Soulwork Project: TRIBE! A Model Retreat for Personal Transformation
(copyright Donna Papenhausen 2017 )
Introduction to the Soulwork Project
I am a retired Pastor and Art Educator and current Expressive Arts Educator and Consultant. In nearly 50 years of professional life one thing I have discovered is that many, if not most women are asleep. Their spirits’ are caged and wounded by years of, if not outright abuse by giving others control of their destiny, then thinking small and setting their own interests, passions, and dreams aside in place of others’. They long for community, for a safe place to dream again, to recall who they really are deep down, to listen for the still, small, voice that calls to them to remember who they were created to be and what they might have to offer to themselves and their community.
What I offer in my Soulwork Project is an opportunity to enter that safe space for three, five hour days; a time to consider what has been lost; to go on a journey to recover those lost pieces of Self and Soul; then to discover who and what a community might consist of. Using the tools of Intentional Creativity and other Expressive Arts modalities I invite women to, as Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes invites in her book, Women Who Run with the Wolves, go in search of their bones. I invite them to dive deep into the rio abajo rio, the river beneath the river, to recover themselves and reconnect with their tribe of awakened, Wild Women. (p.24-30)
It is my hope that those who read this paper will feel empowered to recreate similar events in their communities.
Donna Papenhausen 2017
Tribe! A Three Day Journey of Discovery
The space I used consisted of two large rooms. One room was set up as a gathering space with a circle of chairs around a central altar space on the floor. The other room had easels, tables and basic supplies awaiting personal painting materials to be set up. All were arranged so they could see the demonstration area at the front. As the women arrived, they were invited to choose a painting area, set up their painting materials, (A supply list had been sent upon registration. See Appendix 1) and return to the gathering space.
As we gather and settle I say something like: “Welcome to TRIBE! Our three day journey of discovery using Intentional Creativity. We are here to recover and reconnect with ourselves and to discover our tribe. Our time together will be intense since this is more than a painting class. This will be a deep dive into inner space. We will intentionally look within to discover new information about “who it is that lives in here” that we need to move forward to find our tribe and use the 13 step painting process to give form to what we have discovered. While this is not an art therapy session, it may well spark some emotions because what we’ll be doing is healing work. We are here to support you through the process but it is up to you remember that we are not in a therapy session, but rather we are exploring individually, while being part of a group. As we move through the days together there will be ample time given to journal and otherwise process your feelings and revelations both on and off the canvas. What is said here is kept within the group and not shared with others, unless you choose to share your own personal experience.
I’m so happy that you are here to journey together with me. I promise you and exciting three days filled with revelations!
Here’s some general information…If you are new to the space, there is a kitchenette around the corner with a fridge for your lunch and drinks as well as a microwave, and a restroom right here. You need to sign in here on the sheet each morning. If you need anything else just ask.
As you know by now my name is Donna Papenhausen and I’m a graduate of the Institute program here at Expressive Arts Florida and a student currently in training at the Color of Woman School under its founder Maestra Shiloh Sophia McCloud. The school is located in Sonoma, CA at the Cosmic Cowgirls Ranch.
Color of Woman teaches the philosophy of Intentional Creativity which is a way of mindful living using inquiry, imagination and in-form-ation to grow creatively and spiritually into the person you are called to be and to give your gifts to the world you were created to offer.
Shiloh Sophia has been teaching IC to others for over 25 years. She received it from her mothers, poet Caron McCloud and artist Sue Hoya Sellers and from Sue’s mentor, sculptor Lenore Thomas Strauss. So you see it comes with a pedigree, a lineage so to speak. Over the years thousands have bee exposed to IC and hundreds have certified to teach and pass on this transformational way of being in the world. I consider myself honored to be one of them.
So now that you know a bit about me and what it is I bring to you, please introduce yourself so we can get to know one another better.
(Introductions around the circle.)
Red Thread Circle
As I said earlier, this is more than a painting class. This is deep, you might even say, holy work. For anytime we go deep inside, we go to those places touched by the Divine, however you conceive of that, to those places we do not share with anyone. So to honor that, we use ritual. One of the rituals we use is called the Red Thread Circle. Nearly every culture has stories involving red threads. It is said that Betsy Ross sewed the first flag with red thread. It is said that Mary, Jesus’s mother used red thread to sew Jesus’ shroud. Maestra Shiloh thinks of the thread as coming from the hem of the garment of the Great Dancing Lady! The Chinese say that at birth those who are fated to meet and be together in life are connected by an invisible red thread and when they meet, they say, “There you are!” So we use a red thread to show our recognition of one another as those who journey together on this shared path. As I pass the thread, I will first wrap it around my wrist and answer the first inquiry: What called you here? Then I’ll pass it to you and one by one you will do the same. When we are all bound, I’ll take the scissors and cut the thread, recognizing that while we are all together on this journey, we each have our own work to do in the world – our own piece of the red thread to weave. As I cut it, I’ll answer the second inquiry: What is missing? Then we will help one another tie the thread to our wrists.
(We perform the ceremony. Allow time for this can become quite deep because we are all incomplete.)
Break – 10 minutes
Gather with drumming.
The 13 Step Painting Process
(Teaching) “Midway along the journey of our life, I woke to find myself in a dark wood, for I had wandered off from the straight path.” – Dante Aligheri
One day we wake up and discover that something isn’t right. Something is missing. Life isn’t the way we thought it would be. WE aren’t who we thought WE would be. The people we are with aren’t who we thought they would be…Something needs to change. Something MORE needs to happen . Some one MORE needs to appear …I need to find who I am and where I belong… I need to find my tribe.
(Read the poem “Bone Gathering” from Tea with the Midnight Muse by Shiloh Sophia)
But before we can go in search of our tribe we need to discover, to recover, who we are. We need to go in search of our bones. Clarissa Pinkola Estes talks about La Que Sabe, the Old Woman Who Knows. She is the one who goes out into the desert and gathers up the bones of all the animals she finds, but especially the bones of wolves. She collects bones and then she reassembles them into a complete wolf skeleton. The Old Woman sings over the bones and as she sings they begin to come together with sinew and muscle and organs and flesh and fur. The light comes into their eyes and they rise up and sniff the air and howl. And they run! As they run the Old Woman continues to sing and you begin to see a transformation. The wolf rises on 2 legs and becomes a woman – free and whole in her spirit, running through the night, singing her own song. She is La Loba – the Wild One. There is nothing more beautiful than a woman complete in herself, ready to find others like her.
Today we begin to go in search of the bones – all those pieces of ourselves we have given away, had taken away , those pieces we have hidden away, or cut off because they weren’t pretty enough or graceful enough, or ladylike, or nice. Those that were rough and tumble, that were open and loud, that were angry and full of fight. We go in search of those parts of ourselves that we threw away because they weren’t how girls were supposed to be in the world. We go after the wounded and sad parts, the too smart for your own good parts, the bad girl parts, the shut down, shut out, shut off parts of ourselves that we cut off and discarded for someone else’s pleasure, but weakened us. Now it is time to go in search of the bones, our bones.
Using the story above, create a guided meditation leading the group on a journey into the desert to gather their bones, sing over them, see them change into a wolf, the into the Wild Woman. I have included a sample below.
This is the powerful center of our retreat time. It shapes the rest of the time of painting. Here they find their vision, the image that will guide them through the rest of the journey. When they have come back from the meditation, give plenty of time to journal.
Sample Guided Meditation: I invite you to relax in your chair, close your eyes and breathe deeply and slowly. Inhale through your nose, filling your belly first then gradually up through your lungs, and exhale slowly and fully through your mouth. And again…. And once more. Feel your body relax from your feet up through your legs and pelvis, then up through your chest and shoulders, your neck and head, all the while breathing deeply and fully.
Now imagine you are in the desert. It is night and you are alone. You are searching. You are searching for something that is very valuable, priceless. You are searching for your lost childhood, your lost teenage self, your lost creativity, your missing wildness, your joie de vivre. You are searching for your compassion, your angry woman, your seductress. You find yourself in this dark desert alone at night with only the bright moon for company looking for all those lost parts you have hidden away because they aren’t ladylike, they aren’t polite, they aren’t good or pretty enough…or they’re too big, or too small, or too loud or too colorful, or too funny or too sad or…oh how many parts do we cut off, stuff down or hide away in one lifetime? How many of our bones do we bury in the deserts of our lives until we become dried out, crippled skeletons, shadows, hungry ghosts of who we might be, ought to be, want to be?
Now is the time. It is time to go in search of all those bones, all those pieces. And so we begin. We step off into the desert night looking around, listening, always listening for the cries of the bones. We take step by careful step across the sand, over the rocks, sniffing the breeze like a wolf for scents, signs we are on the right track, on our way to the bones…we see a glimmer of white reflecting moonlight, we go to it and see a shard, an edge, a bone sticking up from the sand and we dig. We dig in the dry dust of the desert and we find a bone, our bone, one we lost oh so long ago and we hold it tightly to our breast in welcome. Then we put it in the sack we carry. Giving thanks for what we’ve found, we move on out deeper into the starry night, looking around at the shadows cast by bushes and cacti, rocks and scraggly trees.
Then as we round the curve of a large rock we see them, peeking from the sand, bones! And as we listen, we hear them, like music, they are calling our name….they are calling us to come and reclaim them, calling us to gather them up into our arms and give them life. And we go to them, visiting each place. Gathering each bone, welcoming it home. Putting it gently into our sack and moving to the next….here is my giggle!….and there my tears!…over here is my love of climbing trees…oh so many bones to find….(LONG PAUSE)
At last it is done. The desert is silent. No more bones cry out to be reclaimed. Our sack is full of bones, each one with its own story of how it came to be discarded. We go home now to our cave. Secluded from the sight of the outside world we enter the place of safety. We light a fire and we open the sack. So many bones! Large and small, we begin to put them in place, one by one until all are there before us, complete. We begin to sing. We sing a song known only to our hearts. An ancient song, a beautiful song, a powerful song. It soars into the night….and the bones begin to move…they begin to take shape….muscle and sinew connects bone to bone…then flesh and fur cover the bones and eyes open and the light of life sparks into the eyes. Suddenly the thing rises to its feet and shakes itself into form….it is a wolf! And it sniffs the breeze and howls its song in echo of yours and it bounds out of the cave and onto the tall rock nearby. Again it howls and still you sing and the howl and the song become one and suddenly you are looking out into the night through the wolf’s eyes. It shakes itself once more and rises up on two legs and becomes a beautiful woman. The woman is you! And you stand tall and strong and sing your song into the night, free and whole! Restored to the woman you were meant to be. You reach down and gather the wolfskin to your heart and walk off into your future to find your people…
When you are ready you may return to this space and open your eyes…
Invite the participants to use their notebooks to journal their experience. Emphasize the need to record details of the environment, the look of the Wild Woman, the look of the one singing, any details of clothing or costume, symbols, artifacts, animals, birds, items of jewelry or decoration, sacred items, writing, glyphs, etc.
Gather the group. Observe their affect. Ask how the meditation was for them. Then ask them to share 1 bone they recovered .
Again, this can be a powerful moment as they begin acknowledge all they have lost and what they are beginning to recover of their identity.
Lunch Break – 1 hour
The participants can either go out to a nearby restaurant or they can bring a lunch from home. They have been notified ahead of time of this option.
Circle Time – This is a brief check-in to see how everyone is doing after the intense morning. We move into the painting room.
Before we begin to paint , explain a bit about the process. It is important to stay loose. You can’t do it wrong. There will probably come a time you will hate your painting because no matter how hard you try, you wont be able to match your vision. Emphasize that it is all ok. What needs to be there for you will be there. Its best to ask your inner critic to go sit in the corner for a while. We wont be judging our work or other’s work today. In fact its probably best not to comment on other’s work at all. Another thing to set aside is comparison. We all have different agenda and abilities. Just trust your paintbrush because she knows best.
2.Inviting- Write Your Intention on the canvas.
Explain what an intention is. It is an invitation for our Muse, in the form of the Wild Woman, to come to us to show us what she would have us know. Demonstrate using charcoal to write on the canvas. Give them time to construct their own.
Spray/Bless the canvas.
Creating the Portal – Step 1. We walk a path between 2 worlds; the conscious and the subconscious, heaven and earth, waking and sleeping. Take 3 colors and paint ½ with a color for the heavens and 1/2 for the earth. Take the 3rd color and paint your path. This symbolizes our journey between the worlds. Spray. Step 2. Paint your bones on the canvas. As you do, remember your journey of recovering them and begin to take them into yourself, restoring your wholeness. Step 3. Take red paint, symbolizing a red thread, sinews, and blood and stitch the bones together forming a new, complete skeleton. Spray and let the paint run.
Authentic Movement – Moving back to the gathering room, we put away the chairs, move the altar and, using movement, we take a journey to find our tribe. Play a CD of drumming music and dance/move to the music using colored scarves while imagining a journey to discover your tribe. Move for10 minutes at least.
Journaling – Invite them to write a detailed journey.
Sharing – Each person shares a few sentences about her journey.
- Sourcing – 20 line face demonstration.
Invite them to sketch their face on paper or directly on the canvas. Give the option of using charcoal first or paint. Remind them that what they draw won’t look like the image in their mind exactly and its ok. Not to be frustrated because the Muse has a say in what emerges too.
Gather for closing. We share closing thoughts/feelings. New revelations. I invite them to pay attention to their dreams. We do a simple energy clearing.
END OF DAY 1
Opening Circle-check-in – 1. Go around circle and ask for 1 word plus a movement to show how they are feeling.
- Ask about dreams and further messages from Muse.
- Pass out instruments and drum our feelings. Add vocalizations.
- Do some drumming with one another. One person begins a rhythm and others join one at a time with their complementary rhythms. Let it go on for a while. One by one drop out until there is silence.
Writing Prompt – Sentence Fragments – Power Song
This exercise invites students to complete the phrase, “If I were a (new word each time, gem,weather, place, color etc) I would be… At the end, they choose 10-12 words and construct 3 sentences beginning,”I am…” when complete, this becomes their tribal power song. These are written on 3 strips of paper to be decoupaged onto the paintings.
Sharing of power songs.
Decoupage strips onto the painting.
Add power/energy lines, symbols, headdress, simple environment lines to the painting.
LUNCH BREAK – 1 hour
4.Listening -Blocking colors, preserving glow – demo. 3 colors or 2 plus white, then again with 3 new colors filling in part of what was done before.
- Encountering – demo. facial features, lights and darks
- Connecting – Translate story by adding patterns (dots-dashes)
- Presencing – Highlights and shadows around objects for depth
- Risky Glazing – demo different glazing types. Be bold as you glaze. This is a scary move in the process. Students need to see your courage!
Journalling – What happened as she went beneath the glaze? How are you feeling? What message does she have for you now?
Closing – Check-in: Where are you in your process with discovering your tribe? What did it feel like to glaze your painting? What is your Muse’s name? Close with a simple energy clearing exercise.
END OF DAY 2
Gathering – Check-in
Move in Front of Paintings – play drum music and have students move in front of their paintings as they listen to her message.
Do a word/photo collage as they listen/look for a message.
The Word/Photo Collage process consists of randomly selecting 3-5 photos from a box of magazine photos, gluing them to a paper. Then randomly selecting several clippings of words or phrases from a bag of words, shaping them into a statement that has meaning, and gluing them to the collage.
Journaling – Inquiry: Who is your tribe?
9.Awakening – Color Palette and Wild Seeds
- Honoring – Adornment detail, design integration, warrior marks, unavoidable tragedies,
- Magic Lights and calling back glow – Add a new color here and there to give pop
- Receiving – Listening to her message and writing it down. –
- Annointing – Sparkle, Sign, Title, Paint Sides, Varnish
Closing Circle with Paintings – Introduce your painting. Speak her message. Name your tribe.
Be around the Lightbringers,
They challenge you,
Break you open,
Uplift and expand you.
They don’t let you play small
With your life.
These Heartbeats are your Tribe!
This experience, and others like it, will and do form my Soulwork. As pastor and artist, my search has been about transformation for myself and for others. It is my belief, my hope and my goal to use Intentional Creativity to bring about transformation, awakening, to women in my community.