By Hendrik Fischer
Illustrations by Bartek Arobal
“It was very clear to me; the earth is queer, it has such a variety of expressions.
Earth both brings life, but also decomposes order.”
The longing for healing and the longing for this safe space within oneself was also for Bartek the origin of his spiritual journey.
On the curtain covered couch next to me sits queer illustrator, artist, and Shambhala Buddhist practitioner and a young teacher, Bartek “Arobal” Kociemba.
The monk and poet Thomas Merton once said: “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time,” but I think in regard to Bartek’s story, art is really only one side of the coin.
The other one is the spiritual journey.
Meditation has had its fair share of peaks in the last decades. Since life and everything else has become more and more hectic than ever before, and we all keep hustling and grinding till the brink of burnout, every possible outlet is flooded with a meditation app, guided meditations, or breathing exercises.
For Bartek, however, spiritual practices were summoned by something else and go back to his upbringing in Poland. “My path started as a rebellion against the normativity surrounding me. I was looking for a community that would serve as a safe space to ask an unlimited amount of questions about my mind and the way it functions and where I could learn about practices that could empower me to continue that journey on my own. In my experience, religious tradition comes to a point where you cannot ask any more questions.”
The artist was raised Catholic and defines his spiritual beginning as an attempt to not only make sense of the world around him but also uncover and discover his own nature, despite the fear and judgement from the outside world. Developing discipline of mindfulness-awareness meditation and going deep into practices challenging the idea of solid identity allowed him to, “Explore my queerness not just intellectually, but also on the level of my body, feelings, heart and intuition.”
Even though at the beginning, it was not his intention to strengthen his journey as a queer person, Bartek describes his first results as “(…) a state of ongoing curiosity about his human expression as well as a sense of appreciation for oneself and the world around me. This appreciation includes my queerness and celebrates it, no matter what anyone else thinks.” This ability of inner transformation is a form of human shapeshifting and to the artist came with the feeling of unconditional confidence with who you are in a complete and utterly non-judgmental way.
“I have this identity that is not acknowledged and respected by everyone but now I can sometimes feel okay about it.”
To allow himself to be himself.
Shifting shapes and turning inside out.
Another catalyst for becoming a spiritual practitioner has been his encounter with death. An event that we blur out of our everyday lives as a coping mechanism is nothing more than a reminder that we are in fact mortal. For Bartek this has been his diagnosis with HIV at the beginning of his 20s. A life-changing moment that throws your entire order and sense of reality overboard and puts you in front of a pitch-black cliff called uncertainty. So brutally incisive that the sense of self that we have built throughout our entire existence gets pulled away under your feet. But the artist also describes the diagnosis as one of the most freeing moments of his life, since it gave him a chance to cut the bullshit and focus on what he really wanted, needed, and overall, who he was in this new reality.
Years later he’s practicing and teaching meditation in a context specifically tailored for LGBTI+ people in order to not only help them to understand their own queerness through connecting with their most inner selves but to also share their individual experiences of this journey with equals.
His goal is to “(…) thrive a relationship with ourselves and the world which is not colored by aggression. I feel this is a very mutual place for spirituality and queerness – this is what we are fighting for right now, a place where we can be the way we are without feeling attacked.”
This fight for one’s owns identity and unconditional self-love as a queer person is a fight against the systematic oppression and homophobia from the inside out.
The most important thing about queer mediation is, that the path of self-discovery happens alone within yourself but the actual self-reflection happens, when the experience is being shared with fellow practitioners. In meditation circles, specifically tailored for men, women, non-binary persons, or queer people, sharing experiences and healing in a safe space is mandatory to “(…) give one another that sense of acknowledgment and visibility, that we all need.” A visibility that still barely exist within the heteronormative society.
The longing for healing and the longing for this safe space within oneself was also for Bartek the origin of his spiritual journey. To be able to ask a limitless amount of questions in regards to your external and internal surroundings and definition. To extinguish self-aggression. “I do believe this is how our community works the best, we understand our fear and we appreciate the struggle that each and everyone had to go through to be in the place where we are, so there is also a sense of mutual empowerment.”
Bartek and I agree that this fight for one’s owns identity and unconditional self-love as a queer person is a fight against the systematic oppression and homophobia from the inside out. “Being just the way you are is the most anti-establishment and anti-consumerist thing that you could ever do. It is showing the middle finger to any kind of oppressive system.” An understanding of not only fractions of humankind but the entire holistic human experience is what matters in the end to develop compassion for yourself and the ones around you.
As much as external activism and political actions are incredibly important to change gender and LGBTI+ related policies, the real action starts from within.
To understand yourself.
To know all your colors and your boundaries.
To accept yourself with all that you are.
To allow yourself to be queer in every single piece that reflects only you.
Want to know more? Follow Bartek’s Instagram profile @queermeditations.