Healing After Trauma through the Book Arts and Dreaming


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This slideshow will give you an idea of the workshops I did while I was in Japan in May, 2011. I spent three weeks doing volunteer work to help people with nightmares after the earthquake and tsunami.

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Healing After Trauma through the Book Arts and Dreaming

  1. 1. Creative Healing After Trauma <br />Through Dreaming and the Book Arts<br />Sheila McNellis Asato, M.A.<br />©2011<br />
  2. 2. Introduction<br />On March 11, Japan experienced a terrifying earthquake and tsunami. As a former resident of Japan with deep ongoing ties to the people and culture of Japan, I knew that I had to return to offer whatever assistance I could in the aftermath of this disaster. In particular, as a dreaming and healing arts specialist, I wanted to do whatever I could to help people with the scary dreams that often follow trauma in a non-threatening way while stimulating their innate healing capacity through the arts.<br /> <br />In May, I had the opportunity to spend three weeks in Japan doing volunteer work. I immediately connected with my rich network of friends, former neighbors and professional colleagues. Within 12 hours of my arrival, all three weeks were fully booked with workshops, lectures and meetings. Rather than going up into the disaster zone in the north where I would be going as an outsider, I chose to focus on energy the local communities which I been an active part of while living in Japan for so many years. I wanted to give something back to the people who had given me so much over the past three decades.<br /> <br />I hope you enjoy the photographs!<br />Sheila<br />
  3. 3. Welcome Home!<br />My dear friend and former art dealer Yukiko Yabe greeted me at the airport when I arrived and invited me to stay at her home. To my surprise, she had also arranged a small exhibition of my dream books and a workshop on how to embody our stories after trauma in the book arts. <br />
  4. 4. Cleaning Up<br />While staying with Yukiko, our conversations naturally turned to the subject of the earthquake and what that experience was like for each of us. While her town Narita did not directly experience the devastation of the towns in the north, it was still the worst earthquake she had ever experienced. Her home was shaken quite badly, leaving much damage in it’s wake and the interior a shambles.<br />While cleaning up precious photographs in broken frames and shards of shattered glassware and pottery throughout the house, Yukiko shared the memories that each broken memento stirred up for her. The first marriage which had failed, loved ones who had passed on and dreams which had been forgotten as the challenges of daily life took over. <br />As we sat together, laughing, crying and cherishing the past we shared together, she reminded me of how valuable it is to just be present and truly interested in these stories as they emerge through suffering. This is where the heart begins to weave the sorrows of the present together with the memories of the past, creating a richer context for the future. Together we were healing in the truest sense of becoming more whole. <br />
  5. 5. Old Memories Emerge<br />As often happens in such a traumatic situations, those who are not consumed with immediate issues of survival are often left on the sidelines watching in disbelief at what has happened to others in their community. Overcome with grief and a sense of helplessness while being inundated with images in the media of the devastation to the north, many of the people I spent time with in the Kanto region also found that memories and feelings from earlier losses got stirred up. As psychologist Alan Siegel noted in his work with fire storm victims in California, people who witness a tragedy but do not suffer devastation directly themselves, often find that memories return of earlier losses, creating a new opportunity for healing unresolved sorrow and pain. <br />Many of the people that I worked with in Japan had such an experience and were feeling terribly guilty that their own memories of the past were emerging when so many others were suffering in the present. Much of the work I did focused on reassuring people that with that the soul does not make a distinction between degrees of suffering. When we hurt, that is the pain we have the opportunity to work with in that moment.<br />
  6. 6. Elementary School Kids<br />One of the most delightful experiences of the trip was being able to visit my son Hiroshi’s favorite teacher – Hoshi Sensei. When she heard I was in town, she invited me to come spend a day with the second graders at her school – 120 in total! <br />
  7. 7. No English Teachers Left<br />Shortly after the earthquake and situation at the Fukushima nuclear reactor plant, many of the foreigners in Japan left. As a result, her school was struggling to find replacement teachers, so I came in for a day to work on dreams, stories and art with the kids in English. Together we practiced learning the following words:<br />Dream<br />Nightmare<br />Feelings<br />Happy<br />Sad<br />Afraid<br />Angry<br />
  8. 8. Drawing Dreams<br />We started out by drawing recent dreams. The teachers were startled to find out that nearly all of the children reported scary dreams, even a month after the earthquake. <br />The school is in Urayasu, a suburb of Tokyo which is built on landfill in the Tokyo Bay. For nearly a month, due to liquefaction of large parts of the city because of the earthquake, residents didn’t have access to water or use of toilets. Up to 85% of Urayasu sank, as the ground became unstable, leaving many of the homes and roads noticeably crooked.<br />Many of the children reported scary dreams of ghosts, as in this example of ghosts in front of the school.<br />
  9. 9. Ongoing After Shocks <br />By the time I had arrived in Japan in May, there had already been more than one thousand after shocks. <br />This boy reported a scary reoccurring dream of a quaking man.<br />
  10. 10. The Function of Dreams<br />This young boy reported having a nightmare in which a terrifying gorilla like spider monster chasing him. He was very afraid when he woke.<br />One of the major functions of dreams that researchers like Ernst Hartmann have noted, especially after trauma, is that they help spread emotional intensity throughout the nets of memory. Dreams embody our major emotional concerns in imagery. After a traumatic event, emotions are very focused. As a result, dreams immediately after a tragedy often focus on feelings of intense fear. Later feelings of vulnerability and helplessness emerge. For many, who survive, there may also be strong feelings of guilt that are also reflected in the dreams later on. Eventually, as daily life returns to a more predictable pattern, dreams become more varied as well. <br />
  11. 11. Falling Dreams <br />This child reported dreams of falling down a never ending waterfall. Imagine how helpless you would feel if you were falling and falling with no end in sight. Such dreams of helplessness and vulnerability are very common after traumatic events.<br />
  12. 12. Fleeing from Danger<br />In this photo, this girl has drawn an image of a pretty house made of candy. Inside of the house is a witch who traps children and tries to eat them. On the side of the picture, she has drawn herself running away from the terrifying house. <br />
  13. 13. Home Alone<br />While I was in Japan, over and over again I heard stories of children who were home alone when the earthquake struck. Ordinarily, home is a place of safe refugee, however, on the day of the great earthquake, home became a terrifying place from which they had to escape. It’s easy to empathize with the feelings behind a dream like this.<br />
  14. 14. Sharing Dreams <br />After drawing their dreams, the children had an opportunity to share their stories with each other. They all reported that at first they felt a little embarrassed to do so, but soon found it to be a very natural and fun thing to do with each other. Best of all, the classes reported that after sharing their dreams with each other, even the most scary dreams didn’t feel quite as bad after all.<br />
  15. 15. Arts High School<br />In addition to working on dreams with children in grade school, I also had the opportunity to work with high school students at an arts high school. As a visiting foreign artist, I was invited to come and introduce the children to the book arts. Together we explored how the shape of the book structures we make affects the stories within. <br />
  16. 16. Meandering Stories<br />One structure that the children were particularly fascinated by is called a “meander book”. In this kind of a book, pages unfold in surprising ways, giving the stories many unexpected twists and turns. This form seemed to resonate most deeply with the kids as they considered how to make a book that would embody the story of where they were during the earthquake.<br />
  17. 17. One Sheet<br />Each student was given the challenge of using only one sheet of paper to make a simple book from. They could fold it and make cuts in the paper, but they could not bind any pages to create their book. They then created a variety of mock ups.<br />
  18. 18. Creative Limitations<br />Use only one sheet of paper<br />Create pages by folding<br />Make cuts for variation<br />These were the limitations that we set for our project. Creativity thrives under such circumstances. The students were amazed at the variety of different solutions they all came up with.<br />
  19. 19. No Mistakes <br />As a dreamworker and facilitator of creative development, one of the things I have learned over the years is that are no mistakes to be made in the beginning stages of the creative process. In this case, each form offers different possibilities and new ways of relating to our stories. The students really embraced this attitude and had a lot of fun with their work.<br />Once they found a form they liked, they were encouraged to continue to develop it in the weeks to come. But in the beginning, when we are just trying to give voice to our experiences, it is vital to just let the stories flow and play with them. This allows the creative energy to move and begin to do it’s work as well.<br />
  20. 20. Unfolding Stories<br />I brought along many of my own “magic books” which open in many different directions. The students really delighted in these forms and were very excited to try to figure out how they work. (For more examples of magic books, see my website at monkeybridgearts.com)<br />
  21. 21. Meander Book<br />This girl really enjoyed exploring the possibilities for meander books.<br />
  22. 22. Early Pleasures<br />For many students, folding pages for books brought back pleasant childhood memories of folding paper for origami with their friends and family.<br />
  23. 23. Wise Hands<br />“Oftenthe hands willsolve a mysterythat the intellect has struggledwith in vain.” - C.G. Jung<br />
  24. 24. Creating in Community<br />One of the greatest pleasures I have found in life is being able to do creative work together with others in community. It was such a treat to be able to work with these students, many of whom ended up spending the night at the school after the earthquake because they had no way to get home to their families. To work with their stories in this space in particular was a very special experience.<br />
  25. 25. Playful Healing<br />Many of the students commented on how fun it was to work so freely. Spending time focused on the work of their hands led to many new insights and ways of being with their stories of the earthquake. Inevitably a sense of fun entered into the work which was healing in it’s own way. Many said that it was the first time they had a good laugh in a long time. <br />
  26. 26. Foreign Women in Japan<br />One group that is routinely overlooked in Japan are foreign women married to Japanese men who are permanent residents of Japan. As a long time member of the Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese (AFWJ), I am acutely aware of the needs of this community, in particular. <br />During times of crisis, many of these women are unable to seek out mental health support due to linguistic and cultural barriers. While I was in Japan, I wanted to make sure to do whatever I could to support these women as well. As a result, I was asked to conduct many workshops and lectures for various groups, including the Foreign Nurses Association. These wonderful women from so many different nations offer whatever help they can to others in the foreign communities in Japan. As a result, they were deeply interested in learning more about creative ways of helping people cope with nightmares after crisis.<br />
  27. 27. Sharing Dreams<br />Like the children, they too found it very helpful to share their dreams with each other. Many who had felt embarrassed and alone with their scary dreams were relieved to find that others were having similar experiences. <br />
  28. 28. Compassionate Listening<br />As nurses, these women already had highly developed listening skills. Although they routinely ask the people they are caring for how they slept, it had never occurred to them to ask about the dreams as well. For many, it was an eye opening experience to see how clearly the dreams embody feelings and how easily one could help another person cope by just listening deeply with compassion. No interpretation is necessary.<br />
  29. 29. Please Remember Japan<br />It is true that Japan has suffered a great tragedy. But the people of Japan are extremely resilient and resourceful. I have no doubt that Japan will heal and come back with a renewed strength and vitality once again. The people of Japan continue to need the support and prayers of the rest of the world. Please continue to remember Japan, it’s amazingly rich culture and wonderful people. <br />