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Finding Beauty in Dark Moments Part I
by Karen Adler, Dip. Transpersonal Art Therapy,
ATH Asst. Editor of Art and Art Therapy
Editor's Note from Karen Adler: Doing art therapy for myself is a way for me to know what's going on for me at the moment. I've come to see it as a necessary - and enjoyable - aspect of self-care. It also provides me with the guidance I need to make difficult decisions, to separate the past from the present, this moment from the preceding one and the one that follows, to draw boundaries between myself and another person. See Part II of this article here.
“Art is a way of knowing what we actually believe.” Pat Allen
I have this strange - not to mention impossible - expectation to always look good, feel good, BE good. It causes me no-end of misery and yet in all my years upon this planet, I haven’t yet managed to shift this strange and impossible expectation. It bounces to the foreground of my being at the most inopportune times, usually at moments when I’m at a low ebb. And yes, it has all sorts of names that I know and recognise - The Inner Critic, The Shadow plus a few other names that are much ruder and far less acceptable in the world of print.
Years ago, when I first started writing, I went to a workshop to help me on my writing way. The instrucor, an author of children’s books, said that the greatest difficulty many writers face is the injunction given in childhood that ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anythign at all.’ And if I think logically about that very severe restriction on communication, on what is allowed and permissable, I discover the root of my difficulties at the moment, having just responded to a personal and professional attack. But such intellectual understanding doesn’t necessarily translate into being better able to deal with life’s little difficulties.
Despite the fact that I logically and rationally and oh-so-grown-uppedly espouse the doctrine of my right to say no, to stand up for myself, to not be bullied or cowed - there’s a little girl crouched in the corner of my psyche, waiting to be reprimanded because she’s been not-nice, ready to bend herself into all sorts of strange and unusual shapes so that she won’t be rejected or made fun of. She’s been strong and assertive and eloquent and has spoken up for herself and she’s quite proud of herself really.
At least, that’s what I say on the outside. But on the inside - as evidenced by an ongoing sense of dis-ease, an un-quietness of mind, a dissipation of energy - there’s a different story. How to make the two - the logical, rational adult and the emotion-driven, frightened child - come together and move on from an unpleasant episode rather than making it an ongoing drama?
Drawing helps at such moments - ‘drawing’ on both the literal and metaphoric levels. The act of drawing - of putting pen, pencil, crayon to paper - can help draw negative emotions from us. Being able to not only express an emotion but to actually see what it looks like and its effect on our psyche, gives us both insight and a degree of control that we do not otherwise have. Metaphorically being able to draw boundaries between yourself and another person allows for more freedom, more space to move, more choice, less compulsion. If there is any desire for reconciliation, strong boundaries can enable us to move towards the other person without fear of being engulfed. If there is no desire for reconciliation, these same boundaries can enable us to separate and walk away.
The beauty of art therapy is that it enabIes a blending of dualities - literal/metaphoric, left brain/right brain, rational/intuitive-emotional, visual/verbal. To help me through my recent difficulties, I did two drawings and a painting. The first drawing was a scribble drawing. In art therapy sessions, I often start with scribble drawings. These are a way of showing participants that order can be brought out of chaos, that we allocate subjective meaning to events which may or may not be an accurate interpretation of the world. Scribble drawings also introduce the element of play and can provide a glimpse into the nature of our unconscious.
The elements that emerged from my scribble drawing were the mother and the wise child, a spinning top tilting on its side, loss of balance, fight or flight, self-esteem vs wounded pride. I did the drawing as an exercise in self-understanding before I took action.
The second drawing I did a day later, after I’d responded. What emerged from just tracing the shadow of my hand moving across the page as I wrote, both surprised and delighted me. Not just the fairly obvious image of a flaming pen representing anger, fierceness and a reminder that the pen is mightier than the sword but a drawing of my inner world that took me back many years to my strange days indeed in Kathmandu and my discovery of the Witness Self. Little faces without mouths show me the silence that happens in my mind when I draw. All those little voices that continue their endless dialogues about what I should do and what I shouldn’t do and maybe this and maybe that - they fall silent and just watch and wait and see what I make out of my drawing, what it can tell me that goes deeper than the superficial level to a depth where I have more substance, more wholeness, a greater sense of connection and connectedness.
It’s at this level that I find beauty in dark moments. And know that it’s always there, regardless of surface turmoil and the ripples caused by a stone thrown into a still pond.
Copyright: Karen Adler, 2012
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.