contributed by Elizabeth Russell*
I’ve been thinking about change, and the stories we tell ourselves about it. Dorothy gets launched into the spinning sky by a great storm and placed down in an enchanted land. Countless fairy tales have us walking through the dark woods--sometimes lost, sometimes cold, but eventually coming to a new and better place. Stories of change are endless because change is a fundamental principle of our lives. These stories teach us how to get from one place to another, how we emerge from one state into something new, how butterflies and spring arise from a barren earth.
The thing about change is it comes, indifferent to the manner in which we meet it. With time and with luck, we develop or adopt tools to mark the path for ourselves as we go. This personal mapping is a way of acknowledging the place in which we find ourselves, a way of marking the moment. This simple act of marking initiates a cascade effect – we become self-aware, we see the arrow on the map that says, “You Are Here”, and we make choices about the next step.
When we miss the chance to pause and take stock, we can get off course pretty easily. It might be a gradual drift, or it could be an abrupt U-turn. Either way, we breeze past the milepost that reminds us, “You Know Where You Are” or “Someone Has Been Here Before”.
When we do pause enough to reflect -- and if we have tools at hand like creative process, meditation, or a supportive connection with ourselves & community -- we find a way to name where we are, to give it shape. We give it a shape that is particular to this place at this time, and we create it from the resources at hand.
Those materials are absolutely determined by the surrounding circumstances – on a path through the woods we might stack rocks; at the kitchen table we have a long heart-to-heart with a friend; in a Cairn workshop we shape clay. In meditation, this can be the simple act of noticing ‘thinking’ and returning to the breath; or the sudden clarity of presence that washes over you while standing at the sink. A guiding image or a searing insight can emerge from this attentive frame of mind.
It’s these images and insights that become embedded in our consciousness as markers of where we’ve traveled & what we’ve learned. We can use those markers to evolve a sense of our personal narrative, giving it coherence and perspective. The terrain shifts as we continue into life. We give ourselves these moments to help us tell the story of where we are, how we got here, and what might be next. They are how we tell the story of our own changes--how
we make choices and what we learn from them.
Last October in Portland, Oregon, The Next Cairn exhibition and workshops provided a special opportunity to mark the path--for me and, I would imagine, for all who participated. With the support of our community we carved out a moment in time to pause, reflect, and give a shape to the past, present and future. When we give expression to these moments, it’s like divining. We consult the creative intelligence within us as a means of navigating the changing inner and outer terrain. And that’s what we did, with deep thanks to Corinne Peterson for guiding the process and helping us to reveal our personal paths forward.
Elizabeth Russell is the director of Be Space Integrative Arts in Portland Oregon. Last year, she joined forces with several other volunteers to share Corinne’s work in three public workshops and also a private offering to Outside In, which provides services to homeless youth. www.bespacepdx.com, www.lifeartbeing.org.