Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Cultural Manifesto: Meditation on art & violence

Posted By on Wed, Jul 23, 2014 at 10:05 PM


"Fuck you, bitch. If I ever see your ass again, I'm going to kill you."

That's just one of the expletive-laced threats I hear a middle-aged man scream at a young woman across several lanes of traffic at Meridian and St. Clair.

Just a few feet away, I notice a group of Chinese-Americans sitting in circle formation. They are lost in quiet meditation, seemingly immune to the surrounding chaos. Their eyes are closed, and their faces are expressionless. They are the picture of tranquility. 

They're practicing a form of Chinese spirituality known as Falun Gong, or Falun Dafa. The group gathers at this spot on St. Clair Street near the steps of Central Library to meditate most Sunday afternoons.

As Indianapolis grapples to diffuse recent waves of violence, it seems to me there might be some answers somewhere in this scene. I'm not suggesting that Falun Gong is the solution. But there is no doubt in my mind that the collective psyche of Indianapolis could be lifted by engaging the citizens of our city in consciousness-raising arts and culture. 

Why am I so sure of that? It worked for me.

I grew up poor. I spent a large portion of my youth living in a shabby, broken down trailer planted in the middle of a squalid Westside trailer park. I didn't have much adult supervision as a kid. My single mother worked many long hours to support my two siblings and me. Most nights, she would come home late from work, hastily prepare dinner and pass out from exhaustion. We were lucky to get an hour or two of her attention on any given day. And though my mother was working hard, there were many times when money ran short before payday. As a child I grew accustomed to having our electricity and gas shut off for days at a time, even during the coldest winter days.

At school, I felt the teachers and administration had written off kids like me as lost causes. And then I started to agree with them. I became disillusioned with school and stopped going around the time I was 13 years old. And I formally quit when I reached the legal age to do so. 

I was 16, with no education and a very grim looking future. I could've easily slid into drugs, violence and crime, as I'd seen several of my childhood friends do. But, unlike those friends, I had forged a strong connection with the arts. I'd been searching for something deeper and I was finding that connection during random encounters with art. 

I remember these moments of artistic discovery vividly. Catching a broadcast of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" from a college radio station in Terre Haute. Hearing the Metropolitan Opera's staging of Philip Glass's epic Satyagraha on NPR. Stumbling into the works of Malcolm X and Howard Zinn at my local library branch. 

I was a kid obsessed. I began drawing constantly, learning to play music and reading as much as I could about these new interests. The arts became a place of calm refuge when I felt the world spinning beyond my control, and they provided me with a voice to peacefully express my concerns, frustrations and anger. They saved me.

If you're interested in supporting local artistic initiatives to quell the violence in Indy, there are a couple worthy programs this week. On Friday, the Vogue will host a benefit show for the Indy Public Safety Foundation. On Saturday, Better Block Indy has planned a cultural festival featuring food and vendors at the corner of 46th Street and Evanston Avenue. And you can find the Falun Gong meditation group in front of Central Library every Sunday at 3 p.m.

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