“Went to a meditation session at the Tate Modern and it was definitely not what I expected” – Rory Bennett

What did you do last Friday? Going out for a pint with your friends? Kick off your shoes and swallow that Netflix show you’ve been dying to watch? I happened to find myself in a room at the Tate, chanting in Chinese as someone traced Taoist calligraphy in front of me. It’s definitely a way to start a weekend.

I went to try a meditation session at the Tate Modern, which turned out to be both a relaxing and slightly confusing experience, the visit differing greatly from my previous trips to the Tate. My previous experience of art is like something that is normally observed for a while and then passed by.

However, that was far from the case with this particular exhibition, which took time to introduce the concept of the work – healing, meditation and the soul through art. It became clear fairly quickly that this would not be a traditional art installation, which seems to characterize late offerings from the Tate Modern. The Tate Modern Lates instead seeks to bring darkness to the forefront, with up-and-coming artists, alternative artwork and interactive workshops all featuring prominently on the programme.

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Most people were sitting on cushions

The experimental concept is now a mainstay of Tate Modern programming and runs from 6pm to 10pm on the last Friday of every month. The whole space takes on a new dimension, the terrace bar turns into a place to have a drink and listen to a DJ set, the exhibition halls become workshop spaces and visitors have the freedom to choose what they do and don’t do. see.

However, I was there for a specific purpose. I had been invited to attend the aforementioned Taoist calligraphy class which was part of a series of workshops aptly named Medi-Tate – great pun I would have done myself if they hadn’t arrived first. It was run by members of the Master Sha Tao Center in London, some of whom I met before the start of the event.

I was warned that I was unlikely to experience anything like what I was about to see and I have to admit it was not what I expected. After an audio-visual presentation of the group’s key ideas, presenter and artist Natalie Schöpflin drew a symbol and asked the audience to think of something in their life that they wanted to change, to consider overcoming a spiritual block. Many spectators – including me – were sitting on cushions on the floor and I immediately thought that I would like to be able to exchange it for a chair.



Calligraphy
Calligraphy

But, I did my best to reduce my overactive thoughts and think a little deeper about the task at hand. Mindfulness and meditation are things I could probably do more often on a Friday night, a good way to get rid of all the frustration and stress that work may be piling up on you.

To help the crowd focus, Natalie encouraged us to sing along. It seemed like half the room was just as uncertain as I was when some chanting started, the other half being very carried away by the ritual unfolding on stage.

Natalie traced Chinese characters on a long scroll, which was then hung up for the crowd to see. She would occasionally interrupt the chanting to lead the audience into meditation, and at various times during the 40-minute session, ask people to raise their hands and trace the symbol with their fingers.



Natalie painting her symbol
Natalie painting her symbol

I felt a bit uncomfortable trying to participate as I am notoriously uncoordinated. After several attempts to follow the tracing, I surrendered and consigned myself to a few low level chants. After the sequence, the session was over and people started to disperse.

I had the opportunity to speak quickly to Natalie who told me that she had moved from Berlin to London just four months ago. Apparently the Tate had approached the band to be part of the Tate Modern Lates program, something that everyone in the band seemed very excited about.

She said she was drawn to Taoist calligraphy as an art student because she was looking for a way to combine healing practices and art. I don’t know how healed I felt from the whole experience, but I do know that my mind was much clearer and more relaxed than normal as I rushed to the pub immediately after the session was over, proving that some rituals are just too hard to cash in on.

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