Making room for the uncomfortable

Sometimes art therapy can be uncomfortable.

We create images that we don’t understand, didn’t plan and didn’t consciously call forth.

We find ourself creating images we ‘don’t like’ or feeling queasy, confused or unsettled by the sense of frenzy or murkiness that some images reflect back to us.

We can feel like we are not wholly in control.

We can wonder at who we are, to be producing such wild, or ‘ugly’ or angry looking work. It can feel frightening.

Our ego-self is so good at fighting for us to survive, to do ‘well’ and to be ‘successful’, that even the thought of creating something that doesn’t get praised for its aesthetic qualities, can be deeply confronting. Our inner pony is so used to being groomed for show, that sometimes it forgets how it feels to run free with burs in the mane, not caring for ribbons and prizes.

Imagine a feeling of freedom; to make a mark. To express ourselves. To own the various deep & complex parts of ourselves. To allow for wildness. To allow for beginnings and endings, and messy fallings apart and recreatings. To allow for play and experiment and smudgy ‘mistakes’. To sit with the uncomfortable feelings with compassion and curiosity – to meet them and greet them and sit gently with them.

Perhaps this is one of the great gifts of art therapy. To invite us to create a new relationship with ‘creative expression’ which is focused on our inner worlds, our inner stories and our inner processes and cares little for the approval of others. To come back to the core of us, feel and express it.

Perhaps the discomfort of an unexpected outcome, or the confusion of meeting a part of ourselves we are not familiar with, is also part of the gift. When things shift just a little bit and we see that maybe we are capable of more than we thought, or that there are paradoxes, facets, and depth and wisdom to us that we had forgotten. When we see, feel and honour a part of us that is angry, confused, muddled, fearful or sad. When we accept that there are parts of us that sit in ‘don’t know’, despite our best efforts to map and navigate our life with certainty.

Perhaps little by little through these experiences of meeting self on the page/ in the clay/ through our writing we are better placed to sit with uncertainty, hold uncertainty, and to trust ourselves to be ok in the face of change and unknowing.

British philosopher and writer Alan Watts* reflects on the notion of security and says:

“There is a contradiction in wanting to be perfectly secure in a universe whose very nature is momentariness and fluidity. But the contradiction lies a little deeper than the mere conflict between the desire for security and the fact of change. If I want to be secure, that is, protected from the flux of life, I am wanting to be separate from life. Yet it is this very sense of separateness which makes me feel insecure. To be secure means to isolate and fortify the “I,” but it is just the feeling of being an isolated “I” which makes me feel lonely and afraid. In other words, the more security I can get, the more I shall want.”

  • In ‘The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety’

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