Monday, January 23, 2012

Why is Art Making a Form of Meditation?

I meditate. I sit for an hour on a cushion with my legs crossed and hands folded and quiet my mind. The purpose is to just sit and be present with “what is”. Off the cushion I sometimes stay present and awake and sometimes I become emerged with what is happening.

Making art is one of those activities which I find helps me center myself in both worlds. I can sometimes fall into action with a brush, a needle, and or a pen and at the same time stay mindful and listen for what direction feels right. Witnessing and observing our self through the marks we make on paper, could be called Art Therapy or self-reflective practice, or mindful observation. We can see through our art making how we see the world. Art making can be a meditation practice that helps us focus and quiet the mind.

When I meditate I go through phases of experiencing deep peace, frustration, distraction, and joy. When I sink into the creative process I experience similar stages of feeling connected or oneness with the activity, deep joy or peace, distraction and panic. In mediation I try to seat through difficult emotional states and crazy making thoughts. Art making evokes the same effort from me. I try not to struggle with the voice of the critic, but listen and let it pass. It is the same practice of being with but not hijacked by my thoughts and feeling. Both practice teach me how to stay calm in the face chaos and both practices deepen my ability to be with whatever is present. People talk about meditation in action, which I believe means staying present while acting in the world. Art meditation, walking meditation, dish washing mediation would in my mind all be mediation in action. Doodling, painting, working on the loom or wheel would in be action meditation, if one was present of the one creating. Thomas Merton wrote: “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

Exercise: Here are some ideas of how the work mindfully with art making.

If you are a mediator sit for your usual practice and have a piece of paper close by. After your sitting is done, simply take a few minutes to close your session with a reflective drawing or process painting.

Set a low sounding timer to go off every ten minutes. Stand in front of your canvas, sit at your writing desk or be in your dance studio. Take a few minutes to bring yourself into Presence. You could do some deep breathing, or a centering exercise. Start creating and every ten minutes stop, sit and do some breathing and just be present for ten minutes. If thoughts come welcome them and let them go. After ten minutes return to your art activity. Gently go back and forth from sitting for ten minute to creating for ten minutes.

If you enjoy do walking meditations, spend twenty minutes or whatever your usual practice is doing so, but be in your studio ready to create after you or done. Work for twenty minutes and then return to your walking meditation. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Why Do Things Go Awry?

Art Therapy Exercise

Why Do Things Go Awry?

Why is that? Life is going on smoothly then all of a sudden a friend gets angry, a job opportunity goes out the window or family member is in trouble. Whatever the scenario is, it appears that life is falling apart. If two things go array, then I wait for the third. Habit I guess. Or a belief that things will magically turn around after the third disappointment. When we are happily moving through life why do we seem to miss a step and then fall flat on our face? Well, we could blame it on the Wheel of Fortune, the concept that we will eventually become down, or karma, or that things fall apart so we can appreciate what is working.
Maybe dips, dark periods, down times, chaos happens so we can wake up, let go of old ways and become liberated from our patterns. Maybe things fall apart because they have run their course and there is nothing sustaining them any longer.
I have just experienced a disappointing run of what I would label bad luck or bad things happening to me. When I examine each one, the truth is that I always had a doubt or halfhearted desire or fear that they were not what I wanted. I just ignored that feeling and hoped that things would be okay. When these relationships fell apart and the conflicts occurred, they really were just a reflection of my original doubt, fear or not wanting. In truth I see that I was not emotionally, cognitively or spirituality really aligned with any of them. But I also did not want the relationships or opportunities to be disruptive. A part of me knew that they could be and would eventually be.
This is not a one-time event it is a universal experience that when we travel through life some events and relationships that we engage in will go sour and others will fall away or become conflicted. I personally find that I grow faster if I stop associating disappointing times with bad luck, or negativity. If I genuinely look at these times I can see how I should have been clearer from the start with this person or not taken on a job that I knew was going to end in a loss. I can also be kinder with myself knowing that I grow when I take risks, make mistakes and I can try to see breakdowns as a way of breaking through and becoming clearer about my true intent and desires. My preconceived ideas that the world should always work for me is a sweet idea, but not exactly good for my growth. It would get boring to never have my dependence on safety, desire to be liked, and want to have everything in my life run smoothly to be challenged. I don’t like chaos but I do like getting clearer even if it hurts a little.

Try this Art Therapy Exercise:

Do some deep breathing, get centered and calm. If one of the disappointing events involved another person, try to visualize them there with you. Imagine your first meeting or initial responses to this person. Let yourself enjoy the pleasurable parts of this remembering, but also check and see if there had been some red flags. Now take yourself to the present moment and write down three things that you did in this relationship that you are proud of. Release this with a breath. Now write down three things that you learned or would like to not repeat in your next relationship. Release this with a breath. Now draw three things that you are grateful for in the here and now.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Is It Art Therapy If My Client Does Not Do Art?

When I first started practicing as an Art Therapist, I felt it was my job to get all my clients interested in creating art as part of their therapeutic process. I knew so many great exercises, processes and techniques, I thought that if I just learned the right way to introduce them, then my clients would engage with them. Turns out some people do and some people don’t. I have always had some clients who don’t paint, do clay, move or want to use the sandtray tables. Some clients want to talk. That doesn’t mean that they are not creative types. They dance, sing, paint and do drama and some don’t, but when they are here, they want to talk. They want to discuss their life with someone who understands their creative process and their way of being in the world. When they leave they might paint about our session or write a poem, but when they are here they sit and talk. The Art Therapist in me struggles with this sometimes. I feel that ‘just talking’ is not enough. We can do Focusing, EMDR. meditation, or create, why talk? Then I step back and remember that sharing our stories, talking and processing with words is another creative process. 

Mindfully reflecting, reframing, finding new meanings, reviewing patterns and understanding the words that we live by is a very creative act. The words that we say to ourselves and others everyday are part of our creative lived expression. Talking is a creative act. To be aware, mindful and attentive of the words we use is an art form.

Try this Art Therapy Exercise:

1.     List the words that you use daily that support you.
2.     List the words that you use daily that may harmful or not supportive.
3.     List the words that you use when talking to others daily that are positive and uplifting and list the ones that are limiting and harmful.
Words are acts of art. If you consider the conversations that you engage in the same light as creating a painting or poem, what would you want your words to convey? Hope, light, wellbeing? Words have power. Words help shape our reality and the way we perceive our reality. Having someone witness, reflect and deeply listen to our words help us become more aware of the words that we habitually and mindfully live by. That can be powerful therapy. That can also be Art Therapy.

"For me, words are a form of action, capable of influencing change. Their articulation represents a complete, lived experience."
- Ingrid Bengis


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