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art, according to Cathy Malchiodi, may be as important ...
art, according to Cathy Malchiodi, may be as important to your physical and
spiritual health as balanced nutrition, regular exercise, or meditation.
Expressing yourself creatively—through drawing, painting, sculpture,
photography—allows you to tap into a source of inner wisdom that provides
guidance, soothes emotional pain, and revitalizes your being.
reveals art's transformative powers. Exercises include working with materials
for drawing, painting, sculpting, and collage; simple drawing and journal
projects; self-guided meditations and affirmations; ideas for cultivating
intuition, inspiration, and spontaneity; exploring personal symbols; and making
art a spiritual practice.
Chapter 1: Rediscovering the Soul's Palette
I was young, I learned through Catholicism that my soul was as important as my
mind and body. I remember being instructed at weekly catechism to guard my
immortal soul at all cost, and I sometimes worried that my soul might end up in
the less desirable resting places of purgatory or hell rather than the
celestial kingdom of heaven. To ensure my soul's admittance to heaven in the
afterlife, my parents took me to weekly confession at the local church. There,
any misdeeds or transgressions that could damage one's soul were told to the
priest in preparation for receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion the next
day. In the concrete mind of a child, I was in awe of our local priest's
apparent power to absolve my soul of any sin and to magically cleanse that
invisible entity inside me. After confession I would look in my bedroom mirror,
narrow my eyes, and imagine that the aura I saw around my body was my purified
soul leaking out around the edges.
actually didn't know any other definitions of soul until I was a teenager. At
Friday night school dances in junior high, one of my friends would do a
fabulous impression of Soul Brother Number One, James Brown. I had never heard
soul music before, but I knew immediately that its rhythms made me feel alive
and free. I began to use my weekly allowance to collect 45s
the great soul musicians and spent nights dancing in my bedroom to the local
soul radio station. More important, I learned that soul was not only an aspect
of religion but also something that brought joy, authenticity, and creativity.
I realized that there were experiences in life that were definitely good for
the soul, and one of them was creative expression.
we each come to appreciate and define soul in our own way, the soul has always
been recognized, venerated, and cherished. It is most often defined as the
immaterial essence, animating principle, or driving cause of one's life, a
quality that kindles emotion and spirit. The idea of soul has permeated our
lives for centuries, from shamanic soul retrieval to religious practices
offering purification of the soul. Wisdom traditions around the world tell of
soul illness, in which body, mind, and spirit are out of alignment with each
other. We speak of loss of soul, a time when we lose touch with our true selves
and our direction, intention, and meaning, or when we are not fulfilling our
life purpose. The person who has experienced a loss of soul is unable to
connect with others or make an inner connection to the self. Without the soul,
one loses one's raison d'être and is profoundly alone.
is, in a sense, the summation of the self, reflecting body and mind, ideas and
perceptions, spirit and the world. It is the essence that signals us when we
are not true to ourselves or when we have forgotten life's purpose because of
trauma, emotional loss, physical illness, or unsatisfying relationships. It is
equally the part of our being that helps us feel alive, reach down to the
bones, and awaken ourselves to the goodness and gifts within each of us. Like
James Brown, when we have a lot of soul, we have a zest for life, palpable
energy, and a deep sense of well-being.
soul is also viewed as a quality of consciousness and inner being. When we
describe this aspect of soul, we often think of spirit, but these are two very
different concepts. In simple terms, spirit is that which is transcendent,
taking us beyond the self, while soul is our life energy and acts as part of a
greater life force. It not only is at the center of being but is also that
which connects us to other individuals, communities, nature, and the divine. We
can share soul because its essence has no boundaries. Soul includes family,
friends, the environment, and spirit. It opens up a dimension to experiencing
life and self with depth, heart, and fellowship.
are many ways to contact soul, but most often the soul's presence is awakened
through some sort of spiritual practice. Meditation and prayer are but two of
many ways that have been used to encounter soul throughout the world. While
prayer certainly played a large role in my childhood and meditation has become
a practice in my adult life, as an artist and therapist I also believe that art
making is a practice that can awaken soul as much as spiritual techniques. Art
is an authentic language of the soul and a mirror of the true nature of the
Hillman equates soul with imagination, our potential to dream, fantasize,
create, and form a mental image of something not present to the senses.
Imagination can give us joy, hope, and pleasure; for this reason, it is central
to our capacity to confront and deal with obstacles in life and to invent
solutions to problems. In essence, imagination is both medicine for the soul
and a wellness practice that helps us create new ways of seeing and being in
ability to imagine is complemented by something uniquely human—our capacity to
use imagination to create tangible visual images. Archeologists and
anthropologists actually determine the existence of ancient human cultures by
evidence of image making in the form of hand-crafted objects, decorative
elements, sculptural forms, drawings, and paintings. Our need and drive to
imagine and create images sets us apart from all other species. We are
consistently drawn to creative expression to celebrate life's events and to
make things that are special, just for the pleasure of it. While artists may
create something extraordinary or unique through painting or sculpting, in
day-to-day life we may dress in special clothes for important occasions,
decorate our homes for holidays and celebrations, or create a special meal to
commemorate an event. These are visual ways of making things special;
embellishing and decorating our bodies, dwellings, and communities; and most
important, celebrating ourselves as human beings capable of creative expression.
humans intuited that art making was good for us in one way or another. I
believe that our capacity to use our creative source for health and well-being
is no different today. The miracle of our humanness is that we have the ability
to create images with meaning. The simple act of making art nourishes the
inner self and connects us with the outer world of relationships, community,
and nature. It is a natural process of caring for the soul and experiencing it
in all its dimensions.
Night of the Soul: The Call to Creative Expression
of us yearns to communicate experiences in such a way that others may know who
we are and recognize our significance. But although our creative potential is
always available to us, as an art therapist I have witnessed that it often
takes an abrupt change in life circumstances to lead us to its reparative
powers. It is the dark night of the soul that brings us to find a healing path.
For this reason, the quest to recover one's soul is rarely ever consciously
planned. The loss of a loved one, a medical emergency, or an emotional crisis
are a few of the experiences that may startle us out of habitual patterns of
existence. You may wake up one day to find that a good friend has died, that
you have lost your job, or that you have been diagnosed with a serious illness
and must make decisions about treatment while confronting your own mortality.
most people are not necessarily seeking a reconnection with soul when they
first call to make an appointment with a doctor or therapist, the experience of
being in distress often leaves them with wanting something more. Many years ago
I was taught the soul's urgency and how it brings forth the need to create
something from what seems senseless, random, and chaotic. Jean, a young woman
in her mid-twenties, appeared, unannounced, in the doorway of my office late
one afternoon. She had heard that I was an art therapist and told me that she
had some drawings that she hoped I might like to see. Jean opened a large
knapsack, and several sketchbooks spilled onto my desk; each one was completely
filled with images—mostly crayon drawings and some collages she had made from
scraps of paper and magazine clippings. As she opened each book to leaf through
the pages, I could see that she was intensely interested in what I might have
to say about her images. She also treated each drawing or collage with great
care, love, and reverence.
I asked her how she had come to fill so many sketchbooks with images, Jean told
me that she had only recently felt compelled to make drawings. I wondered out
loud if she thought there was any particular reason for this. She replied that
she was having blackouts, periods of time when she could not remember what had
happened. Sometimes she would find herself in her car several miles into a
canyon road on the outskirts of town, not recalling how she had arrived there.
Other times she would forget to go to work for several days in a row, then
suddenly realize that she had not left her home for that time span. Following
these experiences, she was often plagued with panic attacks followed by severe
depression that kept her housebound for weeks at a time. These experiences not
only were affecting her job and school performance but also caused her to fear
that she was going insane. She was afraid that whatever was trying to
"steal her soul" was succeeding and believed that art making was the
only way to overcome what was happening to her.
Jean's blackouts confused me, I was even more mystified by the images in her
sketchbook. Some of the drawings looked like those of a young adult who had
some basic skills and perhaps had done some drawing in high school or college.
But many others seemed remarkably like the work of children of various ages.
Many looked exactly like the scribbles of a toddler, others reflected the early
depictions of a five-year-old, and still others seemed like artworks of an
I was happy to try to help Jean understand her images, I was reasonably sure
that I was in over my head in other ways. Her blackouts and memory problems
were troubling, and her panic attacks and depression needed evaluation and
possibly medical intervention. I suspected that some trauma was behind her
experiences and possibly had a connection to her drawings. I contacted a
colleague, a family therapist who had experience working with survivors of
trauma, for consultation. With Jean's agreement, we began to work together in
weekly sessions in which he used a combination of hypnosis and family therapy
techniques. During these sessions, I asked Jean to draw whatever surfaced in
her mind's eye.
the months that followed, we worked with Jean to help her discover the meaning
of her images. What emerged slowly was that Jean had suffered severe abuse as
child and was now struggling with dissociative identity disorder—a condition
that results from years of early childhood trauma. Her dissociation allowed her
to take on several different personalities, children and teenagers with
memories of the abuse and neglect she experienced. When she engaged one of
these personalities, she would draw in a style that reflected the age of the
child or teenager who was present in her mind and body.
art expression Jean was able to uncover memories of her abuse and begin the
long process of integrating experiences too horrible to speak out loud. Art
images also became a way for Jean and me to begin to unravel the life story
that she had buried deep within her in order to cope with the suffering of her
childhood. While art helped Jean on her path to recovery, the road was not
easy, and I was the first of many people to help her find her way through a
maze of memories and stressful symptoms. Happily, many years later she no
longer has the intrusive memories, panic attacks, or blackouts of the past, and
now works as a physician's assistant. She has never given up image making and
still makes crayon drawings and takes photographs of nature as a form of
relaxation. Every few months I receive a letter from Jean with a drawing
enclosed. Often it is one that she says has been created by one of her inner
children and "colored especially for Cathy." She remains in touch
with the creative imagination that she found within herself, as she says,
"because drawing is still good for me and makes my soul happy."
believe that Jean used art not only to soothe her soul but also, as she said in
our first meeting, to save her soul. Art making was a lifeline, providing her
with a sanctuary from frightening experiences that had become daily
occurrences. The simple act of drawing or pasting pictures into her visual
journals not only sustained her; it became a visual representation for the
story of—and eventual recovery from—the abuse she experienced. Jean's
intuition and sheer courage taught me about the strength of the human spirit as
well as the soul's drive to well-being through creativity and imagination, even
in the face of terror and personal devastation.
Jean's image making and eventual recovery is one of the many creative journeys
of individuals that have inspired me to look more deeply into how art reveals
and heals, replenishes and restores, enlivens and renews. It appears as a
remedy for those of us in search of balance, well-being, and wholeness. Whether
I am in the presence of children from violent homes or adults facing
life-threatening illnesses, or simply alone in my studio enjoying the colors of
paint or the texture of clay, art is a constant agent of transformation and is
indeed the soul's drive to health.
Discovering the Soul's Palette 1
Creativity as a Healing Force 18
Embracing Your Creative Birthright 37
Knowing Materials and Creating Space 52
Visual Symbols as Messengers, Guides, and Friends 78
Letting Your Images Tell Their Stories 105
Images as a Path to Physical Well-Being 126
Art as Reparation and Restoration 148
Nurturing the Sacred 172
Sharing the Artist Within 193
Posted January 25, 2014
No text was provided for this review.