On Mindfulness and Art Therapy
by Jan Joubert.
As I sit here to write this blog, I first suspend my thoughts and ruminations about my to-do list and I drop down into my body, I become aware of my somatic experience in this moment, I listen to my emotions and notice what I feel. I hear myself. Yes there’s some stress, beneath this, subtle fears. Noticing this, I accept this is my experience in this moment. This is who I am, now, this is what I have to offer this blank page.
And then, my mind prattles for a bit about how I should approach writing this article, theories I could describe or postulations I could make, skeptical thoughts about myself or creating. So, I follow this process again, feeling the familiar fear of being good enough or safely abundant enough to create. I recognize under that is a desire for self-protection, a need for safety and having acknowledged this too, I validate that this is a risk that I’m taking, yes, being creative is essentialy a leap of faith.
And like any relationally focussed family therapist would recommend, I feel that fear, I stay with it, I hold it, I witness it and thus, I console myself by acknowledging and validating it (yes it is scary to write something that will go public), as well as comforting myself with some compassion and empathy. A simple combination of faithful affirmations, self-compassion and critical thinking (I am good enough to write, yes it can be scary, I will survive this) is my antidote.
Having moved through the self protective layers of my ego and thoughts connected to emotions, I step into the opportunity to create.
Do you notice how the focus of my meditation was not to push my mind into stillness but the opposite?
Do you notice how my relationship with creativity challenged me to face my fears?
Art is as much a reflection of our psyche as thought is a (complexified) reflection of emotions, and of course, all of this can be felt through somatic reflection too. I will explain. In the above experience there are two modes of self present. The witness, which notices whatever happens, and the content of whatever happens or is witnessed. The witness stays an (ineffible) subjective experience. Then there’s the content, which for me today was some fears of the future and of being brave enough to let go enough to create. This content is felt in the body, is witnessed in the patterns of thought, and is equally present in whatever we create. Ranging from intentional art-making to unintentional creative choices, such as what we choose to wear on any given day, my world is an ever-present reflection of what I feel.
There is a thoroughly studied relationship between the unconscious content of our minds and hearts and our spontaneously creative choices. These are of course connected to relevant emotions, memories and behaviors.
Our feelings tend to appear in those choices as as metaphors, and this tends to click in when we describe what we’re doing or feel and hear the metaphors in our language. Think of how with children, we see their emotions acted out in play.
While I’ve made an effort to describe a subjective series of mindfulness related events, sometimes it is much easier for others to see this, or for yourself to see it more clearly, when it is expressed in a creative form, and art-making, especially when spontaneous and not pre-meditated, always produces metaphors that helps us see exactly how we really feel. Additionally, art acts as a container for our emotions that we can put them into, and a space for processing what we feel. Ask any child to put how they feel into an artwork and you’ll see it happen.
As an art therapist, I work with my clients and their artworks and often help them sink deeper into feeling things that are just out of sight. Emotional content that they can’t witness on their own, that the ego bars them from seeing out of a denial that comes as a result of self-preservation.
That is therapy, procesing things, to release them, to free us from their grasp on our lives, broadening our consciousness. Often I find that when fears are too great the witness sticks to thought as a safe harbour and a persons emotions becomes acted out rather than taken charge of. The Art, and therapists training, helps these parts of self in shadow to be revealed and I frequently train clients in mindfulness to help them sit-with what they feel.
The essence of art-making is playful joy, witnessing people’s varying degrees of hesitation to step into that is witness a microcosm of how they relate to that through (often unconscious) choices they make in their lives, and always, regardless of the artists technical skill or creative accomplishments, brings these up.
To expand your mindfulness practice and come to know yourself more deeply, you must confront your Shadow. So make art. Yes, ANY art will do.