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Issue 16

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In this issue ~~

* The Healing Power of the Arts

* Enhancing Creativity Through Exploration

* Creative Tip

* Wise Words

* Bookshelf

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The Healing Power of the Arts

While we've come to think of the arts as a form of entertainment, and even as personal expression, many of us have long forgotten that the arts also offer us opportunities to heal. In the distant past, the purpose of Greek drama was to produce an emotional catharsis. Tibetan monks still use chanting, bells and "singing bowls" as part of their prayer and healing, and many native cultures include drumming, song and dance as part of their ritual.

The joy you feel when creating art can be healing in itself. It's easy to get "lost" in your creativity, relieving stress and thereby eliminating a major cause of dis-ease. But the effects are even more profound. According to the Art As a Healing Force web site (www.artashealing.org), scientific studies have shown that art literally changes not only a person's attitude, but their physiology. Art and music affect a person's brain wave pattern, along with the autonomic nervous system, hormonal balance, brain neurotransmitters, immune system and blood flow to all the organs. They change one's perceptions of the world, including their emotional state and perception of pain.

The body is made to heal itself, and it heals best when in a state of deep relaxation. Art and music can bring the body into its natural state of balance and harmony, so it can best do what it was meant to do. Many of us, when creating, become so absorbed that we fall naturally into that "altered" state. Scientists with highly sensitive measuring devices have discovered that when we are in deep meditation or relaxation, the frequency of our electromagnetic field becomes attuned to that of the earth -- a state of harmony. Composers such as Stephen Halpern (www.innerpeacemusic.com) specialize in creating music that assists the body in aligning to this frequency.

The arts have found their way into modern medicine as well. Surgeon and author Bernie Siegel has used drawing as a diagnostic tool in determining the optimal treatment for his patients. The University of Florida/Shands HealthCare (along with the medical facilities at Dartmouth, Stanford and others) has incorporated an Arts in Medicine program (www.shands.org/aim/). Their mission is to bring together patients and caregivers -- both staff and family members -- to explore their creative energy through such forms as music, dance, singing, painting, drawing, writing, clowning, puppetry and magic. This empowers patients to strengthen their own inherent resources and do their own healing by regenerating body, mind and spirit.

Art is also healing as a form of self-expression and a revelation of the subconscious mind -- the emotions that we're not yet ready to face consciously or can't yet express. The images can reveal themselves through a kind of code, the way they do in dreams, so that we can decode them at a pace we can handle, sometimes with professional assistance.

According to art therapist Elissa Ruccia, "Some people are comfortable expressing their emotions verbally and some aren't. Even for those who express themselves verbally, the use of art-making often leads to a deeper expression of their emotion. Sometimes words limit us. Sometimes we have emotions that we haven't yet found words for. Sometimes our grief or anger is so deep that we subconsciously block the expression of it for fear it will overwhelm us. Using art is a way to get at those feelings, little by little. To express it in some way. To give it a voice. Once we can see it, via our artwork, then we can begin to understand it, and our relationship to it is altered."

We've heard much in recent years about the mind-body connection. "People who don't find ways to express their emotions," Ruccia continues, "might find that over time their body responds with symptoms such as back pain, ulcers, heart problems, headaches, etc. I feel that self-expression is an integral element of a healthy lifestyle. Just as our bodies respond to exercise, to healthy food, they respond to self-expression. . . . Art can also afford people with a very private, quick, and inexpensive way to express their feelings."

So how do you make healing art? First, make the time and space for it (this may be the biggest challenge in these busy times). If you're engaged in a healing process, make it part of your healing program. If you're basically healthy, include it in your weekly "maintenance" routine, just as you would exercise.

Choose a medium that feels comfortable to you, that allows you to express freely. For trained artists, this may meaning choosing a form that you're *not* trained in, so you don't get hung up on technique. And then just relax into it. Focus on a physical or emotional issue you want to heal, or ask a question, and then go for it. Don't worry about it being "good art." It's more important to give yourself the freedom to express what's inside you.

Some common forms of art therapy you might try (either individually or in combination):

~ Visual arts -- drawing, painting, pastels, clay, photography, crafts, collages (using found objects, pictures from magazines, art materials, etc.)

~ Performance arts -- acting, singing, dance, improvisation, stand-up comedy, playing an instrument

~ Writing -- essays, short stories, monologues, poetry, music, plays, letters (not necessarily to be sent)

~ Journaling -- either words or art (or both)

~ Meditate -- through drawing, painting, sound (music, chanting, drumming), movement (tai chi is a form of moving meditation)

Aside from these typical outlets, Ruccia suggests that "creativity can be expressed in a multitude of forms -- for some it is through exquisite math calculations, for others it is through photography, writing, directing, cooking and baking, sewing, knitting, weaving, architecture, gardening, decorating, art collecting, music, landscaping, poetry writing, producing events or shows. Making Halloween costumes for the children, planning a birthday party or a wedding. Arranging flowers. How one celebrates the occasions of their life."

So if you find yourself in physical or emotional pain, if you're stressed at the end of your work day, if you're going through a difficult time, don't let the tensions build up. Use the art form of your choice and express your feelings, release the pain. Let the art heal you. Use it on a regular basis as "preventive medicine." It may sound too simple or easy, but it works, and we even have the scientific studies to assuage the skeptic in you. So, go . . . Create! Heal!

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A special thanks to Elissa Ruccia for her contributions to this article.

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Enhancing Creativity Through Exploration

There are times in your creative life when your ideas seem stale. It's "same ol' same ol'," and nothing you come up with seems to excite you. You need some new inspiration. A great way to prime the pump is to go exploring.

One of the prominent qualities of inventors is their curiosity -- their drive to search, to know more, to take things apart and see how they tick. By exploring, you can stretch your imagination and vision, find new ideas and give new life to old ones.

~ Take a walk through familiar places, but this time, take the time to stop and really look. Engage all your senses. Notice the sounds, the smells. Touch things, feel the textures. Try a food you've never tried before. If you're in the city, look at the buildings above eye level. You'll find lots of interesting architectural designs, old signs or carvings in the facade, the odd gargoyle, and perhaps some interesting characters hanging out the windows shouting to the neighbors. Bring along the video camera and record what you see.

~ Explore parts of your town that you don't usually go to. What do you see? How does it make you feel to be there? Is there a reason you avoid this area, or is a place you'd want to come back to?

~ Hang out in a public place -- perhaps the park or a coffee bar -- and talk to people. Hear their stories. Ask questions. Do more listening than talking.

~ Take a nature walk, but bring along a magnifying glass or loupe. A flower or leaf is a completely different experience seen close up.

~ When you're going about your daily chores, change your routine or take a different route. Stay aware, rather than going on automatic pilot, and see what you discover.

~ If you have a broken or outdated appliance, take it apart to see what's inside, what interesting shapes and textures you might find. If you're doing collage, you might even want to incorporate a few of the pieces! (A side benefit: adding more RAM to your computer can be a simple task once you've "cracked the case" and see that it doesn't bite.)

~ Get on the Internet and just follow links to see where they lead you.

~ Spend some time without a schedule. Take off your watch. Spend a day or a week going where your heart leads you. Follow your eyes, your ears, your nose -- kind of like hyperlinking *without* the Internet. Be willing to go down a dead end and turn around.

~ Explore using a different art form than usual. If you're a painter, photograph. If you're an actor, sketch. Write stories about your explorations. Experiment with sound and movement. Take an improvisation class. Get your hands in some clay.

~ Visit museums, historic sites and even theme parks. You can pick up the feel of a particular location or period that you can use in your writing, acting, painting. As you walk through the pyramids at Giza in Egypt, or the Temple of Dendor at the Metropolitan Museum, you can imagine what it might have been like to live among these structures. In an ancient graveyard, speculate on who the people were and what their lives were like. At the natural history museum, picture yourself coming face to with a dinosaur (and not just the bones!). Browse the art museum and put yourself in Monet's gardens, at the ballet with Degas, or spending Sunday afternoon on the Isle of Grand Jatte with Seurat.

When we're trying to create with a deadline, we can become stifled in our creativity. And there are times when we're simply bored with what we've been doing. Exploring is a great way to open up new avenues and bring a breath of fresh air to your work and your life.

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Creative Tip

An interesting form of journaling is a dialogue you can conduct by yourself. Using your dominant hand, write a question. It might be directed to your inner child, God, or a part of you that's hurting or confused. Then, with your nondominant hand, respond to the question. You may get some surprising results.

 

Wise Words

"Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in a human situation."

~ Graham Greene

"Research has shown us that a person in prayer, a person making art, and a person healing all have the same physiology, the same brain wave patterns, and the same states of consciousness."

~ Michael Samuels

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Bookshelf

(click on the book graphic to see a description at Amazon.com)

Creative Healing: How to Heal Yourself by Tapping Your Hidden Creativity . . . Michael Samuels, MD and Mary Rockwood Lane, RN, MSN

Creative Transformation: The Healing Power of the Arts . . . Penny Lewis

Art As Medicine: Creating a Therapy of the Imagination . . . Shaun McNiff

Writing As a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives . . . Louise A. DeSalvo, PhD

The Way of the Journal: A Journal Therapy Workbook for Healing . . . Kathleen Adams

Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-Making . . . John Fox

Music and Miracles, a companion to Music: Physician for Times to Come . . . Don Campbell, editor

Sounding the Inner Landscape: Music As Medicine . . . Kay Gardner

Accidents May Happen: 50 Inventions Discovered by Mistake . . . Charlotte Foltz Jones


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© 1999 Sharon Good. All rights reserved.

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