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.