Tiles and glass

‘Part of the nature of man is to recompose a unity that has been broken. In mosaic, I re-create an order out of shards.” (Marco de Luca, cited in Terry Tempest William’s book Finding Beauty in a Broken World)

‘I believe in the beauty of all things broken’ Terry Tempest Williams

War, trauma, neglect, early programming and life in general can shatter our sense of wholeness and inescapable connectedness to everything around us. Some types of adversity leave us feeling shattered whether in relation to our worldview, sense of self or relatedness.  Our sense of being the Universe is pushed aside and our sense of separateness is magnified. The experience of an expansive Self in continuity and as arising in every moment is lost and replaced by a sense of constriction, smallness and lack of flow. Some people ‘fall apart with greater ease’ when bad things happen and get the chance to come together again. Some people are more like an opaque glass ball or diamond. They keep going. They keep it together. They persevere. They hide the pain. Some kinds of trauma can leave us feeling more opaque as if we have solidified into stone or glass. Set in stone. Set in glass. Nothing comes in. Nothing goes out. And yet, as Leonard Cohen sang: ‘there is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.

On the one hand, the glass metaphor conjures images or experiences of immobility, frozenness, solidity, non communication. Decorative opaque glass spheres or frosted glass balls, sometimes with an embedded image, message or small object, come to mind. Years ago in Venice I bought a glass sphere with two little butterflies solidified in the glass. On the other hand, shattered glass has become a metaphor of the aftermath of assault and of the sense of ‘scatteredness’ and discontinuity that trauma can cause. Diaspora, a Greek word, comes to my mind now even though it is usually used for the diaspora of a people and its culture through immigration and other processes. The diaspora of our sense of self, of a life, a country, a world. Maybe it has popped up because I have recently encountered the word in Terry Tempest William’s book, Finding Beauty in a Broken World. She writes: ‘Diaspora. I think of the people who fled Rwanda before the war, during the war, and after. Diaspora. The word sounds like the definition it holds: a scattering of language, culture, or people that was formerly concentrated in one place. The African Diaspora. To disperse. To scatter like seeds. Scatterlings.’

We heal through the light that comes in through the cracks and we heal through putting the pieces back together to create something new in the place of disruption and disaster.  Like young children we assimilate and accommodate (Jean Piaget), that is we make sense of the damage and what has happened through our existing understanding of the world, and then we make new meaning of our experiences.  We welcome the cracks that allow the light to pour in and we do the labor of putting the pieces together.  Thus, the art of mosaic becomes a healing process. Terry Tempest Williams describes the process of creating a mosaic out of old tiles for a Genocide Monument in Rwanda…. ‘For hours, we work on the mosaic. Cement on trowel, pick a piece of tile, set it, smooth the surface and see that it is level.  A mosaic is like a puzzle. It engages the mind through a sequence of possibilities, trial and error. You look at the broken fragments of tile; your eye assesses the space and searches for a corresponding shape. Piece by piece, you come closer to the desired form and effect.’

Whether we are creating a tangible mosaic out of terracotta, pebbles or glass as part of a process of personal or collective healing or making sense of events through other means and modalities we cannot put things back exactly as they were, but through embracing the ‘brokenness’ and constructing something new out of the old pieces and the new ingredients that bind the pieces together we create healing and integration in our personal space and in the collective. I should perhaps mention that we all begin life as scattered pieces when we are babies. As we develop, get attached to caregivers and others, and have our needs met we integrate all our aspects of self and we gradually develop a more solid sense of who we are. Life events and temperament shape who we grow into and our sense of self, which shifts and emerges anew as we accumulate life experiences. So, we all have different aspects of self, which communicate and influence each other. Severe trauma and other learning experiences can impede communication within and lead to a more compartmentalized organization of self and memory; however, this is material for another post.  Also, it is important to remember that at some deeper level we are whole and boundless and maybe it is in that space that we catch a glimpse of what we call eternity. Finally, speaking of glass, you might like to check out Shelley James’ glass creations.

This December I decided to make my own calendars and cards using the portraits I have been painting over the last eight months or so. The whole process from mixing the paints to applying paint on the canvas to cleaning my brushes! had become a long awaiting and somewhat feared process that brought many things together and created openings. So, may each month of this New Year bring joy, health, love, peace, compassion, more conscious living, and a remembrance of what we once all knew as children:

“There is such a place as fairyland – but only children can find the way to it. And they do not know that it is fairyland until they have grown so old that they forget the way. One bitter day, when they seek it and cannot find it, they realize what they have lost; and that is the tragedy of life. On that day the gates of Eden are shut behind them and the age of gold is over. Henceforth they must dwell in the common light of common day. Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again; and blessed are they above mortals. They, and only they, can bring us tidings from that dear country where we once sojourned and from which we must evermore be exiles. The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.”  (From The Story Girl by L.M. Montgomery)

Books, winter themes and rodents

‘Fragmentation and breaking up is indeed the essence of the twentieth century’ Terry Tempest Williams

Over the month of December I have tended, especially while my son was young, to engage in reading winter and Christmas stories and creating handmade cards, wrapping paper, decorations, calendars, gifts. I also tried to integrate a flavor of this Christmassy activity in December’s lessons and school activity. In some sense the spirit of the festive season was spread out over the month and it gave all of us the opportunity to get creative, learn English carols and songs, and also, read favourite books from our shelf of Christmas and winter themes children’s books. As winter is finally setting in this year I have on some evenings found myself longing to get cozy with a children’s book and a hot beverage. So, last night I took Jill Barklem’s book: The Four Seasons of Brambley Hedge down from the shelf. In the Winter Story an Ice Hall is being constructed and a midwinter Snow Ball is being organised following the tradition of the forefathers of the field mice:

When the snows are lying deep   / When the field has gone to sleep / When the blackthorn turns to white / And frosty stars bejewel the night / When summer streams are turned to ice / A Snow Ball warms the heart of mice. Read more