Today, I would like to share my discovery of Expressive Arts, and, my discovery of myself.
It is, of course, a long and multi-layered story, so today I am giving you a very short version.
In my early 40’s my life looked like this:
*I was working as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, in Florida, combining a private practice with some agency work. I enjoyed my work, was good at it, and I also felt like something was missing.
*I was a shut-down artist. I embraced a story of being “not artistic”. (There are many reasons for this, but that is a story to be told another time – a universal story that many of us share). I made some tentative explorations into the arts, but visual art was something that I simultaneously greatly feared and deeply longed for.
What happened next:
*I was hired as a part time counselor in an art college. Surrounded by creative visual expression, my longing deepened and I began to cautiously acknowledge it. I had the opportunity to take art classes at a deep discount, and I enrolled in a print-making class. When my first image came through the press, I literally jumped for joy!
*I was going through my own challenging time of transition, and I began spontaneously making art, as a way to cope and make sense of my journey. I didn’t “choose” to do this consciously; it was more like an inner imperative.
*I was coordinating a treatment program for children who had been abused. We got a grant to bring art students into the therapy groups to work alongside the therapists. Amazing things happened and I knew I needed and wanted more – more training, more experience, more art.
*As part of those grant requirements, I found myself facilitating a guided meditation in a workshop, connecting people with their internal imagery and facilitating an art process. Suddenly, I had such a profound sense of deep inner knowing – THIS is what I am meant to be doing!
*I took a mandala workshop, and re-connected with this ancient form that my grandfather taught mewhen I was a child. I framed my first piece – a big milestone in accepting my artist -self.
*One day, by spontaneously taking a different route to my office, I discovered the newly developing Towles Court Art Colony. Without much thought, I signed a lease in advance for a little studio there, wondering why (but knowing, deeply) I was moving my psychotherapy office to an art colony.
And then….. I serendipitously learned about a program at California Institute for Integral Studies – an Expressive Arts certificate for practicing psychotherapists – “what the heck is Expressive Arts?” asked my mind, but my heart was already there, not knowing what I might be getting into, but knowing that I needed to go.
And I did. The obstacles, vanished, the path cleared, and 3 weeks later I was in San Francisco, embarking on a new chapter.
Four weeks later, having completed my first summer intensive in expressive arts, I arrived back in Sarasota, looking and feeling different. Friends asked (as they do) “How was your training?” Big question! The answer I gave is the same answer I give you now – it is simple and it is true – “it was a like a year of graduate school, a year of personal therapy, and a vacation!” And now, in hindsight, I would add: I discovered Expressive Arts, and, in the process, I discovered myself.
In my initial training, I learned something simple yet amazing: “the arts, at their essence, are all connected, and they are essentially healing. Our creativity is like a powerful healing thread that runs through our experience. When we follow that thread, we might paint, sing, move, enact, drum, use our voice, meditate, and more. Each art form builds on and deepens the next, and we are changed. Our creativity and imagination hold answers that our head may not. By opening to our channels of creativity, we open to another way. Another way to solve our problems, to move through days, to live our lives. The change is so much deeper than insight or awareness. It is change in our hearts, our minds, our bodies, our spirit. It is a remembering of who we are, at our essence.
My new studio was ready for occupancy when I got back from California. I set it up, and I moved in!
This was 1996. If I told you all of the steps on the journey between now and then, this would be a book, not a post. Sometime it may be! For now: Here are some steppingstones:
*infusing my therapy practice with expressive arts, both individually and in groups *offering “creative encounter” workshops to to the general public *opening my studio for art walks and learning to facilitate community art projects *joining IEATA (International Expressive Arts Therapy Association), attending and presenting at conferences, and eventually serving on the Board for 8 years *making art as an integral part of my life – the images simply poured out, and I wondered: how much energy has it been taking to keep them inside all these years? *I took more art classes and my skills improved as my personal style emerged *I completed my Expressive Arts training and sought out as many opportunities to learn as I could *I discovered there were others who were searching for this, as well, and collaborations and partnerships began *Over several years, my partners and I co-founded “Sacred Studio”, “Inner Visions Gallery”, “Art and Healing Certificate program”, and finally “Expressive Arts Florida Institute“.
Today, I am blessed to have a life I love. I teach and facilitate Expressive Arts with my amazing colleague/partners – Victoria and Tamara. I have discovered myself. My work is an outer manifestation of what I am deeply committed to, in myself. My own practice is the same thing that I teach others. It’s not a perfect life, for sure, and sometimes it is not easy. It is, though, absolutely true and absolutely without doubt. This path was in me all along, but my life journey had disconnected me from my truth. When I entered back into the place of fear (visual art) I found the gold. I found my own creative wisdom.
And, I found my artist-self. My artwork is, for me, primarily my own sanctuary. Sometimes, though, I exhibit it, and sometimes I sell it. I love it when something I have created awakens a spark in someone else.
What about your journey? Your version of the story? Your truth? Are you ready to invite your own unfolding creative wisdom? I know the power of this work, from the inside out, and I want to encourage you to step onto your own creative path. My partners and I are here to guide you.
If you are ready for a little more, the next session of Expressive Arts Discovery – a 90 minute virtual workshop!
I would love to see you there.
P.S. You might enjoy reading this description of how my partners and I use expressive arts in our business practice!