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.
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
I know that living with chronic un-wellness is really hard. I've been living with severe PMT and other menstruation-related conditions for many years. It's been a long journey, and I'm grateful to have come across some practices and frameworks that have offered support.
When I was studying pastoral care (spiritual care) at La Trobe University, I learned about illness narratives as described by Arthur Frank in his book, ‘The Wounded Storyteller’.
In our culture, the dominant illness narrative is the 'restitution' narrative. In this story, we are healthy, then we become unwell, we seek treatment, and we are restored to our previous state of health.
But we know that illnesses don't always follow this pattern. Sometimes we get sick, and we seek treatments, and none of the treatments restore us to health. There is no sense of control, and we become lost, overwhelmed and lose hope. There are no solutions to the problem, no ways to fix it. This is a 'chaos' narrative.
Sometimes we move between the 'restitution' and 'chaos' narratives. Something works for a while, then it doesn’t. Or suddenly another condition emerges.
And sometimes, we get sick and we seek treatment; we go to the doctor, the shaman, the healer, read self-help books and the latest research, attend workshops, and finally come to realise that this thing isn’t going to get ‘fixed’ as we hope. We need to learn to live with it.
And we also realise that the journey we’re on, triggered by the illness, has lead us to come to know ourselves better, to develop a new relationship with our body, emotions, thoughts, and soul. We weave new threads of connection in our communities, find rituals and connect with something bigger than ourselves. The illness is a spiritual journey.
This narrative is the 'quest' narrative.
The 'quest' narrative, is where we make meaning of our lived experience. The 'quest' narrative, where our illness offers us opportunities to grow and to heal – not necessarily the physical body, but into wholeness – can be supported and cultivated through skilled companioning, such as that art therapy offers.
In my own ongoing journey with PMT and Endometriosis, I've moved from 'restitution', to 'chaos', to 'quest' narratives, and sometimes back and forward between them. I've been able to dive into the experience that is presenting day to day, express difficult emotions and find meaning through personal creative arts practices including visual art, cartoons, journaling, sculpture, dancing and blogging.
Art therapy sessions with skilled practitioners have helped me to recognise when I needed additional support, like enlisting the support of an integrative GP, and to connect with inner resources to get through periods of intense negative thoughts and depression. Having a witness in the journey has been profoundly supportive.
I’ve come to learn that my illness actually supports my growth as a human being. My illness has led me to self-compassion practices, to deeply value rest, to work through trauma with a Somatic Experiencing practitioner, to anger work, and to studying to become an arts therapist, to name a few.
My illness continues to challenge me to grow. It’s taken many years, but I can actually say I’m grateful for its gifts.
If you’re living with menstrual disorder(s), and want assistance to tell your story through the creative arts and to explore your quest narrative, please get in touch.
I’d love to offer you support in your journey .
A Universe Inside Her Womb. 17/8/15
This image is part way through a creative process when I was pre-menstrual and grieving that another opportunity to birth a child had passed.
"Last Saturday I was weepy. I just couldn't get out of bed. Weepiness rolled into waves and cascades of tears. Sobbing. Thoughts of despair fed the tears and the tears fed the thoughts. At some point, still early in the day, an image arose in my being.
My universe. My womb a universe...
I fingerpainted, throwing colour across the page. Casting in the tears, that blood-full space, cradled by tender hands, encompassing arms.
She sheds the tears for me. This universe inside that will never be born."
Over the years I've immersed in a number arts challenges and have found that it wakes up my creativity every time.
My first arts challenge was a number of years ago. A friend in my songwriting group was starting a 30-day songwriting challenge, and I decided to jump on board. I wrote and recorded one song a day for 30 days... An epic feat actually! The songs were really diverse: soundscapes; standard format verse, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus; short chants; layered vocal improvisation; spoken word over music. They all counted as songs for the purpose of the project.
Last year I participated in a group 7-day online creativity challenge facilitated by Bravo Child. He posted a video each day and then offered a number of creative prompts that we could take inspiration from. Group members uploaded their creations to a Facebook group, along with notes on how the process was for us. I really love some of the works that came out of that challenge.
About a month ago, I was playing in my journal and created a mandala. That evening a friend, Jac Price, posted that she was going to create one mandala a day for the whole month in a challenge she called 'Mandalas in May'. I decided to join. I've loved the process so much that I've decided to continue.
I've found the following to be really supportive in my arts challenges:
1. Commitment and ritual: In an arts challenge, we commit to a practice for a period of time. We are choosing to show up to our inner artist and to our artistic practice. Rituals can support the practice. For instance, choosing to create at a certain time each day. Most of my mandalas were created in bed before I went to sleep. They were an opportunity to wind down and to reflect on the day. I was also flexible though and if I had some time sitting at a cafe, would whip out the journal and watercolours. If you miss a day, re-commit and begin again the next. If you find you're missing loads of days, perhaps re-evaluate if this is the best time to be engaging in this practice. You might also want the support of a creative companion or registered arts therapist if you're finding that the same things keep getting in the way of your practice.
2. Accountability: If you're going to be taking something on that feels like a stretch, it's good to have a team. In the 30-day songwriting challenge, my friend and I set up a Droxbox folder and at the end of each day would upload our new pieces. Having someone there who was engaging in the same process really helped in the moments where it felt like a stretch. In the mandala practice, I uploaded an image to Instagram and Facebook each day. It was lovely to share the works, and also to receive the cheers from others who were enjoying seeing them.
3. Curiosity: As an artist, and in life, emergence is a core value. Being open to the next step in creative process, particularly when I don't have preconceived ideas, is cultivated by an attitude of curiosity: What is going to emerge today? Some days I've followed an impulse to use different paper or sizes. Sometimes I've begun in the centre and created outwards, and sometimes I've started with a circle. I am delighted by the continual unfolding. I am curious about how long it will take to get bored with the practice. I am even more curious about what happens after I get bored!
4. Gently ask the perfectionist to step aside: Creative process thrives in a space of play, openness and emergence. For an arts challenge, it's best to be in the mode of 'morning pages' (Julia Cameron); just let it come through! That means there will be some work our discerning mind would consider 'good' and some that is 'not so good'. That's okay! Just stay with the process and keep creating. I know there was one mandala that my critic got quite nasty about. I finished it, uploaded, and continued creating the next day. Of the 30 songs I wrote in the songwriting challenge, I still play probably four or five of them.
5. Self-care and compassion: It isn't called a challenge for nothing. It stretches us. And it can also be deeply nourishing and fulfilling. Be kind to yourself and make the practice manageable through suitable boundaries. One night I was exhausted and really ready to sleep, I set the timer for 10 minutes and started with a small circle. I made sure the practice met my energy level. Make sure you're taking in inspiration regularly; go see a band, visit a gallery, jump on Pinterest. Invite friends to create with you. Also, when I did the 30-day songwriting challenge, I was on a break from work so had time to play for hours each day. I don't think I could engage in the same level of songwriting challenge in this phase of my life. I'd probably choose one song a week for eight weeks for instance.
6. Reflection: An arts challenge is a great way to notice more about your creative process. In the making, and afterwards, you might like to journal: How was it for you to make the art? What did you notice about your process? How was it to work with the materials? What is your relationship with each artwork? What does your creative process reveal about patterns in your life? What message do the pieces reveal to you?
I'd love to hear what challenges you've engaged in? What are you committing to next? And please, get in touch if you'd like support in your creative practice!
PS. Most of these mandalas were created using Koh-I-Noor Brilliant Water Colours and a waterbrush.
Last night, on the Autumn Equinox, I sat by a fire with a friend, talking about transitions in life. My current transition is from student to practitioner, and I described the difficulty I have in articulating what I offer as an arts therapist; 'How do I say to people, "come and make art with me"?' My friend, a copy writer, began to ask simple questions beginning with, 'what is your why?'
I replied that creative practice is my way of navigating life's challenges.
She asked, 'what does that mean? How does it work?'
Well, if I'm struggling with big emotions or unanswered questions, journaling, painting, or moving can really help. It's cathartic to express my experience in this way. But it also creates a form that is outside of myself, that I can see from a new perspective and have a relationship with.
I said that making art, in itself, is beneficial, but that having a companion in the process takes it to a deeper level. Making art in relationship with another, with a witness to the process, offers so much more.
The conversation continued, and we spoke about her experience of copy writing, launching her business, her current transitions, and the steps she took to build a client base. Then she asked, 'what if I can't draw?'
I'm embarrassed to say that I giggled a little at the question. I couldn't tell at first whether she was sincere or being in copy-writer-question mode, drawing me out. It turns out that her question was sincere.
It gave me the opportunity to reassure her that this is a really common concern, but that in arts therapy sessions, the focus is more on process than outcome, and that we use lots of different materials in a curious and playful way. We might begin with a blank page and simply make a mess. We might take a lump of clay and press it, just noticing how it feels, and waiting to see what shapes emerge. There is no right or wrong way to make an artform, or as we call it at Miecat, a representation.
She then asked, 'do you interpret me?'
I let her know that back in the olden days, psychologists and psychiatrists interpreted images, telling their clients what their works meant about their mental state, but that I don't work in that paradigm. In my sessions, you, the art maker, explore the meaning of your representations. I might ask a series of questions to help to uncover those meanings, or offer some personal reflections about what stands out for me, but it's always your meaning that matters most. What you discover brings you closer to your truth.
So, that brings me closer to my why.
I make art because my creative practice supports me to flourish in life. It helps me to regulate my emotions. It offers new perspectives and insights. It connects me to my truth. I make art with a companion because it's valuable to have a witness who can offer reflections and support in the process. And it's a joy to create with others!
I companion others in their artmaking because I know the value of this process, and it is an honour to offer a safe space for creative and personal exploration.
Am curious to hear, why do you engage in creative practice?
And if you don't currently, would you like a supportive space in which to begin?
Last year I completed my Masters in Therapeutic Arts Practice. I undertook a year long placement in community arts and health, gathering experiences in a variety of contexts.
I taught a group of artists how to eco-print and together we created many works and shared them in an exhibition. I co-facilitated a retreat day exploring the Hero's Journey. I provided administrative support in creating a conference. I facilitated an arts inquiry process, leading to a community arts project. I companioned individual clients as they explored their inner life and creative process.
During the placement, I came to clearly see my core values as a practitioner of creative arts therapies:
In the creative process, often we cannot know how something will be born, what shape it will take, or what we will experience in the making. This 'beginning in the unknown' offers such rich possibility. We can set an intention, and move from there, bearing witness to what emerges. We trust and allow the process to unfold in its own way, sometimes surprised by what is revealed.
Throughout the placement, we engaged with the arts to inquire into particular themes. The process and emerging forms offered new knowings. As a researcher, this is deeply nourishing. I now carry this value into sessions with individual clients. Bringing an attitude of openness and curiosity, we can explore our lived experience and find resonant meanings and new perspectives. How we respond to art materials or art works might show us long-held pattern, or a new way of being in our lives.
I have worked with different materials and modalities throughout my life, finding myself drawn to particular tools at different times. Some art therapists have researched the particular qualities of different modalities, describing what each can offer in the therapeutic space. Working multi-modally allows this to occur organically. We are simply drawn to work with string and paint, or clay, or to move spontaneously while sounding. Sometimes it feels challenging to work with a modality and we discover parts of ourselves that have been hidden. Sometimes a modality can be the perfect thing to express a feeling that we've been unable to verbalise.
At the core of therapeutic engagement is relationship. In arts therapies, we are present to the relationship we have with materials, the artworks, the process of creating, and our therapeutic companion. As a therapeutic arts practitioner it is my aim to be present with you, attending to your process and to my own inner responses, offering reflections and asking questions when that is in support to you. It is in therapeutic relationship that we learn to navigate dissonance, to experience rupture and repair, and to develop self-compassion.
The placement helped to clarify these values. They are not all the values that inform my work, but some of the most important. What values do you carry in your life and work?
Yesterday, I went to see an arts therapist. I'd noticed I was feeling a little stuck in a few areas and wanted a space in which to explore that stuckness. I could have made art alone, but felt that there would be new possibility and richness in the therapeutic relationship. I also could have seen a counselor, but know the value of the arts in the therapeutic space.
I've seen a number of therapists and practitioners over the years. Since my first counseling course at the age of 21, I've valued the therapeutic space and what it offers. I've seen (and learned a lot from!) a range of different practitioners - counselors, somatic therapists, somatic experiencing practitioners, process oriented psychologists, and arts therapists to name a few.
In the session yesterday, I opened with a verbal overview of what was happening for me. Then, when I felt the impulse, I moved into making art. I chose a piece of cardboard and began with charcoal, creating some distinct forms, and filling them with water colour paints. As the visual forms emerged, I continued to reflect on the scenario of stuckness, tuning into a particular felt sense that was present; a heavy sense of responsibility. I continued to work on the image, and through the questions and noticing of my companion, came to see new possibilities.
The image, or the art artwork, in arts therapies offers so much. Beyond what the mind knows consciously, and beyond the verbal, the art works offer different ways of knowing. As I create, I pay attention to the process and to what stands out for me, finding new metaphors and resonant meanings.
I left the session feeling brighter in the possibilities, and the heaviness I'd been experiencing had lifted. I was able to consider clear actions that would help me to move through the stuckness, and to realise that it is perfectly fine to dip my toes, or perhaps a little more of my foot, into the waters.
I am grateful to my companion for the session, for her reflections and questions, and the way she stayed with me through my process. I am also grateful to the image that emerged, for what it offered in the process of creation and its final form.
For me, the value of arts therapies is the emergent knowing, beyond mind, revealed both in the artwork and the context of relationship.
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.