I’ve been dealing with a lot of rattled kids lately. It’s funny, rattled sometimes equates with hope. Hopelessness happens at the irreversible end of things; when I talk to the dried-out shell of a long-lost child. You can just tell the important parts have been scooped out. It’s so sad. The rattlers offer a whole lot, though, it’s just a matter of helping their energy along. (Read: patience, please!) To help my self along, I purchased this great book on Amazon called “Windows to Our Children” by Violet Oaklander. I wish Violet and I could get a coffee together. Her tone reminds me of the play therapy literature I’ve studied- she values deliberation AND vulnerability. Kids smell this kind of balancing act and they’ll just eat you alive with their enthusiasm for you and for life and this moment. Among other smart things, Violet’s work includes a lot of guided imagery exercises for coping. I love these word lullabies, and have begun to create some of my own. For those of you who aren’t familiar with guided imagery, it’s relaxation via visualization. Word paintings, really.
This brings me to you with a confession: on my off-days, I wish I could be a professional guided-imagery person. A verbal word painter. I know this isn’t even a job, but when I talk about guided imagery, it’s by nature, kind of nonsensical. To walk people through these lovely reflections…well I suppose it’s appealing because nuanced storytelling would finally have a means to an end and together it would soothe both of us. Practical metaphors. For now, I haven’t quit my day job. I just incorporate guided imagery when I can, and I always, ALWAYS, include the animal friends.
Kids love the animal friends. They come in, oh, about mid- journey and it goes like so:
“Now, imagine you are walking along a gravely path, there are flower beds on either side of you. Bright flowers! The brightest colors you can imagine oranges, and reds, blues and yellows…you bend down to pick some. Now a light is guiding you, warming you, relaxing you and bringing you peace. It brings you to the end of the path where you see a couple of animal friends waiting for you at a gate…”
The moment I say “animal friends” a faint smile usually crosses his or her face as if they are testing out the child-like idea of an, ahem, “animal friend.”
“This friend leads you to a small rock and underneath it is a key to this gate. You know it is your key, made especially for you, because it has your initials on it”
After the gate swings open, my little dream-weavers walk through their regular paradise, caught by the beauty of low-hanging fruit trees, thick bamboo, and rivers running through it all. This really is God’s Green Earth, lush and moist, and people are just like animal friends: wild, exploring and open. Their smile is confident now, not creeping, after all, you can’t judge your dreams, and this is fun, imagining and wandering with these animal friends through their Eden.
I look often for Gardens of Eden, even when I’m not imagining with my clients. The Edens that I imagine are before the homesickness and the battle and the loss. I think often of paradise perhaps, to balance out the snippets of hell I hear from their small mouths. I don’t want the darkness to rot my spirit, and I don’t want it to rot theirs either, so I must make an effort to echo aliveness. So, as I’m guiding, I’m really sharing a bit of my own Eden, my plush Eden-y pillow, so she, sitting on the couch in my bright yellow therapy room, might find a bit of hers, and maybe, for a moment, lay her head down.
When the exercise is over, my clients create a picture of their Eden with two stipulations: they must include their self in the picture and they must use all art mediums to put it to paper (chalk, paint, crayon, glitter glue). This is a reminder of a picture because paradise must be accessible, especially in their desperately difficult and important worlds.
Their creations are always so diverse! It brings me such joy to listen to them explain what it is they saw, but mostly, I think I’m seeing what they felt. In Eden, despite all the green, the feelings come first. The animal friends usually show up in their creations, and their depicted selves are rather creature-esque too. They portray themselves with feathers, wings, speckles…swinging from tree to tree…mermaids are probably the most common of all. Isn’t this funny? It is a little bit. But mostly, I think it’s simple and right. I think it’s right that in places of paradise we become wild and untameable. Threats, insecurities and funerals don’t stand a chance, not when the Earth is so beautiful and it has grabbed a hold of us and infinity and this moment just like so.
“I think if I were a mermaid, I would live forever.”
I do too. So we talk about this, living forever, and swimming in rivers, and sunning our fins.
And it’s good.
Painting by Lawrence Yang: “Garden” found here