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Creation Stories
by Karen Adler, Dip. Transpersonal Art Therapy,
ATH Asst. Editor of Art and Art Therapy


Editor's Note from
Karen Adler: We are all storytellers. Sometimes the stories we tell ourselves are fairy tales with a happily-ever-after ending. Sometimes they're horror stories where everyone suffers and ultimately dies a lonely, miserable death. The imagination is a powerful place and it's wise to know who's speaking inside us. This adaptation of a Creation Story made me realise the power of the stories we tell ourselves and also the power of the stories we inherit - both from our culture and from our families.

This image is a composite photograph of the Franciscan Monastery in Stroud, NSW and an image from a TV program on Stephen Hawking’s Universe. The two images melded together reflect my view that we would do well to heal the divide between religion/spirituality and science, to allow one to complement the other rather than enduring an endless battle between powerful forces both of which contribute greatly to humanity.

Returning to our origins – our own creation stories – whether they be familial or cultural, is a worthwhile exercise at Christmas time, which brings to mind birth and beginnings.

I’m living at a Franciscan monastery made entirely of mud bricks, with curving walls and floors to reflect the contours of the earth. I’m closer to my original Catholic roots than I’ve been since childhood. And either Christianity has changed a great deal since I stomped away from going to Mass on Sundays, muttering in teenager-like fashion about hypocrites and hypocrisy – or I’ve changed. Both, no doubt. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to go through life without changing. 

They’re Anglican Franciscans here at the Monastery of the Blessed Virgin Mary and there’s a resident woman priest. Mother Pirrial and I have interesting conversations about spirituality and art and the healing capacities of both. We wonder how it came about that in most religions, women are so maligned. Naturally, we both wonder when on earth the Catholic Church is going to wake up and allow women to become priests. And we talk about the rabbits that are burrowing into the earthen bank, hoping they don’t obliterate the newly planted native shrubs. 

A few weeks ago, it was the first Sunday of Advent which, Pirrial informed me, is the first season of the church year. For Christians - in contrast to the commercial celebration of Christmas - Christmas day, the birth of Jesus, is the beginning of the celebrations, rather than the culmination. As Pirrial explained to me, the birth of any child isn’t celebrated until the child is actually born because things can go wrong and interfere with the pregnancy up until that time. Which distinction had never actually occurred to me before. And my response was … well, of course, that makes total sense – why didn’t I see that before?

And it reminded me of how art therapy works, how I’ve seen it play out time and time again so that I no longer doubt it. How art therapy enables you to see connections and interconnections and linking and tracking that you’re not able to see intellectually, that you can’t quite grasp mentally. And how once you’ve made those connections, done the tracking, seen the interlinking, it’s like … well, of course – why couldn’t I see that before?

And the reverse process – that by making art, we’re able to distinguish between things which seem the same when they’re all mixed up and muddied in our minds, but when given shape, form and substance in an artwork, are seen more clearly. It may be as simple as allocating a different coloured line to the different aspects of our lives, thereby untangling ourselves from a maelstrom of conflicting demands, enabling us to see what we have control over and what we don’t, where we can and need to feel responsible and where that’s both unnecessary and inappropriate. 

Often, in the midst of this making connections or disconnecting and untangling, we become aware of the origins of behaviours, beliefs, patterns. Dimly aware, perhaps, of memories or sensations coming to the surface of our conscious minds. Quite often, this isn’t part of our consciousness until we see it in a drawing or painting on a piece of paper in front of us. Quite often, it’s a matter of … well, of course, why didn’t I see that before? Being able to sense the origin of something about ourselves is the beginning of being able to change it or re-create it. 

Last week, I spent a few days doing art therapy workshops at The Golden Door Health Retreat in the beautiful Hunter Valley. It’s only an hour’s drive from my Franciscan monastery but it’s a little bit like leaving medieval Europe, all mud brick and wood and simplicity, and arriving in an upmarket haven of 21st century luxury and leading edge health practices.  

Mornings begin with tai chi on a hilltop with a 360 degree view overlooking vineyards, small towns and distant hills. Towards the end of the session, the instructor lead us in a repeat of the exercise but this time with an accompanying story which reflected each of the different movements. ‘… In the beginning there was heaven and earth … Along came man and opened up his heart to heaven and earth … He painted a rainbow across the sky …’**

I was struck by both the beauty of the story synchronised with the movements of the body but also by the differentness of this as a creation story. Dimly recollecting my Catholic origins, all I could come up with was the story of Adam and Eve being cast out of the Garden of Eden, thereby bringing about the fall of all mankind and the ruination of the Earth. Recasting humanity as ‘opening up his heart to heaven and earth’ and physically as a bridge between heaven and earth, gave me a totally different image of where the human race stood in relation to Creation. 

Which is a long and circuitous route that takes me back to the beginning, as do most journeys – my belief that it’s worthwhile to look closely at our own creation stories that form the very core of who we are; that it’s a good idea to become aware of the creation stories we’ve ingested or been fed before we have the capacity to understand their impact upon our lives. If we puzzle and ponder about an ongoing difficulty or lack in our lives, often the answer can be found in the creation story we carry about with us and tell ourselves over and over again, quite unwittingly and unconsciously.

To take back our lives, often it is necessary to write a new creation story for ourselves that begins with the words, ‘In the beginning …’ 

**Whereas I originally thought that this story must have had ancient Chinese origins, upon asking, I was told that it had actually been made up by the staff of The Golden Door, clever and creative people that they are. 

©Karen Adler, 2011



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About the Author

Karen Adler, ATH Asst. Editor of Arts & Art Therapy, is a Transpersonal Art Therapist, an artist, writer and researcher. She is a firm believer in the inherent healing qualities of the Arts. She has run art therapy workshops for the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction, self-harming behaviour, eating disorders, for post-flood and cyclone trauma and for people seeking to bring about positive change in their lives. Karen also uses Art Therapy to help in the resolution of her own life difficulties and is continually surprised by the insight it brings. 
Contact Karen at karenadler222@gmail.com or karenadler@allthingshealing.com.





Shibashi Tai Chi Qigong story, The Golden Door Health Retreat,




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