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Navigating the Balance Between Right Action and a Sense of Fundamental “Enoughness”
Note: The image above and the one below are from altered books that I have been working in over the last year, inspired by a class, The Down Deep, with Fonda Clark Haight. This method of working with goache, water color crayon and collage, has been a wonderful balance to doll making. These drawings have also become my way of downloading feelings quickly and of getting warmed up for the doll making process which usually happens more slowly over a period of weeks and months.
Is your brain racing to try to cope with this crazy world we live in?
Are you feeling these thoughts racing around your brain these days, like I am feeling in mine? Protesters and Black people getting targeted, threatened, injured and worse. Rollbacks seem to come up every day on environmental guidelines that had been protecting our living earth. The pandemic seems to be worsening and its management seems more of a distant reality. Are you feeling, like I am, a pressure to act, along with a sense of helplessness?
A fundamental dichotomy
I can only speak as a white person, with all the limitations that my viewpoint implies, to say we do need to examine ourselves and question our beliefs and take a stand on structural racism. We need to take action steps that are real, such as donating to causes that support activism and joining in protests if we are able. And we need to take care of ourselves and our families during the pandemic, and make sure we are wearing masks, practicing social distancing and staying home as much as possible if we are able to do so.
But what if along with all of that, and underneath it all, we were able to believe that we as human beings are enough? By this I mean that, yes, we are flawed and yes there is a lot to do but also yes, and at the same time, there is nothing wrong with us. It is easy to lose sight of this truth in the face of such scary and catastrophic events.
When we don’t see this truth, there can be a tendency to take actions out of a place of panic or out of a sense of unworthiness. Sometimes this leads us to forget that we are enough, on a deep level. I’m not saying we should ignore what needs to be done. But it is about taking these actions from a place of love and care. And allowing ourselves to rest if we need the time to rest.
An extreme and tragic example of what can happen when we lose sight of this
There was a story the other day in the news about a white emergency room doctor who committed suicide. She had been in charge of an ER, seeing COVID 19 patients every day and as the situation in the ER became more unmanageable, she became more hopeless. The situation was made worse when she contracted COVID 19 and then felt pressured to go back to work before she was fully healed. She became so overwhelmed by the situation and her inability to manage and contain it, that she killed herself. What a tragic story on so many levels.
What really stood out in the article was that this was someone who had always been able to triumph in her life by using her intellect and skills to cope with challenging situations. Yet somehow this situation was beyond anything she had ever faced before. Her previously reliable skills were no longer of use here. She couldn’t power through something this big. She was left feeling alone and isolated, even though there were sources of support around her. And so she became another victim of the pandemic.
What if we are all loved?
So many of us are being faced with overwhelming situations that can lead us to feel alone and unloved. Yet, even if we don’t have a belief in something outside ourselves, like God or spirit, we can find a source of comfort within our own brains and bodies. I’ve been reading and listening to podcasts about ways of using specific and warm language towards the parts of ourselves that find it harder to trust in our own enoughness. We can begin to discern which words to use to comfort the scared or overwhelmed part of our brain. These new studies are showing that we can create new neurological pathways in our brains, which can light up and provide us with comfort. And when action comes from this connected place, connection to the self and others, it is more likely to be sustainable and powerful action.
Doll making as another path to self love and acceptance
Another way of connecting to that nurturing side of ourselves is through doll-making. A few weeks ago I finished teaching the online class, Befriending Our Shadow. It was an amazing experience to witness women making flip dolls, while resourcing a place of kindness within. Some of what they said about this experience was; how surprisingly intense and deep the experience of working with their doll was, how they felt a sense of trust in themselves, in each other and in my leadership, so that they could come to creative solutions and feel safe, empowered and warm. They felt a deep connection to their flip dolls and what the dolls revealed to them. They confronted and sat with the darkness of their shadows, and were then able to find a way to connect with and unlock the strengths within their shadows.
What I love about teaching these kinds of classes is that I get to learn along with the participants and to benefit from the group wisdom. I am still processing the experience. I was able to get a lot of useful feedback in the end which will help me to structure the class the next time I teach it. Two of the biggest takeaways were that the groups were too large and that there were not enough sessions, so I will be adjusting the next series of classes accordingly.
To give myself time to process and also to plan for the fall, I decided to take a break for most of the month of August-probably means a lot of studio time, since we won't be able to go anywhere. I’ll also be revising my website over the month of August so not all of it will be visible during that time. I plan to bring new energy to September, no matter what is going on in the world, and to be on track to offer the next Befriending Our Shadows class in October. So please stay tuned!
Featured doll maker from previous Befriending Our Shadow workshop:
Over the next weeks, I will be posting images of dolls along with stories, created by participants in the previous Befriending Our Shadow workshop. The dolls created in this workshop reflect the wide range of interpretations of the topic and the many ways of making a flip doll. This week I will feature the work of Naomi Zow. What I especially loved about Naomi's doll was the way she invented a way of using strips of cloth with words written on them as hair. She at first didn't like the idea that the "hair" from the other side could be seen at the bottom of the doll. But then she embraced the idea that each side holds elements of the opposite. I also enjoyed witnessing her discovery about the "light" side of her doll, but I will let you read that yourself...
Here are Naomi's words about her flip doll and of her experience of being in the class. See images above.
I have enjoyed sewing since I was in middle school. I make clothing, quilts and home decor and have loved making cloth dolls for almost 25 years. I have loved taking all sorts of doll making classes and to see how different all the finished dolls look. I believe each doll reflects their creator in some way.
When the pandemic hit, I found myself feeling the stress and anxiety of the time. I started looking for projects to do to fill my time and that used materials I already had on hand - and would help me focus on something else than my fears. When I read about Erika Cleveland’s Transformative Healing Dolls, I signed up for the class the same day.
I loved the idea of bringing the psyche into the doll, consciously and intentionally. As i thought about my flip doll I pictured putting all my negative thoughts and fears and anxiety into the Shadow side of the doll and then putting that all away, under the Light side of her. Perhaps I could face my fears and then put them away.
Erika began each class with a meditation - which I loved. Her sample dolls were inspiring….seeing all the different “pairings” of consciousnesses. The focus of the first few classes was on the Shadow side of our dolls. This was easy for me to envision. In fact, I had so many things to say for this side, I felt the need to make the doll bigger than the original pattern so that I could include it all. I put pictures and quotes on her dress. Her hair is yarn mixed with many of my negative thoughts and quotes, printed on fabric.
And then I turned to the Light side and found my vision was quite sparse. This troubled me. This was where I wanted to live, and I had little in the way of a vision for it. It took some time to understand that my Shadow side was full of negativity (imagine a hoarder’s house of stuff, all yucky stuff). My Light side was open and spacious, allowing for spontaneity. Part of my goal is to be okay with that much space and the unplanned moments. Just “being” - happy, joyful, curious, observant - requires much less baggage and lets in much more light. I created for her a garden, each flower being supported by those things I want to welcome more of into my life. Her hair is filled with supporting thoughts and quotes, allowing for my imperfections and my joy.
I found I loved the hand sewing - it let me think about what I was creating and my intentions for the doll; helping me to cement the ideas into my consciousness.
I really liked having live classes and being able to see others work, which inspired and impressed me. I was amazed by those who had never made a doll before. The dolls were all so astounding and so individual, such unique styles.
The live Zoom classes also gave me deadlines to complete my work, which was motivational. I can't tell you how many unfinished projects I have sitting in my sewing room! I also thought the readings, poetry and philosophy shared in the meetings were quite thought provoking.
Thank you to Naomi for your thoughtful words and for being willing to share your doll here.
What’s in my studio right now
Here is some of what I am working on in my studio right now:
This is a flip doll I am calling Living Earth, that I started along with the first Befriending Our Shadow class. It is still in process but so far it is about (on the first, light side) the ways in which we as a human race have damaged and taken advantage of the earth. On this side, there are garbage-filled oceans, sea creatures dying and skeletons in underwater caves.
On the other side of the doll-the darker side-is the living earth which regenerates itself and still heals us even when we don’t reciprocate. On this side there are both whales and elephants going along the “ley” or energy lines of the earth. I recently learned from an animal communicator, Anna Breytenbach, that whales and elephants go along the ley lines of the earth as part of their migration patterns, and by doing this they are essentially reinforcing the strength of the earth. I am working on a skirt to be added to this doll. You can also follow my progress on this doll and see more drawings on my Instagram page.
I hope you were able to get some inspiration from this post, and especially from the featured flip doll by Naomi Zow. Please stay tuned for the next Befriending Our Shadow workshop in October, if that piqued your interest. And I hope you are getting to have some creative time and also that you are finding ways to be kind to yourself in all your 'enoughness.'
I've been making dolls for about ten years now. I believe that dolls serve as representations and reminders of the best part of ourselves. I am excited to share with you here my learnings about new methods and techniques for doll making and healing. So glad you are here!