As an artist who’s self-assigned artistic mission is to hold up a mirror to a society rapidly hurtling down the dead-end highway towards a very bleak future, I don’t often see tangible signposts pointing in the opposite direction. I don’t often see signs of hope that we might achieve the collective shift in consciousness necessary before it’s all too late, but I saw one such sign today. And I was fortunate enough to be part of it.

I saw people from all sorts different backgrounds, agendas, nationalities, races and religions come together and find unity and common purpose in a commitment to save something special to all of them.

I was part of a design “charette” conducted by The GreenAsia Group on the Indonesian island of Flores as part of the EcoFlores congress, a bringing together of all the individual groups of local stakeholders and NGOs who have some interest in the
sustainable future of this wonderful patch of paradise.

There, in a field, in a school, under a specially erected tent I saw a process unfold whereby barriers of language and difference of opinion and priority were overcome, through clear communication and a structured sequence of actions, to achieve a really meaningful deepening of connection that will add up to all sorts of positive outcomes for the future.

In my art I try to shine a light on aspects of our collective dysfunction and the endless irrational, self-destructive cycles and patterns we are all stuck in, to reveal the underlying evolutionary motivations that drive it all and to try and point the way forward towards a conscious transcendence of that destiny. Such a transcendence was implicit in what I was
part of today.

I saw a general lessening of ego and a magnification of the oneness that underlies all our differences… I saw a communal freeing of the imagination in the quest to uncover new synergies and solutions to common problems… I saw individuals overcoming blocks and learn new ways of seeing things and saying things… I saw openness overcoming closure… I saw fresh ideas replacing dogma and resistance… I saw new relationships and partnerships and co-operation arising. A small shift in the grand scheme of things but profound in it’s promise for a better tomorrow.

My involvement was to bring whatever guidance I could to the first phase of the process whereby all participants are encouraged to make a graphical representation of “What should be?” … to let their minds free and come up with the most idealistic and
fantastical leaps of imagination of which they are able.

This, initially, was to involve circulating around the tables offering assistance with the drawing process individually but I wanted to take it to the next level and so I asked if I could guide a short meditation that might help realise the creative potential of the collective in general…

The night before the workshop I put some time into drafting this guided meditation.

It ended up thus:


I’m Gavin Ryan.. I’m a visual artist and illustrator… I do highly detailed postage stamp designs, posters, paintings etc ….often trying to communicate big ideas with a strong graphic style to create an deep emotional response.

I’ll be coming around to individually help anyone who is getting stuck later but right now I want to address you all first..


Believe me I know how scary a blank piece of paper can be so if you’re not feeling too confident about all this I can relate but I have developed a few tools that can help make that blank canvas a bit more friendly.

For me, it’s mostly about having something big to say… having a great idea FIRST… and THEN working out the best way to represent it graphically BEFORE starting to put pen to paper.

So I suspect there will be many great ideas forming in the minds in this room already… Some ideas are relatively easy to represent graphically and some aren’t but we’ll see what we can unlock and set free now…

I’m going to try and lead you now on a little meditation that I hope will free those ideas so we can all share them.

Some people are more visual than others so don’t feel too stressed if you find that this doesn’t come easy.. it’s all good… just give it your best shot…

Please get yourself sitting comfortably, take up a pen and put it in your hand ready to make a mark…

Close your eyes

Sit up straight lengthen your spine upwards

Focus on your breath

Breathe in slowly and feel the life-giving energy in the oxygen filling and lifting your body straight … big long slow deep full breath

Breathe out and as you do so, let every muscle relax… let any tension you are
carrying just melt away

Breathe in again… full of living … weightless …uplifted…

Breathe out… feel any muscles that are still holding tension and let it fall away with your breath

Keep breathing long smooth breaths like this and let your mind be still… empty of all thought…. all your awareness focused on the still empty space inside your mind… your mind is that blank sheet of paper… the clear field where anything is possible….

Now if you have had any ideas about the mission statement we are focusing on here..
“How can we, Eco Flores, trigger and inspire sustainable development in Flores?”…
If you have an idea forming in your mind let it take shape on that blank canvas in your mind now
Let it form an image .. a picture…
What does it look like? Let it grow and take on shape and colour….

It might be a realistic image with perspective and lighting and figures and detail or it might be a diagram or a map or a set of symbols… or maybe you can make up your own symbol…
or it might be a vague impression conveying a mood or a wish or just an impression from a dream…

Or it might be a blend of all these things. The main thing here is to form a clear space in your mind where you can allow it to be… don’t try and force anything… just let your absolute conviction in what you believe is possible inspire your imagination…

(long pause)

Ok. Let this image form and hold it there in your mind… commit it to memory… let your mind become a camera… record it in as much detail as you can… this picture in your mind… there it is before you now fully formed… what are the shapes, the angles, the proportions, the colours..

Ok… take one more deep breath… Now open your eyes… and DRAW!

It was very interesting to feel the change in the energy of the group after I had finished this monologue. The atmosphere of calm, positive, creativity that I had been aiming for was apparent and showed in the output that was appearing on paper. More importantly, I like to think it had a subtle flow-on effect to the whole proceedings. I had a lot of positive
feedback about it and I would love the opportunity to develop it further.

The comment I made towards the end of my recitation, ….”just let your absolute conviction in what you believe is possible inspire your imagination…” is key here. For those with a strong conviction in their “cause”, the challenge may be to let their imagination flow beyond the already-formed ideas they are carrying. For others, the challenge may be to form some ideas in the first place (let alone draw them!)… they might know what they don’t want but not be too clear on any positive alternatives, for example. So absolute conviction may be actually be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the individual and how much ego they attach to it… the inspiration behind the conviction is really what we want to be working with…

In either case, this gentle process of clearing and opening the mind can be profound in finding that inspiration, not just at the level of creative expression but at the deeper level of defining that which is wanting to be expressed as well…

The facilitator rightly identifies this first phase of the CSL process as the most challenging for most of the people involved.

It challenges them to step beyond their own preconceptions, not just of subjects and ideas they have invested a lot of time and energy into, but to step beyond preconceptions they have about themselves as well.

If we can affect a small shift at that level, the outcome at the individual artistic level will be just the tip of the iceberg… just the visible manifestation of a deeper opening of creativity and communication at the collective level that the CSL process is all about.

Just as the essence of any artwork involves the evolution of a unique creative
response to the subject matter from a blank canvas to a finished vision arrived at as the culmination of a sequence of actions each of which involve conscious choice and compromise, so the Collective Social Learning experience can be seen in the same way.

It is an art…. one that anybody can participate in… and you don’t even really need to be able to draw!

Gavin Ryan, Creative Thinker & Illustrator