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Archive for the ‘Creative Process’ Category

Years ago, I quit making new year’s resolutions and began to focus on just one word a year instead. For me, resolutions felt more like a list of failures from the previous year rather than exciting possibilities for exploration in the new one.  It’s no surprise that I often abandoned them as soon as the weather warmed up.  I noticed that when I made resolutions, each one seemed to focus on an area of weakness in my life such as managing my weight, getting the house organized or developing a regular writing practice, rather than on the possibilities for growth and wholeness.  Once I started focusing on only one word at a time, something shifted and a new kind of creative energy entered the process.  Last year the word was STRENGTH.  This year, I will focus on RESILIENCY.  If you could pick only one word for 2012, what would it be?

Choosing just one word has been incredibly freeing, leaving ample room for improvisation while still giving me a sense of purpose and direction throughout the year.  This approach to planning is a little secret that I picked up while I was in the human development program at St. Mary’s University.

In this innovative graduate program, each student has the opportunity to create their own master’s degree.  For as long as I can remember, I have been passionately interested in the connection between creativity, dreams, healing, and the arts.  St. Mary’s allowed me to create a degree that fit my interests and needs perfectly.  At the heart of this program is the “contract” which serves as a kind of road map for one’s course of study.  Students must complete four contracts and a “position paper” in order to graduate.  A position paper is a kind of thesis that sums up where one currently is in relation to their creative exploration, knowing that the journey will continue to unfold in the years to come.

I quickly learned that if I tried to articulate every twist and turn of the material I intended to cover in a contract there wouldn’t be any room for the natural detours and surprises that often pop up.  By focusing instead on specific signposts along the way, such as embodiment, imagination, spirituality or dreaming, I had a clear sense of direction for each contract with enough room for the unexpected.  This approach to learning has become a tremendously helpful model for all areas of my life, including new year’s resolutions.

Since graduating from St. Mary’s, I have continued this practice of making a contract with myself for the coming year by choosing one word to focus on at a time.  Last year, the word was STRENGTH, which led me back to the gym.  Of course, I could have just made a resolution to exercise more, but that wasn’t nearly as helpful to me as focusing on learning more about nature of strength not only through readings but also through my own body.

In this way, I was able to bring a sense of curiosity and play with me into the health club rather than treating exercise as just another chore to be completed.  I really wanted to understand first hand what it means to cultivate strength in a body that often suffers from chronic pain.  How would becoming physically stronger affect my relationship with pain?  Could I learn to exercise in a way that wouldn’t create more pain in the process?  I soon learned that by doing less than I could more often than I would was the key to steady growth and increasing strength.

During my first pilates class, I naively thought that since I am quite flexible it would be relatively easy to begin.  I was appalled to discovered how weak I had become over the years of struggling with chronic joint pain.  Although I have always prided myself in my flexibility I didn’t realize how little muscle strength I had.  One day, when I stretched much further than I should have and couldn’t get back up, my pilates instructor warned me that too much flexibility without strength can actually be dangerous.  How counter intuitive!

It was one of those “Ah ha!” moments when things suddenly came together.  Her comment got me thinking about all the other areas of my life in which I am incredibly flexible but not terribly strong at maintaining boundaries for taking care of myself.   Where there other areas of my life in which had I lost core strength without realizing it while constantly bending to meet the needs of others in my family, work and daily life?  What latent strengths did I have that I could build on at this point in my life rather than starting from scratch?  These questions led to a renewed interest in studying Japanese and deepening my relationship with my husband, as well as reconnecting with my love of music and enduring interest in Zen, the arts and self cultivation.

By focusing on STRENGTH for an entire year, a new way of weaving the various strands of my life together naturally emerged.  As I have continued to cultivate strength in my physical body, a desire to build on strengths that I already have led me back into the daily study of Japanese in a way that fits into my life today in Minnesota.  I have fallen in love all over again with Japanese films and TV dramas thanks to all of the streaming sites on the internet.  I have also found myself drawn back into cooking from scratch daily in an effort to strengthen my overall heath and immunity.  Rather than deciding that I needed to LOSE weight, as I have vowed to do way too many times at New Year’s, I now find myself wanting to STRENGTHEN my overall sense of well being and enjoyment in the kitchen through home cooking, natural ingredients and a closer connection to the seasons through food.  It doesn’t hurt that many of the Japanese dramas I watch while cooking dinner focus on the role of food in Japanese culture as well!

So now as I begin 2012, I am curious about how strength and flexibility work together to create RESILIENCY.  I have learned that without flexibility AND strength, it is impossible to bounce back from the many challenges of life.  To celebrate this year of RESILIENCY, I recently participated in a resiliency training program at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, which was started by Dr. Henry Emmons and his team.  This program takes an integrative approach to cultivating resiliency for a greater sense of health and wholeness.  I am looking forward to seeing where RESILIENCY will take me in the coming year!

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Cut-Art By J. A. Christensen

I am currently teaching a class on Kiri-e (Japanese paper cutting) at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts.  It is such a pleasure to slow down to the pace of paper, cutting one shape at a time.  In its purest form, Kiri-e allows us to literally hold the tension between the dark and light aspects of our lives while focusing on the simple art of cutting paper.

In Kiri-e, it is essential to have both dark and light in order to create a work of art.  Without contrast, it is impossible to see anything.  For example, try to imagine a picture of a black bear in a cave at night or a white polar bear in a dazzling blizzard and you get the idea.  Without contrast, an image is impossible to see, leaving us with just an intellectual concept rather than a work of art.

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In the same way that contrast is essential to all of the arts, contrast is also the key to living authentically in this world.  Experiencing fully the darks and lights of our lives can be a tremendous gift, allowing us to know what is really important.  Contrast brings the essence of our lives to the foreground.  When we embody both, rather than focusing only on the light or dark sides of life, we find a new kind of balance which is fully alive and healing for ourselves and those around us.  The root of the word “to heal” means to become whole.  By consciously embracing both the dark and light aspects of life, we become whole.

Another lesson Kiri-e teaches is how to slow down and really pay attention.  Because we are constantly moving between dark and light shapes while making Kiri-e, it is very easy to get confused and lose the way if we try to move ahead too quickly.  In order to create Kiri-e, it is essential to take things one step at a time.  Through the practice of cutting one shape at at time, we learn through our senses of touch, sight and sound, as well as through our posture and body position how to slow down and be fully present.  It also becomes clear very quickly that pushing through when we are tired or when we lose our focus can ruin an entire piece of work in an instant.  These lessons are learned non-verbally, through the body.  Later, if we stop to think about it, we may realize that through the act of cutting paper, one step at a time, we have come a little closer to who we really are in the process.  As is said in Zen, “train the body and the mind will follow”.

Like many of the Japanese arts, Kiri-e, when practiced mindfully, can become a very satisfying means of growth and transformation.  It’s also a really fun way to create satisfying works of art.  I am delighted to have the opportunity to share this humble art form with my students at MCBA.  I look forward to introducing more of the Japanese paper based arts into my classes in the future.

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M*A*S*H* Signpost

For the past month, I have been working on a very special book for Amy at Pathways – A health crisis resource center.  After many years of service, Amy and her husband will be leaving shortly to begin a new life in Kentucky.  Although I have only known Amy for a short time, her radiant spirit and warm friendship have enriched my life greatly.  She has been a constant source of encouragement, support and good humor.  I am honored to have had the opportunity to work with her at Pathways.

Thanks to Dan Averitt and Tim Thorpe at Pathways, I had the opportunity to create this very special going away present.  Together, we made the watercolors that were used in this book, while dreaming provided the inspiration for the shape the book and it’s box would take.  In one dream, the image of the signpost from M*A*S*H* appeared, suggesting signposts along the way for Amy’s journey.  Knowing how much she loves her basket of inspirational cards, I used words from the cards for the signs in this flag book.  It was great fun learning how to make this new structure, fueled by the creative energy and guidance of the dream.  Bon Voyage Amy and best wishes for a safe journey to your new home.  We will all miss you!

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It’s my pleasure to announce another exhibition of my dream books.  This time I will be giving two presentations on the work.  I hope to see you there.

Embodying Dreams Exhibition
More handmade dream books

Dates February 8 – April 30, 2011
Place The Bookhouse in Dinkytown
429 14th Avenue SE
Minneapolis, MN  55414
Phone  (612) 331-1430

Hours
Monday – Saturday: 10am-10pm
Sunday: 12pm – 8pm

Reception & Artist’s Talk
Thursday March 3, 7pm
In this presentation, I will demonstrate how the magic books work and have demo books available for people to play with.

Artist’s Talk – Embodying the Imagination in the Book Arts
Sunday March 20, 3pm
In this presentation, I will talk about how the creative process, as experienced in dreams, informs my work in the arts and healing.

Questions
Contact me at 952-412-4786 or e-mail me at SheilaAsato@comcast.net

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I am pleased to announce that I will begin teaching at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts

Embodying Dreams in the Book Arts

Six Thursdays: January 13, 20, 27, February 3, 10, 17; 6-9pm
All skill levels welcome

How does the structure of the book relate to the content within? Are some book structures better suited for working with dreams than others? How can the act of making a book become a form of dreamwork in and of itself? These are just a few of the questions we will explore in this class as we make a bag book, meander book and multi-section flexagon.

Throughout the course a variety of methods for working with dreams will be introduced as a way of developing content for the books. These exercises will include journaling, Healing Collage(SM), embodied imagination work and Ullman’s projective dreamwork.

Core or Advanced Certificate: 18 hours, Category D

Dates: Thursday evenings – Jan. 13, 20, 27, Feb. 3, 10 & 17
Time:  6:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Level: All skill levels welcome
Place: Minnesota Center for the Book Arts
Cost:  $280 ($250 MCBA members) + $30 supply fee

Registration:  Click on this link:  Adult Workshops for Winter/Spring 2010-11, scroll down the page to my class and then follow the instructions for online registration.

Questions:  Contact me at 952-412-4786 or e-mail me
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Pausing at Midlife Exhibition

If you haven’t seen my show yet, it’s not too late.

Date: October 7, 2010 – February 3, 2011
Place: St. Mary’s University Library, LaSalle Hall – Room 108, 2500 Park Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55404
Questions:  952-412-4786 or E-mail me

About This Exhibition
What kind of books are capable of holding dreams, memories and waking life reflections together in a way that is true to their original nature? How does the structure of a book affect the content within? Is it possible to embody images from dreams and memories in the book arts?

These are just some of the questions that I have focused on since graduating from the human development program at St. Mary’s University of MN in 2006. For this Art on Park exhibition, I have taken this opportunity at midlife to pause and reflect upon the journey thus far while creating a new body of work which integrates my dreams, memories and reflections into a series of handmade books.  In my books you will also find a unique mixture of Western and Japanese influences.

Embodied Imagination Work

In 2010, I completed a three year training course with Robert Bosnak and Jill Fischer to become a certified Embodied Imagination Coach.  This exhibition is also my final project for that program.

Thank you for all your support.  I look forward to dreaming, creating and healing together with you in 2011!

Sweet dreams,
Sheila Asato

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I just returned from the IASD conference in Asheville and was so pleased to find out that an article I wrote was published in the Edge News this month. Articles by several other IASD members were also included in this month’s issue on dreaming.  To see a list of all of the articles on dreaming, click here.

Articles by IASD members are:

Breaking out of the Psychic Cast by Judith L. White

Dream Guidance – The Way of Embodied Imagination Work by Sheila McNellis Asato

Dreams and Creative Problem Solving by Deirdre Barrett

How to Increase Dream Recall by Craig Sim Webb

Physical Healing in a Lucid Dream? by Robert Waggoner


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I saw a wonderful film today at the IASD conference by Uma Markus. She is a dream artist who has been drawing out her dreams with colored pencil and then created this lovely short film from the drawings. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

For more information on Uma Markus, click here for her website.

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