By Ekabhumi (“Eka”) Charles Illik
Creating our own devotional art is like eating from our own garden; we are nourished by the process as well as the product. We gain a much more profound connection to the principles illustrated in the artworks than we would from simply looking at a print. Like a wise friend or role model, the deity in our artwork has a positive influence on our personal development. The images themselves also contain a wealth of traditional wisdom in mythic form, and that wisdom is deeply imprinted on us during the creative process. Our intuitive and analytical aspects are both cultivated in the process of making art. Much like the mystical pairs of male and female, sun and moon, Shiva and Shakti, the union of these seemingly opposite aspects of our nature is the fruit of yogic practice. Artists experience this as a state of creative flow, which is why it is fitting that the river goddess Sarasvatī, whose name means “She Who Flows,” is also patroness of the arts.
The goddesses who appear in The Shakti Coloring Book encompass the entire spectrum of cosmic phenomena, mirroring our own most expansive Self. It is not necessary to practice deeply with more than one goddess, but we experience the beauty, power, and vast scope of our own divine nature when we know them all. Their mystic diagrams—their mandalas and yantras—have a powerful influence on our awareness when we meditate upon them and visualize them internally. Our energy body is repatterned in this process, helping us to recognize behaviors that are out of alignment with our own most expansive nature, which is the Goddess herself. We may then focus on cultivating the virtues these goddesses exemplify and allow unnecessary patterns to fall away. A virtuous life leads to improved health, happiness, and harmonious relationships.
Making sacred art is a type of meditation, helping us to come into stillness, focus our attention, and align with the principles portrayed in our artworks. Many yogic systems utilize visualizations, and most recommend spiritual artworks as “material support” for these inner techniques. Daily visualization of one’s tutelary deity is a fundamental practice in classical Tantra. This is because the sense of sight is associated with the fire element and, thus, the power of transformation. For most people, the sense of sight is the primary way of perceiving our world and is thus a direct and powerful avenue by which yogic teachings can reshape our understanding of the cosmos. Drawing a deity is a proven method for memorizing his or her details, making our inner image of that deity more vivacious and helping us deeply absorb the wisdom he or she embodies.
Like hatha yoga, the practice of making sacred art utilizes physical means to stabilize, support, and shape the spiritual aspirant’s internal experience. Many of the images are instructive in nature, so they also show auspicious new ways of being present in the world and help us expand our notion of Self. It is not the activity alone that causes transformation, however, any more than stretching makes people enlightened. It is the awareness, attitude, intention, and energy we bring to the physical act that ensures personal growth.
While cultivating artistic skill is an important aspect of this practice, the point is self-mastery, not making pretty objects. The artworks that result are the fruit of our personal journey, almost a side effect of the play between our inner experience and the physical world. The artworks that arise from our spiritual discipline may or may not have any distinctive personal style, however. Most devotional art traditions discourage individualistic flourishes to avoid aggrandizing the personal ego and bolstering any sense of being special. Like any other yogic technique, making sacred art involves “yoking” the individual ego to the larger dynamic of the universe itself. We artists are simply choosing the creative principles of engagement, manifestation, and connecting, rather than the ascetic principles of renunciation, dissolution, and nonattachment as our path toward this union.
When we are so overflowing with awe, love, and appreciation for being present that our sense of fullness overflows, we share with others. For creative types, this effulgence is expressed as sacred art. Unlike meditation, which is primarily an internal experience, making sacred art results in functional objects. When made with precision, they become devices that aid others on their spiritual journey. In this way, making art is transformed from a form of personal expression to a form of community service. The emphasis shifts from individual to collective, from separate to connected, and our inner experience of unity is manifested in daily life. Creativity as a devotional practice transforms us into a vehicle for the Goddess’s blessing energy. Creativity is Shakti. The role of the devotional artist is choosing to become the path of least resistance for this divine creative flow.
Practice suggestion: Just as yoginis practice each day and monks meditate at a specific hour, spiritual artists benefit from regular practice. Schedule a regular time to make art. Perhaps is it on a specific day of the month or the week or at a specific hour each day.
The excerpt was adapted from The Shakti Coloring Book: Goddesses, Mandalas, and the Power of Sacred Geometry by Ekabhumi Charles Ellik. Copyright © 2015 by Ekabhumi Charles Ellik. Published in July 2015 by Sounds True.
Ekabhumi Charles Ellik is an artist, poet, and a student as well as a teacher of classical tantric hatha yoga. His diverse work includes 20 original illustrations created for Sally Kempton’s book Awakening Shakti (Sounds True, 2013). He lives in the San Francisco Bay area. See ekabhumi.com for more information.