Playing Small

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
 ~ Marianne Williamson


What would you differently if you fully trusted in yourself? How do you shrink yourself in daily life, to fit more easily into others roles for you? Where is the middle path, between trusting in yourself and making ample room for the viewpoints of another?
I don’t have concrete answers to these questions, however I think they are important questions for us to ask. One of the most powerful ways that we can let the inner light out is by engaging in the creative process – through writing, making music, movement, and art making. When we allow our voice to emerge through the creation of something, we are no longer “playing small.” What are some ways that you can manifest your own creative energy in everyday life? Here are a few simple ideas I’ve come up with to get you started:

1. turn off the t.v. for a while and pick up a book you’ve been meaning to read on a subject you know little about
2. plant an herb garden and if you don’t have space outside, find a corner of your apartment and bring in potted herbs
3. desgin a cardboard fort for your pet (or yourself!)
4. recycle old magazines, but before you do – go through each page and cut/tear out images that grab you and create a pile for a future collages
5. if you take the train to work, get off at a different stop than usual and explore a new neighborhood on your walk home from work
6. take a picture a day for a month using your phone or regular camera and create a visual journal of all the images at the end of the month
7. personalize and decorate your work space with pictures and objects that inspire you and energize your space
8. create your personal “bucket list” and have fun with it…are there any items on the list that you could take steps towards now?
9. create an altered book: go to a used book store and buy a cheap picture book that appeals to you and make it your own by altering the pages with collage, painting, drawing, cutting, and anything else you can think of
10. listen to a genre of music that you hardly ever listen to, or that new artist that you’ve been meaning to check out
11. make a mix cd or ipod playlist for each of your friends
12. make a random video with your phone or camera that tells a story without words
13. rearrange the art on your walls to change up the energy and aesthetics of your space
14. buy yourself a candle or incense that you are immediately attracted to in the store and make a ritual of lighting it each evening when you get home from work
15. sign up for a workshop, event, or class that appeals to your creativity and current interests, and pushes you slightly outside of your comfort zone 🙂

What are some other ways that you have infused your day with creativity?

A Few Works on Paper

My latest drawing obsession material!

I am currently pretty crazy about Prismacolor “art stix.” They look like hard pastels, but they are actually woodless colored pencils. They are a bit pricey, (you’re paying for amazing quality) but this evening I marched into our local Michael’s store with a 50% coupon in hand. (Hint: always print out coupons for Michael’s! They constantly have 40-50% off of one item deals!)

I often join in the art making process during one of my weekly open art therapy studio groups. Lately, I have been drawing with art stix on black paper. The rich colors on top of the black paper creates a striking contrast and the colors really pop. I am not sure exactly what has been drawing me to this materials combination lately. Perhaps it seems to capture the intensity of the group process, as well as the energy. 

Working on black paper is a very different process from working on white paper. The black paper seems to suck the colors in and create depth, whereas the white paper seems to allow the colors to bounce off the surface.

Here are a few drawings and one collage from the past month – created during my weekly open studio group. 

color stix on black paper ~ feeling energetic that day!
color stix on black paper ~ needing to wrap myself in a safe cocoon
color stix on black paper ~ healing rings expanding outwards
color stix on black paper ~ looks like I needed more structure that day!
magazine photos on black paper  ~ intense feelings finding an outlet in collage

A Short Story: Working With Resistance

Two weeks ago during one of my art therapy groups I had a pretty tough crowd. To preface it, the clients in this group are all living in emergency transitional housing and facing many challenges such as addiction and past traumas. However, this group was particularly rough. 

First, it was a struggle to get the t.v. turned off (since the group is held in the community room). Then there was a loud disagreement over what type of music I would play during the group. Each of the group members was in a particularly angry, restless, and intense mood, and for the first 10 minutes it felt more like I was doing damage control than running an art therapy group. 

Energy was low and resistance was high. With this in mind, I made a gut decision that I should join the group in their current state rather than try to push them out of it. I took a deep breath and brought out a pile of blank doorknob hangers that could be decorated. 

I usually steer clear of the more “crafty” art directives when it comes to art therapy, but this group seemed to need a very concrete project that day. When I brought up the idea of decorating doorknob hangers a few eyes lit up (slightly) and I knew I had hit on something. I also knew (without a shadow of a doubt) that these doorknob hangers would quickly be decorated with multiple versions of “keep out!” Sure enough, one woman began painting the words “Go Away! This Means You!” on the door hanger. The rest of the group quickly followed suit and by the end of the hour the table was covered with angry messages and threatening doorknob hanger signs. Did I see this group as a “failure?” Not at all.

Although this was not one of my deeper processing art therapy groups, I think that it served an important role that day. On one level it helped to refocus the anger so that it was directed into the artwork and away from one another. Even more importantly, the people in my group are constantly asked by society on a whole to get clean, get sober, get moving with their life, and make changes. This is all an important end goal, however at times I think it is vital that we acknowledge the struggles, the anger, and even the resistance experienced at that moment. We cannot change something that we have not yet accepted. Art therapy is uniquely suited to exploring the ambivalence that is so commonly felt by individuals who are struggling with these types of experiences. 
Two weeks later I held another art therapy group. It was at the same location but with a slightly different mix of members. Instead of giving an idea for the group to create art about, I left it open so that each person could work on whatever they chose. One of the group members was the woman who had been in group from two weeks ago, when they had all created the doorknob hangers. She had been the woman who had started the project by painting “Go Away! This Means You!” on her sign. 

At the end of the art therapy group everyone shared their piece and spoke a little bit about it. When it came to this woman’s turn she didn’t say anything. Instead, she handed me a sign that she had painted for her apartment door. It read: “Welcome to my room.” 

Art Therapy and Anger

 “Seeing Red” ~ Sara Roizen

“Anyone can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person at the right time, and for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not within everyone’s power and that is not easy.”  – Aristotle

The other day one of my therapy clients asked me if I ever got angry, because she could just not imagine me ever becoming angry. 

I asked my client what she thought before answering (I know…typical therapist response!) But it was important to explore her perception of anger before jumping in with my own answer. Although she could not picture me becoming angry, she guessed that I must get angry once in a while. As the session progressed we had a very interesting dialogue about different types of anger and how it felt, what triggered anger, and ways of handling that type of emotion. And yes, I did eventually answer her question by responding, “Of course I get angry…more frequently than you might imagine. We are all works in progress, and anger in and of itself is not a “bad” emotion. It is what we do with that energy that matters.”

Graffiti Art by Banksy

Anger does not have to become a problem for us. At its core, anger is a pure emotion. So is depression, anxiety, or any other negatively labeled emotion you can think of. In fact, pure anger can be useful. It can make us aware that something is off, or doesn’t feel right at the moment. When harnessed properly, anger can motivate us to make positive changes in our lives. Sometimes things go unchanged in the world because we haven’t become angry enough to take action.

Anger may become an issue if it is not properly acknowledged and explored. Unconscious anger has the potential to harm us or those around us. 
Self – Portrait by Edith Kramer
There seem to be 2 basic ways that people deal with their anger. The most obvious way of dealing with anger is to act out: either physically, verbally, or both. The other way of dealing with anger is to turn it inwards. You may have heard of the idea that depression is actually anger turned inwards towards the self. There is a third way of handling anger, and that is the method that I will be exploring a bit here. The third way of handling anger is to transform the anger into something creative and/or productive. The art therapist pioneer Edith Kramer called the artistic transformation of unacceptable thoughts and urges sublimation.
There are countless methods for exploring and transforming anger in art therapy. Below I have listed a few art therapy experiences that some of my clients have found helpful and transformative. 
Clay Work
Clay is a powerful artistic medium and can evoke many strong feelings by itself. For this reason, using clay with a client should be thought out beforehand and never done in a haphazard way. Clay can bring up primitive feelings and can cause people to regress during a session. This can be a wonderful thing, but the art therapist needs to be mindful of the therapeutic “container” and make sure that the client feels safe. Making cleaning up and washing up into a closing session ritual can also help to contain the energy of the session within the room, so that it does not follow the client home! I have had clients pound on a ball of clay, throw it onto the table, jab holes into it, and twist it into different shapes. Once the physical need to discharge angry energy has settled a bit, the client may wish to create something from the clay (or not). The process of working with the clay can be therapeutic all by itself, even if no recognizable form is created during the session. 
Torn-up Collage
Tissue paper collage

The physical act of ripping up paper or magazines is another way of working with the energy of anger (instead of against it).Try colorful tissue paper, rice paper, newspaper, magazines, construction paper, or decorative paper. Another step that can be added is to write down all of your angry thoughts on paper and then tear up the pieces of paper. In order to transform the pieces into a new art form (sublimation) you can create a collage with the pieces. I like working with “mod podge” as my adhesive instead of glue sticks, because you can lay down many pieces of paper at once and work more quickly. 

Leaves on a Stream

There is a wonderful meditation visualization that I often use when feeling overwhelmed by thoughts and intense emotions. Imagine that you are sitting alone by a stream or river. Next, imagine that each of your thoughts is carried by a single leaf on the stream. As you sit by the stream, picture your thoughts floating by you and disappearing down the stream. This visualization can be particularly useful when strong feelings of anger emerge. If you are fortunate enough to actually live by a body of water you can actually practice this meditation with real leaves. Gather leaves from the ground and write on them, using a permanent marker. Once you have a pile of your “thoughts,” release them one at a time and watch as the river or stream carries them away. This experiential can be done without an actual stream or river as well. Using watercolor pencils, write your thoughts onto cut-outs of leaves on white paper. When your leaves are finished, submerge the leaves in a bowl of water and watch as the watercolor pencil writing blurs and then dissolves!

These art therapy ideas for working with anger are just a few possibilities. I’d love to hear from readers about any other ideas that you have explored!