The arts are an extremely important part of human expression and have the power to strongly influence mass consciousness. The most prominent art form in our society today, in the sense of touching the most people, is the mass media—television, radio, and the movies. But it is drastically out of balance.
As a culture we’re in a period that is rebellious, and we haven’t yet accepted responsibility for the results of how we express our energy. Yet, because we’re in an ascending age, having recently moved from Kali Yuga into Dwapara Yuga, we have to assume that society is getting better and will not exterminate itself.
Nonetheless, if we don’t work more carefully with the arts, and especially the mass media, the growing discordance that we see all around us will only increase.
The example of the Ananda schools
We recently attended the Living Wisdom School’s annual award ceremonies here at Ananda Village—which was an extraordinarily uplifting experience. With great love and sensitivity, the teachers gave each student an award for a particular aspect of positive energy that he or she had been developing over the past year.
Our schools couldn’t thrive in an environment where everyone was trying to be cool and always pointing out the stupidity of being sensitive or supportive. The environment created by the teachers, the parents and the community encourages and gives permission for the students’ good soul qualities to come to the forefront.
People imitate the activities of others
In a recently published book, The Turning Point, the author, Malcolm Gladwell, discusses the subject of giving permission for certain kinds of behavior, including wrong behavior. He writes, for example, that in the 1960s, suicide was almost unheard of in the southern pacific islands of Micronesia.
Then a well-connected, very charismatic young man took his life, leaving a note saying he’d done so because he got into an argument with his father. The example of this one well-respected person gave a sense of permission for others to do the same. This idea spread and within a few years Micronesia had the highest suicide rate of any place in the world.
Of course it’s crazy. Suicide is not a very sane or practical way of communicating your displeasure. Nonetheless, those acts resulted in an epidemic of suicide throughout those islands that lasted many years before it finally began to die down.
Gladwell also discussed suicide by automobile. He noted that whenever a prominent newspaper carried a story of someone committing suicide by automobile, over the next week or so there was an increase in suicides by automobile.
The point is that in society people imitate the activities of others. If we do something negative, other people are going to begin to imitate it and those acts will spread throughout society like a disease.
To a large extent, what the mass media is offering the public is a very negative message. For instance, when crime is repeatedly shown as being acceptable, it begins to give the population as a whole permission to engage in crime. It’s the same with music that essentially suggests happiness increases when you act from your lowest nature.
Implanting positive thought forms
The good news is that this process of imitation also works in the opposite way—we can uplift people by giving them positive role models to emulate. Yogananda and our line of gurus came in to this world, at this critical time, to implant positive attitudes and examples into the stream of human consciousness and help offset a growing negativity.
Swami Kriyananda’s introduction of The Festival of the Joyful Arts at Ananda Village is an important part of this effort. Through the joyful arts, he is trying to make all of us at Ananda more aware of the importance of art in producing positive, uplifting changes in ourselves and also in society as a whole.
Like attracts like
Because like attracts like, art can produce a mental environment in which its opposite cannot exist. If there is a strong vibration of upliftment, beauty, sensitivity and spiritual yearning, the opposite lower vibrations will be driven out.
There was an interesting example of this with a convenience store that was having trouble with kids hanging out in its parking lot. The growing number of restless, idle teens frightened the store’s customers away.
Although the owner tried several times to get the kids to leave, they only laughed at him. Finally, he set up a loud speaker and played classical music. The vibration of classical music drove the toughs away.
The example of Chinese gardens
There are many ways to create uplifting environments through art. Recently, while visiting the Ananda Portland community, we went to a Chinese garden and teahouse that had been built on an empty parking lot in downtown Portland. The entire area had been transformed into an absolutely stunning and uplifting environment.
Chinese gardens have been developed and refined over many generations until they have become a highly refined art form that enables people to experience a sense of unity with nature. The designer of the garden in Portland wanted to help people connect with and love the rain, which is a common occurrence in the Northwest.
For instance, he arranged the roof tiles so that the rain coming off the roof looks like beautiful beaded curtains. He placed a bench in one particular place, so you could sit and hear the lovely sound of rain falling on banana leaves.
The important point for us is that gardens can uplift consciousness; they make us more sensitive to the subtle forces of nature, and drive out lower, negative energies.
At Ananda Village, the gardens at Crystal Hermitage are a wonderful example of this. Most of us can’t have such extensive plantings around our own homes, but we can cultivate beautiful and uplifting smaller areas. Beauty will support our spiritual efforts and attract positive nature spirits.
The joyful arts
Apart from cultivating beautiful gardens, how else can we express the joyful arts in our own lives? Creativity can be either positive or negative, that is it can expand or contract the consciousness of the artist or audience.
If we’re going to create something really meaningful and uplifting for ourselves and others, we have to combine creativity with an upward flow of energy in our consciousness. A spiritual person is naturally motivated to use the creative force in an expansive way—to become more in tune with God.
Find your own art form
We want to urge each of you to try to tune into God’s flow of creativity through you, and to find an art form that enables you to express beauty and harmony.
Art isn’t necessarily about producing paintings or performing concerts or plays. We’ve already mentioned the example of the Ananda schools, which are one of the most important things Ananda is doing. Helping people to live life in the proper way is the highest form of creativity.
Art of this type begins with meditating and tuning into God’s creative force. As you do that, and as you find your particular expression, inherently you will be expressing the joyful arts.