A question that emerges often in therapy spaces is ‘How can the pain or distress be ‘fixed’ so it goes away?’. The wish remains even though we know rationally that there is no magic wand that can make these experiences vanish.
So how can we support ourselves while we walk the journey?
Let’s explore an arts therapy example, by looking at a creative process that I have facilitated, in various iterations and settings, for groups of women.
Painful experiences are part of being human. We need to honour and process the layers of these experiences, walking through their dark forests, in order for them to shift. However, we can also strengthen resourcing narratives and perspectives (the mycelial network running beneath the ground of the dark forest) that can support us while on this journey.
An essential strength of the arts therapies, whether it is drama, music, dance, or art therapy, is that they allow us to play with narratives. We so often get stuck in rehearsed narratives about ourselves and our worlds: creativity gives us the medium to be brave and experiment with new ones.
So: what happens when we pause in the dark forest, and we bring our attention for a moment to our internal resources of resilience, connection and health? Let's look at an example.
Imagine a group of women sitting together in a circle. They carry many roles and responsibilities – mother, professional, caregiver, student, daughter – but they are taking a moment to pause. They close their eyes and imagine a landscape in which they feel safe, curious, and connected to their health and the living, breathing planet. They visualise finding a seed in this landscape: a symbol of their health, connection and internal resources. They open their eyes and begin to create their seeds, using clay, driftwood, leaves, pebbles. As their hands create, they are weaving life into this seed of health, telling stories of what supports them in difficult times, what it could grow into if nourished. They name what meaning their seeds hold for them, what landscape of health they grow in. The women are witnessed in their creativity, resilience, and intrinsic worth. They are invited, over the next days, to find the landscape that this seed needs to be planted in, and to physically do so: visiting this place as often as they need to - a ritual of tending to their health. The following video is from a participant, capturing where she planted her own seed of health.
The act of imagination and creativity can be a radical thing. In the midst of difficulty, we can challenge ourselves to imagine into our innate capacity to connect, to find meaning, for health. By tending to this perspective, by creating and planting the seed, we are noticing and strengthening the resources that can support us while walking the journey of healing.
The first rays of Spring have arrived. I invite you to find a quiet moment to connect with your seed of health, creativity, connection and resource. What does it look like? Find some natural materials and make it. Where in your surrounding landscape can you plant it? What story is it needing to tell? Can you honour and visit the seed to remind yourself of this perspective, in times of struggle?
How would it be to allow yourself to connect to the alive, breathing planet within you, that is capable of holding both the journey through the dark forest, as well as nourishing the seeds of health.
Jessica is an HPCSA-registered Arts Therapist, and holds a Masters in Drama Therapy. She offers creative, expressive psychotherapy for individual and group therapy in Cape Town, for adults, teens and children.