Overview: Rukmini Poddar is an artist and illustrator who describes herself as an essence seeker. She believes in the value of imperfect work, prizes quantity as a means of getting to quality, and sees art making as an act of revolutionary love.
In this conversation, we talk about her growing up in a community of Hare Krishnas, expressing her dharma through art, the relationship of spirituality and creativity, her enthusiasm for #the100dayproject, her Obscure Emotions project and book, and what she’s doing with the Enneagram of Personality. Among other things.
EP 113 SHOW NOTES, LINKS & TRANSCRIPT
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TRANSCRIPT (automated transcription, formatted and lightly cleaned)
Adam: Hello! Welcome to Humanitou. I’m Adam Williams, creator and host of this podcast series that digs into everything about being human and creative, and highlights how the most personal really is the most universal.
That’s always been true of these conversations. I always have looked at them as an opportunity to see ourselves in each other’s stories, as a point of human connection, and compassion and understanding.
But it’s with the help of today’s guest, artist and illustrator Rukmini Poddar, that I now have this added sense of clarity about Humanitou, this helpful phrasing. In her work, Rukmini has found that what is most personal is most universal.
So that is a key thread that we tug on in this conversation, unraveling Rukmini’s work a bit, which is deeply personal, yet so utterly recognizable and relatable to all of us.
We talk about how and why that is, and how and why Rukmini came into this essential intersection of spirituality and creativity, and how it’s rooted in service to others.
Rukmini grew up in a family and community of Hare Krishnas, practicing Bhakti yoga, which is a Hindu practice of devotion, love. There’s much more to it than that, of course. And we talk a little about that, and about how at times Rukmini felt out of place trying to balance those spiritual roots with being a teenager growing up in Florida.
I really enjoy getting to connect with Rukmini over this part of her story. It’s something she graciously shared, even though it’s not necessarily the part she most often talks about publicly. But you’ll hear that she also has learned that it’s important to dig into what makes us uncomfortable, and to share it with others.
Rukmini affectionately describes herself as an essence seeker. She believes in the value of imperfect work, prizes quantity as a means of getting to quality, and sees art making as an act of revolutionary love.
We talk about her enthusiasm for #the100dayproject, her Obscure Emotions project and book, and what she’s doing with the Enneagram of Personality. Among other meaningful things.
Now, while it really is true that I love all these conversations I get to have through the Humanitou Podcast, I’m a tell ya, I really really love this one and am excited to share it.
And if you connect with it like I do, I encourage you to share it forward with others in your life who you know will dig it to.
Alright then. Here we go. My conversation with Rukmini Poddar.
Adam: Hi Rukmini. Welcome to Humanitou.
Rukmini: 00:02:40 Hi Adam. Thanks so much for having me.
Adam: Absolutely. You know, this is a conversation that I have been wanting to have for a long time. I know that’s a secret to you, but I’ve been following your work. And, you know, there’s something that you say as a description of yourself. It’s actually on your website, that where you call yourself an essence seeker saying, because I try to search for simple, deep truths hidden within everyday life. And I feel like that’s an important, significant, really heartfelt way of expressing what humanity is about to, you know, I feel like we have this connection, so I’m so glad to talk with you. And I’m going to start with asking, when did you come to that understanding of yourself as an essence seeker?
Rukmini: 00:03:25 Um, I love that we are diving right to the heart of things. Um, the essence seeker that is a great point to start with. It is something I affectionately call myself and I even have a drawing about it. And I like to say, if there was the perfect job description, it would be an essence seeker. That would be my dream job. But for me, when I came to that place of being an essence seeker, you know, it’s hard to pinpoint one place.
I think it was really interwoven in my life and meaning that I grew up with a pretty rich spiritual background. I grew up with this understanding that we are more than our bodies. We kind of have an essence that is made of love and joy and just all these different principles that I didn’t really understand the significance till I was older. But I find that in art I art basically for me and creativity, is that tool to come back to my essence, if that makes sense. It’s a little bit abstract. Yeah,
Adam: 00:04:15 No, no, no, it absolutely does. And I’m hoping that we are going to get more into this because that, again is a lot of what I see humanity being about is is this, this really internal cross section of, of creativity, spirituality, all these things that, that I think you have a lot to say about, you know, so, um, in fact, I’ve heard you use the word Dharma before, which has meaning to me. Um, and I’m just wondering how you consider this work, this creative work of yours to be your Dharma.
Rukmini: 00:04:44 Yeah. Well, that’s a beautiful, beautiful way to start. And Dharma is such a multi-layered word. I mean, sometimes it’s loosely translated as one’s purpose, or sometimes it’s kind of like the religion of the soul. Like what is it that you were born and created to do? And so I grew up, um, my tradition also that I’ve grown up in is called Bhakti, Bhakti yoga.
And so, and that’s based from India and the East. And so I’ve grown up a lot with these concepts of Dharma and karma and yoga. It’s very much in my vocabulary. And so my understanding of Dharma is this sort of pull of, of our soul, this, this thing that we were, that comes very naturally for us, and that is meant to be used in the service of others. And so I believe that it’s like a lifelong journey to really understand our Dharma.
00:05:29 And I almost don’t even want to say that, yes, I’ve come to my Dharma, but for me, I see more and more in my life that I’m almost being pulled in this direction of creative expression. It comes naturally, it comes easily. It’s something that I feel very alive when I’m doing. And so, and it’s also something I feel like I can give to others and in a way of service. And so that’s why with use, I wear Dharma. I would like to think that this is, um, an expression of my Dharma to creatively, especially also that of emotions and creativity, which is something I’ve kind of come across too.
Adam: 00:06:02 That’s so beautiful. And in talking about essence seeking, if we go back to something that you’ve used to describe, uh, some of the focuses of, of your work and of your life here, you also have on your website actually on the same page where you say, and list 10 things I learned, and I want to pull out a few of those because you know, a number of them really resonated. And I think they’re amazing in their vulnerability and their courage in their self-awareness as well.
And I almost look at that list. It reads to me like sort of a roadmap, or maybe even not to sterilize this, but a mission statement of, of sorts. It’s like, this is, if we go back to Dharma that that’s a word I like better, that it’s really this focus of where you’re heading. So I’m going to pull out one here to start, you know, down this list a little bit. And that is where you say, I talk about what makes me uncomfortable. And that’s just the opposite of what so many of us do, right? We hide what makes us uncomfortable.
And then of course there are consequences for how we act out in the world. And so when you, when you do that, um, you talk about what makes you uncomfortable. What does that mean to you and why, why is that so important?
Rukmini: 00:07:16 Yeah, so this list is very close to my heart. It’s something I wrote back in 2016 when I did my first ever a hundred day project about drawing my emotions every day called the obscure emotion project. And it’s quite amazing because this list just poured out of me. I remember just typing it out on the notes of my iPhone one day and then kind of cleaning it up.
And I never thought about it as a bit of a mission statement, but now that I think about it, that’s a nice way to put it. I talk about what makes me uncomfortable. I feel is the essence of what I aspire to do in my art. Especially when I draw emotions, meaning that’s what makes us uncomfortable. It’s usually what’s invisible, what’s unseen. And it’s these unconscious patterns that drive a lot of our life.
00:07:59 And so until we kind of confront that discomfort and we make it known, it’s going to run our life. These are patterns that are going to run our lives. So for me again, art, creativity was a vehicle to talk about these things in a very approachable way. If you look at my first series on obscure emotions, these are very like cutesy pink drawings. They’re very relatable. And yet they talk about deep things.
And so I, for me, that was the lesson that you can, you can talk about discomfort. You can talk about things that are difficult and it doesn’t have to be in a heavy, intense way and it can kind of be every day. And, and you can kind of invite people into that conversation so that they feel comfortable to look at what’s uncomfortable right now. Because again, that’s, that’s what we want to look at. That’s what we want to see.
Adam: 00:08:45 Something else that you have on that list. Sharing imperfect and incomplete work. Again, that really goes against the grain for so many. This idea of, “Well no, I can only show my best self. I can only accomplish in perfect ways.”
And again, vulnerability, courage. You know, it’s such a hurdle for so many people, but you have come to this as another one of those essential pieces of how you’re going about your work and sharing with others.
Rukmini: 00:09:15 I truly believe that that’s what keeps us stuck this desire to always be seen as perfect and complete, because it’s so unrealistic and to not have that space to show up just as we are to show up in our art and our craft, whatever we’re doing and to give us space to, to be imperfect, to make mistakes until we do that, we’re going to be so stuck and we’re going to be held down by our own expectations where we’re never going to feel that freedom of just expressing who we are. And so I think a lot of artists and just people in general, don’t have that permission to just show up as they are imperfect and everything that comes with that.
Adam: 00:09:50 Yeah. And I think people don’t realize that they have the, the capacity within them, or maybe they don’t believe that they do to give themselves that permission, like this idea of permission, right. As an external thing, but really we have it within ourselves. We are the only permission that we actually need. Right.
Rukmini: 00:10:06 Yeah. Beautifully said.
Adam: 00:10:08 You mentioned the word space, and I think of holding space and how that starts with ourselves. So that ties to me, for me with permission, self permission. So I’m going to ask you about one more because, and we’re not going to belabor the list despite how amazing it is. And I really think people should go to your site, which I’ll include in show notes, and they need to look at this, because I think it, you know, like a lot of your art is going to resonate.
I’ll just go with one more quoting what one more learning is for you. What is most personal is also most universal? So my question there, though, right? We have this concept of this term in society about oversharing, right? We don’t want to hear too much, you know, keep your discomfort away from me because that makes me uncomfortable. I don’t really want to listen, you know, with empathy, things like that. And so I’m wondering how you have found a balance of sharing what really is personal and how that is also universal. And it resonates with your audience of which you have many, many, many thousands while also not being over exposure or oversharing or, you know, whatever, you know, how do you find that line and you to say, yes, this is good to share.
Rukmini: 00:11:24 That’s such a great question, Adam. I think it actually comes back to that first point about being an essence seeker, because like you said, we went, what is most personal is most universal, but does that mean I lay bare all the details of my past relationships and my heartbreaks. And we belabor that, do people really want that? Is that what it means to be vulnerable? And I think that misses the point because to be an essence secret means you get to the heart of something.
So when you get so, so, so personal, you kind of get to the essence of why you feel a certain way. And when you get to that personal essence, it’s so universal that anyone can relate with it. And, and it almost becomes like a, I don’t know if the word is like a, I’m thinking like a Buddhist koan or a mantra or something like that, something so personal. And so for me, when I started to draw my emotions and to just illustrate in general, I was drawing from personal experience, but I was trying to get to the essence of something so that in one moment, someone can see what I’m drawing and say, aha. I felt that they have a light bulb moment rather than just kind of sharing a whole long story that they don’t need to hear
Adam: 00:12:26 You hit on for me, what is the perfect word there with essence being the relate-ability, there are a label part because there’s personal. That is very specific. Hey, here are my wounds. Here is everything very specific in what happened to me in that heartbreak versus, okay, what’s the essential human experience of this that you too can relate to without knowing what he said. She said to me, whatever, you know.
Rukmini: 00:12:51 Yeah. Well, what is most personal is most universal for me, that’s like almost my personal mantra when it comes to creating art. I come back to that a lot because it tells me so much about create and get, like you said, get to that. What is that, that, um, that reward, that, that essence, that, that relatable, um, lesson in all of that, you know, you get through the muck of everything that happened. You come to that point and that’s what you want to share with others. That’s, what’s going to uplift and, um, yeah. Inspire others,
Adam: 00:13:21 Not to assume that you ever feel imposter syndrome, however, so many of us, right. I think it’s a pretty universal to experience imposter syndrome. And I’m wondering now with what you’re just saying, maybe is that, is that a key part for you to kind of get past that inner voice that would like to hold you back and instead say, no, I have found the essence of this personal and that I know is universal and therefore it’s beyond me. People want this, you know, have you looked at it that way?
Rukmini: 00:13:53 I’ve never thought about it like that, but I appreciate you bringing that up. I have for sure felt that imposter syndrome, I think it’s very universal. It’s, it’s basically this feeling of, Oh, I don’t belong here. You know, this, isn’t what I’m, I’m filling in shoes that are too big for me, or I I’m out of my league here, this kind of fear that comes up and thinking about this, this, the essence seeker, I think when you hit upon the essence, essence means truth. So when you hit about truth, how can you be an imposter when you know, this is true. So that’s what comes up for me when I think of that correlation.
Adam: 00:14:28 Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Let’s talk about consistency now. Uh, you mentioned the 100 day project. That is something for people who don’t know, and I imagine we’ll get into it more, but you know, that’s something a kind of practice that really creates an opportunity for consistent. Um, I don’t want to say productivity in the sense of like, we often have come to recognize it with work and well, if I just do a bunch of stuff, that’s a value to my boss or whoever, but rather by consistently creating work, there, there is that value. Right.
But I want to hear from you what you think the value to that maybe it is the 100 day project specifically that idea, or maybe just in general to your creative practice and being consistent in showing up for it. What, what have you learned through that process? That is, so what we’re going to just stick with essence and essential, I guess what is so essential about consistency?
Rukmini: 00:15:22 Um, the a hundred day project for me has been absolutely revolutionary to my creative process. I talk about it a lot because it’s a lot of what I do it it’s, I I’m currently doing my seventh a hundred day project so that if I tell that to someone, they might think, Oh my God, we’re community, like you must be so disciplined and you must be so productive. And, you know, I appreciate that, but it, I, it’s funny. I tell people that I do it every year and it’s a different kind of challenge. It does not get easier.
It’s, it’s a, it’s the seventh hundred day project for me. It’s a way for me to meet myself and my process again and again, if that makes sense. So what was difficult for me five years ago is not difficult, but there’s new challenges that come and it helps me to, yes, it’s one way to be productive, but I almost find it as a way to find your voice, find your creative voice.
And, and it really extracts the essence actually, because you are able to just let out everything, you, you focus on quantity over quality, which is something that’s also important to me. And that can be a little bit of a, you know, unexpected when people hear that. But I find that to be very important and it’s just an incredible vehicle for creating a lot of work.
Adam: 00:16:31 I think that I have, for at least the majority of my adult life preferred quality over quantity, but when it comes to creating an art, that is where I really, like you just said, I have flipped and realized if I just churn out work. It’s not that the idea that I just made 30 or 50 or a hundred pieces and they all should go on gallery walls. It’s that every one of those is a critical sort of step. Whether I realize it in the moment or not to it, it’s a link. It’s a link in the chain to get me from point a to L okay. A wasn’t so great, but L M and N are, you know, it’s, it’s part of the process and quantity really does have that, um, that power in that case. And it is counterintuitive, I think.
Rukmini: 00:17:20 Yes, yes. I love that though. That it takes you, it takes you on the journey from a to L or wherever you’re going to go, because I also believe that quality of course is so important. Quality is almost the goal, but you can’t get to quality unless you do quantity. And we almost forget that we want to create the masterpiece, but you don’t just create it. You do a lot of terrible quantity even, but it will eventually lead you there. At least, it’s a roadmap. Otherwise we have no roadmap.
Adam: 00:17:46 Pablo Picasso comes to mind because he was one of the most prolific artists who also is, you know, the most famous in all this stuff in, in history perhaps, or at least the 20th century. And he made tens and tens of thousands of pieces. But how many could any one of us possibly think of call to mind recognize if we saw in a museum or a book, you know, there’s only so many of those that really Rose so high that we could all think of them, but he made tens of thousands. We don’t know about, you know, so I think just as an example of that quantity and how that also leads to the quality, but now I want to ask you to tell me why I should do the 100 day project when I have, I would have to say that I haven’t gotten anywhere near a hundred days.
00:18:37 And with that same level of commitment and consistency that you’re describing. And I think I have two reasons, and I think they’re both bogus, but here’s what I tell myself. I tell myself that, “Well, I have a lot of interests, so it’s okay to bounce around. Right? And then, because I don’t want to bore people, I don’t want the people — say I post on Instagram or say, I’m trying to hang a new show somewhere in a gallery or something — and I think, “Oh, they’ve already seen so many of these things, I better give them something different.”
And right there, I’m thinking, okay, I’m thinking about those people and people pleasing, instead of thinking about really what’s in my heart and spirit and what is that energy and creative thing passing through me? What should I be listening to instead of that external voice. So now that I’ve bared my soul there, you know, what, what is your advice on why I really ought to get past those junk answers to myself and just do it?
Rukmini: 00:19:34 Well, I would say Adam, that when you do the a hundred day project, you will get past all those excuses, all those self limiting beliefs. And I would even say that if you do 10 days of the a hundred day project, that is better than zero days. So as counterintuitive as it must be that you don’t need to do all 100 days of the project. And that is the main question I get from people I want to do this project a hundred days is a long time. And I say, I know there’s been some years that it’s taken me 300 days to do the a hundred day project or some use. I haven’t even done it, but you, you it’s like saying yes to yourself. It’s saying yes to your process, to owning your process and to being okay, showing up again, as imperfect as you are, as incomplete as you are.
And what you’re doing is you’re kind of, I see it as a fight against the ego in a way, in a good way, because our ego tells us to create for others. Like you said, people please, to have a certain result in what we’re doing, that result-based mindset, but the a hundred day project, it’s like a pinch to the ego because you don’t know what will come out in those days, but you’re still committed to the process and not the results. And so it can be a revolutionary and a very personal level,
Adam: 00:20:42 What you have dug into with these projects. And again, you mentioned obscure, and that was, uh, not only one of those projects, but one that you produced a book from, and there’s such depth to that, right. You’re really diving into yourself. It’s very personal. You’re getting to that essence of what I feel and then how to express it visually. And to me that such a, gotta be a challenging sort of a hundred day project, right? Because now you’re trying to do it, even if it’s not 100 straight days, you know, can you describe what that’s been like to go through that process of digging into yourself? This, I would have to think of a deeply therapeutic and revealing something and then communicate it to all of us out here and you’re doing it in short order.
Rukmini: 00:21:32 Yeah. Well, you know, it’s so interesting that project, a hundred obscure emotions I’ve done maybe five years ago now, and it’s really carried through, like you said, it’s a book, a deck of cards. It’s been a few art shows. It’s, it’s taken on a life of its own. But what’s interesting is I feel like that was surprisingly easier to do that project than summit that I’m doing now, because at the time I didn’t have, I wasn’t fulfilling any expectation for myself. If that makes sense. I didn’t have a huge following. I wasn’t creating to create this, this thing for me.
It was just, okay, I’m going through some stuff in life. I’m going to draw it every day. And my few hundred followers who are, my friends are going to see it and it’s going to be a little vulnerable, but it’s okay. And it came from such an honest place, a place of no expectation. I didn’t know what it would become. And that is like the key to freedom. And I felt very free in doing it because again, I didn’t, I didn’t plan to make it a book. I didn’t plan that many people would see it. And there’s something quite special in doing work that is freed from expectation like that.
Adam: 00:22:30 You mentioned having so relatively few followers, you now have a hundred thousand followers just on Instagram. So clearly this work is resonating with a lot of people. And I’m wondering if you, if there was a particular tipping point or moment when it really became clear that, wow, this is meaning something to a lot of people.
Rukmini: 00:22:54 Yeah. So I distinctly remember it was 2018. So again, I’ve been drawing since maybe 2015 or 16. So there’s a few years where not many people follow me and I, in 2018, I did something called a hundred days of the Enneagram, which is a personality framework. And I distinctly remember thinking, Oh, I’m going to lose followers because who in the world even knows what the Enneagram is? I was very wrong. I think I tapped into like a hidden mind of hungry Enneagram fans.
And I just remember like thousands of people starting to follow me over the course of that project. I went from 6,000 followers to 20, 25,000 or something. And it was really mind blowing. And it was, it was also fulfilling and rewarding to know that by doing something that I was really passionate and it was attracting people who are equally passionate, you know, I didn’t have to cater to a specific audience or do something to dilute my own vision. And so after that, it kind of snowballed a little bit more and more over the years.
Adam: 00:23:49 I think that that has to be the place of bliss that will, and I haven’t reached it yet, but it’s what I imagine as being the amazing place of the cross-section when you’re creating for yourself. And it resonates. And you see, if we go back to Bhakti Yoga in this devotion, in this service to others and the role of that in your life, I mean, not to put emotions on you, right. But the joy, at least what I envisioned for me in that case to, to feel like that’s really shining light on something and connecting with people. It, I don’t, again, I don’t want to put the words on you is that fair?
Rukmini: 00:24:28 It’s definitely a blessing and it’s beautiful and you know what, it can still be short-lived because our ego is so tricky. And so that’s been also my lesson over the past few years that, um, you know, even when we reach out and we’re doing things with service, the mind is constantly thinking, okay, how can I get more people? Is this resonating?
And I feel like my creative journey is one of maybe building myself up over a certain theme or brand, and then having to knock that off and build myself up again, if that makes sense, this idea that, okay, I’m known for this. Now, let me build that. And then feeling kind of stifled and stuck. Um, so I don’t want to say that I’m not grateful because I am, but I’m seeing over the years that it’s hard to sustain that sense of bliss and gratitude, because again, the mind is always grasping for more looking for that instant gratification.
Rukmini: 00:25:16 And I have found that social media, my relationship with social media has changed a lot. And, and I’m a little bit more vigilant actually, because I, it’s very easy to create art and to have this fixation, what are the results? Am I going to get that same landslide of followers? And when it doesn’t happen, okay, I should shift what I’m doing. So if that makes sense. So sometimes the way we gain success can kind of trap us because then I’m expecting that again and again. So just to say that over the years, I’ve also noticed that for myself,
Adam: 00:25:47 I think it’s easy to have a grass is greener type view. Know, anytime we make comparisons, we can look at somebody who has a huge social media following. And well, they seem to have a lot of great say commercial design or, or are opportunities that they must have a lot of money and how great that would be.
But something that I keep reminding myself, where I have from time to time, is that when a lot of people, which of course is relative, um, humanity has grown over the past four years, but if I’m always looking ahead and wishing I was something else, right. It’s just interesting that comparison part. And there was another guest, Brenda Williams, who was on the podcast last year and she describes it as comparison being the killer of joy.
Rukmini: 00:26:35 Yeah. I love that quote.
Adam: 00:26:37 And that can be comparing to others. It can be comparing to ourselves, right. Our egos expectation. Well, this should have gotten a ton of likes and it didn’t, you know, where does that leave it?
Rukmini: 00:26:49 Exactly. Yeah. I find it just so fascinating also because the nature of social media is changing too. So even though it looks like I have a hundred thousand followers and I’m grateful for sure, for the people who follow me, I mean, the engagement just drops like anything over the past year from yeah. Just like 2% of that actually follow me. And so basically I tell myself, am I going to like also go up and down with the way my metrics are, is that my mood is going to mirror that? Or am I going to choose to have some kind of healthy distance? Or I know I’m doing the best I can. I am creating and trying not to stay so attached to the results. Now that is lifetime work, but it’s something I aspire for. Otherwise we can drive ourselves crazy. Nothing is ever enough.
Adam: 00:27:30 What I try to remind myself of from a confidence and self-love sort of place is I’m good at what I do keep doing it. The numbers don’t define me.
Rukmini: 00:27:41 Beautiful. I really like that. It’s interesting. Cause we just, sorry. We just live in a world where the numbers do define us. So just to say that I think a lot about this intersection, how even art and creativity has changed so much because 10, 15 years ago, we didn’t have this metric system. And just to say, that’s just a topic that I’m always intrigued with, how we’re shifting so much in this result based mindset. What, what is that doing to our art and our creative process?
Adam: 00:28:06 Yeah. Yeah. Fair enough. For sure. Let’s talk about the creative process, um, you know, in the function of mistakes and imperfections, and I think that you encourage people to, to create and to get past those things, to not, to not let those be obstacles, right. Uh, I’ve heard you say that you want people to create with whatever materials that they have and, and it doesn’t, you know, a lot of times we, we look at who we think is successful, maybe it’s who was in the gallery and we say, well, they must have all the top notch, you know, materials and skills and knowledge.
And I don’t have that. So I guess I won’t start and get it. You say, go out and use whatever materials you have on hand. Just, just use what you have cheap, basic, whatever people use trash to make art. I mean, so what is that role of, of willingness to just leap in and be imperfect in your mind?
Rukmini: 00:28:59 I love that. Yes. I think we are masters at creating excuses. We can have so many excuses from not having the right material to not being experienced enough. So many things stop us from taking that first step from making that first-line because we paralyze ourselves with our own fear. And I just, you know, whenever I think of this, I think of children because they’re like the aunt antithesis to this in the sense that they are so fearless to create there. So they own what they’re doing.
And I just think, wow, what has happened? How have we shifted so far from that? Where we are paralyzed by our own selves, that we, unless we hit a standard of perfection, we won’t do anything. And I feel like that is, yeah, it’s really unfortunate. That just reminded me
Adam: 00:29:42 Of when I was a kid and Michael Jordan was at his heyday and the commercials for Nike were out and spike Lee was a character in the commercial and Jordan would go dunk and fly through the air and all this stuff. And what Nike wanted us to believe as a company marketing to us. Right. Which all companies do, right. You’re missing something. And for them it was, it must be the shoes. That’s why he can fly 15 feet through the air and dunk from the free throw line. And you can’t buy these shoes. You know, it’s, it’s always this idea of, well, it’s gotta be something else, something I need to buy. Ah, but I don’t have the money.
Rukmini: 00:30:18 Exactly. It’s so true. We’re conditioned actually. So I think that’s the reason there’s such a big disconnect that society has really conditioned us, that there’s something missing that we’re not enough. And so it’s really an act of, of like, I think revolutionary love and creativity to reclaim that, to say, you know what, I’m taking this space, I’m going to create something. Even if I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, I don’t have the right materials. That itself is personally so healing. Even if you’re not out in a bunch of galleries or externally successful, you’re reclaiming something for yourself
Adam: 00:30:49 In this. There is the spirituality matter, the practice, the being, and you have talked about creativity as a spiritual practice for you. So I just want to, I want to dig into some of that more, um, if you’re willing to share, because while I know you don’t talk a whole lot about that necessarily publicly again, it’s, it’s what humanity really is, is kind of about. And, and I love to get into it with people who have that perspective of themselves and of humanity and their art. So what is the connection of creativity and spirituality for you? Yeah.
Rukmini: 00:31:28 Um, it’s a, it’s a great question. And I think it’s different for everyone it’s personal for everyone. And for me, I’m trying to see it as more as one in the same, because creativity, when I see it from a spiritual lens, it reminds me that I am, you can say, however, you want like a divine spark of the universe or of God. And I’m able to share something that’s really that, that comes from something greater than myself. If that makes sense. And when I don’t have that spiritual mindset, I can feel really burdened with like, Oh my God, how am I supposed to be a genius? How am I supposed to create this thing? B
ut when I take a step back and try to have a more spiritual lens, it feels more natural. This, this idea that now I want to be a conduit. I went to, I want to share something that’s coming through me. And so again, it’s something I aspire for. I think it’s a very lofty ideal in some ways, but I’m always inspired by the artists where many artists that talk about this connection between creativity and spirituality. And I think it’s sustainable, if that makes sense, because when we put that pressure that I am just the sole creator and I’m the genius behind everything we can get really stuck and really paralyzed by that, that expertise.
Adam: 00:32:34 I love that you use the word conduit. That is a favorite of mine. It’s one that resonates a lot with me. And that you mentioned the artist’s way. I hope someday to talk with Julia Cameron on this podcast. She, in that book the artist’s way, you know, it was kind of a breakthrough point for me. Another one was the war of art. And I did get the chance a few weeks ago to talk with Steven Pressfield, the author of that book. And they both have that, that thread of spirituality.
And if that is, you know, uh, uh, uh, religious faith or if it is in some different perspective, whatever your personal belief and connection is, run with it. And that there is that, that sort of, uh, power and energy that’s out there guiding the inspirations and the work. So you’ve also talked about your art and creativity being, um, a way of expressing your values. And I’m curious what those values are and how you see that as coming through in your art. You know, how you are expressing those values.
Rukmini: 00:33:45 That’s a great question. Um, my values, I would say one core value is connection. It’s being able to help others feel less alone. I don’t know if we can even consider that a value, but this idea that if I show up and I could be as relatable as human as possible, that helps to give someone else that permission. Although, of course they have that within themselves, but it can help for them to do the same, to feel less alone, to feel connected.
And so this idea of creating connection through art is really important to me. And that’s why I’ve created this book and these cards, because for me the goal isn’t for someone to just see my art and be like, Oh, that’s beautiful. But for them to see my art and to see like a mirror of themselves and say, Oh my God, I see myself a little bit more clearly that I didn’t before. So if that counts as a value, that is a big one for me.
Adam: 00:34:32 I think it does if for no other reason, it’s because you value it. Right? So, so at the heart of it, I would say, that’s how we define our values as well. What do I value in life and connection? Just like conduit is a huge word. I’m sure I use it a lot in the podcast. I use it a lot on my website, on my blog, things that I write. Yeah, that’s wonderful. Okay. So you said you have grown up in a spiritual community. You touched on that earlier. And I practice yoga.
I meditate and practice us in a, in chanting and mantras and things on a daily basis. It has resonance and meaning with me, I did not grow up in a family and community. Like, it sounds like you did with that. And so this is more of a later life thing for me to explore within myself and those practices. Will you tell me more of what that, what the inexperience and environment was maybe for you in growing up with that and how that became such a central part of who you are now?
Rukmini: 00:35:33 Yeah, it’s something I don’t talk about too much, but I’m happy to share. I grew up in a family that yes, we practiced Bhakti Yoga and we’re also, I’m in a community of Hare Krishna. So I don’t know if you’re familiar with <inaudible>, but they, um, the Hare Krishna of faith is one that practice devotion to Krishna, Bhakti Yoga. It traditionally comes from India. So all of those things.
And so that’s, my, my parents were actually missionaries in the back in the seventies. And, um, they relocated from India to the United States. That’s where I was born. And they lived in the community, um, that had many other people of the same faith, the same background. And it’s just such a big part of my identity. Now, that being said, I think growing up, I always felt a little bit of a tension between, you know, the rural community, the Hare Krishna kid, the girl who does all these kinds of exotic different, uh, traditions and practices and rituals, and is vegetarian and a lot of things that are very different, you would say that mainstream culture.
00:36:26 And then, you know, the community that went to school in high school, and it just tried her best to be like a normal kid. So I would say for me, art making is that integration of both those worlds. But I sometimes again, in my teens could spend a lot of time almost denying that one spiritual aspect of my background, because it just did feel so different. So weird. Um, you know, Hare Krishna is can often be misunderstood as a cult or just something they, things like that being easily labeled in that way. It made me want to just hide that identity from people and just not really talk about it. But again, it’s, it’s such a huge imprint of who I am because we grew up with this very rich philosophy that we grew up reading, you know, texts like the Bhagavad Gita learning about the soul.
00:37:04 Karma and reincarnation are just part of my vocabulary and perspective of seeing the world, Dharma all of these things. And yet, you know, just growing up as an American kid, you just want so much to fit in to be so normal, I guess you can say. But like, like most of us as we grow older, we know what makes us different is also a benefit. And so I was seeing that, yeah. When I went to art school, ’cause I went to school as a graphic designer, I started to tap in for the first time, back to my culture, how I grew up and make art about it and talk about it. And that was really rewarding, but that’s a little bit about my background too. And that tension I held,
Adam: 00:37:42 You know, I have a sort of a weird, maybe even bad little story from one experience I had with Hare Krishnas who were, um, they caught me about 20 plus years ago. I was in my twenties and it was a Friday or Saturday night. And I was just out between bars and they handed me the Bhagavad Gita. I took it, I kept it with me for 15 years, never read it.
And then my family moved. And during that move, we had to get rid of a lot of stuff. And I thought, I’ve never read this book. So I gave it away. And then a couple of years later, it comes back into my life, not the same copy, but the book itself. And now that book, it’s one of those things where you look back and you say, somebody tried to open this door for me so many years ago, and now I’ve finally have come back around to it. And it has this meaning.
I’ve got it within reach of me right here. As we talk, it’s always around pages, dog, ear notes in the margins. It’s part of my, if not daily, my regular study. And so yeah, it, it has meaning to me now that I missed when I was a 20-something just out having fun partying and I missed the point. And so–
Rukmini: 00:38:59 Wow. That’s a powerful story. Yeah.
Adam: 00:39:01 I just wanted to share, because I don’t know what again, I’m going to get something off my chest here and say, you know, we have this in common, but I was a fool at first because I missed the signal. But I also want to ask, because I still don’t know about Hare Krishna very much. Is there more that you can describe?
You said it kind of has this wrap and that’s kind of what I was thinking was, well, people probably generally in this country have a view of what that means. And at the same time, I have no idea what it really means. So can you lay out for us? Like what, what it really is, and maybe that also implies what it’s not.
Rukmini: 00:39:40 Yeah, yeah. It’s Hmm. Hi Krista. It’s, it’s a term we throw on Hare Krishna because that’s what the society and the culture has been known for, but the practices Bhakti Yoga and Bhakti, it’s connecting back to God. So it comes from ancient India and in India, there’s different kinds of Yogas and one is Bhakti.
And so, yeah, I always kind of fumble around just the simplicity of explaining how you is, but really it’s, it’s a practice and a faith that connects you back to your source through chanting. So you’ll see a lot of people singing through the philosophy of knowing that you are a spirit soul and through, um, selfless service, if that makes sense. So this is very broad, but in doing that, um, the culture can be very specific. You’ll see men and women wearing saris and Doty’s, and you will see a lot of white people practicing this, this tradition.
00:40:30 And how did that happen? And I guess a little bit of history is the guru of the Hare Krishna movement. Sheila propa was a elderly man from India back in the seventies. And he came to New York city at the time. And he just wanted to, to share this knowledge of connecting back to who you really are. And we do it through chanting through, through love of Krishna, this divine source and in doing so he gained a lot of American disciples. And so that’s, and it was during the seventies when already there was so much stuff about cults and things like that.
So I feel like they really got a rap because I looked like a call. And if people, you know, they, the way they looked and they acted could be just so interesting and different. And so, um, that’s the rep that it has, but I would say nowadays, when, when you think of how a Christian is, it’s, I don’t know if you’re familiar with mantra and Cureton, but that’s so much of the practice of heart. It’s just, it’s the main thing it’s actually connecting to God through sound connecting, to Krishna through devotion. Um, I probably didn’t do the best at explaining, but, um, that’s in a little nutshell, a little bit about it. I have
Adam: 00:41:34 Come around to chanting and mantra as myself through those practices. And, and I actually have a short poem that I wrote a few years ago about the challenge of that the first time, becauseI felt so uncomfortable and I described it in that poem as a lifetime of church caught behind my teeth. Wow. Because I had this particular relationship with a Christian upbringing that I did not necessarily jive with as a kid.
And then here I am in adulthood much later on in my life. And for me to then feel comfortable and to understand the importance and the resonance of true resonance in this case, that’s a word I’ve used throughout this conversation, but in the vibrations within the body and throughout that experience of chanting it’s intro, that’s another full circle for me, right. I came from a certain perspective and ignorance and then came back around to what that possibility of connecting with spirit is through song and vibration of song and devotion and those things, um, you know, you mentioned white people too.
And John Lennon had come to my mind because of him and Yoko singing. Yeah. Yeah. And so, and during that period of time, right. And so they probably were some of the, the, the ones carrying, at least the words of the concept out to some people at that time and, and whoever’s listened since. Okay. Well, thank you for sharing that, especially when I know that that’s not necessarily something that you go into a lot, but I do appreciate, and, um, this is a space that I love to be able to do that.
Rukmini: 00:43:15 No, thank you for asking, because it is a big part of who I am. So it’s nice to just also lay that out and to go back to my own roots in that.
Adam: 00:43:23 Great. So do you remember, um, was obscure emotions if we step back to that for a moment, was that where you really developed this sense of self that you have that is connection to digging into so much of yourself that then has led to these other projects and like the Enneagrams and the things that you do work with now, or did it come from this place of spirituality and what you had learned, what had been instilled from your parents and these other in, in the community of Bhakti yoga and so on?
Rukmini: 00:43:57 Yeah, the obscure motion series. I, in some ways I feel like it came out of nowhere. It, I was not this emotionally attuned child and always thought about emotional like that. But I do think the principles of, of creating without this fixation on the results is something that has, you know, is a spiritual practice. And I think this idea of showing up vulnerably is, is something that inspired it. But for me, the obscure emotion series, it was definitely just about showing up for myself each day. And it was just inspired by a series of events happening in my life and wanting to document it. And it’s late. I would say it’s laid the foundation for my work since.
Adam: 00:44:34 Let’s talk about some of that work. You mentioned Enneagrams. I have read, I think multiple times actually the descriptors for the nine personality types, but I, I can’t do it justice or go too much further. So I’m going to trust that there’s somebody out there listening now who does not know what we’re talking about. So let’s start at the foundation. Would you lay out for us what that’s about and then how it ties to your work?
Rukmini: 00:44:57 Yeah, definitely. So the Enneagram is a personality framework. Like many, we might be familiar with Myers-Briggs and disc and all kinds of things, but it’s yet quite different and very complex, um, because it talks about human motivation rather than human behavior. So again, it’s this amazing framework that’s been around for a long time. It has a lot of history in different spiritual communities that people have used it for ego work back even hundreds of years ago in different monasteries.
There’s traces of the Enneagram being used. And so for me, yeah, for me, I first did this obscure emotion project and I was living in New York at the time. And I had friends who were Enneagram coaches. So I was familiar with the term, but I didn’t know it too well. And I remember I showed them my book and they were flipping through it and they said, “Oh, you’re drawing Enneagram types.”
00:45:42 And you don’t even know it. And I was like, excuse me, what does that mean? And what they shared was that the Enneagram has, um, when you know about the Enneagram, you can learn about why people do certain things, the motivations, the layers of motivations behind it. And so for me, that concept was just fascinating because I felt that I had already an intuitive understanding of human emotion that I was attracted to, but the idea of having like a blueprint of someone’s human psyche and ego was like quite amazing.
And so I took workshops with them and I learned under them and it really opened up my mind. I felt like I learned about myself in a much deeper way, just knowing my own PR my own time, my own Enneagram type, why I do certain things, different patterns I have was it helped a lot in my own self-awareness and I think it’s informed a lot of my art since. So in a nutshell, I would say, this is the Enneagram framework. It’s it’s complex, but it tells you so much about why you do the things that you do
Adam: 00:46:37 In my, looking at the descriptions. What I see is that it’s, at least for me, actually, you know what, my wife, Becca also she’s taken the test and she had at least four that were stronger, you know, equal. And then some others coming along, you know, it’s like she was in all of them. And when I read the descriptions and have not yet taken the test, I also see myself in almost all of the descriptions, some maybe more heavily than others. And I’m not sure what to make of that because it’s just not clearly saying, Oh, this is who I am. Here’s my one category, my label. So what do we do with that? I don’t know. I assume that you are aware of your, um, your numbers, your, your type,
Rukmini: 00:47:23 What makes Enneagram different is that you actually can’t land on your type, just through a quiz. And of course, many of us want to take the quiz because it gives us a little closer, but I’ve heard many people very confused. And I even tell people it’s better not to take the quiz. It actually comes from self-learning and from reading, which is a much longer way to learn something, but that’s why when you get into it and you actually commit to that process, you will learn something about yourself.
Um, I’m really grateful that I had taken these interactive workshops because they lead you through a process of learning about all the types that having self-reflected questions and going through an actual experience of landing on your type. Um, they actually say, you know, your Enneagram type, when it pinches you, because it shows the Enneagram specifically shows the dark side of the ego.
00:48:03 It’s less about the happy, good stuff. And it’s more like, Ooh, I don’t want that one. And then you, you just know it’s a, it’s like a feeling of almost being like exposed or are sought out. And you’re, you’re kind of like, how did you know that about me? So it’s a very deep experience that a quiz can’t really show you.
And again, sometimes it can take months of reading and, and, but it just, you just have to stay with the work. It can be a little frustrating that it takes so long, or if there’s a course out there that you can take. But the reason that you were saying you see yourself, you see all the types in yourself is that we do have all the types in ourselves there when we’re introduced to the Enneagram. It seems like where every number, because they’re so relatable.
00:48:40 But the idea is that it’s like a, it’s like fitting ourselves in a shoe. One size fits a little bit deeper. And again, often, if we’re not ready to see that certain shadow side of ourselves, we won’t even recognize that type. So that’s why it can be tricky when we’re self typing, because unless we’re super aware of that shadow side of ourselves, those deeply inherited, um, fears and things like that, we it’ll be hard to, to step into it, but I have a few book recommendations I can give.
And there’s learning from anecdotes is really helpful. There’s a book called I think the road between us and it’s, it’s a beautiful book and it goes through every type with very personal anecdotes. And it’s funny and it’s wonderful. And yeah, so there’s a few I can recommend
Adam: 00:49:21 It makes sense, right? Like we’re, if we’re looking to the internet and for this sort of quiz thing, almost like we’re in Cosmo or men’s health or GQ or whatever it is, right. Like that’s going to explain our lives. And, and so of course it makes sense. Uh, you know, all of this stuff is very complex. Emotions are complex, very nuanced, so much so that, you know, most of us try to run from them, right. Run from understanding them. But this is where you really dive in with your work.
And, you know, I’m just curious, I guess, as also a visual artist myself, as well as a human being, how you get from that vague sensation feeling, getting worked up for an emotion that you haven’t necessarily named yet as anger or fear or whatever it might be, and then managed to sort through that, to them, give us one frame, one visual that expresses it. You know, how, how have you come to that, that practice for yourself?
Rukmini: 00:50:23 Hmm. This is such a hard question. It’s like asking how do you breathe? Or how do you, um, I wonder about this myself, and this is why, this is why I come to this idea that creativity is a spiritual practice. Cause sometimes the things that come out, I feel like I’m not, I’m not creating this. I don’t know where this is coming out and not to say that it’s like that all the time, because I think that we, the reason we have creative processes is that we have some kind of predictable pattern to create art.
Um, but I will say that for me, I struggle with this. Sometimes it comes very easily and I it’s usually when I’m, I’m actually in the middle of an experience in my life and I’m really changing my perspective. I’d rather than, than just participating in that experience and feeling it, I’m taking a step out of my experience and observing it, if that makes sense, becoming more of an observer of my life, that is like a practice.
00:51:15 And it’s hard to do all the time. And sometimes in my life, like now it’s been quite hard for me to create art about specific emotions. I’m just sitting at my paper and I’m like, what, what do I draw? So I wish I had like a nicely packaged answer for you, but it’s, it’s hard. It depends on how, what I’m feeling, what I’m going through. And, and again, it can be such a spiritual mindfulness practice that when I’m in the right mindset, when I can take a step back from my experience and I feel that, um, I can tap into it, but I can’t do it all the time.
Adam: 00:51:47 Fair enough. Yeah. Maybe that was a pretty hard question. Great question though. Yeah. I can look at one thread throughout my work as a writer, as a visual artist, as all kinds of things in, in the things that I value and try to do in the world. And simplicity is a thread that just keeps running through all of it. And part of it is because of the challenge to try to get there.
And I think that’s where that question for me comes from, because I don’t know that I have figured out how do we take, because it continues to be that work. We take this complicated thing and we try to boil it down and distill it down. I mentioned poetry earlier to me, that’s, that’s the essence of poetry.
What you’re doing is, is distilling an experience. Something you’ve observed, whatever the case, a feeling and emotion, so that it can be communicated to others with maximum impact, you know, most efficient way of delivering that. And it’s just hard. So, you know what, maybe I was asking for you to give me the cheat code and just tell me how to do this thing. Because it, in my own experience of many years, it’s, it is hard.
Rukmini: 00:52:52 It is, but you know what, I’m really appreciating that you’re you said that because it got it light bulb in my head that for me, a key to getting to this, like you said, this distilling this kind of taking unpeeling or peeling off everything that we’re not to get to that essence, like we’re coming back full circle is real honesty. That’s and that’s why it’s so hard because it’s hard to sustain this real honesty.
But when there’s times in my life that I feel like I can be really honest about how I’m doing that. Honesty makes you get to the essence of something. It makes you say, Oh, that that whole emotion, that whole thing that happened. It’s because of this it’s because I felt threatened by someone superiority it’s because I felt, um, I felt so lost and, or, you know, whatever the case is. So I think when I can get to a place of real honesty, the message comes out clear
Adam: 00:53:42 While we are on the, the idea of distilling. I’m going to ask you another hard question as we work our way to wrapping up here. And that is well, one, I I’ll preface it by saying, I really enjoy conversations like this because especially with people who are creating, who are artists, and the reason is that they’re already well-practiced, you know, with, with expressing themselves, with digging into themselves, understanding themselves, dealing with these complex ideas of being human.
And so understanding that this is all a lifelong thing. And so you have many years of this ahead of you is going to continue. Your ideas are going to evolve. What I want to ask is if that helps simplify the question at all, for you, what I want to ask is what do you think that you have learned and come to understand, at least for the moment, whether that’s about yourself, about the human experience of emotions and the universality of being human. I mean, those are all huge concepts. I get it. But maybe there’s something you feel like in this process over the last several years work, that’s a nugget you’re like, yeah, I can hold onto this one for now.
Rukmini: 00:54:48 I think coming back to that point of honesty, that honesty is always attractive, is a big one. That’s self, honest work is the most powerful work. Um, I think I’ve learned also that all humans are looking for the same thing, which is connection. And all humans are afraid of the same thing, which is disconnection and loss of significance. And for me to create work that ties into these universal themes is a way that I feel more connected to my human family, that I, that we can create, like this shared empathy with each other.
So that’s what I’ve, I’ve come to learn that being human is so complex. And yet it’s so simple that it’s all about just how can we love and be loved. I think that’s like the essence of everything, which almost sounds too simple. And, and yet keeping that in mind is, is just very helpful. And reminding me, why am I making art, you know, to help someone feel that sense of significance, of love and connection?
Adam: 00:55:49 You know, I often say simple, but not easy. You know, these are simple simplified ideas that take a lifetime. And then some, if that’s what we believe in for those who do have work. So it’s, it’s, um, it’s just continuing to pull at those threads. And yeah, I love that disconnection was the word I had in mind while you were for a moment searching for it. Love. So we’re, we’re there, we’re on it together. I’m going to just say at this point, cause I know that you have, um, other things in, in busy life to get to, and we’re at our time.
I’m glad we could do this, Rukmini. It’s been wonderful. I thank you so much for, for joining me and talking with me for this podcast.
Rukmini: Thank you so much, Adam. Thanks for having me.
That was my conversation with artist and illustrator Rukmini Poddar.
You can learn more about Rukmini in the show notes published with relevant links and an episode transcript on the website, at humanitou.com.
You also can connect with her and see her work at dearruksi.com — that’s d-e-a-r r-u-k-s-i .com — and on social media. It’s @rockinruksi on Instagram, and @dearruksi on Facebook and Pinterest.
If something you heard in this conversation today especially resonated with you, I would love it if you take a moment to rate and review the Humanitou Podcast on your podcast player, if it’s one that has that functionality.
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Because it’s together that we can shape a more creative, hopeful and enlightened world.
I’m Adam Williams, creator and host of the Humanitou Podcast.
Thanks for being here.