Let the arm of the chair
dig into my skull.

Let the adults
dance around doctrine
and who said what to whom.

Let my mother frown while she smiles
making eyes
about my knickers showing.

Let my sisters glower across the rug
demanding
their fair share.

Let my father scowl while he nods
promising:
just you wait until we get home. 

Every lash wil be worth this.

I’ve skulked like a cat to my grandma’s side.
I’ve ducked my scalp into her palm.
I tilt my ear to her fingertips and they whirl
faster and faster as she speaks. Oh, don’t stop
ever
twirling this strand of hair around my lobe.

– Naomi Byrnes

Visual meditation & memoirs

This piece was inspired by the visual meditation on “An Old Woman with Cat” by Max Lieberman. Artwork courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum Los Angeles.

I see the poem I wrote in response as an example of the endless ways that a visual meditation can be used as a creative prompt.

For instance, if you’re writing a memoir, looking at a seemingly unrelated artwork can spark a physical response in your body. Being alive to sensation makes it easier to receive memories that are likely to be more vivid and interesting for your reader.

You might find visual meditation is a relaxing warm up activity for your writing, art or private journalling.

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Visual meditation to connect with compassion

If you’re familiar with nonviolent communication, you might like to try visual meditation as a relaxed self-connection activity. When a memory arises in response to art, I like to connect with needs alive in this present moment. For example, some of the needs I became aware of after writing this poem are:

  • Being heard and understood. (By me! I love the power of being reminded that my childhood pain was real and also that as an adult, I am now so safe to always be present to my feelings and needs. I can know the truth of my own history without needing anyone else to validate that for me).
  • Having compassion for the experience of children whose behaviour is can be so easily misinterpretted by adults … with painful consequences. (I remember how I was often told I was “selfish” – like I’m sure many of us have. I love to identify the beautiful human needs I was seeking to meet, even if others have named it something ugly.  I mourn that I wasn’t guided in being able to willing share with my sisters that comfort and pleasure of having my grandma play with my hair with my sisters. It reminds me to be aware that I might believe comfort and joy are scarce – because it was as a child, however I want to live now in the possibility that there is plenty to go around if I can be more open with myself and others about what I’d really like!).
  • Having understanding for my own parents. (I’m appreciating the tension they could well have felt, and I’m guessing at how much they wanted the approval and respect of my grandparents. This understanding give me a sense of peace).
  • Having understanding for others when their temporary pleasure or “lashing out” seems to come at such a high price for themselves or another person. (I remember the little girl who knew she was going to suffer soon anyway, so gorged on pleasure when it was there!)

I find it very peaceful and empowering to receive these needs, without demanding that anyone “meets” them. As an adult, I want to savour the freedom of no longer being at the mercy of others for the essentials of life. And the skill of being as aware that even though some of my needs aren’t meet most of the time, I can respect them as well as appreciate the many needs that are being met in any given moment.

I know some people say there’s no point remembering childhood pain, and to “get over it” because it’s all in the past and no parents are perfect. However, I find that when I acknowledge the child who’s reminding me of what we experienced to get to this point in life, she settles so quietly within me. I guess she knows that she can be heard and seen (by me) whenever she needs it.

I also find that having compassion for the despair and fear that my body remembers from childhood helps me to have a deeper calm and connection with my kids in this present moment. WIth compassion for my own childhood, I seem to have more access to being able to empathise with them as well as stay respectful towards myself when we’re trying to work things out.

Does this experience of honouring your memories make sense some to you too?