it scared me so I did it

22 July 2009

Expressive arts activities scare me.  Many of them are derived from psychotherapeutic practices, and those scare the hell out of me.  There are certain cans of worms that are just begging to be opened, and I figure if I work with expressive arts activities enough, those cans of worms are eventually going to be opened.  As they should I suppose. 

People come to expressive arts for lots of different reasons.  Some people want to enrich their counselling, healthcare or teaching practices.  Others think the arts are a great basis for exploring and expressing the self.  And others just want to play and develop the creative process.  Some just have things to say, and need to find ways to say them.  I want to help people tell their stories, and the expressive arts world offers an abundance of fun and rewarding strategies for enhancing creativity and expression.

To help others utilize expressive arts, for whatever reason, you have to do some of the therapeutic stuff, the internal explorations.  For me, that’s always a personal challenge, particularly doing that out loud.  In front of people.  I’m an avoider – naturally inclined to leave those cans of worms closed.  And I’m reserved.  I feel quite comfortable expressing myself in writing.  It’s safe.  It’s solitary.  As for the other arts – not so comfortable. 

Last week I did some of that work with uncharacteristic courage.  I danced without inhibition.  I did theatre games without fear.  I told stories aloud and be damned my sieve-like memory and drifty focus. 

I felt good.  I wasn’t tackling nagging cans of worms like some were.  I was just doing.  Expressing in ways that are usually most uncomfortable for me but this time they weren’t and it felt really good.   

And then there was the sand tray. 

Sand tray (or sandplay therapy) is best known for its use by psychoanalysts and play therapists in creating a safe “world” in which to symbolically represent one’s internal self.  The client will choose from a variety of miniature figures and toys and create a scene or world in a tray of sand.  The client and/or the therapist will then interpret what is symbolically represented in the tray.  Expressive arts practitioners utilize sand tray for freeing and creating stories, and all the interpreting is left to the person making the world.  The expressive arts practitioner may ask questions designed to open or highlight certain elements and/or characters and/or objects in the story.

I’m usually one of the ones who are happy to let others take the “action” role in these types of activities, but when it came time to experiment with the sand tray, I jumped in and said, “this stuff scares me, so I should do it.”  I approached the activity with what I thought was a blank slate.  I wanted to assemble and place the figures and toys without thought, and come up with a story completely off the cuff, and enjoy playing with my imagination and exercise my [very limited] improv muscles. 

As it happened, there was nothing ridiculous about the world I created in the sand tray.  The themes are not new.  I told an old story of searching.  Looking for home.  Searching for place, and space and solidness and not finding it.

What’s new is the interpretation.  It’s a story is about mindfulness. Being mindful of the things that are driving the search, and recognizing the places you’ve already been so you aren’t walking in circles.  It’s not a story about the end, real or anticipated.  Really, there’s nothing futile in searching and not finding the pot of gold right away; there is nothing to be gained in trying to see the end before you get there.  As I wrote in a story years ago – it’s like jumping to the end of the book, when the story is right here, right now. 

Funny, that particular story is one that I told aloud last week.  I told that one because I know it, am familiar with it and I could then focus on the challenges of telling of it aloud.  That’s what I thought.  Uh oh. 

On we go, me and my cans of worms.  I think it’s time to get off the main road.

 

To learn more about sand tray, click here:

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