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Can art be selfless service?

July 18, 2008 by Lightwaves

Sharing her karma yoga insights, Jennifer Van De Pol asks “can art be selfless service?”

Click on the pictures for a full-size version.

I’m making these marks on paper in an attempt to distill months and months of marking a wall with paint, pencil and ink (and love) at Radha Yoga and Eatery in Vancouver. The act of marking wall with art was my Karma Yoga practice.

When Radha opened on Main Street I approached Swami Lalitananda, to ask if I could volunteer. I didn’t know what I wanted to do; I just knew I wanted to be there. She suggested Karma Yoga, and I was open to a new experience. For the following 10 months, I drew and painted on the stairway wall that leads up to Radha. Three seasons passed during my time on the stairs. I made the first marks on the bottom of a dimly lit, cold stairwell, and the last at the top in a pool of light. As the months and seasons (and letting go) progressed, more and more light poured in.

Swami Radha suggests reflection in writing while practicing Karma Yoga, so I sat my body down and asked, “what is happening?”

Looking back at my experience, I see that this intentional service is possible in every moment. I can be of service to my community by the transportation and living choices I make, I can be of service to this body by what I eat and think, I can be of service to the world by the intention and energy I bring to my work and relationships. May this act of sharing remind you of the possibility of being awake in every moment.


This morning I am aware of the lateness of a yogini who unlocks and opens doors so I can enter to continue drawing.
I place a white plastic bag on the cigarette butts that cover the entrance step and take my seat.
Spine against cold metal gate,
I Decided to write about my Karma Yoga experience.
So I wrote with the cigarette butts.

Part of me was hungry for the control of knowing what was going to happen next.
Curious about Swami Durgananda’s process of illustrating Swami Radha’s books. She spoke of turmoil in the mind. I experience that, I wonder about the overlap.

Today was difficult in the stairway.
Frustrated when I looked at the wall and saw my own fear.
Fear of not knowing why I came.
Fear of discomfort.
A schoolyard bell just rang. It’s been a long time since I heard that sound and ran for the school.
I wanted to throw my ego down the stairs.
A moment of violence.
I forgot why I came.

The day after the longest day.
The surprise of seeing Lalitananda after many months.
(I’m fond of surprises)
Allowing surrender, like the wall suggests.
So many beings carrying around light, I can feel it.
How to end?
With love.

What comes next will be about Radha and the drawing that awaits.
Or does it wait at all?
Spoke with Lorraine about “what is the self?”
I’m carrying this question around.
Can selflessness involve this mind and body doing service that this “I” enjoys and has been trained to do? Can my concept of “I” shift into ALL?

Piano keys on the ceiling…
Sunshine outside the window.
Guilt (about the pity)

Time to be holy.
Is it possible to make art in a selfless way?
How can we connect to knowing it is all light?

Paris came in, blazing sun all round her body and bike in the door frame.
“I’m impressed with how this is morphing,” she said.
“Thanks,” I said. I dig deeper and ask,
“I’m curious, what are you impressed by?”
“Passion,” she said.
“What impresses you?” she offered.
How do we know when to stop?
(With the om mantra and in life)
How do we know when to begin?

Painted red Sanskrit characters onto blue lotus petals in Radha’s stairway. They’re releasing themselves out of the borders of the petals and I think they may shower down soon.

The morning started with having my hand kissed & body hugged by a vibrant spirit passing by on the street. He asked if I would adopt him.
Maybe someday I will.

Asking many questions today.
What does it mean to be honest with this wall?
Hoping what I’m doing with my hands will be of benefit (maybe it already has been).

“Here I go, I’m off to war”
armed with carrot cake and tea, I descend onto the stairs.

A year ago today I was in Africa.
I wonder where I’ll be a year from now. A thousand years from now.
Maybe I’ll become part of the dust and particles that make up a wall like this one.
Maybe someone, then, will be writing the word love on that wall and leaning their body against it.

I just finished writing the word love on the wall.
Noticing that I want this feeling of oneness to last
Past the students ascending the stairs,
Past my hand reaching for the door and my body exiting it.

-Jennifer Van de Pol

No Comments »

  1. A great article and beautiful pictures! I can’t wait to see it for myself. om om

    Comment by mark — July 21, 2008 @ 9:12 am

  2. I’m inspired to pick up my pencil crayons once again. Thank you!

    Comment by Laura — July 21, 2008 @ 10:02 am

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