Ken participated in Mindful Art Workshop – Autumn 2014. He was referred to the group by his Community Facilitator – Greg Vayenas.
During this session he came into the group and said to me “I don’t want to do art today, can I just meditate?” as he was feeling particularly negative about his abilities.
I said to him “you don’t have to do something you don’t want to do” and that we always start the group with meditation. Let’s see how you feel after the meditation and “you should give yourself a chance and see what happens.” We proceeded with our meditation and discussion.
The group discussion was on black and white thoughts. Discussion was based around the concept that white thoughts are positive and allow for a more realistic perspective that promotes positive actions, while black thoughts can be negative and can impede an accurate perspective of situations lead to more negative actions.
During the art activity Ken decided to try to carve. He was careful when printing his flower onto the dark paper to avoid finger prints and created his finest print to date. Ken also wrote a poem during this group called – Night Flower in the Wind. This experience was surprising for Ken as he started out being negative and with encouragement he was able to transform a negative mind into a creative mind. If you know Ken then you may be surprised to see his art and poetry as you would not normally associate Ken with art and poetry.
I absolutely love this print and his poem. Every time I read the words, I smile. The image and words really captured the black and white theme and the contrast between delicate beauty and harshness of this world.
“Actions of change” shows us that things are not permanent, including our negative thoughts and feelings. Just like anything else negative thoughts come and go and if we watch them long enough, they simply dissolve back into our mind. When we create the space to watch our thoughts, we are also creating a space for more virtuous thoughts to arise and beauty to emerge. At the end of the group Ken said:
“I’m thankful to my creator for life and health and everyone’s creator, and I’m thankful for the food that we received in the mentor’s luncheon downstairs earlier, and the service of the staff. I thank Greg for driving me here because it wasn’t that much effort to come, just got a ride from Greg because he met me this morning and he spoke to me. I’m thankful for the encouragement for doing some art because I was kind of negative about doing art at first but then with encouragement I was persuaded to do some art and for all the viewpoints of people, listening to them.”
Ken’s quote in included in the audio file below. This unedited version gives you a glimpse into the group. At the end of the group we complete a gratitude exercise where all members are invited to speak and share their experiences. It is a wonderful way for everyone to reflect on the themes of the group and share a something meaningful with each other. This is a great exercise to practice speaking from the heart and also listening with an open mind.
It is amazing how much we can grow with the right amount of support, encouragement and care. Just like flowers, we need the right conditions (soil, water, sunshine – a wish, effort, encouragement) to develop good qualities and shine. When someone else can see the good qualities inside you and help to water and nourish these qualities – it is amazing what can be achieved.
Print and poetry were created by Ken. Photograph by Joshua Armstrong, rehabilitation student. Graphic design and layout by Amee Le & Joshua Armstrong.
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.
I called this print life because you cannot isolate yourself from anything. Living with an injury, you must live as normal a life as possible You have to stay connected to all things and fit in with the group.
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.
We are all connected to each other within nature and our environment. If you are connected with your family, you can understand their moods and what is needed to help them with their day and showing that you love them.
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.”
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
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
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.
There is a part in each of us wanting, craving space to express. Yet through our life experiences, schooling, family, friends, we’ve been taught to value one thing more than another, that our work should be perfect, anything but perfection is not good enough, and should not be shared. These thoughts can hold us back, in fear of judgment, that what we create may fall short of expectations and we close off our creativity.
I’ve worked with clients who are creative, have amazing talents, and are very hesitant about showing their art to others, out of fear and judgment. I certainly hear those same thoughts in my mind, the judgment, the criticisms, holding back from expressing because I need more time to prepare. I am hearing those exact thoughts as I sit and write these words.
Over this past year, I’ve become aware of all of the judgmental thoughts in my mind. I’ve also stepped back and looked at myself realistically – all the good parts and not so good parts and seeing things as ‘just is.’ Being mindful of my own thought processes and accepting them while showing them kindness has lead to a pleasant surprise: the judgmental thoughts began to lose their grip and kindness and acceptance of myself began.
My ongoing mindful meditation practice, and teaching and counseling clients through their own transformative process are the basis for the first mindful art workshop. Adapting mindful meditation principles for clients with a moderate to severe brain injury means breaking the ideas down into very small, and manageable bits of information and teaching each part slowly.
During the first day of the workshop, we talked briefly about the idea of mindfulness and to be aware of our own judgment. Group members were reminded to be aware of the judgmental thoughts, and to take those thoughts and combine them with the idea of acceptance.
Acceptance means being kind to ourselves. To know that we all have those thoughts and to give ourselves the kindness that we show to others, and accept that voice that judges. To allow room for the voice to exist, while being able to watch and act on the thoughts that are positive that will allow us to change.
Doing so we can begin to see, or be mindful of, both judgment and acceptance to find inspiration from within to express through art. Another concept to shake our own inner judgment is: surprise. Often we expect our art, our creation to turn out a certain way. When they don’t, we are disappointed and discouraged and believe that we’ve failed. Participants were reminded to accept whatever they create at the end of the class, and relish in the surprise of their creative art. To let go of expectations, to find surprise and joy in the results, no matter what they may be.