Monday, August 30, 2010

Reflections on My Bike

I love love love my bike. Well my adolescent girl-self loves my bike. I love nothing more then to feel the wind push against my body as I race down a root and rock covered trail in the woods, trying not to be thrown off. I love the freedom that I feel because of the places that my bike can take me. I love how strong I feel when I finally mount that hill that I swear I will get up without getting off my bike to walk. I love to feel the moist forest air sinking deeply into my lungs. I imagine the oxygen rich woods filling me with health and vitality. At first I feel apprehensive at being alone but I soon become enveloped by my surroundings and feel safe in its care. The woods feel like home. And when I am finished releasing my pent up energy I allow myself to dismount and just be in the woods.

I love to slip into nature and catch it unaware. I stop and just look at the beauty and feel my heart refuel. I don't think about anything except my surroundings. I don't hear any internal chatter. I just look and listen to the life that is buzzing around me. And it is such incredible life. A dragonfly, a flower, turtles sunning themselves on a log in a swamp nearby. Endless life! It goes on and on even when I am back in my busy peopled world. But I have ingested it and take it with me and feel all the muscles in my body soften. I have let go and I and those who need me will benefit from my adventure in the woods. The adventure that my reliable stead, my wonderful bike has allowed me to take.

Friday, August 27, 2010


I read a lot of different material but one of my favorite authors is a Buddhist nun named Pema Chodron. I love the depth and meaning of her work but also its simplicity. This week the following passage from her book "Comfortable with Uncertainty" resonated with me and seemed also to be relevant to those around me. Entitled Heaven and Hell, Pema goes on to tell this story. "A big, burly, Samuari comes to a Zen master and says, 'Tell me the nature of heaven and hell.' The Zen master looks him in the face and says, 'why should I tell a scruffy, disgusting, miserable slob like you? A worm like you, do you think I should tell you anything?' Consumed by rage, the Samuai draws his sword and raises it to cut off the Zen master's head. The Zen master says, 'That's hell.' Instantly, the Samuari understands that he has just created his own hell-black-hot, filled with hatred, self-protection, anger and resentment. He sees that he was so deep in hell that he was ready to kill someone. Tears fill his eyes as he puts his palms together to bow in gratitude for this insight. The Zen master says, 'That's heaven.'"

I love this story. I have read it a dozen times and I get something new each time. I recognized how I and those around me create our own hell. The beauty is that once we recognize that the hell we are in is created by us then we are free to leave it. We often struggle to find inner peace but keep thinking that it will come from somewhere other then ourselves. This story reminds me that I am the author of my internal story. If I choose to write a version that goes over and over the pain then I will be in hell. If I recognize that I am capable to leaving this hell by paying attention to myself then I can spend more time in heaven. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Preparing for the Fall Launch of our ecourse-SUBLIME

I am revising my ecourse-SUBLIME so we can run it again this Fall. I really enjoyed working on it the first time around and now I have more ideas to add. A dear friend lent me this wonderful book on mixed media and I devoured it. I have been wanting to try mixed media for a long time but never knew where to start. Well starting with a great book makes a lot of sense. The book is called "Taking Flight: Inspirations and Techniques to give your Creative Spirit Wings" by Kelly Rae Roberts. In this book Kelly Rae outlines lots of techniques mixed with supportive prose. She encourages people to allow themselves to get into their work and free themselves from past baggage. The illustrations are lovely to look at and her advise really is inspirational. So I have adapted some of her techniques for our ecourse.

My plan is to add a photo/collage journal to the mix. I wrote assignments based mostly on photography which I will keep in place but I thought that adding the mixed media art component might make it a little more fun. In addition, throughout the course I ask women to think about a number of questions that I pose and now with a journal project in place there will be a beautiful place to add these reflections. I am excited to be working in this area because it really does allow me to pull parts of myself together in a way that I haven't done before.

The artist and the therapist in me finally get to inspire one another. I have heard the stories of some many people's lives and have felt incredibly privileged to have done so. However, I have often felt that I wanted to offer people more then just an hour a week. So I did run some groups at one time but coordinating weekly meetings can get cumbersome and when people miss a session... So the ecourse is an ideal means of extending what I do while adding some fun along the way. What I hope is that this course will inspire people to reflect on themselves in ways they haven't before. What I have seen in my work as a therapist is that people really do have more tools and internal power then they realize. Part of my goal in therapy is to help people see this about themselves and learn to access this untapped resource. The ecourse is another way to show people the wonderful resources that lie inside waiting for release. 

During the ecourse we get to explore this internal terrain through creative expression. Sometimes words along don't help. When we are trying to discover something about ourselves that we can't clearly see it is almost impossible to use words to describe it. So by using art we can get a glimpse of this inside stuff and find a way to name it. Ultimately, I believe that finding our voice is one of the key elements necessary to feeling at peace in the world.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Importance of Art to Our Mental Health

After a lovely peaceful week in the woods I was anxious to get back to my computer and my ecourse-Sublime. I have really enjoyed the blending of my work as a therapist and the artistic expression of the ecourse. I now realize that although I have always done art I want to give it a greater presence in my daily life. Art is therapeutic. It is as simple as that. When we do art we take the time to be present in a way that we often don't in our busy lives. We take the time to pick the materials and colours we want to use. We take the time to think about what we want to do. We carefully set up our environments to accommodate the mess or quiet that we will need to be free to create.

These are all very mindful acts. And mindfulness is essential to creating. We have to pay attention to what we are doing. We have to be in the moment of the creation. We can ponder while we work which serves to feed our creativity. It also provides an opportunity to process. We might only be processing our day or we might be processing our lifetime. Regardless the one thing that we don't do enough is process. We continue to take in new information in the information age without editing much of what comes at us. So processing is more important then ever these days. Processing simply means that we have some reflective time. We reflect on what is important to know or remember or attend to and what is junk that needs to be filtered out. We need to do this in order to maintain our mental health.

The most essential thing for good mental health is to get to know ourselves. We can do this through art. When we take the time to create we get to hear our inner chatter. This chatter can tell us a lot about ourselves. Normally our lives are so noisy that we don't hear this chatter but it is always there. So being mindful, processing and reflecting while we are creating are ways to keep us in touch with this inner monologue. Knowing what we say to ourselves on a daily basis is important to being able to add or delete what we want. Like in our art project we might want to add a bit more of this or get rid of that, in order to create the art we want. We can do the same with our inner voice. We can learn to add praise and stop negative self talk if we provide ourselves with the opportunity to hear it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Back from the Woods

 Imagine our excitement at finding this wonderful abandon mill site. We had paddled past it in our tandem kayak countless times but had never seen through the trees to this incredible stone structure, silo and old mill house. On this particular summer day during our vacation we decided to paddle and have a picnic in one of our favorite spots. When we arrived at our usual destination we decided to take a walk through these woods because we were looking for a short portage route. My husband spotted a stone wall amongst the trees so off we went to explore. The next thing we knew we were standing in a wooded area staring in disbelief at an abandoned wooden mill house. As we wandered further into the area we came across stone walls and a silo. This is our second summer in the region and we had never even heard about this place.

We decided that we would investigate when we got back but we couldn't find anyone who knew about this wondrous site. However, now we have a mission and before the summer is out I am sure that we will know all about the old mill. Until then it provided us with a beautiful memory and felt like we travelled much further then simply across the lake. It felt like we travelled back in time.

Isn't that what vacations are for? Aren't we suppose to feel like we have left our everyday lives and wandered into another world? For me the best vacations are the ones where I feel like I have seen from a fresh perspective. What could be a fresher perspective then to think about what it must have been like to live in rural Canada before central heating! While we were exploring I was trying to imagine what it must have been like to live out in this region, at this site.  While it was incredibly beautiful it must have been harder then we could imagine. But perhaps it was only hard in a different way then it is today. Today life is hard not from the physical comfort standpoint but from over stimulation and moral confusion. Today people have lost touch with themselves in ways that they didn't in the past. Back then people were focused on the basics, certainly in a rural area like our mill site. When I looked around at the remains of their lives I could only guess at what it had been like. I would love to have been a fly on the wall in the days when that site was thriving. I am sure I would have enjoyed hearing about life from their perspective.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Off To The Woods To Reflect

   I am off to the woods to spend some time with my family, myself and nature. I love the roar of the silence in the woods which I always hear once I have left the sounds of my city life. We go to our little place in the woods where we bike, kayak, hike and swim. It is an active physical life up there which is a welcomed change from the active mental life I live at home. I have found that I need both. These two worlds keep me balanced. What I hope to do when I am there, besides play with our toys, is to let percolate all the wonderful things that I have learned while on the ecourse journey. I expect that I will see thing that I didn't when they were staring me in the face.

   When I am in the woods I make a conscious effort to try to look carefully to find what is hidden, a frog just poking it's eyes above the water, a deer slipping past, a humming bird trying to see if our bright red water container holds sweet nector. I like to slip into nature and that is why I love our tandum kayak. We can almost silently sneek up on the turtles sunning themselves on the rocks close to shore. Of course they always hear us and slide into the water before we get to close. But we keep trying. Once in a while when we are paddling we catch a turtle unaware just under the surface of the water. We watch as they quickly dart away from our big yellow boat.

   One of my other favorite activities is to ride my bike in the woods. I love feeling enveloped by the trees and moist air. When I ride I feel like a kid. No hill is too big to climb, no roots or rocks are too threatening to race over, no decent is too fast. I fly through the air on my bike as if infused with a mission. I feel happy and giddy with the freedom. So off I go...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Near Completion of My First Ecourse!

   I have just finished running my first ecourse. Back in the winter I sat with a friend and talked about how I wanted to combine my love of art with my work as a therapist. I didn't want to do art therapy I wanted to use art as a means of exploring an idea that developed from my therapy practice. In my practice I repeatedly encountered mid-life women who struggled to be everything that we knew they could be. For example, they were unhappy because they second guessed themselves, they felt they had to please others, they felt frustrated because it seemed that no one saw them. As I reflected on this reoccurring theme I wondered what was missing. These were wonderful, smart, funny, lovely women. What was it that was keeping them stuck.

   After much thought it became clear to me that these women weren't having any fun. I wondered why. Then it hit me that these women did not have access to the fun part of themselves, their early adolescent girl. I knew that this part of the self knew how to have fun. She knew how to play and not let anything stop her from laughing too loud or feeling too passionatly. This self was unapologetically herself.

   I knew that I needed to figure out how to help women reintegrate her adolescent self. But I didn't know what kind of forum to do this in. I had toyed with the idea of running a group but wasn't convinced that that would work for practical reasons, i.e., we would need to gather one evening a week, find a suitable space... So as I explained myself to my photographer friend she said, "what about running an ecourse?" And I replied, "what is an ecourse?" She patiently explained it to me and slowly I realized that that was exactly the forum that I was looking for. It would provide the structure, accessibility and artistic freedom that I wanted to provide. So in March I sat down and wrote the course. It took me about three weeks to put 6 assignments together to get at the ideas that I had been sitting on for probably years. Today marks week six of the course. It will soon be over and I have learned so much.