By Virginia Lee
Music Director of Music and Drama Camp
Music and Drama Camp III is a special experience. Not only do we put on a full-length show in a week, but we also take said show on tour in “that valley of the world.” With so much to do in such a small amount of time, MAD Camp can feel like a blur. A loud, exciting, dreamlike blur where time is counted meticulously and schedules strictly adhered to. While I wouldn’t trade the rush of rehearsal and tour, the schedule left little time for reflection.
This year, the Program Director of MAD III, the spectacular Cullen Dolson, decided to remedy this problem by changing the daily schedule of MAD III to include meditation time. After countless years with the same schedule, it was an odd adjustment for many veteran counselors and campers. However, it turned out to be just what MAD Camp needed to grow and evolve. Every day for an hour after rest period, the whole camp would meditate in a variety of ways: walking the labyrinth, writing reflections, relaxation exercises, etc. The campers loved it, and at the end of the day there were always a few campers who listed meditation as their high of the day, a sure mark of success if there ever was one.
I had the privilege of leading one such meditation period, which I found to be an incredibly rewarding and profound experience. It was the day before we left Shrine Mont to begin our tour, and Cullen was off for the day. I had eagerly volunteered, although I had no specific plan in mind. As soon as he said “Okay”, I was at a standstill. I didn’t want to do a writing reflection. They’d had enough of that. We were a week into camp, the campers were stressed, and the show was teetering on the edge of just-ready-enough and beautiful-chaos status. You could feel the anxiety in the air of camp, and the sense of urgency as we rushed to prep the show. As Music Director of MAD Camp, I felt this unease just as much as the campers. Writing didn’t seem like the right fit for our state of unrest at that movement. Then, the solution hit me. Finger painting.
Now, before you scoff, hear me out. Finger painting may sound silly and juvenile, but it can also be fantastically visceral and emotional. The direct contact between oneself, the paint, and the paper allows for freedom and expression in an abstract and beautiful way.
The meditation went something like this:
The campers were asked to silently take a seat in the Art Cabin. The tables were prepared with large strips of butcher paper and pallets containing paints of a variety of colors.
The campers looked at each other with a mixture of bewilderment and giddiness. They sat silently, waiting. They breathed together, slowly, with a Spotify playlist of Yoga music playing in the background.
I asked them to close their eyes and imagine their fears and worries. I asked them to envision the word “stress” and picture a color in their mind. What did it look like? What was the color?
They opened their eyes and created their “stress color” with the paints provided. They put it to paper, and freely painted away the negativity that inhabited their body. They were asked to leave it all on the paper, to feel their stress leaving their fingertips. Shades of brown, dark purple, and deep reds appeared in large blobs; intimidating storm clouds of stress, overwhelming and incoherent, took over large portions of the paper. When they were done, I asked them to stop painting.
Breath in. Breathe out. Listen to the music. Breathe in relaxation. Breath out stress.
I asked them to close their eyes again and to imagine themselves. I asked them to envision their soul, their mind, and their emotions at this moment, and to assign a color to their state of mind.
They opened their eyes and began painting once more. This time, results were colorful, specific, varied. Symbols and images of specific things took shape. Some campers incorporated their self-portrait image with their stress image, blending them together.
At one point, the music switched to the theme music for “Avatar, the Last Air Bender”, causing many in the room (including myself) to laugh, easing the intense, emotional silence. The awkwardness of complete silence to listening caused them to paint more freely, and with more joy. As they finished, I asked them to stop painting, and lay their palms open on the table.
Breath in. Breathe out. Listen to the music. Open your hands.
I told them to look at their hands, covered in paint. I told them this messy array of colors was important. Because sometimes when we make ourselves, when we grow up, things get messy. Our hands will get dirty, and that’s okay. One camper made the observation that as she worked with the paints, she had created unplanned but beautiful shades of blue on her hands. They were so pretty, she said, that she incorporated them into her painting. She made the observation that life can be like that, full of accidental moments of beauty.
I told them to look at their self-portraits. Were they clear pictures, or were they abstractions. Was everything connected, or were symbols painted independently? What did this say about them? One camper made the observation that they had compartmentalized the images of stress and of themselves. Another had done a sort-of splatter paint style, because she felt messy and undeveloped. Another had made a giant green heart, which had completely covered his stress image.
It was important to know that everyone deals with stress differently, both in painting and in real life. And that while it’s an inevitable part of the human condition, stress does not define us. It is the frame with which we view our lives. It is a cloud that over-tops our lives at a given moment. But we are the light, and we shine through.
It was also important to note that each camper’s work was unfinished. It would always be unfinished, as they themselves were. And that’s okay. That’s beautiful. It is perfect in it’s flawed incompleteness. We are beyond completion. We are much, much more because we are loved as children of God.
Close your eyes. Breath in. Breathe out. Breath in love. Breathe out love.
Spreading the good news of Shrine Mont Camps into the Valley of the World.
The View from the Mountain is written by a rotating cast of staff writers and contributors.