was an art center like the Monkey’s Tale in Batticaloa. Or in the world! It has really opened my eyes to come here and learn about MettaMapping. It also and lays the foundation for studies in modern art next year. I am very excited about this.
An artist is faced with an impossible task. That is always the given. First confusion. Then confrontation. Then concentration. Then imagination. Then sudden inspiration… from this a new world is born!
Nong Khai, Thailand
February 14, 2016