Artful Practices for Well-Being

Nile Born

Ana Mendieta. Nile Born. 1984 499

Sand and binder on wood, 2 3/4 x 19 1/4 x 61 1/2" (7 x 48.9 x 156.2 cm). Gift of Agnes Gund. © 2023 Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection

Atira Tan: Welcome to this meditation based on this powerful piece of art called Nile Born, which was created in 1984 by Cuban artist Ana Mendieta. My name is Atira Tan. I'm a somatic trauma specialist, expressive art therapist, educator and activist, and I am a woman of Southeast Asian descent. It really warms my heart to guide you in this meditation today.

For the past 17 years, through a charity I've found it called Art to Healing, I have had the honor and privilege of supporting the trauma recovery and resolution of thousands of Asian women and girls, who have experienced child sex slavery, sex trafficking, exploitation, and abuse to reclaim their sovereignty and freedom from the imprisonment of trauma.

What I've learned in my nearly two decades of work is that the body is a vital part in healing trauma. Our bodies remember all of our lived experiences through our implicit memory. And our bodies also have access to the implicit memories of our ancestors. Our bodies, which are connected to the earth, can be a deep fountain of resources and support when we learn how to access it. The body is a gateway, not just to healing, but it is also a portal into a direct knowing with a universal intelligence, the intelligence which breathes you, which formed you into being. You have access to this intelligence, when you turn your attention into your sensory perception, which is another approach of knowing yourself.

Take a moment to welcome yourself into a sacred pause, slowing down your mind, your thoughts, your energy, and your breath. Perhaps you're standing up or perhaps you're in a seated position, but wherever you are settling into the experience of bearing witness to Nile Born.

Ana Mendieta often used her body in order to explore her connection with the earth. So as you take in this sculpture wrapped in earth, you may want to consciously receive your breath into your body, which is also made of the element of earth. Notice what it's like on the inside to receive the breath of life into your inner space, your lungs, your belly. Perhaps you can even allow your breath to reach into the innermost space of your cells, expanding the trillion and trillion of cells on the inhale and softening each cell with the exhale. As you slow down and pause, start noticing the sensations, feelings, energy, and thoughts in your inner atmosphere. You may want to do this by orienting to this piece of art. Or perhaps with your eyes closed and attuned to this inner atmosphere.

Whatever you're noticing on the inside, the invitation is to acknowledge what is here and present in this moment without judgment or analysis, but to behold your inner space with openness, love, and compassion. Can you acknowledge your inner landscape with these words—“I feel you” or “I'm here and listening, or I've got you”— observing what happens on the inside as you take the time to acknowledge what's present and to enter a compassionate dialogue with your body and its language of sensation and feelings.

Whenever you feel ready, the invitation is to start noticing the earth's support beneath you. If you're standing in the gallery, perhaps you can start to feel the ground underneath your feet and to strengthen this connection, you may like to soften the back of your knees a little more to anchor your feet more firmly into the earth. Or if you are seated in a chair, take a moment to soften your weight into your sits bones and tailbone into the contact of gravity. Or perhaps you'd like to pad your feet into the ground, deepening your contact there. Observe what it's like to feel this connection, noticing if this connection feels strong or light, heavy or soft. If anything feels relaxing or soothing about settling into the earth in this way, you may want to take a few breaths here to enjoy the support, which is available to you in the here and now.

If you have your eyes closed here, you may open them to orient yourself to this piece of art again, Nile Born, allowing your eyes to be soft, to attune to the sculpture, noticing how receiving this piece of art, created from the earth, changes your own relationship with your body and the connection to the living, breathing element of earth.
And as you do this, I will read you a statement, 1981, where Ana said, "I have been carrying out a dialogue between the landscape and the feminine body. I believe this has been a result of me having been torn by my homeland, Cuba, during my adolescence. I'm overwhelmed by the feeling of having been cast from the womb and nature. My art is the way I reestablish the bonds that unite me to the universe. It is a return to the maternal source."

Like Ana, I too, as a woman of Southeast Asian descent, who immigrated to Australia when I was 16 years old, have used my connection with the earth as a resource to unite me back to my roots, to my ancestors, and to my sense of belonging with all of life.

From here, I would invite you to explore another perspective of this artwork. Maybe walking around the sculpture and noticing if you can find another position, which feels just right for you. If you're at home, maybe you can allow your eyes to wander to another part of the artwork, which captures your curiosity. Maybe it's at the top of the artwork or at the middle. Or perhaps it might be noticing the grooves and the texture of this piece.

I would invite you to take a moment to anchor your own unique frequency, your own energy, flowing down through the mid-space of your body, your spine, all the way down through the bones of your feet. As you feel and imagine your own unique vibration and energy extending down into the beating heart of the earth at her core, really anchoring down through the concrete, through the mud, the crust of the earth, all the way down into her fiery heart and her vibratory core. As you connect to the heart of the earth, the invitation is to imagine that the earth's energy is flowing up. And this time we are going to receive her frequency as much or as little as it feels right for you. Moving up like a river into the soles of your feet, the bones of your feet, up the marrow of your legs into your entire body. Each inhalation is an invitation to receive her more into your body, into your breath, and into your cells. Her breath and your breath as one, receiving her until the earth's frequency fills you up and embraces you from the inside.

Notice this connection, this bond, yours and the earth. And notice if this bond has a message for you today. It may take the form of words, or maybe sensations, or feelings, or energy, or maybe an image, or color. Take your time to receive this message. And as you receive this message, notice your own response to the earth’s energy and your internal atmosphere, receiving this message wholeheartedly by staying present with it, for as long as it feels right for you. As you enjoy this bond, this connection with the earth as a resource, which reminds us of our sense of belonging, here in this earth, I will read a quote by Mendieta. She says, "My art is grounded in the belief of one universal energy, which runs through everything from insect to man, from man to specter, to specter to plant, from plant to galaxy. My works are the irrigation veins of this universal fluid. Through them ascend the ancestral sap, the original beliefs, the primordial accumulations, the unconscious thoughts that animate the world.”

Take a moment to find your own way to acknowledge this bond with the earth as a resource. And as you come back to your body, the invitation is to also take some time to acknowledge the other sentient beings who walk this earth with you, sharing the journey of life on this planet. Feel your bond with humanity and the other animal bodies sharing this one planet and this one earth, finding a way inside to acknowledge this bond and the unity which connects us all, in your own way, inside. Thank you.

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