Fasting blindfolded for a week in a downtown Ashland store window, Candace Younghans has been mocked, read to, hugged, fed juices and asked a lot of questions.
The experience has taken her deep into healing, understanding human beings and being grateful for simple things such as friends and food, she says.
What's the first thing she's going to do when the blindfold comes off at 7 this evening?
"Dance here in the window, then walk home with my friends and break my fast, then sit by a warm fire and probably cry, just from appreciation and the emotion of it all," says Younghans, a 36-year-old Ashland performance artist.
"I feel so fortified, which is my goal, so tremendously supported and clear about going forward," she says. "To experience myself and life more deeply like this has been a spiritual experience. I feel so connected to everything, absolutely, and have been going through such healing."
Younghans began her blindfolded fast in the store window after a dance around the Antiquarium Bookstore during last Friday's art walk. She is often seated in front of a computer screen flashing an endless series of pop images from magazines and TV, and she sleeps on a mat on the floor — all in public view.
Invited to share, people come by and read her poems and stories, ask about her experience, offer things to touch and smell (roses, eucalyptus, a baby), read from a few of her favorite books she set out. Many would express appreciation for her journey.
Titled "Without the Images, Who Am I?" Younghans' project is designed to get viewers to reflect on how pervasive images from media fill our heads and hold us back from deeper feeling and thinking about the nature of who we are and what's around and inside us.
"It brought in a lot of people who were very taken with it, once they understood it," says Antiquarium owner David Ralston, who hoped it opened people up to books, which "offer more depth in how we gather information than is available in the popular media. People could see she was doing a deep process and would bring their own writing to share with her."
Jeanine Moy brought her dog Kiva to share with Younghans. "It's really inspirational to see someone who has a lot of creative energy and ideas for doing something good and taking the initiative to do it," Moy says. "She's kind of like an oracle. You don't often talk to someone who's in a calm state and who doesn't have to be somewhere else in five minutes."
Dropping by to hold Younghans' hands and thank her for being in such a "vulnerable" position all week, Barbara Maynord of Ashland says, "Bravo to her. This took so much courage and somehow we will all benefit from it."
Except for bathroom breaks, Younghans spent the week in her 4-by-12-foot window space, able to hear loud traffic and the comments of people (especially when the presidential election was called) through the window, though passers-by didn't know she could hear them.
After Monday Night Football, a drunken man came out of a bar and threw himself against the window, yelling at her "as if I were a lion in a zoo that people think they can throw stones at," Younghans says, adding that she responded "like a lion" and the man later came back and apologized.
"There were moments of agitation, frustration and fear that come when you want to do something — like leave — and you realize you can't. Sometimes I felt like an animal being jarred by sharp noises," says Younghans, who calls her project SEW — Self Awareness Witnessing.
The project is a fundraiser for her Heart Warrior Project, a creative, self-expression wilderness retreat and performance art project for veterans reintegrating into society after combat in the Mideast wars, says Younghans, who volunteers as a teacher of storytelling and performance expression at Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics in White City.
"Compared to what they've been through, in war and back in society, many homeless and without roof and heat," she says, "this is a cakewalk."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.