I'm standing next to the book shelves in the small library of my current education provider. I've been wandering around, picking up titles and putting them back, when I am struck by a book on the top shelf. The image leaps out at me and I grasp it with excitement. There are a few books that have changed my life and I don't yet know that this will be one of them.
That book was titled 'Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma', by Peter Levine. My memory of that moment is that it literally leapt off the shelf. At the time, I was studying transpersonal art therapy. I was personally grappling with some weird physical stuff when I was in heightened emotional states, and the book helped to name and give some context to my experience. Around the same time, I serendipitously started working with a Somatic Experiencing practitioner, and through regular individual sessions, was able to learn skills of self and co-regulation.
My therapist guided me in first co-creating safety through orienting to the present moment using the senses, finding experiences of comfort or pleasure in the body, to resource me for trauma work. Then very slowly and gently attending to difficult sensations, feelings, and memories from that place of safety.
It was a revelation to me and I was more than a little shouty about trauma theory! I wished that I'd been taught this stuff in school... it seemed such a foundational set of skills and knowledge for being human.
Over the years since, I've participated in a range of trauma-informed trainings for group and individual therapy. I'm currently engaged in Cathy Malchiodi's 'Polyvagal Informed Sensorimotor Expressive Arts Therapies' training, and loving being immersed in Stephen Porges' Polyvagal theory. It's a wonderful thing to observe my practice of art therapy through the lens of Polyvagal Theory, and to discover new practices to support others in learning to work with and love their nervous system.
I also follow some awesome practitioners online. Am a huge fan of Trauma Geek (on FB) and have learned so much through Janae's clear storytelling and infographics. Absolute legend!
One really simple thing you can do to support your nervous system to return to safe and social, is to lengthen the out breath. I love using a breath counting technique where I breathe in for the count of six, hold for three, then breathe out to the count of nine. Another wonderful tool for supporting the ventral vagal is to let yourself gently hum... Simply play with the sound in ways that feel good for you. Give it a try and let me know what you experience!
If you'd like to discover how art therapy can support your nervous system, please feel free to reach out. I offer free 15 minute phone consults so we can get to know each other and see if we're a good fit.
Image: A physical representation of polyvagal ladder, depicting humming, breathing and singing as supporting ventral vagal tone, and cold water bringing a sympathetic response.
Art therapy is about process, rather than outcome. We don't look for specific artistic results, but pay attention to the creative process, and the relationship between artist and artwork. But it takes some skills to be able to attend to the process and be with our artworks in a meaningful exploratory relationship.
One skill that really supports a shift from judgement and criticism, to a more open and curious way of being, is noticing.
Noticing... mindfulness... awareness... a descriptive attitude.
In art therapy we slow things down. We pay attention to the feelings, thoughts, physical sensations that are arising moment to moment. We notice what's occurring as we make art... things like how it is to scrunch the paper between fingers, how it is to vigorously pummel the clay, how it is to layer the colours, how it is when the paint spills over or a we make a mistake. We notice these things happening, and we notice the patterns of our thinking and being in response to these things.
Sometimes we notice a judgmental voice shows up in our art making, or as we look at our artwork. The voice might say our art isn't good enough. It should be more this or less that. The voice might say the artwork you just created looks like a 5 year old made it. The voice has nothing kind to say. The voice can be nasty.
Perhaps that voice shows up in other areas of life. Perhaps that voice stops us from doing the things we would love to do. Perhaps we stay small, and hide our gifts away from others. We anticipate that voice will show up in the mouths of others. We anticipate that we'll be shut down, so we shut ourselves down first.
In art therapy, we notice that voice, see that it doesn't serve us, and have a moment of choice... perhaps we might choose self compassion. We can acknowledge that it can be vulnerable to make art. It can be vulnerable to try new things, to take risks. We can acknowledge the fear that is present and gently hold it as we make our tentative brush strokes.
We choose to be descriptive in our relationship with our artwork. Instead of calling the artwork 'bad', or 'childish', we notice the boldness of the colour, the contrast between light and dark, the warmth of the texture. We notice it reminds us of something. We share a story. We feel sadness, or anger, or fear, or joy. We allow the feelings to be present. Perhaps we return to the artwork and add more layers, words, resculpt a section, tear it up, draw it together.
Next time you find yourself in the grips of a critic voice, return to noticing. Bring curiosity to the process. I notice I feel.... I notice I'm curious about... I'm paying attention to the sound of the brush on the page...
If you'd like help to explore in this way, please get in touch. I'd love to support you in your creative inquiry.
The autobiographical story below was written as a requirement of my studies in Clinical Pastoral Education. It conveys my life path from a mythical perspective. As I shared the story I created an altar. placing objects relating to the words in bold.
"Once upon a time there lived an ordinary child. She had two parents and two younger siblings and lived in the leafy suburbs of a medium sized city. She had a deeply inquiring mind and loved to have long conversations with her friends about the meaning of life, what happens after death, and why people are the way they are. She would lie awake at night wondering “where is the end of the universe? And if there is an end, what lies beyond it? And if there’s something, then it isn’t the end!”
And so, she set out in life with the heart of a seeker, carrying a harvest basket with curiosity and willingness to learn, following the impulse of her heart.
When her family moved to the country, she loved to roam free in the bushland at the back of her house, on her two feet, and with her rambunctious pony. Being in nature was a source of solace, particularly when the other children at school picked on her. She tried to understand why they were mean and thought she must be doing something wrong.
The girl loved to read books of adventure and fantasy: young people plucked from their comfort zone to embark on a journey of great importance, meeting mentors and guides, navigating challenges and eventually growing in skills, wisdom and being in service to the world.
When she came of age, she journeyed to the big city and there met and fell in love with a charismatic and magical witch who swept her up in a world of witchcraft, magic, and psychic powers. She longed to be able to see the energy that surrounds living beings, thinking that if she could see what was happening, she would be able to help people. Sadly, the witch betrayed the young woman leaving her broken hearted, and she learned that psychic powers do not indicate wisdom. She fell into a pit of black despair.
Two kindly faery godmothers picked up the fallen young woman from the pit and into their kind embrace. They invited her to meditation where she experienced her first exquisite moments of chanting sacred mantras. And they set her on a new path, one called the Artist’s Way. This path was a sacred journey of deepening connection with God through creativity. As the young woman ventured along this path, writing three pages, stream of consciousness, every day, she began to find clarity about her next steps… to become a healer. She gathered into her harvest basket a love for chanting, and the tools of journaling and creativity as a soul path.
She embarked upon studies in the healing arts; various forms of massage and energy modalities. She found a wise and loving teacher in a healing and education centre who imparted much knowledge, including person-centred approaches to healing, meditation, and philosophy. The young woman was soon deeply immersed in the school, practicing her healing arts, learning how to be a teacher, and living at the centre. She felt her path was all laid out for her. She gathered into her harvest basket the knowledge that her hands knew how to provide healing touch, and a love for Buddhist philosophy and practice, particularly the story of Avalokiteswara.
She looked up to her teacher with adoration and gratitude, until her teacher began to confide in her about her desire to cheat on her husband with another student. The young woman supported and held her teacher in the swirling waters of her suffering through a night of deep despair and trauma. Her teacher celebrated the young woman’s skills, but she was unable to process the experience and so carried pain around her like a cloud of arrows. The teacher, once beloved but now fallen, turned her out of the healing centre, her home. Once again, the young woman fell into the pit of despair. She gathered into her harvest basket the seeds of wisdom in how to be present with people in deep pain, and also that feelings need to be expressed, lest they turn into poison arrows.
At this healing centre, the young woman had met a new soul friend. The soul friend was an amazing and powerful woman, and carried a story of incredible survivorship. She had fallen from a trapeze, shattering her whole body, ending her performance career and initiating a kundalini awakening. At the same time her mother was dying of cancer. Yet every day, she would turn up to the children’s hospital and be a clown doctor for sick kids and their families and also offer dance therapy sessions for young women with eating disorders. The young woman was entranced by her humour, connection to the mysteries, and passion for healing and was inspired to follow her in her curiosities and passions. They started attending a monthly women’s circle together and when the soul friend began to talk passionately about a new healing modality she was learning, the young woman joined her in the courses and workshops. She gathered into her harvest basket the knowledge that the human spirit is powerfully resilient.
Together they dived wholeheartedly into the healing community. The young woman stepped into service, supporting courses, and offering free meditation sessions at a local hospital where she worked with older people. She also ran the choir, finding a natural gift for facilitating music, writing songs and making cds with other community members, and performing at retreats. She learned the power of invocation, and how to purify the energy body to enable a closer connection to God and to be a clear channel for healing for others. In this community, she learned that spirituality was about transcendence; dumping the lower emotions and dross, controlling the lower impulses, and focusing on identifying with and expanding the upper chakras. She gathered into her harvest basket the understanding that she had been born with a gift of music, a way to pray, and a deeper commitment to be in service.
The young woman struggled with her work and again fell into the pit of depression, however, she found no support from her community. They were busy cleaning their chakras and trying to transcend suffering and were paranoid about catching the darkness. She realised that cleaning one’s chakras does not make one enlightened, or even kind. Into her harvest basket, she gathered the quality of discernment in regard to spiritual teachers and paths, recognising that all is not light and goodness, and that what seems to be good, may actually mask unhealthy ways of being. She was deepening her understanding that feelings are integral to human experience and cannot be ‘cleaned’ away.
One afternoon, at the hospital where she worked, she found a leaflet describing a course. She felt a cascade of shimmering energy flowing down the back of her body and knew that this was her course. In this four-year commitment, she found wonderfully wise mentors who deepened her understanding of person-centred care, while also surprising her with a wider perspective on health and wellbeing. Her mentors offered her opportunities to grow through practical experience, and she took these up with passion. She gathered into her harvest basket the knowledge that she could succeed and excel when she applied her mind to a task, that she was supported by wise mentors, that health and wellbeing is multi-faceted, and healing is very different to curing.
Alongside her studies, she continued to attend the monthly women’s circle, exploring women’s mysteries, sacred feminine archetypes, embodied process, shadow, edgework and ritual. The circle was challenging and deeply nourishing. The circle sisters supported each other in their healing and wholing journeys, working through their birth, menarche, relationship and trauma experiences. She developed an intimate relationship with her menstruation, coming to know the highs and lows of her particularly strong cycle. She also came to see that sometimes being pushed, even with loving intention, caused her to freeze, shut down and retreat. When the young woman approached her honours year, she had a dream about her thesis topic. She was very scared to take up the topic, but her circle empowered her with support and so she embarked upon that challenging path. She gathered into her harvest basket an experience of deep support and encouragement, and also came to understand the power of her monthly cycle of bleeding.
Some years passed. The young woman travelled, experiencing expanded states of consciousness on meditation retreats, and meeting enormous physical challenges trekking in the Himalayas. She made art, continuing to journal regularly, writing songs, poetry, drawing, painting, and sculpting. Every month she made a descent into the shadows with her bleeding, and came to understand that solitude and art making were supportive in these difficult times. She gathered the gifts of resilience, courage and connection with divine love, into her harvest basket.
She returned to her home city and began project work and leading people in singing. Her soul friend returned early from a holiday with her husband and 2 year-old child, with news of stage four ovarian cancer. In circle, the sisters offered ritual, healing, and emotional support. Her soul friend journeyed deeply and in ritual, gave herself a new name. She celebrated a remission, but the cancer later returned, and after just months, she died at sunrise one day as the kookaburras began their song. The young woman again fell into a dark night, grief and depression claiming her. She gathered into her harvest basket the experience of grief.
Over time, the woman found herself in a new community… one of dancers, shadow and edge walkers, healers, activists and artists. They gathered on the dancefloor every week to dance five rhythms, to reconnect with themselves and each other, to dance the feelings of the week, receive insight and new perspectives, to be reborn. This was a deeply embodied community, which valued feelings and expression and the whole experience of being human. The young woman deepened the path begun years before in the Artist’s Way, studying a transpersonal approach to art therapy, diving into art processes, deep imagination, archetypes, dreamwork. She understood that consciousness can traverse many worlds, image is a doorway to soul and that creativity is a pathway through. She processed her lived experience through song-writing, journaling, visual art, clay-work, dreamwork. She worked with a skilled healer to unravel old traumas still held in her body and learned the ways of the nervous system, finally understanding all the times she had frozen or dissociated in the past. She undertook a solo journey into the desert and fasted for three days, meeting her fear and declaring her forgiveness. She gathered into her harvest basket ways to move with feelings, to soothe herself, to speak to herself with love and compassion.
But still, she found herself once again in a period of darkness. One afternoon, she stood upon a bridge, longing to jump into the brown waters below. She did not jump, but carried the story to a wise guide who sat alongside her and held space for her to follow herself, to let herself, in her inner world, jump from the bridge and to rest on the bottom of the river. In that moment, she finally befriended the depths into which she’d fallen so many times, welcoming it, feeling it, allowing it. This simple and profound experience met a deep need and profoundly shifted the pattern of depression that had arisen over and over in her life. The power of presence. The power of not changing anything. The woman recognised this turning point and its magic. She placed this into her harvest basket with profound gratitude.
She continued her studies in art therapy, meeting intellectual and emotional challenges and again found her resilience. She learned the power of description – that ‘noticing’ is a doorway to the present moment and an invitation, each moment opening to new worlds of exploration. She committed to a practice of making a new mandala every day for a year, turning up to the blank page again and again to see what would emerge. The woman met a new teacher and with his guidance travelled through wild bush landscapes, meeting parts of herself in ritual and developing new relationships with those parts. She gathered into her harvest basket a deeper trust in the unfolding process of life, a deeper valuing of emergence, a capacity to stay with what is, and the message that risk brings rich reward.
As she neared her 42nd year, she felt that her time of gathering experiences into her harvest basket through formal education was coming to an end. The woman continued to meet life with increasing courage, stepping out of her comfort zone and engaging in initiatory work to heal, transform and grow. She felt a deeper commitment to exploring relationship, seeking to shift old patterns and explore new possibilities. She found a more present and clear voice and showed up in the world with a greater sense of worthiness. She continued to carry the gifts of prayer, creative practice, and being with her feelings, and the values of service, integrity and connection. It was time to offer these gifts fully in service.
And so, she found herself in a place of healing, journeying alongside three others with the guidance of two skilled guides, bringing the contents of her harvest basket to share with those she met along the way.
And she wondered… this wild and messy and beautiful and painful life had already brought so many gifts of growth. She had been deeply blessed with opportunities, mentorship and wise counsel. She had traversed a path of transcendence, and a path of deep embodiment in the thick of raw humanity. She wondered what the next phase might bring… And she wondered about legacy, and about what she might offer back to life from the richness of her harvest basket, and how she might continue to nourish herself from it.
Seeing a therapist can be vulnerable. We bring our awareness to the most sensitive places within us. We are witnessed in our fragile, powerful, beautiful, messy humanity. And, if our therapist is attentive, attuned and supportive, we experience acceptance in all of that. We find new ways to relate with ourselves, new ways of being.
A couple of days ago I was preparing for a presentation on art therapy for university students. I came across a piece I had written following an art therapy session about five years ago when I was really struggling with severe PMDD symptoms. I wondered whether to include it in the presentation, but decided it wasn't appropriate for that context. I share it here as a window into art therapy for those who are unfamiliar.
"Tonight in art therapy, I cry tears of frustration and anger as I talk about my struggles. I am premenstrual, incredibly sensitive in the world, and the inner critic is running rampant. I notice that my hands are pressing and forming the tissue that I’m holding. My arts therapist asks if I want to move into creating an artwork, and I reply, “I am already”.
I go to the cupboard and select a range of materials: silver shiny strips of paper, white silky material, bubble wrap, blue frayed material, needle and thread, two pairs of scissors. I wrap the ball of tissue, covering it with the white silk, add strands of silver and blue. I hold it all together with a rubber band while I sew. I make eyes of little fluffy balls.
I hold the form aloft by a little leftover thread, allowing the tendrils to trail, looking at it. I notice my mind is searching for some meaning to make of it and ask aloud, “Why would I make a jellyfish?”
I suddenly have the image of a brain, spine and nervous system… and this jelly fish shape makes sense to me… Raw nerves in the world... Vulnerable.
I reflect on my recent learning about the nervous system, and the tools I have learned to support my system to regulate. I can see how perfectly my jellyfish is a mirror, the rawness of my state when I'm premenstrual. It is easy to see why I long for solitude and quiet when I'm so raw. My nerves are exposed.
My arts therapist asks how I might comfort these raw nerves. I tell her some of the ways that I self-soothe: Being aware of pleasant things in my environment. Feeling comfort in my body. Simply feeling my connection to the chair or the earth. Going for a walk in nature. Making art.
As the session is drawing to a close, I wonder how to transport this artwork home. I don’t want to mess up the tendrils or crush them. I want to put it cotton wool somehow. I find some fluffy material, peeling it back to make a bed and doona. I am able to lay out the tendrils and not crush them. I giggle to see the jellyfish so snug in its bed. In the end, I wrap it up in the white silk, creating a beautiful protective doona cover to get it home safely.
My arts therapist says, "how precious it is". And she reflects that it is the antithesis to the critic that I live with, especially at premenstrual time.
It's home now, and tucked in safe in my bookshelf. I want to take care of it, this little raw being. I want to keep it safe when it's feeling exposed and vulnerable. I want to cultivate the comfort of lying in a cloud-bed. I want to do this for myself. I am grateful."
I’m sitting at my desk, preparing to give a presentation for the Spiritual Care Australia/Spiritual Health Association Professional Development program.
The topic for this presentation has been swirling beneath the surface for weeks. I’m contemplating, what is the shared territory of spiritual care and arts therapy? And the thought comes, ‘I don’t know’. I feel a subtle internal fear, noticing and bringing kindness to that.
An accordion book that I folded yesterday catches my eye and becomes my canvas. I write the words ‘I don’t know’ as a beginning place on the front page, and then allow new words to emerge as I turn each page.
“I don’t know…
A blank page before me…
I feel lost, uncertain…
I hesitate, procrastinate, deliberate, contemplate…
Then I make a mark…
And I notice the page fills.
What was a mystery
Is now known.”
I return to the beginning of the book with paintbrush in hand, choose a shade of blue in watercolour paint, make marks, remain curious. I know there is no right or wrong here. I know that I can trust the process.
I complete the image and sit back, receiving the image on the final page.
I notice that the marks remind me of the confluence of the Merri and the Yarra. Two bodies of water coming together. This confluence is considered sacred by the Wurundjeri people, a place of ceremony, lore, trade, and to settle disputes. I imagine that one body of water is creative arts therapies, and the other is spiritual care.
I reflect on the meeting places between these disciplines… Companioning, sitting alongside, journeying with, bringing presence to the process. I reflect upon the range of tools we draw upon – our compassionate presence, attending to the relationship, a sense of connection with something bigger, mindfulness, prayer/intention, ritual, exploration of questions, the capacity to invite and uncover layers of meaning.
Then I notice that the marks remind me of the Chinese character for human or person, two strokes leaning into one another, offering one another support. I reflect that this work is deeply relational. We companion one another. We are held in the support of our communities, our faith, our practices, our supervision, our professional identities and associations.
I notice the colours remind me of the ocean and bright sand. I reflect on vastness, ebbs and flows, lunar tides, the breath, the great mystery that we all live within. I think of the ocean as mother, of stormy seas and calm. I think of mindfulness and the capacity to remain present amidst the great swells and ever-changing conditions.
Then I consider the process itself, this stepping into the unknown, trusting that in the simple process of showing up, something will emerge. I bring my curiosity and trust to the page, just as I bring curiosity and trust to each person I meet with in my role as spiritual care practitioner. I meet the unknown of the blank page, just as I meet the unknown every time I open a patient’s door and introduce myself. As I sit with a person, I carry that capacity to sit with the unknown, and offer it to them in our shared space.
I encourage noticing and expression of feelings, welcoming them all, ‘This being human is a guest house, every morning a new arrival, a joy, a sorrow, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor… welcome and entertain them all’, just a Rumi reminds us.
What do you notice?
Yesterday I was chatting with a friend about our respective counseling and art therapy practices. She said that her supervisor had suggested she write a blog, beginning with the prompt: If you had the world's attention for thirty minutes, what message would you share?
It's a thrillingly big and shiny question, evoking the ultimate soapbox - the TED talk. I began to riff on it, speaking to the first thing that came to mind: Trust in the process.
I first named that the phrase feels like a cliché, but I stayed with it. In all my years of engaging in therapies and creative practices, I feel that one of the skills I have most developed is that of trusting the process. In the space of the unknown, when fear is present, it takes courage to stay with what is showing up. And when things are difficult and painful, it's particularly challenging to trust in what is unfolding. There are some qualities or attitudes that can support this trust.
I remember many years ago shifting from a cognitively-based therapist to a somatically-based practitioner. In each session, this skilled and wise practitioner would invite me to pay attention to my body, to notice where in my body I experienced sensations, to stay with them and to name them. I noticed that many layers of experiencing unfolded from that simple awareness and noticing. I came to learn to trust the wisdom of my body in its healing process.
As an artist too, I was able to deepen into the wisdom of emergence in my 'mandala a day' practice. In showing up to the blank page every day, I was invited to trust... To trust the impulse to pick up pencil, pen, or watercolour paint. To trust the impulse to make the marks bold or light. To trust the impulse to hold an exhibition, a weekend long space at a festival, to create a set of oracle cards. Every time I meet the blank page, the dance floor, the instrument, I meet the unknown and I trust. I trust myself to find that next step, mark, or note. I trust myself to listen to the impulse.
For me, trust in the process is supported by a few qualities:
First, trusting in the process involves curiosity. Curiosity is a wonderful state of alert and open attention to what is and what will be. It's deeply connected to creativity. Curiosity may carry a tinge of wonder, inquisitiveness, or playfulness. Curiosity can sit alongside fear as we step into the unknown. Simply asking ourselves, 'I wonder what would happen if...', or 'I'm curious to hear/learn more about...' can assist us in creating this open awareness. Curiosity is non-judgemental and non-critical. It is also connected to problem solving and innovation.
Second, trusting in the process is supported by our willingness to pay attention and to name what is happening. Noticing and naming are some of the core skills of mindfulness. Over many years I've developed a capacity for deeper listening to myself. I notice the signals of my body, paying attention to the flashes of image or phrases that show up. If I stay with what is happening, noticing and naming, I'm in the flow, alive to the moment. Even stuckness can be attended to with this trust. If I am able to attend to my lived experience in the moment, present to myself, this attunement can be deeply healing.
Third, trusting in the process is supported by our flexibility and capacity to respond to what is. When we're curious, and able to notice and name what we are experiencing, we are then able to adapt and pivot as needed. We meet transitions and change with dexterity and resilience. We find our stuckness might be an invitation to rest, to tend to the soil of our being. Our mistakes may lead us down new and unexpected paths. Our failures are opportunities to grow and shift direction.
Ultimately, trusting in the process is trusting in ourselves. And trusting in that 'something bigger', the mystery in which we all live and breath and dance. Trusting the process is about deepening our connection to ourselves and our place in the world. We listen to the signals of our bodies, and receive the mirroring of our beloveds and the world around us. We stay present to ourselves, committed to our emergence. Our tiny seed impulses are able to grow into mighty trees.
How is your relationship with trust? What supports you to trust in the process?
Images below from 'The Creative Soul Mandala Oracle': Emergence and Trust.
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!
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.
Have fun playing!
The Creative Soul Mandala Oracle is available here.
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
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.