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Kawa by Jen Gash

Kawa by Jen Gash

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by August 7, 2016 Case Studies, Online Articles

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The metaphor of a river as life, is not a new one. It is embedded in our language as all metaphors are and speaks to part of us that doesn’t like to be limited by language and descriptive terms. My obsession with “river as life” started around 2004 when I discovered the Kawa model in Occupational Therapy:

“The Kawa (Japanese for river) model uses a familiar metaphor of nature as an effective medium to translate subjective views of self, life, well-being and the meanings of occupations”

The aim of Occupatinal Therapy intervention is to enhance the river flow to enable meaningful occupation and engagement to take place. The river bed represents the environment – physical and social; the rocks “Iwa” represent life circumstances; the driftwood “Ruyboku” represent assets and liabilities; the water”mizu” is life force, flow, energy, chi; the spaces between the rocks, wood and river bed are “sukima” these gaps are small places where flow gets through – the promise and potential for recovery, expansion and change.

The model illustrates “the complex dynamic that characterizes an Eastern perspective of harmony in life between self and context”.

Around 2007, my river started to experience turbulence. Turbulent mental wellbeing, turbulence in my home life and relationships, turbulence that threatened to wash away my life completely. I sought help in both mainstream services and adjunct therapy and support including coaching. I also started to attend a supported art studio. Somehow, I continued to work although work had always been both a cure and cause for my fluctuating relationship with myself and life.

During this time I started to explore my “river” further. I started to use the Kawa model to help me understand what was going on and find a place in my river, where “sukima” (spaces) still existed. During this time, I also fell in love with the work of Kurt Jackson an artist who is also obsessed with rivers and charts their course in paint, from it’s source to the sea. Life and its path suddenly became very clear. What follows is an ongoing visual and in places, written journey of my relationship with my river – its twists and turns, its low flow points and turbulent periods, its push and pull, its major blocks and the way it finds it course regardless. Please enjoy.

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