In Japan, there is a form of art called Kintsugi, the process of repairing a broken piece of ceramic with gold, filling in its cracks. Such a technique renders the piece more beautiful in the eyes of the artist; it celebrates the object’s history, its unique story, and emphasizes the beauty of damage instead of disguising it.
To feel this truth about ourselves, however, requires an accepting space and practice. When upcoming Beyond Paper Tigers conference presenter, Brigette Phillips, began her business, Mindful Art, she had been a drug and alcohol counselor, and she had witnessed the healing provided by art. She wanted to share this powerful tool of learning and communicating. Through many projects, including Kintsugi, Brigette encourages her groups to transform their perfectionism into authenticity, self-acceptance, and self-love.
Her co-facilitator Shasta has lived this transformation.
Only a few years ago, Shasta Meyers maintained an unshakable, professional presentation. An employee of both Jubilee Leadership Academy and the Center for Sharing, she came across as confident and capable, her self-labeled weaknesses and wounds disguised from her coworkers. To take the ACEs questionnaire and share her number, as she and a group of coworkers were offered one day, felt like an invasion of privacy; it could shatter the image she’d worked so diligently to uphold.
But the recognition of an opportunity- the vulnerability and attentiveness of her group- encouraged Shasta to share.
She told her coworkers. She had all 10 ACEs.
When one woman began to cry, expressing that she never would have guessed what her peer had been through, an “aha” moment struck Shasta.
“This is what I’m modeling, that everything is perfectly fine. I’m not being true or authentic,” she shakily realized. She had been hiding her cracks, but perhaps she could instead acknowledge them, embrace them, and fill them with gold.
Inspired by the validation of the ACEs information, Shasta signed up whole-heartedly for trauma-informed care training with Rick Griffin and Community Resilience Initiative. “I was a 10 and I came from a very chaotic dysfunctional family. [ACEs] put together a puzzle for me. Our past experiences do shape us, and we can’t hide from that,” she expressed with newfound passion and understanding. She has now teamed up with Brigette to bring trauma-informed care training to Mindful Art, a combination that allows the free expression and communication of our pasts in a supportive environment. Together, they hold a group once a month that does several different projects. Brigette guides the art process while Shasta includes an educational piece on trauma.
One of their three projects is Kintsugi.
“We’re beautifully broken,” Brigette remarks. Each of her group members starts the project by picking a plate, and writing or illustrating their traumas on it. They then break the plate, glue it back together, and paint gold in the cracks.
“I kind of sneak in,” Brigette admits. “They don’t have to tell me their life story. [Art] gives them a chance to express whatever they want to express. They get to control.” This aspect of art has been profound; it formed the foundation upon which she built her business. When Brigette lost both her brother and her best friend’s son to suicide, art was a solace, a form of communicating that wasn’t verbal.
“We were using art for everything, doing whatever we could. And in that time, I could see us having conversations that were actually meaningful,” she recalls.
Her second project- creating art journals- is inspired directly by this subtle expression of emotion.
And lastly, Brigette and Shasta guide their clients in visualizing their life story by painting a tree- a heart at its roots, and blooming flowers and leaves to symbolize moving forward.
With each project, the two women hold the vulnerability of their group members. “Fear comes up, anger, frustration. Even the fear to get started. It’s so ingrained,” Brigette describes. “They feel vulnerable in the moment, and that’s scary. I have to say, ‘it’s okay,’ and cheer them on.” Thus Brigette and Shasta create a space of acceptance; negative self-talk, perfectionism, a whirlwind of emotions- it all arises in their group.
At the end of the day, the group simply encourages self-love. No matter what is expressed about one’s art- anger, frustration, fear- Brigette encourages each client to hang it on the wall. “I did this. I love this. I accept this,” she shares. “I am lovable.”
Whether it’s art journaling, our life story, or Kintsugi, Brigette and Shasta create a space of acceptance.
“Our broken pieces have made us who we are. And it’s beautiful.”
Brigette Phillips and Shasta Meyers will be presenting together at the 2018 Beyond Paper Tigers Trauma-Informed Conference, June 27th & 28th in Pasco WA. Purchase Tickets and Register for the 2018 Beyond Paper Tigers Conference here
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