The following is a personal account from a participant who attended one of occupational therapist, Amee Le’s, mindfulness art workshops for persons with acquired brain injury. With the exception of Le, names of the participants have been changed.
You can find out more about Le’s workshops by visiting her blog, mindfulartabi.com
I am sitting with a few people in the Northern Distrct Library on a Thursday afternoon. The room is half the size of a basketball court, and covered with a grey carpet. There is a central island formed by four rectangular tables, and close to the entrance, several juice bottles and two baskets of energy bars are waiting on the welcome table. The room looks quite empty with five big windows overlooking the busy Yonge and Eglinton intersection.
We all look ‘normal’, or at least most of us do not look like we have a disability. One person is in a wheelchair, and another has a twisted hand.
I am wearing a silky pencil skirt and a white blouse with three-quarter sleeves. Shirley has her red bike helmet on the ground by her chair, just like she did last month when I first attended this workshop.
Kitty, with small curly blonde hair gives each of us name tags. I can’t see them clearly without my glasses, but I remember some of the faces from last time. Karen is in an orange dress. Sandra, in the wheelchair, has a colourful outfit on. Kent has a perfect smile, and is not shy at all. Lydia is tall with dark brown hair and eyes that match. We all sit around the central island, and there is a portable flipchart standing by the end of table across me. I like to switch my eyes between the paper board and the big windows.
Kitty introduces our facilitator, Amee, an occupational therapist. She is in her 20s, a lean woman with straight dark hair, curling inwards at her shoulders.
“Good afternoon and welcome to the mindful art workshop,” Amee speaks slowly with a gentle smile. She walks to the paper stand and draws a face-size circle on it. Inside the circle, she writes three words, one at each line. “Judgment, mindfulness, acceptance.” Outside the circle at the bottom, she writes, “Surprise!”
“Can somebody tell us what mindfulness is?” Amee asks, looking around with encouragement.
“To be in the moment,” Kent volunteers the answer, his right hand is twisted inward with scars.
“That’s right. Today we’ll make stamps with our imagination. Being mindful, we don’t make judgment. Instead we accept as is, and we’ll find surprise,” Amee says while pointing at the words on the paper.
“Let’s start with a mindfulness mediation,” she walks back to her seat beside me.
We all close our eyes. Click. Amy’s finger gently pushes the button on her iPod. A light music, swirls around the big room.
“Breathe in, and breathe out,” she says.
Her soft voice travels in the room, echoing back and forth.
“Imagining ourselves, breathe in the fresh air, and breathe out the black smoke.”
I take a deep breath, full of moisture from a beach I imagine in my mind. And, slowly, I breathe out a thick, foggy smoke.
“Breathe in, and breathe out. We raise our hands, palms facing the ceiling. We receive the gifts with the gratitude. Now, we lower our hands, sharing with others. We give out the blessings with the generosity.”
Her voice, like a sweet angel, continues to flow around us.
A gentle wind full of seaweed scent refreshes my brain and fills my belly. I blow out a trace of pain – a dull, aching pain. Again, the wind takes away the pain, and it vanishes in the shadows of the weeping willows in my mind.
“Now, continue to breathe. I’m going to pass on the rubber stamp into your palm,” Amy said. “You’ll hold the stamp and focus on the image, which you would like to carve into the rubber.”
Amee’s tender voice mixes with the rhythm, flying around the table. I feel a light square rubber gently touching my left palm. I put my right hand on top of it, holding it like a treasure.
Breathe in deeply and breathe out slowly. I am flying with her voice into a wooden gazebo in the middle of a lake. It is a dark and foggy night, a gentle breeze kisses my cheeks. No one, no fishermen, no wild geese, nothing is out there, and I am alone. It is absolutely tranquil. Along the beach, the bamboo leaves are quietly dancing in the dim light.
I raise my head. The moon, like a peeled banana, hangs in the remote sky, covered by cloud of smoke.
“Breathe in, and breathe out. When you’re ready, open your eyes and draw your images on your rubber stamp.”
Although right handed, I start to train my left hand, just in case. Stroke by stroke, I draw a banana in the center of the square. Amy helps me choose the smallest sculpture chisel. Slide by slide, my left hand carves the banana.
It’s time to dip into the ink and show the artwork. Kent dips into the pink and stamps on his bookmark.
“Hah, it’s a lovely solid heart, full of passion,” Amy says. “Nice job, Kent.”
Sandra takes the green ink and puts her two hands on her rubber, pushing on her bookmark. Kitty keeps her eyes on the turnout.
“Wow, it’s a beautiful ginkgo leaf, full of hope,” Kitty says. “Well done, Sandra!”
I take my time, pick up the blue ink, slowly and firmly press my stamp. Tah-dah, a surprise! It’s a new moon, shining above the smoky cloud.
Joy overflows, and, from my fingertips, pours out a poem:
In the mist of night
Because of her
I am not afraid
To face the darkness inside
“I created a poem!” I declare.
The group asks me to read it.
“Amanda, I love it! Would you please stamp your new moon on my bookmark? It’s so beautiful,” Kent asks me.
“Amanda, would you please stamp it on mine as well?” Shirley says.
“My card, please!”
“Mine, as well.”
The voices come to me from all different directions.
Next, we are all busy passing around the colorful inks, bookmarks, and newly designed stamps.
I am delighted. I also collect their artworks on my bookmarks. A golden horse from Lydia, a delighted heart from Karen, a dreamy rainbow from Amee, a smiling face from blonde Kitty, the healing Gingko leaf from Sandra, and the passionate heart from Kent.
Who says that we are disabled, us survivors of brain injury? Under each invisible disability, there is a beautiful brain, eager to express faith, hope, courage, and endurance with great creativity.
Amanda used to work in engineering and finance. She had a brain injury in a car accident and can no longer work. Through mindfulness, she discovered her creativity. When one door closes, another opens. You can download the flyer for Amee Le’s mindful art workshop HERE.