The new year has arrived, and for some of us, this is a time for setting new intentions.
On New Year's day, I sit in dappled shade with a circle of dear friends by a creek down at Bear Gully in Gippsland. We work through the 'Year Compass' booklet, a free review and intention-setting process developed by some generous Hungarians.
I find it easy to write the review aspect of the booklet. Rather than seeing 2020 as a write-off, it was for me both challenging and remarkably growth-full. To note the many ways in which I'd met the challenges presented is affirming and celebratory. I am able to really appreciate the gifts I received throughout the year, and to acknowledge the massive energy output.
Then I come to the intention-setting aspect.
And I struggle.
I notice a heavy, lagging energy. A little voice inside my mind is saying "I can't"... "I'm not ready".
I really can't begin to plan, visualise, or set intentions.
So I stay with that feeling. I pay attention. I bring awareness to my body and to that voice.
I realise that I am exhausted. That my most pressing need is not to push forward, to build on the gains, to hustle or promote, or plan... but to rest.
So I make that my first step.
And I feel the resistance relax a little.
I decide to push back the start of my online program from Feb to March, giving me extra space and time to rest, then to prepare.
I decide to make sustainability and self nurture a focus of the year.
I decide to make my word of the year 'kindness'.
And I feel my breath deepen into my belly. My body soften.
Three weeks later...
I've just had a massage, and have booked another for a few weeks time.
I've booked some time down at Yiruk Warnoon (Wilson's Prom) with friends.
I'm attending to my inner world via a Soulcentric Dreamwork circle.
I'm taking my time to settle back into business, and beginning to dream into offerings that are nourishing for my participants and me.
I'm making time for play, creativity, music, and nature.
I'm reminded of the beautiful song by Karen Drucker:
"I will be gentle with myself...
I will only go as fast as the slowest part of me feels safe to go".
What energy is carrying you into 2021?
Are you in need of rest?
Or are you eager to launch yourself into this new year, no time to waste?
Does this period feel like one of beginnings, or more about sustaining your practice?
Is this a time of tending to your inner world, or for bringing your gifts shining into the outer world?
If you're feeling the call for support in your life path, please feel free to get in touch for a free 15 minute session.
Art therapy is a beautiful way to attune to your inner world and to discern what is most important for you right now.
Last night I popped into a friend's house. A child walked up and asked, 'Who are you'? I replied with a smile, 'I'm Michelle, who are you?' My friend's housemate continued the introduction and said, 'This is Michelle. She made the cards we've been playing with today!'.
It turns out that they'd been using the Mandala Cards to play a game. They'd pull a card together, and then use the card as a prompt to do something. They pulled the Voice card and sang a song together. They pulled the Reflections card and both looked in the mirror. They pulled the Shape Shifter cad and made different shapes with their bodies. They pulled the Play card and said, "yep, we're playing already'.
I felt so much joy to hear the cards were being used in this way. I thought I would extend their playful expression and make a full list of play suggestions for kids.
Creative Soul Mandala Oracle - Kids Version
Anchors: When things are busy or moving quickly, what helps to slow you down?
Camouflage: Using bits of material or clothes, camouflage yourself for a game of hide and seek.
Clarity: Imagine you can fly really high in the sky and look down... what can you see? Draw or paint it.
Communication: Say something important to someone you love.
Community: Draw or paint a picture of your community.
Compassion: Name three ways that you can be kind to yourself and others.
Contemplation: Go outside, find an object in nature and describe it to a friend.
Creative Spirit: What's your favourite way to be creative? Do that!
Curiosity: What are you most curious or interested about at the moment? Find out three new things you didn't know before.
Cycles: Make a picture of the seasons.
Depth: If you were looking into a rock pool at the beach, what might you see? Make a picture.
Emergence: Play a game of charades, or improvisation.
Harmony: Listen for the harmonies in some of your favourite songs.
Identity: Draw a picture of yourself and write down some of the things that make you, you.
Inspiration: Draw a picture of someone who inspires you. Then someone that you inspire.
Integration: Practice patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time.
Intention: Think about a goal you have, and how you might achieve it.
Meditation: Spend 2 minutes in quiet meditation.
Mess: Is there a mess to clean up? Play 'whizz bang'; set a timer for five minutes and see how quickly you can get it done!
Mind: Draw or write down some of the most encouraging things your friends or family say to you.
Movement: Put on some music and move your body however you like.
Navigation: Make a picture of a compass and find out which way is north. Where does the sun come up?
Patterns: Fill a page with lots of different patterns.
Pause: Take a deep breath. Then another deep breath. Then another deep breath. How do you feel?
Perseverance: Work out ten different ways you can persevere: "Instead of giving up I will..."
Play: Play your favourite game!
Protection: If you had a superhero who always looks out for you, what would their superpowers be?
Readiness: What's your next big challenge? What's going to help you to achieve it?
Reflections: Draw a picture of the people who help you most.
Resistance: Press your hands against someone elses and lean in together... how does it feel to meet resistance in this way?
Rest: Put on some calming music, lay down, and slowly let your body sink into the floor.
Rhythm: Play some drums, clapsticks, maracas, or other rhythm instruments.
Senses: What can you see? What can you hear? What can you feel? What can you taste? What can you smell?
Shape Shifter: Move your body as though you were a mouse, snake, kangaroo, platypus, magpie, trout,... etc.
Support: Use clay, sticks, leaves, grasses, string etc. to make a nest/hammock/web or other supportive structure.
Surrender: Make a boat out of cushions and imagine you're sailing down a gentle river, going with the flow.
The Unknown: Play a guessing game, like 'I spy', 'guess who', 'hangman', or 'battle ship'.
The Void: Make up a new game using words, actions, and sounds.
Transformation: Make a piece of art about a world issue that you feel strongly about, eg. climate change, refugees, indigenous health, Treaty, etc.
Trust: Play a trust game like 'blindfold', 'pendulum' 'blind tunnel', 'counting to twenty', etc.
Vibration: Share one of your artworks with someone important to you.
Voice: Make up a song and sing it with someone else. Or sing a song that you both know.
I used to leap over edges and crash out afterwards. I would attend weekend workshops and intensives and push myself into new and uncomfortable territory. I'd have expansive experiences and get high, but then wouldn't see any lasting change. Somewhere along the way, I grew tired of the impact on my nervous system and began to value gentle approaches to personal development.
That's why I love the creative process as a way to meet edges.
In the creative process, I can slow down, really notice where my edges are, and how my body responds. I can adjust my practice while tending to the vulnerability that lives in me. Instead of bypassing the fear and charging onward, I can embrace those parts and carry them with me.
I'll share a story as an example.
I've been working on a few big projects over the past couple of years. One of them is a new 12-week online program to support creatives, artists and those wishing to cultivate more creativity in their lives. I absolutely loved creating the content, filming videos, recording audios, and making reflection sheets over summer this year and was all set to launch it for autumn.
Then I hit fear.
I took some time to sit with the fear. I was telling myself that the timing wasn't right, When I explored further I acknowledged that there were a few things contributing to that belief. An acquaintance had just launched a similar program and had truly amazing marketing and I felt inadequate. And then I had a surgery and my recovery took way longer than I anticipated. And covid happened and EVERYONE was launching stuff online. The market felt saturated.
The fear was giving me useful information. The launch was an edge that felt too big to meet and cross at that time. And so I chose to step back. I pressed pause on the project and just sat with it. In the months that followed, I offered a free online creativity challenge (right now there are 339 participants!). I was blown away by the participants' courage, vulnerability, and willingness to show up. They have inspired me so much! Over time, I recovered from my surgery and felt some energy returning. And yes, everything was still online, and that's okay.
So I decided to offer the online program in spring. I put out the event and began to promote it.
And hit fear again.
This time the fear was about how it would be received. What if no one registers? What if people enrolled and don't resonate with what I offer? What if it's too basic? What if my videos are annoying? What if the quality isn't good enough?
I acknowledge that this fear is a totally normal response to the unknown. This is new territory. I don't know how it will land for people! I can't know! So I'm calling this an experiment and am carrying my fear and curiosity forward to meet this edge.
I'm being gentle with myself. I'm taking time to journal or make art when I feel stuck. I'm inquiring into the feelings that are present when I find myself procrastinating. I'm meeting multiple edges with gentleness, courage, and tenacity. I'm taking pauses, and also calling in assistance from others.
It feels good.
I'm nervous and excited that my program begins this Monday. :-)
Awaken Your Creative Genius
Please get in touch if you're sitting at your creative edge and would like to call in support.
Love and creative blessings,
A counselor and sex therapist friend is writing a blog for their website and wanted to interview me about my current creativity challenge on Facebook, 'Fill the Page'. I thought I would share here as well!
At the beginning of our second lockdown I was invited to create another online group "for covid sanity". I created a simple and open invitation for people to fill a page each day. Over the period of the challenge, 'the page' has included drawings, paintings, poetry, photography, birthday cakes, knitted gloves, collage and other mediums in a beautiful and surprising diversity of creative exploration.
What do you think benefits people from creating daily?
I find that making art every day is an incredible anchor, particularly during times of challenge, transition or upheaval. It provides a sense of structure and stability. It's like showing up to the meditation cushion, bringing whatever is present to the practice. A daily creative practice is an opportunity to connect more deeply with ourselves and reflect on the day, giving some space to the feelings, thoughts, sensations and patterns that are arising. Or it can be a space of pause and rest, taking time out from life's challenges. A daily creative practice is a clear, boundaried task which can help to generate an ongoing sense of achievement.
What if a person doesn’t feel like being creative?
During my year of making an artwork every day, there were certainly days that I didn't feel like being creative! It's really normal to experience fluctuating motivation and inspiration. I found that carrying an attitude of curiosity was foundational to the practice. I would show up to the page and be curious about what might emerge. There was a sense of play and wonder that no matter how I felt about the practice, something always showed up. That was amazing to me. I felt connected to something bigger than myself; that a creative spirit was moving through me. I also made sure that I structured my practice to suit my energy levels. For example, if I was exhausted after work I would set my timer for ten minutes and let that be my practice.
What is creativity?
Great question! For me creativity is woven throughout life and is part of being human. Creativity can express in someone's cooking, in tending their garden, or in their approach to problem solving at work, as well as through the arts and craft. It's the capacity to bring something new to the world. That new thing may be inspired by a range of sources, internal or external. As an arts therapist I'm really interested in creative process, paying attention to what happens as we create and how this might show us our patterns and ways of being.
For those who are interested to explore their creative process in more depth, I'm offering a 12-week online program, 'Awaken Your Creative Genius'. It establishes a foundational daily creative practice, and then moves into a creative project.
Find out more at www.cocooncreativeartstherapies.com.au
I'm not just an arts therapist.
I thought that was what I wanted to be, and what I was creating in my business, but something just wasn't sitting right with me. There was a little edge of uneasiness inside me when I called myself an arts therapist that I couldn't work out.
Last year, I finished up in a job I'd held for three years and found myself in the void, unsure of my next steps. From that space emerged an opportunity to continue my spiritual care studies through a second unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). CPE is a program of education for spiritual (pastoral) care practitioners. It engages an action-reflection-integration model of learning in a small group, with individual and group supervision in a hospital setting. To be honest, I started the process of application half-heartedly. I procrastinated, left it too late, then called to apologise and to say that I wouldn't apply after all. I was invited to put my application in late anyway and found myself just doing it.
I was accepted into the program. And then became conscious of the fear that I was holding. After my first day in the program, I journalled a page full of worries, doubts and fears; about my own emotional capacity, about the heaviness of the work, about my personal health issues. I re-framed each statement, invited a new perspective, and continued to show up.
After five months of spiritual care practice in a major private hospital, companioning patients and their loved ones who are experiencing massive challenges, I have found that my fears and doubts were unfounded. I found a passion for the work that emerged from deep within, beyond the intellectual understanding I have held about spiritual care in my research and project work over the past 11 years. I have found a deeper trust in myself as practitioner and sense of authority arising from the skills and experience I carry in my practice. I found that I can rely on my self care and spiritual (including my creative arts) practices to support me.
I'm not an arts therapist, because I am more than an arts therapist.
I am a practitioner working in a person-centred model of care, drawing upon the skills and practices of arts therapies, spiritual care, and body work. I also carry tools from sound healing, possibility management, Soulcraft, somatic experiencing, meditation and mindfulness, and group facilitation. I am inspired by values of service, integrity, compassion, connection, emergence, and creativity.
This is emergent work, based in deep listening, showing up to the moment, noticing what is in the space between us, inviting exploration with curiosity and a sense of trust in the Mystery.
In 2020, it is my intention that I will be working part time as a spiritual care practitioner in a major Melbourne hospital. I am also opening up a limited number of individual sessions privately for clients who are aligned with this way of working.
If you'd like to experience a relationship of support for the challenges you are meeting in life, please do contact me so we can talk about your needs.
Blessings and love for the new year,
I'm curious about transitions at the moment.
My job is finishing this Wednesday and I have to admit I haven't been handling the impending change particularly well. I'm not sleeping... My mind is constantly trying to work out the details of how I can earn money, juggle study and work, or imagining worst case scenarios where I end up with no money and no place to live.
It's not just this transition. I've struggled with other times of transition, as well. For example, moving house or ending relationship. In the past, big transitions have taken me into periods of depression.
In a self-compassionate space, I recognise that transitions are stressful. Moving house, losing a job, ending relationship, they're all right at the top of the stress scale. In periods of transitions, it can feel like the foundations or ground beneath my feet have become unsteady, or even totally disappeared. This ending feels like I'm being kicked out of a comfy nest that I've grown too big for. I need to stretch my wings now and fly.
And yet, I'm experiencing massive amounts of fear. Fear of the unknown. My wings have stretched a little, but I don't know if I can fly long distances yet. Once I'm out of the nest, I can't return.
Transitions are a dance with the unknown. And fear is a normal, natural and helpful response to the unknown. It brings alive my senses, helps me to seek out resources and plan effective action.
Transitions are about meeting that edge, sitting with the fear. Letting it move in me. It's actually amazing how many creative ideas I'm having in the wee hours of the night! Fear, manifesting as worry and anxiety, is actually supporting me to meet this challenge of transition.
I feel like I'm bringing some new awareness to the nuance of this transition. When I'm not freaking out, I'm aware that this ending is opening up new horizons, and bringing forth possibilities that I've longed for, but not yet taken action to bring to fruition.
I'm sure there are skills and resources that I can draw upon to navigate this transition with more grace. I can see that practices of acceptance and gratitude could be supportive. That the sadness of loss helps me to let go. That making space to be present with the fear is essential. I'm curious to learn more and so I'm going to engage in an arts inquiry to follow my curiosity and see what emerges.
Would you like to join me in this inquiry?
I'm nearing the completion of a year-long commitment to creative practice. To celebrate the final month, I'm inviting others to join me in making a new mandala every day for the month of April. Mandala is a sanskrit term that roughly translates as manda - essence, and la - container or vessel. So a mandala is a container for essence. Essentially, the mandala is a circle. In my year-long practice, I began with a circle and filled it with marks each day.
As a little supportive inspiration, I'm sharing a list of prompts... ways to start when you feel you'd like some inspiration. Here goes!
Have fun! If you share on social media, please use #mandala #mandalaaday
Media release - 28th October 2018
Local Artist and Arts Therapist, Michelle Morgan, is creating a new artwork every day for a year. ‘Mandala a Day’ is an exhibition celebrating the midway point of this involved and inspiring commitment.
“A fellow local artist, Jac Price, initiated the challenge, ‘Mandalas in May’. I found the practice offered me so much that when the month ended, I decided to continue for a year”, said Michelle.
Making art supports mental health and wellbeing through emotional regulation and expression, especially for emotions that may be difficult to verbalise. Some of the mandalas represent experiences of joy, grief, rage, doubt, or stuckness.
Art making can also be a wonderful tool for reflection. “While I make the mandala, I often recall significant moments of the day. This reflection time means I’m able to articulate and integrate the experiences I’ve had and what I’ve learned from them,” said Michelle.
Michelle describes ‘mandala a day’ as a spiritual practice. “A core of spiritual practice is commitment; showing up, regardless of what else is going on in life. The mandalas represent my ongoing inquiry around identity, purpose, and meaning.
“I bring curiosity, commitment and trust in the process. So often I turn up to the page with no idea of what I will create, but something always forms. Trusting this process helps me to cultivate a deeper trust in life, especially when things are difficult. The practice becomes an anchor point.”
Michelle posts a mandala image to instagram each day for accountability, and says that she’s grateful there has been strong community of support.
“Engaging with the community has been a really important part of the practice. It’s a big commitment to make a new artwork every day, so it’s been wonderful to receive reflections and encouragement from others on social media, and to hear about others picking up paints or pens to make their own art. I really hope that sharing the works in this exhibition will continue to inspire others to create”
Michelle is also offering a series of Creative Play Mandala workshops. “Creative play is incredibly important to health and wellbeing. In the Creative Play Mandala workshops, I’ll share some of my arts therapies tools to support people in their creative practice. A key message is that there is no right or wrong way to make art.”
A selection of the 186 mandalas will be available as limited edition prints. Nat from Upstream Colour Fine Art Printing says, “The pieces use a range of different media from watercolour to felt markers, and track a deeply personal and vulnerable narrative of daily life. It's been a massive pleasure reproducing these works on Ilford Textured Cotton Rag”.
The exhibition and workshops will be held at Lentil As Anything Thornbury from 1st November to 14th December, with a launch event at 4.30-6.30pm on Thursday the 1st November. Lentil As Anything is a not-for-profit social enterprise running vegan restaurants across Melbourne and Sydney on a pay-as-you-feel model. They rely completely on donations, and a good percentage of their workers are volunteers.
Purchase limited edition mandala prints: https://www.etsy.com/au/shop/MandalaArtByChelle
Find out more about exhibition and workshops: www.cocooncreativeartstherapies.com.au
Follow the daily mandala posts:
Contact person: Michelle Morgan
Company: Cocoon Creative Arts Therapies
Exhibition Location: Lentil As Anything, 562-564 High St, Thornbury VIC 3071
Michelle Morgan is a registered arts therapist, community singing facilitator, author, and researcher who has been has been walking the path of healing and creativity for 19 years. She has worked in direct care and research roles in acute health, aged care and community health settings.
Michelle is passionate about the creative process, and facilitates gentle and supportive spaces for people to explore their inner world through the creative arts. While she has curated a number of exhibitions for others, Mandala a Day is her first solo exhibition.
Michelle is Director of Cocoon Creative Arts Therapies, and also works part time with Meaningful Ageing Australia, the national peak body for spiritual care in ageing.
I can't tell you how many times I've found solace in the embrace of the natural world. I share three short stories below:
'As an angst-filled teenager, I flee the house and make my way on horseback or foot to the river that winds its way through crown land at the back of our property. There is a particular section of wide brown water where three tall eucalypts lean out over the water. I feel myself in resonance with these trees, hovering over the swirling depths, barely gripping the earthy edge.'
'When I arrive at the Wild Mind Gathering site on Friday afternoon, I find myself scattered, busy, thoughts racing and body tense. Tears and hugs begin to melt tension into softness as I meet and connect with myself and others. On the Saturday morning, I am still feeling a little out of sorts, and so I leave my shoes and walk alone and barefoot into the bush, careful footfalls following animal trails through the low, dense brush until I come to a huge tree.
I see the fire-blackened trunk of this tree, which nurtures a living heart, and I recognise this tree as a survivor. I sit at the base of the tree, rest my back against its broad trunk and come into stillness. Tiny birds twitter and dart in the brush nearby, opening my heart to joy. I am suddenly transported to my solo vision fast, undertaken a few months earlier.
Every part of me thought I would die out there. Yet, I survived my quest. I made it. I sense the tree and birds bearing witness to my release, and to the larger story that is held in that release. I am awash with feelings of profound gratitude, deep sobs rising from within me and sounding amongst the trees.
Eventually, the sobs recede and I thank the tree and birds. I make my way to the cleansing waters of the stream, and then back to the welcoming arms of community, where I tell two trusted friends about my experience. I carry a sense of integration, openness, blessing and renewed knowing of the power of connecting with wild places.'
'I am raging following a series of frustrating events. I take myself to Birrarung. I walk up the hill away from the river, raising a sweat. I speak my frustrations to the surrounding bush. Then, descending close to the river once more, I come to a tree. I ask its permission for a hug. It says yes, so I stretch my arms across its width, feeling its warm embrace envelop me. The tree says, "Hey, little sister". Tears flow. Rivers of tears. I cry out my pain and the tree offers warm and supportive words. I am held. I am held. More tears flow from depths I can't understand. I thank the tree for its warm and generous support. Eventually, I make my way along the path, lighter for this interaction.'
I notice as I write that I have become accustomed to going to nature to release or self-soothe. I feel a sense of guilt and shame that I have received so much, and feel that I haven't yet offered enough back. I'm curious to explore this imbalance. How can I engage a deeper relationship with the world? What can I offer back? How can I cultivate a meaningful relationship of mutuality?
I'm looking forward to engaging more deeply in this inquiry during the upcoming 5-day immersion with Bill Plotkin (Author of Soulcraft, Wild Mind), Deep Imagination: Soulcraft and the Reanimation of the World.
The Wild Mind gathering was held as a meeting place to explore themes of environment, embodiment and empowerment. It was a profound weekend facilitated by Sean O'Carroll. My gratitude.
As an arts therapist, I regularly invite art makers to engage with their artworks in a new way. Rather than following the old familiar route of judgement, I ask them to describe what they see, notice what stands out for them, and tend to what happens in their body in response to the artwork. Sometimes I invite them to have a dialogue with the artwork. This may seem strange at first, but awakens new possibilities through alternate perspectives. All this cultivates a deeper relationship with the artwork, and sometimes offers insight into ways of being that may or may not serve.
This process, or way of being in relationship, is not limited to artworks.
I have a personal practice of using the shamanic drum as a vehicle to shift my state of awareness and go within. Sometimes I connect with beings in the inner worlds. Sometimes I set an intention to connect with my womb wisdom. As I journey in the inner worlds, I describe what I notice, listening deeply and tracking my process. I usually journal what I have experienced afterwards.
On a vision fast last year, I decided to do a womb journey to gain some insight into a pain I was experiencing in my ovary. I settled myself on a mound of compacted dirt that a long-departed wombat had created in digging its hole, closed my eyes, and went within. To my surprise, the wise being in my womb said "No. This is not the time. The world is your womb right now".
So, I journeyed back to the surface, opened my eyes and brought my awareness to my surrounds with a soft and wide focus. I let my eyes cast across the landscape lightly, taking it all in. I noticed what stood out for me and what drew my curiosity. There were shapes in the tress and bush: A woman with a line across her heart, and shading over her genitals and belly; A person bowing in prayer. A tree trunk drew my attention more closely. I sharpened my focus, noting that the branches looked like Fallopian tubes reaching out from a uterus. Then I saw that another part of the tree looked like a frog. I wondered about the frog and what it might mean. As I sat with the frog-tree, a possibility opened up and I found the pain in my ovary was gone. I wonder what I might have learned if I had opened a deeper conversation with the frog-tree?
The landscape is alive. Artworks are alive. We are already always in relationship with all things. We can simply open our awareness and choose to cultivate that relationship.
I have a sense that I have barely dipped my toe into this way of relating with the world, and am deeply inspired by Bill Plotkin's stories in'Soulcraft.' I am feeling blessed to have the opportunity to dive into a five-day immersion in these Soulcraft practices of deepening relationship with the world through deep imagery, dreamwork, writing and conversations with the sacred other.
If you'd like to learn more, please visit Soulcraft Australia.
Plotkin, Bill (2003). 'Soulcraft: Crossing into the mysteries of nature and psyche'. California: New World Library
Chelle is a practicing art therapist, researcher, and multi-modal creative. She regularly dives into the unknown to discover what is ready to be born, deepening her trust in the abundantly creative source. For Chelle, art is a means to inquire, express, and transform. If offers the capacity to soothe, making space for new perspectives and ways of being.