First time around...

When my first SoulCollage® class at the UC Davis Medical Center ended, it was time for some reflection. Time to see where we'd gone as a class and where I might steer the class in the future.

It was our last meeting--a makeup class in fact. People came eager to share the vision boards that they had been working on and the cards they'd created in the intervening week.

Our class included women ranging from their late twenties to their early fifties, but despite the age differences they shared something in common.

They were peering around the corner in their lives, seeking the sense of adventure that they sensed lay hidden. Whether it was the courage to recover the brash physicality of girlhood, finding a new direction after divorce, or reconnecting to a rich cultural past, each was searching for a fresh perspective.

 We set out slowly, some of us skeptical of the power of images to guide. Over the weeks we flipped through a virtual surfeit of images, learning how to let our eyes and intuition pick out images rather than just our picky minds.

"... instead of cogitating about familiar images, scout for the unfamiliar. Your mind can't do this. Your animal/angel self can. Just page through a magazine (and walk through the world) noticing things that trigger physical reactions: a heart thump, a double take, a gasp.
The only responses involved should resemble these:

These 'thoughts' register in your stomach, your heart, your lungs—anywhere but your head. You can't produce them in response to cultural clichés or abstract ideas. Nor can you always know why your body reacts to an image." Martha Beck

The women created cards that tugged on my heart in their poignancy and beauty. Toward the end of each group we would surround the cards we'd made, studying and slowly finding our way to the heart of the meanings they contained. At first, some would profess that they had no idea what the card held and as I stared at the images, tears would come to my eyes; there was so much beauty in front of us just waiting to be seen and acknowledged.

 Since it was our last session, I asked those who had finished their vision boards to make a card that they would give to someone else. Little did I know what I had unleashed.

Yesterday, one week later, I met with the director of our Cancer Outreach and Research Program, which had sponsored the class. I'd asked Liza, the volunteer from our group to join us. A bit reticent initially,  Liza warmed up as the meeting went on. Suddenly she piped up, "Hey Hannah, Alisha said to give you a message." Alisha is Liza's good friend from childhood, an engineer who's used to depending on her logical and well organized left brain.

Alisha had spoken frequently throughout the class about her desire to go outside of the prescribed boundaries of her life. She'd also questioned the likelihood that something so seemingly simple as gluing images on a piece of matte board could hold unexpected power. Nonetheless, divers jumping off of high rocks and dancers leaping in a night sky appeared upon her SoulCollage® cards. I wondered at what point she would gather the courage to jump herself.

"So, Hannah, Alisha left this morning and she's on her way to Canada with her vision board in the back and the SoulCollage® card that Anne Marie made her in the front."

"Oh my goodness. Alisha! The one afraid to set sail. "

"And she hasn't made any plans. She's heading to Vancouver." Vancouver, the city she'd made a card for last week: a big bright nightscape of a city. "Vancouver," she told us. "Vancouver is my soul place."

It takes a lot of courage to break out and break away. People asked me afterwards if she could leave her job, "just like that." I'm betting she didn't--that she was just in need of a vacation outside of the lines. She took her SoulCollage® card back to her soul place.

We'll be starting a new class, beginning on Tuesday, September 23rd. For more information about this class, offered free of charge to cancer and cardiac patients in my area (Sacramento, CA), you can e-mail me at

Top image: 4 Fold Path, Amelia McSweeny, ©2010
Middle image: Aloha Nui Loa, Amelia McSweeny, ©2010
Bottom image: Pink Dahlia, Amelia McSweeny, ©2010