There’s a long and rich interplay between meditation and the arts, including music and artworks including the ancient Indian tradition of mandalas.
But bringing meditation into conventional theatre is a little more unusual. Elephant of my Heart is a stage adaptation of Jessica Clements’ book of the same name: Clements herself even performs in the show’s chorus. It’s a memoir of her time in hospital recovering from a brain haemorrhage as a nine year old child. She believes that the inner travels she went on, guided by an elephant, triggered her healing process.
Prospero Theatre adapt her story using familiar techniques of children’s theatre: puppets, songs, games, and audience participation. But there’s an emphasis on the body, and on creating a new language to talk about illness and recovery. Jess is taught that the scars covering her head are sewn up by a black panther’s whisker, and kept safe by invisible dragonflies. Medicalised terms are demystified by being paired with analogies from the natural world, in a holistic approach designed to lead Jess towards a new comfort with her recovering body.
At the close of the performance, Clements leads us on a simple visualisation, designed to help the audience find their own inner animals. It highlights the closeness between mindfulness exercises and the kind of imaginative games that children often play - their careful focus during the visualisation suggests that perhaps children’s comfort with their own imaginations makes them more receptive to techniques that adults feel too inhibited to try.
Little is known about whether healing can be accelerated by meditation, but recent studies tentatively suggest that the stress-reducing properties of meditation can strengthen the immune system. Certainly, there are clear links between meditation and the state of mental wellbeing needed for a full recovery. But perhaps the strongest message of Elephant of My Heart is the importance of developing a language and story that enables people in recovery to understand their illness, whether or not that means cultivating an inner jungle. (AS)
Elephant of My Heart was on at the Edinburgh Fringe, Greenside, from 5-16th August. More information: http://prosperotheatre.com/prospero-community-company/elephant-of-my-heart/
The role of mandalas in meditation: http://www.chopra.com/mandalas-sri-yantras
More information on Jessica Clements’ book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Elephant-My-Heart-Jessica-Clements/dp/1452585725
Studies which tentatively suggest the positive impact of meditation on the immune system: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26799456