Monday, November 28, 2011

Art Journaling: Attitude of Gratitude Workshop Session1 Remember to Breathe!

Original drawing by M. Estes Zywar
A yoga teacher once told me, “If you change the way you breathe you will change the way you feel.”  It is so true.  When I’m stressed I don’t even notice that I’m taking shallow breaths or holding my breath altogether.  But when I am conscience of breathing in a relaxed, even manner it changes how my body holds tension.  I become conscience of my breathing and notice my muscles in my shoulders are tight and I can work on relaxing them.  I breathe and notice my stomach is tied up in a knot and I can release the tension.  Stress has such a physiological effect on our bodies and breathing is a great way to start paying attention. 
For the first part of my four week Attitude of Gratitude Workshop leading up to Christmas I want to start with being mindful of how we breathe.  I started by looking up breathe in the Bible starting with Genesis 2:7 –
Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. 
Breath is found in Psalm 150:6 –
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.  Praise the LORD. 
 And again in John 20:21-22 - 
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you!  As the Father sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” 
I pasted these verses in my Gratitude Journal. 
I wrote “Breathe” in my journal and doodled around the word while thinking about how I was breathing and working on releasing tension I was holding onto.  There is actually a process for meditative doodling that is called zendoodling or zentangle.  It can be used as a tool for finding a calm state where your mind can be released from stresses and worries and you just focus on the repetitive pen strokes.  My  mother told me about this tool for meditation which she used during her long wait at the airport when traveling to see her father after he had suffered a stroke.  My mother and I also made up some coloring pages for my workshop that people could paste into their journals and color with crayons.  Remember coloring with crayons when you were a kid?  Have you tried it lately?  It can be very relaxing too!
After spending some time in our journals I introduced my group to the idea of a breathe prayer.  It is a concept that has been around for a long time and my husband uses it as a tool for meditation and prayer with parishioners who go on weekly prayer walks in our community.  You take a phrase and repeat it quietly to yourself as you breathe in and breathe out.  For example the most ancient is “Lord Christ Jesus” on the inhale and “Have Mercy on Me” on the exhale.   One that I liked this week was “Be Still” on the inhale and “know that I am God” on the exhale.   Our group warmed up by walking and practicing these breathe prayers before doing a series of stretches led by a professional  dance instructor who is a member of our congregation.

In closing we said the following prayer together.  I hope that everyone participating in our workshop will open their Gratitude Journal this week and be reminded to breathe this holiday season!

Lord, you breathed life into each and every one of us.  Help us not to take it for granted, but rejoice in it; for each breath is a gift. 
Help us to continue to breathe during this season
as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ. 
May we breathe in the sweetness of the Holy Spirit
and exhale tension and stress
Teach us to breathe in the Holy Spirit that we might praise you with each breath. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Art Journaling: Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude this Holiday Season

I’ve noticed during yoga classes that my teacher often directs the students in clearing their minds and focusing on gratitude.  It intrigued me, but I didn’t feel like I really understood why.  I just tucked it in the back of my mind.  Then early this fall I went on a retreat where I attended a workshop.  The person leading the group did an exercise in meditation that focused on the heart rather than on clearing the mind of distraction.  She had us focus on feelings of gratitude to push feelings of anxiety out of the body.  She created a relaxed atmosphere, and then had us imagine that feeling of gratitude being pumped throughout the body and into each cell of our being.  It was incredible how harnessing that feeling of gratitude, even gratitude for something very small, could impact how we felt both physically and emotionally.  Early in November I had an opportunity to make an art journal and do some meditation exercises using visual artmaking.  After these experiences it seemed like everywhere I looked I saw references to the physical effects of cultivating feelings of gratitude.  I kept stumbling on magazine articles that encouraged listing things you are grateful for as you fall asleep at night, writing notes of gratitude, and the simple act of verbally saying “thank you”.  I found research on positive psychology interesting, but also thought that if there are this many articles written about the “pursuit of happiness” clearly it is something that our society is craving. 
Our frantic pace and overwhelming list of obligations are magnified during the holidays.  I love Christmas but find that the joy can quickly be blotted out by the endless pressures of fulfilling the material expectations of the season.  I knew that a friend at my church, who is a dance professor, was interested in teaching a class on stretching and decided to invite her to combine our talents and offer a class to our congregation during Advent.  So we came up with, “The Attitude of Gratitude Workshop: gentle spiritual and physical activities to refresh your weary soul this Advent season.”  I plan to write a blog entry each Sunday night with some of the journaling activities, prayers and ideas to meditate on.  Our hope is that it will give people tools for maintaining a calm, joyful mindset so that the most wonderful time of the year won’t leave us physically worn out and our souls weary.

Directions for making a gratitude journal

  • 10 sheets of card stock
  • scrap of fabric approximately 9”x14”
  • ruler
  • pencil
  • 4 clothes pins
  • an awl
  • rubber mallet
  • magazine or scrap wood
  • heavy thread or crochet thread
  • large embroidery needle
  • 1 large button

1.       Fold 10 sheets of card stock in half and stack inside one another to create a book.
2.       Measure one inch from the top, one inch from the bottom and the center of the fold.  Marking with a pencil.
3.       Line up the fabric cover so it matches up with the edge of the left side of the cardstock (when the cardstock is unfolded and there is an extra couple inches of fabric along the right hand edge.)
4.       Hold the papers and cover together by securing with the clothes pins.
5.       Using the awl poke three holes along the spine of the book where you measured. (if you have a rubber mallet or hammer you can use it to pound the awl through the layers of cardstock and fabric.  Use the scrap wood or thick magazine to protect your work surface.
6.       Cut 2 ½ - 3 feet of thread.
7.       Sew the spine of the book by starting from the outside of the fabric cover through the center hole back out the top hole, in the bottom hole and then back through the center hole from the inside of the book to the outside.  Leave a tail long enough to stretch across the width of the cover and extending a couple of inches. 
8.       Sew the button to the flap extending from the back cover so that you can close the journal securely by wrapping the tail of the thread around the button.