I attended a workshop recently: Trauma, Healing, and Spirituality. My goals were straightforward. I wanted to learn about recent neurological research in whole brain functioning. I wanted to learn practices to help clients in transitional and residential recovery programs. I wanted to further my own growth and healing. I got all that– and more.
The big surprise came at the end of the day. We’d spent an hour making SoulCollage®cards. SoulCollage®is a process that allows access to deeper parts of the psyche and fosters dialogue with previously unrecognized parts of the self. I’m a trained facilitator of this process, but on Saturday I was grateful to be an ordinary participant and simply make a card.
I strolled past tables filled with magazine pages. Hundreds of images were displayed: serene mountains, mysterious shamans, exploding computers, begging children, fluffy puppies, super-heroes, wounded soldiers, etc. The trick is to turn off my mind, which at that point was shouting, “Pick up that picture of the lonely child in the bus station!” I’d been learning about trauma all day and for goodness sakes wasn’t that an image of the traumatized child within.
Fortunately, I’ve contended with my bossy mind for many years and recognize its voice. It wanted me to illustrate a thought it had already had and was attached to. It did not want me to risk being open to unknown territory, the quieter realm of dawning perception.
I was able to keep strolling calmly past the lonely child. Inexplicably, I was drawn to a photograph of a boat. At the very top of the photograph was a wooden keel, but most of the photo consisted of reflections rippling across the water. I walked past the photo, looking at more images. Then I turned around. I really did want that photo of bright, rippling reflections, that solid wooden keel.
I picked up a couple more images: a line of meerkats with one empty place (An absence, I thought, something is missing.) And a blazing forest fire. (A roaring conflagration, searing heat.) But the bright reflections and the wooden keel were central. I knew that.
Back at my seat, I fussed around with the images, holding them this way and that. The boat suddenly seemed all wrong. It was bright and beautiful and glorious. You’re in denial, my mind sternly chastised. What are you avoiding?
But my hands knew what to do. For the first time ever, they turned an image upside down. Now it became an abstract painting, with the keel barely readable as an object at the bottom, and the reflections becoming an upward-reaching swirl of energy. Swiftly I knew that the meerkats belonged at the base, like a foundation, with a gaping hole. The conflagration was background, barely visible behind the cooling, beautiful upright spirals.
It felt right but made no sense. Resolutely, I pasted it all down with rubber cement. During the guided journaling phase, I kept reaching for meaning. There is an absence. Maybe this is about a submerged issue. I felt like a faker, however. I was straining after something and trying too hard.
During the closing circle, we were invited to say our card’s name, if it had one. And then it hit me. This card was not about me. It was about Andy, a friend’s son, who had drowned a week earlier, when setting sail on a solo voyage to Hawaii. The card’s name was Beautiful Ascent.
I don’t know when I will show Beautiful Ascent to Andy’s family. It is delicate, to honor their grief and to sense when it will be supportive to offer my experience—of being taken unawares, connected through a larger source of meaning, and given a vision of hope. Although the boat has capsized, the upward movement triumphs in a flame-like ascent. Yes, this card tell me. Above and around the searing loss and emptiness, Andy’s spirit soars.