Mystery Painting (Mayachitram) is a contemplative practice that combines silent meditation with art, story creation and dialogue. This practice enables us to compress the chaos in our lives into an image thereby transforming it and making it more manageable.
In a gentle and playful way, Mystery Painting allows us to give form to the uncon- scious energies and impulses that direct (or misdirect) our lives. Through cultivation of intuition and imagination it allows us to better see what we care about and leave behind that which smothers and ensnares us.
Canadian artist Paul Hogan, is the creator of the Mystery Painting method. He has taught creative process as a means of healing trauma in marginalized communities affected by war, natural disaster and poverty around the world. He is the founding creative director and inspiration for the Spiral Garden in Canada, the Butterfly Peace Garden in Sri Lanka and Mango Tree Garden in Cambodia as well as the Step-by- Step Studio and Monkey’s Tale Centre for Contemplative Art in Sri Lanka.
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Select images to see accompanying narratives
PERMANENT COLLECTION @ RIVERDALE gallery
It makes perfect sense for a mother to protect her young. Who would dispute that? It’s genetic, right? I haven’t got a choice. I will protect any child that comes along the same way I would my own babe. Anyone small and vulnerable can count on me. A gorgeous butterfly flutters by and disagrees with the idea of big momma hero. She says, “Why do you feel you have to protect me and everyone else in the world? What are you protecting us from? We have to learn in our own way and in our own time. If you overprotect us how will we grow? Sorry, but I don’t need your help.” I was stunned! Can it be true, what this butterfly says? Am I hurting you by helping you The butterfly danced away on a breeze. “I don’t know, she said from afar. Maybe you should ask yourself that question.”
"Whiskers and All"
It’s a total misperception, the way I look and what people think of me. People take one look at me and they see beauty, calmness, strength and all that, but they don’t see my timidity. They don’t see my fear. I am afraid of fish and fish are what I eat to survive. I have to go down to Lake Ontario to fish every single day. Oh my god, I remember one day last spring the fish were jumping in the lake and a horrible catfish with slimy whiskers jumped right up my beak. Eek! Eat or starve, I said to myself. So I closed my eyes and swallowed it, whiskers and all. Ugh!
Maria Renee Monteiro
"Big Happy Family"
I am a harmless water snake living in Lake Ontario. Because I’m a snake, and rather fierce looking I gather, people shun me. Up to them I guess, but I’m very nice, once you get to know me. I tend to hibernate too long just to keep out of people’s way – that’s how nice I am. But once the good weather comes I can’t resist getting out and about. I love the colors of spring and enjoy going to the Hub to meet with old friends that I haven’t seen in a while. They come from all over the world and we have a good time together. I don’t stay long because my body is not used to being exposed to the sun and dehydrates rapidly. Collagen issues. I leave them with the hope they won’t forget me even though we may not see each other again. Through my tender love for all living beings I am able to persuade them that some creatures are not as dangerous as they look. I invite them to visit me any time so we can get to know each other better and live together like one big happy family
"Two For One"
We are Pepe and Hector and I’m proud to tell you that we are two of the most special, and intimidating, baseball players in the world. The special thing about us is that we share everything we have. Even though we belong to different teams we share the same hat. This is how we show the world that we love each other and, in fact, can’t live without each other. Our true love makes us feel warm and comfortable together. It makes us proud. There is no man, hurricane, or unatural disaster in the world whatsoever that can keep us apart. This love has made a huge difference in our lives. Our message for the world it is simple. If poor, humble baseball players from nowhere can feel such fearless and unconditional love, then why can’t everybody? The world would be a better place.
"What Crow Don't Know"
I am a parrot, your average red, green, yellow, blue, flashy parrot. Too beautiful for words really, but ... and this is a secret ... disguised as a common house crow; the kind of common crow people loathe and kids practice shooting with their slingshots. One day I woke up with an egg under my belly. I had no idea where that egg came from. I remember experiencing a bit of panic and identity confusion at the time wondering if this egg would become a crow or a parrot? The thought unnerved me so much I wanted to talk to a professional counselor. Maybe the old stork across the pond would know. I strapped the egg on my back and flew to her nest. When I got there she listened to my story staring at me all the while like I was right out of my tree. She looked down her beak without ruffling a feather and then she said very calm and slow, “Don’t be in such a hurry to rush things, darling. Sit on your egg as long as it takes. When it hatches, you’ll know who you are.”
"Go With the Flow Baby"
I am Lucky Lucinda the youngest in a large family of emperor penguins, now not quite so imperial as we were in days gone by. In fact we’re crammed on top of one another afloat on this dinky iceberg that’s melting beneath our feet as I speak. When it’s gone, we’re gone. Why you might ask, quite rightfully, do we not just swim somewhere safe? The short answer is we forgot how. You see my family was part of a congregation of emperors that once lived in a zoo, which shall remain unnamed. Things were fine there till came the day a well-meaning environmentalist idiot thought we would be better off in the wild. So he plunked us all down here to go with the floe, until we’re gone.
"Got Wings Will Fly"
Frog mom thinks her boy, Thibido, is pretty smart but he’s a real handful and doesn’t always behave. Just gets worse as time goes on, acting stubborn, strange and distant all the time. So mom takes him to the frog witch. This old crone take one look at Thibido and says to herself, “What am I going to say to him he doesn’t already know?” She talks anyway. “What’s your problem, sonny boy,” she asks? He says, “I don’t have a problem.” Then, gesturing to his mom, he says, “She’s got a problem!” “And what’s her problem?” the old frog asks. “She don’t let me do nothing,” Thibido says. “I ain’t no frog, I’m her dog.” “Kid’s got a bit of attiude,” said the old Frog Momma when they’re alone, “but it’ll pass. It’s just a stage.” One day Thibido sees his reflection in a cup of water. True, he isn’t like the other frogs. He’s got wings. So he flies away. It was a stage, just like the old lady said.
"One Heart, One World"
In a sudden brush with a strong breeze a beautiful butterfly lost part of her wing. After that she has a hard time flying from flower to flower. She began to lose heart as she bumbled about the garden. One day she met a young girl who had lost part of her arm. This girl understood the butterfly’s predicament. They talked about how it is with this world where things, places, people - everything - falls apart and disappears. We have to have courage and take care of one another. A flower nearby overheard their conversation. “So true,” she said. “One by one, petal by petal, I have lost my beauty. Soon all the petals will fall off, and after that? What?” No one could, or would, say what might happen after that, but at least they understood. They had one mind. One heart.
"The Question is, When?"
Take it from me: darkness is upon us these days. As the fabled dove of peace I know this only too well. Just look at me. I’ve turned grey with fright! Everywhere I fly people make war or threaten to make war. Egypt, Syria, France, Greece, Ukraine. Even Canada. And when peace comes it doesn’t last, does it? What’s wrong with this world you may ask? No answer I can give will satisfy you because it won’t satisfy me. I’ll tell you something. Night is here and I’m homeless. There’s no place for me or for my children. I vow to watch through this night as long as it lasts, even if dawn never comes. People will learn to cooperate someday. And there’ll be some solace in that. The question is, when?
"Rights for Women Wronged"
Four women are we from one ancient family - a grandmother, a mother, a daughter and her baby daughter. Uma, Geetha, Reetha and baby Seetha. We have no male children and our husbands have all moved on, some to other women, some to other countries to work, some to the next world. For whatever reasons, they’ve left us, so now we are alone in the world with no one to look after and protect us. As women alone we have no rights. We stay together because it is our only security. We stay together for Seetha. What kind of life will she have if we don’t stay together for her? What kind of life will we have?
"The Eye of the Heart"
I know very little of this world I share with my mother because I just arrived here a couple of days ago. She does everything for me, speaking to me through the language of feeling and touch, and through the songs she sings. My mom is blind and I am sad about that. Very sad. I can see her but she can’t see me. In one lullaby she sings to her Golden Boy, Kokhan Shona, and tells him never to fear losing her. “My voice and my song are our eyes,” she sings. “We see with our ears and with the eye of the heart.”
"Shall we Talk?"
A beautiful wild bird with a long tail finds a cup of cool water on a hot summer day. He begins to drink when along comes another bird and perches on his elegant tail. “Please share your water,” she says. But the first bird didnʹt go to kindergarten and doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘share’. Every time the first bird dips his beak into the cup, the second bird jumps on his tail. Even with his long beak he can’t get at the water. Suddenly he loses his temper. “Iʹm sure we can work this out,ʺ says the tail jumper bird. ʺShall we talk?ʺ
"The Cup of New Beginnings"
I am a fish floating free, swimming wherever the current carries me. One day I come to an island in the stream, a simple dimple of dry land where I see a man sitting under a palm tree sipping from a cup. Such a peaceful scene; for a moment I think I would like to be there with him. Then the man stands up and walks away, singing and getting smaller and smaller with his song as it fades in the distance. “Oh my friend river”, sings the disappearing man, “I want to ask you only one question. Does your journey begin and end in the same place?” Then he’s gone. The island remains, the tree, the breeze, the cup. I think: this must be the cup of imagination. Then I plunge back into the depths. Whatever limitation we face, there are ways to transcend it through imagination and love. Take courage. Begin again. Drink the cup you are given to the dregs.
"Mirror of the Soul"
I have instant access to my soul if I want with this beautiful golden egg, the soul’s mirror. But I don’t want to look. Not for a moment! The most fleeting glance in this mirror reveals who I really am. It reveals my soul. I’m not prepared to see that. Not yet. Maybe never. Only God can bear what is revealed there.
"Just Like the Dentist Said"
The heart of the prophets – Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha - is one, yet drones fly every day. Why? Because. Who listens to prophets when there are profits to be made? We have a long way to go to merit being called human. Personally I’m more monkey than man. I face the same struggle with greed, hatred and ignorance as my parents did, and their parents before them. Overcoming these faults isn’t easy. It’s personal. Political. Becoming more aware of the human predicament, and more loving because of it, takes wisdom. Wisdom takes time. Possibly forever. So, close your eyes. Empty your mind. Open your heart. Just like the dentist said: open, open. No matter what big brother tells you, open! And don’t let fear become a habit.
"One Side Then the Other"
First it revealed its hidden side, then the other. The autumn leaf fell. Geese honked as their passage took them far beyond the moon. I was an old woman then and thought I would not survive another winter yet I remained hopeful, always hopeful; as hopeful as a stag awaiting the return of the snow geese and another springtime’s greening. Now I’m ready to begin again. I will leap into my next life.
So cold were the dreams I had the night I arrived here from Dacca my old world shattered like a pane of frozen glass. I was left stunned and immobilized by this new reality. One thing remained constant though. My eye. The place I’d come from, the place where I’d come to, the place I would proceed to next, all of them kept changing, interpenetrating, overlapping, but my eye remained personal and fixed on what was directly in front me. “Be brave,” I said, “do this. Okay. Good! Now, do that.” I tried to be gentle with myself and do only one thing at a time, even though there was constant pressure to hurry and get more done. The journey isn’t over until you arrive home and rest in your heart. It’s the only refuge. Meanwhile, there is the lost art of mono-tasking. Take it one breath at a time.