Monday, September 17, 2007

The Spirit Whisperer

The Spirit Whisperer, collage by Lani
(article originally appeared in the Artella Daily Muse)

I was looking at a book the other day, Spirit Whisperers: Teachers Who Nourish A Child’s Spirit by Chick Moorman. Spirit Whisperer! Don't you just love that idea? Can you remember having a teacher like that, one that had a twinkle in the eye and that saw something in you and helped you to recognize it yourself? Thankfully, I can remember having had a few in my life. And I think it's not just teachers that can be spirit whisperers. Sometimes a grandparent, relative, or even a friend can have that twinkle in the eye, and that ability to see your strengths and to nourish them.

Positive psychologist Martin Seligman describes these strengths as "signature strengths," the character traits that humans across cultures value; like creativity, curiosity, love of learning, wisdom, courage, and 19 more; the things that your spirit whisperer would encourage. Seligman suggests that we all have a few of these 24 strengths as our very own signature strengths, and that by using and nourishing these strengths we can become resilient in the face of adversity. He tells a story of a university colleague who has a new pet, an Amazonian lizard, that he kept in a biology lab. The poor creature was wasting away, refusing to eat. Finally Seligman's friend gave the lizard a ham sandwich (which the lizard ignored) while he read the newspaper. Once he finished a section of the paper, he dropped it on the desk partly covering the ignored sandwich. Immediately the lizard became very interested. He rustled around in the paper, stalking the sandwich, shredding the paper, and finally pouncing and devouring the sandwich completely. This Amazonian lizard has his own signature strengths, which he needed to use in order to thrive; rustling, stalking, shredding, and pouncing. He was wasting away when he wasn't using his strengths, but once he could practice these strengths, he began to flourish.

What I have begun to notice, is that when we actually take the time for ourselves, to practice the things that give us delight and satisfaction, our signature strengths, we are a lot more resilient and a lot happier. We can actually thrive.

But sometimes we can get the feeling that that life seems to be moving so quickly, that we are working so hard just to stay in one place, that we hardly have any time to breathe. We long for a spirit whisperer to come along and give us a "time out" to create some art and nurture ourselves. My thinking here is that we can all be our own spirit whisperers. We can call our own "time out," step off the tread mill for 20 minutes a day (minimum daily requirement according to psycoimmunologists' research) and turn to our art journals for nourishment. For 20 minutes we can do the things that give us a deep and abiding pleasure. Laundry, dinner, the kids' homework, what ever it is, 20 minutes later doesn't make a difference. But our spirits will notice! And life tasks are easier if we are feeling more resilient, happier, and stronger. 20 minutes can make all the difference to our spirit.

We don't need to wait until the last item on our "to do" list is checked off. We can take 20 minutes for ourselves right now or at any time. We have the possibility for a virtual art room right here at our fingertips. The internet is the perfect vehicle for creating a virtual art studio filled with the inspiration of artists working happily on various projects. We can fill our virtual art room shelves with 'zines, fine art, crafts, mail art, vernacular art, collaborative art, wearable art, altered books, artists trading cards, art dolls, paper puppets and best of all an endless supply of generosity and creative ideas from the folks in this virtual art room. One of my favorite things to do here in my virtual art room is teach the "Artist's Happiness Challenge," a three month course that gives participants art challenges based on the research of positive psychologists, things to help a person become their own spirit whisperer, encouraging the possibilities for empowerment, resilience, happiness, and community building. And the challenges can be completed in 20 minutes or less.

The "Artist's Happiness Challenge" is starting this week!

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