How to find your happy place and feel at home there

The art of vision boarding

Posted 11/4/20

BETHEL, NY — Arriving early for the October 28 wellness workshop on vision boarding, I enjoyed a few minutes of spectacular sunset views outside the conservatory at Bethel Woods Center for the …

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How to find your happy place and feel at home there

The art of vision boarding


BETHEL, NY — Arriving early for the October 28 wellness workshop on vision boarding, I enjoyed a few minutes of spectacular sunset views outside the conservatory at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.

Inside the conservatory’s rustic open concept great room were eight place settings at four crafting tables. Each place setting contained a ballpoint pen, a mini-notebook, a glue stick, a pair of (adult) scissors and a box of watercolor crayons. Check-in included a forehead thermometer scan and the signing of a confidentiality agreement that guarantees personal information shared by participants during the workshop will not be made public.

Calming. New-Age type piano music was playing softly in the background. At one point during the evening, I recognized Pachelbel’s “Canon in D,” but the music was so soothing and well suited to the company and the activity that it was barely noticeable. The focal point of the room was a massive fireplace beside a glass wall offering panoramic views of Bethel Woods grounds bounding West Shore Road.

We were each instructed to select one photograph from a number of striking photographs lying on the floor. A fiery beach sunset seemed to leap up at me. With photos in hand, we took our seats, two to a table, masked and socially distant from the other person at our table.

Licensed creative arts therapist Candace Rivela acted as facilitator, explaining what vision boarding is and how it can help people move toward a future they cannot yet see. She asked that we introduce ourselves and tell the group a little about our lives and why we had signed up for the workshop.

We were eight women of diverse ages and occupations. There were teachers and bus drivers, mothers, career women and writers. Our first assignment was to jot down a list of things that brings us joy. We had three minutes to complete it. Although I wrote almost continually for those three minutes, I neglected to mention half the things that occurred to me later in the workshop.

For some of us, the list was about places: beach, mountain, forest. For others, it was about activities: singing, dancing, hiking, biking. One found joy in pets and other animals. And then there was the woman who found it in a state of grace; the word “love” appeared on her list over and over again.

One woman said that at a particularly challenging point in her life, she couldn’t remember what brought her joy.

We then shared our lists, first with the other person at our tables and then with the whole group. Despite the marked differences in our ages and backgrounds, we had many interests in common. Had we not been there for a workshop, we would have chatted nonstop for the next hour and a half.

Candace brought us back to the task at hand, telling us that the wellness workshop series—running through Wednesday, November 18 and then goes on hiatus until March—was designed to mitigate feelings of loneliness, isolation and despair borne of the pandemic. In the best of times, seeing new faces and making new acquaintances is a pleasure. In pandemic times, it felt like an oasis in the desert.

Our next assignment was to place headings in the notebooks: my strengths, my values, long-term goals, short-term goals. If I were not afraid of failure, I would (fill in the blank).

Then it was down to the nitty-gritty of vision boarding. The theory behind vision boarding is that subliminal desire will come to the fore and direct the conscious mind into action. “Don’t overthink this,” advised Candace. “It should be an intuitive process. Just select magazines at random, leaf through them and tear out those images that appeal to you. Remember to leave room on your boards for a title.”

I took the instruction literally. Artistically challenged, I never could draw or render anything recognizable, partly due to the fact that I’m also spatially challenged. I can’t see when images are unevenly spaced and/or asymmetrical. But cutting pictures out of a magazine and gluing them on poster board seemed doable even for me. I happily tore out images that seemed to say, “Me, take me.”

Poster boards were provided in all sizes. My first mistake was choosing one too small for my images, or images too large for my poster board, or too many images for my poster board. Anyway, I couldn’t fit all my images on one side of the board. “Can I use the reverse side of the board?” I asked.

“Sure,” said Candace, glancing quickly at the haphazard hodgepodge of images overlapping one another in every direction on my vision board. It looked like the collage of a demented mind. She advised, “You’ll have to string it up, so you can see both sides.”

Suddenly, Candace was giving us the five-minute warning. “I’d like for us to share our work before we leave.”

I’m always amazed and humbled by art projects others do. This group was no exception. Their boards were cleanly and artfully conceived and arranged. Their themes were immediately apparent and echoed in their work process. One woman used no pictorial images, only words cut from magazine text and advertisements. Another divided her board into quadrants and devoted each quadrant to one aspect of her theme. All made wise use of white space and symmetry.

When my turn came, I told them my theme was “Change is good,” only because I’d seen that text in an ad with font so large it couldn’t be ignored. I tried in vain to pass my mess off as the work of an insatiably curious person with eclectic interests. As embarrassing as it was, no one laughed or ridiculed it or me. And unlike art class in junior high school, it wasn’t graded.

The Wellness Workshop series is offered free of charge to adults on a first-come, first-served basis every Wednesday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Online registration is required at Participants are welcome to take any single class that interests them or the series as a whole. Because social distancing is observed, class size is extremely limited. Early registration is suggested.

Bethel woods, center for the arts, conservatory, vision board, wellness workshop


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