Thursday, November 8, 2012

It's not therapy

It’s not therapy – but it is very therapeutic.
It’s not for artists – but makes artists out of everyone.
It’s not spiritual – but it is very soul-stirring.

It’s one of those things, like sex, god and chocolate that you have to experience before you really get it.

I’m talking about my encounter this summer with “Expressive Arts”. This label refers to a way - or really a whole bunch of ways - of engaging individuals and groups in important questions.

What i love about it is that it goes “beyond verbal” in its invitation to play with the things that we carry around deep in our souls. So much of my work and training as clergy and community organizer is based on words – spoken and written. The Expressive Arts approach lifts me into a whole other world of expression.

Or maybe i should say – it takes me down a notch. Instructor Fay Wilkinson teaches from the floor. She embodies the invitation to “get down to it”. The space she creates with her smile, her language, her dress, her absolute love for the work of play - is enchanting.  

Her course is an instruction in the art of crafting a safe and inspiring place for adults to tap into their innate creativity. Over the span of five days we are invited to first dip our toes in the water. Then we splash about a bit – getting each other wet. And before it’s all over - we’ve experienced the rush of fearful exhilaration – going just a bit beyond our comfort zones – swimming in the deep end.

“Wow, we were in over our heads and didn’t drown and didn’t make fools of ourselves, and DID really enjoy the process of using the arts to express what words fail to say.”  

Fay’s classroom is better equipped than the average kindergarten. The range of paints, pastels, paper, clay, wire, feathers, percussion instruments, beads, masks, markers, stones and don’t forget all the sparklies - are only surpassed by Fay’s own suggestions for how to use them.

“It’s not about serving the art.” she repeats the mantra often “It’s about the art serving you.” Each one of us has to come to grips with our own creative demons. For me – it’s quieting the inner judge’s persistent questions about whether what I’m creating is worthy, good/bad, or artistic enough. 

The place I’m heading for is being able to let the music of my own inner creative freedom drown out such silly questions. More and more I enter into the creative process with the joy of discovery – leaving expectations behind. It is in this place that what’s hidden from my so-so-so rational mind - can emerge, surprise, and show me what my guts already know.

Fay suggests someone might like to take one of her 4’x6’ posterpapers and fill it. This idea speaks to me and I take her best pastels and with both hands scrawl colours onto the paper pinned to a wall. The physical energy it requires stirs cellular memories into my bloodstream.

In a mysterious alchemy inner emotions pour themselves out into the world through the freedom of colours colliding, crossing, smearing - saying what long forgotten dreams scream and shout. I let it come. I let it go. I love it. I hate it. It scares me. It amuses me. I let what’s caged out for a romp.   

But that’s just me. Others are quietly piecing together gentle hopes and forever moments of tender healing. There is no right or wrong way to do it – only the invitation to enter into the process with open heart and explore what emerges.  
Then we shift. And this is the key to this approach. We drop what we’ve made – the drawing, the 3D sculpture “thing”, the splash of paints on paper, and go into a different group exercise. Then after some gestation time – maybe the next day – we pick up what we’ve done and invite our small group members to express what they see, feel, or hear in each of our pieces – without words.

My two teammates responded to my oversized scrawlings with a sketch from one, and a sound & body response from another. Their offerings brought tears to my eyes. (i told you – you had to be there) Putting deep feeling onto the page was freeing. Receiving the responses offered - was a healing moment for me.

Nobody in the group of twelve participants left without some sense of surprise and encouragement. Each participant shared their surprises. We were surprised about what we were willing to risk – and what we discovered about our own journey. We were encouraged to not only keep working at the playing, but to find opportunities to engage people’s hearts in these ways - beneath the radar of the rational.

The five days offered literally dozens of ideas for how to use “art” in different settings for different reasons.  This course is the tip of the iceberg. There’s a dozen more courses on offer at Fleming’s Haliburton School of the Arts with a certificate available for those interested in professional accreditation. 

Program Highlights: (from the Fleming website)
Expressive Arts offer people of all ages the opportunity to express themselves through art, craft, writing, music, movement, and narrative arts.
Getting through life's challenges and crossroads is often difficult. While traditional therapies and counseling are helpful, sometimes at these moments we need to tap into our deepest creative self to deal with our feelings and emotions. Fleming's Ontario Graduate Certificate in Expressive Arts is a helpful addition to the counseling, teaching, or ministry you currently offer others. As a teacher, artist, nurse, social worker, minister, or someone in a caring profession, you will benefit from knowing how to facilitate the development and transformation of the people in your care, through expressive arts.
You will explore your own creativity and learn how to design and deliver expressive arts programming to people in a variety of circumstances. In addition, you will examine the theoretical and practical approaches to expressive arts as therapy, and learn how to protect yourself from burnout.

I can’t wait to use these practices to stir creativity in meetings where we hit the same old walls; in worship where we hope to engage hearts and not only minds, and in workshops where learning gets enhanced by the playful spirit of discovery.

Our first opportunity is this Sunday afternoon. A small group of us will give it a spin… I’ll paint you a picture of what happens.

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