Wake Up Your Artist



by Joe Holtaway

About a year ago, I was headed to the European Institute of Applied Buddhism (EIAB) for my first time to help out at The Music We Are retreat. It was a beautiful time filled with songs, spoken word and Plum Village teachings, and as I came to know, one in a run of weeks the EIAB were putting on for young adults organised by young adults themselves with the monastics’ support. Larissa and I met there and a year later, in the beautiful German Autumn colours, we were on a bus heading there again to hold the space for the Wake Up Your Artist retreat.

wuya15Last winter, Larissa had introduced to me the idea of a week of play and ways of making art – songwriting, movement, painting and poetry. There’s that moment you say yes and then the rest just came from there… we were in touch in the months before and I could feel Larissa’s passion for making a space that was safe, creative and good fun. Arriving at the EIAB a day before our Wake Up Your Artist retreat, we sat on the grass in the sunshine and put together our ideas. A few hours later, we had this map and the names of some of the sessions we would facilitate – ‘Playing with Colour’, ‘Playing with Words’, ‘Art as Activism’, ‘Relaxations’, ‘Day In The Woods’… the rest rolled out from there… with a cup of tea each night after the evening meditation just to check in… 🙂

Around 30 young artists came from Germany, France, England, Sweden, Switzerland and Holland with many different live experiences – art students to filmmakers, psychologists to ‘not sure/in-between things’ all with open hearts and beautiful smiles. 🙂 It was so easy to run the workshops, and one by one we got closer and the creativity happened. It was good to be with everyone there, all in my heart now as I write about it.

Each day, we began with exercises led by Brother Phap Tri, followed by morning sitting meditation, breakfast, and then a workshop before lunch. Relaxation with songs into the second workshop, dinner and evenings with sharing songs, 5Rhythms dance and our be-in/party. We also took a day in the woods where we hiked a hour or so through the woods behind the campus up to the open grass behind where we ate lunch and played games. We also made a sculpture of our life with natural objects that we shared with one another, and then rearranged the way we’d like to see our lives grow.

We were also joined one morning by Sister Annabel, the dean of the EIAB, who gave us a talk and answered questions on mindfulness and creativity. Sitting and listening, I felt like we were with our grandmother :), so kind and supportive with experience and wisdom. The talk and answers touched on creative energy, looking after ourselves and to be mindful to reflect on the effect that our artworks are having on ourselves and in the world. ‘We continue in our artwork, is it nourishing?’ I wrote in my journal from the talk (appreciation for this time you gave us, Sister Annabel).

wuya06For me the week touched a beautiful place of non-judgement, to make art in a safe atmosphere and to play and experience our inner artists. One of the themes we wove in was the idea of the inner child that we can take the hand of the ‘little us’ of 5 years old and encourage and nurture them within us – the sensitivity, the wonder and understand the makings of who we are now. We stood in front of the paper in the painting sessions and just made shapes and colours, surrounded by others doing the same. I found such a peaceful time, and my inner child enjoyed that!

Another theme was our inner art activist, valuing what we make as having a voice and allowing that into the world. We shared about our callings to different kinds of art and the causes in the world we felt to engage in from humanitarian to ecology – locally and globally. Hearing the sharings of the group, I was moved by the care, compassion and shared voice of the wish to continue working for ‘the more beautiful world, our hearts know is possible’ as one shared by quoting the name of Charles Eisenstein’s book. For this session, we also used a quote by Thich Nhat Hanh which feels good to share here:

‘By living your life, by producing works of art, you contribute to the collective awakening of our people. Nothing can be compared to that, knowing that your life is beautiful and helpful.’

Appreciation also to our guest workshop facilitators: Vera who led us in movement and Sebastien in blindfold contact dancing. On our last full day, we also opened the WUYA gallery space, a quiet show of our paintings and poetry.


wuya18For a few days after the week, a few stayed, walked in the woods and shared about our time.

I wrote in my journal, ’It’s like we all opened up to each other, like flowers do.’

‘Let Love Love’ was written during our songwriting workshop.

I feel you can get all the words – maybe except ‘Bubu, Heidi, Multistar.’ These were the names of our 3 ‘attendants’ we created for our quiet gallery space. They took care of the safeness where ‘no one looks a fool.’ 🙂



The EIAB itself is an old hospital with a difficult past, used by the Nazi Party as part of their plan to bring away certain types of people from society. Now owned by Plum Village, it is used for courses on well-being, meditation and creativity inspired by peace (all events and workshops can be found at www.eiab.eu).

Joe Holtaway is currently on a 6-month internship at Plum Village in France, working with Wake Up Schools, a resource for teachers to bring mindfulness into education. Part of his role is around developing music and songs. You can read his online journal at http://6monthsinplumvillage.wordpress.com

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