In October I rinsed my mind with a hike among the autumn trees along the banks of the Rio Grande. Here in New Mexico is some of the cleanest, clearest air in the country. It feels good to breathe. This large oil painting began that day. Now snow covers the ground and the Aspens are bare but I finished this canvas with memories of the vibrant warm colors and fresh air. Standing in front of this piece takes me right back there.
For Career and Life Development we made our version of the vision boards popularized by Oprah and Martha Beck. Webb Garrison kicked off the project by leading us through a meditation where we walked into a forest and came upon a treasure chest. We opened the chest to see what was inside. These dreamy treasures gave us insight into what we wanted to include in our future.
I came out of the mediation with only a few clues but used the relaxed, open state of consciousness to try and clarify ideas about my dreams. I pictured a cozy little green office where I could see myself practicing therapy. I imagined a large open loft studio where I could lead workshops exploring the magic of the creative process. I could see myself writing a book about Art Therapy one day. I like being with people who are expanding their minds. So, maybe I would like to teach. With these fantasies floating around in my mind, I flipped through magazines looking for images to concretize these imaginings and create my vision board.
I wanted to use the collage process to help clarify my goals, involve the subconscious and then orient myself to the life I want to create. But none of the job related ideas appeared in the magazines I had in front of me. I found a new refrigerator and a cute puppy, but the rooms I wanted didn’t show up. I clipped here and there but I was struck by how few things I wanted that I don’t already have. The glamorous bodies, luscious lips and sleek cars just didn’t excite me.
Mostly, I gathered pictures of beautiful places that made me breathe deeply and feel grateful. That feeling of gratitude is connected to a sense that I have enough. So, instead of what I want, or what I am lacking, I focused on what I already have but want to grow.
So now I have the background full of pictures describing the states of being I want to maintain and cultivate. And, I am keeping an eye out for images of cool spaces that might hold my future. It might be some idyllic reteat in Dwell magazine, or it might be a For Rent posting. The visionboarding practice will help me recognize “it” when I encounter “it.”
I can easily draw a family tree, but in Family Art Therapy class we are making genograms to explain our relationships with our families. Many people can map out their family systems with an assortment of boxes and lines and symbols. Here is what a typical genogram looks like:
I tried this method. But I could not fit my family in boxes, at all! Maybe it is boundary issues, or lack of roles in a chaotic system. Or maybe it was my not wanting to label anyone as anything. But I tried. I made boxes and moved them around for weeks, never finding an arrangement that made sense.
Then, while hiking one day, I came upon a ridge topped with jagged dark iron rich boulders carved with ancient petroglyphs. Primitive symbols of humans, birds, spirals and crosses were etched in the sun facing surfaces. Some were clear and some were faded and vague. Studying the shapes and thinking about the history of the place, I looked out over the hills and wondered how many people had stood in this very spot, contemplating life– and how they fit in it.
These marks of history, carved in stone, were the inspiration for my genogram. I started this painting with an ochre base and then laid a dark patina over the entire canvas. I wiped off a circle of burnt umber to reveal myself as a golden sun shedding light on the family system I know. Then, scratching into the surface, figures began to emerge. In the shadows of the upper left is my grandpa Smed, a colorful character who died of cirrhosis.
But I wanted to show more than a dead alcoholic patriarch. So I gave him a jester quality to convey his humor and his importance. Characters began to appear on the canvas, in abstract form, quite fitting for the way I knew them. At the bottom of the canvas are my two children. They are portrayed as neutral and whole. I didn’t want to smear them with red, or aqua representing prevalent issues in our clan. I’d like to think, that awareness will make the intergenerational toxins less potent for them.
Family trees are all about facts around birth, death, marriages and children. Genograms are about relationships. That gave me much more room to lay it out in a personal and subjective way. I painted my family as I experienced it. No one can argue with that.
The past year has taken me on an intense personal journey. I have spent most of my life trying to figure things out. Recently, I am more intrigued by the mysteries of life and less concerned about what is fact. I am enjoying wondering more than knowing. Instead of clawing for the “right” answer, I am quietly waiting– watching the possibilities unfold before me. Living life sure is easier being open and accepting instead of trying to nail everything down. I have been painting birds for a long time, but my latest birds are freer, lighter and more open to something beyond… Here is a short video of a watercolor being painted where a pair of white doves emerge from the page.
Our kids are visiting Placitas, New Mexico for Christmas. Instead of sending cards this year, I painted a little watercolor and put it to music. The background song is one of my all time favorites– Britt singing Silent Night when she was little. Hope this little 2 minute video conveys the warmth and love of the season. Happy Holidays from Rog and Amy.
So far my education at Southwestern College has been truly amazing. The mission of the college “Transforming Consciousness Through Education” has resonated with my beliefs and values and the teachings have come easily for me. But, learning about something and actually doing it can be very different. It is common for me to imagine things to be easier than they actually turn out to be. I was concerned that I was not being realistic about what being an Art Therapist might be like. What if I don’t like being a therapist? What if I am not good at it?
My biggest concern upon entering Practicum was that I might become swamped in other people’s stuff. If I let myself take on other’s emotions, I would not be able to function the way I wanted to. Would I be able to work with people and not bring their problems home with me and ruminate on them? Would I obsess about how I could help? Would I worry that I wasn’t doing enough? I was raised Catholic and often imagine I am carrying a giant burlap sack of guilt upon by back. Would working in the field of therapy just add to my burden? I wondered if, deep in my veins, I might have a hidden quest to be a martyr that would be fed by being in this helping profession.
With this concern in mind, I formed a serious intention to stay centered and grounded and clear in my own light and connection to “source.” “Source”, to me, is a concept of alignment and union with all things. I am not alone. I can access the strength of the universe through this conduit of energy. I remind myself repeatedly that the client too has his or her own “source” and with confidence in my own, I honor theirs.
I made a powerful shift away from co-dependency this year. It involved a long and complicated process of extracting myself from the emotional web of someone I love. I created a vivid visual representation of a direct line of light that connects me to the universe. My vision looks like a strong, powerful column of blue light. A dramatic release from my co-dependency finally came when I understood, she too, had a solid blue light of her own, connecting her to whatever her greater source might be. This time, I didn’t feel like I was selfishly abandoning her. I wasn’t severing the connection between us, leaving her dangling. I was stepping back into my own light and allowing her to have her own power and light. Putting this into words is too simplistic. But I want to stress how much my understanding my co-dependent nature has helped in my ability to do clean and effective work as a therapist.
In preparation for Practicum, we were told to decorate a candle to bring to our sessions. I chose a tall blue glass candle holder and decorated it with white tissue, a white feather, ivory ribbon and a silver lead fishing weight I found on the Atlantic beach. The blue columnar light represents my connection to “source.” The feather stands for my willingness to travel far and wide and trust the mystery of the unknown. And the fishing weight is my metaphor for remaining grounded and centered when I feel pulled away from my true self.
We have just completed our first phase of Practicum doing individual Art Therapy. Next month we begin working with groups. Allegra Borghese and I are going to lead a Women’s Creativity Group where we will explore issues like improving communication and lowering stress through creativity and mindfulness. We look forward to helping people create a vision that better serves them. I think that we sometimes, outside of awareness, get caught in patterns of behavior that are destructive or unwanted. Art making can be helpful in shifting perspective to see a way out and clarify what we really want out of life.
Sometimes a concept flashing through my mind can be made clearer when I paint it. I grab the “thought” and infuse it with all the feeling and sensation that exists beyond words. I stir it around in the paint and lay it out on the canvas.
Here is an example of using my art to make something more real. After my dad died I had a dramatic experience of a beautiful hawk swooping down and landing on a branch in front of me. I felt it in a deep, deep place that only the greatest grief has taken me. “Knowing” it was my dad, in some form, gave me great comfort. Since then, hawks have come to symbolize his presence. When a hawk sails overhead, or perches on a branch, I stop completely in the present magical moment, and let myself feel the powerful mystery of life and death. I feel my dad’s love.
A hawk has been hanging around the Southwestern College campus this summer. He is one of hundreds of Santa Fean hawks just looking for his next meal. Students debate whether it is a red-tailed or a Cooper’s and lots of people are certain it is one or the other. But to me, it’s dad. You won’t find him in Sibley’s Guide to Birds. So I painted a picture.
The hawk’s presence reassures me that I am in the right place at the right time and this painting helps to ground the experience and make it more tangible.
What kind of hawk do you think it is? Red-tailed, Coopers, or my dad Tuck?
24×30 Oil Painting