Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Striking a Balance Take 1

Someone asked me recently: "Why did you choose the name "Striking a Balance" for your exhibit?

Have you thought much about the balance in your own life? As I live my way through a day, I find myself at the nexus of many continuums: action/inaction, giving/receiving, cleaning up/making a mess, teaching and learning. I'm always in search of the balance, and like the see-saws of my childhood, I seek the miraculous middle.

Recently, I had the opportunity to work with a young woman of 20 who had been in treatment for cancer a good part of her life.  She was referred to me with the thought that I could offer her ways of expressing all of those inexpressible wishes that fill the heart and mind of one with such a diagnosis. When I receive a request like this one, I rely heavily upon the balance between my intuition and my years of training, trusting that both are there to support me.

An article I'd read in the latest Oprah on Vision Boards sprang to mind. I explained the concept to Sarah (not her real name), and talked about how to look for pictures that could paint a picture of her deepest desires. It was absolutely alright to hope.

As Martha Beck noted in her article " To really work, a vision board has to come not from your culture but from your primordial, nonsocial self - the genetically unique animal/angel that contains your innate preferences." I explained that by choosing images and creating a collage, her choices would impress themselves in her mind, helping to guide future choices.

She understood all this and quickly went to work. I scoured the pediatric floor, collecting magazines for her inspection. With the help of several volunteers her own age who supplied companionship, she created a board beyond my imagining.

Framed by a narrow border of leopard print which she had painstakingly drawn and painted, lived the images of a future life: a rose garden, a husband, her present and future family and the words "Love the Divine Life."

The board astonished many of us including her doctor. There is always a delicate balance in these rooms. Will the treatment work? Is it o.k. to talk about one's dreams?  How do you strike a balance between the turbulent voyage of treatment and the possible outcomes? How do you create value and meaning, when to the person in the hospital, their room seems to contain anything but that? This last question often means uncharted territory, but the board broke that wide open. For all of us who work with Sarah, the collage became a doorway into her soul. And, for that moment, she had helped all of us strike a balance.

Balanced Rocks Photo courtesy of: Michelle Meikeljohn,
Photo of Red Rose courtesy of: Image:


  1. This post contains such a deep and meaningful message for us all since none of us will 'get outa here alive' and since having a dream and vision fuels the spirit to embrace the possibility of 'what next, what now what matters'.
    I know the personal empowerment of the vision board/treasure map for igniting and inspiring the imagination...I have used, and continue to use, them extensively in my own recovery...I also pass along the link to my dear artist friend Karin who is currently in treatment for breast cancer. She uses her blog as a platform for what may often be seen as vision boards:

  2. Hannah, thank you for the reminder that life is a precious and extraordinary experience. You tipped the seesaw back to the middle for me. Beautiful.

  3. Hi Hannah, you do such rewarding much needed work- I love to balance rocks around my gardens because it helps me feel more balanced and are a great metaphor for life.

  4. Thank you for your words Iona, Jennifer and Donna. Today,at a meeting, someone quoted Ram Dass:--you remember his famous words: "Be here now"? So strange yet so right to hear them spoken in the hospital setting.

    Iona, thank you also for your introduction to Karin's blog. Her vision work is inspiring and powerful medecine.

  5. Thanks for sharing this powerful experience. I can't imagine what it would be like to be that young and that in touch with mortality at the same time.

    What a treasure you have helped that girl give herself.

  6. Hi Hannah, thank you for visiting and sharing your patient's story. I really love hearing how this process has opened a doorway for you and others that are treating 'Sarah' on her journey. To have a team envisioning her dreams with her is such a powerful healing tool. I believe that living 'as if' helps us move through what is with more ease and grace.
    I love the collage process - for both reflecting where I am, and where I'd like to be. Sometimes getting out what is, in all it's ugliness (as going through cancer treatment often is) helps me to get into a better state of mind - purging myself of the sorrow, fear, pain or what ever allows space for gratitude, beauty, and hope. You are doing powerful work, wonderful healing work! thank you, Karin

  7. Thank you for sharing Sarah's experience. This is such a hopeful reminder for everybody lost in the day to day grind. This will go in the gratitude journal today. Thank you.

  8. Thanks for sharing Sarah's experience with us... its is always hard to strike a balance... I would love to see Sarah's Vision board... can u share it?

  9. How do you strike a balance between the turbulant voyage of treatment and the possible outcomes ..... difficult one! The vision board sounds like a good place to start.

  10. Hannah P.--I always wonder at the courage of these young adults--perhaps its the kind of strength we call "courage under fire"--born out of necessity...

    Karin--It is powerful for us to understand her vision, especially as it involves respecting and understanding the choices she makes about how to live her life. As you said: "I believe that living 'as if' helps us move through 'what is' with more ease and grace. That in turn allows us to better support her in her journey. I often feel that our kids have so much stored up in them of both sorrow and joy, pain and wisdom and that giving them opportunities to express this with art allows them to restore themselves; to make themselves whole.

  11. Hannah...I don't know that I have words, but if I could, I'd just give you a big hug. Thanks for sharing this story, I found it powerful and beautiful.

    Balance...Isn't that our endless quest? I know it's certainly mine. I hope with all my heart that Sarah sees all those images come to reality in her own life.

  12. I like the idea of a story becoming part of a gratitude journal Beth. Mostly I think of one liners; beautiful weather, a delicious meal, a good talk with a friend. Your idea takes this to a different depth.

    Joyita, I wish I could share the collage. Confidentiality and consent forms play an important in role in art therapy, so I tried to find an image that would convey the richness of her images-and ended up with the red rose.

    Robyn, Vision boards are a good take off point--and I believe that one of the magic aspects of art is that it allows us to dig underneath those apparent conditions (diagnosis, treatment, outcomes) to what our soul really wants.

  13. Tracey--I'll take that hug long distance! I know that I find myself thinking about balance daily--how do you balance the physical demands of the cattle ranch and its vastness with the particulars of art?

  14. Balance - a dance. What powerful work you do.

  15. Leslie--Thank you & no kidding! I am discovering that the search for balance can take many forms.