Thursday, May 14, 2009

Resolutions for Mental Health

This week, I read the following list of resolutions in a book by John Piper. They come from a lecture that one of his profs at Wheaten College, the late Clyde Kilby, gave in October of 1976.

Piper says that that night, Kilby "pled with us to stop seeking mental health in the mirror of self-analysis, but instead to drink in the remedies of God in nature." I found his list most beneficial. Here it is, a little abbreviated.

1. At least once every day I shall look steadily up at the sky and remember that I, a consciousness with a conscience, am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me.2. Instead of the accustomed idea of a mindless and endless evolutionary change to which we can neither add nor subtract, I shall suppose the universe guided by an Intelligence which, as Aristotle said of the Greek drama, requires a beginning, a middle, and an end.

3. I shall not fall into the falsehood that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding twenty-four hours, but rather a unique event, filled, if I so wish, with worthy potentialities. I shall not be fool enough to suppose that trouble and pain are wholly evil parentheses in my existence, but just as likely ladders to be climbed toward moral and spiritual manhood.

4. I shall not demean my own uniqueness by envy of others. I shall stop boring into myself to discover what psychological or social categories, I might belong to. Mostly I shall simply forget about myself and do my work.

5. I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what Lewis calls their "divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic" existence.

6. I shall sometimes look back at the freshness of vision I had in childhood and try, at least for a little while, to be, in the words of Lewis Caroll, the "child of the pure unclouded brow, and dreaming eyes of wonder."

7. I shall turn frequently to imaginative things such as good literature and good music, preferable, as C.S. Lewis suggests, and old book and timeless music.

8. I shall not allow the devilish onrush of the century to usurp all my energies but will instead, as Charles Williams suggested, "fulfill the moment as the moment." I shall try to live well just now because the only time that exists is now.
9. Even if I turn out to be wrong, I shall bet my life on the assumption that this world is not idiotic, neither run by an absentee landlord, but that today, this very day, some stroke is being added to the cosmic canvas that in due course I shall understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who calls himself Alpha and Omega.


The following is a common scenario at our house. One boy decides he's going to draw. He gets out a piece of paper, a pencil, and something to inspire him (like a picture of his favorite hockey player). He draws for about 5 minutes, mumbles and grumbles that it doesn't look right, maybe erases a few lines, mutters some more, and then decides that it was a bad idea to draw and (if I'm lucky) puts everything away and goes on to a different activity (most likely either mini-hockey or soccer in the backyard).

I've been sad about this for quite some time and wondered if there was something I could do about it. How could I encourage them to keep trying, to not be so critical, to just enjoy themselves?

And then one day, I asked my friend, Lori, from Camp Creek Blog for help. She told me that when her boys were littler, they spent 15 minutes together before their nighttime reading just sketching together. I thought that sounded like a good way to start. (Lori has SO many great things to learn and think about over there on her blog. Go check it out. I'm amazed by this lady's intelligence and creativity. And she's just plain kind!)

I bought each of us a 50-page sketchbook, 2 very nice erasers, and a basket to store it all in. As I thought about this idea, I decided that for us, there would need to be some rules and some incentives for following the rules.

Here they are:
*The books would only be used during our special drawing times together.
*We would use one page per drawing session.
*No criticism either of your own drawing or of anyone else's.
*Each person earns a sticker at the end of the session if no negative comments have been made about his sketch.
*15 stickers=a trip to the art store to pick out a new art supply (cost of which will be regulated by Mom.)

I gave the boys their sketchpads at Easter, and they couldn't have been more pleased. Because we only use them together and at night before bedtime, they are VERY special!! And the time we spend sprawled on the living room floor, around the table, or on our bed is also very special. They are all doing such a good job of not "tearing" apart their own work, of encouraging the others, and of completing a drawing! It's been very good for me too, as I'm probably the worst at self-criticism and of giving up too easily (I lost my sticker last night when I tried to draw Joel's trike and labeled it "Big Wheel Accident". The consensus was that I was making fun of my artwork).
(click to enlarge)

And since starting this exercise, I found this on NPR's All Things Considered. Artist, Mo Willems, talks about why adults don't draw. He says, "...people stop when they decide they're not good at it. Nobody stops playing basketball when they realize they're not going to become a professional. The same thing should apply to cartooning." He says that it's important for kids to see their parents drawing. It's a very interesting 5 min. interview. If you are a parent, I encourage you to take the time to listen to it.

I'm happy to report that since starting this over a month ago, there have been sightings of little boys drawing on their own. And we each have a collection of a variety of dated pencil drawings. I'm excited about the things we will learn and how we will progress!