Arina’s River of Life
I am 10 years old. I am sitting in the beautiful old opera house in the classic western mountain mining town of Central City Colorado watching my, first ever, live theater production. The Miracle Worker with Patty Duke and Ann Bancroft is the inspiring story of Helen Keller, born deaf and blind and how she first learned to express herself through non-verbal communication. My child heart is beating wildly and the hairs on my arm are standing in thunderous applause. Little did I know that the magic of this moment would define my life’s work, insisting that I follow my heart and do what I love.
In 1970 I received my Master’s degree in Communication and became a teacher of deaf children. At this time my best friend suggested that I take a mime class to enhance my teaching and my love of gestural language. I called my mother and I said, “Guess what? I’m going to become a clown.” There was dead silence on the other end of the phone. “You’re going to become a what? A clown? You just got a Master’s degree –Wherever did you get that idea?”
All I can tell you is that something very strong grabbed hold of my heart when I started doing mime, clown and improvisation work. I came alive and had to follow this tug wherever it was going to take me.
I quit my job, sold all my belongings, packed my Chevy and moved to San Francisco to follow my heart’s calling and pursue creativity. For the next 20 years I immersed myself in theatrical clown work, sacred puppetry and visual art. I found ways to combine my creative work with my love of teaching and began to experience the power of visualizing my dreams and healing my deepest wounds. The sacred art pieces that I created held the energy of my dreams. My inner landscape helped form sacred artifacts—mythic performing dolls; fetishes, charms, amulets, and shadow boxes. Each piece represented a different intention or prayer.
You see, by the time I turned 35 years old, I had lost my parents and grandparents to cancer; endured a hysterectomy, dashing my hopes of ever becoming pregnant and, survived a brutal assault by a stranger breaking into my home. Early on, I realized that I could view these challenging moments as opportunities to become empowered rather than victimized. And so, adversity has been one of my greatest teachers. It has provided me with the chance to get to know myself. The constant theme in my life has been the path of the artist. By consciously experiencing, working with, and expressing my inner and outer obstacles, I have been able to find my authentic voice, to unleash my passion and use it to cultivate wholeness and creativity. Adversity has been my inspiration for following my heart and doing what I most love to do. My commitment to pursue the creative path guided me toward building confidence and authenticity.
I used my own suffering to heal and make other people laugh at the same time. This unique approach to creating personal clown characters enabled me to explore the place of vulnerability where the funniest and most touching clown persona reside. I developed a process of creating clown characters based on externalizing my inner world. Clowning gave me ways to express hopes, fears, heal my grief and hidden craziness by forming a clown character.
I created five characters over a period of 20 years, based on mynatural inclinations of movement, voice, gestured habits, inner feelings, and stories. Each season of my life, a new character would emerge.
Boo-lu was my first character. She was a feisty single mother who traveled with five white baby dolls with red noses, all named Baby Kaka. Each vignette told a story about the love/hate relationship between the mother and her babies. Then came Mimi the Clown. Me! Me! She was based on my tendency to be a narcissist. Mimi made a lot of mistakes as a way to deal with my perfectionism. She would say, “Oh, you’re right, you’re right,” you’re right”, you’re right!” “How do you know? How do you know” How do you know?” Baby Fatty helped me come to terms with my body image and food issues.
In my early 50’s, Ms. Lotta Bucks appeared to help me face my fears of growing older. She was an expert in cultivating “inner beauty” and counseled women about retirement. She taught them how to invest their “socks in the sock market and wash them grow!” And, finally, out popped Mrs. Milton, whose favorite advice is, “Just remember, dearie, it only matters what other people think!”
The treasured Clown School of San Francisco, which I founded, became home to people from all walks of life who wanted to explore and tell their unique life stories by creating personal clown characters. Computer programmers from Silicon Valley, priests and nuns from the theological seminaries, CEO’s, business professionals, emergency room doctors, and criminal lawyers all converged at the Clown School to tell their stories, find their voice and experience their joie de vivre.
Next, I came to understand that self-awareness and telling one’s compelling life stories, are the key to becoming an authentic and powerful person. I wanted to take the essence of the clown – the aliveness, the vitality of that unique voice further out into the marketplace.
Joining with colleagues, in a theater-based communication training now called, The Berkeley Executive Coaching Institute, we focused on finding and expressing one’s authentic presence, voice and compelling leadership journey stories. For the past 30 years I have been traveling the world helping leaders learn the skill set to inspire, motivate, influence and connect with any audience.
Over time I came to painting, creating spirit journals, and vision boards.
The River of Life has become a central exercise in my story-telling curriculum. By creating a River of Life, one is able to clearly track the richness of his/her life experience and draw from those experiences to tell stories of courage, triumph, risk, struggle, values, adventure, mistakes made and lessons learned. My life stories provide the context for my experiences and through them, I am able to find the inspiration to make an impact on the world.
The ability to create and tell certain kinds of stories is not only a useful tool, but an essential prerequisite to finding my original voice. These stories have provided visual maps and images for conveying who I am, the authentic moments of where I came from and who has mentored and inspired me along the way.
My 50 year creative journey has been about the healing aspects of art, ritual and theater. The thread that has traveled through each act is creativity and communication. It is and has been my greatest joy to first find my authentic voice and then to inspire others to open to their full self expression. This process has helped wake me up to life! My art work is the deepest manifestation of my gratitude for the gift of living a meaningful life and doing what I love every step of the way. Thank you for allowing me to share my journey with you.