Sunday, June 19, 2011

Magic in the Mountains

Impressions of a Fusionart Retreat
May 20-22, 2011

Fusionartist Rickey Hoefnagel
as told to
Richard Buntin

That familiar feeling, a mixture of excitement, longing and anticipation, grew as we wound our way through the San Bernardino Mountains along the Rim of the World Highway to the Pali Mountain Retreat and Conference Center for a 3 day Fusionart Retreat led by Rassouli, the internationally acclaimed visionary artist and founder of Fusionart. I knew that this would be another extraordinary weekend of painting and poetry, music and dancing, talking and laughing around the campfire and over meals.
A cool breeze and clear sunshine kissed our cheeks as we stepped out of the car. We breathed in the crisp, fresh air. Surrounded by the timeless strength and beauty of the fir and pine trees, with vistas of mountains as far as the eye could see, the serenity of this spot was a perfect backdrop for creative magic to occur.

The two dozen participants arrived by late Friday afternoon. A large, light room in a rustic building with wooden decks overlooking the forest had been converted into our studio. The walls held our energy, while the sights and sounds of Nature flowed freely through the open doors and windows. Everyone gathered in the studio for the first time, sitting in a circle on folding chairs. Rassouli began by introducing what sounded like a contradiction: creation is destruction. He explained that nobody creates anything. Creativity is the process of destroying whatever is blocking our creative energy. When we destroy, surrender, let go of these obstacles, the innate wellspring of creative energy we all have overflows naturally and effortlessly from the heart, free of the limitations and attachments of the ego, in a state that is playful and powerful simultaneously. Rassouli then asked that each of us say something about why we had come. As we went around the circle, I felt an expansive, loving energy infuse the studio as if to bless our retreat.

Eating meals together around a large dining room table is one of the ways we get to know each other, create friendships and maintain our connection throughout the retreat. The flow of conversation frequently shifts from the profound to the hilarious. This is also true of the gatherings around the fire pit on the patio behind the dining hall after dinner. Friday night was chilly, and we were grateful for the blazing fire. We watched the sky slowly progress into night’s mystery as the sun set over the mountains. The group was invited to share, and several people read their poetry. Others offered stories about how their experience as Fusionartists had added a whole new perspective and purpose to their lives.

Rassouli gave an assignment for those of us who chose to return to the studio and paint that evening: destroy your canvas and in the process release any negative emotions you may have brought with you to the retreat. Kelly described the creative chaos that followed: “…we splashed paint in every which way, with every color, with brushes, rags, fingers, and even elbows, while dancing wildly to salsa music.” Gary, who had been experiencing a very frustrating conflict at work, attacked his canvas furiously. The thick, bright red spattered across his black canvas, accentuated by embedded objects, perfectly expressed his anger.

Laura, on the other hand, had less emotional baggage to unpack. Although she had never painted before, she found herself painting until 4am. Her friends urged her to stop and go to bed, but she was having so much fun and had become so involved with her canvas that she couldn’t stop. My experience was much the same. When the music began it awakened such happiness in me that I easily let go of illusory difficulties and became drawn to warm, soft colors. Absorbed in creative play, I will paint for hours in a meditative state with no sense of time. During this period I had a deep feeling of a Blissful Encounter
with beings in a realm of love and beauty that soothed and refreshed my soul.

I couldn’t wait to get back to my easel the next morning because I kept seeing a particular shade of blue/green, accompanied by a silent cry from within. After a riveting, impromptu demonstration by Rassouli, I began my second canvas listening to the soaring music of Kitaro. When I realized I was not sure how to go further, I became aware that Rassouli was standing behind me. I told him that I was feeling stuck, and he simply said that I could develop more contrast by adding a darker color. In doing this, I noticed a figure begin to appear with arms outstretched. I realized that the cry I felt was one of compassion for all those struggling to create a better world by Reaching Higher.

While taking a break, my eye was drawn to the subtle tones of blue on Bebe’s canvas surrounding a central figure perhaps entering a dimension of intense light. She had had a breakthrough in painting Destruction Precedes Renewal which she explained this way: “I was painting gleefully when Rassouli suggested I do something completely foolish – like throwing black paint all over the canvas. That’s when my symbolic renewal started.” This is how Rassouli guides the energy throughout the retreat. He does it intuitively and immediately in the moment. He does not give instruction per se, but he helps us to trust ourselves enough to let go and release our own creative power. He senses what each artist needs, and often it is the opposite of what the artist thinks he or she needs.

One of the most wonderful aspects of Fusionart retreats is the way the group bonds and the energy builds throughout the weekend. The music played continuously during the painting sessions is carefully chosen by Rassouli to take Fusionartists beyond the rational mind and open the heart. People respond spontaneously to the contagious joy of the music. Late Saturday afternoon, StellaMaris, who had been painting quietly near me, unexpectedly began singing so sweetly in her native Spanish that I thought I was hearing an enchanting angel. Her sister, Graciela, joined in the song. This awakened the Cuban blood in Felix, who started dancing with Graciela. Others swayed gently in front of their easels as they continued to paint, while some of us clapped in unison to the music. As Graciela said, “We completely surrendered to our space.” She was referring to both the inner and the outer space, which had become one.

Since the mission of Fusionart is to enhance creativity in all aspects of life, Rassouli enjoys bringing creative synergy to Fusionart retreats. We were privileged to have Kelly Sullivan Walden, the “dream doctor”, join us as a retreat participant and share with us her expertise and passion in dream work. Kelly spoke to us of the great value in the mystery of our dreams, particularly the “scary” ones, and the ways we can use our dreams to grow and reach our full potential as human beings. She explained how, among the Native American Iroquois and the aboriginal Senoi of Malaysia, individual dreams are often considered to affect the tribe as a whole. They may indicate a future direction, or they may present a challenge. To the extent that the dreamer is able to understand, accept and resolve the issue portrayed in the dream with the help of the tribe, this will benefit the entire tribe. Saturday evening Kelly led the group in a “dream theatre,” which is essentially a conscious reenactment of a dream. John bravely volunteered a disturbing dream which was reenacted, in an improvised fashion, by other Fusionartists he chose. I played the sun. This was a powerful experience for many in the group, and John found it helpful

Over breakfast Sunday a few of us had a fascinating conversation with Rassouli about the modern creation myth he is developing. This ignited my imagination and I began reworking an old canvas I had brought with me. Letting the music take me away again, I became immersed in imagery of primordial life forms evolving and gradually emerging from darkness to become transformed over eons of time into enlightened human beings. A feeling of awe came over me as I painted, and I bowed inwardly to the Source, eternally creating on an infinitely vast scale far beyond our comprehension. I titled this painting, Spiritual Alchemy.

Although we never discussed it, alchemy is also present in Carole’s vision of a journey which inspired her painting, Fusion Heart. She described the dramatic climax of the journey: “He (Rassouli) offered us a gift. It was the gift of alchemy. I saw a copper pot with rainbows of color and light inside. In the rhythm of unity of one heart we each dipped into the pot and began covering ourselves and the walls of the dark chambers with a vibrant prismatic light. The heart – Our Fusion Heart - became like a diamond of light and we became the rays of light shining into the universe.”

Usually the last activity is to review the works produced at the retreat. They often reveal tremendous artistic growth, even over the 3 day period. Each artist is encouraged to discuss the feeling process motivating the painting rather than technique. The rest of the group and Rassouli then offer comments on the feeling of the pieces. The atmosphere is very positive and supportive, which makes for a satisfying and fun finale.

The retreat is also a catalyst for deeper self understanding. StellaMaris’ experience reminded her of Santiago’s quest in The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho: “Every moment had a golden quality for me...It was like finding your personal legend.” Sylvia wrote this about what the retreat meant for her: “Realizing that the lightness of being is to merge with that love that creates all life, and only through innocent playfulness can this amazing energy exchange flow. It is that simple indeed. I wonder why I often so stubbornly try to block it since all that I want is experiencing this love… Being able to share vulnerability in such a safe and caring environment brings an awareness of unity with all that is.” A Fusionart retreat is about much more than painting. It provides us with a practical experience of the way creative energy can transform individuals and build communities. It teaches us that our lives truly can be beautiful, joyous and free.