Making space for a creative home

This blog entry is a repost of an article I wrote, which was published in Grounded Magazine in their Autumn 2014 "Make" issue. I'm revisiting it on this Spring Sunday morning, as I listen to my now 3rd grade daughter in her singer-songwriter creative zone in the other room. Unfortunately Grounded Magazine is no longer being published, and I wanted this piece to live on, so I will share it here with you. Wishing a spacious and creative day to you and yours!

creating-with-kids

My second grader and I linger at the table after breakfast on a brisk Autumn morning. I sip my light and sweet slow-drip and watch my mind fill with a Sunday to-do list: return emails, grocery shop, send birthday card. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a twirl of our handmade driftwood mobile near the window. For the next few moments, my thoughts flip-flop between warm days along the coast and plans to pick up butter and stamps.

Meanwhile, my daughter is grabbing a jar from a nearby shelf and is intensely engaged with acorn caps she collected on a walk yesterday. With profound focus, she is stacking them, lining them up, closely studying their shape and texture. She perches one between her thumb and pointer finger, declaring, “A perfect size for a fairy hat! Hey Mom, let’s make flower fairies!” Her proposal abruptly snaps me right back into the present moment, waking me from nostalgia for days passed and plans for the day ahead. One of the most profound gifts our children offer is reminding us to return to the present moment.

“Let’s make flower fairies!” is my daughter’s way of inviting me to enter her world of imaginal play and creation. She wants to connect in the most natural way children know – through immersion in the flow of creative expression. It’s so sincere and beautiful, and my iPhone is buzzing and there are dishes from breakfast and wet clothes to be dried and.. and.. and…

As both a mother and a mindfulness-oriented art psychotherapist, I have learned the deep, lasting, and mutual benefits of making art alongside our children. I can say, from personal and professional experience, this practice is not easy in modern parenthood. When we sit down to draw with our children, it’s either the ding of our inbox or the relentless voice of the inner critic distracting us from true absorption in the activity.

Slowing Down

A creative home life requires making mental space and time much more than it demands an expertly appointed craft room. Cuddling on the couch with a bag of seashell souvenirs and a spool of yarn from the junk drawer to create a garland will be meaningful as long as we are able to be fully present in those moments. Our undivided attention is what fills children up most. The added benefit is that if we really show up, it can be deeply gratifying for parents, too.

The best way I know how to enter into creative space with children is to slow everything down. Slowness is the antidote for the modern din, like an inverse yoga pose to balance all the rushing around. We can use the slow pace of the natural world as inspiration for the rhythm of our creative home lives. Step out for a family walk to absorb the colors, light, and offerings of each season, opening all senses to the experience.

Dancing with the earth models deep, meaningful living for children, reaffirming that each beautiful detail is worth honoring. When we experience the world through a child’s perspective, we are able to tune into the hundreds of colors on the skin of an apple. We can recall the magic of watching yellow and blue paint mixed to a vibrant green for the very first time. Slowing down each step validates a child’s inborn need to investigate the process. In preserving this innate gift, we challenge our own glorification of efficiency and multitasking. Bringing mindfulness to our experiences heightens the ordinary into something extraordinary. It allows space for us to feel something and to respond to it. This is what art is meant to do.

Making is our birthright as human beings. Children are aware of their inherent ability to create and are visibly enthusiastic about the life-affirming magic of putting something new into the world. Often adults have abandoned our inner makers for more socially sanctioned pursuits. The gabby inner art critic we carry can rest when we dive into a project with our children because they don’t expect us to be Martha Stewart or Wayne Thiebaud. Above all, they want to connect with our smiling eyes and benefit from seeing our committed engagement with the creative process.

Setting the table

Art materials are food for the soul. When preparing a creative activity, whether for my art therapy adult clients or for my young daughter, I imagine I’m hosting a special dinner party with an intention of making my guests feel cherished. Much like a chef pairs specific flavors so as not to clutter the palette and overwhelm the senses, I edit the selection of materials. The menu varies, but the setting is always deliberate and the meal nourishing.

I prepare the space with intentions of simplicity, beauty, and rhythm. I let in natural light and fresh air, assessing the space for distractions that could pull my family away from creative absorption. I turn off and cover electronic screens. I sweep away clutter that interrupts the eye. If I’m distracted by the worry that the “meal” will be messy, I simply cover the floor with an drop cloth, put butcher paper or oilcloth over the table, and we don smocks. If I still find mess to be an obstacle, I don’t cancel the party; we dine al fresco instead.

Just as I would select food at the market for dinner, I incorporate natural materials that are local and in season into our buffet of creative offerings. This reinforces a child’s attunement with the rhythms of the earth and helps parents come back home to these inner movements of the soul. Natural objects account for half of the “art materials” in my home. We gather acorns, sticks, shells, stones, leaves, flowers, and pine cones and store them in large, clear jars on a dedicated shelf.

Rather than a huge collection of art supplies, I invest in fewer, high-quality materials that promise a powerful sensory experience. Aside from basic paintbrushes, scissors, and glue, a few of my favorite art media are Stockmar beeswax crayons, liquid watercolors, Lyra Ferby colored pencils, wool roving, a variety of yarn and string, and white paper (140 lb. for painting and 80 lb. for drawing.) Knowing each type of art media holds an inherent metaphor, from the yielding way watercolors blend together to the resistance of a sharp pencil on paper, I purposefully select materials that will help balance the current mood.

Combining earthy items with traditional art materials makes for an elegant creative provocation — an art invitation without the intention of a specific product, inviting experimentation and free self-expression. I sometimes set up a provocation before my daughter comes home from school or prepare it before bed, so it greets us in the morning. Some favorite pairings on our art table that offer limitless possibility are:

  • leaves + clay
  • driftwood + acrylic paint
  • smooth stones + ink
  • acorn caps + wool roving
  • twigs + yarn
  • flower petals + clear contact paper
  • pine cones + colorful pompoms
  • a wildflower bouquet + colored pencils

Trusting the process

Children feel held when there is rhythm and appreciate a time each day or week devoted to making. Co-creating a ritual to mark creative time as sacred will bracket the experience as heightened and special, like lighting a candle or ringing a bell to begin and end art sessions.

Embracing an experimental mindset when making with children helps us to honor the process. This doesn’t always mean letting go of the idea that we might create a product or a useful craft; rather, it allows for meandering, messes, and mistakes along the journey. I trust that the art materials will tell us which way to turn next, and I listen to them with focus and wonder so my daughter might do the same.

Like all cycles, each creative process winds down to completion. Together, we clean our materials with respect and care. We set aside time to reflect upon what we have made, as this part of the creative process allows for integration and meaning-making. A child’s art holds his or her stories, emotions, worldview, and self-concept, so we treat the art with the same respect as the artist. I withhold my opinions and projections, being responsible to ask my daughter open-ended questions about her process and her creation.

When the candle had been snuffed or the bell has been rung, my daughter is often recharged and seamlessly moves into solitary play. My to-do list is still waiting there for me, and I face it feeling more balanced, satisfied, and connected. In my maker-momma bones and my art therapist heart, I have intimately come to know the value of mindfully making creative space where flower fairies can fly.

A story of flow: Birth of the SoulSpace Oracle & my Etsy shop

Wow, I wasn't expecting this, but today I opened an Etsy shop! I attribute this whole manifestation to the concept of flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (looks like a mouthful but is pronounced chick-sent-me-high) discovered that people find genuine satisfaction during a state of consciousness called Flow. In this state they are completely absorbed in an activity, especially an activity which involves their creative abilities. During this “optimal experience” they feel “strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities.” And well, that's sort of how my offering an oracle card deck for sale on one of my all-time favorite sites happened. I have been an avid collector of oracle or divination decks for at least 15 years, and for the past decade I've been wanting to create my own deck for my own personal use. Each time I purchase a new deck or when I pull my daily card or spread from a favorite deck, I've always had that thought in the back of my mind that it'd be so meaningful if the cards I pulled were my own creation. When I saw the extraordinary artist, Tara Leaver, offering a 2-week ecourse to create your own oracle deck, I was sold. Two weeks seemed doable, and like just the spark I needed to light this fire under me. So I dove in, and one day I set up a bunch of little bits of watercolor paper, not knowing where I was headed with the art... just trusting and listening to the materials and playing. No audience in mind, no product in mind.

And it was FUN! I got truly absorbed in the flow of the liquid watercolors oozing on the page. And just like that, 30 images were created. Next, I sat down with each little painting and listened to the art. This is something we art therapists do (and teach our clients to do) quite a bit. I listened (with a sort of ear turned inward while my eyes were fixed on the image) until a word came for each image. I had an intention that the flavor of the words might give a 'how I want to feel' sort of vibe that I had found last summer while reading Danielle LaPorte's Desire Map. A few images had other ideas in mind, and produced more shadowy elements, which I completely welcomed in, as they offer balance and wholeness. I used little alphabet stamps to spell the words on the bottoms of the cards.

I went on a trip to L.A. that weekend, and I brought the cards with me because I felt like they may not quite be finished. While I was in the hotel room one day, I drew a little bit on each card using both black and white inks. They suddenly felt complete -- in an easy, flowing sort of way. And they were already so satisfying to pull a card-of-the-day, and know it was my very own creation.

I began to post photos of the cards on my professional Instagram page, and to my surprise, I received inquiries about where they could be purchased. As a healing arts practitioner who provides a service, I hadn't thought of myself as one who offers products or sells my art, but it got me excited to think of doing so, so I followed that whim with humble curiosity. A quick google search provided many options for self-publishing my deck, and a chance conversation with my neighbor afforded me a scanner to borrow one afternoon to digitize the images.

Scanned. Uploaded. Ordered. Shipped. Poof! This was happening... and with oddly less effort and more serendipity than I've felt in a while. This is what happens when flow is underway... we can ride the wave and take a stance of allowing, just watching it unfold. I watched this oracle deck come into being almost all on its own, and I love it when that sort of magic aligns.

And now my little 30-card deck is for sale on my new Etsy shop, Art and Soul Space. The SoulSpace Oracle, aptly named after The SoulSpace Series, an ecourse I'm teaching in self-care for healers, where we use oracle cards and art as a part of everyday micro-self-care rituals. My first printing of this deck is a small run, as an experiment, just for fun. If I get a great response, I'll reprint, and perhaps even create a 'part 2' adding cards to this deck. I'm thrilled that it's out in the world, and the biggest thing I had to do to manifest it was to get out of its way and allow it to happen.

Interview & Giveaway: When healers don't walk their talk

I am honored (and honestly quite giddy!) to have been interviewed by coach and thought-partner extraordinaire, Jac McNeil, about why it's important for helping and healing professionals to stay in their integrity by walking their talk when it comes to self-care. I hired the heartful and whipsmart Jac last year to help me with the nuts and bolts of manifesting the vision I had for creating an engaging, soulful, online experience for healing arts practitioners worldwide to revive their self-care practices in order to prevent the occupational hazards they report most often: burnout, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, isolation, and insecurity. As a therapist who specializes in working with other therapists and helping professionals, I know all too well how difficult it can be to develop and maintain our own self-care rituals. My answer for this dilemma is the concept of micro-self-care, a method I guide my fellow helpers and healers through implementing in the SoulSpace Series.

In my conversation with Jac, she asked me these four questions:

When-Healers-Dont-Walk-Their-Talk.
  • What do you mean by "micro-self-care"?
  • In your experience, what micro-self-care techniques tend to have the most impact/value for healers?
  • Why do you think most of us avoid/ignore micro-self care?
  • What’s your favorite micro-self care technique and why?

Hop on over to the interview to read what I had to say on the topic, and enter on her web site for a chance to win a free spot in the upcoming SoulSpace Series, which kicks off on February 8th. Jac will choose the giveaway winner this Wednesday, February 3rd. Good luck!

Simple guide to smudging

Smudging is one of my favorite ways to cleanse my space and my being, so I thought I'd break this ritual down to a few simple tips today on my blog. You might have heard the word "smudging" used and you may have seen what looks like dried leaves tied together with string in WholeFoods or your local apothecary. If you have, and you've wondered what that's all about, read on. Smudging is the term for clearing lingering energy (of a space or a person) by burning various healing herbs. The idea of purification by smoke can be traced back to Native Americans, though many cultures around the world have rituals using herbal smoke mixtures, including some from China, India, Southeast Asia, and Europe.

Benefits of smudging:

Smudging has been known to cleanse or purify energy, whether it is that of a person or a space. Essentially, it does the same thing for the person or space that hitting "reset" would do for your cell phone. Native people believed the smoke ascends to the heavens, or the world of spirits, acting as a spiritual messenger. For those of you who like a dash of solid science with your woo woo, I recently saw this article citing studies on how smudging cleanses the air of harmful bacteria and can be medicinal.

Ideas for when to smudge:

  • Ending a job and preparing for a new job
  • Ending a relationship
  • Returning from travel
  • To cleanse and bless a space/house/apartment/office you are about to move into (and even the space you've just moved out of, to prepare it for the next person.)
  • After an emotionally difficult day, an argument, etc
  • After a therapy/healing session (whether you're the healer or the client.)
  • To mark an occasion or crossing a threshold (New Years, birthday, a birth, a death)
  • Celebrating seasons (solstices and equinoxes) and other earth cycles (full moon, new moon)
  • When you want to feel more centered or protected

Simple smudging tools: (You can purchase these tools via the Amazon affiliate links in text below.)

  • Smudge stick - Bundle of dried, cleansing herbs of your choice. You can also create a bowl of the loose leaves, though when they are bound together with a colorful string, they are much easier to use. (earth element)
  • Large feather - Used for wafting the cleansing smoke around the person or space to be purified. Use the underside of the feather when moving smoke around, as the underside of the bird's wing is what faces mother Earth when flying. (air element)
  • Abalone shell - Used to catch ashes that fall and also to tamp out the flame or smoldering embers. Some shells even come with a great little wooden stand. (The shell represents water element, though one can also use a small ceramic or stone bowl for the same purposes.)
  • Lighter/Matches/Candle - Used to ignite the herbs (fire element)

How to smudge:

You will simply light the bundle of herbs, then tamp the flame so the dry leaves are just smoldering. The smoke is what you want to use here to clear the air. You can wave it around yourself or in the corners of the room with your hand or more traditionally with a feather. When doing this, you can set an intention to cleanse away anything that is not yours and is not serving your greatest good (or any verbiage that makes sense for you.) If you have smoke alarms in your space, keep your window open while smudging. For you visual types, here's a short  Vimeo video by herbalist Maia Toll showing you how to smudge with a bundle of sage.

Guide to common smudging herbs:

  • Sage: Used to heal and bless. Drives away negative energies, old patterns, influences that do not serve your greatest good. This is a great herb to burn on the full moon, when we enter the period of waning and shedding. I wrote a blog post about rituals for moon phases with more on this piece at this link.
  • Cedar: Used for protection. This is a wonderful one to use when moving into a new home, apartment, or office.
  • Mugwort: Used for protection, well-being, and endurance. It is said to be "the traveler's friend." It is also helpful for tapping into your dream world or bringing about lucid dream states.
  • Lavender: Calls in spirit guides and is said to guard against negative spirits, and was used in Egypt for mummification.
  • Sweetgrass: Attracts positive energy after negative energy has been banished, and invites in the essence of the feminine. (Wonderful for new moon rituals.)
  • Palo Santo: Calls in new, manifesting energies (Also great to use during the new moon) The sticks of this tree are the part that is usually burned, though you can also find bundles of its leaves at times.

If you'd like to learn more about the ritual of smudging, google has so so so many links for you to peruse. Happy cleansing!

Paradise Lost: The experience of disillusionment for the child/inner child

The topic of disillusionment seems to be coming up a lot for me these days, as a mom to an almost 9-year-old, as a therapist, and as an adult woman consciously walking the path of healing my own inner 9-year-old. Disillusionment is defined as the absence of illusion, or a feeling of disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed it to be. Anthroposophical philosopher Rudolph Steiner put forth the idea that, much like Adam and Eve being banished from paradise, there is a "waking up" (sometimes a rude awakening) and a "fall from grace" that occurs in a child between the ages of 8 and 10 years old. In anthroposohy, the term for it is "the 9 year change."

At this time of life, children are becoming more embodied (literally, inhabiting their bodies) and grounded in the realities of the world around them, rather than floating in the imaginal realms of early childhood. In making that shift, the child experiences great inner turmoil. This is an age where a child may lose interest in toys that used to be fun for them, feeling (and acting) torn between toddler behavior and teenage behavior -- trying on both sides. At this age, children question the existence of beings like Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, and even the idea of magic itself. This is the age where they begin to see that their parents are not the superheroes they once believed, but mere fallible mortal beings who make mistakes -- and that can be a huge let down. This is the time when children are waking up to their sense of self in relation to the world around them, and trying to find where they fit. They may feel they can depend only on themselves, and anxiety becomes a dominant emotion. They may be quietly tuning into their inner world for the first time, and perhaps experiencing their own shadow side freshly.

Some common markers of this transition can include irritability, hypersensitivity, fickleness, difficulty falling asleep, fears of the dark/crime/intruders/death, spontaneous emotional releases (sobbing, yelling, hitting, tantrums,) feeling like the world is not fair, feeling isolated, self-conscious, and unloveable. Children begin testing their parents, as closest people to them, to make sure they will still be loved even when they show their darker sides and express anger, sadness, jealousy, neediness, hatred, and mischievousness. Psychosomatic symptoms are very common during this time - common ones being heart palpitations, headaches, and breathing problems. Nightmares can become more frequent and vivid, often involving being chased, robbed, in an accident, fire, or even being murdered. Ideas of right and wrong and of evil and death come to the forefront. They expect honesty and authenticity from everyone, especially from themselves.

Traumas or wounds that can really go deep at this age are ones involving lies, mixed messages, verbal abuse, criticism, not being allowed to "talk back," only getting praise or affection when being a "good girl" or "good boy," or being within a family system where there is a cycle of addiction (the "don't talk, don't trust, don't feel" unspoken rule.)

Overlaying anthroposophy's concept of the "9 year change" with other developmental models in psychology, this time correlates to the development of the fifth chakra (expressing one's truth,) Freud's latency period, Piaget's concrete operational period, Erikson's "Industry vs inferiority" period, Maslow's self-actualization stage, Wilber's middle egoic personic stage, and the conscious self stage of psychosynthesis.

Acknowledging and having compassion for the struggle at this (and every!) stage of development is key for a therapist, a parent, and a human being living on the earth with fellow human beings. I am a woman with a rich connection to my own inner 9-year-old and a mother currently parenting a small human being through this time. Even though I'm a therapist who works exclusively with adult clients in my practice, every adult brings their inner child into the room with them in some way. If there was wounding around this stage of a person's development, the therapist may serve as the "magical stranger" (as its known in the Hakomi method) providing the experience that was missing in this person's childhood, or the therapist could be called upon to "reparent" this younger part and/or aid a client in reparenting their own younger self, meeting needs that were not met in childhood. In doing so, the therapist may more directly dance in realms of transference and projections of the fallible parent, and take on the feelings of not being good enough, open enough, understanding enough, or giving enough. As always, the therapist's own mindfulness of their body, experiences, and triggers (in and out of session) and processing their own countertransference (outside of session) are ethically imperative to the work.

So, what do the 9-year-olds inside of us and out among us need? They need to know they are lovable unconditionally - no matter what emotions or behavior they display. They crave for their feelings and experiences to be validated. They need a solid, confident, care-giving presence who consistently and warmly enforces rules and boundaries. They need to see love, unity, and community modeled for them in the midst of their isolated feelings. They need a private space of their own (children at this age are often are moved to create forts and other shelters to burrow into.) This is a stage where children want to feel capable, so giving them the ability to do very useful, productive things for themselves helps them feel like they belong and are safe in the world. Even in wanting more independence, self-sufficiency, and privacy, it's important for children to feel warmth, connection, and support from adults nearby (but not hovering adults...)

You see, the line the adults walk (tiptoe?) around this is a delicate one.  We won't and can't always get it right, but we can own our mistakes and in doing so, model honesty, humanness, and humility. In doing so, we can become a different sort of superhero, one who is accessible and relatable and on the ground instead of admired while soaring far up in the sky.

Personally and professionally, my heart is cracked wide open around the issues involved in this crucial time of personal growth. One of my favorite poets, Billy Collins, really captures the essence of the 9 year change in this poem:

On Turning Ten

The whole idea makes me feel Like I’m coming down with something, Something worse than any stomach ache Or the headaches I get from reading in bad light – A kind of measles of the spirit, A mumps of the psyche, A disfiguring chicken pox of the soul. You tell me it is to early to be looking back, But that is because you have forgotten The perfect simplicity of being one And the beautiful complexity introduced by two. But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit, At four I was an Arabian wizard. I could make myself invisible By drinking a glass of milk a certain way. At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince. But now I am mostly at the window Watching the late afternoon light. Back then it never felt so solemnly Against the side of my tree house, And my bicycle never leaned against the garage As it does today, All the dark blue speed drained out of it. This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself, As I walk through the universe in my sneakers. It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends, Time to turn the first big number. It seems only yesterday I used to believe There was nothing under my skin but light. If you cut me I would shine. But now when I fall upon the sidewalk of life, I skin my knees, I bleed.

If you'd like to read more on the 9 year change, here are a couple useful places to start: