Hope, Make, Heal

Posted on in Healthy Living by Maya Pagán Donenfeld

Mending the Heart
with the Hands


I was always taught to look for the gifts in everything—to search for silver linings and believe in miracles. It was good training for the morning when my world turned upside down. A sudden and unexpected ending to my marriage of 16 years thrust me into a world of pain and confusion I had only read about in books and seen in movies.

In my pain, I turned to “experts” and read everything I could find to help me cope with the overwhelming devastation I felt. By the side of my bed was a constantly rotating stack of self-help and spirituality books. Many of these volumes became my companions, and even when I wasn’t reading them, I found comfort in their titles and soothing covers.

However, I kept feeling that one book was missing. The one that spoke about what to do—not just what I was feeling and thinking, but how to focus and channel my powerful flood of emotions into something I could see and touch. I am an artist and a maker. I know how busy hands can profoundly nurture a heart and stop a head from spinning, and during this time, creating something beautiful and expressive took on a new dimension. I just yearned to create things that were simple, intentional, and most of all, meaningful.

Intense sorrow will strike each of us at some point in our life. It often claims us with an overwhelming force that knocks us to our knees. When words fail us, brought on by deep pain of trauma and loss, our task is to find our way back to the river of our lives. Making allows for flow when the heart is tempted to shrink back, stagnate, and wither. When there are no conversations to be had and no comfort to be found, working with our hands is always available to us and can be a powerful way to help us move forward.

So often we hear people say that it was a life-threatening disease or traumatic divorce that ended up being the greatest gift of all. It is in the death of something or someone that we are pushed beyond our limits. This is the hardest work there is, but after the crash and burn, something beautiful is often born out of the ashes.

May the following art project provide you with an opportunity to heal your heart with your hands.

Creating Permission Ships

Liberate yourself from old patterns, memories, or habits with small handmade vessels created to carry your worries away. Launch them out to sea or set them on a special shelf as a reminder to let go. Many cultures around the world have customs featuring small boats filled with candles, offerings, and wishes that are sent across a body of water. India has diyas, small leaf boats filled with flowers and flames that are sent down the Ganges; Thailand has krathong, floating baskets made of bread or banana leaves; Brazil has little wooden boats sent off from the beaches of Rio on New Year’s Eve to honor the ocean goddess Lemanjá. Experience the power of letting water transport your wishes and prayers with this iteration of a powerful universal ritual.

Heart Prompt

Before you begin, consider the obstacles that stand between you and finding peace. What are you holding on to that you’d like to release? Which words reflect what is holding you back most—such as fear or expectations—and what might freedom from them look like?


  • » Piece of bark or driftwood
  • » Cup hook
  • » A skewer or pointy stick
  • » Beeswax candle and matches
  • » Scissors
  • » Scrap of lightweight fabric or lace, for the sail
  • » Needle and thread
  • » Alphabet stamps and stamp pad
  • » Paper
  • » Glue stick
  • » Releasing word suggestions: grief, struggles, fear, expectations, pain, habits, memories, relationship patterns, scarcity


  1. Make a hole for the mast (the stick) in the center of the wood; I like using a cup hook to drill the hole because it’s simple and can be taken directly to the beach or lake to make boats on-site.
  2. Find a stick that fits securely in the hole. Break the stick so that the height of the stick roughly matches the length of the boat.
  3. Light the beeswax candle and wait until a little pool of liquid wax forms beneath the flame.
    Dip the bottom end of the stick into the wax.
    Immediately insert it into the hole in the wood
    and let the wax cool.
  4. Cut out a right triangle of fabric for the sail. No need for perfection. Measure and adjust as you go. Attach it to the mast with needle and thread. A whipstitch works well. Alternatively, you can cut a few tiny slits in the fabric (perpendicular in direction to the mast) and weave the stick through the fabric. If you use lace, weave the mast through the holes. Small sails won’t need anything more. Larger ones might need a support on the bottom edge of the sail. If so, use a very light, thin stick and attach it with needle and thread as used for the mast.
  5. Consider what emotion you’d like to release. Stamp your releasing word or words on a piece of paper and cut it into a long skinny banner. (See suggested releasing words.) Secure the banner to the top of the mast by folding the end of the paper around the mast and gluing it to the back side of the banner.

Your boat is ready to set sail, either on display or on the nearest lake, river, or ocean. Consider sharing the experience with others. Gather with one or more close friends and make and sail boats together.

Adapted from Hope, Make, Heal © 2015 by
Maya Pagán Donenfeld. Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications.

Maya Pagán Donenfeld is the creator of the popular green crafting and simple living blog MayaMade.com and an instructor on CreativeBug.com.

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