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
Welcome to the 4th segment of our in-depth interview with Mitchell Kossak, PhD, LMHC, REAT
We are bringing Mitchell to Sarasota on March 4, 2017, and he will be facilitating a full-day workshop: IMAGINE HARMONY: Image, Rhythm, Sound, and Embodied Healing
Today, Mitchell addresses the vitally important subject of healing trauma through Expressive Arts.
Kathleen: Mitchell, I know that many of us are looking for ways to make change internally and externally, especially during these most difficult times. People are interested in the idea of working with trauma through the arts, and can benefit from your approach. You speak about re-imagining a world of contentiousness and fear. I would love to hear more, and share with our readers today.
Mitchell: When used in a conscientious way, the arts have the potential to help address individual or communal traumatic moments, in a way that helps to bring deeper awareness, feeling and benevolence to unfathomable experiences.
Traumatic stress, such as long-term chronic abuse and neglect or long term environmental stress inhibits the ability to fully function, and is exacerbated when there is even more serious trauma such as physical or sexual abuse, or if someone grows up under the constant threat of harm, say in a war zone, or if someone lives through a natural disaster such as a hurricane, earthquake, tornado or tsunami.
Kathleen: What happens in the body, in these situations?
Mitchell: The nervous system goes into hyperarousal, or an acute stress response. When there has been a traumatic event in a person’s life, the fight or flight system of the sympathetic nervous system kicks in, releasing a signal from the brain to the hormonal system, releasing cortisol that just won’t shut off. I have come to understand this reciprocal resonant response from years of witnessing these disconnected states as an expressive arts therapist and also from years of training as a body-centered psychotherapist.
Kathleen: As an expressive arts therapist, how do you address that?
Mitchell: The first thing I want to do is to begin to engage the breath. We need to engage the body’s relaxation response through the parasympathetic nervous system by first slowing way down and by getting the person more in touch with their bodily responses. By beginning with the breath, there is a possibility of reengaging the inner resiliency available for reestablishing a more regulated and healthy rhythmic flow. I often start with grounding techniques similar to what is taught in Yoga and other martial arts as a way of restoring physical integration. [ You can read about specific example in my book Attunement in Expressive Arts Therapy: Toward an Understanding of Embodied Empathy].
Kathleen: Can you explain what resonance theory is and how this applies?
Mitchell: Yes. In the theoretical framework of resonance theory, the tendency of one object to force another object into vibrational motion is referred to as a forced resonance. You might remember from your physics lessons that if a tuning fork is struck, another tuning fork within proximity will begin to vibrate. This is the phenomenon of forced resonance. And in this context a larger frequency will always overtake a weaker frequency. Our bodies are natural resonators and begin to vibrate with the sounds, images, environments, and emotions around them. In the case of catastrophic traumatic events (as a resonant experience) the vibrations or energies in the form of sounds, images, and internal stories create a resonance and begin to vibrate with the nervous system affecting how we act and react. In extreme traumatic situations the internal body based neurobiology shifts to elicit signals that the environment and everything in it is not safe as the resonant field created in the traumatic event will continue to vibrate in the form of internal images, sensations and sounds.
Kathleen: Can you give an example?
Mitchell: We see this in returning veterans of war who are acting and reacting as if they are still in the field of battle. Their minds might tell them they are back home but their nervous system is still vibrating with the images and sounds of what they experienced on the field of battle. More and more research is emerging that shows the power of the arts having a positive effect in changing the frequency or resonance in the neurobiology of the traumatic event whether that is in drawings and paintings or in drumming or singing circles or in Yoga or movement experiences, or dramatic enactments, or in using creative writing to change the resonant field.
Kathleen: So, through engagement in the expressive arts, we can change the resonant field of trauma to one of hope?
Mitchell: The application of creative and expressive arts is being used in trauma treatment and what is being shown again and again is that the arts have the capacity to bring about changes in outlook, moods, attitudes and emotions, similar to what happens to the mind-body connection in meditation. The arts can help to facilitate change because when an individual or group engages in artistic experiences they enter into a state of flow and present-moment awareness. When this flow state occurs, the nervous system shifts from a sympathetic response or a resonant state of alarm (fight/flight) to a parasympathetic response or one of embodied safety. When the parasympathetic nervous system is engaged, the body begins to form a new resonant response and can learn (or re-learn) once again how to choose between alert/alarm and calm and safe. In a trauma state, only the state of alarm is present. Vibrational realities of hope or fear can also take the form of what we hear or see, and the stronger vibration will always dominate. So focusing on practices and experiences that elicit hope, courage, faith can begin to create the stronger resonance.
Kathleen: This is powerful, and hopeful. The traumatic event causes internal vibrations, sensations and images of fear, alarm, and danger, and, in the work with expressive arts (images, sounds, vibrations, rhythms) we are creating the possibility of restoring a dominant resonant field of calm and hope.
Mitchell: Yes. Another outcome of the flow state through engagement in the arts is that it allows individuals to return to a natural state of play, which allows for a natural state of self-regulation to occur where the individual can learn new ways of creatively addressing how they experience their world. The arts are truly transformational and each of us who are engaging in arts for health, resiliency and change are true leaders in the fight against fear, terror, disillusionment and all affronts against basic human dignity.
There are many expressive arts therapists working with survivors of environmental, communal or personal trauma that have made great strides in addressing this very difficult issue and if you want to read some of these stories addressing current global concerns you can read the special issue of the Journal of Applied Arts (Fall 2016) which I oversaw as the chief editor of this issue.
Kathleen: Thank you, Mitchell. Can you say something about how this relates to your upcoming workshop in Sarasota?
Mitchell: More work needs to be done in understanding how the arts used expressively and conscientiously can affect the contentious and difficult times we are living in. That is why 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.
Kathleen: Again, many thanks, Mitchell for sharing your important work with us. As an expressive arts therapist and practitioner, I find a potent seed of hope in the midst of these challenging and divisive times.
We are so looking forward to your return to Sarasota on March 4. In our next segment of this blog series, we will talk about some of your extensive work internationally!