Painting Your Soul Garden: Where Am I From?

May 4, 2023

Each of our lives is more fascinating than any novel. It may not rival grand romances or thrilling moments that catch your breath, but it’s a matter of perspective. Each connection between two people or even a group reveals the subtlety of understanding with lots of opportunities for self-growth and for seeing the world in a new way. During this month, I participated in four experiences that involve gaining new perspectives on my own biography. In this newsletter, I will share the first two biography experiences and save the last two for June. Readers may enjoy adapting these experiences to their own lives. I hope so. 

First Experience

I joined Carolyn Siegel’s invitation to join “Painting Your Soul Garden.” I’ve been a friend of Carolyn’s for a long time, and I’m always interested in what she is up to. When she wrote me that she was using these painting exercises with 12th-grade students at the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, my curiosity was peaked. So when her invitation arrived, I couldn’t turn it down. We were told to have paints or colored pencils along with other supplies and be ready to try something new.

First, we were asked four questions using aspects of plants to start our thinking.

The Four Questions

  • Roots Question– What do you already have (or what do you need more of) to feel well-nourished and strongly rooted within yourself?
  • Leaves Question– What gives and/or depletes your energy?
  • Stems Question– What do you already have (or what do you need more of) to have a sense of stability & connection in your life?
  • Flowers Question– What in your life needs to be changed, released, and/or acknowledged for you to feel how truly beautiful you are?

We were given time to paint or draw a plant as we thought about each of these questions. Then we were asked the next four questions and encouraged to write words in color on our picture.

Assessment of “Your (Newly Planted) Soul Garden”

  • RootQuestion – What is essential for you to feel like you belong to yourself and feel at home in your own skin?
  • Leaves  Question – What brings light and inspiration into your life?
  • Stems Question – What is set free when you release barriers to feeling love and being loved?
  • Flowers Question – What gifts do you bring to the world?

We had time to keep working on our picture to see what thoughts came up. Working artistically opens up new perspectives. There are no wrong or right ways to limit what we are doing. Then we were asked to do the Overall Assessment, asking ourselves the question, “As you look at the landscape of your Soul Garden, what message is revealing itself to you and/or what steps want to be taken next?”

I found this exercise very exciting because something did come up that I realized I needed to work on. Using Zoom, each person shared their picture and described what came up for them. Participants were very forthcoming and shared their realizations. The pictures were very different. Although we did not know each other, we were warmed by finding common themes although our answers were different.

My Soul Garden

Using colored pencils, I started by drawing a large plant on my paper (see image right). I wrote the words that came up for me in green and then drew over those words or phrases as I incorporated the plant into a larger picture. I realized that I was drawing a view looking at the foreground of a forest, so only a small section of the tree trunks could be seen. Soon a whole scene was appearing before me. To highlight the roots, I started using a black Sharpie pen. Butterflies appeared, and then words came. At the bottom of the picture, I wrote “Although we are different sizes, shapes, and colors, we are all connected.” I thought I was done, but then as I continued to work on the drawing, a sentence appeared that I wrote around the edges of the paper. “You may think all the busyness is important, but there is a whole other world up there that you are not aware of. Pay attention!”

Diversity In Everyday Life

A group of us living on the West Coast who do biography work meet monthly on Zoom. Each time, one of us shares an exercise that we might do with a group. This month, Karen Gierlach asked us to write a poem entitled Where I’m From? Then she shared an image from a Norman Rockwell painting, and we were asked to describe what the conversation might be between the people depicted in the image. We shared that. Then we took on a controversial topic and had a very respectful sharing of ideas. The theme of the evening was diversity. The following is my attempt at a poem.

Betty, 1950

Where I’m From

Children put on their best clothes to visit Grandma on Sunday afternoon,

Men push carts to sell hot potatoes or slices of coconut,

Children run under the showers in Crotona Park on a hot summer day,

Teenagers open the fire hydrants for sprays of cool water,

Girls wait anxiously to get their first pair of patent leather Mary Janes,

We listen to the Brooklyn Dodgers on the Philco Radio,

Our schools are like fortresses with big iron doors,

Some girls wear white frothy communion dresses and old men speak Yiddish in front of the shul,

Mothers take daughters for warm knishes at the Deli,

We hear the lions roaring from the Bronx Zoo,

We sit on the fire escape to get cool air on humid nights,

Mothers chop liver and onions in a wooden bowl,

Children in school fill Christmas stockings for soldiers in Europe,

Mothers get rations for sugar at the Empire State Building,

Teenage boys play stickball in the street,

Newsreels are shown before the movie,

You can buy a charlotte rouse with real whipped cream,

The library is a wonderland to discover books,

Doctors come to your house when you are sick,

Mothers throw a dime wrapped in a hankie from a third-floor apartment for you to buy a treat,

The Jewish grocer reaches for cans on a high shelf with a long gripping tool,

The Italian grocer on the corner sells ¼ lb. of ham for a sandwich when we have a field trip,

It is scary to walk on the street on Halloween where teenagers are throwing nylon stockings filled with powder and rocks,

Drunks stand on the street corner,

Fathers take a train to the country for a weekend with the family,

Hitler’s voice is booming on the radio and my father is cursing him in Yiddish,

Where I’m from —

I feel scared a lot,

I run up the three flights and bang on the door of our apartment, 

I know that “Teacher God” knows everything I do,

I slide down the banister till I reach the front hall,

I remember the end of WWII with block parties and dancing in the streets,

I love my teachers with all my heart,

I play jacks and stoop ball, “A my name is Anna” and Double Dutch.

I walk to Yiddish school with Joel and plan to marry him one day.

I dance the Horah in the F

Betty picking cherries, 1956

lag Day celebration at my elementary school, P.S. 57.

I kick the doctor so he won’t give me a polio shot in 1947.

I get blamed for talking too much in 6th grade when I wasn’t even in the room.

I swear I won’t go to P.S. 47 for middle school.

I was happy to leave “where I’m from” to move to Florida.

I was picked on for having a northern accent.

A classmate says “Jew girl, where are your horns?”

I returned to “where I’m from” during Junior year of high school.

I get a switchblade put to my throat on a dark night,

I pick cherries with my classmates in my History teacher’s garden,

I was picked on for having a Southern accent,

I know that “where I’m from” lives in my heart and soul.

If you had asked me to describe my childhood in New York, I would have thought carefully about what was most important, but by letting the images unroll, I can taste and smell those years as if I were back there today. The historical events shine through without my telling you what was going on and when. You might like to try this exercise.