This week's guest blogger is Claire Perkins — an artist, author, and expressive arts coach. During an experience of deep grief, Claire discovered the healing and awakening power of expressive art and journaling, which she now brings to her clients. Trained in the Creative Journal Expressive Arts (CJEA) method, Transformational Life Coaching, Active Dreaming and SoulCollage®, she gently guides people to deeper self awareness, inner healing and awakening with a juicy mix of simple expressive art, dream work and journaling.
The Non-Dominant Hand as a Guide Through Grief
Fifteen years ago, after years of struggling with his addiction, my eldest son died of an accidental overdose at age 26. My worst nightmare had come to pass. It was a grief unlike anything I'd ever experienced.
Yet by some stroke of divine order, six months prior to Cameron's death, I had begun studying with Lucia Capacchione and learning, among other things, the power of drawing and journaling with my non-dominant hand. Who knew that my own left hand would become so instrumental in leading me through grief into healing?
About a week before Cameron died, I had an ominous dream in which a giant wave - like a tsunami - came crashing up through city streets and skyscrapers. In a room in one of the buildings, I could see a small, frightened boy. When I awoke from this dream, I sensed it had something to do with my son and it left me feeling uneasy. I had often thought of him as drowning - drowning in an ocean of unhappiness, anger and addiction. I titled the dream, "The Big Wave."
When I learned of Cameron's death a week later, I knew that the Big Wave had finally claimed him. He had drowned in the sea of his addiction.
I turned to the collage I'd created from my dream seeking wisdom, guidance and healing as the tsunami of grief crashing over me threatened to drown me as well.
I began a two-handed dialoguing process and, over a few days time, spoke with every image in the collage by asking questions with my dominant hand and allowing the images to answer through my non-dominant hand.
Each and every image had powerful wisdom and healing to share with me, and all the dialogues are included in my book, The Deep Water Leaf Society (https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Water-Leaf-Society/dp/0982105614/). But perhaps the most surprising conversation of all was the one I had with the surfer at the top left of my collage.
Dominant Hand (DH): Hello Surfer - who are you?
Non-Dominant Hand (NDH): It's me, Mom. Look at me - I'm riding the wave! It's wild and dangerous and so much fun! Mom, I'm happy. It's all good. I had a short ride, but what a rush!
DH: So you feel good then? Happy? Satisfied?
NDH: Mom, I didn't drown. Not like you think. I just grabbed a board and hung on for a wild and crazy ride. Don't cry, Mom - please? That makes me sad.
DH: I'm sorry to cry, but I'll miss you. I didn't think of your life as a lot of fun. I thought you were hurting and in pain.
NDH: But it was all part of the ride. Really. It's ok. I'm free. I'm happy. I'm moving on.
DH: What is it that I can do for you?
NDH: You've done it all, Mom. Now it's my turn to do for you.
DH: What gift or wisdom do you bring to me?
NDH: Freedom. Live your life, Mom. Ride your own wave. I love you.
Sometimes as I write with my non-dominant hand, I wonder where the words are coming from. But in this instance there was no doubt in my mind that it was truly Cameron who was speaking to me, urging me to see his life and death differently, urging me to live my own life fully in spite of this loss.
While the dialogues with the images in my Big Wave collage often evoked a flood of tears, I felt safe and protected somehow. Every voice seemed to encourage me to see that love was all that mattered and all that was real. That love would heal all wounds. That love never dies.
When the woman at the bottom right, the one with her eyes closed, said through the non-dominant hand that she felt as though the weight of this loss would crush her and that she would drown in her tears, the other woman had a different point of view.
DH: And so, finally, to you - the woman with her eyes wide open. Who are you?
NDH: I am you.
DH: And how do you feel?
NDH: So many things. Joy one moment and sorrow the next. But look at me - I'm dressed for swimming. We will keep our eyes wide open even when we are immersed in the sea. It will never overwhelm us. We are safe.
DH: And what can I do for you?
NDH: You are doing it. Living. Loving. Feeling. Growing. This is why we are here.
DH: I know this is true. What gift or wisdom do you bring to me?
NDH: We shall see, Claire. We shall see . . .
During the six months prior to Cameron's death, I had been learning to use all the healing tools and processes of Lucia Capacchione's Creative Journal Expressive Arts, including listening to the wisdom of my "other" hand. And for that I am truly grateful.
While dialoguing with the images in my Big Wave collage was only the first step in a very long journey through grief into healing, my non-dominant hand would continue to lead the way.
Claire Perkins, CJEA
The Deep Water Leaf Society: Harnessing the Transformative Power of Grief
Fallen: The Adventures of a Deep Water Leaf
Order The Power of Your Other Hand (Conari Press 2019) at Amazon.com
Thank you for visiting. Here you will find posts based on my book The Power of Your Other Hand: Unlocking creativity and inner wisdom through the right side of your brain (new edition, 2019 Conari Press), featuring excerpts from the book, success stories from readers and students, my own experiences, and drawing and writing prompts using this technique. Enjoy!
~Lucia Capacchione, Phd, ATR
~Lucia Capacchione, Phd, ATR
Thursday, August 15, 2019
Thursday, August 1, 2019
At the time these circles began flowing out of my brush, I knew next to nothing about the Zenga tradition of art. I only knew what I had seen and liked on scrolls and mounted paintings in museums and at shops in New Chinatown and Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles where I spent my early years. In fact, I was using one of the Japanese brushes I’d had since 5th or 6th grade when I purchased one for painting a large fabric banner in grammar school. I loved the flexibility of these brushes that seemed like many brushes in one. I could paint a large solid area or draw by making medium or thin lines with the round pointed tip. It all depended on how much paint was on the brush, how much pressure was applied and how the brush was held.
As I painted these circles with my non-dominant hand, calligraphic forms started to appear out of nowhere. How curious, I thought. These look like Japanese and Chinese characters I’ve seen on scrolls. I have no idea how my hand is doing this, and I sure don’t know what they say, if anything. It was effortless, fun and super relaxing, so I continued. I ended up creating a series of these multi-colored “faux Asian calligraphy” paintings. A few had enso circles in them, most of them were filled with calligraphy formed from the top down and often starting on the right hand top corner of the painting. I had never had instructions in Asian calligraphy techniques, yet my non-dominant hand knew what to do. Sometimes I gave them poetic titles that came as naturally and effortlessly as the paintings had. These titles sounded like fragments of zen sayings. I had no idea where any of this came from.
After awhile I got into the practice of playing recorded music for Zen Meditation while I painted. At those times it felt as if I were channeling a past life as an Asian monk. Although I began studying art at age 13 and had a Bachelor’s Degree in Art, I’d never taken a class in Asian art nor ever visited an Asian country. Yet here I was, immersed in a clearly meditative process using brushes from a far away land. Around that time, I saw an ad for an exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art entitled: “Zenga: Brushstrokes to Enlightenment.” The name of the show hit me like a thunderbolt. I knew I had to see it as soon as possible. Walking around the Museum’s Asian Pavilion, I was awe struck by what I saw. The walls were filled with traditional pieces from an art form that was all about meditation, mindfulness, and being in the present. Enso circles and other drawings, as well as calligraphy, seemed to flow from the very soul of the artists. The show was stunning and inspired me to continue.
I learned that, traditionally, these simple circles were created with Japanese brushes and ink, and usually accompanied by calligraphy featuring phrases or verses from Zen teaching. Enso art is a direct expression of the mind of the artist who creates it. I also knew from my studies of Swiss Psychologist, C.G. Jung, that circles have deep significance as the archetype of wholeness. He wrote about the circular form of the uroboros, the serpent eating its own tail, symbolizing the continuous cycle of life and death. What fascinated me most was the spontaneous quality of the work, considering that the artists received rigorous training by Zen masters and were themselves Zen masters. As an artist and art therapist, I resonated deeply with the idea of finding enlightenment through art.
For a few years after discovering this spontaneous Asian style art through my non-dominant hand, I continued painting and exhibiting these works throughout Los Angeles and California's central coast. At one exhibit, a Japanese man and I struck up a conversation. I laughed and acknowledged that my work was "faux calligraphy" inspired by Asian art. He laughed and pointed out that there actually were some real kanji characters in my art, but they didn't add up to anything. It would be like doing a painting with a made-up alphabet and throwing a few real letters into the mix for decorative purposes only.
At the same time I was painting and exhibiting these Asian inspired paintings, I also created collages and watercolor landscapes. However, it was the process of painting with Asian brushes in my non-dominant hand that brought me the most relaxation and inner peace. As in the Zenga tradition, the art was a byproduct of my state of mind and my spontaneous interaction with the brush, the paint or ink, and the paper. I was leading a very busy life at the time, traveling all over the world, writing books and leading workshops. Meditation through the brush became my refuge and a welcomed stress reduction practice.
In the last few months, almost three decades after my original discovery of Zenga art, I have had the opportunity to take classes with masters of Chinese brush painting and calligraphy. These teachers appeared out of nowhere, just like my first discoveries of what happened spontaneously when I put an Asian brush in my “other hand.” Exploring brushes, Chinese papers, calligraphy forms and traditional techniques has been a joy. I am looking forward to seeing what happens next.
Order The Power of Your Other Hand (Conari Press 2019) at Amazon.com