Collage is a creative art form that uses a variety of materials. Whether they are called Soul Collage™, vision boards, or some other inviting moniker, the process can be used to make sense of a life that sometimes doesn’t. It can bring us back to our kindergarten roots when we got lost in our own little world, using scissors and glue to piece together images, words, shapes and colors that resonated with our elementary hearts. That process, of bringing together on paper, that which speaks to us in a powerful way, can also resonate with our questioning hearts as we get older.
At the Chesapeake Life Center at Hospice of the Chesapeake, in Largo, Maryland, bereavement program coordinator Roberta Rook offers a monthly Soul Collage™ grief support group. Different from a traditional talking support group, participants create a series of collages to visually journal their grief process.
“Soul Collage™ is highly individual,” said Roberta, who is also a Soul Collage™ facilitator and trainer. “One woman said it’s helpful and appealing to her because she didn’t have the words to describe how she was feeling after her husband died. The images gave her a way to express what she was feeling.”
The Soul Collage™ process, (www.soulcollage.com) is an intuitive collage process developed by Seena Frost in the late 1980’s, but differs from other collage in that participants make cards that invite an intuitive exploration of one particular aspect of life. Continued work with this process can create a deck filled with insight and wisdom about our deepest selves.
“Soul Collage™ is not static. The collages are small and are meant to be used on a continuous basis,” said Roberta. “It’s a visual journaling process. There are a lot of ways it can help. Soul Collage™ can help commemorate a loved one; it can help examine your own grief; and examine re-entry into a new life. I give out guidelines and basic info about what Soul Collage™ is, but the more intuitive the better. Beyond that the only theme is we all have experienced loss.”
Sometimes in bereavement groups, she will offer a single collage experience, inviting participants to create something honoring a lost loved one or an aspect of that relationship. In ongoing programs, the group examines feelings and the grief process more in depth. But either way, participants walk away with a little piece of art they have created that resonates with them in a deep way. The cards are portable and can be placed on a home altar or carried with them. Reflection on the cards can bring about meaning that changes over time. And for people who are intimidated by any artistic endeavor, just think back to kindergarten and how much fun it was to wield some glue and scissors in your hands. Drawing from innate wisdom, we can be led to just the right symbols, pictures and words we need to make this process useful in entering into our grief and shaping the life to come.
Colleen Russell (www.Quest4Wholeness.com) considers herself a midwife for the soul and Soul Collage™ is a part of her life and practice. After being no stranger to poverty, as a single mom with a 12 year old son, she somehow put herself through college and climbed the proverbial corporate ladder. A leadership program taught her to set goals and “put legs” under dreams. One dream was to be married and when she was 30 her dream came true when she met Dennis who was 42. In less than a year they were married. It was a fast romance but not a fairy tale one. Life challenged them both as they worked to learn how to be together, how to be open to love, and the transition from being alone to being in partnership. They were married five years and just reshaping their lives as a busy corporate couple, about to enter the empty nest part of their lives, when tragedy struck. While on a holiday skiing vacation Dennis had a heart attack and died. He was 47 years old.
“Nothing could have prepared me for that kind of loss,” said Colleen. “The dream was gone. I wasn’t expecting death to come knocking on my door.”
She feels fortunate that she had just begun to see a counselor and had intended on doing some deeper work and now she had the opportunity.
“I was really fortunate that God or some higher power put this woman in my path. She helped me with grief and finding my true self. I started journaling my grief experience. I wanted to know why this hurt so much.”
Colleen was being challenged to let go on many levels. She did some journaling and began collecting collage images in a conscious way, as a path to express her feelings.
“It just hurt. There were no words. The images brought journaling to a deeper place. My journal was a gift of beauty that came out of that situation. Any time you can take what’s inside of you and get it out in a creative way, it facilitates the healing process. I gave up my career. I was no longer a wife, an employee or a mother in the same way. I questioned who I was and where I was going. I asked, “What gives my life meaning?” Without all these identities, who am I? I needed to take time to find myself.”
She put all her possessions in storage and traveled to Iona, Scotland, and to Ireland, the land of her ancestors. While traveling, she took classes in expressive arts, and creativity became a healing process for her. She pursued a master’s degree in Trans Personal Psychology and learned a lot about the spiritual journey to wholeness.
“Tragedy and loss can help bring us into a fuller expression of ourselves,” said Colleen. “One way is through the arts. The arts can heal what needs to be healed and reveal what wants to come out.”
In 2008 she became a Soul Collage™ facilitator and found it to be a powerful and playful tool to discover your true inner self. And the beauty, she points out, is that no one needs to be an artist to do collage. All you need are scissors, glue and images that come in your mailbox every day.
“In doing collage the whole creative process begins to awaken something deeper.”
Katie McDonald, a Rhode Island holistic nutrition and wellness coach, (www.bnourished.com) found that to be true as well. More than a decade ago, Katie spent all her time involved with motherhood and corporate America. She also suffered from a litany of physical problems, not the least of which was ulcerative colitis. She transformed herself and her life and is no longer a part of the corporate culture but instead helps to transform others. One of the many tools she offers her clients is a collage process she calls vision boards, a process she knows the benefits of first hand.
“Vision boards enable us to have a place and space beyond what we thought might have been,” says Katie. “In moving on in Act Two, it allows us to pause, slow down and ask the question, what do I really want? It moves us out of our head and into our heart, not from a grief place but from a hopeful place. We ask, “What are those unspoken dreams and wishes?” A vision board is a place to put those.”
Unlike the deck of small cards made in Soul Collage™, Vision Boards can be whatever you want them to be. Katie points out that mindfulness is what is important regardless of what you call it. The process is still cutting or tearing and gluing or pasting images, photos, words and ideas that resonate within us. There is intentionality to collage work in its mindfulness, but also an intuitiveness that calls for letting go.
“I think the best remedy for any change is to slow down your life for a minute. To say, for the next hour I’m just going to play, use my hands, use my imagination, access my heart and create time and space for dreaming.”
The vision board process gives permission (if we need it) to play or to do nothing, to sit and think, and to ponder on our real desires and where we want to go in life. We find that we will think differently, in light of significant changes that have occurred. We rarely take time for this kind of creativity and the healing that can accompany it.
Katie suggests approaching vision boards by getting quiet. Still your mind, bypass your brain. And look for images that make your heart sing and your spirit dance; for images that make you feel alive.
“This process is a way to uncover those unspoken wishes,” says Katie. “We can look back on them and wonder, wow, where did that come from? How does this inspire me? How will this affect my choices moving forward?”
This practice is so effective that she brings it into corporate settings. She offers vision board workshops as well as home parties where several friends will gather in someone’s home for a vision board party. The greatest challenge people new to the process face is if they were traumatized in art class and are certain they don’t have a creative bone in their body. She attempts to dispel the myth.
“It’s not really a creative process other than creating a life that is your greatest work of art. The greatest art we will ever create is the life and legacy that we leave behind. Vision boards show us that it’s totally legitimate to dream again and to be able to craft a life on your own terms. This is a natural evolution of healing. Allow the images to surround you. There is wisdom in them. Make copies and keep them nearby. Consider what the messages are within it and allow yourself to recognize them. Vision boards offer a window to a world we don’t spend enough time in.”