The adventures of the Headway T-Shirt in Toronto!

Recently I’ve had a chance to visit England and walked through the doors of Headway Essex, an organization that provides brain injury care and support. I came in contact with Headway East through discovering their art studio website. I discovered Headway Essex through Dr. Carolyn Lemsky, Clinical Director at CHIRS introduced me to Steve Shears, Trainer and Psychotherapist at Headway Essex. Steve kindly showed me the agency and I had a chance to visit and meet the people at Headway.

Headway Essex
Headway Essex – 58b Head Street, Colchester, Essex

During my day visit, I had the opportunity to visit BounceAbility – Special Needs Trampoline Centre. Watching people of all physical abilities getting out of their wheelchairs and working on balance, coordination and stretching. There was also added “stealth benefits” (according to Andy Plowright, Service Manager) such as allowing another person to help you with your balance and relying on another person to support you on a moving surface can build trust and re-establish physical and emotional connections with another person. This supportive and trusting relationship is especially important for a person who have experienced physical trauma that have resulted in the head injury.

BounceAbility – Special Needs Trampoline Centre

Visiting the day program and meeting people at Headway was heartwarming. One person showed me his ankle foot orthosis (AFO) brace that is very well made and seems to be protective of sensitive skin areas in the lower extremities. The brace was red and the owner of this brace is proud to be a Manchester United Fan; in Toronto, our AFO brace are uniformly white.

Ankle Foot Orthosis
A Manchester United Ankle Foot Orthosis

I had a chance to talk about my meditation and art program which hopefully generated some interest in developing meditation and art programming for people at Headway. When it was time to part, I was given several information guides, newsletter and a large Headway T-Shirt. Andy Plowright, Service Manager at Headway Essex was apologetic that the T-shirt would not fit me but generous in his giving spirit and gesture of appreciation.

When I came back to Toronto, I wanted to do something special and carry on the momentum of giving. I was speaking with my colleague Amanda Muise, Behavioural Therapist about my excitement and ideas. I thought it would be cool for CHIRS and Headway to connect and a T-shirt could be a good catalyst.  We talked about who could wear this T-shirt and she suggested Mr. Rob Ashe.

Rob ordering a burger
Rob ordering a burger

When I told Rob about my idea and showed him the picture, newsletter and T-shirt, he was very excited about the idea. He eagerly put the Tshirt safely away in his backpack. When I saw Rob two days later, he had taken pictures of himself around the city with the help of his friend James.

Welcome to Toronto, Canada!
Welcome to Toronto, Canada!
Rob in front of Tim Hortons - a Canadian favourite for coffee lovers
Rob in front of Tim Hortons – a Canadian favourite for coffee lovers

Rob and I know each other through his participation in Mindful Art Workshop – Winter 2014. During the workshop, Rob learnt to meditate and try to do an art activity that was new to him. He made new friends whom he tries to keep in touch with. Rob was able to complete his art activity quickly and was ready to move on to the next task. So sitting still and waiting and listening was new to him. He is very articulate and easily shares his stories, successes and difficulties but this ability to articulate could overshadow others who had a harder time sharing their voices. As the workshop progressed, Rob learnt to sit back and listen. To reflect quietly, then use his articulate voice to deeply appreciate other people’s talents and gifts. He talked more about others and less about his stories and came to appreciate this new way of being. Below is a sample of his art work. He called this piece – Anointed.

Anointed by Rob Ashe
Anointed by Rob Ashe – art work from Mindful Art Workshop 2014
Rob in front of CHIRS - Community Head Injury Resource Services of Toronto
Rob in front of CHIRS – Community Head Injury Resource Services of Toronto

After taking a series of photographs, Rob and I sat down and I helped to upload the photographs from his phone. During the summer months in Toronto, there are several festivals and celebrations. Below are the places that Rob visited with his friends from CHIRS.

Rob at Hockey Night - a CHIRS program for persons of all abilities to have fun playing floor hockey in teams
Rob at Hockey Night – a CHIRS program for persons of all abilities to have fun playing floor hockey in teams
Rob taking the Subway Train in Toronto
Rob taking the Subway Train in Toronto
Rob with a street performer in front of Yonge/Dundas Square
Rob with a street performer at buskerfest in front of Yonge/Dundas Square
Rob with a street performer on Yonge Street in Toronto
Rob with a street performer at buskerfest
Rob in front one of his favourite places - HMV a store that sells music and movies
Rob in front one of his favourite places – HMV a store that sells music and movies

 

Rob with volunteers collecting funds to support Epilepsy Toronto
Rob with volunteers collecting funds to support Epilepsy Toronto
Rob in front of Yonge/Dundas Square holding purple balloons to support Epilepsy Awareness - a cause that is close to his heart
Rob in front of Yonge/Dundas Square holding purple balloons to support Epilepsy Awareness – a cause that is close to his heart
Rob and David Slonim, Mentor's Coordinator in front of Pape Subway Station
Rob and David Slonim, (Mentor’s Coordinator) in front of Pape Subway Station
Rob and his friend sitting outside her childhood school
Rob and his friend Jen, sitting outside her childhood school – a private school for girls
Rob at Spadina Subway Station in Toronto
Rob at Spadina Subway Station in Toronto “This shows the humanistic side to us. He was playing guitar and I waited for him to finish and I gave him some money and asked if he would like to take a picture together and he said sure”
Rob in front of the Old Mills. This is an important place as it is where he received his 25 years watch for working with the city.
Rob in front of the Old Mills. This is an important place as it is where he received his 25 years watch for working with the city.
Rob in front of David's Tea a popular place for tea drinkers to enjoy many types of teas
Rob in front of David’s Tea a popular place for tea drinkers to enjoy many types of teas
Rob taking a picture for his wife who is originally from the United Kingdom
Rob taking a picture for his wife who is originally from the United Kingdom because she loves Union Jacks or anything to do with England

When I arrived at work on Monday morning, I found a treasure inside my mailbox. When Rob and I were sharing stories and photographs, he had tears in his eyes. He said that “you couldn’t have asked for a more perfect person to do this task” as he loves to connect with people and especially people of all abilities. Rob understands that people with a brain injury may not have the same physical abilities as they did prior to the injury. Through his travels he wanted to share with people the places and events that he has access to and hopefully through these images, all persons may have access to these places and events.

Rob's Message
Rob’s Message
Rob's message
Rob’s message

This is Rob’s Message

Hi!! My name is Rob Ashe and I am a client at CHIRS (Community Head Injury Resource Services) in Toronto. When I was asked to have pictures wearing your group shirt, I took on the task because I feel strongly that groups wherever and whoever need to make contact and then we have a better understanding of each other and That is Great!!!!

I want to thank you for this opportunity and let you know that I believe that having a brain injury should not hold us back as we have much to say, much to experience and above all, much TO GIVE

Rob and his wife Amanda. “We’ve been married 19 years and she helps me a lot”
Rob and his wife Amanda. “We’ve been married 19 years and she helps me a lot”

I can’t begin to tell you how much this has touched my heart. Sometimes the work that we do can feel like work and there are good days and challenging days.  Some days are full of beautiful moments and some days are problem solving days. My motivation for doing this work is to help others, whoever comes to my door. Knowing that we can touch each other’s lives and share in meaningful moments is a good reminder for me of the goodness inside each person that I’ve met. I am sure many therapists, helpers, teachers out there will share in my experience that the work that we do is relational and it takes two to form a relationship. The support and encouragement I give to the clients that have come into my life are reciprocated in so many ways that surprises me when I need it the most. It is these moments that helps me to remember what is important to me. To help others knowing that we all have an important part in each others lives.

What happens during Mindful Art 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.

Step 1. Meditate

Colour Outline Meditation

Step 2. Design your Print

Tobi desigining his print
Tobi desigining his print
Don designing his print
Don designing his print
Giovanni & Nicola
Giovanni & Nicola

Step 3. Start Carving

Giovanni Carving
Giovanni Carving
Giovanni Carving
Giovanni Carving

Step 4. Wash your Stamp

Tobi Washing his Stamp
Tobi Washing his Stamp

Step 5. Start Stamping

Tobi Printing his Stamp

Don using a Stamp Pad
Don using a Stamp Pad
Don printing his stamp in his journal
Don printing his stamp in his journal
Mary Ellen stamping her print
Mary Ellen stamping her print
Nicola stamping her print
Nicola stamping her print

Step 6. Ta-daa!

All Roads Lead to Him by Tobi
All Roads Lead to Him by Tobi
Striving in Life by Giovanni
Striving in Life by Giovanni
Together by Amee Le
Together by Amee Le
Move Forward, Never Backwards by Nicola
Move Forward, Never Backwards by Nicola
Love by Don
Love by Don

Step 7. Gratitude Exercise

Week 8 – Last Session: Art Exchange

Don listening to the Reflection Exercise
Don listening to the Reflection Exercise
Reflection Exercise
Reflection Exercise
Art Exchange!
Art Exchange!
Art Exchange
Art Exchange
Giovanni contemplating
Giovanni contemplating
Mary Ellen viewing the slideshow
Mary Ellen viewing the slideshow

Our First Art Commission – the Twillingate Commission!

I am very happy to announce that Mindful Art Workshop has received its first art commission! This week, I will be shipping our gift tags from Toronto to Twillingate Newfoundland. You may be asking yourself, umm, where is Twillingate and how did you end up connecting to a small town of 2,269 people located off the northeastern shore of the island of Newfoundland?

Welcome to Twillingate
Welcome to Twillingate – Picture by Melodee McPherson

The story begins with Nancy Morin, an Occupational Therapist (OT) from Fredericton New Brunswick. She was reading the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapist magazine, called CAOTNow, and saw a very practical article called Exploring Mindfulness Meditation in Occupational Therapy: An introduction to Basic Practice, written by Nina Elliot, an Occupational Therapist from Newfoundland. Thanks to technology and the good hearts of OTs, it is several months later and we have all grown new project together!

Amazing is the power of the internet and social media to connect like minded people working towards the same goals. Nina, Nancy, and I have exchanged thoughts, ideas, and inspiration. We are three OTs interested in meditation and art and wanting to create a positive change in the work spaces we occupy.

Recently, I received a hand-written letter in the mail. I like getting things in the mail; it feels like a gift. Most of the time, it is bills or advertisements; this time the letter was a precious gift of kindness. Nina sent a cheque, a note, and her quirky inspiration!

Letter from Twillingate
Letter from Twillingate

So who is Nina? She is an OT and a person who is passionate about meditation, art, and craftivism (Activism through Art and Craft). She writes has a blog called Rock Vandals, in which “the aim is to surprise and delight through creative acts in otherwise neglected spaces.” She has recently created a campaign call Old Manolis and the Sea to bring awareness to the effects of oil spills on the fragile marine ecosystem. She wrote about Craftivism, which

“uses craft as a form of expression and political action and is often referred to as gentle, loving activism. The form is familiar and designed to encourage viewers to explore the issue and draw conclusions for themselves.”

To bring awareness to this issue, Nina gathered knitters and crocheters; “nine knitters and two crocheters answered the call, generously donating their wool, expertise, and artistic talent to create over 40 unique starfish for the exhibit”.

I used to knit, but had given it up many years ago because I was bored of knitting in a straight line and did not have the inspiration to follow a pattern to knit a sweater. Viewing Nina’s display of starfish on the rocks has inspired me to start knitting again. And Nina’s offer of a downloadable pattern for the starfish on her website was further inspiration. If you are a knitter or crocheter perhaps you would like to join Nina and her Rock Vandals!

image
http://www.rockvandals.com

I was sharing with Nina my excitement about visiting England for a summer meditation festival and retreat. Prior to the festival, I will be going to London and visiting an organization call Headway, which provides services to people with a brain injury. Headway East London has an art studio full of beautiful art pieces created by persons with head injuries; the studio has regular art shows and exhibits.

Headway East London - Art Studio
Headway East London – Art Studio
Headway East London - Art Studio
Headway East London – Art Studio

 

Headway East London - Mosaic Sculpture
Headway East London – Mosaic Sculpture
Headway East London - Mosaic Sculpture
Headway East London – Mosaic Sculpture

Seeing the studio inspires me to have the intension to learn to create sculpture. Viewing the studio has planted images in my mind of the possibilities of an art program for persons with a head injury. I will also be visiting Headway in Essex to explore the day program and share ideas on how meditation can be modified for persons with a head injury.

Coincidentally, Nina informed me that she used to volunteer for Headway. Her inspiration for Rock Vandals comes from Knit the City in London, England. So what is Knit the City? They describe themselves as “Operating from a secret underground wool-lined bunker in the heart of the busy metropolis of London, Knit the City’s Yarn Corps spend most of their lives operating under assumed names and living their lives like every day people”.

What is it that they do? The group engages in “Guerilla knitting or ‘yarnstorming’ is the art of conjuring up a piece of knitting or crochet, taking out out in the world, releasing it into the wild, and running away like a mad thing.” The picture below is an example of their creation.

I had to laugh while looking at this picture. It certainly left an impression in my mind. Seeing the squid and the beautiful starfish, I decided to purchase knitting needles and orange yarn; perhaps a fun project will emerge from this! A while ago, I had given away my knitting needles and yarn to a friend, who then kindly knitted a dish cloth and cute pouch for me. Perhaps it’s time to once again pick up the knitting needles and see what I can create. Although I cannot knit a giant squid, I can definitely try to knit a starfish.

As one therapist inspires another to start knitting, I hope that the art work from our workshop will inspire someone in Newfoundland to start meditating, carving, and stamping!

The Twillingate Commission
The Twillingate Commission
Mindful Art Workshop - The Twillingate Commission
Mindful Art Workshop – The Twillingate Commission
Don designing his print
Don designing his print
Tobi designing his print
Tobi designing his print
iovanni designing his print
Giovanni designing his print
Nicola stamping her print
Nicola stamping her print
Mary Ellen stamping her print
Mary Ellen stamping her print

The Many Hearts of OT: a Toronto Rehab Retreat!

I was kindly invited by Natalie Paananen, Occupational Therapist (OT) and OT Clinical Educator to give a presentation and lead a meditation and creative arts activity for the therapists at Toronto Rehab Institute. I was delighted for the opportunity to share my love for meditation and art with fellow Occupational Therapists.

Natalie and I prepared for the workshop by gathering all the materials necessary for a creative arts activity. We dedicated our time and efforts into this activity, in hopes that each person who attend the retreat would be able to walk away with practical tools to incorporate in their clinical work and other areas of their life. Luckily we were supported by Clinical Educator Debbie Hébert, who arranged for us to receive a budget to purchase carving tools, linoleum, and stamp pads.

Preparing for the retreat, I decided to lead a meditation on Patient Acceptance so that we could develop a calm and peaceful mind to help ourselves and others. My inspiration for this medication came from a book called How to Solve our Human Problems: the Four Noble Truths by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and, on what Shantideva says on page 34 of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:

If something can be remedied Why be unhappy about it? And if there is no remedy for it, There is still no point in being unhappy.

On the day of the retreat, my student Nicola John, Occupational Therapy Assistant student, and I arrived at the auditorium to give a presentation and lead the art activity. Unfortunately, there were technical difficulties and the laptop that was supposed to be used to upload the PowerPoint presentation was crashing. There were several people involved in trying to fix this problem. Strategies to ensure that the retreat would flow smoothly included:

1) Restarting the computer
2) Taking out the batteries
3) Ctrl + Alt + Delete
4) Pushing the power button repeatedly
5) Waiting, hoping, and praying
6) Repeat

7) Asking strangers if they had a laptop that we could borrow
8) Asking the staff at the YMCA for a laptop
9) Asking anybody that was close by if they had a laptop
10) Looking at the laptop and sending it positive motivation so that it would reboot

11) Offering to drive back to the university to grab another laptop from some department
12) Waiting

While this was happening, I was smiling to myself because the meditation I was going to lead was on being able to Patiently Accept problems and difficulties with a happy mind while trying to actively solve the problem without becoming upset. When our minds are calm and peaceful we can more easily solve problems in a rational and wise manner. There is no point in developing an unhappy mind, as that will rob us of our logical reasoning and good sense and we will be less able to help ourselves or others.

It is funny how these events come together. As I was about to deliver a teaching, I was receiving a teaching as well. In that moment, I had to ask myself, “are you practicing what you are teaching?” I had to smile at the situation, knowing that I would be okay if I just kept a happy mind. I also knew that everyone around me was trying their best to resolve the problem. I reminded myself that I had the ability to be flexible, to change with the circumstances, and to do what was necessary for the best outcome.

Happily, just before we were going to skip the presentation and move forward with the art activity, the laptop came to life, the presentation was uploaded, and my time to speak had arrived! We were all very relieved and the presentation was delivered smoothly!

Then it was time to lead a guided meditation. Everyone was open to learning to meditate. After the meditation there was a noticeable calmness on the faces of those in the room. The energy was at a calmer level than before. When I had asked that everyone open their art kit, prepared by Natalie, there was noticeable excitement amongst the therapists. After one more movement meditation, involving gentle seated movements paired with a focus on the meaning of giving and receiving, we were ready for the next stage.

As Occupational Therapists, we give a lot to our clients and team members. It is part of this job and most of us who have chosen this profession did so because of our wish to help people. There are times when we may feel overburdened and the flow of giving has become stuck. To symbolize this relationship, I asked everyone to focus on continuing to give to others while receiving the things they need to feel love, supported, and nourished, thus enabling us to keep giving to others. This activity was paired with a mantra by Asa Bennett & Kelsang Yangchan called “Om Muni Muni Maha Muniye Soha” in the album From the Heart. There was a wonderful flow of movements during this meditation; afterwards everyone was excited to start designing, carving, and printing their art work. The pictures below show the focus and determination of the therapists as each person interacted with their linoleum block.

Toronto Rehab Retreat - June 2015
Toronto Rehab Retreat – June 2015
Toronto Rehab Retreat - June 2015
Toronto Rehab Retreat – June 2015
Toronto Rehab Retreat - June 2015
Toronto Rehab Retreat – June 2015
Toronto Rehab Retreat - June 2015
Toronto Rehab Retreat – June 2015
Toronto Rehab Retreat - June 2015
Toronto Rehab Retreat – June 2015

Then it was time to print. You can see the diversity of the images uniquely generated by each person. In each picture you can see the messiness and neatness of each workstation as each person used the tools to create a meaningful art print. Each print is designed and stamped differently, reflecting the diversity in our experiences, skills, and abilities.

Mindful at the Toronto Rehab Retreat
Mindful at the Toronto Rehab Retreat
Toronto Rehab Retreat - June 2015
Toronto Rehab Retreat – June 2015
Fiddleheads and Summerlicious at the Toronto Rehab Retreat
Fiddleheads and Summerlicious at the Toronto Rehab Retreat

When each person printed their images, I asked everyone to give a name to their art work. I was thrilled to see “The Many Hearts of OT” expressed on printed images.

The Many Hearts of OT at the Toronto Rehab Retreat
The Many Hearts of OT at the Toronto Rehab Retreat

At the end of the workshop, while we were tidying the tables, I wanted to see all the printed flags from the therapists. I arranged the flags and Nicola photographed them. When I was reviewing these images the next day, I was blown away by the beauty and meaning of each print. This was such a special experience for me to be able to share my love for meditation and art and receive many positive comments and feedback, as well as seeing the excitment and joy on everyone’s faces. Exploring meditation and art as therapeutic tools can have immeasurable benefits to one’s health and wellbeing.

A Mandala at the Toronto Rehab Retreat
A Mandala at the Toronto Rehab Retreat

Natalie and I hope that this workshop will have a positive effect on participant’s view of using meditation and art as treatment modalities. We also wanted to ensure that this was not a one-time experience, isolated to the retreat. By giving each group a physical tool box of goodies and the mental tool box of skills and direct experiences, we hope that the seeds were planted for this experience to benefit both the therapists and the clients, staff, friends and family that are within their circles.

If you are reading this and were a participant, please leave any comments about your experiences from the time that we spent together!

For a full gallery of the beautiful prints please [click here.]

A Mandala at the Toronto Rehab Retreat
A Mandala at the Toronto Rehab Retreat

June is Brain Injury Awareness Month

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.

  • #areyouaware iPad mini contest –  Visit www.areyouaware.ca for your chance to win an iPad mini – we’ll be giving one away each week in June and the contest starts today! You can also help us spread awareness by letting all your friends, family, and co-workers know about brain injury awareness month and the contest.

#areyouaware

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.

Brain Injury Awareness Month in Toronto
Brain Injury Awareness Month in Toronto

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.

Brain Injury Awareness Toronto

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.

Brain Injury Awareness in Toronto

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.

Brain Injury Awarenss in Toronto

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…

Brain Injury Awareness TorontoBrain Injury Awareness in TorontoBrain Injury Awarenss in TorontoBrain Injury Awareness in Toronto

Brain Injury Awareness in TorontoBrain Injury Awareness in Toronto

Brain Injury Awareness in Toronto

Brain Injury Awareness in Toronto

Brain Injury Awareness in Toronto

Brain Injury Awareness in Toronto

What we have lost, what we can learn and the road ahead

Anniversaries, birthdays and milestone markers can bring fourth positive emotions like joy and happiness but can also call for sadness, grief and avoidance.

For people with an acquired brain injury the anniversary date of their accident is a day that is clearly remembered. Loss after a brain injury include memory impairments, planning problems , regulating emotions and although these people will forget new name, new faces and daily, the one thing they have engraved in their minds is their anniversary date.

I would like to share a story about a young man learning to cope with the effects of an acquired brain injury. Our Mindful Art group started on May 7, 2015 and I was informed that this is two days before the anniversary of his traumatic motor vehicle accident resulting in two fatalities and one survivor – Tobi. I was informed by his case manager that “this can be a more difficult time for him.” Tobi is a 22 year old young man  who sustained injuries as a result of a severe motor vehicle accident

During this group, participants tried to meditate and learn to carve and print linoleum blocks. This was the first time each participant tried this art activity. Tobi carved his first print called “Turn that frown upside down.” Initially, he drew many set of eyes in his art journal when he was designing his print. However, when it was time to draw on his linoleum block, Tobi’s image evolved into something different – faces expressing emotions. He seemed very pleased with the final result. As each person shared their art work everyone was supportive of each other and was delighted at the results of their efforts. There was an unconscious theme – ghosts, two graves and block of eyes. As I placed each piece of art work in the center of the table, the collective theme that emerged was a big surprise. The mindfulness theme of this session was: judgment + acceptance = surprise! (for further details click here) and this abstract theme became personally meaningful for each  individual person as each was was delightfully surprised by their own creation.

Turn that frown upside down by Tobi Banjo
Turn that frown upside down by Tobi Banjo
Mindful Art Workshop - Spring 2015
Mindful Art Workshop – Participants in the Spring 2015 group

I like to end our group with a gratitude exercise. From previous experience, I have found this exercise to be a powerful experience for people wishing to reflect and found it to be an opportunity for everyone to say something personally meaningful and share their thoughts. So I use the opportunity to explore the topic of anniversaries, as it is also my birthday in 3 days – an anniversary of birth.

I start the gratitude exercise by asking each person to thank themselves and those involved in helping them arrive to the group. It takes a lot of effort and planning to make a decision then stick with it and show up. Next, we thank each other for friendship and company and we thank our community for giving us a safe space to gather. Then I lead the exercise with something I am personally thankful for. I stated to the group that an anniversary is coming up, and that my birthday will be on Sunday. I wanted to express my gratitude for life and being alive and being thankful for my parents who gave me a body and life those many years ago. I could sense some tension from Tobi when I was talking about anniversaries. He was sitting beside me so I could see he was intently listening to my words. Then I asked other people in the group to share what they were grateful for and this is what Tobi said:

“It’s going to be two years since my accident in two days, so I am thankful that I am here and I am thankful for the people who have come into my life and the lessons I’ve learnt throughout these two years.”

When all seems lost and in a moment, the world we thought we knew seems to crumble, we can remember – that the most precious gift we have is our life. By living and surviving we can continue to learn and grow. We can become kinder, wiser and open our hearts in ways we had never previously imagined. When we learn to accept the difficulties of life, we can  create a space in which our real essence can reveal itself in so many surprising ways.

I shared this story with Meka Sadler, another young 24 year old woman that I work with. She had also sustained a traumatic brain injury in a motorcycle crash almost 2 years ago. Two young people, two accidents, two moments that changed lives forever. Now two years later these two people are able to connect in ways that they would have never thought of before. I showed her Tobi’s art work and explained some of the overall details of his creation. Then I asked Meka, “After everything you’ve been through, if you had to give advice to this person (Tobi), what would you say?” She responded:

“It gets better…let go of the past, because it only weighs you down. (Because this is when things started to change for me. When I stopped focusing on the past and focused on what I needed to do) Focus on the new you. And still aim for your old goals and if you don’t achieve them, change your markers of success, or change your course of action”

I suggested to Meka that perhaps she should write her story down and share it with others. Because after all, we do not know how one person can shape another and the most precious gift we have is your precious human life.

 

Green

A series by RB

Prints and poetry were created by RB. All photographs were taken by Elisheva, rehabilitation student.

Blue Spruce by RB

Fox Bay

The song is bright today

Listen
breeze, leaves, needles
combine
create soft melodies

Voice carry
forest sounds

–RB

Chorus by RB

Become a community of sound

–RB

Growth by RB
Memory by RB Remember Me I’m 41 and still 12

Market Lament

      for dad

Lost in concrete
trudging
toward grey sun
seeking warmth.

My feet find earth
between
herbalists, fishmongers
screaming
space.

While you
oblivious,
speak
islands of pine
with silence.

Lost my Green.

–RB

Thunder Bird by RB
Thunder Bird by RB

Surfacing

   for Sara

July warmth
Bathes
my morning
in delicious
humidity

Bay mist
curls
flexes
in emerging sun

Water
calm,
serene
imploring fish
“Don’t feed”

I don’t listen
and like a largemouth
shatter lake glass
for my meal

–RB

Night Flower in The Wind

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:

Ken

“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.

Night flower in the wind by Ken
Night flower in the wind by Ken

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.

Brain Injury Awareness Month!

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.

http://www.areyouaware.ca/

areyouaware

After a brain injury a person may experience many of the following changes:

  • difficulties remembering new events, appointments, daily tasks
  • changes to his or her personality
  • frustration over things that used to be easily accomplished which are all of a sudden difficult tasks
  • increase in impulsive behaviours

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

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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.

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Last year, I finally bought the car – a Red Convertible.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Within a week, the car went back in the garage and I felt devastated.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life

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.

Life by Neil

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 by Neil

 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 4

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.

LIfe by Neil

 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.

Life 2

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

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Flowers

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.

Mindful Art Workshop - Spring 2014
Mindful Art Workshop – Spring 2014

 

Can't Stop Tomorrow by Fiona
Can’t Stop Tomorrow by Fiona

“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

Dedication to Amee
Dedication to Amee

“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

LIfe 5
Life by Neil

“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

Storms, Strength & Wisdom

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.

Remember - Forward by Micky
Remember – Forward by Micky
The Beautiful Sunshine by Maria
The Beautiful Sunshine by Maria
Storm by Roxanne
Storm by Roxanne
Break Time by Stella
Break Time by Stella
Walking on the Earth by James
Walking on the Earth by James
Rebirth by Robert
Rebirth by Robert
Ancient by Dr. L. Longo
Ancient by Dr. L. Longo
The Five Directions by Amee Le
The Five Directions by Amee Le

Mindful Art Celebration!

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

Mindful Art at the Holiday Party

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.

Mindful Art Display
Mindful Art Display by Amee Le & Dr. Carolyn Lemsky
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Mindful Art Display at the CHIRS Holiday Party 2013
Chris and Amanda at the Art Sale
Chris and Amanda at the Art Sale
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A proud artist smiling by his art!

Preparing for an Art Sale!

We are working hard to prepare for our first Art Sale, stay tuned!

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Tree Star by Micky

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

Black & White

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

One Fish, Two Fish by Orlando
One Fish, Two Fish by Orlando
Bugs Bunny or a Fox? by Micky
Bugs Bunny or a Fox? by Micky
Three Wishes by Chris
Three Wishes by Chris
Clover by MSW
Clover by MSW
Love by Roxanne
Love by Roxanne

Fall Art!

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

My mindfulness creation by RW
My mindfulness creation by RW
Toronto Raptor by WSM
Toronto Raptor by WSM
Fall is Here by Chris
Fall is Here by Chris
Snoop Dog by Micky
Snoop Dog by Micky
Motherhood by Amanda Muise
Motherhood by Amanda Muise

 

Blockage + Vulnerability = Freedom

Blockage, vulnerability, freedom gif

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:

Black & White Print by Chris
Black & White Print by Chris
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Black & White Print by Workshop Participant
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Art Work by Workshop Participant

Grief + Gratitude = Inspiration

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.

Mindful Seed: Grief + Gratitude = Inspiration
Mindful Seed: 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”.

Finding Inspiration! Giving to Others

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.

Through this exercise and by accepting the mindful seed (Judgment + Acceptance = Surprise) the participants in the workshop were able to create these beautiful eraser carvings [click here].

Workshop Participant's Eraser Carving printed on Recycled Shipping Tags
Workshop Participant’s Eraser Carving printed on Recycled Shipping Tags
Workshop participant's eraser carving printed on recycled shipping tags
Workshop participant’s eraser carving printed on recycled shipping tags
Workshop participant's eraser carving printed on recycled shipping tags
Workshop participant’s eraser carving printed on recycled shipping tags
Workshop participant's eraser carving printed on recycled shipping tags
Workshop participant’s eraser carving printed on recycled shipping tags

Mindful Seed: Judgment + Acceptance = Surprise

Mindful Seed 1
Mindful Seed: Judgment + Acceptance = Surprise!

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.