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Poetry, Music, Art and the Mystic Experience

April 23, 2009

Last week I wrote Nature Mysticism, about the ways nature triggers and nurtures our spiritual connection, and how different traditions have viewed it. This week I am shifting to the human-made realm – art. Specifically, art that is created to represent and share a spiritual moment, journey, or truth.

Just as mystics from every spiritual tradition have appreciated nature, and the ways it can shift, humble, awe, and awaken us, so too have many attempted to convey their experiences through creations of poems, music, paintings and more. Spiritual art of this type has the power to transmit realizations directly to us, as if we share in the artist’s journey.

I’m not personally an artist, in that I don’t really seem to have a gift for transmitting through creations of this type, but I have a deep appreciation for them. What follows are my own musings on art that touches me, that connects me to my spiritual side, and shifts me into my mystic awareness. I encourage you to share your own favorites in the comments….

I included a haiku by the Zen master Basho in the Nature post, and Zen haiku is beautiful art form designed to capture a moment of epiphany, or kensho. While I’m not sure kensho can or should be described in philosophical terms, I’ll give it a go: A moment where union is felt, where the division between ourselves as a subject and the world as an object falls away, and we experience reality and our awareness as one fluid stream.

Haiku is definitely an acquired taste, and strives to create an image of sudden awakening. Brevity is its strong suit (and not mine, which is probably why I appreciate it so much!) Here’s a famous one by Basho:

Old pond,
frog jumps in
– splash

Other haiku evoke images of the deep stillness lying within the seeming bustle of our lives and minds:

On a rock in the rapids
a fallen camellia
-Miura Yuzuru

Haiku is by no means the only form of spiritual poetry, as many poets capture simple truths that would be difficult to describe in prose, as in this little gem by Emily Dickinson:

To live is so startling,
It leaves little time for
Anything else.

Other poems describe the subtleties of our inner life, and of the spiritual journey itself, as in one of my favorites, Mary Oliver’s The Journey (too long to include here, but I encourage you to click through.)

Moving beyond words, and beyond the parts of our minds that are constrained by words and rational thought, is a key element of the mystic process, and for that there is nothing quite like music. Music can transport us, taking hold of our emotions, and even our bodies when we dance. But music isn’t just about emotion. Just as it can move us beyond words, it can also move us beyond emotions, opening doorways to states of awareness – dimensions really – that we might not find any other way. This is particularly true of music created specifically for this purpose, as in that created for meditating or other contemplative practices. Consider:

The mystery and sense of raw existence evoked by Tibetan Singing Bowls (by Nancy Hennings)…

The devotion and passion of the classic Hindu chant Om Namah Shivaya (here put to music by Deva Premal)…

Or the haunting power of Gregorian Christian Monks Chanting

From these examples to Gospel music to shamanic drumming, music and rhythm have been used throughout human history to evoke experiences in our awareness that we just can’t quite capture in words. (And for an interesting contemporary experiment in this, check out 100 Musical Footsteps, where blogger and composer ggw_bach is attempting to create 100 musical compositions, each tied to a spiritual theme or experience – he’s on number 35 as of this writing.)

Visual art can do the same thing through our eyes – it can create or open doorways to whole new worlds for us. For me, the luminosity of Maxfield Parrish’s paintings always evokes the sense of longing underlying the spiritual impulse:

Maxfield Parrish

Maxfield Parrish

(Yes I know, Parrish is so popular in spiritual circles it’s almost cliche, but sometimes popularity actually does correspond to depth).

And of course, every religion humanity has created has had some form of religious art. One of my favorite forms is Tibetan Buddhist mandalas, exquisite and detailed renderings that utilize sacred geometry and complex symbolism to represent and transmit pure states of enlightenment:

Tibetan Mandala

Tibetan Mandala

The symbols used in mandalas convey their own layers of meaning, and symbols in general are powerful mystic tools. They are shortcuts to our deeper awareness, conveying volumes of meaning through a single glance. Gaze each of these spiritual/mystic symbols, and monitor your own internal reactions, each a reflection of your own history and knowledge of the truths or traditions they are meant to represent:

Taoist Yin Yang Symbol

Taoist Yin Yang Symbol

Egyptian Eye of Ra

Egyptian Eye of Ra

Christian Cross

Christian Cross

Kabbalah Tree of Life

Kabbalah Tree of Life

Enso, Zen Calligraphy Circle

Enso, Zen Calligraphy Circle



Aum or Om

Aum or Om

So, what are your favorites? What poetry/music/art/symbols move you, shift you, open you, awaken you? What artists best represent your own spiritual or truthful moments? Please share…

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. April 23, 2009 5:50 am

    Great Post Lisa… Thanks for sharing…

    “Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.” Carl Jung


  2. April 23, 2009 5:51 am

    God is beauty, harmony, love…
    To know God, to experience God is to experience that beauty.
    One of my first satori, enlightenment, moments was while watching a stunning sunset coming down the Los Angeles crest.
    My whole being just went: Wow!
    And for a second I was part of a greater reality 🙂

  3. April 23, 2009 11:18 am

    Hi Lisa,

    This is a wonderful post! Thank you so much for sharing it. Music is such a huge part of my spirituality that it’s almost as if the two form a symbiotic circle within my psyche. Music is sacred to me, and the Divine speaks to me through music.

    I play guitar, and the closest I get to enlightenment is when I get lost in the music that I play. At first, I have to focus on hitting the right notes at the right times, and making sure that I am concentrating fully on the task. But after I have the “technical” part down, the logical parts of my brain turn off, and I start riding the waves of the notes. Once that happens, the music takes over everything…it becomes everything, or everything becomes it, depending on how you think about it. And then *I* merge with the music, and so I’m merged with everything…

    As I said, that’s the closest I ever get to “enlightenment” 🙂

  4. April 23, 2009 12:16 pm

    Haiku for me can create a profound impression, even though on my own I’ve not across that many.

    Art is something that awakens me. I get lost in my own creative space and I can spend hours indulging myself.

    I don’t follow any specific artists. I prefer variety to stimulate my palette.

  5. April 23, 2009 12:42 pm

    I have always felt that, for many, art is a form of spiritual expression. Some go to their studio instead of church! In the creation process, I favor photography and collage. I come from an artistic family and I feel that my sisters are definitely more skilled than I am !

    I also love tai chi as a form of expression. It is a movement art form and is really enjoyable.

    I love Maxfield Parrish. I often love to wander art & boutique shops and look for inspiration that way. Anthropologie is a great shop that is a bit larger company but there are many ma and pa boutique shops as well and I tend to favor them when I have a Saturday afternoon free.

  6. April 23, 2009 2:38 pm

    So Cool Lisa – Thank you — EXCELLENT POST! I wrote a post a little while back featuring different artists and one of my all time favorites is Alex Grey….

    For me, writing poetry has always been a way of expressing myself. Dance has also been a GREAT love and form of expression for me — I took over 10 years of dance lessons and had once aspired to be an Alvin Ailey Dancer.

    Music can transport me and how I always wished I could sing! 🙂 I read that you like Adam on American Idol and I am a huge fan as well… some singers sing from their souls and that is a BEAUTIFUL thing to behold.

    I have JUST begun getting into symbols and have found some that resonate with me and am exploring their meaning and significance in my life.

    Thanks for putting this all together! You made me stop and be VERY grateful for all the ways to creatively express and for all the gifted people to learn about and explore.

    Much Love,

  7. mommymystic permalink*
    April 23, 2009 4:54 pm

    Jonathan – thanks for the Jung quote, I have not read him recently, but I remember he wrote a lot of fascinating stuff on art and consciousness, particularly symbols.

    BOH – thanks for your comment, and I too have been transported by LA sunsets…I’ve been told the smog actually enhances them, so there’s paradox in action for you…

    Jay – I envy you! I am a music lover, but not a musician. I know many artists, and musicians especially, who say that is their spiritual doorway. Have you written on this on your blog? If not, I hope you do…

    Evelyn – do you create yourself? You are a gifted writer, so I know that is ‘creative space’ also, but just wondering because you used that phrase…

    Amy – sounds like you are a bit like me – explorers of art, and touched by it, but not necessarily the creator yourself. I did Tai Chi a long time ago, and do think it is dance-like, and an art form in that way…

    Jenny – That was a great post, I remember it, and thanks for the link. I also danced, in fact I initially went to college to major in dance, and I LOVED Alvin Ailey. We are going to have to meet someday, too many synchronicities to ignore:-)

  8. April 23, 2009 5:23 pm

    Hey, that’s a pretty good description of kensho!

    I always teach that spiritual energy & creative energy are sisters. From a spiritual & sustainability perspective, any art that isn’t life-affirming isn’t something I want to engage.

    If it’s an outpicturing of an inner practice of perennial wisdom, then I’m into it.

    Excellent post!

  9. April 23, 2009 5:33 pm

    As a matter of fact, I *did* blog about music and spirituality! I’m so glad you asked! 🙂


  10. April 23, 2009 7:20 pm

    Hey, Lisa! What a great post… the music clips were amazing. I think I’ll be listening to those monks for the rest of the day.

    One of the poems you mentioned really speaks to the core of my soul:

    On a rock in the rapids
    a fallen camellia

    This evokes so many images in so few words: the solid rock standing firm amid the chaos of the rapids all around it, the calm and serenity of sitting still, the beauty and sweetness of a camellia, the momentary sadness at the awareness that it has fallen.

    I love all personal expressions that are conveyed with love and passion. I enjoy anything that finds beauty in ordinary things. And I am particularly fond of the wonders of nature, where everything is perfect in its own sacred way.

    Thank you for this beautiful, inspiring, thought-provoking post. It filled my heart with smiles.


  11. April 23, 2009 10:20 pm

    Thanks for this post — it’s so thorough and well-researched! Personally the most eye-opening moment for me was the jolt of imagining the frog splashing into the old pond, which I guess is the intended effect of the poem.

  12. mommymystic permalink*
    April 24, 2009 4:19 pm

    Pamir – I tend to like ‘life-affirming’ art too…although of course some art is meant to be a provocative, or commentary, and I’m fine with that too…any form of expression is interesting to me I think, even though in this post I focused on aka ‘spiritual art’

    Jay – good post, thanks for sharing.

    Lisis – that’s how that haiku struck me too, here’s another along those lines:
    Deep within the stream
    the huge fish lie motionless
    facing the current
    (J.W. Hackett)

    Chris – yes, I think that moment, the splash, is a little awakening, right? Haiku is very cool.

  13. Durga permalink
    April 24, 2009 6:45 pm

    Hey Ms. Mystic ~

    I am a big fan of spiritually themed art. I recently bought a condo, and while decorating it was a bit of a challenge to find some pieces that are original and tasteful to the mainstream.

    There is a wonderful artist in Wyoming, Karan Karla Aron that sells signed limited edition fine art prints of angels and other subjects. I found her to be particularly talented. She sells her work through Esty…and the link is

    ~ Durga

  14. April 24, 2009 9:45 pm


    Thanks for such a lively and refreshing post. Definitely enjoyed all the links provided in it, and in the comments as well!

    My spiritual journey has taken me to explore art and intuition and I am happy to share some of my art with you: It is also spiritually themed, and many of the pieces under “Mystic Art” feature angels…



  15. mommymystic permalink*
    April 25, 2009 10:09 pm

    Durga/Diogenes – thanks for the suggestions, these both look great.

  16. April 25, 2009 10:41 pm

    Wow, this was an impressive visit my friend. I have bookmarked it so I can read after my finals.

  17. January 16, 2010 7:00 am

    You might like –

  18. vidalloyde permalink
    March 21, 2011 9:39 pm

    music moves me, makes a visueral reality that i miss – transports me into the past and future…makes me make sure i put it down on paper. its a release!!!

  19. March 22, 2011 2:13 am

    Vidalloyde – I agree. Music is magic. A portal into all states of being.

  20. August 5, 2015 2:08 pm

    Does the theology dictate the circle? Or does the circle dictate the theology? Perhaps to think of it in these terms is misleading?


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