My blog has fallen almost completely by the wayside since I started training as an Expressive Arts Therapist almost two years ago. My life has been all about writing poetry, painting, journalling, clay modelling, learning, growing, personal therapy, crying, connecting, moving, exploring, reading, reflecting, practicing, and so much more. I really can’t complain about any of this. Yes, my schedule has been overflowing (until our world recently came to a screeching halt due to COVID 19) but the difference between this and other busy times in my life is that there is purpose in this busy. There is a passion for this that keeps me inspired and that keeps me showing up for more.
As the end of my program looms near, I find myself in a period of uncertainty and tension. On the one hand, I am excited to bring this work into the world and I can’t wait to see that materialize. On the other hand, I am terrified of what this will require of me – namely, to have the confidence that I can do it. This tug-of-war trickles down into other aspects of my life, hardening all my decisions with a black-and-white patina. In this world, I will either be a perfect Expressive Arts Therapist, or I will be a complete failure. In the same way, decisions, like the one to move back to Northern BC, will either be the best thing I have ever done or the worst decision of my life.
Even as I struggle with these challenges that seem in opposition to each other, I know that they aren’t really in opposition. In my mind, and even in my heart, I know that they can live in the same space and that their resolution won’t happen more easily because I stubbornly insist on worrying them into submission. I know this. And yet my body doesn’t know this. I don’t have a somatic experience of it yet, and so, it is only philosophical and my brain (logic) and heart (emotions) will continue to try to duke it out until my body resolves it.
Enter Expressive Arts Therapy.
I went into the conflict directly through movement with the help and presence of my Expressive Arts Therapist. Feeling the forward movement and then the backward movement allowed my muscles to engage in the conflict, to trigger the impulses of each direction and to let that feeling sink in. By allowing my body to “act” out the seeming dichotomy of options, I was able to absorb it as if it were happening. In a way, my body could experience the journey of each course of action without waiting for months after making a decision to see whether it was the right one or not. The body doesn’t really know the difference between actually living through an experience, and sensing the experience through movement. Now here’s the really great part: the answer was not a solution to my problem.
As I continued to move through the conflict, my Expressive Arts Therapist suggested I amplify the movements. As I allowed my body to be present with the experience, and to make the movements bigger, they began to change. My body instinctively knew what it needed, and followed through to the natural conclusion of the movement cycle. My arm movements became more circular and my palms turned up as if giving and receiving. My body began to rise and drop into the movements and became more like a dance than a tug-of-war. I began to feel in my body (and yes, in my head and heart too!) that this was the way I wanted to be in the world. The desire to have an answer to the specifics of my question began to fade into the background. It didn’t matter where I lived or what I was doing, what mattered was how I wanted to be in the world and fostering that. The answer was not a solution to my question. My body brought me into a space that the struggle between my head and my heart never could – although I believe they were both trying to get me there in their own way.
This feeling of how I want to be in the world helped to melt away concerns about the decision of where to move and insecurities about what kind of Expressive Arts Therapist I would be. Instead of worry, there surfaced a sense of openness and presence that I knew would serve me and others no matter where I was or what I was doing. But holding space for how I want to be in the world is easy when I’m there, and darned impossible when I’m not. It is a fine and subtle line that I find I need to keep coming back to.
Equilibrium is not a fixed state but a constant flux of in and out – an endless finding-my-way-home. The question this poses for future and practicing Expressive Arts Therapists is how to maintain equilibrium for our clients. Something I’ve come to learn, is that the ability to come back to relationship and balance is more important than trying to stay there in the first place. The constant repetition of falling out of balance and coming back into balance is the basis for a strong client/therapist relationship – and any relationship really. As a future Expressive Arts Therapist there is a reassurance in this. I don’t have to be perfect, in fact, perfection isn’t what my clients need from me. They need to see that I am present for them, and willing to do the work necessary to come back into relationship with them.
So there are two levels of being in the world that I have discovered and want to touch on here. The first way of being in the world is a general presence to how I am in the world – not where, what, who or when I am in the world. This allows me to be present with what is happening now, in whatever state of perfection or crisis that may appear to me. In whatever form life appears to me, I can be with it and find some level of peace with it.
The second level of being in the world is around relationship, specifically as it pertains to working with my clients. This way of being asks me to be present in relationship with others, not just present to my circumstances. In this kind of presence I am allowing others to be as they are, without needing to change them. I have the opportunity to see them as they are and be present with whatever form that takes, trusting that they hold within them the ability to find what they need, in whatever way feels right for them.
Movement (and other forms of Expressive Arts Therapy) offers me something bigger than an answer to a question. It offers me a paradigm shift and the chance to see a problem from a new perspective – even to see a problem as something other than a problem. A new way of being in the world takes enough courage to lean into something wholly new, to travel in uncharted territory. One of my greatest epiphanies in this work was realizing that I didn’t need to be confident in my abilities in order to be a good Expressive Arts Therapist – I just needed to have faith in the work and faith in my clients. This shift in how I viewed the work allowed me to get out of the way and start showing up for my clients – dichotomy intended!