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Empowering the Mind through the Fine Arts:
Accelerative OptimaLearning in Art (AOLIA) Training

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Miro's Bleu II
Joan Miro: Bleu II
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by Rodney Polydore
A strange thing happened to me in the summer of 2003 that has altered my life and the way I live it—perhaps permanently. As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, "A mind stretched by an idea can never return to its original dimensions."

I am a teacher living and working in London, England. I wish to recount to you my work with Dr. Ivan Barzakov when I took the AOLIA (Accelerative OptimaLearning in Art) training. The experience was profoundly life changing. I have put down much detail of the event in order to capture some of the processes as they happened.

For many years I had been searching for new, more effective ways of learning free of stress while absorbing information effortlessly. I always believed that the way most educational establishments teach is at best outmoded and at worst destructive to individuals. To me, the human mind learns gently without force; therefore teaching should reflect that. If you are struggling to learn, something is wrong. My reading in the field of Accelerated Learning led me to the work of Dr. Ivan Barzakov. Upon discovering how he risked his life to escape Bulgaria during the cold war in order to pursue ideas in the field of learning, I decided this was a man I wanted to learn from. Any man willing to risk his life for what he believes in deserves my attention.

I initially contacted Dr. Barzakov because I had heard about the empowering work that he had developed at the Barzak Educational Institute. We met in Central London in late August. I explained to Dr. Barzakov over the course of a fine Italian meal what I was looking for, namely ideas and techniques I could use to enhance and extend my thinking; techniques that would allow me to become an "unobstructed learner" i.e. a person with no blocks or inhibitions to tackling any given subject or topic. But perhaps more importantly I wanted to approach learning as fun and joyful and eventually I wanted that attitude to become a part of my life. After listening he informed me that I would need to take Accelerated OptimaLearning in Art (AOLIA) training.

I sat puzzled. I wanted hard practical techniques; I did not want to look at esoteric pictures sitting in a gallery that I could not relate to. Besides, I thought, how on Earth could looking at pictures have any bearing whatsoever on learning? I could not see the relevance of what he was suggesting at all. Eventually over the course of the meal I decided to throw caution to the wind and try it. I reasoned I could always ask for the "real stuff" later.

When I agreed, Dr. Barzakov said something I will never forget. "I'm going to give you new eyes Rodney! You will be able to enter any art gallery in the world and engage and understand with what you see. There are people who can teach you about the history of art; there are many others who can teach you how to draw and paint but only a handful in the world can show you how to change your perception to see a painting the way the original artist saw it including the great masters. After this experience you are going to say to yourself, 'What has Ivan done to me?'" Naturally I was intrigued. Who wouldn't be? Despite my reticence, I had, like many people felt alienated from fine art but at the same time I wanted to understand it.

How many times have you walked around a gallery not really sure of what exactly your looking at; fatigue setting in and eventually boredom? To crown things off, having left the gallery you can barely recollect what you saw never mind who it was by or what the artists original intention was in creating the piece and indeed why the piece was so important. What soothes your mind is the knowledge you harbor that most people do not understand fine art do not have a knowledge of fine art, cannot name more than a handful of famous paintings and artists and arguably, most importantly, cannot comprehend the impact and significance of the arts to a given society.

We began the training outside the world famous National Gallery in London whereby I was immediately instructed in the OptimaLearning methodology and gradually introduced to the realms of art deconstruction. The former set the scene by giving me a set of presuppositions and beliefs I was to take on board before we got to the actual paintings.

After an hour or so we began to move about the gallery. We started with medieval art and over the course of 6 hours (yes, 6 hours!) we worked our way up chronologically through the centuries looking at fine art from the great masters, teachers of the masters and pupils of the masters all the way up to the beginnings of the impressionists. Throughout, Dr. Barzakov explained, demonstrated and discussed with me how to not just look but see the works of art by altering my perception of it — to Dance with Perception® as he calls it. By not imposing your own labels and preconceptions on the painting it allows something else to emerge hitherto hidden. The painting comes to you and you gradually perceive ideas, impressions and thoughts that you would have missed previously. I have to admit it did not come easy to me and I realized that this required me to completely change how I chose to see the works in front of me. In addition, physical lightness as we moved around was important, this would allow for a mental lightness which would be necessary for allowing the mind to process so many works of art. This is partly the reason I believe why so many people become tired at galleries—they try to "see" the picture rather than letting it come to them. This has an effect on the body and leads to tension.

I won't lie, by the end of it as we walked out of the closing doors of the gallery at 9 pm I despaired! As much energy as Dr. Barzakov seemed to gain from the visit I seemed to lose and as a result not only did I feel fatigue and lethargic I felt I had wasted my time. I could not see the point of what had just taken place. Walking through Leicester Sq. I wrestled with how I would tell him that I felt I got little if anything out of the day and that I did not want to go to another museum the next day. Eventually tiredness got the better of me and I told him. His passion while infectious did not sustain me for 6 hours of looking at pictures. Dr. Barzakov understood what I had to say and gave me time to think about it, so off I went home and mulled it over.

I still had not come to a conclusion the next morning when I called him to discuss the day's arrangements. Luckily for me he could not make it to the gallery in Oxford for persona reasons — this gave me more time to think. And think I did. Over the course of that day I came to conclusion I should at least finish the training, the sense of incompleteness would have been too much and I would always wonder, "What if?"

I met Dr. Barzakov the following day in the Courthauld Institute Gallery in London to complete the AOLIA training. We picked up where we left off in terms of the period in art history. Some other visitors in the gallery overheard the training that was taking place and joined in with the session, listening to Dr. Barzakov. We delved into the impressionists and postimpressionists and eventually modern abstract art. Each step along the way Dr. Barzakov pointed out the subtle differences in techniques and styles of the different artists, especially the masters. It was fascinating to see what distinguished a good artist from a truly great genius, and even more fascinating to actually experience the original "artistic expression" of the painter. Dr. Barzakov constantly made connections and referred back to previous pieces of work from the National Gallery and different periods in art history; each time encouraging me to Dance with Perception and subtly alter the way I perceived the paintings.

The presence of others allowed an exchange of ideas and perceptions which somehow enhanced what I saw by giving them validity. In addition the energy from others allowed a shared atmosphere that fostered creative thought that in turn bred excitement. As we reached the end of the AOLIA training dealing with modern abstract art and how it relates to previous paradigms something happened.

Everything CLICKED! That is the only way I can accurately describe what took place in my own mind. I understood exactly what he had been trying to teach me over the past two days! It was akin to completing a jigsaw puzzle seeing the final picture and gaining an understanding so deep I couldn't stop smiling to myself—fine art was finally accessible! I remember thinking to myself, this man knew precisely what he was doing all along and carefully orchestrated the acceleration of learning to superb effect. I almost cursed myself for my lack of faith.

Later on that evening Dr. Barzakov was explaining to me some fairly complex ideas relating to the field of psychology and learning and I understood each of his points almost immediately. He noticed this and informed me it was because of the art training. How on earth can looking at pictures increase your intelligence? I asked.

Apparently, looking or seeing in a particular way by suspending judgment amongst other things enables you to observe color, form, composition etc. Your brain constantly tries to make sense of what it perceives by seeking patterns even in that which seemingly has no pattern (think of the inkblot tests used by psychiatrists). Similarly, when someone explains an idea or concept to you your brain does a similar thing and seeks pattern and meaning in what is being said.

The AOLIA experience allows your mind to work at a faster rate by paradoxically slowing down and not looking for answers. As with a picture you take in the entirety or whole and seek to make sense of that. How many of us think by taking in the whole? Indeed how many of us have been taught to think in such a manner?

Dr. Barzakov told me to carry a notebook around and note down the ideas, perceptions that came into my head. There would be plenty he informed me. And so it came to pass. The next few weeks were a lesson in living with an unbelievably constantly active mind. Even on the way home the colors of the buildings felt as though they were jumping out at me. I reached home and just started staring at a chair which had intricately sewn images of flora and fauna. In the four years this chair had been in the house I had not given it a second look, but this evening it was as though I was looking at the most fascinating thing on earth. The tone and images became clear and the color was so vivid, I noticed details I had never before noticed, my perception became honed and keen. Without doubt an effect had taken place in my mind that was imperceptibly allowing me to change my perception. It did not stop there! Every room in the house seemed different. Out in the world every tree, sunset, sunrise, cloud in the sky meant something, they carried an aesthetic quality I had never seen before. It was as though I was looking at them all for the first time. Dr. Barzakov did tell me that the training uses you, you do not use it!

Over the next few days the effects of the AOLIA training became even more apparent. Everywhere I looked I saw form, color, tone and incredibly—beauty. Nowhere was safe! My living room, sitting on a bus staring out of the window, waiting at a bus stop looking at building, walking down a street looking at some trees or the sky. I truly knew what it was like to have new eyes.

One afternoon I found myself eating in a garden staring at a patch of grass mesmerized, noticing light and shade, at least 4 different colors and shape and form that I would never have noticed prior to the AOLIA training. Art had become part of my life inseparable from the mundane and a valuable tool that eventually was to become part of my nature. Life had become richer.

An unexpected outcome from the training—for me I hasten to add, not Dr. Barzakov—was a constant stream of ideas, thoughts and perceptions totally unrelated to the fine arts began to flow from me. My note pad became full of ideas on a variety of topics to do with work, solutions to problems, and ideas for articles to be written. In essence I hesitate to say I became more creative, but instead the blocks had been removed to allow my creativity to surface. Waking up at 4:30 am in the dead of night and fumbling to find my Dictaphone to record spontaneous ideas for 45 minutes non-stop can be disconcerting if you are unprepared for it. I also noticed that accompanying this explosion in creativity was an equal burst of energy, physically, but more so mentally (the same energy that allowed me to concentrate in the early hours of the morning).

So what of my original need to learn easier and stress free and become an unobstructed learner? Let me put it this way. Two days after the AOLIA training I started reading some non-fiction books from my book shelf.

Here I was spontaneously picking and reading books of my shelf some of which I had never looked at, others I had merely glanced at a few of the pages and others I had read but never really absorbed the contents in full. After having read in some cases complex ideas from philosophy neuroscience, literature, etc., I understood them after one reading, two at the most! Not only did I understand them but could relate them to other concepts and seemingly unrelated ideas. What a surprise this was I cannot begin to express, since previously I had to read complex texts several times in order to really grasp the essence of them. Now they came as easily as leaves to a tree.

In my day to day life I became far more perceptive especially visually noticing things that although they were always there I had not notice them. And spontaneous ideas would leap into my mind while doing the most mundane things. When talking to someone and listening to their explanations I understood immediately what they were saying and did not need further clarification. Overall my mental faculties skyrocketed. Memory, concentration, understanding and perception had all been boosted; I felt amazingly clearheaded, self-confident and sure of myself.

What exactly did Dr. Barzakov do that enhanced my intelligence? Who would have guessed the power of a few painting to actually change your mental abilities? How and why are the arts so powerful? I have a thousand questions and further things to say regarding the above. It's a fascinating and frightening thing to know that we are capable of more and even more frightening to your sense of self to experience it. Nelson Mandela was right; we are most afraid of our light not our darkness. It is our birthright to experience and live life in this manner, unobstructed and free to experience and express that which lies within us.

This to me is the essence of AOLIA training, it allows us to directly experience something great masters once felt which inspired them to paint and in turn use that to empower our own lives. In effect we capture "the light" of great artists in a pure concentrated form and in doing so it gives us permission on some level to find the light within our selves and enrich the quality of our lives.

London, United Kingdom, 2004

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