Transforming Life’s Messes


Barn’s burnt down –
now I can see the moon.

 ~ Mizuta Masahide
Debris Mandala

It’s been an interesting (read: stressful) week here in our apartment. The entire roof of our building was being replaced, despite the forecast calling for thunderstorms.

The baby was napping and I was prepping my lunch when water started pouring in through the light fixtures in our apartment. Water began to drip through scattered cracks and down the walls in each room. Overhead (we’re on the top floor) I could hear the workers furiously running across the roof and throwing tarps across the exposed roof. The next day I was walking by the bathroom just in time to hear and see debris falling from the removed skylight and landing all over the floor. My first thought was ‘it would have been nice if they had given us a heads up before removing the skylight.’ My second thought was, ‘wow, I’ve never seen open sky from our bathroom before and it reminds me of James Turrell’s Meeting installation piece.’

James Turrell’s ‘Meeting’ installation at PS1
A rectangular cut-out of the museum’s ceiling

A few minutes later I grabbed a broom and began sweeping up the bits of debris in our bathroom, while occasionally glancing up to make sure the sky had temporarily stopped falling into our apartment. It had already been a stressful two days and it felt as if my body and mind were braced for the next unforeseen issue to arise. However as I swept up the fragments I noticed that the motion of the sweeping was beginning to relax me. I gradually pulled the fallen objects into the center of the bathroom and a circle very naturally began to form out of the debris. I found myself caught up in the process of sweeping and creating this circle and my frustration and busy mind began to ebb. Before sweeping the circle up I snapped a quick picture of it with my phone (see top image). I walked back into the family room and shared the photo with my bemused husband while referring to the picture as my ‘debris mandala.’ Both of our moods were lightened a little in that moment. Our apartment was still a mess with water leaks and more debris to fall, but there was something a bit beautiful about it. A beautiful disaster. Lately I’ve been exploring the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi in my work as an art therapist and as a new mother. I am not an expert or scholar on wabi-sabi philosophy by any means. From my understanding so far though, wabi-sabi is a way of relating to the world and finding beauty in imperfection while embracing the inherent impermanence of objects and life itself…finding beauty in the crumbling leaf, a crack in the wall, the chipped cup, or the debris on our bathroom floor.

Beauty can be coaxed out of ugliness. Wabi-sabi is ambivalent about separating beauty from non-beauty or ugliness. The beauty of wabi-sabi is in one respect, the condition of coming to terms with what you consider ugly. Wabi-sabi suggests that beauty is a dynamic event that occurs between you and something else. Beauty can spontaneously occur at any moment given the proper circumstances, context, or point of view. Beauty is thus an altered state of consciousness, an extraordinary moment of poetry and grace.       (Leonard Koren ~ Wabi-Sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers)
Blue Circle ~ Photo: Sara Roizen
 I am particularly drawn to the idea of finding beauty by changing our point of view. Each day that I spend with my baby provides me with a unique change of perspective as I observe the objects that he is naturally drawn to. A skeleton leaf dancing in my hand is as fascinating to him as a $30 baby toy. He does not discriminate. He holds everything in his eager and open awareness.
In thinking about my art therapy work with clients I am realizing that so much of my work focuses on gently showing them alternative perspectives and helping to expand their ability to tolerate so called ‘mistakes’ and art that they have deemed ‘ugly.’ Clients that frequently attend my groups smile at my broken record phrases such as ‘there are no mistakes in art’ and ‘take a deep breath, sit back, and see if you can find a creative solution for what you are referring to as a mistake.’ A while back one of my clients spilled paint water on her paper by accident. She was furious (anger management was one of the issues we were working on) and began to swear as she jolted out of her seat. I had a moment of anxiety myself as I quickly assessed the likelihood of her storming out of the room. While looking at the spreading paint water puddle, I became increasingly interested at the shape it was taking though. One of the other group members must have observed the same thing, because she remarked on how neat the color puddle was. I watched as the angry group member glanced again at her ‘ruined’ painting and raised an eyebrow. I could feel the tense energy dissipating as she sat back down. I asked her if she would like to use the accident to create something different and then showed her how to make ‘ghost prints’ from the puddle by pressing pieces of paper directly on top of her original piece. She returned to the first piece later on and continued to work on it, but not before creating a mini-series of ghost prints – playful pieces that captured her inner resiliency as well as creative flexibility.
It’s not always easy to pause when one of life’s messes enters our lives (or the lives of our clients). It can be uncomfortable to sit in the debris or sit with someone else in theirs. But sometimes digging around in the mess for a while is what is required. And it can be beautiful too.
“The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.”
        ~ e.e. cummings

Mandala Journaling (When Words Escape Me)

first pages of my mandala journal ~ Sara Roizen

“Come out of the circle of time
    And into the circle of love.”
        – Rumi

I started a small mandala journal as a way to continue making art in the very early days of being a new mom. Now, 6 months into being a mom I am still turning to my mandalas as a path for centering, self-care, and mindfulness practice. There were many early morning hours holding my baby and the mandala journal in my lap – meditatively drawing as I listened to his soft in and out breaths. 

mandala journal ~ Sara Roizen

I realize that it has been a while since posting and I was reflecting on some of the reasons. Yes, there’s the obvious ‘new mom/no time’ reason that most everyone understands. But in reality there is always a little time for writing if I carve out a few minutes here and there. I’m realizing that the greater reason had to do with how challenging it has been for me to gather my thoughts since giving birth. Perhaps this is part of why I was hesitant to begin a new blog post. I try to convey myself as clearly as possible through my posts, yet here I am looking at words as I type and just noticing how strange they look on the screen. The amazing transition into motherhood and this life-altering journey has left me a bit speechless at times. 
mandala journal ~ Sara Roizen
Cue the ‘aha’ moment music (if there is such music)…

While struggling through this blog post I realized that my intention with this post was to share and reinforce how important the art-making process continues to be in my life. So, if words are escaping me at the moment – must be time to make even more art! 
Art has accompanied me through every stage of life and this new stage is no different. Art has been a constant companion through the ups and downs, the known and unknown, the articulate and less articulate days as well. Perhaps my energy has been a bit tied up in trying to move through the world in the old pre-baby way, whereas the potential lies in embracing this new terrain and way of being. Perhaps I can look at this time of non-linear thinking as a time to delve even more deeply into the creative, spontaneous, and ever-shifting flow of life as a new mom, artist, and art therapist. 

Each mandala becomes a a visual response to the moment and I am struck by how naturally they arise. Many of these recent mandalas appear womb-like to me and seem to be incubating feelings and ideas, and yet they speak for themselves without words. 

I have found an interesting parallel on the theme of wordlessness with the last few art therapy groups I have led. There have been longer stretches of silence as group members worked on their art recently. During my last group one of the clients commented on how quiet it was and I asked her how she experienced the silence. She shared that it felt good and completely different from how ‘loud and crazy’ it usually was in the shelter environment. As art therapists we use words quite often at opportune times to help process the art, experience, and help frame certain themes that are emerging. However, at the core it is often the art-making process itself that opens up space for healing and self-knowledge. There are moments when too many verbal interventions may derail the creative process or take focus away from the deeper work that is really going on. 

mandala journal ~ Sara Roizen

The deeper work that is going on for me at this time seems to be about taking this creative and unknown plunge into new motherhood. And there aren’t a lot of words that can quite capture this moment in time…good thing I have my art to speak for me. 

A final quote that seems fitting:

“Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” 
    – Einstein

mandala journal ~ Sara Roizen
mandala journal ~ Sara Roizen