Open Heart – Learning Self Love through Art

In February, I participated a workshop called Open heART.

I had very little idea of what to expect but as the name suggested, I was willing to keep an open heart and give it a try.

It was very interesting and beyond what I could have ever imagined. Basically, instead of doing meditation or journaling by yourself at home, you experience the self-discovery journey with a group of strangers with the help of the facilitator and through the format of art. You do a few different exercises in two hours and each one of them takes you deeper and deeper into your sub-consciousness.

As you can imagine, it takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable and share your deepest self with total strangers. In the end, I was completely blown away by what I found in others and in myself.

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One exercise, in the end, was about using all sorts of crafts to create a piece of art and you got to decide to work on whatever resonates with you. Every step of the way, I was feeling excited but also confused. I had no idea what I wanted to create or what I was doing even after I started. I just started with a cardboard paper, then a stone, then a button, and then some flowers… One thing led to another, I had a beautiful garden in front of me, with a sun shining over all creatures in the garden.

After the silent creation period came the moment of sharing. We each got to talk about what we did and why we did what we did. I went last because I was very curious to know what others created but more importantly I did not know how to describe mine yet.

Everybody’s work was so unique and full of meaning. Someone made a tent-looking structure to represent the ladders that she had to climb in her life.

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A girl created a double-sided timeline of life. One side is just a straight line that represents what people tell her how life should be like birth, either highs or lows at any given point and then death. The other side is a few messy lines going parallel and intertwined. It represents what she herself found out about what life really is: her different personalities growing at the same, ups and downs happening together, and complicated emotions and experiences going on at all times. The cute part is that she even put a wind-up music box on one side of the timeline and she was winding it and playing the music while explaining her artwork to us.

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Someone created something that hangs up from the ceiling and flows down all the way to the ground. He even wrote a poem to express his work. Although I did not quite understand, all that matters to me is that it just felt very powerful.

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I introduced my work towards the end. I was very impressed by everybody’s work. But after hearing them all, I somehow felt so pressured. Not because I did not want to share mine, but because I was so convinced that my work would be a disappointment, compared with all those unbelievably creative work. After all, I did not create a multi-dimensional structure, I did not add any other sense such as music to it, nor did I think about utilizing the space we had to hang my work anywhere. I could feel all kinds of thoughts rushing through my head and my voice shaking but I went ahead anyhow. I gave that garden a name “The Garden of Giving”. The beautiful sun is selflessly sharing its gift with the world, giving away light, warmth, beauty, and hope. Everything was being nurtured under the sun, thriving harmoniously with one another.

It turned out that my work was not as boring as I thought and people liked it. When I shared my initial concerns, I got the most unexpected responses. The girl who made the timeline started first. She told me that we all tend to be overly judgmental of ourselves. She thought her work was too expected because from previous exercises she had already expressed her thoughts around her understanding of life, and thus no more surprise was left for this artwork. And the guy who made the flowing string attached to the ceiling and wrote the poem added his comments and expressed similar sentiments. He said he was worried that he would come across too pretentious.

I learned a few very important things that night:

Don’t judge and be present. Without me noticing it, I am always judging myself and deeming that I’m not good enough, creative enough, or brave enough. Turns out they are just unnecessary self-doubts. The fact that I am not the only one who does that just suddenly makes me realize that it is time to wake up, shake off those negative self-talk and excessive worries, and truly enjoy the present moment.

Life is a process. I was feeling very confused at the beginning because I did not know what I wanted to create. Somehow I still completed an interesting work by adding one piece at a time. This is exactly like my life. I did not know what I wanted to do with my life. I was very confused and sometimes frustrated. But I kept on trying and experimenting. I gradually gained one experience at a time and eventually figured out what my passion and dreams are. And it is the diverse experiences along the way that make my life as colorful as it is now.

“Happiness is only real when shared.” This is a quote from one of my favorite movies Into The Wild. The lead character was tired of his life and the so-called civilized society and wanted to live in the wild by himself. He wrote this sentence in his diary right before he died. It is a tragedy that he had to go through life to finally realize in the end that we are social creatures and we are wired for connections. This art workshop taught me how to keep an open heart. I have a natural tendency to trust people so I sometimes take it for granted the courage to open up. That’s why it was so inspiring to some participants who were very skeptical and even a bit cynical at the beginning slowly started lowering their guard, opening up, and turned completely the opposite in the end, sharing their vulnerability and gratitude. It reminded me of how much beauty there is in each one of us and how empowering it can be to trust each other and open ourselves up to the unknown.

Special thanks to the host and social artist Melanie Schambach. Thank you for inviting me and leading all of us through such a unique journey! I hope more people will have the opportunities to share your gift 🙂

 

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