Art From Garbage? I Get It!

heart art from garbage on beach
Art from garbage
art from garbage at beach
                            Heart Art

Who makes art from garbage? And why?

There are things in life that don’t make sense … until they do and then you can’t go back to not knowing, not understanding. But why would you want to? Life is about moving forward, taking in new information in the myriad of ways it is presented and then cocooning with it and re-emerging as a new version of ourselves. I love this aspect of life. Even when the learning is difficult or painful, it always feels worthwhile. Sometimes these moments of understanding come at us when we least expect them. Other times we are in a reflective state and ripe for transformation already.

Last year I booked myself on a three-day forest therapy retreat with Nature With Haida on the Sunshine Coast of BC. I arrived with a pounding headache and an eagerness to reclaim a portion of myself that had been lost or floundering over the summer. I was ready. The retreat was full of the calm, grounding energy my soul desired—with the exception of helicopter logging directly overhead that unfortunately collided with our weekend! But even that offered learning to me when I was open to it.

looking up at maple tree foliage
Forest Therapy – looking up at huge maples at Iris Griffith Centre

Forest therapy consists of a series of invitations offered by a facilitator. After each invitation, participants spend a set amount of time moving slowly through the forest with that particular invitation’s theme in mind as they observe and reflect on their surroundings. One of my biggest takeaways of the weekend was during our walk at Dan Bosch Park at Ruby Lake on the second day of the retreat.

As we moved through the park using all of our senses to perceive the forest, I kept noticing garbage. Some of it was no doubt intentionally littered, while other pieces—a child’s swimsuit—were perhaps forgotten. It reminded me of a visit to this beach six years prior. I’d watched teens drink and smoke pot at a park picnic table they’d carried into the lake. Speed boats zoomed by with women on deck lifting their shirts to flash their boobs at beach-goers. And, heartbreakingly, I’d witnessed a young mother throw sand in her child’s face as punishment for an action the little girl had taken.

The beach was quiet during the late September retreat. I tried to ignore the past and the litter and instead focused on the natural beauty of the forest. During an invitation to ask myself What would my soft heart do? I found three answers. I would let a bug gently off a leaf rather than shake it off from high above the ground, I would pick up the litter in the park, and I would allow myself to play.

playing on a log at Ruby Lake
Playing on a log at Ruby Lake

Haida offers participants a chance to reflect to the group if they wish to. When I was about to communicate my three thoughts, I suddenly realized that the idea of picking up someone else’s trash didn’t feel right. “No, I don’t want that responsibility,” I told the group. “It makes me angry. Picking it up isn’t the right response for me. I don’t know what I’ll do instead, but I’ll have to find another solution.” I let it go at that. The litter would stay where someone else left it.

After one more invitation and a chance to reflect at the water’s edge, the final invitation was heart art. We could use natural materials to build an art piece on the beach. I used a stick to draw a heart in the sand and looked around for something I could put inside the heart. Inspiration struck! I bolted into action, retraced all the steps of the day, picking up the litter I had seen during the previous invitations—I knew exactly where each piece was because we’d been so focused and intentional during our walks. Time was nearly up when I got back to the others. So I quickly placed my found items inside the heart I’d drawn and then stood back to view it.

It seemed to say so much. I described it to the group. “There’s a little girl at the centre, a disposable maxi-pad wrapper just below her girl parts. Beer cans, bottle cap, cigarette butt, bread tie, plastic bag, all representing pieces of her life. One girl on one day could litter the earth with these pieces of her life. Will she? What choices will she make? What will she make of her life?”

As we prepared to leave, another participant asked me if I wanted help to clean up the garbage I’d brought to the beach. “No!” I said. “Please let it stay. Let someone else see it.” My art. My contribution. My response.

Ah, this is why people make art from garbage. I get it! It’s a response!

My response was temporary. It was fleeting. It deserved a few hours to shine with the hope that someone might connect with it.

Thank you Haida for a wonderful weekend of introspection.

Ruby Lake at Dan Bosch Park
Ruby Lake reflection at Dan Bosch Park


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  1. Wow! Thanks for sharing Sheila. It is so nice to read what a participant of my retreats remembers and takes away from the experience I facilitate. I greatly appreciate that you wrote about your experience. Many people create memorable moments and think about them, but don’t always share their thoughts verbally or in writing. I appreciate that you took the time. Hugs & Health…Haida


    1. Thank you Haida. It took me a long time to get around to posting this. Several moments of inspiration from that retreat have stayed with me, and this is one I knew I wanted to follow up on and share. The interesting part is that I learned even more about myself while reflecting on the experience months later. Your retreats offer continuing returns!!


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