“So what is it that you do during the workshop?”
I’ve been asked this question several times so I’ve decided to give everyone a glimpse into what happens during the workshop.
“So what is it that you do during the workshop?”
I’ve been asked this question several times so I’ve decided to give everyone a glimpse into what happens during the workshop.
My name is Amee and I am an occupational therapist (OT) working with persons diagnosed with a serious head injury in a community setting. I’ve had the opportunity to be part of the lives of those affected by a sudden and serious event that resulted in irrevocable damage to the brain.
The truth is, accidents do not discriminate based on age, gender, ethnicity, income, education, nor geography. Meaning – anyone is at risk of having an acquired brain injury (ABI). In a moment, your life can change forever. Acquired brain injury may be an organic and irreversible change to your brain but there is hope. There are information, research, and services for those with a head injuries. There are organizations and people who care for those who have been injured. One of those organization is CHIRS – Community Head Injury Resource Services of Toronto and the Brain Injury Society of Toronto who is talking about this important topic through their #areyouaware campaign.
June is Brain Injury Awareness Month and to bring a spot light on this important issue, my Occupational Therapy Assistant Student Nicola John and I decided to transform the ordinary space of an elevator into an exhibition space to display the art work of those whose lives have been affected by an acquired brain injury. We involved survivors, staff, and students in creating individual letters for the banner as each person is unique, each injury is unique and every one is important.
The art displayed on the boards represents the effort and artistic abilities of people whose lives have been shaped by an acquired brain injury. This includes survivors, students, and therapists.
Images can be less threatening than words and talking, so using visual art may make it easier to express difficult emotions. This method of communication allows people to feel free to reflect, and to express themselves and connect with others to gain personal insights and awareness.
Most people in the group do not describe themselves as artists or identify as having any artistic abilities. Many of the people have never used a carving tool before. The workshop is often their first attempt at learning to meditate and carve and stamp their own individualized images.
Some people carve with two hands, while others carve with one hand. Some people have double vision, while others have partial paralysis in half of their body. Some have shaky hands and others have weak legs needing to use a cane to walk. Regardless of physically abilities, all persons are free to make their own decisions to experiment and test out ideas.
The images represent the resilience of each person to cope with adversities, search for meaning from difficult circumstances, remember what was lost, connect with feelings of love and inner peace, and rediscover a new self. Themes of spirituality arise, as does connection with memories that remain and memories that were lost. The creative process involves meditation and relaxation, which provide stress relief and connection with a person’s inner essence. When minds are calm, creativity can more freely emerge.
Each person who participates in the group created, sketched, designed, and printed their own images from their own hearts and minds. Through engaging in the creative process, each person builds confidence and receives validation from seeing their artwork and from group members. Each person feels nourished and supported by other members of the group and this allows a person to be genuine and sincere. This insight allows a person to explore hidden abilities and realize their potential. The result is the feeling of accomplishment from creating something personally meaningful. This allows a person to grow emotionally thus creating an imprint of a new memory and way of being.
We also featured the art work from the Art Exchange with Nancy Morin, Occupational Therapist from Horizon Health Network in Fredericton and asked people to write their comments. Here are a few…
Spring is finally here and the warm sun rays have returned to kiss our faces. It’s about time because this past February had been the coldest month in recorded history of Toronto. The East Coast also had record snow fall this year and cars had been buried in the snow.
This February I was also contacted my Nancy Morin, Occupational Therapist in Fredericton. I met Nancy through a lunch and learn session held in June 2014 hosted by the Canadian Association of Occupation Therapists. We’ve exchanged emails and talked about program development to connect our clients to meaningful occupation and artistic expression. At the time, Nancy had been interested in starting a creative expression group and was putting together the bits and pieces to combine Occupational Therapy with creative expression and even mindfulness. We exchanged ideas and encouragement and several months later Nancy had started her creative expression group and was wondering if I would be interested in participating in an Art Exchange with her group. I happily accepted!
I introduced this idea of an art exchange to the artists in my Winter 2015 workshop. Most people had not heard of an art exchange and did not know what it was all about. There was some hesitation as I explained the concept to the group. With encouragement several clients came forward to have their art work featured in the art exchange. Some people were unsure if they were ready to share their art work with others. Our group worked on putting together a collection of gift tags. I also contacted past participants and asked if they would be interested in adding their beautiful art work to this collection. Three weeks later we had a completed collection from the artists at Community Head Injury Resource Services of Toronto (for further information on CHIRS click here). This was mailed out with love to Fredericton.
On the last day of my winter workshop when I was feeling distracted and consumed by emails. I walked down the hall feeling a bit defeated by my to-do list and scheduled appointments, I checked my mail box and saw a brown paper envelope. The art collection from Fredericton had arrived and opening each paper envelope brought a smile to my face. By the time I finished opening all the envelopes, my mood had changed from exhaustion to delight and inspiration. Here is the collection of art from Fredericton to Toronto with Love.
The art you see below was sent to CHIRS as part of an art exchange with the Horizon Health Network of Fredericton, New Brunswick. Five artists in the Addiction and Mental Health Services program in New Brunswick contributed their art. They are: Sam, Sunayna, Lynn, Vicki, and Amanda.
In exchange, the artists in Mindfulness Art Workshop at CHIRS sent a collection of their art to Fredericton. The artists from CHIRS are: Orlando, Roxanne, RB, Chris, Scott, Ali, Cathy, Elisheva (Rehabilitation Student) and Amee (Occupational Therapist).
So where did where did this art work come from? Nancy kindly wrote the following explanation:
The Recovery Art Studio creative expression group was founded in September 2014 by Occupational Therapist Nancy Morin and Visual Artist Marsha Clark. The Studio is open to adult clients of Horizon Health Network Addictions and Mental Health Services, Fredericton Region. We also work in partnership with the Capital Region Mental Health and Addictions Association (CRMHAA) and their R.E.A.C.H. Centre (Resources, Education, Activities, Connections & Help Centre). The approach in the Studio is to fully integrate healing based on the principles of Recovery, Occupational Therapy, mental health care, visual arts, mindfulness and vocational counseling. Members are supported on their own recovery journey to self discovery and expression through art, greater self-esteem, skill building and improved confidence.
As Nancy said “members are supported on their own recovery journey to self discovery and expression through art, greater self-esteem, skill building and improved confidence” and that is the power of art contributing to positive health outcomes. The power of art to connect groups of people from one province to another is a testament to our ability to form new social connections with one another. Through creative expression we can connect with a part of our self suppressed but longing to speak. Sharing art and stories improves self efficacy and boosts self esteem. When we can push through the barriers of judgmental thinking social pressures, we may be surprised at the results and once we create we should share this genuine inspiration with others.
My teacher at the Kadampa Meditation Centre in Toronto told me that after Buddha attained enlightenment he was unsure if he could share his experience and knowledge to the world. What he had attained was so great that he was uncertain if the world could understand these teachings. He waited two months and with a special request from Indra and Brahma he was asked to turn the Dharma wheel (teach the path to widsom) and he did. Imagine if he had never shared his experiences to his disciples and pass on his knowledge and wisdom. There would be no Buddhist concepts of: meditation, mindfulness, loving-kindness, and compassion in the world. There would be no path, no teachings, no guidance, no ways to change your mind to cope with difficulties. This gives all of us the encouragement we need to start sharing. We will never know how much our life can touch another’s. The only thing we can do is try our best everyday to put effort in being kind to others and being true to our inner voice and share these moments. Knowing this we can slowly learn to appreciate the preciousness of this human life.
The name of this print is Charity. I asked RB “So why charity?”
He answered ‘I’ve always thought of flowers as charitable, as a charitable thing to do.’
“As an act of giving?” I said
And he agreed.
Print and poetry were created by RB. Photograph by Elisheva, rehabilitation student. Graphic design and layout by Amee Le.
June is Brain Injury Awareness Month and to kick off the month the Brain Injury Society of Toronto (BIST) is launching a campaign asking if you are aware?
Are you aware that a BRAIN INJURY CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE?
The impact of a brain injury can be devastating not only to the survivors themselves, but to their family members, caregivers, friends and their community. It can affect every aspect of their life, often resulting in loss of livelihood, isolation, and physical, emotional and behavioral challenges.
Your brain is who you are, it’s your humanity. Just as no two people are alike, no two acquired brain injuries are alike. Survivors will experience the effects of acquired brain injuries in many different ways.
After a brain injury a person may experience many of the following changes:
These changes and many more can be very confusing. There is also a tremendous loss of aspects of their pre-injury life and routine – things that are no longer possible for a person to continue to do. Although on the surface, a person may look exactly the same, his or her brain has changed and this can be frustrating for brain injury survivors to convey to people.
Many people with a brain injury experience seizure activities. We talked about this in our group and most participants are able to manage the frequency of seizures with medication. When a person has a seizure, they are unsafe to drive and for a person who is used to hopping in the car daily and enjoys the experience of driving – this loss of independence is massive.
FOND MEMORIES – A Series by Inder
I am very fond of driving. It gives me freedom, independence and excitement. I am very comfortable in the car. I’ve always wanted to buy a particular car.
Last year, I finally bought the car – a Red Convertible.
Exactly two days later, my Neurologist advised me that I shouldn’t be driving so I respected what the Doctor said and I stopped driving.
I went through the Drive Again program – and passed. Then the winter came and I decided to park the car in the garage. Then spring came and I took the car out and drove for about a week or so.
Then I had a seizure and the Doctor told me I shouldn’t be driving and I got a letter from the Ministry advising me to stop driving.
Within a week, the car went back in the garage and I felt devastated.
Then I made a decision. I felt that there was no point in keeping the car sitting in the garage, so I told my friend to help me sell my car. So he took the car two days ago.
So, there’s a saying back home – if you want to do something good tomorrow, do it today. If you want to do something good today, do it now. Whatever happens, happens for the good. In spite of going through a tough last 3-4 years, medically, I met a number of very nice people who are very kind to me that I may not have met otherwise. — Inder
Inder shared his story with our group and the impact of this loss was palpable to everyone in the room. When Inder and I sat down to write this story, he look distant at times, worried, concerned, and at a loss yet the story that was very clear and visible in his mind. At the end of the story, when he sold his car, I had asked him “Is this the end of the story?” After sitting back and reflecting, he was able say “Whatever happens, happens for the good” and he had a big smile on his face as he thought about the people whom he has met due to his brain injury and although the journey is tough and arduous at times, and life gives and takes, survival is victory and reminds us that we are strong and life is a gift.
A series by Neil.
All photographs were taken by Fiona. The narrative was written by Neil with the help of Carrie M. who recommended Neil for the group and provides weekly encouragement and support, to help Neil through his week.
This print shows the connection between family and life. The four corners represent each member of my family (me, mom, dad and brother) and shows how we are all connected to each other.
Life means love. Loving everything that is possible and not being scared of trying things and fitting in. Caring for the place you are living in.
This print came to mind because of the relationship with my brother and how my parents have to interfere as opposed to us all being happy together as a family. This interrelationship within my family impacts my life. When my family is connected and happy, I am happy. –Neil
After a long and dark winter, spring has arrived in Toronto. The flowers have arrived and we are blooming with inspiration from our new group of participants. All photographs below were artfully arranged by Fiona, our new mentor for the group. I officially would like to welcome all new participants to the group and look forward to our time together meditating, creating art, sharing stories and finding meaning.
“I’m thankful for getting the opportunity to meet everyone here, it’s always a pleasure to be able to meet other people who know about brain injury and who are generous enough to share their story. Thankful to the community I have around me, my friends, family, and colleagues. I’m just thankful to be here today.” Fiona
“Thankful to Amee for letting me be here and attend this session and letting me get to know two other very nice people. Also thankful to the god for giving me two legs to stand on and two arms for holding other people’s hands. 2 meals a day and a roof over my head and family and friends. For everything despite the head injury I have, I’m still able to breathe and walk and talk and do many things which millions of other people are not able to do.” Inder
“I’m thankful this group is very, very, very relaxing, I like doing the art which I get frustrated over, it was very relaxing this group, this group is a very good group, and I am thankful I joined it. Thank you all to the leaders and the two people I met here. Thank you for such a relaxing and good group.” Neil
New year and we have a new group! This is our second week and the theme of the class is: storms, strength and wisdom. In Toronto, we have had a series of ice storms that have caused electrical blackouts and icy conditions. Many living in the city, especially those with a disability have had to live through days without electricity. This means limited access or no access to elevators, hot water, assistive devices that depends on electricity. So our theme for the week starts with the storm – both the ice storm and personal, emotional, traumatic storms of our lives. I read the following message of resilience to our group:
“The earth has a heartbeat. In between each beat is silence. That silence is when the life force gathers strength for the next beat. You must learn to do the same. Use the silence to gather yourself. Life can give you strength. Life gives and life takes. As it is teaching you even now. Life takes our time and everyday is one day closer to the end of our journey on this. It takes our efforts our sweat, our best intentions, our noble ideas, our dreams and sacrifices. And often demands more. Then it gives us obstacles, surprises, disappointment, indifference, confusion, doubt and heartache. Yet life does give us much more than the obvious. If we can look back on the difficulties we have know, whether old or new, then we have moved past them at least in time. That we are looking back on a tough experience from the perspective of the present moment means we have survived it. The experience may have taken a toll, as difficulties do. But whatever our losses have been, we have survived. Survival is victory, because we know or we are reminded that is it possible. Survival is victory because life has given us something along with the difficulty.”
“The experience the difficulty has taught us or reminded us that we can be strong.” by Joseph Marshall III – Keep Going from Soundstrue
I would also like to add, that through hard times, we also gain wisdom that comes from the enduring the difficulties. This can open our hearts further so we surface with more love and compassion for others who have also endured this journey. I am proud to share art work from this theme.
We would like to celebrate our first Art Sale for 2013. I’ve put together a video showcase of all the art work from our group and would like to thank all of the participants for their time, dedication, and creativity to the group enabling a safe space for everyone to express.
Mindful Art Workshop Developed by Amee Le, Occupational Therapist
Art by Chris, Micky, Orlando, WSM, Roxanne, Paul
Music Credit by Capital Cities Safe and Sound Instrumental Version
Photographs and Video by Amee Le
We had our first Mindful Art Display at the CHIRS’ (cheers) holiday party (Community Head Injury Resource Services of Toronto). It was a wonderful night to celebrate this special events with friends and family and our community of persons whose lives have all been shaped by an acquired brain injury.
We are working hard to prepare for our first Art Sale, stay tuned!
Here are the gratitude comments from the group:
“I am thankful for my friends and my co-workers who have supported me while going through a transition in my life.” Amee
“I am thankful for the CHIRS clubhouse for the people within this building who have changed my life and made everything a lot easier, also thankful for family and just community and people helping each other.” Chris
“I am thankful for getting here safely every day and it’s cold and soon I’ll be not taking the bus during the winter because it’s too cold, so I am really thankful for that. Also I am thankful that my dog is ok, hopefully, because two times this week she vomited so hopefully she’ll be alright.” Micky
“I am thankful for my health. I am very thankful for my family and all the wonderful people that I meet every day, being at CHIRS. I would like to send a very special prayers for all the people around the world suffering from disasters today.” Roxanne
“I am thankful for being here, for having you guys to support me and help me, it’s really nice. I hope that I can keep coming, for as long as this class is until, so I can get something out of it.” Paul
“I am thankful that I get to come to work every day and do things that I enjoy and I get to discover new talents that I didn’t know I had, not necessarily in this class. I do enjoy the class so I am very grateful for it too.” Amanda
“I am thankful for the blessings and knowledge.” Orlando
“I am thankful that I woke up in time to sign myself in, go out for a smoke, and make it at the right time to open the door for Amee.” WSM
Sometimes we need the darkness to see the light. Through the storms and dark nights, the sun rises and a new day begins. Keep going – through the dark for it can make our light even brighter.
What a better way to illustrate this than by using black textured card stock and printing with white ink.
Here are a few gratitude expressions from the Artists:
“Today I am really thankful for you guys. For doing this group with me. You guys teach me something new every time I do this and it makes me very happy. So I want to thank each and every one of you for showing up.” Amee Le
“I am thankful for being able to be here. Thankful for my parents. Thankful for all the people in this room and this building.” MSW
“Thanks for the work did today.” Orlando
“I am grateful for a lot of things. The time that we have to work on art, and the openness that you guys share while we are here.” Amanda Muise
“I am thankful for the different activities we do here. Especially the meditation, I find it’s a good way to relax so when I leave and go home because I would like to carry it on, when I am lying in my bed, when it’s dark and it’s quiet and it helps me to fall asleep.” Paul
“I am thankful for my friends here. I am thankful for CHIRS. I am very thankful that I went to the kitchen today for the first time – I prepared spaghetti. I am thankful for so many things, words can’t explain – thank you!” Roxanne
“I am thankful that I’ll be getting a ride half way so that I don’t have to walk in the dark. Also for people who have taught me different techniques and things that I need for everyday life.” Micky
“I am most thankful for never being alone, because of CHIRS and because of these kind of activities, I get to experience joy and share it with other people.” Chris
This week our group started working with Prints & Patterns. We had a lot of fun carving small and mighty 1.5″ x 3/4″ erasers.
Here are a few gratitude expressions from the Artists:
“I am thankful for all the helped I’ve received in my life, all those who have thought about me and have gone out of their way to help me because that has helped me to be who I am.” Amee Le
“I am thankful for all the people in this group.” WSM
“I am thankful for the change in the season and inspiration from the autumn and getting ready for winter.” Amanda Muise
“I am thankful for everything that we made today.” Orlando
“I am thankful for having two hands. I do art with my left and work with my right and pulled a muscle with my left arm and I can still do art with my right. I am thankful for this call, and the sacrifices that I’ve made to get to where I am and the people who have helped me.” Chris
“I am thankful for to share the creativity that I can make and print out to the rest of the group.” Mickey
“I am thankful for my life, for being alive, thankful for all the wonderful people who have helped me, and continue to help me. I am thankful for my family and thankful that I’ve met all of you guys here. I look forward every Thursday to come here.” Roxanne
“I am thankful for my new friends here and my nice home that I’ve moved to here in Toronto.” Paul Scott
Inspiration for this week:
The theme for this week’s Mindful Art Workshop is Kihelakayo – Keep Going
“A young man asked his Lakota grandfather what the answer was to life’s difficulties. Kihelakayo said the old man – we must keep going.” Joseph M Marshall III
October is here and there is a new group of Artists joining Mindful Art Workshop at Community Head Injury Resource Services of Toronto. Here are a few gratitude expressions from the Artists:
“I am thankful for the past two hours because I forgot all about my tooth ache” RW
“I am thankful for a carving that is supposed to be a dog that turned into a raptor” WSM
“I am thankful for a space to be creative” Micky
Have you ever felt so closed up that it became normal? Do you remember a time when you felt free? Have you asked yourself Why am I so guarded?
When it comes to art and expressing ourselves there is a conscious effort to connect with our heart and that takes courage to be vulnerable. The word vulnerable can have a negative edge to it. I have heard of people with an acquired brain injury being referred to as the vulnerable population.
There is truth in this, as many of the people who come to share their time with me are vulnerable, even tender, but with encouragement they are intensely brave to take on the task of looking at their barriers their blockage and express what is inside.
The barriers come to try and protect us because our past histories are occupied with pain, hurt, and disappointment and this can lead to the feeling of blockage, being closed up and guarded. To expand on the perception of blockage and vulnerability I’ve tried to explain this as black and white thoughts. We have black thoughts and we have white thoughts. During the Mindful Art Workshop, we meditate on the black and white perspectives and the participants created these eraser carvings (click here) to illustrate the two sides of the same coin.
We then printed the stamps on a black canvas, and it magnified the white art. Perhaps we need the barriers and the black thoughts to have a canvas where our vulnerability and white thoughts can shine. When we show ourselves love and kindness we accept our blockage and we accept our vulnerability; for without one the other would not glow so brightly.
Then we find ourselves starting to open up and the barriers perhaps are lowered slightly. Then perhaps our hearts beat a bit more mighty as we gather the courage to show ourselves love and kindness for all the parts, bit and pieces of ourselves. Then we are that much closer to freedom.
Prints from this workshop:
Check out this video made by the drama club at Community Head Injury Resources Services of Toronto. It is a dedication to the one’s will to survive, live and thrive.
Finding meaning when we have lost a beloved.
I would like to share with you the stories of two clients; each had lost a beloved person in their life. One gentleman spoke of his worries about his grandmother being very ill and having to be hospitalized. He described this grandmother as having been like a second mother to him. He sat in my office, overcome with concern that she may not live through this battle. Some time later, he arrived to tell me that his grandmother had died. I sat with him, trying to make a space where he felt safe to cry. We were able to practice deep breathing and gentle seated yoga and he sat through two 10 minute meditations, taking a short break to cry and feel the pain from his grandmother’s passing. When he was ready, I wrote and showed him this message: Grief + Gratitude = Inspiration.
I explained that it is normal to feel pain when grieving, that the pain signifies that the person is important to you and has deeply touched your life; otherwise, you wouldn’t feel such strong emotions.
Grief can have negative connotations and can be labeled a negative emotion. We can take that Grief and add something positive and possibly uplifting – Gratitude. Think about all the wonderful memories and ways that this person changed your life and try to connect with a feeling of gratitude, for without this person, you would not be who you are today. Find ways to be thankful for her life. The way she lived her life has changed the way you have lived yours.
The second client spoke about the loss of his girlfriend, which brought forth in him memories of losing his father many years prior; he allowed himself to cry for both losses.
Let the loss of your beloved also be your inspiration. Take the grief, add gratitude, and create inspiration so that when you remember your beloved, you can experience a feeling of inspiration. Both of my clients asked me to write this equation down for them as reminders.
Each client walked away with a bit of lift in their steps and a slight smile, as if to say, “I’ve found new meaning for a very special person, someone who I will always keep close to my heart”.
There was a sense of excitement during the first group, combined with nervous anticipation. Participants were eager to get started and were unsure of what to expect. The class started with a deep breathing exercise so that all participants could come together to feel grounded and present. Then I spoke to the class about finding inspiration by giving to ourselves.
This can be an unusual topic, as so often we are giving to others; taking care of ourselves is a foreign concept; it’s like we are speaking an unfamiliar language. As professionals, caregivers, family members, friends, we are socialized to give. We are kind to others and we often feel like our hearts are limitless in the amount of care we give to the people we love.
Then, if we are mindful and pause, we can remind ourselves that, although our hearts are deep and open, our bodies have limits; respecting these limits means finding ways to give back to ourselves, giving ourselves permission to take care of our bodies, our minds, and our emotions, taking care of the parts of us that connect to meaning, and being kind to ourselves.
This is, we want to keep being kind and giving to others and continue giving; at the same time, we stay mindful and find ways to replenish ourselves. This can be viewed as a cycle of giving so that we are not depleted at the end of the day. We remind ourselves that as we become depleted, we can give less to others. When we give to ourselves, we are in a sense giving to others as well.
“But what if this feels selfish”, says a tiny voice? Or, “I don’t know how to do this”, says a louder voice.
Pause and step back; be aware, be mindful without judgment. Hear these thoughts talking to us, give them space to talk, and listen to their messages; this is acceptance. Then what? We may be surprised what comes next. With practice, the thoughts become quieter and the layers peel away as we become more open to ourselves. When we do this, we may be surprised of what we are capable and how deep our hearts truly are.