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How Can Creativity Heal?

I get asked all of the time what does it actually mean to "use creativity for reflection and healing." So I thought I would share an example of my own personal experience where I used simple materials to create an art installation to explore my past.

At first glance this little starfish may look weird or even confusing, but the process I used to create it was intentional and each object, colour, placement, and texture is symbolic.

My process began with reading a zen story about the emotions and feelings that we carry with us long after the events are over. This prompted me to explore this idea in a simple meditation where I checked in with what thoughts, ideas, and beliefs I was carrying around with me throughout the day. I was surprised to find out that I had lots of negative thoughts and beliefs that surge up inside of me at surprising times. Beliefs that I was too expressive, not important enough, not doing things right, and that I wasn't worthy of intimacy. Perhaps you can relate? These are the subtle beliefs I have about myself that like to nudge their way into my everyday actions.

I continued to reflect on these beliefs and then suddenly I had an image of a starfish come to me. I wasn't sure why but I followed the impulse and what resulted led me to explore how beliefs about myself formed in early childhood. I dug around in an old box and found a starfish I had hidden amongst old shells. As I touched it and explored its textures I was taken back to a memory of my family on a coastal vacation when I was about 6 years old. We went beach combing and collected a number of starfish to take home as treasures. I remember putting them in a garbage bag and strapping them to the roof of it car. When we arrived home that day we realized that the bag had flown off and was lost somewhere along the highway.

This little memory felt so perfect as I reflected on the negative beliefs that I still carry. We weren't meant to take beliefs with us, we are meant to experience things in the moment and not continue to harbour and feed them. They live and die just like the starfish do. So why am I combing through the ditch of the highway still clinging to something that was clearly never meant to come home with me?

I moved into my installation quite quickly at this point. I knew that I wanted each limb of the starfish to represent one of my family members (my two parents and two sisters) and one to represent me. I then began writing in my journal and asked myself- what negative emotional legacy am I carrying from each of my family members? My insights revealed everything from a need for acceptance, to a belief that I should pull back and "be less," to values around right and wrong ways to do things, as well as how I seek significance. This was heavy and revealing.

I had felt these insecurities so many times before but I had never quite connected for myself where they came from. So I decided to find a string representing each person and also an object for the shadow contribution they have made in my life. A shiny circular bead for significance, a square cube for right and wrong, two circles representing my questing for love and connection, a wire with a bead "pulling back." Each object was black to symbolize the shadow element to it. I then affixed the strings and objects to the starfish paying careful attention to how it felt, how it looked, and their placement.

Throughout the process I realized that I wasn't meant to hold onto the shadow contributions of my family but that I was meant to let them go, allow them to stay in the past and value and cherish this as part of my growth. So I found a yellow colour for myself and used this to attach a green leaf to represent my growth. I then added more leaves realizing that the growth was bigger then the sum of its parts. My family connections (shadowy bits and all) have yielded something more than I could have imagined.

Finally, I circled the starfish with yellow string as a symbolic embracing and freeing gesture. I felt the desire to show that growth and energy can come from this and that I am thankful for awakening to the past because I know it will help me today.I completed this installation by writing in my journal about it and giving the piece a tittle. I settled on "A Eulogy to a Family Heirloom."

My reflective process was spurned on by the creative process. In a creative space o was able to get out of my own way and allow insights and revelations to emerge that I have been struggling with for years. This is just one example of how creativity can heal and support reflection. In my private practice I am so honoured to be a witness alongside others while shapes, colours, and objects are transformed to help people learn more about themselves.

I offer a process similar to this in person in group format as well as one on one in Calgary as well as through Skype and FaceTime online. I am also working on online courses so you can walk through creativity and learn about yourself wherever you are in the world.I always welcome questions and thoughts so please feel free to reach out.

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