I’ve been hanging out with me for long enough now to know this about myself: I overwhelm myself time and time again. I bite off more than I can chew. I love divergent thinking, creative possibility, big plans, and potential projects. Saying yes is something I do, not because I need assertiveness training or courage in the face of disappointing others, but because I am so often swept up in the rush of enthusiasm that comes with a new idea. It’s my own self that I can’t bear to disappoint when something novel holds the promise of wonderful opportunities ahead.
When it is time to rein the ideas back in, to gather the herd, to nurture the new-planted seeds (apparently, pastoral metaphors abound here), to follow through and do the work that brings those wonderful opportunities to pass – well, that is frankly just not my strength. I won’t say I can’t do it, but it is the hard part of the process for me, the part that calls for discipline, perseverance, and focus that is sometimes hard for me to call up in myself.
But here’s what helps: naming it, like I’m doing here. Talking about it, like I remember to do sometimes with my closest confidantes. And making, especially making. The process of working with materials that can be crafted into something new gives me the chance to connect the content of my head and my heart, my thoughts and my emotions. When it really works, using my hands to fold and fit, to cut and paste and paint, to shape and mold, the chaos of too many perfectly good ideas settles into a calmer stream of consciousness.
For almost three years now, I have been leading a weekly class called Create and Connect in a place that is wondrous to me: my local county jail. With men and women who are dealing with their own versions of overwhelm, I spend an hour guiding process art experiences. The participants’ responses are consistently positive and appreciative. They report feeling more relaxed, less stressed, and more hopeful after just 45 minutes or so of art-making, consistent with recent research out of Drexel University.
The sessions for the classes are eight weeks long, followed by a two-week break. It’s taken me a while, but I’ve realized an interesting pattern in my own psyche regarding this schedule. When I am participating in these expressive arts experiences twice a week, with as many as five classes in a day, the overwhelm that I am prone to is held at bay. It is during this break time, when I do not “practice what I preach” regarding making as a helpful and healing process toward wholeness, that I tend to let the enormity of my commitments get the better of me.
This afternoon, I am hired to provide a Contemplative Crafting workshop to a group of friends celebrating a birthday. Together, we will transform paper ephemera – book pages, church bulletins, legal documents, personal correspondence – into ornaments and flowers, little decorations and adornments. They will carry away these pretty objects to do with them whatever they might, but our shared goals will prioritize the process, seeing these products more simply as souvenirs, memories of the experience.
While this workshop will be a service to others, as are the classes I lead in quite different contexts, I know that I will also be giving a great gift to myself. I will again have the chance I’ve been missing to create contemplative calm and connection in my own self, through the mindful making that soothes my psyche. And I am confident, because I know too that this is how God made me, that I will find further relief from the overwhelm that has already loosened since the start of this confessional post. May it be so – amen and amen!