Saturday, July 17, 2010

First time around...

When my first SoulCollage® class at the UC Davis Medical Center ended, it was time for some reflection. Time to see where we'd gone as a class and where I might steer the class in the future.

It was our last meeting--a makeup class in fact. People came eager to share the vision boards that they had been working on and the cards they'd created in the intervening week.

Our class included women ranging from their late twenties to their early fifties, but despite the age differences they shared something in common.

They were peering around the corner in their lives, seeking the sense of adventure that they sensed lay hidden. Whether it was the courage to recover the brash physicality of girlhood, finding a new direction after divorce, or reconnecting to a rich cultural past, each was searching for a fresh perspective.

 We set out slowly, some of us skeptical of the power of images to guide. Over the weeks we flipped through a virtual surfeit of images, learning how to let our eyes and intuition pick out images rather than just our picky minds.

"... instead of cogitating about familiar images, scout for the unfamiliar. Your mind can't do this. Your animal/angel self can. Just page through a magazine (and walk through the world) noticing things that trigger physical reactions: a heart thump, a double take, a gasp.
The only responses involved should resemble these:

These 'thoughts' register in your stomach, your heart, your lungs—anywhere but your head. You can't produce them in response to cultural clich├ęs or abstract ideas. Nor can you always know why your body reacts to an image." Martha Beck

The women created cards that tugged on my heart in their poignancy and beauty. Toward the end of each group we would surround the cards we'd made, studying and slowly finding our way to the heart of the meanings they contained. At first, some would profess that they had no idea what the card held and as I stared at the images, tears would come to my eyes; there was so much beauty in front of us just waiting to be seen and acknowledged.

 Since it was our last session, I asked those who had finished their vision boards to make a card that they would give to someone else. Little did I know what I had unleashed.

Yesterday, one week later, I met with the director of our Cancer Outreach and Research Program, which had sponsored the class. I'd asked Liza, the volunteer from our group to join us. A bit reticent initially,  Liza warmed up as the meeting went on. Suddenly she piped up, "Hey Hannah, Alisha said to give you a message." Alisha is Liza's good friend from childhood, an engineer who's used to depending on her logical and well organized left brain.

Alisha had spoken frequently throughout the class about her desire to go outside of the prescribed boundaries of her life. She'd also questioned the likelihood that something so seemingly simple as gluing images on a piece of matte board could hold unexpected power. Nonetheless, divers jumping off of high rocks and dancers leaping in a night sky appeared upon her SoulCollage® cards. I wondered at what point she would gather the courage to jump herself.

"So, Hannah, Alisha left this morning and she's on her way to Canada with her vision board in the back and the SoulCollage® card that Anne Marie made her in the front."

"Oh my goodness. Alisha! The one afraid to set sail. "

"And she hasn't made any plans. She's heading to Vancouver." Vancouver, the city she'd made a card for last week: a big bright nightscape of a city. "Vancouver," she told us. "Vancouver is my soul place."

It takes a lot of courage to break out and break away. People asked me afterwards if she could leave her job, "just like that." I'm betting she didn't--that she was just in need of a vacation outside of the lines. She took her SoulCollage® card back to her soul place.

We'll be starting a new class, beginning on Tuesday, September 23rd. For more information about this class, offered free of charge to cancer and cardiac patients in my area (Sacramento, CA), you can e-mail me at

Top image: 4 Fold Path, Amelia McSweeny, ©2010
Middle image: Aloha Nui Loa, Amelia McSweeny, ©2010
Bottom image: Pink Dahlia, Amelia McSweeny, ©2010


  1. Greetings Dear Hannah,

    The last ten fifteen minutes I have begun started to comment, only to delete what was written and start over and repeating the process a couple of times.

    It is your last paragraph that has me stopped in my tracks and thinking of my own situation in which I have been unable to relate to my open heart surgery in 2006 and having learned a few months ago that one of the grafts has failed, and my inability to translate this creatively into art.

    I better stop or all this just ends up being ramblings . . .

    Wishing you a wonderful weekend,

  2. Hannah...such powerful stuff! Thanks for sharing this process with us - got me thinking I'll check out the SoulCollage link for myself.
    Was there special training you did to be a facilitator for this class? I'd love to know more about how you came to be doing this work; it sounds so strong and rewarding.
    Congratulations for touching lives and making such positive difference to people!

  3. Egmont--I do that a lot--write something, erase it, wonder how its going to look at the other end. I can scarcely imagine how difficult it must be to encompass in your self the knowledge of the graft's failing. It seems like there's so much energy in your phrase "I have been unable to relate." Is that is a fertile place to set off from?

  4. Tracey--I discovered SC a number of years ago, visiting a therapist friend in Santa Cruz where Seena Frost, the creator of SC lives. Fascinated by my friend's cards, I took a class and then began using it as a modality in art therapy.

    I began teaching classes when I noticed how my daughter took to it as a visual journal. That led to the facilitation course and then this May, there was a radiation oncology nurse in my class. She was just the enzyme I needed for the classes through the Cancer Center. It was an amazing class and I look forward to more.

    I have met a wonderful woman named Karen who is a facilitator in Australia. Check her out on the SoulCollage site!

  5. Hannah...I always love how your name contains an AHhhh ;-)

    The Soul Cards that you create are stunning. I always look at them long and long...these by Amelia are too...I'm familiar with the SC's and
    they remind me of the lushness of James Wanless' Voyager Tarot. Are you familiar? They are a glorious healing archetypal tool as well.

  6. What a wonderful experience that must have been for everyone. So many surprises and deep insights.

    I loved looking at your beautiful collages, all of them, but especially the ones with the segmented circles. You are so right -- it's an addiction!

    Thank you, Hannah, for stopping by my blog and commenting. Hope to see you again.

  7. Donna, I've always been fond of the "ah" because it makes a palindrome. James Wanless' work--absolutely--pulled up a card yesterday and studied it for clues. It was the "lovers" card--and until now, never thought about how that impacted today--but it did. Thanks for the reminder!

    Martha, thank you for coming by. The segmented circles have been some of my favorite work. I've been working with objects recently for a show (see post below this one) and I keep wanting to break out of the boundaries back into geometric forms. Looking forward to "no holds barred".
    Also to following your blog.

  8. I really need to look into Soul Collage... It is fun to imagine what Alissa is doing as a result of the class.

  9. Claudine--I agree. I haven't heard any updates, but I look forward to hearing her story when the class takes up again.

  10. What a great retelling of the events in your class. It is so true that images can illicit responses from our subconscious. Sometimes those are huge surprises and give us the "oomph" to move forward as Alisha did. I love the artwork too. There is a passion for blue in her pieces. I have been looking at my own collage from Alyson Stanfield's class since we are in a turning point in our lives. I see I have been leaning in the westward direction for a long time. Maybe this will be the time for that is unfolding. thank you for the chance to think on all of this.

  11. Thanks for mentioning Karen...I will investigate! Isn't it interesting how things 'unfold' and come to be?

  12. Beth--How interesting that you mention the collage from Alyson's class--I've been thinking about my collage too. So you discern a leaning towards the west? I'll be very curious to see how it all unfolds...

    Tracey--It truly is...I could never have imagined the kind of connections that blogs provide. Since reading your blog, Australia has come alive for me. On my walk today, the acacias with their feathery branches made me think of your country.

  13. I did a sould collage course on line last year and it was magical, although I don't consider collage my forte, it revealed so much about me to me.

  14. Soulbrush: Its amazing, isn't it, that grazing through images and choosing the ones that choose you can tell you so much about parts of yourself? I never cease to be surprised by this. Its especially fun watching people's discoveries when they initially question the process.