Exploring Stories and Visual Art from Beyond the Boundaries of Ordinary Consciousness

Crossing Thresholds: Exploring Stories and Visual Art from Beyond the Boundaries of Ordinary Consciousness

Lorraine Tolmie

Introduction: Throughout history, the arts and creativity have been viewed as a participatory process, connected with nonordinary states of consciousness (NSC). Deeply intertwined with spirituality, inspiration was often believed to be a message from a divine source (Fox & Christoff, 2018). Many cultures do not make a clear distinction between the everyday world and a sacred dimension, explaining how this is reflected in their art (Koppman, 1999). The aim of this study was to explore the lived experience of individuals using creative expression as a way of documenting or processing experiences that occur beyond the threshold of ordinary consciousness.

Methods: Integral Inquiry (Braud, 2011) was used in connection with Narrative Inquiry (Kim, 2016) and Arts-based Methods (Leavy, 2015) to investigate the connection between transliminal art, boundaries, and heightened perception. A holistic, multi-modal approach was used during data collection and analysis. A purposive sampling strategy focused recruitment on individuals who had created a piece of art based on a nonordinary state of consciousness, or who had an unusual experience related to a piece of art. Twenty-five participants shared their stories and experiences in an online survey and were subsequently invited to send a digital copy of their artwork. Ten of these individuals were interviewed on Zoom. All data were collated, analyzed, re-storied, and validated by participants. Themes were then identified across cases. Throughout the process, the focus was on an inclusive approach using multiple ways of knowing, including analytical and intuitive, embodied and cognitive, as well as ordinary and nonordinary states of consciousness.

Results: This research supports the findings of studies indicating a connection between boundaries, heightened perception, and creativity. The results showed that although the artwork was often created in challenging circumstances, a co-creative process emerged, with participants often feeling a connection to a transpersonal source. For the participants, creative expression was an integral part of a dialogic process between their inner world and the external world. A sense of tension or conflict tended to be experienced when there was a desire for fluidity or expansion, but this was not possible because the integrity of the inner world was threatened by the intensity of the external world. In contrast, feelings of unity and harmony tended to occur during the creative process. This often evolved into a sense of a transpersonal connection and linked to nonordinary experiences.

Implications / Discussion: In addition to offering a way to integrate nonordinary experiences, the creative process appears to have the potential to open a doorway to such experiences, creating a sense of otherwordly support and a sense of meaning. Most participants used words like “porous”, “permeable”, or “fluid”, or suggested there was no distinction between their inner and external worlds. This is in resonance with the concept of a filter or membrane that determines the amount of material crossing the threshold between the conscious and unconscious (Thalbourne, 2009). The experiences of participants support evidence of an underlying interconnectedness between matter and mind and the expansive nature of consciousness. Perhaps the experiences of those with less rigid boundaries are indicative of latent human potential to perceive beyond the material world.

Bio: Lorraine Tolmie, Alef Trust & Liverpool John Moores University, UK, is a visual artist and creative guide living in the Northwest Scottish Highlands. She holds an MSc in Transpersonal Psychology and has trained in systemic constellation, hypnotherapy, and other healing modalities. Her experiences in art-making led to a fascination with the psychological and transcendent aspects of creativity and imagination. Nonordinary states of consciousness, particularly how they can foster a connection with deeper or higher aspects of the mind, are one of her main interests. She recently completed an open-access ebook based on her postgraduate research: Crossing Thresholds: Stories and Art from Beyond Ordinary Consciousness.

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Published on March 18, 2024