The Art of Healing
After an hour of drawing and collage, this Betty emerged with a whole new outlook – really…
-Melina Gerosa Bellows
It started with a wooden mermaid at a farmers market on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. She lured me to her artist’s studio, a two-story grain bin near an old train depot. As soon as I stepped inside the shabby chic space, which was filled with folk art and scented with terpentine, I felt an exquisite longing in the pit of my stomach.
Then it happened again. A neighborhood artist transformed a trail in the woods into a pop art installation. Using found objects, he constructed a large xylophonic wind chime, strung mirror shards on fishing wire to catch the sun, and constructed whimsical rock sculptures. As I walked down the path, I felt that twinge. Like a little kid pulling on Mom’s sleeve, my creativity was begging to come out and play.
I had almost forgotten about that once-vibrant part of myself. In kindergarten I spent all of my free time making collages from construction paper. Through high school and college I took as many art classes as my schedule would allow. But then I reached a point where my talent simply didn’t match my enthusiasm, and I channeled my need for self-expression into writing.
My art muse is awakening from a two-decade-long hibernation. Like a mermaid waking from a long slumber only to realize that she has been transported into a goldfish bowl, this is a problem.
My goldfish bowl is jam-packed busy-ness. With two kids under five, a full-time job, a sideline freelance career, and a tragic, largely unrequited love affair with fiction writing, I barely have time to scrub the crayon scribbles from the living room walls – let alone pick up and head to Rhode Island School of Design. So when I hear that California’s Ojai Valley Inn and Spa offers special programs in its unique Artist’s Cottage, I’m intrigued. I decide to treat myself, and my mermaid, to a three-day, midweek art sabbatical.
I book a cheap flight from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles, and make my way to the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa, a haven for sybarites, golfers, and anyone for wants to relax looking at the mountains. For me, however, the real draw is to experience the Artist’s Cottage. Stepping inside the Spanish-style haven, I again have a visceral reaction to the space, which is all white with exposed wood beams, farm tables, and botanical renderings. I am here to let my mermaid do water ballet with Artist in Residence Renate Collins.
According to the brochure, I will draw a personal Mandala (Sanskrit for center and circle). This is billed as a creative path to self-discovery and an introspective way to look back and dream forward. Then Renate (who owned a holistic center in Millbrook, New York, which focused on healing through self-discovery and spiritual development) will decipher my creation.
Renate hands me colored paper, a compass and ruler, and all sorts of drawing implements.
“We start with a circle because to the psyche, that’s what represents your universe,” explains Renate. “The way you see your world.”
She goes on to explain how the Mandala is divided into four quadrants with a little circle in the center, which represents my spirit or essence. The top quadrant, or North, denotes my belief system (religion, poetry, parental advice); the right quadrant, or East, is the first 28 years of my life (child and young adulthood); the bottom, or South, represents the next 28 years (adulthood), and the left quadrant, or West covers from the age of 56 forward.
“Don’t worry or think about it too much,” suggests Renate, “Just see what comes to you.” She cranks the Enya, puts the Do Not Disturb on the door and leaves me to my mermaid.
God, I’ve got a headache, I think. San Francisco’s famed Mr. Mohito was a guest bartender at the hotel the previous night, just my luck. What am I going to draw, I think? How am I going to sum up the first 28 years of my life in a pie-piece-sized space? I’m frustrated and lost before I even begin.
I catch myself thinking and pick up a piece of red chalk. Before I know it, my hand starts flying. I’m in a zone, coloring away madly, while my usually critical brain goes into sleep mode. I completely lose track of time, something that rarely happens to me, because I always need to know when the current task will be completed and my next feeding will occur.
Somehow, I know when I’m finished. An hour has passed that felt like mere minutes. Renate returns to interpret my Mandala, using her varied bag of tricks, which includes Jungian psychology, teaching art, and even some woo woo training with a trans-medium who taught her the deep significance of universal symbols, colors, and numbers.
“Very interesting,” Renate says, taking my Mandala into her hands. “The blue paper color you picked denotes wisdom, insight, and understanding from a higher level.”
In the circle in the very center, I had drawn a tightly coiled blue and green snake, with long eyelashes and four tails, poking out into each quadrant.
“The center is your essence, and the snake is the symbol for wisdom,” she says. “The periwinkle blue is mingling your insight with communication. The snake is coming from the center and moving outward reaching to others. Mingling with your blue is the green spiral, which is related to your heart. This is healing. Four tails, one in each quadrant of which is grounding.”
From there we go to the top quadrant, in which I’ve drawn a purple and pink heart, with an white eye in the center. The background is black.
“Your belief system is rooted in the dark of the unconscious. The eye denotes wisdom with both colors universal consciousness and higher wisdom,she explains. Now the colors you picked for the heart, the intense pink is for compassion, the light pink is for empathy, and the purple is is universal conscious,” she says.
Yeah, yeah, I think. What am I supposed to do with that info?
“Listen to your dreams and gut reactions,” she says, as if reading my mind.
Now for the early part of life, for which I’ve drawn three red poppies on a green background. “Lighter green is the need for self-discovery through feeling, quite emotional,” says Renate. “Hmm, three flowers.”
I was thinking of my two siblings and myself growing up, although I don’t let on.
“Three is the first thing that comes out of the unison of two, like a child,” she says, as if getting my drift. Two of the flowers have five petals, one has six, which means the nest, domesticity, a need to be home.” The third flower is my younger sibling, who does, in fact, live at home with my parents.
“Now comes the puzzle,” says Renate moving on to the third quadrant, which contains my present. I drew a little sailboat (my son) and princess hat (my daughter), and wrote my name, multicolored and graffiti style, all over the background.
“Immersed in life. In the sea of Melina the two kids are floating,” Renate says. The princess hat is a triangle, which means the body, mind and spirit in perfect balance. The red on the bottom of the hat is grounding,” she says. This captures my independent, three-year-old daughter perfectly, as she does pull me out of the ether and back to earth on a daily, “I have to go potty” basis.
Now for my son. “The boat is about water, which is lots of creativity and emotion. Really big feelings. The colors you gave the boat are about expression,” she says.
This is uncanny, because my most challenging issue in life is helping my four-year-old-son not drown in the big emotions that crash around inside of him.
As for the background of multicolored Melinas, I’m in flux, all over the place. The colors I chose represent: creativity, compassion and love, expression of emotion, needing to understand who I am intellectually and emotionally, the need for wisdom as well to express it. No wonder I feel like a patchwork quilt. I am as screwed up as I feel, I think.
“You will find your balance by connecting with your higher self,” says Renate.
“How will I do that? ” I ask.
“By listening to your body and meditation,” she says.
In the final space, my future, I’ve drawn a hand .
“The hand, extended like this, expresses healing. The color of the hand is self-discovery, ” she explains. “And knowing the self does not mean crucifying yourself, it means to accept what you find without judgment,” she adds, busting me on what I already know is a bad habit.
But it’s the translation of my future’s background, that really excites me. “The orange background is creative expression and the yellow is self-knowing,” she says. “The snake that you drew in the center is the sign of a healer.”
Am I a Shaman in the making? I imagine myself dressed like Stevie Nicks, surrounded by candles and cats. I decide I look fat and weird that way.
“I don’t really see myself doing palm readings or anything like that,” I admit, tightening my Hermes belt a notch, my way of “being in touch with my body.”
Renate shakes her head no. “The healing energy you displayed are the heart and spirit. You possess the gift to heal through self-discovery and creativity,” she says. “That could be writing. Anything that is healing for you, will be spiritually uplifting for others.”
Something clicks inside. This feels right. I don’t know how exactly how this calling will manifest itself, but I feel as if I have been caught by a current and am moving in the right direction.
Renate and I hug goodbye, and both admit we feel as if we’ve know each other a lifetime. I feel as if I’ve just gone for a psychic reading, but the evidence, surfaced by my own unconscious, is right on the paper before us.
I leave the Artist Cottage, my Mandala like a nautical map in my hand, feeling buoyant, uplifted, and very, very curious as to where my mermaid will lead me next.
For more information on the Artist Cottage and The Ojai Valley Inn & Spa or reservations toll-free 888-697-8780; 905 Country Club Road, Ojai, CA 93023