Life Books, Strength, and Ethiopian Art: Angels Among Us

Source: ww.ethiopianorthodoxchurch.info

ethiopianorthodoxchurch.info

Back in September 2013, I took a leap of faith and sent in an “entry” to win an on-line, all-year art class. And I won. The amazing artist Flora Bowley is one of the instructors for a Life Books class, and she selected me. Here’s what I sent to Flora:

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You can read my post about it, “Adoption Stories In the Light of Day, Through Art and Hopes for Healing,” here.

The Life Book 2014 class started January 1. It’s intense, challenging, nurturing, and fun. There are hundreds of people (mostly women) participating from around the globe. There are videos, pdfs, inspirational quotes, meditations, manifestoes, and faqs: thoughtful information that is clear and attentive. The wonder of the Internet allows folks to post their work in various forums, both globally and locally focused Facebook groups  (examples: Australia, US Midwest, Holland, the Pacific Northwest, which includes people from Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia).

The astonishing creative force behind this is Tamara Laporte, of Willowing. She’s a British artist, whose work is full of color, whimsy, fantasy, warmth, and vibrancy. Her web site offers all sorts of classes, workshops, and ideas. She is exuberant in her sharing. She emphasizes self-care, by encouraging participants to stop listening to negative voices and to put themselves fully into the joy of the creation of art. Her video lessons are thoughtful in their detail and encouragement. She mentions simply in passing the rheumatoid arthritis that affects her fingers, which to me reveals a matter-of-fact and enormous courage.

It is a reminder that we rarely know what effort (pain, struggle, discomfort) exists quietly behind the lives of people who are doing amazing things. They don’t deny or publicize the pain or the struggle–they let it accompany them on their journey, and keep moving, creating, and achieving.

The first lesson of 2014 was “Inner Artist Guardian.”  The idea was to create an image of a guardian who would give us encouragement, focus, and energy as create art. Here is the lovely, ethereal, pink-haired creature that Tam created in the lesson:

Original artwork by Tamera Laporte. www.willowing.org

Original artwork by Tamera Laporte. www.willowing.org

While viewing the video lesson, my thoughts slipped to ideas of guardian angels, to the presence and power of guardians, and to various women I have known here on earth who have brought me inspiration and hope. I also thought about the role of angels in Ethiopian traditional religious art, though they also appear in contemporary Ethiopian art as well.

The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore had an exhibit at the Museum of Biblical Art in New York City titled Angels of Light: Ethiopian Art. Here’s an excerpt from the description:  By the fifteenth century, (Ethiopia) had developed a tradition of icon-painting that rivaled the Orthodox empires of Byzantium and Russia, as well as the famed panel paintings of Renaissance Italy.

There is so much people don’t realize about Ethiopia.

See the word “Presence” on Tamera’s painting above? We are, in this class, to choose a word to focus on in 2014. I chose “Gratitude.” I hope to be more aware and present, and to express gratitude more to other people, by saying thank you, and by acknowledging others’ kindnesses, efforts, accomplishments large and small.

Here’s the “Inner Guardian” I created:

Original artwork by Maureen McCauley Evans.

Original artwork by Maureen McCauley Evans.

May I cherish what is offered in good faith by others. May I embrace gratitude. May we see strength in ourselves and others. May the generous hearts of so many people not be overlooked.

Adoption, Art Therapy, and PTSD

There’s a school of thought that adoption is equivalent to violence, that the separation from one’s mother is inherently traumatic, and that the loss of a family (language, culture, history, birthright, traditions) is for some people so severe as to be debilitating.

As an adoptive parent, I find that school of thought to be sobering and daunting. I’d like it to be wrong. Yet I know that, for some adoptees, the impact of their being adopted–even if it’s the “right thing,” even if the adoptive parents are good and loving people–has a challenging, lifelong impact that interferes with their ability to trust others and to build healthy relationships.

Add to the trauma of being adopted any incidents of abuse and/or neglect, either before or after adoption, and you have the potential for a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

We think of that diagnosis perhaps most frequently for soldiers who have witnessed or participated in horrific acts during wartime, and who then seek help after that trauma. But PTSD can appear in other circumstances, including adoption.

The National Institute of Mental Health explains it this way:

“When in danger, it’s natural to feel afraid. This fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to prepare to defend against the danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a healthy reaction meant to protect a person from harm. But in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this reaction is changed or damaged. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they’re no longer in danger.

PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers.”

Immanuel Williams was diagnosed with PTSD after being removed from his adoptive home. During the trial of his adoptive parents, Larry and Carri Williams, Immanuel’s therapist testified about Immanuel’s diagnosis and prognosis. I wrote about the therapist’s testimony here.

I doubt that most adoptees struggle with PTSD, but I am certain that some do. In any case, many children, teens, and adults deal with the “fight or flee” response quite often. I’ve read about a “freeze” response as well, that response of an inability to react, of staring, of feeling panic or anxiety. I would not minimize the trauma of adoption. Most adoptees ultimately do just fine, but some have mighty struggles. We do them and their families a disservice to minimize or deny the impact of grief, loss, and trauma.

In addition to understanding attachment and trauma, in addition to working with skilled clinicians in determining a diagnosis, art therapy can often be a significant healing tool, for wounded warriors, for adoptees, for anyone working through a profoundly painful experience.

Here’s a recent New York news story about the successful use of art therapy with soldiers.    There’s a good, brief video about the program. Here’s an example of the art:

From wwnytv.com: "Art Therapy Helps PTSD Sufferers"

From wwnytv.com: “Art Therapy Helps PTSD Sufferers”

We tend as a society to discount or minimize the mental suffering that we ourselves or others go through. We also tend to minimize the value of art in healing some of that suffering. I am increasingly convinced that art can do great things in helping create new stories, or in expressing pain in safe ways, and in then leaving the pain behind.

It doesn’t have to with artistic talent. It has to do with letting go, with letting sadness and trauma take a different form, and with easing suffering.

Source: Healing Through Art (Facebook site)

Source: Healing Through Art (Facebook site)

Here are a few related Facebook sites; click on them to see more.

Healing With Art (I got the link to the New York story from this site.)

Art Therapy Without Borders 

Art Therapy

According to the news story about the soldiers: “A permanent display of hand prints and pins will soon be on the wall of the building for all who enter to see and will include the following quote chosen by the soldiers themselves: ‘The healing of your invisible wounds begins here.’ ”

Let me say that again: “The healing of your invisible wounds begins here.”