We’re coming down to the wire and The Wild Heart Expressive Arts Teacher Training Program
begins in one short week on April 29th. And as Tim and I are preparing and refining the curriculum it’s also making me think about some of the psychological, spiritual and philosophical roots and influences that inform what and how we teach.
I’ve already written two articles about my journey and here’s links to both of them in case you missed them:
This is the final installment of the story, and I’ve so been enjoying sharing with you how all of this began.
My early days in terms of my own healing journey and also in my professional practice centered around both body based approaches to creating conditions for wholeness and what is often referred to as talk therapy… or psychotherapy. I spent many fruitful and satisfying hours in my various cozy offices with individuals, couples and groups guiding people into trusting their own inner healer and inner wise person through somatic awareness, breathwork, intuition and compassionate verbal exploration of a persons inner psychic landscape.
There was also a strong focus on creating an energetic container of trust and safety and utilizing the relationship between myself and my clients as part of the healing crucible.
Those years in those therapy rooms were deeply gratifying and fulfilling. And I would often marvel at the fact and feel incredibly grateful that this was my work in the world. I felt like my goddess given gifts were incredibly well utilized and like I was doing the work that spirit meant for me to be doing.
But at a certain point I began feeling a deep sense of discontent and longing for something more, without being clear exactly what that more was. All I DID know is that I wanted to fall in love with my life again.
I was ( and still am) a die hard personal growth junkie. I knew that whatever I was looking for had to come from an exploration of my inner realms. I had to go on yet another spiritual, psychological or emotional journey.
I have always been a big fan of letting my intuition guide the way when it came to making decisions at crossroads in my life. So I was really surprised when my intuitive longing began pointing me in the direction of making art and very specifically painting.
Because I did have a history with art and painting but it wasn’t a very happy one.
My father spent his whole life as a frustrated artist who had never gotten any support from his working class Polish family to pursue his enthusiasm for creative expression. In their minds it wasn’t practical to paint or draw or make art. It wasn’t a way to make any serious money. So that side of him… which was huge… never got recognized or valued.
But it would leak out of him and get expressed in sneaky and surprising ways. For example, when I was in the first grade, learning my ABC’s, he made me the most gorgeous little alphabet book with drawings of objects to go with each letter. I can still see the apple he drew for the letter A. It was so beautifully alive and I remember being amazed at how it looked like a real apple. I also remember being much older and going to a museum with him and feeling his fascination and hungry sadness as we walked around looking at all the amazing art hanging on the walls.
As a kid, I also wanted to paint, but my family lineage couldn’t support me any better than it could my dad around my desire to create. And to create with paint. My father’s wound and hunger was so big and tender that he couldn’t give me what I needed to begin my own creative journey.
So I locked that part of me away and pretended like it didn’t matter.
So when I heard about an approach to painting called Process Painting at a place called The Painting Experience Studio
that encouraged people to paint with a focus on your inner creative process as opposed to being concerned about learning a technique or making a beautiful painting, I was surprisingly intrigued. As well as being absolutely terrified.
The Painting Experience was located in my neck of the woods so I didn’t have the excuse that it was too far away. Plus, I knew a couple of folks who had taken classes there and nobody died. So I signed up for a class. And practically from the very first moment I was in love.
I knew from the start that I didn’t want to learn technique. I had absolutely zero interest in becoming a good artist… whatever that heck THAT meant. I wanted a place where I would be encouraged and supported to paint like myself without having to learn any pesky art rules before I could begin painting. I didn’t want to be influenced by anyone else and their opinions about art or beauty or any of that other nonsense. I wanted to discover what I could do if left to my own creative devices. I wanted more than anything to simply paint like me. With no judgment or expectations.
And that’s exactly what I got. My first painting looked like it could have been done by a 5 year old. And I couldn’t have cared less. What I felt was joy. What I felt was free. What I felt was a powerful connection to my intuition and to my own creative flow.
It was powerful and addictive in all the best ways. Every painting took me on a journey into places I had never been before. And could not have gone if I had been planning it out or setting some kind of intention or agenda or worried about making something beautiful or artistically good. That journey into my inner ME was always an adventure, full of surprises and astonishing curveballs. I never knew WHAT was going to happen next. And that excitement of not knowing kept me coming back for more.
I healed something deep and profound and ancestral during my time in those process arts studios. But there were certain things that were lacking in that environment and ways I still felt limited and so my journey of healing my creative self continued. One thing that was missing was the sense of safety and permission that comes from a powerfully held container that fostered a deep experience of community.
I discovered that safely held community space through a weekend workshop held in the redwoods of Northern California and facilitated by a wondrous alchemical priestess of the creative process named Natalie Rogers.
Natalie had created an approach to art making called Person Centered Expressive Arts Therapy. She wrote a seminal book about the expressive arts called The Creative Connection: Expressive Arts As Healing
and I often think of her as the mother of the expressive arts movement.
She was the daughter of a very famous psychotherapist named Carl Rogers
who developed a therapeutic modality call Person Centered or Client Centered Therapy. This approach to therapy which valued empathy, caring, openness, honesty and trust in the clients inherent capacity to heal was deeply in alignment with what I had already been practicing based on what I head learned through the Radical Psychiatry philosophy.
But Carl Rogers also added the idea of the importance of being fully present to your clients and encouraging them to be fully present to themselves as a fundamental ingredient for true growth and change. He taught how simply being with a person from a place of deep compassion and acceptance without trying to fix or change them is essential to the healing process.
He is considered one of the founders of humanistic psychology and developed the concept of unconditional positive regard as a core tenet of his approach to unleashing peoples full potential and capacity for self actualization.
His theory of personality was not an outgrowth of the more popular medical model which is based on seeing human psychological suffering as a disease and the idea that people are broken and need to be fixed. His conception of human psychology was much more positive and hopeful than that. And he firmly believed that inside of everyone was an untapped potential to grow and heal that could be absolutely trusted and just needed to be encouraged by the therapists belief and support of that intrinsic potential.
These ideas were music to my ears and aligned perfectly with how I saw myself, my clients and how I wanted to work with people.
His daughter, Natalie Rogers, took these concepts and combined them with artmaking and the creative process. But her focus was not on creativity in any kind of traditional sense where the intention was to create a beautifully rendered piece of art that could be sold or displayed in a persons home. She was much more interested in the non-linear unfolding of creativity and on how the act of fully liberated self expression is in itself powerfully healing and contributes to a persons sense of self worth, empowerment, self esteem and overall well being.
I still had a number of personal unhealed wounds around my own capacity for creative expression and I was still incredibly wary of taking any kind traditional art class where I was going to be taught how to make art in a particular way which I knew would only exacerbate those wounds.
What I needed was the continued freedom to explore and trust in my own creative instincts and impulses while IN community. Not being told what to do or how to make art that was supposed to adhere to certain standards of aesthetics or skill with other people who shared those values was a powerful extension of what I learned doing process painting.
Studying with Natalie as my guide and teacher allowed me an even deeper sense of freedom and gave me an unshakeable confidence and faith in my own unique and quirky way of expressing myself creatively. The process painting approach was supposed to be free, but still contained some hidden rules and expectations that limited me. But Natalie was not only a role model of open hearted creative expression but she showered me with the magical elixir of her unconditional positive regard for not only my artistic creations but for how I expressed myself in ALL aspects of my life.
And for this, I will be eternally grateful.
I found this expressive arts approach to psychological and emotional healing to not only be incredibly powerful for me on a personal level but also in my work with other women. For centuries, womens voices have been silenced and their creative expression devalued by the dominant patriarchal culture that is still alive and well today.
So having a place and a process through which women could create freely without fear of judgment, humiliation or expectations around being perfect and beautiful was a profoundly liberating and emancipating experience for so many of the women who joined me for my sacred creative circles.
It allowed me to feel a deep sense of connection to artmaking as not only a soul emancipation practice, but also as a way to contribute to my own and other womens’ sense of trust in themselves as powerful creative beings and as positive agents of change and liberation.
For more info on the upcoming teacher training program and to sign up for a free informational interview with Tim and Chris click on the image below.