SoulCollage®: exploring the self through creative expression

SoulCollage® invites us to address the eternal question: “Who am I?”  Then it leads us into the creative process of crafting a deck of collaged cards, each representing one facet of our being. This deck is then consulted to access intuitive wisdom through one’s own symbolic images.

SoulCollage®’s roots are found in theology, spirituality, and psychology. The author, Seena Frost, MFT, M. Div., combined her love of images with her studies and created a process appreciated both by mental health professionals and lay persons. Assembling the unique images that constitute the SoulCollage® cards is an intimate and introspective process, yet often these collages clamor to be shared with friends and family, revealing SoulCollage®’s lively potential for fostering community. This aspect is experienced also when working in a group, as waves of whispering alternate with concentrated silence and spikes of laughter, while participants leaf through magazines in search of images, then cut, and paste to create their cards.

SoulCollage® is a very flexible tool, with great potential for enjoyment and for depth. Individual expression and originality are always welcomed and never pathologized: SoulCollage®’s inner logic and satisfying comprehensiveness are not coupled with orthodoxy.  There are no rules, just invitations, and everyone is free, while honoring the internal physiognomy of the system, to adapt, export, add and even take away as needed.

Author Seena Frost developed the theoretical foundation of SoulCollage® by fashioning four main suits to represent the four basic aspects of the human experience: the Companions, the Committee, the Council, and the Community.

The Companions link us to the energy fields in our physical body, as described by the Yogic tradition of the Chakras, the wheels of spinning energy. The Companions are usually represented in SoulCollage® as animals, as such they remind us of our need to stay connected with the primordial aspects of our nature. Animals carry instinctual wisdom that translates into powerful symbolic meanings. These Companions are revealed during a guided visualization that often brings unexpected encounters. Even if we come upon an animal that doesn’t please us or with whom we feel little connection, SoulCollage® invites us to trust our inner wisdom, to be patient and allow, through reflection and dialog, for its relevance to be revealed.

The Committee reflects the psychological dimension of being, the choir of “sub-personalities”. Here we get in touch with the manifold faces of our personality traits; with our emotional reactions to the challenges and the gifts of living, and with the various roles we play. How many, how detailed, how candid these cards will be is left to each participant’s preference and courage! This suit gives ‘a face’ and ‘a voice’ to the inner parts of the self, rendering their unique function more accessible to the consciousness. This increased intimacy with one’s own self often results in greater inner harmony, increased self-acceptance, and easier access to personal resources. This is why the Committee is particularly suited for therapeutic work, as many psychologists and counselors trained in SoulCollage® have discovered. Furthermore, the shadow side of our personality has the opportunity to surface in a symbolic way, becoming a friendlier and more manageable presence. SoulCollage® reminds us that, with few exceptions, the images of light always hold their potential shadow and the parts of ourselves that appear the darkest reveal at closer scrutiny their hidden light. In the Committee we might depict parts of ourselves we do not particularly like, for example the Procrastinator, or the Inner Critic, but these will have by their side the stimulating presence of the Curious Child or the joy of living of the Lover. We may also take the opportunity to recognize the part our profession plays in our lives with a card for the Teacher or the Nurse, as well as to assert some of our neutral skills in cards like the Organizer, or the One who arrives on time.

The social dimension of being is represented in SoulCollage® by the Community suit. Here we explore our interconnectedness with other sentient beings; honor mentors and teachers personally known or not; and celebrate our friendships, including, if we wish, our pets, as well as sacred objects and poignant locations. We do this by creating a card for each one. The only suggested restraint in this suit is the exclusion of individuals that are perceived as ‘toxic’. In fact, unlike with the idiosyncrasies of our personality about which we have little or no choice, here we have the freedom and the power to welcome only the non-harmful presences. This does not mean that we have to include only those we ‘like’, because interesting and useful lessons may come from people we admire only for certain traits, but not necessarily like as a whole.

In the Council, like in a vast and mysterious stage, is represented the play of the Archetypes, our ties to the world of mythological characters, Gods and Goddesses. This is the dimension of the invisible, the world of the spirit.  Carl Jung described the Archetypes as invisible yet powerful energies that seize our imagination, nurture our passions, inform our calls and direct our choices. The Archetypes exist beyond time, history and culture.  Knowing them is an intuitive and instinctual process, and there is no mistaking which ones are ‘working’ us at any given time as we are seduced or guided by a positive or by a negative aspect of an Archetype. We may try to resist their pull, but we are seldom successful. Examples of archetypes are The Great Mother, The Creator, Compassion, The Divine Child, The Wounded Healer and many more. 

The cards that have no shadow

 I am One, but how Many am I? Within the intrinsic duality of the human existence we perceive the “I” as one, but are simultaneously aware of the undeniable multiplicity of impulses, thoughts, desires, emotions and expressions of this very same “I”. This multiplicity is well represented in the four SoulCollage® suits described above. But how can we acknowledge the spiritual aim to be one with the divinity, the psychological ambition to move beyond fragmentation, the intuitive certainty that there is a unifying force shared by the whole of creation? Even the recent discoveries of quantum physics point towards shared principles hidden at the heart of matter, and describe every particle of the universe as part of an all-encompassing One. This striving for Oneness is probably quite familiar to many even if they are not part of a spiritual or religious tradition. SoulCollage® has chosen to symbolize the unnamable Oneness of the Universe with a card called The Source. This card, in its transpersonal quality, has no shadow. The Source is usually represented by images of light emerging from darkness, or by the heart of a flower, or by photographs of galaxies; it is not consulted, but rather positioned in a place of honor whenever SoulCollage® activities take place.

There are two more silent Transpersonal cards: The Witness, and The SoulEssence. Similarly to the Source, these cards cannot be used for readings. The Witness points to the ineffable experience of sensing a watchful presence within, a conscious presence filled with wisdom, compassion and equanimity. The SoulEssence, the core component of the Self, shares with the Source its timeless and unspeakable qualities.

Conclusion

One of the most endearing aspects of SoulCollage® is its flexibility: no special skills are needed to play with it, only a willingness to let the images ‘grab’ us and an openness to explore their unique meaning. As long as we respect one of SoulCollage®’s few tenets: that of representing on each card a single energy so that every one may speak from its own voice, this system is adaptable to one’s belief system, spiritual or religious affiliation, set of values and personal style. No deck is like another: there is total freedom to emphasize one suit more than another and to create as many cards as desired in each suit. Because each aspect of the self plays a fundamental role in our human experience, all deserve exploration.  SoulCollage® is one creative avenue to do so. I blindly draw a card every day and take a few minutes to write freely from it (rather than about it), and find this a very inspiring way to start my day.

SoulCollage® is now used in schools, universities, Hospice groups, prisons, Christian seminaries, Buddhist congregations, as an aid in homeopathic or acupuncture consultations, in support groups for eating disorders, and with at-risk adolescents. It is used by artists to stimulate the creative flow and by therapists in their private practices. I have also introduced it to groups in conjunction with movement and with writing. I expect that those who become involved in SoulCollage® will continue to explore new territories and enrich with their creativity the applications already in use.

I hope you curiosity is stirred, and I look forward to seeing at a workshop! Mariabruna 

Selected Bibliography

Bolen, J.S. (1985.) Goddesses in Every Woman. Gods in Every Man. New York, Harper and Row.

Campbell, J. (1970.) The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Cleveland: World Publishing.

Ford, D.  (1999.) The Dark Side of the Light Chasers. Riverhead Books.

Frost, S. B. (2011) SoulCollage® Evolving. Hanford Mead Publishers, Inc.

Gallegos, E. S. (1990.) The Personal Totem Pole. Moon Bear.

Grof, S. (1985.) Beyond the Brain. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Hillman, James. (1997.) Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling. Warner Books.

Houston, J. (1992.) The Hero and the Goddess. New York: Ballentine Books.

Judith, A.  Wheels of Life. Llewellyn Publications

Progoff, I. (1992.)  At a Journal Workshop. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher.

The Herder Symbol Dictionary: Symbols from Art, Archaeology, Mythology, Literature, and Religion. (1986.) Translated by Boris Matthews. Chiron Publications.

www.soulcollage.com