A Personal Calling
For most people on Earth, sources of grief have not been in short supply. My life is no exception. My personal calling to the mysteries of this work began as a child with the death of children, the assassinations of the 1960’s, and Vietnam War body counts on the nightly news. None of these was talked about in a way that made it feel safe to be in the world. On the other hand, “All You Need Is Love” – and I got that too. Like light and dark, Love and Death would be the horses on my chariot through time…
In college the inward-driving nature of my “hauntedness” began to congeal an inner self filled with more and more creative resources. I learned from surreal poetry the way strange images could touch and release feelings that had mutely burdened me for years. I also learned of the interplay of yin and yang in Taoism, and discovered how problems dissolved into meaningful processes when I engaged them with writing, music or drawing. It began to seem that Creation was creating itself through us, and through our difficulties too, as well as our dreams and aspirations. “The dark” began to seem not so dark anymore but more like bundles of feeling and perception on their way to a new, though challenging, possibility. Thoreau’s way of saying it made me see it too: “The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us.”
Next, my training in counseling and expressive arts therapy impressed me with the idea that the most effective way of transforming your life is by increasing your capacity to “be with what is.” The arts are particularly suited to this. The physical act of making art can stabilize you in a whirlwind, if you stay with it. It focuses us on concretely rendering what we might otherwise never be able to share, not even with ourselves. More and more the arts proved themselves a quintessential key to human resilience, the soul’s response to being alive.
I crossed my next major threshold at a grief workshop where we directly experienced the ways of indigenous people in Africa. Grief is not complete, they say, without full communal expression. The whole village actively grieves and dances for three days. Only a year later, during my expressive arts training I personally discovered what it means to have human company and artistic support with one’s not-yet-exhausted cries: We were improvising a performance. There was a drumbeat. I had asked for “mourners.” And when their voices joined me we gradually found ourselves in a sonic realm so disturbingly eerie, yet uncannily apropos, that I felt relieved. I was also stunned. I thought I’d already known the circumference of my grief-world, but with this communal musical support, there was another ten-thousand miles I could go. That we could go. And there’s farther still.
In recent years I’ve begun to explore and develop a variety of arts-based methods for dialoging with loved ones from whom we’re separated by death or distance. At the same time, I collaborated with colleagues to offer grief workshops for large groups. These “Grief and Arts Retreats” culminated in collaborative rituals of catharsis, in the spirit of Africa and other Earth-based ways.
Art-making and grief both belong to the Earth. Art-making embodies us. Artistic forms are Earthly, sensorial, “thingly,” tangibly shared with others. And grieving too demands a body.
I look forward to sharing this work with anyone who feels called.
B.A., English. University of Notre Dame, Indiana.
Hospice training & volunteer, Eugene, Oregon
M.A., Counseling Psychology. University of Oregon, Eugene.
Trainings in Process-Oriented Psychology, Eugene, Oregon.
Training in Expressive Arts Therapy 1998-2007
C.A.G.S., Expressive Arts: Therapy, Education & Consulting. The European Graduate School, Switzerland
Trauma trainings: Somatic Experiencing, Psychodrama, and Psychodramatic Bodywork
“A Second Cosmogony: The Power of Images in an Expressive Arts Prison Program,” in The Praeger Handbook of Community Mental Health Practice, 2013.
Glue, 2013 – experimental memoir about love, imagination, and coincidence.
Forthcoming: An Alternative Experience of World: Radical Rapport and the Arts.
Expressive Arts Facilitator (workshops in recent years):
“Response: The Arts as a Language for What Words Can’t Address” [ NYC, w/ Rebekah Windmiller] “Night Sea Journey: A Two-Day Grief & Arts Retreat” [San Francisco, w/ Adriana Marchione] “Claiming the Experience of Mistrust Using Movement and Art” [Bard College, NY] “Rapport with Leaves” [Bard College, NY] “The Arts as a Focusing Tool for Sensing Intent” [Bard College, NY] “Uncertain Life: Exploring Grief’s Multiplicity through the Expressive Arts” [Lima, Peru, w/ Rebekah Near]