Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Relationship between practicing Mindfulness and Art Therapy

There are many different paths up the mountain, they all lead to the view.

Practicing mindfulness meditation and creating art mindfully help guide us, calm the storm around our journey and provide an opening for us to access inner strength and wisdom. In these two practices, one uses the breath, the other uses the hand, as anchors to guide and center us. Both practices help create the space inside us in order to follow our spirit and passion. When we can engage fully with the reality of our lives in the present moment, we are practicing mindfulness. By using art as a tool to connect authentically with ourselves, we become available to the moment. “Art lies in the moment of encounter: we meet our truth and we meet ourselves; we meet ourselves and we meet our self-expression” (Julie Cameron, 1992, p. 82). This center or self that we meet can, through the practice of mindfulness or art therapy, provide a stability and calmness necessary to transform and heal pain.
“Creation requires attention and complete focus. But most of all it demands that we take the plunge into new territory without knowing what will appear” (Shaun Mcniff, 1998, p. 61).
We simply watch, listen, and pay attention without fear or labeling what we are experiencing. We have greater freedom when we detach from reacting to feelings and move into accepting the feelings that pass through us.
When clients become immersed in their art making, their desire to judge their work falls away. They move from seeing their art as good, bad, beautiful, or ugly to being an indication of their present mood or feeling. They begin to see their artwork as process work, always changing, sometimes mysterious and sometimes an authentic glimpse into the depths and beauty of their self. Learning their own unique creative language and engaging in a dialogue with their art becomes an interesting adventure. The safety of creating and seeing large feelings on paper helps clients practice detachment and gain distance from overwhelming feelings. Clients can paint their experience of one feeling state, then another, and then another, and safely stay grounded in their sense of self while they witness and reflect on paper their changing emotions, feelings and thoughts. Rather than be swept away with these changes, the environment of the studio and the art therapist help contain the changing storm around the client.
Practicing mindfulness involves slowing down and turning our awareness inward to witness whatever reactions we are having to the present. To become fully present to our reality we observe and become receptive to whatever arises. A thought, an impulse, or an uneasiness is befriended and followed to see what information is revealed. Anything that emerges can be the source of the therapy session or the meditation practice.

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