Finding a New Whole: Self-Portraits
Each spring, I like to dig a little bit deeper into who I am, face some fears, uncover a long-forgotten aspect of who I truly am and hopefully move one step closer towards my personal quest for wholeness. In Jungian psychology, this journey is referred to as the path of individuation, a process where we learn and pay attention to the language of symbols and dreams in order to understand the life we are living.
Discovering What Really Matters
For most of my adult life, I have been recording my nighttime dreams and making art. Both have been a constant source of amazement, curiosity, bewilderment and, if I am patient enough, beguiling insight. Using the surreal images that come to me in the night has always been fuel for my creative process, allowing me to gradually derive the meaning of these bizarre but enticing nighttime tales.
“Trust that which gives you meaning and accept it as your guide.” – Carl Jung
The Snake haunted my dreams for years and still does from time to time when I am off-center. This ubiquitous symbol first showed up in a series of terrifying nightmares that haunted me for a very long time.
The Snake holds a plethora of scary associations, but once I made friends with it, I realized it was nudging me to shed some skin. It did not show up as a symbol of evil temptation but as a guide urging me to make some shifts in my life, to let go of habits that no longer served me and to simply see what I was doing with new eyes.
Learning a New Language
Although huge strides have been made in early detection and treatment for many types of cancer, it is still a terrifying diagnosis that comes with a fierce undercurrent of stress and anxiety.
One way to cope with this internal trauma is to connect with others who’ve been there. Not all of us have the wherewithal to venture into a tradition “talk” support group. Healing Icons’ approach is different.
When cancer turns our lives upside-down and inside-out, words are not enough. We long for a different way to communicate with ourselves and with others. Words just fall short. This is where the language of imagery comes into play.
We need a way to see ourselves anew. Each one of us has our own unique visual vocabulary – specific images, textures, patterns and colors that we are drawn to. If we slow down and pay attention to the call of the visual, a new world opens up to us.
“Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.” – Carl Jung
Art as Healing
In our Healing Icons classes, we create collages from images we intuitively and spontaneously cut out of magazines and catalogs. When we assemble these seemingly disparate parts and pieces into a whole, they paint a picture for us, a waking dream, a different kind of self-portrait.
If we question our creations honestly, they hold layers of revealing, exciting information for us. From the symbols within our collages, we make spirited, spur-of-the-moment word associations and link them together in a free-writing style of poetry.
Listening with the eyes and ears of the heart, our visual creations become not only our own personal teachers but also teachers for the cancer community at large.
Self-Portraits & Written Reflections
Medium: magazine cut-outs, xeroxed photos, acrylic paint on canvas board
Three months & one day
Colon Cancer Diagnosis
Life as I knew it shattered
Life as WE knew it changed
We all know this feeling
But we are not fragile
We are strong warriors
We do not white wash our circumstances
But face forward
Inviting the unexpected
Learning to grow in peace
Learning to find refuge within
The heart of our lives.
JR (colon cancer)
It is Up to Her
She wants happiness
In her life.
She wants to be free
And experience life.
Her happiness depends
On taking a long, hard look
Into her soul.
She wants to let go
Of all those things
That hold her in bondage.
It is up to her
To make it happen.
MW (kidney cancer)
Kaleidoscope of Possibilities
Her heart is feeling
That a new phase of life
Is about to happen.
Her mind is filled
With pocket-sized compartments
Where memories live,
Always there to guide her into the future.
There are so many empty spaces
She has yet to fill.
She senses a new direction,
Though she does not yet
Know the way.
Her inner most being
LD (breast cancer)
It is our hope that this creative work will inspire your own journey into art making and self-discovery.
Did you resonant with any of these self-portraits? Considering sharing your thoughts with us.
The idea of doing, of “solving a mystery with the hands” really resonates with me. I found out someone I love dearly has just been diagnosed, and my first impulse was to want to physically fight. I know that I can’t literally kick cancer’s butt, though, but I know that I can create and make, and still do with my hands. I plan to take many of the things that I learned when going to a Healing Icons retreat with my Mom (both artistically and emotionally), and make a present of hope and healing to my loved one.
Deana, You will be a strong power of encouragement and strength for your friend. Thanks for your thoughts. It helps others to know that they are not alone and that others share their thoughts and feelings.
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” C. Jung. Great post!
That’s one of my favorite quotes! Thanks for sharing it, Agata.
The art is an individual expression of unspoken words. I feel we all need a way to express what is inside.
Beautifully said, Selena. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
I find snakes interesting, rather than frightening, and think about how they are a symbol of healing: the medical symbol, the caduceus, is an example. Sometimes having my hands busy with an art or craft project, and my mind busy with solving the dilemmas of those projects, makes space for my heart to reveal what is really true and important. I can hear the whispers of my heart through color, shape, texture, image, etc.
Finding the time and space for the whisperings of the still small voice within is so very important. Thanks for your wonderful thoughts!
I can relate to both the images and poems. I had inner feelings that match with what the artist’s felt. As women we feel we have to be constantly strong..hide all the fears within ourselves. We don’t want to upset anyone! Delving into these fears and feelings are scary, but using art..not so much.. you really don’t realize what you are expressing until you are finished… Love these classes
Your honesty and insight is welcomed. Thanks Mickey!
Through each new Healing Icons experience I learn more about the real me. I realize there’s an inner strength that I never believed possible. A strength that comes from deep within knowing that whatever lies ahead I can manage. Through the process of my artwork my emotions become less confused, giving me a new confidence which allows me to live more fully and to experience joy in life. I’m encouraged by Heidi and the others that the world before me can offer a gentle happiness. I no longer constantly pine for my life “before cancer”. Instead I treasure my memories while learning how to participate fully in the present.
I love the inspiring words you use to describe where you are now, full of hope and encouragement. Thank you for such thoughtfulness. I have no doubt this will help many other survivors as they work through their cancer.
Collage, shadow images and dream work have all proven to be helpful ways to express my inner thoughts and feelings. And having a tangible product to take home, such as a collage or icon, continues to inspire thoughts, ideas and even new interpretations of my art work. Viewing others’ works and writings are also very meaningful. I appreciate having the online format which enables us to share and encourage each other.
I gently urge anyone who has had a cancer diagnosis, whether recently or in the distant past, to join us in discovering how Healing Icons can help cancer survivors continue to make the most of their lives. Through art and joining with kindred spirits you can find ways to work though all stages of recovery and survival.
You may have heard someone who has survived a major trauma such as cancer say, “it has changed my life for the better!” I couldn’t have believed it if it had not been my own experience. Besides having the support of my family and friends, Healing Icons definitely made and continues to make the biggest difference in the direction my life has taken since being diagnosed with cancer.
Thank you, Heidi!
Courageous, honest, powerful testimony. It has been such an honor to travel with you and witness the dark unfold until light.
Heidi introduced me to the work of Healing Icons in 1999, shortly after my mother died. Finding my way through the labyrinth of so many painful and powerful feelings seemed overwhelming at first. But as soon as I got past my fear, and really began work on the Icon my consciousness was flooded with a clear theme of memories, and images that spoke to me of her soul and mine. Often as I worked, I cried tears of grief and of celebration. I hardly knew which was which. Creating the Icon brought these feelings together in a healing way as I was swept along on a great river of tears and joy. I learned that image and symbol are the language of the soul, and that they can speak from our hearts even when we can not. When we finally look at what we have created we learn what what great resources, and what a great mystery lies deep within us.
The work Healing Icons does is important because it offers HOPE. One can find a connection with others who are journeying on the same path. One can dig deep within to rediscover themselves so they can shed layers and begin to move forward in their lives. Healing Icons offer an opportunity for personal growth and development. Healing Icons is wonderful!!
Hope and Healing are indeed two of the most powerful wonderful words. Thanks for your comments Mae.
Moving article, poems and art. I just found out one of my sweet friends has breast cancer. I would have never suspected her to get cancer…non-smoker/active lifestyle. She is a mover and a shaker. I am sharing this with her. She is not a quitter. I know she will resonate (just as I did) with the Kaleidoscope of Possibilities!
Thank you Heidi for your creative healing!
Thanks Jodi. Have your friend go to our website and join our mailing list or you can have her contact me directly.
I am really enjoying the comments from other Healing Icons participants. This is an unexpected and helpful new dimension to the Program!
Developing an online community is one of our newest ventures. Glad you are enjoying it Donna!