Commonweal, June 2007, part 5

 Friday, June 19th, before breakfast  

I opted out of yoga this morning and went back to sleep. I couldn’t stand the idea of being on retreat and having to get up early every single morning.

Yesterday afternoon, after my massage, I had the opportunity to do my first sand tray. Most of the modalities here at the Cancer Help program are familiar to me. But I have never done sand tray before. From what Irene Gallwey, the sand tray facilitator, told us, this is not a standard therapeutic sand tray. I found it fascinating and was immediately drawn to this form of self-exploration and therapy.

The sand tray room at Commonweal is in the main building. It is a small room with a rectangular table in the center, filled, naturally, with sand. The tray holding the sand has a blue bottom, so you can brush the sand back to reveal it if you want “water” as part of your sandtray. A second sandtray, with wet sand is in the corner. The rest of the room, on three sides, is covered with shelves.

On the shelves are thousands of small objects—tiny plastic babies, human figures involved in all kinds of activities, hundreds of animals, demons, angels, buddhas, Christ figures, if you want it, you will find it there. There are bridges, pillars, coffins, guns, handcuffs, sculpted figures in great pain, joy and desolation, tiny typewriters, musicians, a quill in a bottle, day of the dead skeletons, fairies, unicorns, mirrors, boats, piles of shit, angels of death, skeletons, feathers, mah jong tiles, tiny computer screens that say, “You have mail,” religious symbols, bones, skulls, sculpted pieces of wood, life size hands, musical instruments, sewing machines, hearts—broken and whole, food, doll furniture, figures embracing and fighting, dozens of candles, ladders, gem stones, broken egg shells, small miniature lanterns…you get the idea…every symbol or prop that your psyche could come up with. In drawers are all kinds of ribbon and art supplies that you can make things with. On the fourth wall are ribbons, beads, and other hanging supplies. Irene adds a basket with angel cards, another with rune stones, and two decks of beautiful cards used for casting the future and understanding the present. I am sure I am only naming a small percentage of the items in the room.

Some people from our group came into the sandtray room and felt overwhelmed, even nauseous. I was thrilled and couldn’t wait for my turn. I have always loved miniature things. And as a person so adept with words, this silent room full of deep imagery drew me in immediately.

When I came in for my first sand tray session, Irene had me sit and meditate and told me to get in touch with my heart and to let that energy extend out into my hands—my “heart hands” she called them. She gave me a basket and said to walk around the room and choose items, not with my mind or my thought, not with any preconceived idea, but rather with my heart hands. She said to choose whatever items I was drawn to, whether they were scary or not, to come up with fifteen or so items and then to bring them over to either the wet tray or the dry tray and to begin to arrange them without forethought or planning.

I filled the tray twice and sat down, completely engrossed as I started to create my first scene. I completely filled the tray with my life journey, a piece I ultimately called, “Becoming.”

In the first corner I put a large broken stone heart on which I placed a wooden figure of a person bent over in complete despair. Above it were a sand timer, out of time, and on top of it a glass angel, looking out for me. The broken heart was guarded by two large towers covered with tangled black yarn. Right outside the blocked gateway were three fearsome guardians…the angel of death a thick female figure screaming at me and a blue plastic demon. A figure trying to emerge from the doorway had his mouth taped shut. A ladder leaned over the demons on to the pillars. From them, a rope dangled down to the despairing broken figure with a metal hand and a key. That was how I portrayed the beginning of my soul’s journey.

From there a pathway made of beads wound through the tray. Various depictions of me traveled on the pathway. Immediately to the left was a stark wooden structure with a skeleton dangling from it—part of me that didn’t make it.

Small figures of a menorah, a pair of skeletons getting married, a piano, a man playing the guitar, a bookcase full of books, several figures reading and other images represented my childhood. As the pathway wound around there was a meditating hermit in a cave, a Buddha figure and beautiful copper boat with a set of open glass hands praying, clay images of pregnancy and early motherhood and then a broken eggshell—perhaps my rebirth through cancer. A series of small babies emerged and began to crawl. A lantern with a candle lit the way. A huge eagle perched on the edge of the sandtray with keys around its neck. A beautiful crystal structure with a gem shoes I was on the right path. And then three purple gems led to a beautiful hand painted wooded gate with a glass unicorn perched on top as the guardian of the gate. Behind the gate was a huge blue glass lotus. Inside I placed two wooden human figures embracing in love—the end of the pathway and the ultimate prize. The card I drew at the end was about clarity and wisdom, the stone I place before the final gate was about wholeness.

It was magical and I signed up to do a second one today. When Irene asked me where I was on the tray, I said I was the little bird emerging from the eggshell on the final turns of the path, heading toward the final gate.

These are images I will live with for a long time.

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