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Contemplative Handwork™

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Creative Handwork is the act of creating something with our hands. Contemplative Handwork™ takes it to the next level,

opening our eyes, ears and hearts while contemplating our creation. It then leads us gently into a life we craft for ourselves, a life we love to live. Creative Expression  is any activity involving a creative process in which you use your  hands.   Any My Life's Gone Up in Smoke-closeup-SMB-007 creative media can be used: traditional “artistic” media such as paint, pencils, clay, music,  movement,    fabric,  yarn, and wood, metal, ceramic or glass can be used.  So can anything else: sticks,  rocks, grass, leaves,  trash; if it  exists, you can use it in your creative expression. . Making music, whether  writing it or  playing/singing it can also  be a form of creative expression. One of Creative Handwork’s function is self-expression: We create things in order to demonstrate or illustrate an inner state we are experiencing or have experienced, to memorialize an event, loss, or tragedy. For some, it can be used as a creative spiritual practice, or even as a form of prayer. Creative Handwork may utilize repetitive movements with the hands that induce or promote a meditative,relaxed state of mind such as alpha brain waves. Some call this flow; others have different names to describe the same phenomenon. It can also be induced or experienced during mundane household tasks such as sweeping, mopping, raking, ironing, and also during creative pursuits such as whittling, sanding, sewing, knitting, crocheting, writing, painting, drawing, sawing, you name it.Physical exercise involving repetitive motion such as walking, running, cycling, rowing or hiking can induce a similar mental state, but doesn’t have the benefit of producing a tangible object that can be used in contemplation. Albert-EinsteinCreative Handwork is creative expression taken to the next level: It involves approaching any creative activity with a meditative, reflective state of mind; listening with the inner ear and the heart while 1)doing the activity, and 2) observing it afterwards. It involves three steps: 1. Create; II. Contemplate; III Crystallize and is akin to Jung’s Active Imagination, Einstein’s Combinatory Play & Allen’s Art as a Way of Knowing[i] and Art as a Spiritual Path. With Creative  and Contemplative Handwork™, your goal is to make something OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthat shows and demonstrates the experiences in your life and emotions you are feeling, not to make something that is technically ‘correct,’ aesthetically pleasing or artistic.  This is personal art, not necessarily fine art or even folk art. Sometimes the two merge, but here the primary purpose is self-expression, and the thought of what it might look like to others needs to be banished, so you can be free to reach deep within and bring out what is aching to be expressed but has no words, only images. Research by Dr. Jacques Hadamard[ii] found that the working methods of many great scientists involved visual images, not language or mathematical symbols. Albert Einstein called the process of working/playing with visual images first, and later translating them into words “combinatory play” and used it to develop all of his breakthrough ideas.  Edison went fishing when he was fishing for great ideas.  This same process is equally powerful when applied to  personal growth and healing. happy-woman-looking-up When you allow the playful, rhythmic motions of your hands to produce a meditative state  within, your Creative Handwork™ can become Contemplative Handwork™. The craft or art speaks its deep  wisdom back to you.  When you contemplate, you see everything there is to see. You see the colors, shapes,  textures, hues, color values. You notice what happens internally as you look. You pay attention to where your  mind wanders, to your body sensations, anything that happens internally.  You look through what you have  made, into the spaces ‘between’. As you do, you allow similarities, connections and patterns to emerge into your awareness. You look with the third eye and listen with the inner ear. What do you hear? Sounds? Words? Music? Silence? Record what you see and hear. Translate what you perceive into images, words, music or whatever is needed. Making things with one’s hands which are symbolically related to the inner work being done engages several parts of the brain at once.  Metaphors engage both the left and right brains; the parts which process both the visual and the auditory/language information.  Working with the hands engages the part of the brain which processes kinesthetic messages.  Making objects which brings one’s inner experience and emotion into concrete and three dimensional forms activates the limbic system, the emotional and meaning center of the brain. This increases the potency of the work and makes its impact more real. These techniques activate the imagination.  This helps people ‘think outside the box,’ so to speak.  It also aidsSoulburst SoulShirt in discovering and/or recovering creativity.  It is empowering, and helps people to tune into their intuition. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD describes it this way:  “Experiential and artful play . .. assist[s] to soften old scar tissue, balm old wounds, and restore old skills in a down-to-earth manner.[iii]”  Bringing out your deep experience and emotion and their associated images builds a bridge to your Unconscious, home of your Still, Small Voice. When you see with the Third eye and listen with the Inner Ear, deep inner wisdom comes back to you over that bridge that you have built. In addition, as you work with these images, the images transform, move and shift. This then transforms your energy, which in turn moves and shifts your ideas and your imagination about your life situation and even transforms your image of who you are. Here’s Some Other Benefits of Creative and Contemplative Handwork:™ happy-family
  •       Induces alpha brain waves, an inner state of Creative Flow
  •       Increases creativity
  •       Promotes healing of mind, body, soul and spirit
  •       Increases endorphins, decreasing physical & emotional pain
  •       Increases self-awareness and self-development
  •       Promotes soulfulness and spirituality
  •       Increases life balance
  •       Bridges right and left brains
  •       Bridges mind and body
  •       Bridges conscious and non-conscious minds
  •       Increases fun, joyfulness
  •       Improves creative problem solving skills
  •       Promotes a positive sense of humor
  •       Increases perspective and resilience
  •       It’s good practice taking risks in a low-risk activity
  •       Increases passion and desire
  •       Decreases blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate
  •       Creates a container into which we can release our experience
  •       Frees the body from being the sole vessel for our emotion
  •       Increases and releases energy
  •       Invites positive synchronicity into your life
Sometimes it is possible to do Creative and Contemplative Handwork™ in your own independent process, and for some, can become a daily personal spiritual, creative practice. At other times, Creative and Contemplative Handwork™ may be more effective when done in the context of a therapeutic relationship and process or in a small group setting. For example, you may wish to seek out a therapist to accompany you on your inner pilgrimage when you are seeking healing from deep life wounds, making significant transitions in your life, or seeking to be set free from being ‘stuck’ and unable to reach your goals. You will likely know deep within you which approach is right for you simply by which one of these appeals to you the most right now. creative fire Through Creative Handwork and Contemplative Handwork™, you may experience and  also  facilitate movement through the process of Positive Disintegration, as described by Dabrowski[iv]. For example, do you have chaos in your life? You may see chaos show up in an image you  make and then transform into order as you work with it. You may see or feel your inner self shift, grow or  transform along with the image.  By making things with your hand that represent your inner process, you  participate in creation.  In this way, you also may experience on a deep visceral level the energy  concealed  in  matter, and grasp what it is to harvest the seed of benefit hidden deep within adversity. Using Creative Handwork and Contemplative Handwork™ can be a deeply nourishing, fun, gentle way of facilitating your own healing, growth and transformation.  To see examples, click here to check out my Contemplative Handwork™ pins on Pinterest. Ready to experience Contemplative Handwork™? Register for our upcoming half-day Playshops in Littleton, Colorado here. ©2012 Sharon M. Barnes, MSSW, LCSW All Rights Reserved


[i] Allen, Pat: “Art is a Way of Knowing”


[ii] Hadamard, Jacques: “The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field: How Creativity is Tapped in Science”


[iii] Estes, Clarissa Pinkola: “Women Who Run With the Wolves”


[iv] Mendaglio, Sal: “Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration”
Featured Quote

Scholarliness alone is not enough. There is a knowledge of the heart that gives deeper insight. The knowledge of the heart is in no book and is not to be found in the mouth of any teacher, but grows out of you like the green seed from the darkness.

— Carl Jung, The Red Book, Reader’s Edition