Works from the Health and Well Being group in Foster, Victoria. Aus.

It is hard to imagine, but people come along to my groups saying they are no good at art, they can’t draw, paint or create  anything.  These self-assessments have nothing to do with ability, they come from  emotions that are driven by low self-esteem and a loss of self-worth.  Such narratives can wear people down over time and lead to serious forms of depression and self-harming.

Art therapy provides easy access into the emotions, it releases the stresses and enables the flow of imagination.

In order to create, a person must take notice of shape, colour, texture and form all of which encourage the brain’s neural pathways to become activated and ready for constructive thoughts.  These stimulated process lead to a form of mindfulness that can be extended into daily life.

Creativity acts on the brain’s quiescent responses and helps to bring about  clarity and harmony, it grounds the spirit, eliminates the doubts and allows for better motivation.

Art provides metaphors for the feelings, sensations and experiences that take place daily.

Art helps us to accept life’s difficulties in ways that do not overwhelm mind and body.

Art creates changes in negative behaviour because it is a feel good occupation.  Feeling good is a state of mind that also impacts on the body for improved health and well being.

Art allows for contemplative approaches to problems without the use of drugs and/or psychiatry.

Art acts as a conduit for the examination of addictions.

Art heals traumas and boosts self-esteem.

Art requires the artist to pay attention enabling better control of thoughts and feelings.

Art allows us to be a witness to our own dilemmas while stepping aside from the impacts.

Art works.

Art and Alzheimer’s.

Art therapy has proven to be a powerful tool for treating Alzheimer’s disease. Art stimulates the brain. It stirs memories and can bring language back into the life of someone who struggles to communicate.
Studies show that art therapy gives back to Alzheimer’s patients, in some part, what the disease has taken away. It stimulates the senses, triggers dormant memories and encourages conversation. Whether they’re viewing or creating art themselves, Alzheimer’s patients can use art as a form of expression, particularly individuals who can’t communicate verbally.  Patients don’t necessarily recover lost words through this treatment, but they can explore a new form of language.
 

Loving Kindness.

I meet so many people who are lonely because they depend on others to fulfill their needs.  This happens because of a lack of confidence or self-worth.  The truth is, we cannot satisfy our own needs or those of others if we have not found contentment in ourselves.  Being alone should be regarded as a gift and a time to acquire true wisdom. Being mindful of the need for Love and Kindness encourages us to consider others, but it also involves being kind  and gentle towards ourselves.

Mindful Awareness in the Production of Art.

 

The combination of mindfulness and art is showing good results for a number of psycho-social problems.  Below is an  adaptation of Mindfulness art, which I call Mindful Awareness.  The program was recently introduced to residents in an aged care facility and is expected to show good outcomes for people with failing memory and the loss of other cognitive skills.

Mindful Awareness in the Production of Art.

Introduction.

Key Words.

Feelings, senses, awareness, emotions, memories, pain, relief, happiness, fulfilment.

Objectives.

Awareness of mind body sensations and their transference into art. Expansion of mind by being in the moment. Acknowledging inner space and using it to build resilience. Exploring colour as a means of identifying psycho-emotional and socio-physical situations. Drawing on memories as pathways for increasing cognitive skills.

Outcomes.

It is anticipated that recipients of Mindful Awareness will improve memory and learn meditation through art, thus they will be better positioned to cope with pain, stress and various day-today dilemmas that might arise.  Mindful Awareness and art improves health and well-being, aids confidence and feelings of self-worth and it teaches participants to focus on the present rather than worrying about the future.   Experience shows that Mindful Awareness improves emotional life as it offers everyone a rewarding and enjoyable journey to self-exploration and achievement.

About the Program.

   The Mindful Awareness program is based on neuro-aesthetics, a discipline that links the neurological pathways in the brain to various forms of art in order to understand the perceptions involved in memory and creativity. The most common mediums used in Mindful Awareness are art, music and meditation, this program offers a combination of all three mediums on the basis that each provides a different process for shifting attention away from negativity and towards more positive thoughts and outcomes.   Mindful Awareness has been successfully used to assist in various forms of treatment for mental and physical disorders, including pain management. Mindful Awareness helps to transform negative and disruptive behaviours into positive outcomes.    Mindful Awareness is also an exercise in brain fitness and it benefits all ages.

Neuroaesthetics is a relatively new discipline that has its roots in empirical aesthetics and psychoanalysis.    Neuroaesthetics only received formal attention in 2002 after Professor Semir Zeki an expert in Neurosciences at the University College of London found the appreciation of art caused a significant variability in neurological activity.  Hence, Zeki suggested that the study of the brain may explain particular subjective experiences as well as the ranges of abilities to create and experience art.   As Zeki puts it,

“…the artist is in a sense, a neuroscientist, exploring the potentials and capacities of the brain, though with different tools. How such creations can arouse aesthetic experiences can only be fully understood in neural terms. Such an understanding is now well within our reach.”

Art therapy, in its many forms, has become a popular tool for reducing   stress and anxiety and for the restoration of memory and daily management skills.  The roots of art therapies can be traced back to ancient religious practices where recipients were encouraged to transfer the burden of their life-world dilemmas  on to an external force/object. A similar practice takes place today where the behavioural impulses are transferred to the artistic object being created.

In my own practice art therapy is combined with Mindfulness Awareness to redirect attention away from obsessive, depressive, problematic and addictive behaviours. By being mindful of the bodily responses (the senses), rather than thoughts most anxieties and negative thoughts can be transcended and transferred to the art. In this way, Mindful Awareness serves as both a soft entry into the unconscious  as well as a conduit for examining and understanding traumas and difficulties from a different less emotional perspective.

Mindful Awareness in the production of art differs from conventional forms of therapy as it does not attempt to control thoughts, feelings sensations and memories; rather it uses these experiences to fully comprehend the processes of change by becoming aware of the sensations, which in turn allows for leverage to more positive goals.

Mindfulness Awareness has largely been drawn from two main sources, Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Buddhism.   In the practice of Acceptance Commitment Theory Mindful Awareness focuses on the present moment and how to respond rationally to situations rather than react to sensations and emotions that often present as confused.

Acceptance, Commitment Therapy (ACT) was developed by Steven Hayes, Kirk Strosahl and Kelly Wilson from the theories of functional contextualism (meaning in context) and relational frame theory (meaning in language).  Unlike standard behavioural therapies functional contextualism takes its lead from the philosophy of pragmatism and the idea that systems function around metaphor and world views.[2]   Metaphors and world views are in turn embedded in memory, which is generally expressed in words.  Mindful Art bypasses the words and takes a softer and less emotional entry into worldly expression. Mindful Awareness therefore values the moments of silence and/or a journey accompanied by melody (recorded music).

The Mindful Awareness approaches come mainly from Buddhism where meditation as a form of concentration is a key ingredient in the promotion of well-being.  The practice of art is in itself a mindful practice, which facilitates a shift of attention away from everyday thoughts and provides entry into a sphere of metaphor and the imaginary.

How will Mindful Awareness work?

Mindful Awareness art is not about creating a great work of art, it is about finding oneself through the processes of being creative; the art comes as a bonus.   Mindfulness in art is separate from any spiritual, religious, cultural or ideological content. Mindful art taps into the quiescent areas of the brain to enhance awareness and cognitive skills.  There is no fixed routine, but as a guide this is what will happen in a Mindful Awareness group.

 

     In the first coming together participants will be invited to share their hopes and aspirations and if they wish say something of their situation.  

 

     All participants are asked to focus on gratitude and adopt a position of Loving Kindness. This will be discussed briefly at the start of every session.

      Participants may wish to create their own mantra. This is encouraged because it assists memory.  Example.

 

May I be happy

May I be strong

May I always be in a state

of Loving Kindness

(Metta bhavana).

       At the start of each session participants will be given an outline of a human body and using a variety of coloured crayons they will be asked to fill in the areas they are most aware of.  Individuals will then say something about their coloured body picture. (These body areas are expected to change over time).

      Participants will then create freely from their feelings and senses and in any medium they choose.

 

At the end of every session, there will be a guided visualisation with the emphasis on care for one another through thoughts of Loving Kindness.

[1] Zeki, Semir. “Statement on Neuroesthetics.” Neuroesthetics. Web. 24 Nov 2009.Retrieved 25th February, 2017.

[2] Pepper, S.C. (1942). World hypotheses: A study in evidence. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press).