It takes our human minds and bodies time to integrate change.
When the change involves painful feelings – and make no mistake, most changes do, even the most positive ones – we often need more time. But we bring so much impatience to our experience of change and grief – we want so badly to skip over the in-between time, the time that lies between what we used to be or have, and what we are becoming. We worry that we’re taking too much time, or too much of our friends’ and family’s attention, and we try to compress our adjustment period into a socially acceptable month, or six months if we’re lucky.
We live in a culture of extreme impatience and intolerance for the ordinary discomforts of waiting. We experience our desires for instant gratification as a need, practically as a matter of life or death. Unsurprising, in an age that sees 140 character Tweets as sufficient to address political truths, and that believes that 30 seconds is too long to wait for a web page to load.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a believer in grieving forever, and it is possible to get stuck in the process. What “stuck” looks like, however, is different for different people, and can’t be dictated by a tidy, one-size-fits-all timeline. Determining whether (and where) you are stuck is a gentle and sensitive process that takes due consideration of your strengths and skills, your situation, and your needs.
Growth and healing after a loss or major change require both protection and expansiveness.
Protection, however, doesn’t mean protection from your pain. I mean protection from expectations and judgement. It requires a degree of courage, to feel exactly what you are feeling, in the present moment, especially when that doesn’t match other people’s (or your own) expectations or wishes. And what do I mean by expansiveness? Our hermit-crab soul has grown out of its shell (or had it forcibly taken away by circumstances) and is fragile, naked, and afraid. To stay in the shell would constrict our growth, so we need the space to explore and expand. To stay safe while we do so we need to be in an environment that encourages bravery and experimentation, and offers acceptance of the messiness that comes with it.
Make no mistake, it’s a tough balancing act. And one of the best ways to find both protection and expansiveness is in TIME. Deliberate setting aside of time – preferably just a little bit longer that you’d really like to, or think you can “afford” – to be as present to yourself and your reality as you can be. It might look like thinking time, journalling, prayer, or staring at the ceiling. It might involve something active or creative like hiking, art, movement, gardening, or music. The requirement is that it involves you attending to your current, present, inner life and experience, and not to what you think those ought to be.
Playing with the edges of what you’re comfortable with is going to be how you grow, how you find your strength, and eventually where you will find your energy and joy again. And it’s worth the time.
If I can be of assistance in helping you determine if you’re stuck in a grief or change process, please don’t hesitate to contact me. You can book a free consultation by clicking here.
Have any of you wondered what the name Open Hearth Studio is all about?
When I think of the image of the Open Hearth, what I see is an old fashioned kitchen: a shelter from the stormy weather outside. I envision a life centred around the fireplace where it is warm, bright, and comfortable, and where conversation is intimate. This is the environment that I try to create, despite not having a fireplace in my studio! This is the atmosphere where I believe healing can happen. I’m writing this in a brief sunny moment, right after a sudden and surprising hail storm.
People usually come to Open Hearth Studio in the midst of the most stormy and stressful periods of their lives:
when they are grieving, or struggling with a big change, either happening in the present or coming up on the horizon.
Grief, loss, and change can arrive much like that hailstorm – we might know that it’s natural, but it might have surprised us if it arrived without warning. We’re certainly having a lot of feelings, and some of them might not make sense or seem “right” to us. A move, retirement, or job change can be exciting and full of potential, and it can also bring feelings of loss and fear. A divorce can feel devastating, and sometimes we see a glimmer of new possibilities. A new diagnosis can be frightening, and yet there may be some relief that at last you know what is wrong. Death can come with terrible sadness, worry about the future, and confusion. Yet alongside it may live tender memories, feelings of love, and gratitude for suffering ended.
So the invitation is to come in out of the cold, stomp the snow off your feet, and settle down for a healing conversation, where all the parts of you – the pain, doubt, confusion, love, and hope within you – can be met with warmth and acceptance, and where you can move towards reconciliation and healing. The Open Hearth (even without a real fireplace) is waiting for you.
This month, I am offering an introductory Art Therapy Workshop for grief called “Art to Ease a Grieving Heart” where you will
Connect deeply with yourself so you can discover exactly what you need to avoid emotional overwhelm as you grieve.
Learn how to communicate with family and friends about expectations so you can make plans and decisions without defensiveness or guilt.
Create a concrete self-care plan for dealing with important milestones and special days to help you stay grounded and moving forward in your healing.
When I’m feeling it, what I notice first is all the excuses I make. For instance, in the case of getting down to my self-prescribed practice of making daily art I might procrastinate by saying, “I don’t have time right now.” “I’ve only got a pencil and I want paint.” “I’m hungry.” “This paper is the wrong size.” “I’m not in the right place.” “I’m alone and I’d rather do this with someone.” “I’m around other people and I’d rather do this alone.” I’m sure most, if not all, of those phrases sound familiar. Even if we don’t say them about art-making, we say them about something in our lives: exercise, making a doctor’s appointment, contacting an old friend…We avoid. We resist. It’s in our nature. And yes, I’ll get to talking about collage in a minute.
Human beings favour stasis over change
We prefer the known to the unknown, and the same to different, in general. Sure, we all know an adrenaline junkie who thinks it’s great fun to leap off cliffs to feel the rush, but that rush is created exactly because adrenaline is produced when we are confronted with something we don’t expect or that our system interprets as dangerous! It triggers our biological fight/flight/freeze response!
And that’s a good thing. We are this way for a reason. It’s best to avoid the lions and tigers and bears. They bite. But not everything our bodies or our minds interpret as a tiger is a tiger. And that’s why we’re lucky to have the ability to think things through and to go beyond our first glance or our innate assumptions. That scary shadow in the corner looks like a monster, but I can turn the light on and see that it’s my pile of dirty clothes. If I worry about making art in a group, I can come to realize that everyone is not looking at me.
Resistance to our own creative urge
In my experience as an Art Therapist, I’ve found that for those unused to making art, it’s important that I find a way to introduce the idea in as non-threatening way as possible. “I have to warn you: I can’t draw!!” is a panicky statement that I hear from many clients, even those who have bravely chosen to see me for counselling specifically because I do work with art. I hear that kind of exclamation as an expression of past hurts – someone, at some time, has judged you. Maybe it was just you doing it to yourself, but as often as not the judgement came from outside, and from someone whose high opinion was really important to you. It probably wasn’t even intentionally hurtful. “Neat! A pretty flower! Shouldn’t the leaves be green though?” Little corrections to our creativity when we are young or vulnerable can create a sense that we are somehow “wrong” in our selves. Interestingly, even positive feedback (especially of the praising sort) such as, “Oh, that’s beautiful! Let me put it on the refrigerator!” can create resistance too. Even though it might feel great in the moment, somehow, underneath the praise, we can still hear the comparison to a hypothetical piece of art that isn’t good enough to be displayed! The result is sometimes the opposite of what was intended. Now I’m afraid I can’t live up to the expectations that have been raised by this success!
We don’t want to be governed solely by our biology or by the habitual thought processes that we’ve developed to deal with that biology! So what do we do when we know we would be better off just doing the thing we’re feeling resistance to? Sometimes we need to find a feeling of safety – an anchor if you like – that we can hang on to while we jump into the unknown or the frightening. The adrenaline junkie ties himself to a bungee cord, and he probably has a trusting relationship with the person who set up the adventure in the first place! When I ask a client to jump into their creativity, it’s important for me to find out where they feel safe, and where they feel vulnerable. We move outward from a point of comfort and familiarity, with the assurance that we can always backtrack to safe footing if it gets too rough out there.
Collage as the Path of Least Resistance
Collage has a few characteristics that make it a good choice for working through resistance. Magazine images, pictures from old calendars, catalogues, and greeting cards, and scraps of coloured paper of different types (origami paper, tissue paper, wrapping paper…) are all familiar materials that we do not necessarily associate with art, and especially not with that really scary thing, Fine Art. This is not to say that collage can’t be Fine Art, capitalized and everything: it definitely can. But when we are looking for materials and techniques that are going to ring fewer warning bells about lions and tigers and bears in our primitive brain, using the familiar and “everyday” is the way to go!You aren’t required to have particular skills in drawing. You don’t have to manipulate special tools; you might want to use scissors and a glue stick, but you can tear the paper instead, and you might even just want to arrange your images without anchoring them down permanently. Taking a picture of the arrangement and keeping that can work just as well!
So, to get back to my promise to myself to make art every day as a way of taking care of myself, keeping my “baggage” to a minimum, and generally staying happy: what about those days when I’m feeling particularly burdened by anxiety about it? What about my days of heavy resistance? What about those days when the good paint and the high quality paper scare you and your self-talk is all “you’re going to waste it!” “what’s the point?” “it’s not going to be good anyway?”
Pull out the recycling bin. Take a deep breath. Spend at least five minutes roughly tearing out images and words that just feel right – whatever appeals or feels important in whatever way. Try not to get caught up reading the latest article! Then look through the pile you’ve collected and refine it- cut or tear the images more precisely if you want, and start to arrange them on a larger piece of plain paper. Glue them down – or not. Stand back and look at what has arisen out of the exercise. What feeling tone does the new image have? How do you feel while you look at it? You can write about it in a journal, or just ponder it for a while. Give collage a try and see if it might be a way to move through your resistance! (…and while you’re at it, make that appointment for a mammogram, and get in touch with an old friend!)
An open studio is where you are accepted and encouraged, wherever you are on your creative journey.
Open Studios are places that are built on the principle that engaging in the creative process is a healing activity.
The Open Studio is a concept that has been in place in Art Therapy for many years, and many examples of them exist. Some are found in institutional or residential settings, and others are embedded in communities, offering a place for artistic engagement to people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds.
Open Studios are OPEN! They invite the participation of everyone who comes, at whatever their skill level. The Open Studio at St. George’s in Victoria, BC is an almost-two-year-old program held in the Parish Hall of an Anglican Church in Cadboro Bay Village. Begun in 2013 as a brief, 12 session pilot project, it has bloomed into a vibrant community of artists – teenagers and twenty-somethings right through to retirees – who hang out with each other once or twice a week to create everything from hand-made clothing to acrylic paintings. Certainly sometimes you will find a senior helping a teen learn to sew, sometimes it’s the younger ones helping their elders with taking a digital photograph with their phone, but it’s rarely a stereotypical interaction. I’ve seen tears shared, subtle and tender expressions of caring, and raucous laughter. There is mutual respect, a sense of fun, and true joy in this varied and expanding community.
Lately I’ve noticed that at least once a week, someone we’ve never met before walks in to the Open Studio and tells us “I saw your sign outside and I was curious!” As often as not, that contact is the beginning of another person’s journey at the Open Studio. Of course, it can be intimidating to join something new, especially if your personal history does not include a lot of positive messages about your creativity. Our invitation to you is to check out that feeling of discomfort when you think about creating art in the company of others. What’s it like? When have you felt it before? What might be different in a place where the focus is on how you feel while you make art instead of on what you make? We try our best to make everyone as comfortable as possible. You can work in solitude; you can work at a table with several others; you can ask for help; you can ask to be left to your own devices. We’ll offer you some coffee or tea!
The unique thing about an Open Studio that practices Art as Therapy is that you will have the opportunity to reflect on your creation with an art therapist. An art therapist is trained to help you look at the images with compassion for yourself, encouraging you to listen deeply to your own inner wisdom. You may find parallels between the way you make art and the way you live your life, or between the image you have created and your life circumstances, or between the way you feel about the image and the way you feel in a particular situation. It is your interpretation that counts – we are there to support you in your search for meaning.
You are invited to join the adventure! Come to the Open Studio at St. George’s on Monday mornings from 9-12 or on Wednesday evenings from 6-9!
Mostly, I just want to jump up and down yelling “NO! Of course not!! Never! No No No!” when I hear this question, but I know that’s not really helpful, and probably wouldn’t come across as very professional either, what with all the jumping and everything. Maybe what would help is a quick discussion of what therapy really is (regardless of whether it’s the talking kind or the art kind).
What’s the Point of Therapy Anyway?
Do you feel like you’ve done what you wanted to do with your life? Have you been who and what you wanted to be? Do you believe that human beings are not only capable of growing and learning for their whole lifetime, but actually meant to do so?
Therapy is all about Growth, Learning, and Positive Change!
You’ve probably heard of several theories about stages of growth and development. But in all likelihood, you’ve associated them with childhood and adolescence, and haven’t thought of what happens after that. The reality is, we don’t stop changing! Certainly, some of the changes associated with aging are in the category of loss, but that’s only part of the story.
We are developing (and that means AGING!) from the moment we are born!
A young adult struggles with defining themselves as separate from their parents, with finding a vocation, and possibly seeking a romantic adult relationship. The middle years of maturity may revolve around the dual roles of providing for one’s family (of whatever composition or size) and caring for children. From mid-life on, you may be preoccupied with efforts around your “peak earning years” at your job, possibly with launching children as adults, and increasingly with attending to the needs of an aging parent or other family member. Issues of identity and meaning come up again and again through each of these stages, especially if, along the way, you experience losses (of job, marriage, health, or from a move) that make a re-negotiation necessary. What often gets ignored are the continuing changes past what we think of as “retirement” age, which include concerns with spirituality, legacy, mentorship, integrity, and reminiscence.
Changing priorities and developmental transition can be daunting at any age.
In my view, good therapy takes the whole person into account: their body, mind, heart, soul, community, culture, and environment. Keeping your eye on all those things isn’t easy, either for a client or for the therapist, but it’s vital to at least be open to information from all those areas. Willingness to be a witness to “the whole story” is something I see as a really important part of my job. Being truly seen and heard is something deeply needed, and deeply yearned for by many people during times of transition. Only by knowing our needs can we meet them. Only by knowing where we are can we choose our next direction.
Therapy is meant to be a safe space in which a person – of any age or stage – can freely explore their journey thus far, taking the time to find its fruits and heal the wounds incurred on the way. At its best, therapy can be experienced as a protected and sacred moment, outside of “ordinary” time, in which a person can meet themselves anew, with fresh eyes. The goal of this exploration, of this sacred moment, will be very different for different people. It may be moving on to new plans and adventures; it may be the consolidation of your learning and wisdom. It will certainly be to create your best possible present, regardless of your age.
If you do find yourself on the older end of the developmental spectrum, here are a couple of links to sites that deal specifically with positive aging:
DISCLAIMER: This information is not a substitute for professional psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content provided by Frances Bryant-Scott, RSW, BCATR is intended for general information purposes only. Never disregard professional medical or psychological advice or delay seeking treatment because of something you read in this blog (or any blog for that matter!)