Sacred Soul Stories
Reaching the Artist Within
By Paula Beaulieu M.Ed.
"I can't draw a straight line." "I have no creativity. I really envy people who do."
I used to feel badly when people made these comments to me after looking at my artwork. I never believed these statements were true but felt very fortunate to have been brought up in a home where artistic expression was promoted and valued. My mother was an artist and art supervisor for the local public schools.
My fondest memories of childhood summers included the times my sister and I spent on our front porch creating artwork under my mother's supervision. She would plan her lessons for the school year having us create examples. At an early age I had the opportunity to work in a variety of mediums. My mother also took advantage of other "teachable moments" to point out the colors in a sunset, the iridescent feathers on a bird, the way light and shadow played across the landscape. I grew up learning to see with an "artist's eye" and for a good part of my adult years, I thought that everyone saw that way.
It wasn't until I began to question people close to me about what they were seeing when looking at a fabulous sunset or the colors on the trees in the distance, or the shapes of the late afternoon shadows that I realized that they were not seeing what I was seeing, and I wondered why. Intuitively, I knew my mother's early influence had affected me, but it wasn't until I read several books on creativity that I began to understand more fully. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards had the greatest impact. It was published over 10 years ago, but it is still valid today. In this book, based on the research of Roger Sperry, who won the Nobel Prize in 1960 for researching the duality of the brain, Betty Edwards shows how people can be taught to perceive in a different way through accessing the right side of the brain.
Both sides of our brain have specific functions. The left side is our verbal and analytical side and the right side is the visual, creative, and intuitive side. In developing art workshops for people of all ages from preschool to those in assisted living, I began incorporating direct instruction in learning how to perceive using the right side of the brain. The results were remarkable.
At the same time, I was astounded to see how self-critical and judgmental people are about what came out of them creatively. Most of us are product-oriented, put enormous performance expectations on ourselves, and want instant gratification. These attitudes are not only prevalent with adults, and more noticeable as we age, but they trickle down to young children. It's not uncommon for a child of 7 or 8 to say "I stink at drawing" or "I'm no good at art." Where do these attitudes come from? There are many complex factors involved, but children are certainly influenced by adult role models and their expectations of them. Children's play today is often organized and product-oriented. With little time unscheduled, children aren't free to spend time in acts of imagination that fuel creativity.
Many adults are stifled in expressing their creativity or accepting that they have any at all because of comments some unthinking adult made to them long ago. But if we all have a right side to our brain, and it hasn't been damaged, we all have our own unique creativity. Even explaining this fact to adults is not enough to lessen the anxiety for some people of taking the risk to express themselves through a visual medium such as drawing or painting. Rather than explore the materials like a little child, adults want the directions spelled out and even then are often visibly uncomfortable in experimenting with their materials. With high expectations of themselves, they are often disappointed, discouraged, and self-critical if they don't create a masterpiece. Some little voice keeps giving critical messages about what they're creating and if they listen to that voice, their creativity chokes up.
But if we can push that critical side of ourselves away and just let go, our creativity will flow more freely. It's not easy to do, but once you're there, a wonderful experience of being in an altered state can happen. Time goes by and you're not aware of it. You become one with the movement of the brush or pencil on the surface. Your world with all its cares, worries and responsibilities fades away as you experience being in the moment, which is all the time any of us have for sure.
Expressing yourself through art is a way to reduce stress, gain self-knowledge and to slow down and really take time "to see." Over time, our left brain has developed symbols that we use to express certain things that we see, and it does a good job of filtering out all of the information that is presented daily in our fast-paced world. But in learning how to perceive with an artist's eye, we need to take the time to really look. Instead most of us go through life with tunnel vision so busy in our heads that we don't really see what's in front of us and the beauty that passes us by daily.
Being creative and expressive allows us to be more in touch with our playful side. What if we just decided to experiment and explore some artistic form of expression with no goals in mind? How freeing that would be! It's never too late to begin!
Paula F. Beaulieu is an artist and art educator.
Your Success is No Coincidence
by Corinne Buiocchi
In March of last year I decided to take a hypnosis class. I had decided if I could hypnotize myself, I could finish writing my novel. I’d been blocked for 6 months. "If I could just get into an altered stated of consciousness," I thought. "I could make this work." Purely by chance — or not — I went onto the website of a local yoga studio I’d attended in the past. The next day a four-week session on hypnosis was starting. I couldn’t believe my luck. I called to register and got into the class. A month later I was hypnotizing myself and writing every day. This led me to learn meditation and eventually Reiki. I completed my novel in 6 months after taking the class. No more writer’s block for me!
I had dreamed of writing a book since I was eight years old. I’ve always known it’s what I was meant to do, but I never had the courage. I even managed to finish the book while working a demanding full time job. No one was more amazed than me. However, I did take the deliberate steps to get there. Even before I started hypnosis, I told the universe what I wanted. I told everyone I knew, "I’m writing a book." This held me accountable because I knew people would ask about it. It made me feel I had to finish it.
During the writing of the book, I got stuck on the plot. I knew it needed more depth, but wasn’t sure how to get there. Two of my characters were vacationing in Italy, a great backdrop to use. With this in mind, I took a ride to Revere Beach with my sister, Donna. There, watching the Atlantic rise and fall from the warmth of her car on an icy Sunday morning, we discussed the plot. Donna said there was a sanctuary in Italy not far from where my characters were. Its patron saint is St. Gerard Majella. We discussed having them visit the sanctuary. When I got home I did some research on St. Gerard Majella and discovered we couldn’t have chosen a better saint. He fit perfectly into my existing plot structure. So, I wrote chapter 14 about the trip to St. Gerard Majella’s sanctuary and sent it off to my sister.
A few days later, Donna called me excitedly. She loved the chapter, but that wasn’t the whole story. "Guess what I’m holding in my hand?" she asked. She had been helping my grandmother clean her house. Tucked away in a bureau drawer, she found two medals from the sanctuary of St. Gerard Majella. My grandmother had never been to Italy, but here were medals from the very church I was writing about. I knew it was a sign that my book was on the right track and was meant to be published. I have one of the medals hanging in my office over the desk where I write.
When you notice these synchronicities in life, it’s a sign that you are on your path, headed in the right direction. When you tell the universe what you want, it collaborates with you to get it. Once you become aware of these signs, you’ll notice them more and more. As I completed this book, I lost 35 pounds in the last six months of writing it. The weight just melted off me — talk about transformative! It was yet another omen that I was doing what I was meant to do.
So, two messages here — create your own reality by letting the universe know what you want in a positive way. Focus on what you want, not on what you don’t want. I did this by telling everyone I knew I was writing a novel. Also pay close attention to the signs and synchronicities that surround you. These are the guideposts on your path and serve to light your way. I have since come to believe there are no coincidences.
Corinne Buoicchi is a freelance writer living in Chester, NH.
You Are Not Your Body
By Steve Munn
I have been dealing with issues of poor body image and a negative self esteem all my life. Today I'm glad to say I've come to a peace and love for the body and who I am. It doesn't mean that once in a while I don't get down, but for the most part I feel great. I have changed my whole outlook on the body.
I used to be so attached to it and constantly checking my hair and fussing with it. Every chance I got I'd look in the mirror or try to catch a glimpse of my reflection in a store window, just to check that everything was in its place. I used to be so consumed with how others would see me. I remember as a young lad with curly fire engine red hair going to bed with tape in my hair to straighten out the curls. Boy, I long for that thick head of hair today!
I thought if I didn't look or act a certain way people wouldn't like me. So I became very self-conscious. It was like being a prisoner with a slighted view of life peering out a very narrow window. It was very difficult. I have traveled a lot and my parents would always ask how my trip was. I remember my response after a trip to Belize. “It was good, but it would have been great if I only left myself at home.” If I was only able to just let go and be who I truly am, leave behind my conditioned ideas and false beliefs which are just extra baggage…
So here's how I have lightened my load and have made my cosmic journey here much more enjoyable. I don't see the body as mine. I see it as if it's on loan. I know that it won't be coming with me when I go into the great unknown. It's like a vehicle that I'm using to travel around this amazing planet with. It's not always perfect, it sometimes doesn't like the food or drink I put into it. The body reacts kind of funny to lost loves and bad memories. But on the whole, it does a marvelous job.
Some people come into this world and for some reason their model isn't working out so well. I guess it can't always come out so perfect, but when you think about it, the body is a miracle. It has to perform a million tasks at once and deal with a host that's not really sure what the heck is going on. It's pure magic that we are even here to experience this crazy world. We live in amazing times.
Yet, my body is not me. When you consider that we are 75% water and ultimately 98% empty space, than how much is actually “me?” So if this body on loan, maybe I should take better care of it. It's like being given a precious gift and it's pretty rude the way some of us treat it. I want to feel spirit as much as possible, and for me to do that I must take real good care of my body. The clearer my mind and body, the more spirit is allowed to flow. The more life I can live. We tend to believe “taking care of ourselves” is somewhat of a chore and something better left to professionals. Although professionals can help you on your journey, ultimately the job is up to you. You're riding in a high performance machine. Treat it like one. But don't get caught up in the idea that you're the image in the mirror. Those images change, like the cars you drive, but who you really are — the driver of the car — never changes.
To help break your identification with the body, remember that words are powerful. Lovingly refer to your body as "the body," but don’t let the body tell you who you are. It is your false ideas and beliefs that you struggle with, not the body. Take ten to fifteen minutes each day just to sit with the body and feel its inner energy field. Feeling one’s body energetically helps us move beyond mental concepts and break false ideas of who we think we are. Sometimes it's easiest to start with your hands or feet and then move your consciousness throughout the entire body. When you are finished, speak the words love, peace, joy or other inspirational words to close. Feel the grateful pulse of the life force glowing within.
Steven Munn, a business entrepreneur for the past 15 years, is currently a student at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The Year of the Rooster
By Aaron Hoopes
February 9, 2005 marked the beginning of the Chinese New Year. The year of the Rooster commences.
The impish year of the Monkey is over and there should be a bit more stability. The prevailing winds are towards order. The Rooster symbolizes self-sufficiency and provides an opportunity to repair and rebuild relationships and situations that may have been damaged by the mischievous Monkey. It is time to let go of bitterness and resentment.
The rooster cries every morning as the sun rises. Maybe he is just exhaling in a dynamic way to make room for all the energy of the sun when he breathes in. Unfortunately there is the danger of over confidence here as the Rooster also brims with pride. Simple things get complicated if image becomes too important. Self-awareness brings great progress. Exercise tolerance. Cultivate creativity.
There is a delicate balance with the Rooster. Avoid precarious disputes and speculative ventures for disappointment and conflict may arise. Improvise when able to. Adapt when necessary.
Light At The End Of A Paintbrush
by Denise Fontaine
Last year I received a computer and scanner from Easter Seals, an organization that provides services and support to children and adults with disabilities and other special needs. I had been so sick and in so much pain I did not remember filling out the application form or even how I obtained it. I have chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, an isolating, debilitating and painful illness for which there is no cure and no research funding either. This has left me bedridden and unable to function for four and a half years. Since I have been ill, I have lost all my friends, my apartment and my faux finishing business. As I have no family and am not married, this led to a total landslide into a black abyss.
I recently saw someone on TV describing how she first found out that she had multiple sclerosis. It hit her really dramatically as she simply woke up one day unable to get out of bed. That’s exactly what happened to me. Before being diagnosed two and a half years ago, I had been to several doctors and a psychiatrist because everyone thought this was all in my head.
Prior to this, I was healthy and very much into alternative holistic health and diet. I used to walk at least 6 miles a day from Cohasset to Hull with my dog Manray. We were regulars on my routine walks and we got to know storekeepers, the mailman and neighbors. Manray was so well known on Nantasket beach he was nicknamed “the mayor of Hull.”
When I became ill, I spent the first two years in my apartment, crawling on all fours to get to the bathroom. Abandoned by all my Christian friends, I had no way to get to the doctors. This period of time is very hard to remember and is like a blackout and I do not know how I survived. Lying in my bed for endless days and nights, hearing children playing, the traffic going by and dogs barking, I wondered if anyone knew I was living like a homeless person, marooned in my own apartment.
Then, one day, I was able to make it across the street to the Glastonbury Abbey and someone there took me to a doctor. A psychotherapist from a local health group started coming to my apartment and treating me for trauma at no cost. I owe this dear angel so much I do not know how to repay her.
Knowing that I have a degree in art and used to sell hand painted furniture in stores throughout the south shore, she turned up at my door one day with some unfinished birdhouses, saying, “Why don’t you paint these?” I felt my creativity was all wiped out and did not have any inspiration because of the physical pain and lack of sleep, but she was consistent in her support and encouragement and so, eventually I picked up the paintbrush.
Next, a volunteer from an agency who used to drive me to appointments suggested we stop at an art supplies store on our way home. Another angel had entered my life, echoing the words “create, create, create.” Then a home health aide was assigned to me who started bringing me mailboxes to paint. After that, Easter Seals made a website for me and I started displaying my artwork, all the while wondering how this was going to help. Somewhere I heard an inner voice say, “Just paint. Identify with your inner creative source, which is the only thing that cannot be destroyed or affected.”
Despite my illnesses and physical condition, all this beauty was pouring out of me. So I asked a local store if they would take my hand-painted totes and matching greeting cards and clothing. Every item sold on Mother’s Day. I then sent my artwork to THASC, a greeting card company that publishes the work of disabled artists, and to other websites as well.
When my best friend discovered that she too had this devastating illness my inner voice prompted me to pass on the message, “Just be in your joy and create.” Now she is creating aromatherapy oils specifically for people with fibromyalgia. Today, my intention is to share my story with anyone who has any limitations and tell them, “Find your passion within yourself, whether it is cooking, knitting, writing or painting, and be in your joy.” When I was stuck in my former mindset I never would have been able to achieve these things. Now I want others to find their joy, and to know that whatever the circumstances, the creative source is always there supporting us.
Denise Fontaine offers “Light at the End of the Paintbrush” healing meditation and workshop on the third Sunday of each month from 3-5pm. Call 781-773-1411 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Easter Seals visit http://www.easterseals.com.
Living With Spina Bifida
By Robert M. Hensel
I grew up with a birth defect known as spina bifida, a disability that affects my sense of balance, causing me to walk with a limp. Not only does it affect the function of the legs, but it also has an impact on the kidneys, causing them to deteriorate.
The disability has had its ups and downs. As a young child, I can remember the way other children would look at me and stare because of the way that I walked. There were many times that my schoolmates would laugh at me and call me names simply because of their lack of understanding of why I was a little different, especially back in the mid 70's and early 80's. Children then were just unwilling to take the time to learn why one of their classmates might walk, speak or seem noticeably different from themselves.
Now that I am an adult, I have noticed that the stares and names have begun to fade, and judgments that once were negative have begun to turn toward acceptance. The signing of the ADA has played a great part in breaking down some of those barriers that, as a child, left me to fight a war that seemed to have no end. Now I look beyond what I can't do and focus on what I CAN.
I have learned that limitations open doors that have been closed, showing other ways to meet our needs. I have always looked at life as a challenge, grasping each obstacle with open arms. There is nothing in this world that comes easy. I must stand tall and look forward, to be ever so ready for what still lies ahead. People often feel sorry for those who were born with some type of disability. But their compassion is misplaced. Yes, I may not be able to run as fast or perform certain tasks, but my disability gives me a better look at life and all that's around me. I want to be seen not as a disabled person but as a person who has, and will continue to, bloom.
So I decided to become an advocate on behalf of disabled Americans, to fight for our rights that for so long have been ignored. I feel that it only takes one powerful voice to change the minds of many nations, and as long as I have a mouth to use and a mind to think I will continue to work to bring peace to the disabled community.
Robert M. Hensel was born in Rota, Spain in 1969. Currently a resident of Oswego, NY, he is an international poet-writer. On October 1st of 2000, Robert was honored when the mayor of his home town declared a week for the disabled, "Beyond Limitations Week," in his name. Robert is also in the Guinness Book of World Records, and Ripley's Believe It Or Not, for the longest Non Stop Wheelie in a wheelchair for which he covered a total distance of 6.178 miles. The reason for his record was to help raise money for wheelchair ramps in his community.
What Do Trees Have To Do With Peace?
by Denise Roy
Thirty years ago, in the country of Kenya, 90% of the forest had been chopped down. Without trees to hold the topsoil in place, the land became like a desert. When the women and girls would go in search of firewood in order to prepare the meals, they would have to spend hours and hours looking for what few branches remained.
A woman named Wangari watched all of this happening. She decided that there must be a way to take better care of the land and take better care of the women and girls. So she planted a tree. And then she planted another. She wanted to plant thousands of trees, but she realized that it would take a very long time if she was the only one doing it.
So she taught the women who were looking for firewood to plant trees, and they were paid a small amount for each sapling they grew. Soon she organized women all over the country to plant trees, and a movement took hold. It was called the Green Belt Movement, and with each passing year, more and more trees covered the land.
But something else was happening as the women planted those trees. Something else besides those trees was taking root. The women began to have confidence in themselves. They began to see that they could make a difference. They began to see that they were capable of many things, and that they were equal to the men. They began to recognize that they were deserving of being treated with respect and dignity.
Changes like these were threatening to some. The president of the country didn't like any of this. So police were sent to intimidate and beat Wangari for planting trees, and for planting ideas of equality and democracy in people's heads, especially in women's. She was accused of "subversion" and arrested many times. Once, while Wangari was trying to plant trees, she was clubbed by guards hired by developers who wanted the lands cleared. She was hospitalized with head injuries. But she survived, and it only made her realize that she was on the right path.
For almost thirty years, she was threatened physically, and she was often made fun of in the press. But she didn't flinch. She only had to look in the eyes of her three children, and in the eyes of the thousands of women and girls who were blossoming right along with the trees, and she found the strength to continue.
And that is how it came to be that 30 million trees have been planted in Africa, one tree at a time. The landscapes — both the external one of the land and the internal one of the people — have been transformed. In 2002, the people of Kenya held a democratic election, and the president who opposed Wangari and her Green Belt Movement is no longer in office.
And Wangari is now Kenya's Assistant Minister for the Environment. She is 65 years old, and this year she planted one more tree in celebration and thanksgiving for being given a very great honor: Wangari Maathai has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She is the first African woman to receive this award.
After she was notified, she gave a speech. She pointed out how most wars are fought over limited natural resources, such as oil, land, coal or diamonds. She called for an end to corporate greed, and for leaders to build more just societies. She added:
"Our recent experience in Kenya gives hope to all who have been struggling for a better future. It shows it is possible to bring about positive change, and still do it peacefully. It takes courage and perseverance, and a belief that positive change is possible. That is why the slogan for our campaign was 'It is Possible!'
"On behalf of all African women, I want to express my profound appreciation for this honor, which will serve to encourage women in Kenya, in Africa, and around the world to raise their voices and not to be deterred. When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and seeds of hope. We also secure the future for our children. I call those around the world to celebrate by planting a tree wherever you are.
"Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own."
Can we accept Wangari's invitation? As we look around our neighborhood or city, as we look at our own country, what is needed? What is our equivalent of planting one tree?
©2004 Denise Roy. All rights reserved. Used with permission of the author. http://www.familyspirit.com