by Kathleen Horne
I have been thinking a lot about my inner critic these days, partly because we are teaching a workshop soon on just that topic.
I have been noticing when and how my inner critic shows up in my life – in my art, my business, my relationships, and tries to keep me in a box of safety by threatening or belittling me when I step out of that box. I have been consciously cultivating a relationship with this aspect of myself for a long time now, but, recently, my inner critic took me by surprise.
I was facilitating Art as a Healing Practice, which is one of my favorite things to do. Even better, our session was focused on making mandalas for healing and integration, and mandala-making is my favorite art form. And, on top of that, there were just 3 of us – a nice, intimate little group with an established connection and sense of trust. What better setting to sink into a delicious couple of hours of guided meditation, mandala making, writing, witnessing and sharing? Not a place I would expect my inner critic to show up!
I waited until the others were engaged in their art-making and had what they needed, and then I sat down and looked at the spacious, empty circle on the piece of square watercolor paper, inviting me into what would potentially be a relaxing, contemplative, art experience. I created a grid in pencil, joined some lines up with a ruler, and found myself with an interesting star shape. I felt satisfied, curious, yet a little stuck about where to take it next. I liked the shape, so I decided to outline it with a black line, and I enjoyed that too. After that, though, I just sat and looked at it for awhile, uncertain, and seeing no real possibilities for the next step. (in mandala-making this is unusual for me, as my mandalas usually simply seem to grow, organically, on the page).
Without any real sense of direction, I decided to add color, and got some watercolors, filling in the spaces. While doing this, I felt strangely bored and impatient (again, not feelings I associate with creating mandalas). As the facilitator, holding space for others, I was dipping in and out of my own process, not sinking in as deeply as I would if I were on my own. So, I just kept painting in the shapes and noticing my feelings. I made the star-shaped structure black. Although I liked the black, I also felt like I had created a cage, a fixed structure with “no way out”. This was getting a bit weird, and again, I had no idea what to do next. I realized that my inner critic had showed up in full force, but I didn’t yet realize that my inner critic was actually the subject of my painting.
Continuing to feel somewhat immobilized with no sense of direction or potential for growth, I decided to just add some detail. I took my black pen and made spirals all over the purple/pink section. This was OK, and gave me a little sense of growth potential, but still felt very caged in. Then I added white dots to the black grid, hoping to add a little lightness, but, when I finished, I thought they looked like the rivets of a black metal cage.
By this time, we were almost out of time for art-making, and I stopped to give the writing prompts to the others. Before I did any writing myself, I spontaneously added the scallops to the outside of the yellow circle, hoping to add some growth potential but actually creating more of a border or impermeable barrier.
Although I don’t usually write until after I finish a piece, I decided that writing now might open up some possibility.
Some excerpts from my writing:
What, what, what are you becoming?
I am waiting for something to grow. Something organic, mysterious, and beautiful.
Where, where, where are the openings?
Full of questions, I am. With no answers. Stay with it.
I know that when things become uncomfortable (in art and in life) it makes good sense to be with that and work with it and find a way through. So, I shared my unfinished image in our circle, as well as my writing and my feelings.
And then I took it home with me, feeling somewhat confused and a bit disgruntled.
The next morning it suddenly hit me that this mandala I was creating is actually a picture of my inner critic! The straight, hard, riveted black lines that form a cage, with all of the color and growth potential within, or behind this cage, with no way out. It made perfect sense. The invitation into mandala-making was about healing and integration, and this mandala was all about my relationship with my inner critic! Once again, my art was ahead of my conscious knowing.
With this realization, frustration changed to curiosity. I looked at the image that was emerging on the page, fascinated. The black lines formed a structure, and, in also a cage, in my art. In my life, I know there are times that I feel caged in by my inner critic, and unable to free myself? Do I also experience my inner critic as a structure?
Of course! My inner critic tries to keep me safe. That has always been its function, from an early age. It uses a harsh voice and unkind words, and plays upon my fears, but it is trying to keep me out of harm’s way by caging me in, keeping me within my comfort zone, where things are predictable and risk-free. Hmmm.
In my mandala, I had built a structure (the star shaped black lines), reinforced it with rivets, keeping all the life and light safely contained within. The result, though, was that the structure had become a cage, with no way out. Could I change this in my mandala?
Even though it was just lines and colors on a piece of paper, and it was never going to be a piece of “art”, is was a slow and careful process to do this. Each step felt like a risk, and I was aware of finding that edge between being careful and being free.
I have finished the mandala now, I think. Ultimately, it will go in my file of process-oriented art. For now, though, it stays propped up on my work table, reminding me of its life lessons. It helps me to acknowledge that there are areas of my life in which I am moving out of safe structure, and into unknown territory. It helps me to remember that this can be difficult and deliberate work, even while it is freeing. It reminds me that change is often uncomfortable and releases fear, anxiety, and old beliefs.
The arts are the perfect place to shift and play with our relationship with our inner critic. If you would like to experience this for yourself, there are still 2 more days to register for Transforming Your Inner Critic!
p.s. It seems, now that this is the beginning of a series of explorations. Here is the beginning of the next one. I wonder how things will shift, in my mandala and in my life?
by Tamara Teeter Knapp
Last week, I went to see the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Dali Museum in St. Pete. It was an amazing exhibit that told a rich story of pain, courage, and untethered creativity. I didn’t get to see all of the paintings, especially the ones that graphically depicted her pregnancy loss and the excruciating pain she felt throughout her life (because my son was with me and it was best to stay with the “Family Friendly Tour”). But, I saw enough to feel connected to her as a person, as a woman, and as an artist willing to be transparent and bold. I left with the question, “What if Frida had listened to her inner critic and not painted?”
What will go unexpressed and remain unknown not only to others but to myself if I heed the Inner Critic’s voice inside of me? I wonder.
The Inner Critic speaks in whispers and sometimes shouts, but is usually present when I try to step out of my comfort zone and do something new and different. Lately, there are so many new possibilities that I want to explore, but I remain quiet, don’t step out, and hear the voice of my true self. My Inner Critic is strong, sneaky and relentless at times.
My son (almost 5) and I went together to the exhibit and we met our dear friend and partner Kathleen. It was a fun day, but after lunch Caleb wasn’t convinced that he wanted to go upstairs to see the Dali exhibit. For a moment, I heard a voice “why did you think this would work to bring a 4 ½ year old here? You’re not going to get him to go and you’ve spent all this money to get here and see the art.” Yada yada yada. I met the voice with the spirit of surrender and said, “Okay, if we don’t go see more art upstairs, it’s okay. We did get to see the Frida exhibit” and suggested we go to the family activity room for a little while before we left.
Caleb and I ended up in the room by ourselves for a while and relaxed, enjoyed some quiet and then watched the little film about Dali that was narrated by two flies. This inspired us to make mustaches from pipe cleaners (one of the activities set up for the kids). I convinced him that it would be fun to go upstairs wearing our mustaches to see the Dali art and off we went to get our headphones. We looked at the art, listened to stories about Dali and his life, and laughed (as did others) when we occasionally remembered we had mustaches on our faces!
I think about it now and realize that in some ways, I don’t listen to my inner critic – or maybe my inner critic doesn’t care about certain things like pipe cleaner mustaches in public. I would have missed a lot had I decided that was “silly” or “ridiculous” and “I shouldn’t do that”. It’s the same in my art, my movement, my voice, my life. I can choose whether to show up fully, have fun and be inspired with joy and new experiences OR I can choose to stay home and be safe and unseen. Even just typing those words make me cringe and feel sad. I don’t want a life unlived, a song unsung, or to miss out on simple joyful moments with my son or anyone in my life.
Sometimes my inner critic’s “voice” is not in words, but in feelings – resistance, exhaustion, fear, even anger – and I don’t always recognize it. I notice that when I check-in with my art, I can see what the feeling is and if I move the image or feel where it is in my body, I can access the words or message it is trying to convey. Choosing to listen to one’s own inner voice, to soften the critical and deepen and expand the truest voice inside is courageous and bold, like Frida.
Note: I wrote this post last week, right after I went to the exhibit. I want to share the irony of why I am just posting it today – a whole week later. My inner critic was so active all week about this and I didn’t post it because I heard “you need to edit it more”, “what if no one can relate or it seems ridiculous?”. So, here it goes. I am just going to start. Step out. Speak up and share because what I think about all of this is so different from what I know, which is that it is more important for me to be authentic and real than to worry about what will happen next and I want you to know it’s okay too.
Interested in more?
May 4-6, 2017
Here is the 4th conversation in a series of blog posts featuring Mitchell Kossak. Today I speak with him about the global healing power of his work in Expressive Arts.
by Kathleen Horne
Mitchell will be in Sarasota on March 4 offering a full-day workshop entitled IMAGINE HARMONY: Imagery, Rhythm, Sound and Embodied Healing.
Kathleen: Mitchell, the past few years you have been traveling extensively, leading workshops and facilitating trainings. Now more than ever, this work is so vital, as the expressive arts provide a bridge, a universal language, that fosters both understanding and appreciation of difference, and an embracing of common ground between humans on the planet.
Mitchell: Yes, we are living in uncertain and distressed times. In the past five years teaching full time at I have traveled to many places teaching and giving workshops. I have been to China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Turkey, Israel, Guatemala, Peru, and, most recently, Argentina. In all of my travels and teachings I find a similar theme. The arts have the capacity to awaken our sensibilities and inform us how to live more fully and in the moment. In my book Attunement in Expressive Arts Therapy: Toward an Understanding of Embodied Empathy I write, “The expressive arts can help teach productive ways of how to be more awake and to feel attuned the world around us. Art helps us to rise above the fear and uncertainty.”
Kathleen: Absolutely. The arts can allow us to come face to face with the challenges, and can also provide the pathway to find our way through and restore a sense of hope. I know that you recently gave a keynote speech and the 2nd Latin American International Expressive Arts Therapy Association regional symposium in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Can you share a little about that?
Mitchell: Yes, I will share some excerpts from my keynote address. The theme of the symposium was Like Rivers that Flow/ Como Rios que Fuyen. This theme reminded me of something written by the Hopi elders as a reflection after the 9/11 tragedy in New York City. In this poem the elders talk about a river.
There is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.
They will try to hold on to the shore.
They will feel they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly.
Know that the river has its destination.
That we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.
Kathleen: What a potent metaphor – the call to push off from the shore and into the middle of the river, without knowing the destination.
Mitchell: Yes, the river is flowing fast now and we are all in it. We are the community of artists and musicians, dancers, poets, dramatists, dancers, educators and therapists all swimming in the same waters. I know we speak the same language – sometimes even without words, and share similar perspectives –even if we use different materials. We understand that art is not just something that kids play with and then stop to do more “serious” things. We understand that art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, a desired expression of who we are. Art is one of the ways in which we say, “I am alive, and my life has meaning.” Art has always served as a universal language, a voice for our common humanity, transcending borders and touching our common heart. As Nietzsche said: Art is what makes life tolerable and worth living.
This is what we do as artists and as expressive arts therapists. When you go out and teach one person how to express their pain and suffering, this act sends out a wave of healing, as that one person goes back to their families, to their friends, to their communities. As you teach that one person how to live with uncertainty, to take healthy risks, to learn how to channel their anger and rage and deep sadness, and embrace healthier ways of living, this one gesture has an effect on the whole; it creates a sympathetic resonance, a wave of change, that touches all in its wake.
Kathleen: We transform by deeply feeling or feelings, and by expressing them. By changing ourselves we impact the world around us.
Mitchell: Yes. These waters are not calm and right now quite turbulent. I understand that we live in
very uncertain times filled with very difficult social and political realities. I know that we live with grave concerns that are extremely challenging. But we must resist what psychologist Robert Lifton has called “psychic numbing,” or our “diminished capacity or inclination to feel.” We must at least try to rise about the fear and uncertainty. We must continue to express what is inexpressible; turn wounds into wisdom; embrace mistakes – it is the calling of the artist to experiment, take risks, embrace uncertainty. Live your truth. Be passionate. Know that you cannot change anything until you change yourself first. Connect yourself to the source, whatever that might be for you – have an anchor you can trust in. Find that source of inner wisdom.
And back to the Hopi poem – they say:
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader…
The time of the lone wolf is over.
Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
So let’s swim together in these great merging stormy and tempestuous waters, in this flowing magic we call art and help to bring some of this important and sacred work we do to those we engage with. More than ever there is a need for waves of hope and healing and imagining harmony in our hearts and in our communities.
Kathleen: Deep thanks, Mitchell, for the pathway your provide. We look forward to having you back in Sarasota where we will gather together in community to explore and attune to new ways of being. Can you say something about the upcoming Sarasota workshop?
Mitchell: We need to do more work in understanding how the arts used expressively and conscientiously can affect the contentious and difficult times we are living in. I titled this upcoming workshop Imagine Harmony, because I believe that we need to find ways to re-imagine the world we live in so that we can hopefully change the dominant resonance of fear, terror, insecurity, hopelessness and pervasive anxiety. By engaging in arts practice we can begin to re-tune our own imagery and internal rhythms which in turn will begin to create a new resonance in ourselves and in our communities.
If you haven’t met her yet, we introduce you to Donna Papenhausen, Expressive Arts Florida Institute graduate, gifted artist and teacher. Donna’s recent exhibit – “The Ladies Who Live in My Head – and other flights of fancy” – has inspired her next series of classes, beginning Jan. 16. I have registered for the class, and I invite and recommend that you join in! I recently talked to Donna about her process and her path. Kathleen Horne, Expressive Arts Florida Institute
Kathleen: Donna, your recent exhibit was so magnificent! We were fortunate to have all those powerful “ladies” as guides, in our space, during November and December. Those paintings have inspired many, and we are delighted that you are teaching another series. I can’t wait! Can you tell me about your new class?
Donna: Yes, in my new class, Intuitive Painting I, “Who Would I Be If…Seeking A Vision for Your Life Path,” participants will explore what is calling them, what energizes them, where this calling might lead and who they might become.
Kathleen: Sounds like a meaningful exploration, as well as an art class. What processes will you use?
Donna: As we use collage, guided meditation, intention setting and making a large, acrylic painting we will access our creativity, and our deep wisdom to discover possibilities for our life path. We will see In our mind’s eye a vision of the person we might call into reality. We will discover those actions, events, and characteristics we want to activate in our life and symbolize all of it on a painting to use as a visible reminder of where our path can take us.
Kathleen: I am really looking forward to being in your class this time. Do participants need to be experienced artists?
Donna: Often I’m asked if participants need to have prior experience in drawing or painting. My reply is , “No prior art experience is necessary!” I will guide you through the process – making my own painting along the way -so you will see each step. While you may follow my outlines, I encourage you to use the process to follow your own unique vision. As a recent participant who had never painted said, ” I didn’t think I could ever paint something this wonderful! I just love my painting and have hanging in my home where I can see it all day!”
Kathleen: Could you say something about how you developed this process?
Donna: My technique came about in an interesting way. I’ve been an artist and art teacher for many years, even when my calling lead me into ordained ministry. Upon retiring and completing my Expressive Arts training here at Expressive Arts Florida Institute, I opened a studio. At one point I found myself filling the walls with pictures of women. They were caricature-ish and reflected different types of women. Soon after I began to explore SoulCollage, a process that reveals facets of your personality; what Carl Jung calls Archetypes. Then Pat B. Allen, noted Expressive Arts Therapist and author, led a seminar on Archetypes here in Sarasota. I began to paint the Archetypes that were revealed in my Soul Collage cards. Then I discovered Shiloh Sophia.
Shiloh Sophia is an artist and teacher in California who teaches the process she calls Intentional Creativity. I have been studying with her for the past year. It is a process that speaks to my heart and soul and is available to everyone, artist and non- artist alike. Shiloh enables access to deep wisdom through word, image, and meditation. I’m currently studying with her to receive certification in the Intentional Creativity process.
It had been said that when the student is ready the teacher appears. I have been blessed with many wonderful teachers in my artistic journey and it seems that Kathleen,Victoria, Tamara, Pat B. Allen, and Shiloh Sophia have all contributed to the process I will share with you in my class on January 16 and 23 from 6:00-9:00 pm.
Thanks Donna! I love witnessing your unfolding journey.
Here are the class details:
Mondays: January 16 & 23, 6:00-9:00pm:
Theme: “Who Would I Be If…seeking a vision for my life path”
Mondays: February 6&13, 6:00-9:00pm
Theme: “Finding Inspiration – Listening to Your Muse”
Each series of 2 classes is $120 (bring own supplies) or $150(supplies provided)
Email Donna to register
Supply list: acrylic paints in your favorite colors plus black, white and gloss medium, flat and round paintbrushes, some inexpensive bristle and some flat and round synthetic fiber, a spray bottle, charcoal, paper towels , a journal, a pen or pencil, a large container for water to clean brushes, 18×24 canvas or larger, optional:gold paint, glitter.
Many of us are noticing a deep call – to live a more authentic life, to be more intentional, more creative – to “be the change”. We look around us, and we see a world in serious trouble, a world filled with extreme divisiveness, polarization, fear, mistrust, tragedy and horror.
How do we respond? This is a huge and vital question.
This morning, I offer some of my own thoughts and feelings about this.
I find it almost impossible to avoid getting caught up in the external polarization. Sometimes it seems like the only way to fight for what I believe in.
And yet, I am sure there is a deeper call. Something that echoes and reverberates within, and also in the world around us. A call to a new way. A call to gather, in the equality and inclusiveness of the circle, on behalf our planet Earth. An urgent call that demands us to use our imaginations, our creative wisdom, our best selves. A call that demands us to stand up for what we believe in, and live it, fully. A call that asks us to look into the darkness, our own darkness, and feel the power that lives there. A call to harness that power, to engage with it, to be vigilant with ourselves in our own quest toward integration and wholeness.
As I look around, I imagine that the world is cracking open. Sometimes this cracking open seems like nothing but death and destruction. In my better moments, though, I imagine that is it cracking open to reveal the birth of something new. This is really what I believe in my deepest self, and I know that I must go into that place, to be willing to crack myself open and find my own deeper truth. To discover, in a sense, what I am truly made of.
My most reliable path to this deeper place in myself is through the activation of my own creative process. Through art-making, movement, writing, and being in circle with others. Through taking a little time each day to get quiet, check in with myself, invite and allow an image and writing to arrive on the page, and perhaps to explore it by moving my body in response. By making this commitment to myself, I am making a commitment to my own authenticity, and to showing up in the world as the best version of myself that I can manage each day. It seems like a simple commitment, but it is not easy. It is a commitment to conscious living, and I meet this commitment with varying levels of success. When I step off the path, I take a breath, and begin again. It is my practice.
If I commit to you to share my practice, it will help hold me accountable, and hopefully it will inspire you to find your own practice. I plan to keep sharing, through these blog posts and Facebook. I really want to demystify this change process, and let you see how it works for me.
This practice is not so much about the art, as it is about the discovery. Sometimes I love the images and sometimes they disturb me, at least at first, until I listen deeply to their messages, and then they become guides.
The day after Solstice, we held an Expressive Arts Discovery virtual gathering.This is the image and writing that came for me. It came unbidden, as I tuned inward and listened deeply.
“The darkness is here, and I can’t live only in the light. The light comes only when I am willing to enter the darkness. lose my way, forget my map. In the darkness, I go deep within and discover the resources I may have forgotten that I have. In the darkness I stumble upon the opening to a cave that holds a long-forgotten light. I pick up the light and carry it with me. It guides my way home.” Kathleen (through the image)
As I reflect now, a week later, I think the Solstice called me into the dark, and that call was working within me, even though I wasn’t consciously aware. The image and writing tell me that only by being willing to go into my own darkness will I ever be able to know the fullness of my own light. Only by unearthing the light that may be buried within, hidden away at some earlier time when it might have been too scary, or risky, to own it, can I live fully. Only then can I live in the world in from my own place of power. I believe that the Earth, that our future, is demanding that we show up, in life, now, as fully as we are able.
At Expressive Arts Florida Institute we have created virtual, live, online expressive arts gatherings, in the spirit of the circle. We see these as opportunities to join in community for brief and profound personal check-ins and sharing. We believe that part of our own journey is to create circles of connection that are not restricted by geography.
Our next Online Training Retreat – Embracing Change through Expressive Arts, Jan. 6-7 – is a 24 hour virtual retreat space that includes guided meditations, art-making, witnessing, sharing, some expressive arts training, journal prompts, and an online sharing space. It is all about how we create change – first inward, then outward, through this work. We hope some of you will join us.
You can also join in to Expressive Arts Discovery, virtually. These are brief, 90-minute circles of creative expression. The schedule is here.
If you are local, consider joining us for Open Studio, every Wednesday from 10 am – 1 pm, by donation.
All of these are powerful circles of inquiry and change. Circles such as these are needed. Join us or create your own.
Kathleen Horne, MA, LMHC, REACE