Each semester, one student from each HECUA program takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Savannah Spirov will be HECUA’s student blogger for the Art for Social Change program this spring semester. Savannah is a junior at Hamline University, majoring in Communications and minoring in Social Justice.
Most Tuesdays, our classes meet at Clouds in the Water Zen Meditation Center in St Paul. We gather in their meditation space and use cushions in replacement as chairs. We sit in a circle so we all feel like we have equal opportunity to learn and participate. We also start off every single class with a mindfulness meditation. Sometimes they are just about a minute or two of silence, or sometimes they are about a ten-minute meditation that Marcus leads us through with his words and his calm soothing-sounding bell. This is a good practice to productively do nothing and be centered versus unproductively doing nothing and just sitting on your phone. While this tool does not always work for everyone, I appreciate that we are given an opportunity to be gentle with our minds and our bodies in an educational setting. This was a perfect transition into meeting our guest visitor for the day, Thea Lee.
Thea Lee does somatic therapy and works with the POC, LGBT, and white ally community, all separate from one another. She started off her time with us by asking us what we want to know about her. This was important to her because she wanted to create a safe and comfortable environment for everyone in the space. One person asked, “do you consider yourself an artist?” She responded with the answer, “a craftsman.” Another person asked how she was trained, to which she responded that she began working with marginalized groups of people and their trauma in the sexual assault field, juvenile field, and more. She noticed that she was experiencing immediate burnout and realized through generational trauma her interest in somatic therapy.
“Today,” she said, “we are going to argue mind over matter.” Thea began arguing this by doing some exercises with us. She asked us separately to point on your bodies where we individually believe our mind, heart, soul, and spirit are in our bodies. She then gave us positive, uplifting sentences to say, such as, “I am open to new experiences,” but told us to say it with a frown on our faces. She encouraged us to acknowledge what we noticed about the exercises. She then listed off words/phrases, such as, “student loans, this country is being taken over by illegals” and other negative things and invited us to check in with our bodies. What were our bodies physically doing when we said or heard these things and what did we think about it? From this, she talked about the difference between congruence and incongruence. People mentioned that they felt angry when Thea said, “This country is being taken over by illegals.” While, of course, Thea did not believe that statement, we all felt anger towards the words. We paid attention to how bodies do react to negative things and validated that words do matter and micro-aggressions do have an impact on our physical bodies because of that feeling. She said, “Anger in its purest form is an internal cue that something is unjust.” This is when I knew I was studying the right thing.
Thea led us through a few more exercises. I won’t go into detail about them but each of them required an opportunity to engage our minds and our bodies and give them attention. So what does art do to us? Art inspires and embodies sensation in the body. Words engage the body and words truly have an impact on our physical bodies. Thea asked us why social justice matters to us. I gave her my answer, which was that it is one of my majors and I first learned about social justice work through art. From that, I believe art heals people in a social justice context. After I gave my answer, the first thing Thea did was point out what my body was physically doing when I was talking about this passion of mine. She said my eyes got big and my eyebrows went up. She said I was smiling through my explanation. The way she analyzed how that physical reaction makes it feel as though I am important and the work I do is important.
Thea left us with a question that I want to leave with whoever may be reading this (if it applies). How does it feel knowing that your children, your ancestors are proud that you have this passion for art and social change?