“The essence in my practice is about knowing and being a true co-creator. It is recognizing Art within the Earth and Heart. Art then goes beyond its usual definition as an output (painting, craft, composition, poem, etc.) and expands as a co-creation to recognize the many elements at work when we embody our gifts and manifest the power of our visions.” –Sarah Queblatin
Arts & Healing Network is truly delighted to present one of the 2012 AHN Awards: Honoring the Next Generation to Sarah Queblatin, an artist rooted in community, earth-based ritual and sacred art. At the young age of 30, Sarah has facilitated a myriad number of healing art rituals and activities in her homeland, the Philippines. From peace building to helping children explore their dreams, Sarah consistently uses creativity as a catalyst to for positive change in the world.
We at the Arts & Healing Network are deeply inspired by all of her work, especially how she uses the mandala and ritual to bring communities together for healing with such attention to beauty and meaning. Her innovative vision impresses us, as does her capacity to collaborate. We applaud her immense talent and creative spirit.
To learn more about Sarah Queblatin, please visit www.mandalaearth.org, and be sure to check out her blog as well.
Below is an interview by Arts & Healing Network Director Mary Daniel Hobson with Sarah Queblatin from October 2012:
Mary Daniel Hobson: Please share a little bit about the essence of the work you do.
Sarah Queblatin: In my life I have been blessed to learn from so many sages, wisdom and culture bearers and artists who do not really teach but live through embodied knowing, being, and doing. Through their life work, I was inspired to share how art is really a way of life. The essence in my practice is about knowing and being a true co-creator. It is recognizing Art within the Earth and Heart. Art then goes beyond its usual definition as an output (painting, craft, composition, poem, etc.) and expands as a c0-creation to recognize the many elements at work when we embody our gifts and manifest the power of our visions.
Mary Daniel: You have achieved so much at such a young age...How did you find your way to this work with such focus so early on in your life?
Sarah: I am just learning how this process has unfolded because of important questions I kept asking. I wanted to know if art was just a painting or a sculpture, or if art was just in a museum. I wanted to learn what inspired artists to create. I wanted to understand why we feel so connected with everything when we undergo a creative experience. I also found myself listening more and more to what my soul intention longs to become and do. Then I would come across people and experiences that helped me live this practice. I learned a lot about trusting my own inner gifts and capacities and to honor what others have as well. It's about regularly connecting to knowing who I am and why I want to do what I do to guide me in my intentions and actions. When I am connected to that clearly, I always find my way through.
Mary Daniel: Do you believe art can be a healing catalyst and if so, how? Could you share a story or example of that?
Sarah: Yes. After I sing, draw, write, or dance, I immediately feel better. Just dancing in a garden at night alone for hours helps me liberate pent up feelings and allows me to have a good and healthy crying release afterwards. That’s the most immediate example.
My own healing journey has been catalyzed through art. I have done 19 years of visual journaling and a lot of expressive arts. I started using mandalas as an art therapy “patient” myself after choosing to heal from an abusive relationship with someone who himself was abused as a child. Looking back, I am so grateful for this experience. This led me to a two-year intensive life-review process that consciously addressed some childhood traumas and patterns that have kept me stuck unhealthy relationships and experiences. I learned to translate artistic gifts of seeing things as they are and using expression and imagination in transforming my reality one spirit song, or one mandala at a time.
On a social level, I have experienced how communities connect deeper through a ritual, a song or a dance. Through the many gatherings I have participated in -- whether it be for a celebration or a cause -- I have witnessed how art is a universal language that transcends culture and religion. Immediately one experiences an immediate shift in mood or in relationships after a creative process takes place. Art helps in communion -- a way for us to recognize our selves in each other.
Mary Daniel: You use the mandala so consistently and beautifully in your work - what does the mandala mean for you personally? And why do you believe it is such a powerful symbol for community-based work?
Sarah: A mandala is a sacred circle for many indigenous and religious traditions around the world. It is an experience, an artwork and a message of unity and oneness. It is a medium that integrates and reminds us of our wholeness, because it is a universal blueprint in all of creation. From our cells to a mother’s pregnant belly, or from our planet to the spiraling of galaxies -- our universal imprint is a circle.
Personally in my own therapeutic experience, the mandala helps me translate an existing difficulty through symbols or words and see it as a mirroring process to help bring out what I cannot fully express at the moment and what my conscious self seems to have buried or have hidden. It helps me affirm a situation as it is, and also helps me transform it in a new way. It helps me with my vision work and even in mind mapping multi-dimensional ideas. Having something at the center connects me to the source and the destination of whatever intention the mandala was created for.
The mandala is a powerful symbol in community-based work because it involves a co-creative process of working together. Mandalas created by communities I work with often become a ritual or sacred space, one that gathers people in a circle to celebrate a cause, share stories or to dance around. If it’s a permanent installation, it becomes a reminder and a symbol of their shared vision and intention, something people can look back at as a compass.
Mary Daniel: Could you share the story of one of your recent projects and its impact?
Sarah: I write this on the day of the landmark signing of the framework agreement between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that paves the way for a final peace agreement after 40 years of struggle, bloodshed and displacement. Last year in 2011, I felt deeply moved -- even to a point “disturbed” -- if I didn’t do something while in a meeting that was preparing for the Presidential Ceremony for the resumption of the peace talks. I was there as a peace worker, yet the calling of the sacred artist was so strong that I had to speak out the need for a ritual. It had been three years since the peace talks had been halted in 2008 because of several factors. This halt created another eruption of conflict that crippled many communities all over again. I felt that if the talks were to be resumed, it had to find accord for good. It had to finally transform the cycle of violence so it could no longer pass onto the generations to come.
In two days, I worked with 400 children from an interfaith community in co-creating a mandala of candle and flower holders made from terra cotta clay with seeds. These symbols of shared earth, shared heritage, and shared future created the ritual space for the ceremony. In this sacred space, children invited leaders inside as they made the call for leaders to transform the cycle of violence by ending armed conflict in their generation. I’d like to believe that this empowered children to have a voice in the peace talks. The art based activity contributed as a form of relational peace building that complemented rational peace building approaches that leaders and the civil society organizations had been doing. Today we are reminded that all the efforts that generated awareness and commitment to peace building are now bearing fruits, such as this important agreement that will be signed today that paves the road to peace in Mindanao.
I continue to learn that in ritual work, we believe that transformation also brings healing beyond the physical and present time as we engage the stories of ancestors (past) and descendants (future) in a sacred circle, which unites us in the power of the present to change histories and fates.
Mary Daniel: You collaborate with many different organizations and people - can you share a little about how you locate the people with whom you are working, and advice for other artists who might want to expand into similar kinds of collaboration?
Sarah: I learned the process of Appreciative Inquiry along the way. This means that I work with existing initiatives to support, complement or enhance their actions. As a co-creative artist, I practice inclusivity in designing an activity and honor that there are many gifts that can be shared in the process. I learn first about the story of the people and consider cultural sensitivities involved. It is important to work together on a shared vision and intention. This then guides the design of the components of the activity as well as a reference as to how activities have been delivered. A lot of this involves trust in one’s own artistic gift as any collaborative process involves diverse energies. As an artist, I see myself making sure that the weaving of the message, process and medium takes place before an activity ends.
Trust also means that an intended design may or may not manifest because of the many elements involved. One has to be prepared to quickly adjust and to be creative in adapting. One too has to learn to connect to the original intention of the work so as to keep the process grounded. The capacity to listen deeply and to harvest stories and learnings is something I am still mastering. It is through the realizations that come after any art making process that we are able to determine how the design of the activity has impacted a participant.
Mary Daniel: What excites you most about your work right now?
Sarah: Since 2008, I started mapping a journey around Asia to learn about the sacred art of the mandala from different traditions and to work with culture and wisdom bearers in designing community based art activities to address conflict and ecological healing. I was supposed to start on this journey last year, but a big shift moved me to look at the mandala within. The journey begins with myself. Ten years of advocacy work and a lot of “Doing” and less of “Knowing and Being” prompted me to start this journey with myself. This also brought with it a whole systems way of seeing my life work. This year, I chose not to go to my 2nd year of my Masters' Summer School (on Expressive Arts for Conflict Transformation and Peace Building), because after helping out with arts relief for children survivors of a deadly flashflood caused by Hurricane Washi in the southern part of my country early this year, I was stumped.
While there were also other factors to my decision, I felt that it was not enough to just focus on conflict. More and more as my life work grows, an integral scope was asking to be looked into. Many conflicts are rooted in looking at nature separately as a resource and looking at it as the basis of our ethnic identities rooted to fatherland and motherland stories. The sustainability of all our efforts is also connected to the earth. One of my mentors who sat in the peace panels told me his concern about what happens after -- when land is brought back to the peasants or when the right to self determination of one’s homeland is finally resolved. In drought or in flooding due to climate change or ecological damage, rebellions and peace talks will lose the value of their work to another form of displacement - this time through natural disasters and calamities.
I continue to listen to where this is guiding me. I have just recently moved from the city to an intentional community called Maia Earth Village in Palawan where the mandala is a personal transformation guide and as a basis for permaculture and eco-village design. While gardening, harvesting, and eating raw food and living off the grid, I learn to embody the earth -- this earth as my body and my body as the earth.
Medium wise, I am looking at working with the elements of the earth as a healing tool for art making or ritual work. More and more the inner process needs to be looked at as a core component of social transformation. With my teachers and with the eco-village community, I am evolving my mandala making design as a soul mapping process. My intention is also to share this in application to healing and well-being, post disaster rehabilitation, eco-peace education for children, social innovation and entrepreneurship, and a new way of addressing integral sustainable development.
Mary Daniel: What inspires you to keep making this work? How do you sustain yourself in the midst of doing so much community healing work?
Sarah: I am always inspired by the mandala as it continues to evolve and bring in new questions and new revelations to my own life. Today with a rise in consciousness around the world, I am more and more confident in sharing my ideas which I often times feared people would think of as too idealistic or unrealistic some years back. Movements that are now practicing and documenting the importance of the integration of our inner and outer selves always give me confidence to bring out art as one of the tools that bridge that.
I continue to be inspired by the sacred teachers I encounter in the communities I experience life’s essential questions with. They help me trust in our human and divine capacities to co-create new realities. Choosing to live in an intentional community that observes the valuation process of true worth has helped me look into sustaining sustainability.
I must admit that I did a lot of my art projects for free and out of my pocket and this was not sustainable energy wise. Sometimes I found myself investing lots of time and money in a project, and it often felt bad to ask for an energy exchange, because I felt the non-profits I worked with had limited funds. Thus I ended up losing all my savings, and I either put my artistic process in the backseat or designed it just as a side activity.
All this is shifting now. I realize that my fear of speaking up and not knowing my true worth also communicated that interior processes addressing consciousness and creativity don’t have impact. I finally reached a point where I had to ask myself, “How can I talk about sustainability without being sustainable myself?” I am learning to honor that what I know and do have important value, and I am learning to commit to partnerships or projects that honor a healthy energy exchange. Most of all I am learning to connect to the energy from within, to know what my being has chosen to live out and what I have to give to the world. Interestingly, once I do this, so many alignments to opportunities that generate a healthy flow of giving and receiving take place.
Right now at the eco-village, the true lesson on sustainability that I am still learning is that everything we have is right here. To recognize things that nourish and sustain us naturally from within and outside us without effort or expectation is true sustainability. Once embodied, I am able to attain a whole new meaning of freedom in creating and giving.
Mary Daniel: What advice do you have for other artists who wish to use their creativity for healing and transformation?
Sarah: I can only share my own experience and what I have learned. First, I learned how to honor my own journey toward healing and derive insights from it. The key is to listen and translate these insights into application in the work.
I also learned how to see perfection in the imperfection of things. For a long time I used to think that the artist archetype was to always change and transform because we immediately see what is missing to bring things into wholeness. I now first acknowledge and see things as they are and appreciate the gifts that open up whether through brokenness or illumination.
I learned to appreciate other people’s own gifts, and as facilitator, I continue to help guide them in recognizing and using these gifts. For as an artist or as a transformation agent, I know I can never change anyone. I can only change myself. I can only inspire and help in people’s healing and awakening. They have to do the shift themselves. What I can do is support them by creating safe spaces for that to take place.
I learned also to have confidence that I have something to share, yet also have the wisdom stay grounded. The work of bridging the invisible to visible requires the use of language that people can understand and experience. I cannot tell you how many times I held back because I felt overwhelmed with feelings about an important cause, yet also lost chances to share my own being’s life work. I learned how to balance by speaking with both heart and mind and to come from a place of authenticity and transcendence.
Lastly, I still am learning how to trust and to see beyond what is present or what is seen in existing reality. This is what artists do after all -- bring in visions or realities that are not yet there. It is constantly recognizing that my work is not just my own but a co-creative process with everything. It is knowing how to embody what I teach and guide, to do things consciously and sustainably, and to always remember that what I do is the sacred work of reminding me and others of our true and whole selves.
Mary Daniel Hobson: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Sarah: Deep gratitude to the Arts and Healing Network for this recognition as it honors the work and cause of many children, communities, and leaders I have co-created with. May our EartHeart inspired co-creations serve as another reminder and representation of the power of art in healing and transformation all over the world.
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