My Interpretation of Art therapy (as practiced in My-Art therapy)
My Interpretation of Art therapy (as practiced in My-Art therapy)
What is art and what is art therapy?
Is art a painting, a drawing, a sculpture?
Or is art a skill, a knack, a talent?
What if art is all of this, yet none of this, if art is a way of languaging – a semiotic, a process and a product of communication and a process of interaction? What if art is essentially a resonance in the space between; an expression, reverberation and celebration of spirit that exists inside and outside of all that we perceive?
This language is an evolving 'discrete infinity', much more than speech (Corballis, 2006) and much more than words (Todres, 2007). It is about what is expressed and what is not expressed (ibid), and about 'embodied seeing' (Brodsky, 2005) with the acting body as a crucial element in the transfer and translation of ideas (Gendlin, 1996; Todres, 2007).
Assuming that art is spiritual resonance expressed through the body, my interpretation of art therapy is that it is about people recognizing that resonance, and acknowledging and restoring spirit that exists inside and outside of us and in all that we perceive.
Art therapy is about drawing out ‘tacit knowledge’; a concept which Polanyi (1966) introduced to describe knowledge that cannot be talked about because it is inherent, hidden from view, inborn. Many of us are ignorant (unaware) of our tacit knowledge: In the words of Tandon (1995/2005, p. 4): ignorance means 'the [wrong] cognition of the eternal, the pure, the pleasant and the self in the non-eternal, the impure, the painful and the not-self'.
In art therapy, becoming mindful of our sensory awareness is highly important because without this awareness, we become inhuman and miss much communication. A robotic person (a cyborg or cybernetic organism) has (severely) reduced levels of sensory awareness, which is why much of cyborgs say does not 'grab into each other’; things do not make sense, and ‘bad effect’ is often created due to lack of understanding.
‘Bad effect’ is created in unawareness, also produced by militaristic language with utterings such as 'tackling' problems, 'defending' rights, and 'shooting' the messenger. This language is a form of what Marshall Rosenberg calls 'jackal language' that denies choice, places demand or evaluates: choice is denied by what the Nazi Eichmann called Amtssprache (German for office talk).
Rosenberg in an interview with Van Gelder (1998):
"When asked for examples, Eichmann said, "It's basically a language in which you deny responsibility for your actions. So if anybody says, 'Why did you do it?' you say, 'I had to.' 'Why did you have to?' 'Superiors' orders. Company policy. It's the law.'"
Someone (for example a bureaucrat) who uses ‘jackal language’ hides his or her motives and agendas. That person, like a cyborg, is likely to take punitive action if you do not do what this person wants you to do. Behind that type of language lies what Bohm & Edwards (1991) call proof of the fragmented mind and its processes of fragmentation (p. 6). Bohm & Edwards suggest that this kind of thought 'is more or less a representation of what is there, like a map [that] has a creative function as well, to create what is there. It is a very powerful instrument, but if we don't notice how it works, it can also do great harm' (p. i).
Robert Rabbin (2006) points out that 'we self-medicate when we believe what we say and hear. If transformation is our desire, it is not achieved by adopting content, concepts or some other set of beliefs. Neither is it achieved by refurbishing our self-image, by ‘boosting’ our self-esteem, by joining a group to find support, by parroting phrases or otherwise adopting a language that is 'the operating system that simulates reality.'' What we say, hear and see is illusory, virtual, all immersed in a giant role-playing game. We may know this but we keep doing it, creating self-imposed 'deadlocks as outcomes of attitudes that are either externally or internally sourced' (Dimitrov & Weinstein's, 2002).
In art therapy, the acts of art making and of interpreting the product are ways of languaging that seem quite different to the language which people use in their everyday lives. But this is an illusion. Also in our ‘normal’ lives, we language in ways that we are often unaware of. Drawing on the words of Todres (2007, p. 173), in art and in art therapy as a form of interaction in the therapeutic relationship, as a language, there is a unity that holds diversity, and a diversity that holds unity; there is a presence. This language is 'murky' if not poetic and looks for the 'more' than that which words express and bring together; it is 'a kind of language that is released from the logic of identity' (ibid, p. 23). This language is a spiritual kind of language that cannot be condensed or trapped into categories or labeled and criticized as right or wrong. This language is a form of 'embodied inquiry’.
‘Embodied inquiry’ is about sense-making with all of our senses. Sense-making is important, especially nowadays as our lives are increasingly dictated by head-thinking and engagement with the virtual world. In art therapy people make use of art materials that have a feel to them that resonates with their feelings, and the images which people produce resonate and represent their feelings. The materials and the produced images 'work' and somehow 'fit, whilst others don't ‘work’ and don’t ‘fit’.
Largely based on Jean Gendlin's approach, Todres (2007) emphasises the awareness of the provisional and secondary role of words. In art therapy, the art materials and the art-products are similarly, in themselves, merely the contours of the experience as communication takes shape with the body as the 'shepherd' of participation (p. 20). The making of the art and the process of interpreting the artwork is a bodily lived experience for both the art-maker and the observer. The quality of the ‘conversation’ (the language, the interaction) between the art maker, the artwork and the observer is a progressive 'flow', not a conclusiveness. The process of art making and the process of interpreting the artwork is continuously refreshed, brings the conversation forward until a recognition ‘drops in’.
Maieutic inquiry and the felt sense in art therapy
For me, ‘maieutic inquiry’ is an important aspect of my work as a transpersonal art therapist, as an awareness coach and as a researcher. 'Maieutic inquiry', Dimitrov & Naess (2005, pp. 17-19) suggest, depends essentially on the active interaction of the inquirer and the respondent. They suggest that 'the interactions of sides involved in maieutic inquiry aim at liberating their creative potential from the pull of forces born out of human egocentricity and egotism, blind attachments and addictions, social brainwash power-based manipulations - forces which are able to convert the fuzziness of knowing into hard- to-surpass ignorance.'
Maieutic inquiry is about creating and holding a safe space for people to realize themselves, reveal themselves to themselves, to receive themselves, and to become more aware and receive the Self at the same time.
Through 'maieutic inquiry' and by focusing on the felt sense, it is easier to facilitate a 'moving' situation for people that can quickly turn into one that becomes 'fixed' again if the heart of the conversation shifts into one that is focused on personal and/or group-identity, rather than on the gift of 'bearing the cross' and being able to transform that ‘cross’. ‘Bearing the cross’ is a metaphor for a felt experience of the situation, the ‘landscape’ that people experience. The ‘cross’ is a metaphor that stands for the suffering we experience in various aspects of life as a whole. Many people avoid a confrontation with their suffering, try to escape their ‘cross’ by reaching out for something that will numb them temporarily or for longer periods of time. They reach out for an external device or a ‘leader’ that can rescue them from their suffering. They may become addicted to those external devices or leaders, unaware of their addiction. But they may also realize over time that an external form of rescue does not exist. Only self-reflection and having the willingness to move through the areas of difficulty, and through maieutic inquiry and staying focused on the sensations and emotions involved with people’s ‘cross’, this ‘cross’ can transform into a dynamic kind of gate, a passage to a 'soulful space' (Dimitrov and Naess, 2005, p. 117) that is born in the quality of a 'mutual vulnerability' (p. 119). In that space, insights tend to arise that come from their soul, from their own inner and higher Self.
Staying attuned, attending to the felt sense
Regardless of people’s background, it is important to stay attuned; to feel into the felt sense of the landscape of our own lived experience and the lived experience of other beings. Each of these felt experiences is fractal to a larger energy-field. As Capra (1982) wrote, our interactions with our environment are a continual interplay and mutual influence between the outer and our inner world, with patterns we perceive around us that mirror our inner patterns (p. 320).
As a transpersonal art therapist, by attuning to people’s landscapes and the sensations I get around their projections, I pick art materials that seem to resonate with those feelings and then ask the person/s to 'draw out' or otherwise represent what they see and feel when they think of their lived experience, their ‘landscape’. This helps people to literally 'draw out' their projections into a rich exteriorized description, which then allows them to interpret it and reflect on afterwards to be able to see their situation, their landscape from different angles.
By attending to the felt sense, people sharpen their Self-awareness that in turn allows them to change their physical/mental structure and bring into effect a world that better aligns with their inner drives. Fehmi's (n.d.-b) description of attention is useful. Attention is 'the most basic behavior we engage in' as it is 'the process we use to control our awareness, it's direction, proximity and scope.' Fehmi's (n.d.-a) fundamental observation during a long process of thirty years as a researcher and provider of biofeedback, neurofeedback and training in a clinical setting, led him to believe that 'to realise our human potential fully is to learn to be aware of, choose flexibly and implement effortlessly an expanding, dynamic range of attentional styles for the optimum allocation of our resources' (p. 1).
Attention is an act of being-in-the-moment; an effort never completed.
Van Hoorn, 2007a, p.154
Fehmi found that a fixation on a specific content - something he refers to as 'narrow-objective attention - actually creates mental and physical problems (pp. 19-20). This fixation is linked, he argues, with the Cartesian notion of 'I think, therefore I am'; an assumption that negates the other senses (pp. 20-21) and impacts on our physiology, perception and behaviour (p. 21). This assumption produces problems in our relationships with other people and our environment. As I found when I taught the formal English-Australian school curriculum in an Aboriginal community. This curriculum is fixated on 'head-learning' – learning English and Mathematics according to a Western framework. This ‘head-learning’ narrows down our intelligence, invalidates and shuts off all forms of knowing that are other than intellectual. This form of learning is a curriculum that does not fit the type of learning I became familiar with when taken bush to go goanna- and honey-ant hunting. I noticed Aboriginal people navigating life in complete communication and harmony with nature, not ruled by thinking or head-learning. And when I took my students out bush in the school's jeep so they could practice speaking the English language in a non-formal context, they pointed out animals that I simply could not see. No matter how hard I looked, I missed their sensory awareness that allowed them to see something I could not see. I became deeply aware of my culturally implanted limitations, my belief-system, a reference framework I had unconsciously taken on board.
Fowler (1976) suggests we 'live our lives in dynamic fields of forces [and are] pulled at and moved from and into many directions. faced with the challenge of finding or composing some kind of order, unity and coherence in the force-fields of our lives' (p. 24). These fields of dynamic forces 'arise out of our experiences of interacting with the diverse persons, institutions, events and relationships that make up the 'stuff' in our lives' (and) form a 'dynamic storehouse of potential imaginable material upon which we build our further experiencing, consciously or unconsciously' (p. 25). That dynamic storehouse, he suggests, is 'faith' that is not the same as religion, for 'religion is constituted by the forms faith shapes' (p. 27). Metaphors, symbols and concepts, he suggests, express and enact the ultimate environment in which we place faith (ibid).
In art therapy, people have the opportunity to draw out those dynamic forces and how they are pulled at and moved; something that verbal and behavioral therapy cannot achieve. As a transpersonal art therapist, I stress that the aim is not to make ‘pretty’ pictures. I ask people to place their judgments aside for a while, park their head-thinking and only focus on the experience of using colours, shapes, lines, perhaps stick figures to represent their ‘cross’. I ask people to let the image emerge out of seemingly nothing, let their fingers do the talking, and the materials and symbols choose them. This allows people to privilege their unconscious and often they create symbols that have an element of faith attached to them; an element in which they trust and resonate with at a soul level. They also tend to draw archetypal figures, unconsciously. They draw or see in their image, for example, a sunflower that consistently turns its head towards the sun. Or they draw a spirit shape of a human, a whale, a bird or a protective figure. Koestler (1975, p. 353) said this about archetypes:
If the great confluence towards which science strives is the universal logos, the ultimate spring of aesthetic experience is the archetypos. The literal meaning of the word archetypos is 'implanted' (typos = stamp) 'from the beginning'. Jung described archetypes as the 'psychic residua of numberless experiences of the same type encountered by our ancestors. They are stamped into the memory of the race, into the deep layers of the 'collective consciousness' below the level of personal memories. Hence, whenever some archetypal motif is sounded, the response is much stronger than warranted by its face value - the mind responds like a tuning fork to a pure tone.
What if I said to you that you are disassociating from your behavior? What would you think, feel and say? What upsets would you be protecting? Could you acknowledge and accept those upsets? Would you be willing to reflect on how you are reacting to the chaotic world today?
How are you protecting, and as such disassociating from your behavior?
What if we, as human beings, have learned over time, to protect our belief in the human drama, which we are creating on a daily basis?
What if we behave according to a belief-system, which more often than not is not even our own system, but one that we have adopted for one reason or another?
What if we behave as a series of figures, just so that we can have a human experience and
have the opportunity to learn the lessons we need to learn?
We see ourselves as someone in need, as needy, as limited in some way or other, as
desperate, as hopeful, as loving, as caring, as dumb or as intelligent, as someone in a
powerless or in a powerful position, as a Christian or as a Muslim, as a female or male, as a
transgender, as straight or as gay. But what if none of these identities and matching behaviors have any meaning?
What if we see ourselves as part of a world in which we live, but someone or something tells us that this perception is merely a fantasy of our ego? What if we see ourselves as part of a world that is violent, unethical, chaotic, under threat, or as part of a world that is dominated by politicians and extremely rich people, and if all these perceptions are just interpretations,
readings of a situation that in itself is neutral? What if we acknowledge that we are opinionated, blinkered and only see a world that is under threat and needs to be rescued by something or someone such as medicines, vaccines, technological apparatuses, a belief of some sort, a leader or a God of some sort that is external to yourself? And what if there is no one way of seeing the world that is better than another?
What if we see ourselves as part of a family, part of a political group, a tribe, a nation, a culture, as part of a humanity that either or not needs to be controlled by external forces? What if we learned that also those perceptions are merely interpretations; a result of a particular way of looking at the world that we have taken on board and now assume as our own way?
What if our ways of seeing are merely a consequence, a result of a game that we have learned
to play in the belief that we are part of the mental-rational/physical universe? What if we know deep within, that the mental-rational/physical universe has its own laws that always have a cause and an effect; a universe in which every action has a reaction? What if we are actually NOT part of that mental-rational/physical universe?
What if our ways of seeing are related to a previous but forgotten decision to perceive ‘the
world’ and ‘the human being’ in a particular way? What if we have the power of choice to recall that decision, to make another one instead, to pay attention to the observer inside of us who pays attention? What if we could see ‘the world’ and ‘human beings’ as spiritual beings?
What if all that we perceive are actually figments of our imagination?
What if our imagination is actually unlimited in power and in peace, incapable of being limited by our ego?
What if, who we really are, is not something that we can perceive and control?
What if that, which we see as human beings and as part of being human, try to control and
defend, but if such control and defense is actually meaningless, a waste of energy, a waste of resources that we could spend better on creating a better place and better beings?
What if boundaries, rules and restrictions cannot be imposed on us, because we are actually
What if the idea of a transhuman, robotic world, the idea that the natural world including human beings can and should be controlled, is even more insane than the idea that humans can or should control the world we see and try to protect or defend?
What if the life-force, the flame that burns inside of us, that which moves us into action, is
essentially who we are?
What if it is time NOW to choose again?
The power of Migrant women and why healing is important for us
The power of Migrant women and why healing is important for us
Migrant women are a force to be reckoned with. Why?
Migrant women have crossed many boundaries, have been confronted and learned to deal with different cultural group minds, have learned to suppress or give away and surrender to masculine concepts and cultural biases to meet the ideas and expectations of another cultural group mind.
We are part of a minority group that has learned what it feels like to experience opposition from a group mind that thinks about, thus sees the world in another way than we do.
We know what the force of a group mind feels like as an energy, and how powerful a force it is. It is very different from an oppositional force that comes from an individual, and we know how to navigate the force of a group mind; how to keep going in the direction where we want to go despite that oppositional force.
We know what it feels like to have to succumb, to let go of what we thought was the right way to think and believe, and what it feels like to have to deal with individual people and groups of people who do not know that their belief-systems are culturally determined, seemingly part of their personal identity.
We have learned to be patient, to wait for the right time and the right place to express and communicate what is true or dear to us from the depths of our hearts.
We know our power as women, that we are part of womanhood, which also carries with it a group mind but a group mind that is quite different in quality to manhood. We know that womanhood is akin to the yin-quality of Mother Earth that receives, transforms and gives life. We know that our physical gender as a female has nothing to do with the yin-quality of the Divine where yin-yang is in perfect harmony and balance.
We know that our physical presence as a female, once fully embraced, has made it possible for us to navigate boundaries and spaces, to give birth, to negotiate tailor-made and innovative approaches to transform our environment into a fruitful space.
We know how to deal with cross-cultural relationships, in a way that resembles the ancient symbol of the Vesica Pisces. The symbol of the Vesica Pisces stands for two parties or two energy-fields that come together in the space in-between: the space where the projection/reflection principle can be understood and worked with. The 'vacant space' at the centre of the Vesica Pisces is like the 'womb', a space that, provided it is held with unconditional care and love, gives birth to new insights. Knowing how to hold this ‘vacant’ space with unconditional love and care, we have learned to rely on our inner resources and to tinker at the edges of existing structures: a way of toying with and repairing – bringing together - different horizontally and vertically fixed horizons to bring about a fruitful cross-dynamic, where the horizons of people whose visions are blurred can become clear. Their vision is blurred because they unconsciously hang on to their culturally determined viewpoints and cannot truly ‘see’.
As migrant women, we know the importance of continuously working on our capacity to help give birth to new insights, new ways of working. We understand and work with the power of maieutic inquiry and home in on the dynamics within and outside each structure, the quality of the exchanges in the space in-between.
We know how to hold a safe space, so that ‘a third space’ emerges in unity.
But many of us undervalue ourselves; we feel unrecognized, unseen, unheard, because we have not fully understood or recognized ourselves. We focus on our own cultural baggage as if it is something we need to hang to, but we need to engage with that baggage, take it out of our suitcases and have a good look at what is there and accept it for what it is: Cultural baggage.
Art therapy and awareness coaching can help us to get back on track and in touch with what and who we really are and what we really want from life. We need not hang on to this baggage, although we can keep it for as long as we need to until we can accept it for what it is. We can transform both the suitcase and the baggage by seeing it for what it is.
Fritjof Capra (1982) wrote that our interactions with our environment are a continual interplay and mutual influence between the outer and our inner world, with patterns we perceive around us that mirror our inner patterns (p. 320). It is up to us to look at and accept those patterns; they form part of our baggage. Capra (1997) suggests that seemingly complex phenomena can be broken into pieces to be able to understand the behaviour of the whole from the property of its parts (p. 19). His approach called 'ecoliteracy' (2008) emphasises a shift away from measuring to mapping mutual relationships and interactions, not only among components but also between whole systems and their surrounding larger systems. It implies a finding of repeating configurations called patterns that are visual images and contextual knowledge as different to content knowledge. In other words, ecoliteracy enables 'a shift of perception from material objects and structures to the nonmaterial processes and patterns of organization that represent the very essence of life.' Capra’s ecoliterate approach resonates with Dimitrov's Wholesome Life Ecology.
We may find that there is no North-South-West-East. There is only a whirling space, a range of vortexes that we may see as stable but that are not actually stable. Like a painter uses oil to bind the pigments to the canvas, we use 'oil' to bind separate pictures into a movie that plays in the mind over and over again. Until we recognize we do not need to use 'oil' to bind separate pictures because they are manufactured in the mind anyhow.
WE are the 'binding' factor that builds up a world of pictures, like glue that hardens over time if we hang on to our baggage and fail to reflect on the value of our suitcases. When we are determined to see a different world, and we also acknowledge that we are both part of creation and our creator, this glue can soften into something like a warm oil.
Whether we- as a collection of ego’s - like it or not, as human beings – we are interconnected. As a humanity, as a species, we are one and as such we are interconnected with all that exists. The quantum scientists call this a unified field. We are not separate. Although some beings, and yes some theorists, political figures and scientists think they can control us and turn human beings into automatons, as spiritual beings we are and always will be free. They only pull themselves away from all that is and also from themselves.
As spiritual beings we are ‘Selves-in-Relationship’, effectively Selves-as-Relationship, We are interconnected with the whole, and the whole is interconnected with us. Looking from the outside in, it may not seem this way because our ways of perceiving the world are conditioned in a particular way, through history, through our identification with the physical/ mental universe and our (adopted) belief in some of our ‘leaders’ and their inverted viewpoints that take us out, away from who we really are, making us more unconscious.
We are moving out of the mental conscious structure into the integral conscious structure, becoming more and more aware of a larger collective mind, a group mind in which the projection/reflection principle colours the space. The projection/reflection principle is something that we as a human species hold dear and practice on a daily basis without being aware of it. Although more of us are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that whatever we project out is always reflected back to us for us to see the extent of our human conditioning. We cannot see what we do not project out. If we see anger and frustration outside of us, then that is something we project out. If we see love all around us, than that is what we project out. We always and only see that what we project out. And we experience and feel, often are at effect of that what others project out at us. We feel it when people stare at us. We feel it when a bird is watching us, if a dog looks at us. We feel it when people are trying to make us ‘wrong’, minimize or monitor us. As energy beings, we resonate with particular types of people and surroundings that all have their own vibration. We feel drawn to be part of a particular group, of certain discussion groups.
When large groups of people and other species assume a similar ideology, they project out a group mind that has enormous power in the physical and mental universe. There is a widespread level of ignorance – unawareness - around the 'group mind' phenomenon. I was aware that there are theorists who talk about 'group mind' that involve observations with the 'eye of the mind' (Wilber, 2001), using terms such as 'group think', 'group synergy' and 'collective consciousness'. But those concepts are rarely brought into dialogue even when a situation demands clarification.
Group mind operates beyond cultural, biological, organizational, national, gendered and other bounded spaces. It is a subliminal, self-organising and self-emergent force that can be destructive when we ignore it.
Whether we believe in psychology, sociology, economy, society, policy, any other concept ending with a ‘y’, each of these contain a group mind, thought-systems that focus our attention on the individual or a particular group, not the group mind. Also our organisations have a group mind; they are shaped according to a certain ideology, a belief-system, a thought-structure.
Also arguably holistic philosophies such as neohumanism, humanism, complexity theory, integral theory, although they point in the right direction, they still ignore their own group mind. People’s capacity and willingness to self-reflect is not very well developed as a result of our reliance on the human condition and the impact of social engineering. That's why discussions around ‘ethics’ and ‘values’ are always complicated.
And that is the thing. We live in this tension, where we are responsible at three or four levels of existence in which we play a role: at the level of I as an individual, I as a member of a group, I as a member of society, and I as a member of the spiritual universe. Without this friction, friction in general, we cannot walk and grow. By becoming aware of this friction and reflecting on how well we operate at all of these levels, and envisioning where we want to go from here, we are moving forward. If we do not move forward as energy beings, we stagnate our own energies, but also the energies around us because we are interconnected, whether we like it or not.
If we experience negative emotions, experience rejection or pain, our automatic reaction is to distance ourselves, judge and criticize the situation, or we run away. Our automatic defense mechanism is to engage in fight, flight or freeze. We run away by for example reaching out for an external quick-fix or a ‘leader’. The problem is that there are beings (‘leaders’) that clothe (cloak) themselves as benevolent, their real agenda and motives (combined, ‘motendas’) are not always so pure. Some of these beings cannot and will not self-reflect. They are stuck inside their ego or they are otherwise trapped. Their spiritual maturity is minimal, or has been dimmed and they do not know it. Understand where they are situated, and forgive yourself for the fact that you were unaware of the fact that you had adopted a pattern of forgetting who you really are and had surrendered yourself to an outside force that had a negative influence on you. Afterwards replace that space, now cleared, with an image of what you really want in your life.
We have the power to completely accept and let go of negative emotions including fear by completely feeling into these emotions until they ‘lift’. We have the power to forgive ourselves for our errors, for being on a learning journey of becoming all that we already are in potential, for being able to restore who we really are. We are able to recognize and step out of paradigms, values, common language, all the stuff that has been imposed onto us. Once we know what the benefits were for us to be involved with those phenomena, we do not need to hang on, blame, and regret that we have taken stuff on board that was not ours to begin with. We did not know at the time what we were doing, but once we know, we can forgive and move on. As such we raise our energy and vibration and open ourselves up to new possibilities through intention and focused attention, and bring about a collective shift in awareness.