Category Archives: Change

A Threshold Time

What is a threshold?

The first definition that comes to mind is a doorway or entrance – a line or step you cross over to move into another space. Fall is a threshold season. It lies between summer and winter. Halloween, or the Celtic Samhain, is a threshold day, roughly halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, marking the end of harvest activities and the beginning of a fallow time of rest. Some believe it is a thin place in time too, when the threshold between the visible and invisible worlds is easily crossed. Another definition of threshold is the amount or magnitude of something that is required for something new to happen, such as the temperature water must reach to turn to steam, or the amount of money you must earn to move into a different tax bracket, or the  knowledge you must attain to move to another grade in school. You  might want to think of both senses of the word when you think about what threshold you are crossing (or what state you are moving into) this coming winter.

 Honouring the past, crossing the threshold

One of the issues that I frequently work with clients on is how to honour and cope with transition. In traditional societies, human beings were supported through changes by many different rituals marking various threshold times, such as puberty, marriage, and death. In most rituals you will find a dynamic of “Yes – No – Yes.” We say the first “yes” by celebrating what was true or of value in the past phase, and then we say “no,” where we turn away from the past and say, “I’m ready to be done with that time of my life.” We then turn towards something new – that’s our second “yes.”  Here is a “yes – no – yes” art exercise I’ve given myself this fall to help me embrace this particular threshold season. It’s as much (or more) about the process than about putting it together into a finished piece, so feel free to omit the last step if you like!

Autumn into Winter: A Threshold Project

Materials:

Magazines, scraps of coloured paper, beads, feathers, or other natural and found items, glue, scissors, poster board or a shoe box or other box with lid.

 The first “Yes” The harvest

Sort through your materials. Choose a whole bunch of images and pieces to reflect your life over the last three months or so. Include everything, good and bad, that you can think of.

The “No” The garden clean up                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Sort through your collection from the first step. What images, or parts of the images you chose, could be trimmed down or cut out? Metaphorically speaking, is there anything that needs to be put in the burn pile? Can some of it be composted, or used as mulch to cover the tender earth through the winter? Put these images and pieces aside for now. We’ll call this the compost pile.

The second “Yes” – Embracing the fallow season

Take another look through the pile again. This time you’ll be looking for images or parts of images that feel new, tender, or in need of protection from the winter ahead. Is there any growth in your life that is still quite young and fragile? New thoughts, plans, or ideas on the horizon that you are ready to to turn towards? You can set these elements aside in their own pile too. These are the things in your life that can use the winter season as a time to rest and gather strength. They will benefit from being quietly nurtured until the next growing season. This is the tender new growth pile.

Putting it all together

You will now have three different groups of images now: a compost pile, a tender new growth pile, and what’s left is a pile of elements that are full grown and can be celebrated. You could stop here and journal about the process, or you might already have an inspiration for how you want to work them all into a collage on the poster board. If not, here’s an idea to try using a box:

Using a shoe box or other lidded box, glue the “compost pile” elements to the outside of the box (not including the lid). You might want to creatively cut or tear these images up, since you don’t necessarily want to see them anymore. These elements will act as mulch to protect the inside of the box.

Glue the items in your “tender new growth” pile to the inside of the box. These elements need to be protected through the cold months, nurtured beneath the soil.

Finally, those images that portray the elements from the past season that you want to celebrate can be glued onto the lid of the box. These parts of your life can weather the winter out in the open, and can give you a lift or boost your confidence whenever you need it.

As always, writing about your experience and any insights you get while working (playing!) this way can deepen the benefits of the project. I’d love to hear what you think of it! Enjoy the harvest!

 

Taking the Time for Grief and Change in an Age of Impatience

It takes our human minds and bodies time to integrate change.

Taking the Time for grief and change When the change involves painful feelings – and make no mistake, most changes do, even the most positive ones – we often need more time. But we bring so much impatience to our experience of change and grief – we want so badly to skip over the in-between time, the time that lies between what we used to be or have, and what we are becoming. We worry that we’re taking too much time, or too much of our friends’ and family’s attention, and we try to compress our adjustment period into a socially acceptable month, or six months if we’re lucky.

We live in a culture of extreme impatience and intolerance for the ordinary discomforts of waiting. We experience our desires for instant gratification as a need, practically as a matter of life or death. Unsurprising, in an age that sees 140 character Tweets as sufficient to address political truths, and that believes that 30 seconds is too long to wait for a web page to load.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a believer in grieving forever, and it is possible to get stuck in the process. What “stuck” looks like, however, is different for different people, and can’t be dictated by a tidy, one-size-fits-all timeline. Determining whether (and where) you are stuck is a gentle and sensitive process that takes due consideration of your strengths and skills, your situation, and your needs.

Growth and healing after a loss or major change require both protection and expansiveness.

Our shell keeps us safe... until it's too small and we need to change.
Our shell keeps us safe… until it’s too small.

Protection, however, doesn’t mean protection from your pain. I mean protection from expectations and judgement. It requires a degree of courage, to feel exactly what you are feeling, in the present moment, especially when that doesn’t match other people’s (or your own) expectations or wishes. And what do I mean by expansiveness? Our hermit-crab soul has grown out of its shell (or had it forcibly taken away by circumstances) and is fragile, naked, and afraid. To stay in the shell would constrict our growth, so we need the space to explore and expand. To stay safe while we do so we need to be in an environment that encourages bravery and experimentation, and offers acceptance of the messiness that comes with it.

Make no mistake, it’s a tough balancing act. And one of the best ways to find both protection and expansiveness is in TIME. Deliberate setting aside of time – preferably just a little bit longer that you’d really like to, or think you can “afford” – to be as present to yourself and your reality as you can be. It might look like thinking time, journalling, prayer, or staring at the ceiling. It might involve something active or creative like hiking, art, movement, gardening, or music. The requirement is that it involves you attending to your current, present, inner life and experience, and not to what you think those ought to be.

Playing with the edges of what you’re comfortable with is going to be how you grow, how you find your strength, and eventually where you will find your energy and joy again. And it’s worth the time.

If I can be of assistance in helping you determine if you’re stuck in a grief or change process, please don’t hesitate to contact me. You can book a free consultation by clicking here.

 

 

Flexibility and Curiosity: Life Lessons from Children’s Literature

What I learned about flexibility and curiosity from the stories of my childhood.

Three books taught me the value of flexibility and curiosity long before I understood why they were important. I read James and the Giant Peach* by Roald Dahl, The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster, and The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles byJulieEdwards** so often in elementary school and beyond, that I still quote passages from them. I did so often enough that my own children probably thought they were my words, until I introduced them to the originals. 

I now see flexibility and curiosity as the two most vital lessons in my life and work. –

Life lessons from children's literature
What books stayed with you into your adulthood?

By their very nature they are also lessons that I have not finished learning. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but the young protagonists in these books all start out in various states of stuckness, of unhappiness with the way things are. They have reacted with despair, boredom, pride, or fright, and they are each convinced that how they see things is the only way. They are all on the cusp of becoming more true to themselves and more independent, but change is uncomfortable, and feels dangerous, even if it’s exactly what they want.

After the death of his parents and horrible treatment by his aunts, James embarks on a fantastic journey from rural England to New York City inside the pit of a giant peach. He rolls down a steep hill, bobs in a shark-infested ocean, and flies over the Atlantic in the company of equally giant insects who have a very hard time getting along. Milo begins what he thinks is an imaginary, and probably really stupid game in his city apartment, and ends up, hounded by the demons of Ignorance, rescuing the Princesses of Rhyme and Reason who have been imprisoned in a castle in the air. He is aided by Tock the Watchdog, who values time, and by an oddly appealing creature called the Humbug, who, despite some pretty bad character defects, manages to help anyway. Lindy and her brothers travel with a Nobel Prize winning scientist to another realm where all the creatures that human beings no longer believe in are hiding. Together they explore the country in search of the last Whangdoodle, hindered by hostile creatures who are determined to send them home.

Somehow, by the ends of their stories

Flexibility and Curiosity
There’s almost always another perspective…

James, Milo, and Lindy and her brothers have seen life from a broader perspective. They have been, for a while, embarrassed by their faulty assumptions or endangered by their own foolishness. They have been able to endure the discomfort of how things are, and have learned how to hope (and work for) something better. They’ve all walked the path between imagination and reality, and found that a healthy dose of one always enriches the other, and vice versa. They’ve learned to look closer, to be open to wonder, and to ask questions, lots of them, and not just the questions they are “supposed” to ask. They’ve all stood up to someone in authority, and seen that even someone who has good intentions can still be wrong. They’ve all learned to change their minds, to shift their position if it’s not working for them, and to accept that sometimes they are the well-intentioned person who needs to hear the difficult truth from someone with more wisdom.

My own story is not over yet, and I know I’m not done with these lessons.

I’m glad that I have such good, old friends to accompany me on the journey! I hope you have your own favourite stories that help you through the challenging times.

*The movie produced by Tim Burton just wasn’t the same, and was even more heavy-handed in my opinion.

**Yes, she’s the actress from Sound of Music that you know as Julie Andrews, married to Blake Edwards.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, misunderstood, or alone as you navigate a change or mourn a loss, I help people find their way through their unique grief. Please  contact me if you feel I might be of service.

 

The Fourth Piece of Art – Sharing Our Art Therapy

Not everyone who makes art in Art Therapy stops there,

with what they made in their session. Sometimes, even if we began a piece in the spirit of pure emotional expression, we feel an urge to bring it to some form of completion that we DO want to share with others. We might simply share what we’ve created during Art Therapy, as-is, or we may move from the immediate therapeutic expression to creating a fourth piece of art, where we begin again, with a plan and a direction in mind. This piece of art requires patience and the exercise of skillfulness. The intention in this piece of art is what we usually think of when we say “Art.” It’s a piece that is meant to be seen by others, and we allow it to be judged on qualities beyond its ability to mirror our feelings back to us. We expect it to communicate something to an audience beyond us, and perhaps to fit into certain parameters of skillfulness or quality of medium.

How we share our art says something about us

Whether we share it in its “first draft” form, which we may have created during an Art Therapy session or from a moment of inspiration, or whether we start over again with a plan, how we go about the process can tell us a lot about ourselves in other situations. If you’ve ever worked with me, you’ll know I always urge my clients to use caution when thinking about sharing anything they’ve made in Art Therapy with people who might not understand. The example I give (only somewhat jokingly) is of the risk of showing someone your deeply emotional piece, and having them say “what a pretty picture of a cat!” when to you it’s a gut-wrenching image of your relationship with your mother… Not a comfortable situation, I assure you! So, with due caution, let’s talk for a minute about what might be useful about sharing your art. 

Intention is important

What do I want, need, or expect from showing someone what I’ve made? Am I feeling solid in how I feel about this piece? Will someone else’s approval or disapproval create really big waves in my life, or just a ripple? I doubt anyone is capable of having no reaction whatsoever to other people’s opinion, but to become aware of how much impact it has on you is a great exercise in boundaries. The bottom line is that we don’t have any control over how someone else feels, and to fight this reality is to lose every time. It can be helpful when sharing your art to hold an intention to be compassionately aware of what happens within you. Am I tempted to change or explain away any aspect of my creation? Can I hear what the other person says about it in a spirit of curiosity?

Certainly, if one of your aims in showing your art is to work on aspects of skilfulness, then learning to hear helpful technical critique while maintaining your own unique style will be a major task. In fact, it’s probably an artistic skill just as much as how to hold a brush. If your aim is not technical but is to share from your heart with someone who is important to you, then it can be helpful to let them know that from the start. So often we expect our friends and families to know what we are feeling or wanting, but that is often unfair and unrealistic. How much kinder it can be, instead, to let them know. It is o.k. to only want them to see it and to hear you explain what it means to you. You’re allowed to be interested in hearing how it makes them feel (if you are) or that you’d just like them to ask you questions about it. It is even allowed to ask them specifically not to tell you whether they “like” it or not! What might it be like to do that? What might it be like for you not to know what their opinion was, but just to know that they were willing to be with you in your vulnerability of sharing? What would it be like to ask for their honest opinion, and to hold on to your own even if they differ?  I don’t ask these questions with any sense of knowing what the “right” answer is, by the way! I think it’s probably different for everyone. But I do believe that being willing to ask ourselves these questions is a courageous way to get to know ourselves (and other human beings!) on a deeper level.

And of course, the more we sit with the questions, the more we are working on that wondrous “third” piece of art, always in the making – ourselves!

Three Pieces of Art

 

There are always three pieces of art being created when you are making art as a way to heal.

The first is the one that came to life in your imagination. This is the image, symbol, or even just the feeling that arose in your mind that was full-blown all at once. It often becomes the piece of art that you end up trying to recreate, in “real life,” with your brushes and paints or clay. This first artwork is done the moment that it has been imagined. We might call it the inspiration, or just an idea or feeling, but I believe it has an energy of its own. Anyone who has agonized over their work, trying to make it look or sound like the painting or symphony that happened in their heads, or to make it match the emotion inside them, will know what I’m talking about.

            The second piece of art is the one that I ask you to allow to take physical shape during an art therapy session. This kind of art happens when I invite you to look and feel within yourself (to allow the first type of art to arise), and then to capture something of what you find there and put it into form with art materials. You go from a moment of inspiration to your paper or canvas and you try to get down the original idea, the original feeling, in its raw form. This is the pure expression, straight from your heart or your gut through your hands. You might not be satisfied with it as “a work of art” just yet, but it is one nonetheless.

            While these two pieces are being created, there is always another work of art emerging. This is you. And not just “you in your role as artist” – but YOU, your Self. You are growing and developing in the way that you approach the task of creation. You appear with more and more clarity each time you allow the first and second forms of art to emerge, uncensored. You become more yourself each time that you find it in you to accept, and even eventually to love what comes forth, whatever it looks like. With compassion for your fledgling images, you find compassion for your authentic self. When you can meet your authentic self with compassion instead of the defensiveness of ego or self-hatred, you are well on the way towards true healing.

For thoughts on what can happen with your art beyond the session, my next blog post is about the fourth piece of art: what happens when we share our art!

A Shelter in Stormy Weather

Have any of you wondered what the name Open Hearth Studio is all about?

stormy weather - hail on grassWhen I think of the image of the Open Hearth, what I see is an old fashioned kitchen: a shelter from the stormy weather outside. I envision a life centred around the fireplace where it is warm, bright, and comfortable, and where conversation is intimate. This is the environment that I try to create, despite not having a fireplace in my studio! This is the atmosphere where I believe healing can happen. I’m writing this in a brief sunny moment, right after a sudden and surprising hail storm.

People usually come to Open Hearth Studio in the midst of the most stormy and stressful periods of their lives:

when they are grieving, or struggling with a big change, either happening in the present or coming up on the horizon.

Grief, loss, and change can arrive much like that hailstorm – we might know that it’s natural, but it might have surprised us if it arrived without warning. We’re certainly having a lot of feelings, and some of them might not make sense or seem “right” to us. A move, retirement, or job change can be exciting and full of potential, and it can also bring feelings of loss and fear. A divorce can feel devastating, and sometimes we see a glimmer of new possibilities.  A new diagnosis can be frightening, and yet there may be some relief that at last you know what is wrong. Death can come with terrible sadness, worry about the future, and confusion. Yet alongside it may live tender memories, feelings of love, and gratitude for suffering ended.Stormy Weather

So the invitation is to come in out of the cold, stomp the snow off your feet, and settle down for a healing conversation, where all the parts of you – the pain, doubt, confusion, love, and hope within you – can be met with warmth and acceptance, and where you can move towards reconciliation and healing. The Open Hearth (even without a real fireplace) is waiting for you.

This month, I am offering an introductory Art Therapy Workshop for grief called “Art to Ease a Grieving Heart” where you will

  • Connect deeply with yourself so you can discover exactly what you need to avoid emotional overwhelm as you grieve.
  • Learn how to communicate with family and friends about expectations so you can make plans and decisions without defensiveness or guilt.
  • Create a concrete self-care plan for dealing with important milestones and special days to help you stay grounded and moving forward in your healing.

You can find out more about it on my workshops page, and registration is available online at Eventbrite or by contacting me directly by email or phone (250) 595-0405.