Losing Connection with Authentic Expression
I was an expressive artist, like many of us were when we were children. I sold my intuitive drawings at age five, door to door! By grade two, I was already becoming outer directed with my art, as so many of us do when we learn to draw cats with precise circles and triangles.
In my twenties I was fully outer directed in my art, copying and learning from others. When I first started painting as a gallery artist upon graduation from five years of art and design college, I was a self-doubting perfectionist, and I struggled to find self-esteem through my efforts to be like other popular artists.
You could say I was painting from my “mask” self. I was afraid to be authentic. I struggled with a considerable amount of self-doubt and was often looking for outer feedback to tell me that I was good enough. I lived in ways that others expected me to live, rather than creating my own authentic life.
My pre-planned, paintings were elaborate, technique based, aesthetically considered, and a long labor of hoping to get approval from the outside. I studied other artists intensively, tried different styles of painting, and I was fortunate to see my work hanging next to some notable Canadian artists such as Nixie Barton, Grant Leier, George Littlechild, and Ted Harrison.
A Spiritual Opening
Twenty years ago, during a period of family loss and crisis, when five close members of my family died suddenly, my spontaneous creativity greatly intensified. For a period of about three months I was in a creative visionary state where my social mask fell away. For a strangely blessed period I did not care what anyone else thought of me. During that period I created many spontaneous drawings and paintings. I went on long intuitive walks, just following my feet all over the city to see where they would take me.
My dreams were prophetic during that time. I began to dance spontaneously in my living room because I had so much energy. As my baby slept, I painted all night long. And when she awoke, I took her out for radiant breakfasts. I have pages and pages of poetry from that time. I wrote what I called “kitchen poetry” on a second hand typewriter at the kitchen table while my baby girl sat with wide eyes, watching me from her high chair.
During that creative period, I left my marriage, fell in love with my soul mate Andrea, and moved away from my family of origin to start a brand new life. It was during that time of change and emotional upheaval that I became a passionate keeper of private art and written journals. For many years thereafter, I would buy a new journal and devote myself to one creative practice until the journal was filled. For years I filled many "dedicated journals" with paintings, drawings, collages, mandalas and writings.
I remember distinctly when my three-month visionary state stopped. When the period of crisis that intensified my consciousness settled back into practical functioning, all of my emotional heaviness came back into my body with a big discouraging thud. I remember saying to Andrea with great sadness as it was happening, “I am closing down.” I took her to an empty baseball field in the middle of the city, and with a mixture of resignation and desperation, I said "good-bye to my visionary state and I danced under the stars.
While I briefly enjoyed a visionary creative state when I was 30 years old, the period of my thirties was about working with my shadow self through my expressive art and writing. Because I had a glimpse of how I felt on a essence level through my crisis induced “upliftment” experience, my “default” of sadness, guilt, fear and self-doubt felt unbearable. I created many journals during that time that were very "black" - visually drawing myself clawing my way up out the dark hole of depression - looking for the light of self-love.
I have known intense emotional pain, and I have also been blessed with several significant spiritual glimpses that have taught me to trust the process of life. Through the process of struggling with my emotional darkness, I gained great strength. My strength building journey through art and narrative therapy has been recorded in my e-course 100 Days of Art Journal Therapy. My visionary experiences and subsequent struggles with depression also supported me to write Emotional Healing with ACIM.
Ten years ago, I started to share my creative experiences of emotional healing with others. Over the past 10 years, my life was focused upon studying nights and weekends to earn my counselling designation in transpersonal counselling psychology, teaching creative healing practices to others around the world through my online therapy practice, and working full-time in Canada’s largest art studio for older adults with cognitive and physical challenges.
Working in the art studio with a team of 10 other artists and art therapists for over 9 years has been an inspiring process of creative cross-pollination. It has taken me far beyond my personal scope of practice to see how such different ways art making can help people to feel calmer, happier, and more purposeful and alive. In my community art workshops, my online teachings, my art studio, and non-profit work, I have facilitated art-making processes for people from ages 2-100.
Healing Through Giving
Twelve years ago I had a vision of working in a hospital, pushing an art cart. When I moved to Vancouver, I began to explore the process of facilitating art making at the end of life in hospice settings. Through our organization, I met, my now dear friend Marianne, who wrote an article about her art facilitation in Artworks Studio - a 67 year old art rehabilitation program for Canadian Veterans. I contacted Marianne via email and said, "I think the work you do would be a perfect fit for me!”
Marianne and I lost touch for two years, and in the meantime I envisioned sharing my personal process of creative emotional healing in a practical way that could earn me a living. I beyond excited to get my first contract position funded by my local health authority, teaching an expressive art program for adults from age 20-60 who had acquired brain injuries. Because there was an influx of funding at the time, I was able to set up a community art studio, and I lead several therapeutic art groups per week for a period of two years.
I loved my work with the acquired brain injury population as often their “censorship button” was turned off, and they were very willing to create spontaneously. I stayed up late excitedly thinking of art directives that could help each individual best express what was inside. I found I had a knack for facilitating groups in a spontaneous way because I so closely "lived inside" of my own creative process. I had a sense of what people in the group needed to express, and I would create art activities to help draw it forth.
During that period, I also led a group once a week with incarcerated youth, as a summer art program facilitator. And, while I planned directives for that group extensively, I had to stretch enormously as all of my best laid plans were for naught as the teens stole my permanent markers for tattooing themselves and destroyed the canvases and sketchbooks that the group had been creating in. I became very ingenious that summer in my art facilitation, and soon discovered employing the element of surprise in the art making process for teens.
As a contract art facilitator, I was building up my clientele and began traveling around the city with my boxes of art materials. It was really challenging to piece together a living, and I found myself longing for the prospect of a "real job." Marianne contacted me to tell me about a full-time government funded art facilitation position coming up in Artworks Studio. I jumped at the chance.
Creating with Others
When I arrived at Artworks Studio over nine years ago it was mainly employed an assisted product-based facilitation process, with weaving, fabric painting within pre-drawn patterns, woodworking, and clay being the main mediums of art expression. It was during those early years that I learned and wrote about the benefits of what I call “spontaneity within structure."
I found that many people were surprisingly creative given patterns to paint within, and that structures it had emotional and psychological benefits, especially around reducing anxiety. Working with many anxiety disorders and the unpredictability of dementia related illnesses, I observed that even people with advanced dementia could quiet and calm when painting within familiar patterns and structures.
The Healing Power of Spontaneous Creativity
Spontaneous creativity has certainly healed and enlightened my life. Creating spontaneously provides a "symbolic emotional release." As spontaneous painting teacher Susan Bello explains, "Through the living symbol the Unconscious gradually reveals messages from a higher consciousness. Symbols are representations of our greatest selves in seed form. They hold our potential."
I am now a full-time counsellor and online creativity teacher, and I am unabashed in my enthusiasm for the power of present moment, spontaneous creativity as a process that heals emotional pain, enlightens mental darkness and confusion, illuminates possibilities, and releases the very best of what we authentically are into the world.
When we are honest, even painfully accountable, we can heal what feels dark and denied inside. When we express and share the hard stuff - we transform. I feel blessed to regularly meet people who are willing to share their stories of creative healing. Honest, spontaneous creativity takes us beyond the dark personal psychological patterning that we are so often stuck in, by opening us up to the gifts that we lost in the process of enduring our heartbreaks and traumas.
We are each creators that have the potential to transform darkness into the light. I love that life - when seen creatively - brings out what is hidden and unacknowledged inside - into the present moment to be seen engaged with, and finally accepted, understood, loved, and integrated. Spontaneous creativity kindly and colorfully offers up the next emotional layer to be healed in a way that can be safely and gently held.