This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my full disclosure policy for details.
Alternative Spiritual Practices:
And now for something completely different! We’ve been into Easter for the last few weeks and that’s pretty standard stuff. But I’d like to offer you something a bit different today. Art journaling, or image-guided meditation. Sounds so boring when put that way. We are going to play with Tarot cards today, or if you like prayer cards, whatever you have available. In my March favorites I gave a couple digital examples, there are also good old fashioned paper options, I have collected a number of them from various faith traditions, you will find a gallery at the bottom of this post. You could also do this with images you find online, postcards with beautiful images, or even the art on the walls of your home or at a local gallery or museum.
The key to a art journaling and any practice like this is to do what works for you. If you are pagan then meditating on an Eastern Orthodox Christian icon is likely not the best choice (though maybe it’ll show you something new, I’m also an advocate of going outside our comfort zone and learning from others). If you were raised in a strongly fundamentalist Christian household and told that tarot decks were of the devil (sigh, they aren’t) then a tarot deck might not be the best choice for you. But if you’ve always wanted to spend some time with some artwork but haven’t had the permission before, here’s your invitation. Do it.
Spirituality And Art
We don’t always say it out loud but art is spiritual. It can’t not be. Our creativity flows from our spirit, it is our spirit that has the capacity to see beauty. Art isn’t something necessary for survival, it isn’t something selected for by natural selection. We can get along making babies and staying alive without art in our lives. But that spark within us that makes us something more than mere survivors is the same spark that pours forth artwork, that drinks in art, that needs beauty.
Art expresses deep truths, it allows us to explore the human condition, and our own lives in ways we might not otherwise be able to access. Because art is a social medium it contains symbols, archetypes and other important tools for exploring our society and our lives more deeply. Learning about these things can deepen our experience and there are great art history and meaning courses, but even without such formal knowledge we can benefit form art in our spiritual practice.
What is Art Journaling?
We probably all know what journaling is. But just in case, journaling refers to the act of writing (physically or electronically) down our thoughts and feelings as a way to better explore them, and record them for posterity. That’s fairly straight forward. But if you are anything like me that doesn’t make it easy. I cannot tell you how many days I’ve sat down, stared at the blank page and thought “nothing happened today,” or “I don’t have anything to write about.” The blank page is an inspiration killer for some of us. And we aren’t trained to examine our emotions, thoughts, or experiences in a deep or meaningful way by our society. And so we’re often left feeling overwhelmed.
Enter art journaling, which sounds very official but is really very simple. Basically we use some piece of artwork (and we use that word loosely) to get us going. Images are powerful and evocative, they often allow us to access creative abilities we didn’t know we had in us, and they can help unlock ideas and thoughts as well. There is a reason that most ancient societies used symbols, or images in divination. Our world is suffused with symbolism, and those symbols are so deeply embedded in our subconscious that they can be incredibly helpful when we want to go deep and examine our inner landscapes.
Basically we start with something visual, and we use that as a jumping off point for our own interior space.
What can you use?
So what can you use to do art journaling? Anything. A postcard your grandmother sent you, a coffee table book of gorgeous images, a photo you found online and love, your wedding pictures, tarot cards, religious icons or prayer cards, the art hanging on your wall, you get the picture. (Yes, I went there.) I like tarot cards for a couple reasons, first there are lots and lots of images available, which means every time you journal you can use a different image without having to go find a different image. Making things easy makes you more likely to do them.
Tarot cards also contain a great deal of symbolism, some of it deeply cultural and fairly common if you live in the Western world; some of it specific to tarot itself. You can read up on the tarot symbolism if you want, or ignore it entirely. Like religious icons, colors often are important in tarot cards and those are big simple keys for your eyes to grab onto. The art tends to be highly stylized and therefore easier to insert yourself into. And unlike beautiful landscape artwork it deals with the failure and foibles of human life in a very direct way. Tarot has gotten a bad rap as either superstitious nonsense from the more critical and scientific, or devil worship from the more conservatively religious. Like all things it is a great deal less and more than it has been made out. In the end cards are a tool, and you may use that tool however you chose.
There are also decks of prayer cards popular with a number of faiths, go for those if sticking with something from your faith tradition makes you more comfortable. Or even chose a theme or word and use Google’s Image Search to find an image you want to use to journal. The sky is truly the limit.
So some practical tips and guidance for art journaling.
First, choose an image. I personally like to let my subconscious and the universe have some work here. This is why I use a deck of images. Chose one at random, lay out a few and chose one from those that speaks to you.
Get comfortable. Choose a place with minimal distractions. I like to have something to drink, a comfortable chair, comfy clothes and a spare pen. I make sure the dog has been out, the cat has been fed, and the significant other knows I’m busy for a while. Get rid of the excuses to get up and interrupt your practice.
Spend a little bit of time getting quiet, sit quietly. This is a good time to do breathing exercises or a little meditation to clear your mind. Make some empty space, this isn’t an item to check off your “todo” list, this is sacred space.
Now lay your image in front of you, or set it up against something. Really examine it, look for things you haven’t seen before. See if some feature catches your eye. Notice what you are drawn to. Notice what you don’t like or find jarring.
Take a few deep slow breathes, pick up your pen, and begin.
Write for a set period of time. That could be five minutes or it could be ten. But don’t stop writing for that whole time. Even if you think you’ve got nothing more to say, write something. This is how we conquer the blank page, fill it up with words, even if they are just your grocery list at first and that page will become less intimidating. Eventually you’ll find that important bits are working their way down your arm, though your pen and to the page. Sometimes it happens without even noticing it.
Example journaling exercise
Ready to give it a try? You can start right now. Chose an image from this page, or from my photography website, or do a Google Image Search for anything that strikes your fancy.
Get something to write with, pen and paper is best but a computer is just fine too.
Now pick a prompt and get journaling!
If you chose your image instead of picking one at random, then why did you chose the image you chose? What about it spoke to you? Think about the things that drew you to it, what does it symbolize? What was attractive about it?
Where are you in the image? Spend time finding yourself in the image in front of you. This could mean right now, or where you would like to be, or where you have been. Where is your experience, hopes, or struggles in the image you have chosen? Where would you like to be in the image?
Write a story about your image. This can be complete fantasy, or it can be the story that the image is trying to tell you. If you are a religious person this might be the story that the Divine is trying to tell you through the image. If you are not it might be the story your subconscious is trying to communicate to you. Don’t worry about form, or plot. Just tell yourself a story and see where it goes.
Remember, this is for you and your own spirit. There is no judgement, there is no “good or bad,” I don’t even pay attention to grammar or sentence structure when I do this sort of spiritual journaling. Give yourself permission to let go and explore and tell that inner critic to shut up.
If you try it, tell us here how it goes!
(If you use an ad blocker and cannot see the embedded Amazon recommendations you can find them and more here.)