Archive for the ‘Embodied Imagination’ 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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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

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.

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

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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Dreams are big news these days. There’s an article on dreaming in the New York Times comparing the spread of dream groups over the past five years to book clubs. The author points out that the leadership for such groups ranges from skilled professionals to self-proclaimed experts.  If you are thinking of leading a dream group or joining one, the International Association for the Study of Dreams is an excellent resource for developing your skills.  As dream groups become more popular, it is more important than ever for dreamworkers and dreamers to familiarize themselves with the ethics of working with dreams.


We, the Board of The International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD), therefore adopt and recommend the following fundamental principles and elements as necessary for any adequate training program for professional work with dreams.

We define dreamwork in the following way: any effort to discover, speculate about, and explore levels of meaning and significance beyond the surface of literal appearance of any dream experience recalled from sleep. This would include anyone serving in the role of psychotherapist, counselor, educator, or group facilitator in the interpretation or exploration of dreams for the purposes of providing psychotherapy, personal growth, or spiritual guidance for others.  The ETHICAL CRITERIA FOR DREAMWORK TRAINING published herein are suggested basic criteria for those engaged in, or aspiring to undergo approved training in, working with dreams, and IASD assumes no responsibility in connection therewith.

These criteria are designed to apply to practitioners whose practice is exclusively or mainly focused on work with dreams. To the extent that other practitioners include work with dreams as part of their practice, these guidelines should also apply to them.

Formal human service work utilizing dreamwork, as defined above, should conform to all existing regional and national laws regulating the practice of health, mental health, pastoral counseling or spiritual direction. The publication of these criteria is not to be considered as an endorsement by IASD of a particular training paradigm, nor are they to be considered as qualifications or grounds for certification for serving the role of psychotherapist, counselor, educator, or group facilitator in interpretation of dreams for the purposes of providing psychotherapy, growth, or spiritual guidance for others.

(1) Any program training people to work with dreams should have a clearly stated ethical component. We recommend the Statement of Ethics for Dreamwork” adopted by the IASD as a foundation for ethical components of dreamwork training.

(2) In accordance with this basic Statement of Ethics, any program training people to work with dreams should emphasize that all dreams may have multiple meanings and layers of significance. Programs which offer to train people to work professionally with dreams (i.e., responsibly, for pay) are free to emphasize one particular technique or theory over others, but in order to achieve minimum standards for adequate professional training, these programs must expose their students and trainees to a representative variety of different techniques and theoretical models that include an overview of current approaches in the field, and a historical and cross-cultural perspective of human studies and therapeutic approaches to dreams.

(3) Any program training people to work with dreams should include a significant component of an adequately supervised practicum, face-to-face work with dreams, both one-to-one with individuals, and facilitating group experiences. As electronic media become more and more a feature of our lives, IASD wishes to encourage dreamwork training programs to extend this supervised practicum component to include telephonic, computer-linked, and other “media” as well, always making sure that these training experiences are carefully supervised by thoroughly skilled practitioners.

(4) At the outset, any program training people to work with dreams should have clearly stated written goals, as well as clearly stated written policies regarding the evaluation of student/trainee progress and performance. Professional training programs should provide written evaluations of students’ and trainees’ progress and performance in a timely fashion.  Evaluations of student/trainee work and progress should be applied equally to all students regardless of background. Written descriptions of educational goals and requirements, ethics, and evaluations policies should be made available to students prior to registration for the training program.

(5) Any program training people to work with dreams should focus serious attention on the universal propensity of people to naively attribute their own less-than-conscious values, feelings, ideas, and judgments to others.  Sometimes called “projection”, or “transference” and “counter-transference”, this universal tendency must be addressed directly and made more conscious in the process of professional work with dreams.

(6) Any program training people to work with dreams should require its students to have done substantial work on their own dreams with qualified practitioners, and to commit themselves to ongoing personal dreamwork with qualified practitioners and supervisors.

(7) A program should assure that the practitioner has at least some basic knowledge of related fields, such as group dynamics, psychology, psychiatry, medicine. These additional areas of knowledge should be detailed enough to ensure as far as possible that no harm is done to the dreamer or group member through errors of omission or commission by the practitioner. In addition, any program training people to work with dreams should require its students or established practitioners to be alert to signs of and to obtain assistance for their personal problems at an early stage, in order to prevent significantly impaired performance. When students or established practitioners become aware of personal problems that may interfere with their performing work-related duties adequately, they should take appropriate measures, such as obtaining professional consultation or assistance, and determine whether they should limit, suspend, or terminate their work-related duties.

(8) When dreamwork is done to help persons with any psychological problems, the practitioner should have an appropriate professional degree and license in addition to the dreamwork training.

(9) Any program training people to work with dreams should offer and require a minimum familiarity with the history of dreamwork, not just as a preoccupation of Western culture, but as a world-wide phenomenon. Once again, professional dreamwork training and education programs are free to emphasize one element of this diverse history over others, (e.g., the Western medical/psychiatric tradition of dream exploration), but they must also present the student/trainee with a sufficiently diverse historical overview that includes exposure to at least some of the aboriginal and non-European traditions that view dreaming as means of communion with realms of spirit. It is recognized that the meaning and use of dreams may differ across and within cultures. When there are ethnic and/or cultural differences between the dreamer and the counselor, psychotherapist, dreamwork teacher, or spiritual guide these should be attended to and respected. Discussion of, sensitivity to, and respect for cultural differences both within and among cultures should not only be observed but considered an opportunity for greater communication and understanding.

(10) Although dreamwork training for specialists (such as medical practitioners, therapists, social workers, etc.) will require further training beyond these basic areas, even specialized education and training in working with dreams should conform to the fundamental principles outlined here. Those who are licensed or regulated by regional or national requirements must follow those requirements for training and practice in specialty areas in addition to the guidelines described herein.

(11) Those trained in dreamwork must demonstrate continued formal and informal study in their areas of expertise to refresh old skills and keep abreast with important developments in the field. It is recommended that a minimum of 15 hours per year be devoted to enhancing or reviewing areas of skills. Formal course work at accredited institutions, workshops with highly qualified practitioners, or continuing education offered by the Association for the Study of Dreams are ways to meet this requirement.

(12) Professional practitioners of any skill have an ethical obligation to pass on to succeeding generations the substance of their specialized knowledge in a coherent and accessible fashion. This is as true for those who work with dreams as it is for many other professional group.

(Adopted by the 2001 IASD Board of Directors)

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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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“Much of the beauty that arises in art comes from the struggle an artist wages with his limited medium.”  – Henri Matisse

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These are photos of some of the books I am in the process of making for my upcoming show at St. Mary’s University in October.  Today I am at the International Association for the Study of Dreams conference in North Carolina where I will be speaking about this project and how the process of making these books relates to dreams.  Once I have given my presentation, I’ll post the Power Point slides up on my website.

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