Prior to age 60, I had seldom painted anything except my house. So my interest in art, mandalas, sacred geometry and healing imagery came rather late, after I saw a film on crop circles. One in particular so completely awed me that I set about trying to draw it and paint it. It took me days. Even so, I felt unable to achieve neither the perfection nor the feeling of awe generated by the incredibly large mandala that mysteriously appeared in 2004 in a field of wheat in England. Whatever its origins, the imagery alone had a stunning power, without words or authorship. It conveyed to me a humbling feeling of being a member of some vast loving and intelligent inter-galactic federation. I felt it described the rising phoenix. After that experience I begin to draw and paint other crop circles.
In 2007 my wife, a writer, offered a dolphin swim and writing retreat on Maui. I came along as the cook. After a week of swimming with dolphins, my interest in painting mandalas really began to accelerate. I taught myself how to draw triangles, pentagons, octagons, and other polygons as the basis of the mandalas. I began to learn about paints, pigments, lightfastness, brushes, and paper and increasingly, all the things most artists learn as the result of professional art training.
Then in late 2008, I experienced a series of personal losses, shocks and professional changes. Suddenly, within the space of two days, I went from what I then termed “normal” into a state of extreme debilitating panic, hyperarousal, and profound psychological collapse. My right ear began to ring loudly. The high-pitched sound was so intense I thought I would go mad. I was flooded with terror and a sense that my life was irrevocably ruined. Initially I could not eat or sleep. I felt myself trying to flee from something invisible, omniscient and deadly. I found myself walking the streets at all hours of the day or night. At first, I assumed that God was punishing me. I felt a profound sense of despair unlike anything I’d ever known. I understood for the first time the experience of the Dark Night of the Soul.
I was sure I was going to die, stricken down by some sort of soul sickness, totally abandoned by God. Yet after a time, I begin to feel that whatever was happening, it was related to the beliefs I held about what kind of a God ran the universe. Was it the God of my conscious belief, one of love, mercy, compassion, and joy, or was it was the old God of my unconscious belief, the fundamentalist Mormon god of my childhood, the one of hell, retribution, damnation and violence that had come back to punish me?
What was clear was that there was a life and death battle going on inside me between these two versions of God. I felt that if the new God didn’t win, I was going to die or go crazy. At the same time, something told me that my soul had picked this very situation for my own evolution.
This period of emotional/spiritual/physical crisis went on for nearly 3 years during which I could neither work nor function in my usual sense. I was caught in an downward spiral of insomnia, panic and anti-anxiety medications. As a licensed mental health counselor, a father, a husband, and a member of my community, I was humiliated, ashamed, disoriented, and filled with ancient grief.
I later came to learn that my experience had a name: “spiritual emergency.” A spiritual emergency is a rapid, sudden, overwhelming and disorienting state of psychological transformation whose trajectory leads to healing and a more expanded awareness of the unity of all life.
This experience fit the descriptions I’d read of shamanic journeys to the underworld where the old ego identity is painfully deconstructed and dismembered. It was a torture that I could barely endure. But gradually, a new more expanded version of my old limited identity began to emerge. Living through this stressful, overwhelming, and lengthy crisis gradually brought forth the images that you will see featured on these pages. And along with the images came a growing sense that the process of painting mandalas was healing because they symbolized and expressed a more authentic and divinely connected SELF.
The images that were released from inside me constituted evidence that behind the chaos that I experienced, the universe itself was ordered, beautiful and filled with radiant divine love.
Part of the purpose of this website is to communicate what I saw and continue to see during a time not just of personal transformational crisis but collective crisis as well. I came to believe that what was and is true for me may be true for others also.
In that spirit, I want to include a commentary section on this site where more of the process of spiritual emergency, emergence and transformation can be explored as well as how visionary art during times of rapid transformation may be part of the hero’s journey, a much needed component of the cultural revitalization and renewal process.
In the meantime, I welcome you to this site and this exploration and hope that my own journey may in some way share mutual sacrament with yours.
Richard Welker Santa Fe, NM