Nature is not only all that is visible to the eye.. it also includes the inner pictures of the soul. – Edvard Munch
Imagine a scene: A clan of Ice Age people huddle together in a cave shelter. The dim sun drops below the horizon. Bitter winds howl through the valley below. The light of the communal fire carves deep shadows into the walls, and the scraps are tossed to the dogs guarding the entrance. The seer glances over his shoulder, before lifting his torch and journeying once again into the dark bowels of the cave. By squeezing through narrow gaps and crawling along tight passages, he reaches the sacred chamber. As the torch consumes the oxygen, hypoxia connects his expanded mind to the magical realm. Fundamental spirits are summoned and captured by charcoal sticks and red ocher. The link between worlds is maintained for a thousand generations. Today, when modern electric lights reveal the ancestral soul’s inner vision, art reconnects us to our primal nature.
Recently, scientific research has shown that ancient cave artists may have entered ecstatic states by knowingly deprived themselves of oxygen in order to create. Some of the most fantastic cave art in the world lies in deep narrow recesses far from the cave entrance. The lower levels of oxygen cause the brain to release dopamine. This can create a sense of euphoria, hallucinations or out of body experiences. Scientists conducting the research have experienced some of these symptoms from the low oxygen levels. It seems artists sought out these extreme conditions in order to create. For example, most of the art from one cave in France was painted 730 meters (about 2,400 feet) from the entrance. It would seem the conditions of the cave were a catalyst for the art.
Throughout history, artists, writers, and truth-seekers of all types have sought out the right conditions for their solitary endeavors. Some have been aided by intoxicants, exhaustion, meditation, etc. For all artists, repetition, routine and resolve return them to their muse. An inner radiance lights the way. They descend through the caverns of their conscious minds into the border lands of inspiration. Guided by an inner compass, artists find the spiritual ley lines to the well of their soul where they slake their thirst. All of you reading this are truth-seekers and artists. You found your way here in search of understanding. I welcome you, and try to share some of the inner pictures from my soul.
We all have had flow experiences, where our actions moved effortlessly from one to the next. It is like improvisation in Jazz. As the intoxication of the peak experience increases, the “oxygen” of normal experience is reduced. Athletes are said to be “in the zone”. And nothing beats the thrill of discovering that skill or art bubbling up from deep within you. The same can be said of yoga or meditation. In a way it is a paradox that, inspiration can be found all around us, but we must journey within to transcend our individual self.
The next time you enter your sacred space, take out your modern day charcoal and ocher. Sketch a portrait of what you see there. Share that creation with those you love and care about. If they don’t already know the way, help them on their path to understanding. The passion to create is far older than the most ancient cave paintings. Art is as fundamental to life as oxygen.
Here are a few links to recent scientific articles about cave art