When I got the idea for the Cairn Project, I wanted to read books that would help me to develop meaningful workshops. In this post, I will share insights from four of the books I read.
My heart sang when I saw these sunlit Chinese Lantern seedpods in front of my son’s home. I paused to take them in—for longer than 20 seconds. I had learned from Rick Hanson’s fascinating book, Buddha’s Brain (1), that at least 20 seconds concentrating on something that sparks joy can increase a person’s happiness. The extended time strengthens associated neural pathways, which over time can change the balance between happiness and painful emotions in a person’s experience. From Buddha’s Brain, I learned science about the malleability of the brain, and ways to help heal the brain damaged by trauma. In designing the workshop, I thought about how to incorporate activities to increase participants’ feelings of compassion and hope, even though they were addressing their suffering.
Now, some info about three books from a list Lori Walsh sent me in 2014, when she heard I was beginning the Cairn Project. Earlier she had made the list for herself in response to the National Academy of Pediatrics' new emphasis on childhood trauma. The National Academy of Pediatrics noted the huge negative effects of unresolved trauma on both mental and physical health of children continues throughout their lives.
The first of these three is The Language of Emotions: what your feelings are trying to tell you (2), by Karla McLaren. She is an empathic counselor and researcher who believes our emotions, all of them, contain “brilliant information” meant to guide us in how we deal with any situation that arises. But in our culture, feelings are very often dismissed and denied. How often are children told that they don’t or shouldn’t feel what they feel?
When I was a child, I was told I wasn’t angry (though I was). As a result, I lost my ability to use my anger to take care of myself. Instead I was admonished to care for others rather than myself. McLaren helps the reader recognize anger and other emotions, both in the stuck form they take when unacknowledged, and in the flowing form that can guide wise living. She also suggests practical ways to work with any feeling state. I found her insightful and practical teachings empowering and helpful in the development of the workshops. Time after time, workshop participants expressed surprise over how good it felt to form the clay to express their pain. One woman exclaimed, “I never knew trauma could be so beautiful.”
Molecules of Emotion: why you feel the way you feel (3) is Dr. Candace Pert’s memoir of her life as a researcher. She records the challenges of working as a woman in a male dominated research world, and she reports how she eventually overcame obstacles to her ability to formally test her intuitions. We benefit today from her discovery that emotions are stored in the body’s receptors and determining that emotional expression is key to integrating mind and body. You can link to a site (http://candacepert.com) featuring her life and contributions to the field of Mind-Body Medicine, the dawn of Psychopharmacology, and the drugs, like Peptide T, which she was testing for HIV, Alzheimer’s, Autism, and brain injury.
Mended by the Muse: Creative Transformations of Trauma (4) is a memoir by psychoanalyst, painter, and holocaust survivor Sophia Richmond. This book was not cheap and the longer reviews I wanted to read had to be purchased. But I’m so glad I bought it. Sophia Richmond helped me articulate why I believe clay saved me and why I believe in the value of using clay to help others. When workshop participants dismissed their experiences of stress and loss as insignificant, I would say: “Your suffering is worthy of compassion.” I would quote Sophia Richmond, who describes trauma as falling on a continuum “ranging from the inevitable losses that we experience in our daily lives due to the human condition to exposure to extremely violent and catastrophic events outside of common human experience.” She adds “…creative action is one of the most effective ways of coping with trauma and its aftereffects.” (5) She continues throughout the book to show how she came to this conclusion, and she gives specific examples of how mending happens. You may listen to an evocative interview of the author following the book's 2014 publication on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCBJTVq_62A). I highly recommend this book for art therapists and others using the arts to help people deal with trauma.
Here are more books I’d love to talk about, but there’s no more room in this blog!
What books have you read that have helped you face trauma--
in your personal life? in your professional life?
(1) Buddha’s Brain: the practical neuroscience of happiness, love & wisdom, Rick Hanson, Ph.D. with Richard Mendius, MD., New Harbinger Publications, 2009. See http://www.rickhanson.net/books/buddhas-brain .
(2) The Language of Emotions: what your feelings are trying to tell you, Karla McLaren, Sounds True, 2011.
(3) Molecules of Emotion: why you feel the way you feel, Candace B. Pert, Ph.D., Scribner, New York, 1997, http://candacepert.com/
(4) Mended by the Muse: Creative Transformations of Trauma, Sophia Richmond, psychoanalyst, painter, holocaust survivor, Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group, New York and London, 2014. Read short reviews on the following sites. https://www.amazon.com/Mended-Muse-Creative-Transformations-Psychoanalysis/dp/0415883644
(5) page 3, Mended by the Muse.
When we begin a day, we can never know just who or what might cross our path and how that “crossing” will impact our lives.
You’re “crossing paths” with our new blog, the Cairn & Cloud Chronicle!
In the Cairn Project, we experienced the power of the creative arts to help us mend from the effects of trauma. The chronicle will be a place where those involved in the Cairn Project can continue to share their stories and where others will be inspired to tell theirs as well. Here people can learn of and share resources for continuing creative healing work. We will share news of the Cairn Project and other happenings that address healing from trauma.
In this first post, you can learn:
Hundreds have crossed paths with the Cairn Project
Here’s a brief summary of the Cairn Project with a link to more. Between 2014 and 2016, I, with many people assisting, developed and led the Cairn Project. First, in Shaping Clay, Shaping Life workshops, participants formed “rocks” of stoneware clay to hold their experiences of trauma. They also created small porcelain tokens of light to represent their inner light and hope. In public gallery spaces, the rocks were piled to form a memorial cairn with the tokens of light hovering like a cloud above it. The light over dark became a collective expression of trauma and hope. Read more on the Cairn Project Online Archive.
How “crossing paths” with a 750,000-volt proton atom splitter led to the Cairn Project
I saw a real, but no longer used, atom splitter in
the Elmhurst College Accelerator Art Space, while viewing the exhibit of my friend, Rebecca Wolfram. It was February, 2014, and that is when I conceived of the Cairn Project. The atom splitter reminded me that a primary motivation for my artwork is to explore and give voice to my inner experience of “splitting” due to traumatic childhood experiences. At the time I was also reading books and articles on brain research into how trauma causes people to split off from a part of themselves, and what can contribute to healing such brain splits. I asked myself, “If I were to make a new sculpture about this, what might it be?” Several thoughts hit me:
What happened when Marcy Setniker crossed paths with the Cairn Project
A year and a half ago, Marcy Setniker of Portland, Oregon, happened to hear about the Cairn Project from my son Tim, a co-worker. Her heart was so drawn to it that she spearheaded an extension of the project, The Next Cairn, in her city. She wanted to experience it herself, and have others experience it, too. Just this month Marcy and I co-led four Shaping Clay, Shaping Life workshops, including one at Outside In, an agency that serves Portland’s homeless youth. I was moved deeply, as I witnessed many people work with clay to express their experiences of trauma.
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