By Leah Walker and Sue and Brad Crozier

March 31- April 3, 2011
Spring Valley, NY

On a cold and rainy spring evening, Rinke Visser and Josien de Vries set the inner fires burning with a soulful, worldly public lecture.  Josien quickly and joyfully told the story of Rinke’s work of more than thirty years, and her partnership with him of the last twenty, primarily in Holland and Eastern Europe, recently in New Zealand, and now in the States.  Then, in silence, with warmly articulated arm gestures, Josien gave us the “o” in the horizontal and the “e” in the vertical:  an experience of the space inhabited by the human being.  Our lives, our biographies, unfold in time along the horizontal and at any moment, each moment, events are inserted vertically.  A cross is formed.  Placing a circle on the cross adds a sense of wholeness where a centerpiece may be found.  Some crosses depict struggle, suffering.  The cross with a circle imposed upon it speaks of openness—light enters in and recalls the image of the Sun.

Rinke stepped forward and described their recent experience in Christ Church, New Zealand.  They were there just after the earthquake, and they were still in New Zealand when the earthquake in Japan happened.  How many of us have asked in a time of personal crisis:  What in the world am I doing?  Rinke suggested that major disasters bring about a collective:  What in the world are we doing?  In crisis, we cross a threshold.  One leaves the familiar and enters the unknown, a new space.  We must learn to observe thresholds, learn to stay awake to what is happening from one experience to another, and in so doing, life crises may become building materials of the consciousness soul.  And, we must learn to take our lives not so personally and recognize that my story, my struggle, is your story, your struggle.  There were individuals in Christ Church, while still recovering themselves, who left immediately to aid those in Japan because they felt they were in a unique position to understand.  We can no longer think about personal biography without thinking about earth biography as well.  We need to read the newspapers with new eyes.  We share a common space now—her name is Gaia, and the human being is an inherent part of her.  Today, we must find a new connection to any given situation so that a new “I” for humanity may evolve, a new love:  agape—open wonder.

Life Sketches; Living Experience

The following morning, we met in the Old Red Barn, which from the outside looked just like its name implies.  Within was a bright, white, open space with a high ceiling and, wouldn’t you know it, two old oak pillars supporting a cross beam.

We began by naming all the groups of three we could think of:  the three-act play, the three kings, the trinity, the archetypal family:  father, mother, child.  Josien described an art piece composed of three looping videos:  the first showed a baby’s birth, the second, an adult playing in a waterfall, the third, an elderly person’s death, the birth and the death occurring simultaneously.  These images hold enormous meaning for us; further explanation is not needed.  When one stands before a threefold storyboard, a triptychon, there is a feeling that something more stands behind it.  This is the hologram—the whole is there, present in the three.  Then Josien surprised us with this special line:  “Life has a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.”

We each chose a question to work with, a real question; in this work it is important to investigate the real.  We did three sketches, each representing an actual situation from our past that related somehow to our question.  We placed the first drawing in the middle, the second on the left, the third on the right, forming a triptychon.  Josien suggested we change the order of our pictures if we wished.  We made many discoveries.  For example, for some of us, our first drawing, the one placed in the middle, represented a problem of sorts.  When moved to the left or to the right we could see that the “problem” actually lived in the wings and the new center drawing represented a moment of learning, expansion, or growth; something other than the problem, something life-enhancing, became the true centerpiece.

We delighted in having the freedom to change things, to be flexible with how we viewed our life experience.  We moved the story again, as Josien suggested we turn the middle picture over and do yet another drawing that related to our question.  In social art, every time we change the “procedure” we free ourselves.  We must find new ways to break old habits, change our thinking, disrupt practiced analysis.  Ideally, social art, in its mobility, allows us to enter into the dramatically freer realm of intuition.  Choices such as changing the order of the drawings may assist us.  Turning over the paper and creating a new middle drawing was a spontaneous idea on Josien’s and Rinke’s part, which is characteristic of the art of biography and social activity.  In turning the paper, we created a new space; we freed ourselves a bit.  Pasture animals loose in an open landscape will walk the same well-worn path day after day after day.  We need not do so!  The “I” has such a choice.

We titled each of our drawings, as if they were chapters in a book, and then investigated the chapters.  We first described the pictures, as if talking to someone who was blind, just the facts, then told the story, expressing feeling, the soul experience in the picture.  Next we let the drama unfold, not “the dramatic” per se, but the tension or conflict as in a play:  what was our will?  And finally we identified the meaning or lesson learned, the “I” experience.

In the afternoon, Josien modeled the triptychon conversation with a volunteer, moving in dialogue through the same experience we had had in the morning individually on paper.  (The volunteer had drawn three sketches on the blackboard.)  We go along in life meeting event after event; the horizontal marches on and the vertical inserts/asserts itself, sometimes traumatically.  The horizontal and vertical need holding.  We need connection with others.  This is the circle imposed on the cross.  This place, however rare, where we actually listen into the being of the other, is the centerpiece of our existence.  It is an art form.

The day closed; we were asked to compose three questions and take them into our sleep.

Moving through the Triptychon

The following morning we moved into further work that cannot be adequately described within the scope of this article.  Rinke introduced the tripychon journey, a path through what he called the chakra domains.  Rudolf Steiner gave many meditative exercises all of which share a central purpose:  to open the chakras.  Today we remain basically unable to say very much about this potential opening.  We simply are not yet sufficiently prepared, which indicates there is much to be done in developing such a capacity.

We each shared the one question we felt had been chosen by the night, and then Rinke willfully moved the process, the journey, very quickly.  A sampling of the many questions he posed:  What is the condition of your earthly situation?  What people or situations do you wish to attract, are you attracted to?  What gives you vitality?  Does your question want to be creative?  What would make your question flower?  What do you see in the mirror?  How can this picture play a role?  What can you do to enliven and purify your question?

The power to purify a question—evolve it—lies on the other side of the threshold.  Once transformed a question may live with us not as a problem but rather as a source of inspiration.  When purified, our questions are for all the world, no longer personal, and at the same time they are uniquely individual:  perhaps I am the only one who can ask this particular question.

We tend to tell stories with a certain habitual (ordinary) consciousness, all the while sensing there is something more behind our stories.  Actually, “the space behind life experience” is always there and we constantly move in and out of it.  In our time, we can begin to practice this movement, into the spirit realm and back, with greater awareness.  In striving to develop such consciousness it is helpful to have guidance like that offered by Rinke and Josien through the triptychon journey.  The following comments capture a bit of the depth and potency of this incredible workshop:

At the end of the journey, I had a sense of coming out of the dreamtime; it was a very different sort of meditation than I’ve ever known before.  Afterward, in reflecting on it, I felt that I was awake in sleep or asleep awake, in a new kind of consciousness.  I am reminded of Julia Esquivel’s poem Threatened with Resurrection that closes with the words:  …to dream awake,/to keep watch asleep,/…and to know ourselves already resurrected.

To leave the darkness in myself on the other side felt like a kind of washing, like washing my feet before entering the temple—I really felt like I was entering a holy space.

I am left with a distinct sense of passage, a feeling of having gone somewhere, been changed, and returned.

Another participant shared a memory from childhood, a chant she learned in the orthodox church:  The doors, the doors, in wisdom let us attend.

And from Rinke:  I really felt that the spiritual beings want to help us learn the new language of the new mysteries.

We wish to express our gratitude to Rinke and Josien for their commitment to biography work, their insight and skill.  Future workshops here in the US are possible; if your community is interested, the Center for Biography and Social Art would be happy to make arrangements.  For more information, contact Kathleen Bowen at:  center4biography (at)