CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Ina Armstrong helps people discover insights about themselves through stacks of magazines.
She's a facilitator for SoulCollage, a program in which people create 5-by 8-inch collages from images they randomly select. Their choices reveal aspects of their lives.
Armstrong begins the workshops she leads with a meditation geared toward helping people clear their minds. Then, she lets the participants loose with a stack of magazine pages.
"I tell them to go rapidly and not to think. They pick pages that grab their attention or connect with them," she said.
The purpose is to set aside the rational, logical part of the brain and activate more intuitive thinking. The process unleashes a creative impulse in people who might not have much artistic ability.
Armstrong discovered SoulCollage several years ago while she was researching collages for her support staff position in the Christian Education department at First Presbyterian Church.
The words soul and collage together intrigued her. Although the program is not faith-based, Armstrong personally finds it to be a good way to connect with God. SoulCollage calls that a connection to a "source," which means different things to different people.
"The concept is that there's something greater than ourselves. We all share that connection," she said. "I'm not sure this would work for an absolute atheist."
Armstrong guides people to take the images they selected or cut out and place them on a card, sometimes in surprising ways. The concept is that the images come straight from the soul, bypassing the mind.
Some therapists and counselors also use the process with clients as a form of art therapy.
"I was attracted to SoulCollage in part because I always enjoyed collages. I like the immediacy of it. I'm better at cutting, tearing and pasting than drawing," she said. "I like the speed and ease of collage."
After finishing a card, the creator should search it to find an answer to the phrase, "I am a person who ..." One participant whose card held images of a bald eagle, a mountain scene and a peacock, completed the phrase with the words "loves to be involved with nature."
The same woman also pasted a woman in a bright green dress, a Turkish Rug, a snow scene and a cat whose face is partially covered by the mountain scene. The cat seemed watchful. She couldn't immediately see a message in the diverse images she selected, but thought the variety represented her wide-ranging interests.
Founder Seena Frost developed SoulCollage as a way for people to make cards that represent parts of themselves and create a deck that represents the whole of themselves.
As people make more cards, they should find that they fall into suits, eventually forming a deck. The suits together represent the "source," which is different for everyone. It could be considered a divine or mysterious presence. The four suits are:
Committee -- personality traits, ego, character.
Community -- those who love and inspire, such as teachers, family, friends and pets.
Companions -- physical energy, often represented through animals.
Council -- universal principles that guide and challenge.
Participants "read" the cards to find answers to questions in their lives, Armstrong said. They ask a general question, and then randomly select a card from their deck.
"You might ask, 'to what direction do I turn today'," Armstrong said. "You allow the images on the card to provide an answer. It's not an actual answer, but a connection between the image and self."
Many people find it helpful to read a card daily, although Armstrong said she saves them for special times when she's looking for balance in her energy and emotions. She uses the introspective time to read cards, or sometimes to create a new one.
Participants in her workshops tell her they find the process to be helpful and healing. "They say it is eye-opening and ask when we can do it again," she said. "They always say it was fun. It's a way to give yourself time for you."
Armstrong will lead a six-week SoulCollage series Friday mornings during Lent at First Presbyterian Church from 9 a.m. to noon. Dates are Feb. 15, 22, March 1, 8, 15 and 22. There is no cost for the workshops, but registration is recommended. Email ...@firstpresby.com or call 304-343-8961 to register.
For more information on SoulCollage, visit www.soulcollage.com.
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.