Into the Mystic

04 Apr 2022

A journey towards self-worth

By Kat Ford

One afternoon while working at The Bascom in 2019, a co-worker called me into the shop. Naturally curious, I enjoy hearing what inspires other artists. Tell me all the cool stuff. Teach me your ways. She was looking at a new artist's work and was interested in my thoughts. I glanced through the images and was drawn to a grouping, one of which resembled an abstract jack-in-the-box bursting from a seed. "These are really interesting," I said, pointing. "Those are part of my zodiac series; I study astrology," replied the man on the opposite side of the counter. That's how I met Mark Shryock.

Mark didn't start off as an artist. Early in his career, with a naturally charismatic nature, he gathered a group of investors for a company that eventually collapsed. The experience propelled him into depression. "I was very egoic and power-driven at the time. People believed in me so much that they invested money they did not have." During this dark night of the soul, on the brink of suicide, he had a revelation. "I was given this saying that I now live my life by. I say 'given' because one minute I did not know it, and the next I knew it in its entirety: 'I am the Dreamseed that lies within you as in all humankind. In no one am I the same; this is my gift and curse to you. Many will laugh at your dream, for they dare not know their own. But I say unto you, dare to know me, for I am the path to all you can be, and I would not be within you if it were not possible for you to do and become all I have placed within. Faith is my wellspring; you are the creator, and nothing but yourself can stop the reality I wish to be.'"

Inspired by the promise of his vision, he attended a thirty-day codependency treatment center after his breakdown. Three years later, he returned to the center working full-time, conducting workshops he created, his first experience teaching. He loved it. When the center closed, he moved from Kansas to a small cabin on a creek in Oklahoma. The family who owned the property were prominent and active in the artistic community. They supported his creative endeavors by allowing him to live in their cabin for free. He painted, wrote and thought about mysticism, something he had studied since he was 13 through astrology. Wanting to share his thoughts with others, but with no formal training, he considered college. 

Painting was a preferred pastime over writing. But upon meeting the chair of the university art department, he was told he was a lousy artist with no future in the field. It was soul-crushing. Discouraged, Mark considered becoming an English major. Writing didn't come nearly as easy. He hadn't done well in high school; it wasn't until an above-average IQ score that contradicted numerous low marks in reading comprehension led to further testing, which exposed severe dyslexia his senior year.

Mark spent two years in remedial classes in college before he could take the core classes necessary to graduate. He had to hire a tutor and spend three hours a day just to get through algebra. In freshman English, he won an essay contest. He won a scholarship to a journalism seminar in Paris his senior year. After graduating, he began an interdisciplinary humanities master's degree in ecology, cosmology and consciousness studies at Prescott College. The community project for his thesis spanned seven years; he named it Willow Creek Clearing. In his thesis, he would attempt to bring back a tallgrass prairie, recreating what had been destroyed while academically documenting the entire process. "In addition to restoration and ecology work, Willow Creek Clearing was a living lab where I could study astrological cycles, create sacred space and landscape art, and explore the evolutionary dynamics of whole systems in space and time. In the Prescott College M.A. program, you build a team of mentors who are experts in areas you are studying. I had several prominent ecologists and tallgrass prairie restorationists, some top astrology authors, some strong spiritual and nature writers, some experts in evolutionary dynamics and my primary mentor, a highly successful painter and sculpture," says Mark. At Prescott, he found the academic freedom to connect the dots. "Dyslexia is a tremendous handicap in some ways but is also an incredible gift. I see the world very differently than the average person. I see in patterns, and this allows me to make connections others miss."

Mark explains how he combined astrology and symbolism to create immersive art experiences within the tallgrass prairie in his thesis, "For Aries, I made a sacred space room in the formal garden. The outside boundaries were 12-foot limbs that we cut out for forest succession. We placed in a large circle, upright the stalks, and buried them one and a half feet deep. I then hung wire on which we placed red-dyed sheets hanging from wire to the ground. The result was a large, round red wall circle you entered into by lifting one of the sheets at the end of the path. Around the edges inside were seven pots of red hibiscus flowers … and seven candles around each hibiscus. A fire was in the middle, surrounded by a circle of red-washed earth. On the night of the Aries full moon, we each marched down the single path file, holding a lighted sparkler to the process with great pomp, whistling the theme song to "Bridge on the River Kwai." In the circle around the fire, we tell jokes and tell yarns, both activities ruled by Mars as we each take turns beating rhythmically on one of the two drums being passed around the circle… We shared how we would be more courageous, wilder and creative the following year. I used circles mainly and the power and symbolism of paths, plants, color, shape, form and movement. The artwork was constantly being created and destroyed."

In 2007 Mark traveled to South Korea to teach English, desiring to travel while studying art and spirituality in Asia. His ability to identify patterns became a strength in designing curriculums that targeted strengths and weaknesses in learners. He was a professor, social justice writer, consultant and international lecturer. He became a Ph.D. fellow at Pondicherry University in India, where he studied Indian spirituality and cultural studies, especially the writings of Tagore and others like him on education, creativity and art. Throughout Asia, he worked in the health sector, observing patterns in the life skills of nurses and doctors, a practice he continued academically upon returning to America in 2016.

In 2018, to attain greater exposure for his art, Mark opened a Facebook account. "I would be lying if I said it was not crucial to my self-esteem the first year I left academia. I was unsure of my ability as an artist; I desperately wanted validation from others that my art was worth something," says Mark. But what started as a self-esteem crutch became a burden, finding that it affected others in his household, especially during the pandemic. "There were a couple of months, before I realized the insanity of it all, that I spent hours on Facebook answering comments on my art and commenting on other posts thinking this was what I needed to do to drive the art. This is time I will never get back with my family. The loneliest I have ever felt was sitting next to my now ex-wife as she was on Facebook.” 

On September 25, 2021, he decided to take a stand and take a break. He took a five-month hiatus from Facebook and found his creativity soared. He painted, wrote a book, spent time with his daughter, lost weight, read more, listened to new music, got centered and found peace. 

While Mark reactivated his account at the request of galleries representing him, he remains mindful to keep boundaries between professional necessities and falling back into the social media validation trap. "I view it as poisonous to my soul. I am certain social media created separateness in my family and my inner self," says Mark.

Galleries are where Mark wants to sell his work, which is what led him to The Bascom in 2019, the man standing across the counter from me. While he once feared rejection, now he says, "My formula is just to keep painting and not worry about it. To practice my craft. Once I developed my own belief in my art, the world began to mirror the value I saw." In what Mark would undoubtedly note as symbolic, the painting I identified that day at The Bascom was of the zodiac sign of Taurus. Ruled by Venus, Taurus is connected to value, money, luxury and resources. It is said that one of the lessons Taureans must achieve in their lifetime is self-worth. 

No matter where the sun was located on the day of your birth, true self-worth is something we all must master. In an era of likes, shares, followers and digital friends, it is just as easy to confuse value with social media as it is to falsely associate it with prize, praise or dollars. We are each unique and navigating a dimly lit course towards our own type of dream, the "Dreamseed" as Mark would call it. Others might say divine purpose. The way is dark because it is uncharted, different for every individual; we are walking and forging paths simultaneously. Self-worth is not what you are rewarded at the end of the road; it is what you find along the way.

To learn more about Mark Shryock’s work:

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