Saturday, December 26, 2009

It's Hailing Inside

Storm Brings Beauty, encaustic, 8" x 10"

Storms bring wind, rain, circling leaves, fallen trees, flooding, dynamic thunder and lightning, even tornadoes and hurricanes. Storms can also bring snow, sleet, hail the size of golf balls.

There are internal storms, too. They're the kind that sometimes remain hidden deep down in the belly or just under the surface near the heart. Sometimes we let them out and spin in our own cyclones, feeling the intensity of emotion or pain. Other times, we disguise our storms carefully, or do the opposite: we can't keep them inside for one more minute and we begin to crack and boom. We can ride our storms out, watching as they (and we) move in their (our) shapes and patterns. These storms can also hurt ourselves or others in the process of expression, even when we don't mean for this to happen.

Try this:

When you experience internal storms of the mind, body, and soul, what do they look and feel like? Do you hail inside? Experience flash floods? Are you the tree that has been struck by lightning? Take out a piece of paper or your journal and describe your emotional landscape with storm metaphors. When there is pain inside you, how does Mother Nature manifest in your gut, your heart, your head, your bones?

And now think about what you do to calm the storms. Write down ways in which you let your storms release or let go, leaving you--and others--in one lovely piece. Uncover the beauty that comes after a storm, when everything is left to settle and slow, when you know in your body that the sun will rise again and show itself like a sunflower emerging from a winter landscape.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Signs from the Body

Scar Matrix for Healing the Heart, encuastic, 8" x 10"

"Like dreams, body symptoms present information of which we're unconscious. In a dream, this information comes as symbols. In the body, it comes as symptoms. Both mean the same thing: signs!...They mean something. They have wisdom, metaphoric power, method in their madness. They are one of the languages the soul uses to get across to us something about itself. The word pathology, in fact, means the speech of suffering, the logic of pain, and in order to understand that logic, in order to speak to the wild imagination at work in symptoms, we must bring to it a certain supple and symbolic imagination." -- Gregg Levoy, Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life

The art piece you see above is a representation of my "speech of suffering," of my "logic of pain." The symbol of a circle, a very common symbol used by many cultures (and often the first symbol drawn by most children, I just learned), is also my symbol to represent the pain I have felt and continue to feel in my heart area in response to the loss of my father.

I imagined this symbol while receiving a potent and emotional CranioSacral session with Ella Nacht in Kirkland, WA. We were investigating the tightness in my chest and diaphragm area, and the knot near my heart, just to the left of center.

Ella asked me, "What does this area feel like?" Tears streamed down the creases of my eyes, filling my ears, and she gently took a tissue to them so little tear lakes wouldn't form there.

I told her, "I feel like I am alone. That everyone has forgotten I lost my dad, just over a year ago. I feel neglected in my loss." Ella placed one hand on my heart and the other on my back near my left scapula, cradling me with her touch.

"And what does this area look like," she asked?

"It's a circle. There is pink and red in there, but the area right near my heart, where I feel pain is black and brown and scarred. It's sticky and deep. I feel open and loving in the world, but that dark part remains hurt, maybe even angry."

After some breathing and more of her CranioSacral work, I felt I could breathe more fully. She then asked, "What does this area need?"

I didn't use my mind to answer, but rather my heart itself spoke: "Light, it needs light. It needs to be seen. I need to give it a life through art...and it's okay if it's not pretty."

So that was the beginning of this art piece. It emerged from my body itself as I was guided by a gifted practitioner who created a safe place for me to explore the sensations and images in my very own being. I left the session so grateful, and with the lovely realization that I often do this very process with my own clients. How powerful to receive what I often give.

During my second session with Ella, I shared my art piece with her. She noted that that dark area looked like a healing matrix, the criss-cross pattern tissue makes when it has torn and is now healing. I hadn't noticed that before, and suddenly I realized that not only was this art piece one of expression of sadness, anger, and damage, but also of healing. That aching part of me was actually healing itself. My body and mind were working to heal it, just as my body would work to heal a torn hamstring muscle.

I was inspired to share this art piece -- and my story -- today after reading a chapter called "The Language of the Body" in Levoy's book Callings. I was struck by the way Levoy described the power in tuning into pain -- whether physical or emotional -- and almost amplifying it to understand it as I did in my session with Ella. Levoy writes, "Draw your attention to it [the pain]. Forget what you think is going on, why you have it, what it means, and again, just focus on the experience of it."

When you do this, you may find that your body has a message for you. Perhaps the message is an image or word or metaphor or feeling. Perhaps it is something concrete and very specific. Whatever it is, what you see/feel/hear/taste/smell/touch is a sign from your body. You are being given a gift when you tune in to the pain, listen to it, and give it light. You may even find that you are in the process of healing your pain by just acknowledging it and giving it the room to express itself.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Belonging

Egg Tribe, encaustic, 5" x 5"

A few years ago, my friend Laila Atallah introduced me to the concept of "belonging to a tribe." As a holistic career counselor and life coach, she often helps her clients determine where they belong -- in terms of careers, but also in terms of their lives in general.

I remember one day when Laila and I were in her kitchen (always a great place to have conversations) and we examined where we felt we belonged. Who were "our people," meaning who ignited us, inspired us, made us feel good? Who made us think, had similar interests, cared about the same things we did?

We began listing certain characteristics we appreciated in friends, and we also began to contemplate what made us "grow out of" certain friendships. Had we changed? Had others changed?

Here's a list of questions I've just spontaneously created to help you examine your tribe, community, friend group, network, or whatever you'd like to call it. And maybe you have several tribes with which you are drawn.

1. When in social situations, how do you like to be received or treated?

2. Do you find yourself yearning for connection and action or wanting quiet contemplation -- or a combination?

3. List some activities that you love to do. Examine why you love these things.

4. List some activities that repel you. Examine why these things push you away.

5. What values do you hold firmly, that you can't imagine changing?

6. What aspects of yourself do you wish you could accentuate or illuminate?

7. List three objects that comfort you.

8. List characteristics you love in other people that you don't necessarily cultivate in yourself.

9. Are there certain things that will make or break a relationship for you?

10. List 10 characteristics of your authentic self -- the self that you've had since childhood.

After you've answered these questions, circle any important words or phrases that feel of significance to you. What can you glean from these words? Is it clear that you are drawn to very intellectually-oriented folks or people who love to be politically active? Maybe values are most important to you, so finding people with similar ethical philosophies is how you create your tribe. Maybe these questions highlight that you are malleable in your actions and tastes, open in your ability to fit into many communities.

You might also like to imagine how you might have answered these questions as a teenager. How different (or similar) might be your answers?

Feel free to post your insights and responses here!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Transformed

The picture above shows the art pieces that we created during the November 28 "Transforming Loss: Altering Photographs" workshop, the second rendition of this workshop that I have facilitated. Each participant created pieces that reflected aspects of themselves, their losses, and their healing journeys. At the end of the workshop, we set our pieces in our sacred candle circle, honoring each of the ways we expressed our unique selves through image-making.



Ann shows her art piece, full of light, healing, and love.

Dorothy pieces together images and colors, creating a tapestry of authenticity.

Karen makes the final touch on her piece, hammering in an important sound element.

Bethany examines her photographs, finding the ones that reflect her journey.





During the workshop, I realized that the symbol of my strength comes in the form of tree roots. So I created this piece above to honor the ways in which I carry my father's strength with me in the form of roots holding strong, settling deeply into the earth, always growing.


I also created another tribute piece to my father. The photograph depicts my father walking away, although, I like to think that he is walking towards something lovely, something so bright and comforting. He is always, ever always.

I want to thank the participants of this workshop for being themselves in the present moment, for risking to create art (yes, art can feel risky to some of us!), and for witnessing the process of each other. I feel grateful and honored to be your guide in this process of insight, healing, and transformation.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Renewing Light


We are just about month away from the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. This year, the Winter Solstice will occur at exactly 5:47 pm Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on December 21, 2009.

As we move through these soggy November days into the new days of December, I find myself lighting candles consistently and mindfully. Creating candlelight glow has become second nature in my daily routine, I suppose, because I find candles comforting. I love the flicker, the soft yellow illumination, the scents, the wavering flame. There is something very primal about candlelight, too, as if something very old awakens in my body, some dormant seed that's been hiding in the dark of these long evenings. I also feel a sense of potential in the light that is to come once we pass the solstice mark. There is something in me ready to glow, regenerate, renew.

I created the art piece above to honor the power and comfort of the candles that flicker my evenings along, making striking shadows on the walls. These companions light my way most evenings and remind me that I am also a flame, burning with creativity, emotion, and strength.

How do you use light during these dark months of fall? Do you surround yourself with candlelight like I do or perhaps light a fire or hang strings of lights? Or do you find yourself comforted by the darkness?

And what in you is ready for some renewal? What is ready to burn its way into being and show itself in the light?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Healing Through Art Making

Earlier this month, I facilitated "Transforming Loss: Altering Photographs." The candle above holds the intentions of all who participated and shared their losses through talking, writing, and above all, art-making.

The whole afternoon was poignant as we worked together as a supportive group and separately in our own creative bubbles, depicting our losses and hopes and visions. There was a creative silence that could only be described as healing silence as we cut and pasted and glittered our way to understanding our losses.

It was humbling to notice the physical changes in the participants--stiff, nervous bodies turned to relaxed postures and tight apprehensive faces turned to calm soft faces--and to hear the insights and revelations that the art pieces revealed to each person. And I was moved so deeply.

Here are my two pieces from the workshop (lucky me -- I got to participate, too!):


A tribute to my dad.


A self-portrait piece as I learn to feel strong again after loss.


I am offering this workshop again due to additional interest. It's on Saturday, November 28, 1-4pm. Email me if you'd like to join in: cputnam@rising-bird.com.

And the loss issues you bring to the workshop can be any type of loss -- not just loss due to the death of a loved one. In the last workshop, there were many different manifestations of loss shared and explored, including loss of relationships, loss of identity, loss of innocence, etc.

If you are a Facebook user, you can become a "fan" of Rising Bird Healing Arts, and once on my page you can view some of the other art pieces from the participants! And here's a link to some photographs from the last workshop (also on Facebook).

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Thrust of Action

Powerhorse, encaustic by Courtney Putnam

Happy November, everyone!

I must say that part of me feels like sleeping through November and waking up in December, just in time for my birthday. But, there is another part of me rearing for action. I feel a burst of desire for doing. I think spending yesterday building a raised garden bed with my friend and neighbor Juliet helped recharge me. I feel like spring is around the corner (well, sort of) and there is much to do!

It will be interesting to see how I balance my sleeping / doing energies. I imagine I will be engaging in both quite evenly as the month progresses, but I wanted to share with you a bit of my enthusiasm for action since so many of us drag a little in the fall and winter months.

To honor this sudden thrust of "I'm going to get things done" energy, I give you another entry from my Body Cards book, still in process (but becoming more complete as I do, do, do!):

Soleus Muscle: action


Location: One of the muscles of each calf, deep to the gastronemius muscles, which are more superficial.
Function: Aids in balance and walking. Pumps venus blood back to the heart from the lower extremities.
Unique Fact: Due to its fish-like shape, the word “soleus” comes from the word “solefish.”
Associated Chakra: Root (1st Chakra)

The soleus muscles are often called “The Second Hearts,” for they returns venus blood from the lower extremities to the heart through their pumping action. That’s why exercise is so important for circulating blood throughout your body. These “little hearts” require action in order to function properly; without movement, we can become stagnant in our heart. All our heart’s desires, like our all-important blood, could be pooling at our feet!

If you find that the soleus muscle is pumping its way into your cards, perhaps its time to feed your heart’s desire through action. Have you been envisioning something for quite a while, yet are resistant or scared to take action? It’s important to “feel right” before we take action, but maybe you’re ready to take the leap right now. What’s holding you back? Move your way into manifesting something important to you. Go ahead: tell someone you love them; take that new job; enter that juried art show; sign up for that marathon. This card signals a time of doing; ask your heart what it desires and then allow yourself the chance to move your way into manifesting your dreams.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Happiness Limbo

Gather, mixed media collage by Courtney Putnam

Sometimes a change in seasons -- particularly the transition from a season of light, like summer, to seasons of coolness and gray, like fall and winter--can bring with it a feeling stagnation for me: a sort of happiness limbo. It's like happiness is there in moments, but it can be shaded by the shadow of dark nights and falling leaves. Now I love fall (did I just write that?!). It is so beautiful here in Seattle when the leaves turn. And in those few days when we have blue sky and a crispness in the air, I feel the happiness in my body lift me up. So happiness is there, but I also feel a bit in limbo with it, like I could easily take a down turn, fall off a cliff into apathy and ambiguity. Do you ever feel this during this summer-to-fall seasonal change? Or perhaps this happens to you during a different seasonal transition. Or some other time that doesn't correspond with the seasons.

Julia Cameron has a sweet little book aptly called Transitions, and I want to share a hearty quote from it here:

"In some seasons, we are able to act decisively in directions that please us and feel happiness as a result. At other times, life is less linear and more variable. Happiness is more elusive as we experience events and timing beyond our control. Among life's vivid seasons, there are also times of a more muffled love, periods of muted mood and ambivalent, even ambiguous feelings. These are the limbo times, the gray days that fall in between. These are the transitional times when I am not what I was nor am yet what I am becoming. In limbo times, I must live with alert attention to my feelings of vulnerability. I must guard against hasty choices and rushed decisions. In limbo times I must learn to simply be. Soon enough life will move onward."

I love this excerpt from Cameron because it reminds me that happiness limbo is normal! We all feel it! Some call it the "blahs" others may call it stuckness. Whatever it is for you, it is completely normal to have periods of being in a liminal space -- that space of being "not what I was nor am yet what I am becoming."

And I think these times of happiness limbo give us a great opportunity to slow down, tune inward, and just be, as Cameron suggests. We don't need to bruise ourselves trying to activate our happiness. We need to relax into what we're experiencing. At least that's what I try to do. Because, soon enough, life will feel lighter again, more motivating, more clear and crisp. It will!

And my friend Kristen just now reminded me of that other kind of limbo: you know, the game? When we play limbo we are in that awkward position between falling and standing. And that's how I often feel during transitional times. Will I bend backwards and fall to the floor or will my chin barely miss the bar and I spring up to standing?

So how to take care of yourself during happiness limbo? Let yourself be. Be gentle with yourself, knowing that you are normal, okay, even pretty amazing. Find ways to feel better, but in a kind and compassionate way, like moving your body: physically move, but don't force ourselves into pain. So walking is good, so is dancing or singing or writing. Stretching can be nice, too. Get out the limbo bar if you want, but be sure to play some groovy music. And I like to throw in laughter. Laughter is a great mover; it shakes your whole body and releases endorphins.

Here's a little inspiration for you:


Friday, October 16, 2009

Letting Go and Transforming Loss


I created this piece with intuitive counselor/coach Karen Floyd at my side this past week (we often have working art days together). It didn't occur to me until just now how significant this piece is in light of the recent conversation we had on Karen's Power Talk Live radio show this morning. The topic was aptly "letting go." (Clearly that crow knew something I did not when I was creating this piece!)

If you'd like to listen to our conversation, you can do so here:



I was Karen's guest co-host and I spoke about grief and transforming loss in connection with letting go. I shared my experience with the losses in my life, most significantly the death of my father in 2008. We had such a fruitful conversation and I was honored to be asked to share my story, so thank you, Karen!

As I told Karen during the show, grief can be such an isolating feeling for those of us going through it. In my experience, it feels tremendously relieving to be asked how I am doing related to my loss. I feel seen, heard, and acknowledged. Often times people "give room" to the grieving person, not wanting to say or do the "wrong thing" and yet this distance and absence is sometimes painful for the person who is dealing with loss. As my friend Benjie said when advocating for those in his grief group, "Don't be afraid to talk to us." I fully agree. We won't break into pieces; we have already done that.

Karen's show is every Friday at 11:30am PST. You can call in to ask questions, offer insights, or receive guidance. It's a powerful forum for getting unstuck and understanding yourself in deep and meaningful ways.

Monday, September 28, 2009

An Inner Wisdom Workshop


Your Body Speaks: An Inner Wisdom Workshop
facilitated by Courtney Putnam, MFA, LMP

There exists a universal, intelligent life force that exists within everything. It resides within each one of us as a deep wisdom, an inner knowing. We can access this wonderful source of knowledge and wisdom through our intuition, an inner sense that tells us what feels right and true for us at any given moment.

- Shakti Gawain, Developing Intuition


When: Sunday, November 22, 2009; 1:00-4:00pm

Location: Rising Bird Healing Arts: 6316 9th Avenue NE (Seattle)

What does it feel like in your body when you resonate with an idea, thought, or feeling? How do you know when your body is giving you important information?

In my work as a bodywork practitioner, I use my intuition in virtually every one of my sessions. I sense energy through my hands; I feel physical sensations in my own body in response to my client; I receive images and colors in my mind's eye; and I feel connection and empathy in my heart. Sometimes words will come to me or even a phrase or string of dialogue.

In my daily life, I have also learned how to tap into my inner wisdom. I find self-insight much more challenging than my work intuiting others, yet I find it tremendously rewarding. When I am able to listen to myself truly, deeply, I realize that I really do have the answers I am seeking right inside my very own being. And I believe that you do, too.

In this inner wisdom workshop, we will explore the power of our sixth chakra, the chakra of intuition and inner knowing. Using writing, guided visualization, sensing exercises, muscle testing, and pendulum work, we will tap into the body's hidden wisdom.

Come join me for an afternoon of intuitive play! Pendulums and refreshments provided.

Please bring a journal and wear comfortable clothing for relaxing.


Cost: $70 (Cash, checks, and credit cards accepted.)

To Register: Email Courtney at cputnam@rising-bird.com or reserve your spot by clicking on the PayPal button below.















Transforming Loss Workshop

Transforming Loss:
Altering Photographs

facilitated by Courtney Putnam, MFA, LMP

When: Sunday, November 8; 1:00-4:00pm

Where: Rising Bird Healing Arts: 6316 9th Avenue NE, Seattle, WA 98115

No matter what type of loss(es) we have experienced — the loss of a loved one, a relationship, a companion animal, an aspect of ourselves, a home, etc. — we carry with us images in our minds and feelings in our bodies of those losses. We remember who we once were before loss changed our lives and who we have become as a result of these loss experiences.

Using mixed media collage techniques, we will transform our photographs in order to make meaning out of the losses we’ve experienced in our lives. We will adorn our photographs with meaningful symbols and colors as a way to reckon with our losses, to celebrate those who have meant a great deal to us, and to find peace and redemption in our strength and resiliency.

I will be sharing my personal journey with this powerful healing art throughout the workshop. During my father's illness and after his death in 2008, I created a series of altered photographs as part of my grief and healing process. Creating altered photographs continues to be a source of healing for me and I look forward to sharing this process with you.

You need not have any art experience to participate in this workshop. This is a day of meaningful and creative play, with process as our focus. We will be remembering, transforming, and making lovely artistic messes in a safe and nurturing setting.

To Register: Email Courtney Putnam at cputnam@rising-bird.com or reserve your spot using the PayPal button below.














Cost: $70

What to bring: a notebook to do some brief journaling and personal exploration; photocopies of photographs you wish to alter (color or black and white copies); any meaningful images that you’d like to use in your mixed-media creations. Please bring at least one copy of an image of yourself.

I will supply all other art supplies, including a wide variety of collage images. I will also offer light snacks and tea, and comforting music. Two very understanding and comforting cats may be joining us as well.


Art piece above: “My Father: Prince of Action” by Courtney Putnam

Intentional Desires Workshop


Intentional Desires: An Abundance Box Workshop
Facilitated by Courtney Putnam, MFA, LMP

Date:
Saturday, October 17, 2009

Time:
1:00pm-4:00pm


Location:

Rising Bird Healing Arts
6316 9th Avenue NE
Seattle, WA 98115


Abundance [n]: great amount or supply; bounty, fortune, plenitude, prosperity, thriving.


What do you want to actualize in your life? Abundant creative energy? Exceptional health? A job you love? More confidence? Strong and enduring relationships? Financial security? More life-work balance? Greater spiritual fulfillment?

The possibilities for abundance in your life are great and many. All you need to do is dream a little, listen to your gut a little, plan a little, and take action a little. Take your first action steps with me as we create boxes that will represent our desires and house our aspirations.

Join me for an afternoon of envisioning your own abundance. In this hands-on workshop, you will explore your dreams and goals and create an abundance box as a visual representation of what you wish to manifest in your life. This is a time for thinking big, pulling your ingenious ideas out of the cobwebs of your mind, and giving life to your desires!



The purpose of an abundance box is to channel your intentions, goals, and visions into a symbolic artifact. Inside this box you will place small objects that characterize the things you wish to actualize. Think about what aspect of your life you would like to give a little positive intention. Are there goals and dreams you are ready to make real? Are you ready to take a significant leap?

In addition to decorating our boxes, we will also explore some basic principles of Feng Shui, which may enhance or inform the intention and placement of our boxes. Using a Feng Shui bagua (map) as your guide, you will determine where your box is best placed in your own home.

Come for an afternoon of creativity, positive intention, and play!

To Register: Email cputnam@rising-bird.com or secure your spot via PayPal below.

Cost: $50 (checks, cash, & credit cards accepted); space is limited to eight people so register early!






You bring (if you wish):
Any significant images, symbols, or objects with which to 1) decorate your box, and to 2) place inside your box.

I provide: Boxes of varying shapes and sizes, art supplies, collage supplies and decorative papers. Tea and light snacks will be provided, too!



Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dreams Opening

Dreams a-Flutter, encaustic, 8" x 10"

I've had several conversations lately with wise women about actualizing dreams, and what I've come to realize is that dreams become real when we consciously open them and when we are energetically open to them.

There is both an active/doing and receptive/listening aspect to actualization. Visualization and dreaming are essential--we need to explore in our minds and hearts what it is we really want. But we also need to take action--physical steps that bring us closer to our dreams.

Many of us don't take the physical steps because of fear of failure or fear of having chosen the "wrong dream." In other words, what we thought we wanted we don't really want. Without action, however, we wouldn't know this.

When I was in massage school, I started with a class of fifteen. By the time I graduated, we were down to eight. That's almost half attrition. And the surprising fact is that several people dropped out right before the end. It took almost the whole experience for them to realize that this was not what they wanted. This could (and did for some) feel like a real blow. But it can also be seen as a blessing of the active side of actualization. It's movement. It's experience. It's progression. It's a mirror, reflecting to us what it is we do not want. Without it, we stay safe behind our thoughts and our "what ifs."

So I am going to ask you the same question I am asking myself right now as I swim in the river of dreamland: what is it that you want to do and how are you going to engage with both your receptive and active sides to open yourself to your dreams?

In the art piece above, the hand is the doing side and the butterfly wings represent the receiving side. The hand sculpts the world, the butterfly opens its wings to meet the world as it is.

When are you the butterfly and when are you the hand--and when do you know when to take active steps toward your juicy, dreamy land of possibilities?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Transitions with Soft Hearts

Embrace the Softness, encaustic on mat board, 8" x 10"

I wasn't feel very good today. I'm fighting a little cold and some anxiety was surfacing, too. I took it easy today, including sleeping in until 10:00am! I took one outing in the afternoon and that was to my local used book store to see what book might call to me. Within minutes of being in the store, I located Transitions, Julia Cameron's book of wisdom about dealing with life transitions. I could use this, I thought to myself, imagining the coming of fall and how each year this transition startles me a bit, but I also thought, we could all use this.

So here is an excerpt from the beginning of her book:

"All change can be expansive potential. The choice is ours. As I open my heart to accept change, my heart softens and grows larger. Every experience carries the seed of transformation. Every even can bring blossoming and wealth. My personal will can resist change or embrace it. The choice is mine and determines the life I will have. Today I choose to embrace change. I open my heart to its hidden but abundant blessings."

--Julia Cameron, Transitions

I love how she describes her heart softening and expanding when accepting change. The image of a soft heart soothed me today. A soft heart is malleable, able to change with ease and grace.

May we all embrace the changes that fall before us -- or the changes we actively choose -- and may we feel ourselves becoming soft and expansive as we fly like the bird in my art piece above. May we feel light and open to the sky of possibilities.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Wisdom of Listening

A while back I purchased a book of essays called The Wisdom of Listening and now and again I read an article to help me evolve as a compassionate listener in my practice.

Just tonight I opened to an essay called "Feeding One Another" by Anne and Charles Simpkinson and I am swimming in the realization that many of us do not feel nourished by many of our conversations or may not feel heard at all.

The Simpkinsons begin their article with the following: "Listening and being heard are important psychological nutrients that we need every day." Do you feel like you receive these nutrients on a daily basis?

I want to share a longer excerpt from this article now:


"Have you ever wondered why some conversations -- friends and family -- are emotionally unsatisfying? Do you feel that hardly anyone is listening to you or understanding what you are saying? When you aren't heard, do you wonder if the other person cares about you? If you find yourself contemplating these things, you are not alone. As a nation, we have the technical expertise to create a vast web of communications using highly sophisticated technology, but as individuals our exchanges with each other are often primitive, unsatisfying--even unhealthy. Many people live every day of their lives in a state of chronic psychological malnourishment and don't even know it."

I want to extract the following statement from the excerpt for further exploration:

"When you aren't heard, do you wonder if the other person cares about you?"

How defeating to feel as though the one whom you've chosen to speak with does not care about you due to the fact that they are not fully listening to you -- that they are not noticing what you say (and what you don't say), as well as all the nonverbal clues that good listeners pick up on. In essence when you don't feel heard you feel invisible.

In my view, having nourishing conversations involves reciprocity. For a time one person speaks and the other listens. All the while, the speaker has an awareness of audience--that their friend is attending to them and may need some attention as well. With this awareness, the speaker can then pause from their own speech and turn their attention to their friend, who now has a chance to receive the gifts of attentive listening. Think of relationships you currently have which have this lovely reciprocity and which do not. What do you do and how do you feel when you give the gift of your listening ears, but do not receive the same gift in return?

In addition to reciprocity, there is a clear exchange of words and an equal exchange of cues indicating that listening is happening: eye contact, nonverbal gestures like nodding, reflecting back what one has said, asking questions, etc. When these cues are not present, it is hard to know if one is actually listening at all. What do you do when you don't receive these cues? Do you stop speaking? Speak louder?

I want us all to feel nourished by being heard. Being heard is validating and also healing. When we receive recognition, care, and conscious presence from another we feel less lonely, less isolated, and more, well, alive.

Try this:

Make a list of those in your life who give you the gift of authentic, true listening, where reciprocity and attentiveness reign. Next to these names write a few notes about how you feel when you are with them. These characteristics can now become your guide as you discover nurturing listening-centered relationships.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Returning to Your Center

Returning to Center, wax painting, 6" x 6"

Where is your center located? This isn't a trick question and there are no "right" answers. When I ask my clients where they feel their center is located, they often place their hands on their solar plexus or belly. I've also had a few clients place their hands on their hips or low back or even their heart.

Put in another way, where do you feel your core resides? Your core may be interpreted as that balancing element inside you that gives you feedback when something is "off kilter"? Sometimes you feel this area only when things feel off--when you get that itchy wool sweater feeling all over. I find that when I am centered and balanced my body, mind, and life in general run smoothly and the itchy sweater turns to satin.

So if you'd like to explore your inner center, first, scan your body to determine where your center resides. Allow whatever sensation, image, feeling, or thought come to you in determining this center place. Respect that tomorrow this center may change location for you. That's okay. For now, this is where you feel it.

Now, place your hand on this center point, this area that seems to be the source of your balance and equilibrium, your sense of safety and certainty. Make gentle contact with this area and breathe into it, giving it a bit more life--and giving you a bit more awareness of it. What happens when you access your core in this way? Do you feel more secure and balanced or does tapping into this area bring you some anxiety? If you do feel some anxiety, remember to tap in to your breath again, allowing slow, deep belly breathing to calm you.

If you feel like like taking this exercise a bit further, try giving this area of your body some issues for feedback. Think of a life issue you are struggle with (or an issue you are just curious about). Keep contact with and breath work at your core as you try on this issue like you are putting on a jacket. How does your center respond? Does it absorb the problem, deflect it, nurture it, churn it up, or transform it? What sensations and feelings emerge? Does this issue make you feel like toppling over or do you feel strong like the roots of a tree?

And ultimately, how might returning to your center on a regular basis help during moments of stress, dis-ease, or confusion? How might this area of your body help you regain balance and feel inner peace?



Monday, August 17, 2009

Finding Ourselves Again

altered image of The Tender Secret, mixed media collage


Today a friend reminded me that many of us struggle with our changing identity: who we once were can bump up against who we embody today. There are aspects of ourselves that we wish to bring back or bring forth, or there are new traits that we wish to cultivate in order to feel authentic. Sometimes we can manifest a feeling of "losing ourselves" during times of change -- when having children, getting married/partnered, aging, moving to a new home, struggling with illness, immersing ourselves in our jobs, etc.

When our lives change, we change with the current. We are quite adaptive creatures! But what in ourselves do we want to preserve so we don't feel lost or alone or uncertain when we're riding along with the current of our lives? (By the way, these things we wish to preserve need not have "shoulds" attached to them.) Begin by asking yourself what is restless, lonely, uncertain, scary, or strange and then ask yourself, "What will make me feel like me again?" or "What missing piece is needed so I can shine?"

This excerpt from my Body Cards book aims to help with the process of reclaiming some part of yourself that has gotten lost in the murky waters of your life.



SACRUM


Location: Often referred to as the “tail bone,” the sacrum is located at the base of the spine, made of approximately five fused vertebrae, which form the back wall of the pelvis.

Function: The sacrum joins the illium bones (or the top part of the pelvis) to form the sacroiliac joint on both sides of the lower back, allowing the trunk of our body to bend, twist, and turn.

Unique Fact: The name “sacrum” comes from the Latin “sacer,” which is a translation of the Greek word “hieron,” which means sacred or strong bone.

Associated Chakra: Sacral (2nd Chakra)

What makes the sacrum so sacred? Across many cultures and throughout time, people have viewed the sacrum as a “holy bone.” In some cultures, an animal’s sacrum was offered as part of animal sacrifices. And as it so happens, the sacrum is one of the last bones of the body to decompose; because of the sacrum’s long life and resiliency, some cultures believed that the sacrum allowed people to return from the dead. It’s inspiring to imagine a sacrum bone as a seed, re-growing the pelvis, adding muscles and ligaments, and eventually forming the whole human body! What is sacred in you that could be resurrected from an idle or dormant place?

If the sacrum is unearthed from your cards today, it may be time to resurrect some part of yourself that you’ve buried. Perhaps there is a part of you—your playful side, your creative side, or your spiritual side?—that used to see the light of day, but out of fear or boredom or self-consciousness, you threw a heap of dirt on it. It could be that this aspect of yourself is just what you need right now in your current situation. The Second Chakra, also called the Sacral or Reproductive Chakra, is all about the creative life force. It could be, too, that some creative action, expression, or problem-solving is needed now. It may be the perfect time for whatever it is that you’ve kept deep inside to emerge after a long hibernation sleep. Celebrate its return and give it a new, splendid life.

Try This:

  • Cats & Dogs Yoga. To keep the sacral / low back area flexible, do some cats & dogs yoga. Get down on your hands and knees and slowly (and gently) move from the cat position (back hunched and head tucked under) to the dog position, back arched and head tilted back.
  • The Color Orange: Wear the color orange intentionally, particularly around your sacral area to activate this creative area. So yes, that means wear orange underwear!
  • List characteristics of yourself in the present. What do you do now? What personae do you embody? Now make a list of characteristics of yourself you used to embody. After making your lists, circle the aspects of both lists that you like -- the ones that make you feel authentic, true, and vibrant. See if you can cultivate these characteristics a bit more in your life.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Holding Hope, Feeling Empathy


Holding Hope When the Sky is Falling, 16" x 20" encaustic painting

This art piece above used to look a little different than it does now. It was more plain in the older version -- just the crow and the tree. Quite barren looking. I created this piece when my father was sick with kidney cancer in 2008. I was feeling the cool, dark remnants of winter, even though spring had just begun. I was feeling the fear and sadness of impending loss. And it did feel like the sky was falling.


But I do remember quite distinctly how much hope I held in my being, not only for my dad, but for the peace of my entire family. I felt like I was the gatekeeper of hope, and I allowed my heart to embrace both the upturns and low, low downturns. I felt everything--every nuance of my dad's process, every stifled (or expressed) thought or feeling family members exuded. And then there was my own heart beating for everyone -- or trying to.

I imagine that there has been a time (or several times) in your life when you felt as though the sky was falling--when there seemed to be just too much all at once for one person to handle. During these times it is easy to want to shut off the healing energy of the heart because we want to protect ourselves or "be strong" for others.

I wrote this piece below (it's from a work in progress called Body Cards) especially for those of us who live with a strong heart of empathy and hope.


STERNUM

Location: In the center of the chest and articulates with the clavicle bones and first seven pairs of ribs.

Function: The sternum, or breastbone, serves to protect the heart, lungs, and main blood vessels from physical damage.

Unique Fact: During cardiac surgery, the sternum is sometimes cut open to gain access to the heart.

Associated Chakra: Heart (4th Chakra)

The strong sternum bone provides a layer of protection for those all-important ingredients of your body: your lungs and heart and major blood vessels. On an emotional level, the breastbone is often a place where we place our hand when we are moved or in some way affected emotionally. It is here on our chest where we can feel our own (or another’s) heartbeat and the rhythm of our breathing. The sternum bone can feel like a powerful center for connecting with our own feelings or the feelings of others, for it is here where we often feel love and affection for another. And during our grief process, our heart chakra often emits a tremendous amount of energy as we feel our losses deeply.

The Sternum Card appears to remind you that your heart is always protected. It reminds you that you can feel deeply and you will not crumble into a million pieces. If you have been resisting your body’s call to feel love, grief, joy, or sadness, this may be time to take the risk and let the emotions come. When we hold our emotions tightly in our chest, we trap them there to live constricted, unexpressed lives. When we hold in our feelings, we may feel tightness in our chests and lack of full breath. It can feel like a risk to feel deeply, but the message of the sternum is that of safety and protection. And showing your emotions to another can feel exposing and intense. But it can also be intensely satisfying and freeing. What feelings are pulsing in your chest at your sternum, waiting to be released? Place your hand on your breastbone, feel the powerful pulse of your heart, and ask yourself what emotions are ready to become known.


Try this:

Tap your sternum lightly to a one-two-three waltz beat to activate and help open the heart chakra. Tap away to your heart's content until you feel a little shift in your awareness.

Find a safe, comfortable place to relax and close your eyes. Imagine there is a beautiful pink rose in the center of your chest. It is radiant and glowing and warm. As you inhale you see the rose petals open to reveal the inner petal colors, and as you exhale you watch the petals softly close. Continue to watch this rose open and close, open and close until you notice your breathing feels easy and your chest is full and open.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Interview about Art and Healing

A Healing Hand, encaustic, 8" x 10"


A few weeks ago my friend and writing group comrade Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti, a Seattle-based clinical social worker, interviewed me about how I see art as a healing force in my life.

To view the interview, click here:

http://seattletherapist.wordpress.com/2009/07/29/art-and-healing-courtney-putnam/


I just noticed that she has just posted a great interview with best-selling author Amy Bloom as well, so please check out Tanya's Trauma Blog for more thoughtful goodies: http://seattletherapist.wordpress.com/

Monday, August 3, 2009

Summer Special: Flight


My goodness, we are well into summer and I've yet to virtually announce my summer special. I am delighted by this throat-chakra, bird-loving two-hour experience and I hope you do, too. Here are the details:

Summer Special: Flight


This summer, embrace the gifts of the throat chakra -- the chakra for creativity, communication, and expression. With an open throat chakra, imagine yourself speaking your truth, living with authenticity, and like a bird, light and graceful, taking off and manifesting your dreams...

This two-hour special includes the following flight-inducing experiences:


• Sip some throat-opening tea, while the warm, moist heat of a Bucky heat wrap surrounds your neck and shoulders.

• While absorbing the warmth, you will take a throat chakra questionnaire aimed at revealing areas you may wish to explore.

• You will then receive a Bird Signs card reading for wisdom from our feathered friends.

• After this reflective time, you will receive a thirty-minute massage focused on your neck, shoulders, and head to help release physical tension.

• Finally, you will receive a reading of your throat chakra and a thirty-minute Reiki session to help open the throat for clear and meaningful expression.

Cost: $130. Credit cards accepted.
Gift certificates available.


Call or email to schedule your appointment:
(206) 228-9124 or cputnam@rising-bird.com.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Blooming Fire, Fire Blooming

Fire Abloom, mixed media collage, 5" x 6"

Today I had a session with the multi-gifted Karen Floyd of Design a Better Life. Karen helped me with navigating the themes, obstacles, and intricacies of my personal life and my life as an entrepreneur. She conducted a powerful reading, which revealed areas where my strengths lie and areas for which I have room to grow.

The whole experience was enlightening -- or rather, full of light. I felt revelation after revelation -- in my body and mind -- as I encountered my obstacles, uncovered my gifts, and learned where I can empower myself to be authentic and true to myself as a healing and creative one-woman show. We re-framed negative thinking, re-imagined a different way of seeing and being, and acknowledged my gifts in a productive way.

One thing I will share with you from the session has to do with re-framing. I have always been told that I am too sensitive and too quiet. These two descriptions have been little cactus prickles in my side. I think it's the "too" part that has felt punishing. So Karen came up with a way to re-frame these gifts. She said, "What if you called yourself available and aware instead of quiet and sensitive? They're both true." She continued, "and your gifts are in your ability to be available and open to people and your keen (and sensitive) awareness of others (and of yourself) " I sighed a big ah-ha and watched her cat (who was joining in on the session) roll onto his back.

That was just one of many ah-ha moments with Karen today. If you are wanting to explore your life and your work in a safe, intuitive, and creative setting, I encourage you to see Karen (or at least visit her multi-faceted website).

I left feeling full and light at the same time, knowing the next steps I need to take to make a leap in my business and to feel more grounded in my life.

The art piece above is my artistic representation of what transformations I see in myself as a result of the session. There is a fire blooming inside of me, ready to take off as creative abundance; there is warmth for those around me in my healing work; and the fire helps me nurture my own heart as I grow and heal myself.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

One Way to Re-Assemble Yourself

Regaining Strength, mixed media, 6" x 8"

So what do you do when you've been metaphorically pooped on? (BTW, thanks to my friend Kristen for that phrase.) What do you do when someone is unkind to you, uproots the ground you're standing on, makes you question something about yourself that, prior to the encounter, you felt quite good about?

This is what I do: I put myself back together by creating art. Well, to be honest, first I cry a little (or a lot) and allow myself to feel off-kilter for a while. I feel sad, I get mad, I become very existential in my thinking and really think about the issues, and then I become so exhausted that I take a nap in the heat of the day with my two cats flanking my sweating body.

Then I try walking. When I feel stuck, I move. Physically move. So I "walked it off" a little, but I still felt the negativity in my gut, stewing away.

And when the walking and talking and crying are over, I create art. The piece above was my way of dealing with an encounter that unnerved me this week. I was feeling stuck just talking about it, and certainly with letting it rot in my mind and body, causing a big stomach ache yesterday. So I put myself back together with some found images and watercolor crayons.

I identified what I wanted to feel again -- strong, open (but safe in this openness), confident, and clear. And I identified the chakras that I felt were affected by this upsetting encounter: my third eye, throat, solar plexus, and root chakras. I made these chakras strong, circular, and radiant. And I added two protective bird guardians to remind me of my support system when moments in life go awry.

I hope that you don't get squashed by someone's (perhaps unintentional, but toxic) words, but if you do, I advocate what I now call "Re-Assembling Art." Put yourself back together with images and paint and pens and found objects and whatever else you are called to use. You are whole, but may not always feel like it. Return to that feeling of wholeness and show yourself how strong you are through image-making. Re-assemble the parts you feel been have tattered or broken or smeared or smothered or blown apart--and begin to shine again.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Metaphorical Currents

Illuminated Flow, mixed media, 6" x 12"
(click image for larger view)


"When we close the door to our feelings, we close the door to vital currents that energize and activate our thoughts and actions."
-- Gary Zukov, The Seat of the Soul

This past weekend, I ventured up to my family cabin in the mountains and soaked (literally and metaphorically) in the American River. Whenever I spend a significant time around water, I seem to swim more deeply in the realm of emotions. I become more emotionally-centered. I pay close attention to how I am feeling. I begin to feel more authentic. Now, in my regular, every-day, going to the grocery store life, I already live quite deeply in the emotional realm. It's the way I came: sensitive, emotional, empathetic, empathic. But there is something different, perhaps something transformative, that happens to me when I swim in the ocean or sit by a mountain river.

What happens is that I lose words. I lose the ability to specifically and authentically describe the beauty around me or the feelings inside that are soaking in this beauty. It does not seem adequate to say that the river is gorgeous. Or that I feel free. Yes, those are starts, but they don't encapsulate what I mean. They don't feel complete -- or completely whole.

So instead of finding language for my emotions, I made them into art, like the art piece above. I used color and texture and gesture to express my mood. And then I began to think about how creating metaphors can be equally as potent. Instead of the river being "wonderful" and my feeling "nostalgic," I realized that the river was "a vein flowing to my heart where my father lives."

In Mari Messer's lively book Pencil Dancing: New Ways to Free Your Creativity, she writes: "You don't have to name a feeling to experience it consciously. You can meet a feeling on its own muddy ground by creating a metaphor that uses a figure of speech to describe it." By creating art and constructing spontaneous metaphors on this mountain adventure, I was able to go deeper and understand myself more clearly. I became more visible to myself. More attuned.

Messer also writes: "Metaphor preserves and explores your feelings without turning them into a concept. Metaphor eliminates the middleman from your translation queue so the flavors of your feelings are not filtered. It gets you out of the mind-set that you that you have to know everything in an intellectual way. You don't. In fact, scientist and writer Rachel Carson said, 'It's not half so important to know as to feel.'"

So I didn't have to analyze the fact that the river made me miss my father, I could just jump to feeling it and in just feeling it came understanding. Using the imagination takes the how and why out of the equation. Image and metaphor are all about who and what and where. The creative mind cuts to the core of emotion and makes the feelings come alive through images and creative language.

During my image-making and creative play in the mountains, I began to think about how I use metaphor and imagery during my healing sessions with my clients. Sometimes a feeling word is just the tip of the iceberg. The word anger is a start, but what does it look like or feel like in the body? Or what about neck pain? To say that it is painful doesn't actually say very much. But to describe it as a barbed wire coil tightening at the base of your skull is much more potent -- and real. I can feel that. Pain comes in so many forms. Is the pain emotional or physical? And what does it look like, feel like, taste like, sound like?


Try this:


Next time you find yourself saying/thinking/feeling an abstract emotion, honor that word and then take it to a deeper place. Understand its intricacies through image and metaphor. What does your sadness taste like? What does your hamstring pull look like from the inside of your body? Messer writes that creativity "is the ability to cause other people to experience what you saw, heard, tasted, and felt." Share what you experience with others, but give them the fantastic imaginative versions. The ones that reveal your authentic self. When your partner asks, "How was your day today," resist the temptation to say "fine" or "okay." Maybe you tell him/her, "My day was a donkey on speed with a hint of paprika and I feel like a metal yo-yo singing."


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Hand + Struck = Manifest

Manifestation, encaustic, 6" x 6"


I'm on a manifestation kick these days. I'm not really sure what I mean by that, actually, but I think I mean I am manifesting quite a lot lately and I'd like to know what it is I am actually doing.

(BTW, I love starting posts by declaring that I don't really know what I am talking about. Seriously, it takes the pressure off right from the beginning. No performance anxiety or worry about trying to be an "expert." Try it yourself! I'll bet you'll find yourself feeling calmer. I give you permission to start off knowing little of what you are talking about. Really!)

So, with an open, slightly tired mind, I started my exploration with online definitions of the word manifestation to get my tricycle wheels rolling.

One definition of manifestation (my favorite definition by far) is the following:

"The embodiment of an intangible or variable thing." (Wiktionary)

I like the intangible part. Manifestation is taking something intangible and making it tangible. I suppose this blog post, then, is the embodiment of my thoughts about manifestation. So manifestation is about creating something visible from something invisible. Like my love could manifest as an embrace or my excitement could manifest as one-handed cartwheels. What happens when you embody glee and share it with someone? Or what about despair? The intangible is the emotion stirring inside and the tangible is the sharing of the feeling through some action or symbolic act or creation.

I looked up the etymology of the word manifest and discovered this little handy morsel:

manifest adj. — manifeste or L. manifestus, earlier manufestus, f. manus hand + festus struck (Encyclopedia.com)

Manifest = hand + struck, like fingers striking typewriter keys or hands molding clay or pen scratching paper. It's about making something real, tangible through some sort of creative action. And the "intangible thing" is often our imagination. It's where our dreams live -- our hopes and wishes and intentions.

Without these wishes and intentions, what are we to manifest? How is manifestation possible without imagination? How are we to transform a guitar riff in our head into music without our little imaginative muses working away inside us? Or what of the poem incubating in your heart or the love you wish to find in your life? Without imagination, dreams, and intentions, how are we to embody what we want in our lives?

And what of manifesting good health and well being? How do we do this? I think we do this in the same way we manifest an emotion as a painting. We imagine ourselves in good health, with calm hearts and minds, with lightness and joy, and we make these intentions visible. We paint them, draw them, state them, draw them on the bathroom mirror, walk them, stretch them, or share them with a friend. In all, we give them a chance to be real.

With your imagination, let your positive intentions be possible. Remember that manifest = hand + struck. This is creation. Act as if they are true. Say them as if they are true: I am healthy, strong, and vibrant. I am creative, open, and empathetic. Embody your dreams. Wear them like cloaks and walk around in them. Add sequins if you want. Just as the sequins attract the light, I believe you will attract what you wish to manifest.