Musings from Camp Create

“Our campers have shown that joy exists wherever there is learning and improvement.”

This summer MAGIS had its third run of our yearly day camp for kids, Camp Create. We welcomed 11 children to classes like drama, hiphop, yoga, painting, taekwondo, and Treasure Trash (a class on environmental awareness and the how to’s of upcycling).

Needless to say, our days at camp were sometimes tiring. We found ourselves getting reintroduced to the sheer amount of energy 6 to 12-year-olds somehow possessed, worlds apart from quiet offices or bustling coffee shops—two environments more natural to an adult. Though no matter how unenergetic or caffeine-deprived a camp facilitator might be in the mornings, there is one thing we can agree on. We always end the day with full hearts and a smile on our faces. It’s no secret but kids teach adults as much as, or even more than, they’d learn from their teachers. From spending a full month at camp, we’ve jotted down our lasting lessons, learned from the campers themselves.

1. There is meaning in mess and chaos.

We began camp with clean tables, wrapped in all-white tarpaulins. In the beginning we tried to keep this surface spotless but admittedly, there’s something about seeing the sheets filled with color that shows us what’s more important: that the kids dive into creating. Painting, crafting, and sculpting—these tables are testaments to all they have explored. And the mess or occasional chaos in the classroom is only an indication that they are engaged. As adults, there is a tendency to prefer kids sitting still, staying quiet and behaved but at camp, we saw the magic of providing them space to experiment. With so much skills left to learn and activities to try out, a little mess and disorder may not be a bad thing.

2. Live in the now.

Anyone who has worked with children knows that it takes a bit of creativity to plan games or activities that capture their attention. Some themes may engage them more than others but once they’re hooked, the game, activity, or their artwork is all that matters. Squabbles among classmates are forgiven; earlier frustrations are forgotten. They really know how to live in the moment and squeeze every opportunity dry. That’s why they ask for 5 more minutes to finish their work or play outside. It’s in their nature to cherish each moment while us adults can’t wait for the next task to be over. It may take greater effort, but we could certainly take a cue from children on how to be truly present.

3. Little accomplishments are to be celebrated.

As facilitators, it is certainly a feat to watch the kids discover their flexibility in yoga or improve their kicks through weeks in taekwondo. However, seemingly smaller achievements can bring them the same wide grins of self-confidence. From tying shoelaces and learning to cut straight edges to having the awareness to verbalize their emotions, developing such skills are momentous in themselves. After being called out in a game, one 6-year-old stepped aside and admitted “Teacher, I am upset.” Yet from there, we took a few breaths and re-joined the group as if nothing happened. With adults, there is a tendency to disqualify even our own feats of self-regulation and the littlest positive deeds we accomplish. Our campers, on the other hand, have shown that joy exists wherever there is learning and improvement.

4. Creating is a language in itself.

At camp, the kids were given license to create whatever they wanted: animals out of toilet paper rolls, canvasses out of rocks, and planters out of newspapers. With our favorite guideline “all art is good art,” they allowed their imaginations to run free. They remained open to every medium, even wet and mushy potter’s clay which smelled somewhat funky. Through every drawing we got to know each child a little better. Engaging in different art forms became their way of playing, both with one another and their teachers. It makes us wonder…if adults similarly made space for some creativity and playfulness, what possibilities would emerge? What is left to be discovered?

For more information on expressive arts therapy or any of our creative classes for children, contact us through these channels.

Connect and resonate for your self-care

I was living with so much tension and stress; I didn’t notice that people care for me, people love me.

These were the words that captured one participant’s experience in our Aesthetics of Self-Care workshop last month. Perhaps this same realization rings true for many of you as well. Given too many responsibilities, it’s easy to get caught up. In the everyday hustle and bustle, we can take the people who pass us for granted. Even just those who share space with us—in the office or on our commute—more so friends and family members who share or hold our experiences. And this is possibly when we suffer a lack in what psychologists and psychiatrists are now calling resonance.

In music, resonance is the quality of sound that is full, deep, and reverberating. In a similar manner it is our ability to establish a deep connection, in such a way that we bounce off what others feel, think, or experience. It is foundational to empathy—and love. Connection starts at our brain’s ability to mirror. Have you ever wondered why you wince at the mere sight of someone else’s gash? Or why you feel some pain at witnessing someone stub their toe? Since the turn of the 21st century, researchers have uncovered the neural basis for such connection. They have discovered that certain neurons in our brains respond the same way when we ourselves perform an action and when we watch another person do the same. These are called mirror neurons.

Additionally, experts contend that these specialized cells are key in social interaction, helping us understand facial expressions and gestures as well as predict the intentions behind other people’s actions (Ferrari, Gerbella, Coudé, & Rozzi, 2017; Goldstein, 2014).

As these functions are reinforced through years and years of social engagement, we come to form an energetic exchange especially with those near and dear to us. In fact, this mirroring pathway is intricately tied with the brain’s reward system (Ferrari et al., 2017; Banks & Hirschman, 2015). Relationships become gratifying due to a release of feel-good neurochemicals; one of which is dopamine (Banks & Hirschman, 2015; Cash, 2011). Psychiatrists Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon poetically describe such an exchange, starting with looking someone straight in the eyes, in their book A General Theory of Love:

Instead of seeing a pair of eyes as two bespeckled buttons, when we look into the ocular portals to a limbic brain our vision goes deep: the sensations multiply, just as two mirrors placed in opposition create a shimmering ricochet of reflections whose depths recede into infinity. (2001, p. 63)

Not many people realize just how nourishing our interactions can be. With jam-packed schedules, it’s almost added labor to carve time for coffee and a catch-up, an added task to acknowledge another’s presence. Yet making the effort may just be what you need. It’s part of a commitment to self-care.

However, Dr. Hilarie Cash (2011) cautions that resonance is better facilitated when the interaction is multisensory: that is, when it happens in real-time, rather than online. If this caveat just made it even harder, fret not. We have listed below some creative ways to foster connection and mutual resonance.

Artful Ways of Connecting

  1. Learn the art of letter writing. — As old school as it may sound, writing a note by hand still provides an experience different from sending an instant message. Letter composition is “a way to process our own experiences” according to author Kate Bolick in her piece detailing “endangered” forms of art.
  2. Get creative with greeting cards. — Crafting a card for a special occasion does not only add a personal touch, it also provides the recipient an added layer of tactile (and maybe, olfactory) experience.
  3. Go dancing. — Have you ever wondered why some people are more likely to dance when with a group? Yup – those are the mirror neurons at work! Moving with others, like dancing in or amongst a group, can be a wonderful way to receive and and create resonance. If you’re based in Manila, Dance/movement therapist Joey can share more about this with you in Expressive Arts Philippines Network’s first workshop this year about art and dance therapy.
  4. Engage in a shared hobby. — A lot of social events are centered on food. Although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, certain consequences weigh in on the scale or in one’s wallet. Spending time with loved ones can alternatively revolve around other activities: biking, volunteering, or even taking on a house project. You can get creative with it!

For more information on expressive arts therapy, or to express interest in our programs about wellbeing and expressive arts, email us. We’d love to hear from you.

Banks, A., & Hirschman, L.A. (2015). Four ways to click: Rewire your brain for stronger, more rewarding relationships. New York, NY: Penguin Group.
Bolick, K. (2010, November 1). Endangered arts. Psychology Today. Retrieved on March 12, 2019.
Cash, H. (2011, December 4). The online social experience and limbic resonance. Psychology Today. Retrieved on March 12, 2019.
Ferrari, P. F., Gerbella, M., Coudé, G., & Rozzi, S. (2017). Two different mirror neuron networks: The sensorimotor (hand) and limbic (face) pathways. Neuroscience, 358, 300-315. doi:10.1016/j.neuroscience.2017.06.052
Goldstein, E.B. (2014). Taking action. In J. Perkins (Ed.), Sensation and perception (pp. 153-172). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Lewis, T., Amini, F., Lannon, R. (2001). Archimedes’ principle: How we sense the inner world of our hearts. A general theory of love (pp. 35-65). New York: Vintage Books.

6 opportunities to trust the process for self-compassion

Self-compassion sounds like an easy enough concept to grasp. Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion researcher, describes it like comparing apples to apples: “having compassion for oneself is really no different than having compassion for others,” but perhaps most days we find it easier to give compassion to others than to ourselves. Oscar Wilde calls it a lifelong romance, but perhaps most days it is a little less poetic than that.

Research has it that the tradeoffs are big. Self-compassion is linked to a decrease in perceived stress, which secondarily can cause an increase in health-promoting behaviors.  A study in 2012 also observed self-compassion (along with mindfulness) as an important predictor of psychological well-being.

So how do we get from Point A to Point B? The effort made towards self-compassion is not a one-off event, it’s a lifelong initiative. We’re not going to lie – it’s not easy. There are plenty of factors that can make the commitment to self-compassion a challenging one: upbringing, lifestyle choices, schedules, experiences that shape you as a person. But it’s not impossible.

There are three elements of self-compassion, as Neff identifies, and we found this useful in understanding the ways we can help ourselves and others get into the practice.

One of them is choosing kindness over judgement. This means that one can remain caring towards the self in times of pain or failure. It involves giving the self affirmations instead of becoming highly critical or negative; it encourages seeing blunders in a new light. In Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go, Shaun McNiff describes a mistake as ‘a message that calls for attention’:

The anger aroused by mistakes can also shape new creations. There have been many times when I felt so fed up with what I was trying to do that I let loose with a new burst of creative energy. Frustration might also lead to the destruction of unproductive ways of expression. Often we need to break down tired patterns before we can create anew. Mistakes encourage me to act more boldly the next time around. The nagging symptoms in an artwork demand a new response. Tight and stiff compositions call out for more spontaneity. Anger is often the agent of change and liberation.

Sound familiar? Sometimes our frustration isn’t really about our situation, the people around us, or the place that we’re in… What it boils down to is a frustration with ourselves. We can easily become harsh and self-critical when dealing with our own slip-ups.

Layer your experiences & start small

McNiff offers a simple task to help with processing mistakes: paint in layers. The first is most likely to be something you really don’t like – and hopefully, it comes close to the frustration you feel.

Then paint over it. Keep painting over it until you start to see differently. Until the self-judgment becomes a sense of curiosity, until the curiosity becomes a sense of wonder. Then you’ll be somewhere new. Somewhere you can learn.

The journey from self-judgment to learning can be arduous and far from smooth sailing. For those days, Neff reminds us about our “common humanity”:

Frustration at not having things exactly as we want is often accompanied by an irrational but pervasive sense of isolation – as if “I” were the only person suffering or making mistakes. All humans suffer, however. The very definition of being “human” means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect. Therefore, self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone.

However your pursuit of self-compassion looks right now, the activities you carry out to do so will grow as you grow, change as you change. By gathering a short list of suggestions and resources below, we hope there is something that can meet you where you’re at. In any of these activities, we hope it creates the space for you to find safety and peace to acknowledge yourself, what you feel, what you’re thinking… so you can begin to grant yourself the self-compassion you need.


For more information on expressive arts therapy, or to express interest in our programs about wellbeing and expressive arts, email us. We’d love to hear from you.

This year, give yourself the license to explore and create

MAGIS welcomed the last month of 2018 with a workshop for social workers in the service of online sexually exploited children. In partnership with World Hope International, an organization whose work in the country primarily encompasses child sponsorship programs and aid for human trafficking victims, we trained social workers on trauma-informed expressive arts practice. Unlike usual lecture-based trainings, however, the workshop allowed the participants to experience activities they themselves could do with their clients. We painted, we danced, we acted, and we allowed the arts to invite us into learning and reflection.

In one activity wherein we engaged the participants in processing their drawings, many insights were thrown as to how their respective artworks came to represent something about them, albeit unintentionally. In similar work with clients, a professional allows the individual to tell the story of his work. No judgment, no right or wrong, just curiosity and understanding. And in such a space of openness, one participant’s face lit up in a way that signified a spark of realization. While nodding her head, she then exclaimed “Aha, it actually works!”

Through this one activity, she realized that it is this same spirit of curiosity social workers must employ when dealing with their clients—understanding their behaviors, attuning as well as responding to their needs. In artful ways, they could build connection with the children, and by allowing the kids to engage in activities which let them create, a sense of competency can be built.

Everyone has an inherent capacity to make something, and in such capability lies the therapeutic value of the arts. Though hard as one tries, not every artwork will spring up an insight, yet it is simply engaging in the process, allowing the self to shape material or take shape in movement, that our guards are torn down; we are given the opportunity to introspect, and even perhaps connect with another.

So go on, this 2019 give yourself the license to explore your capacity to create. Doodle, paint, write, or maybe pick up your forgotten musical instrument?

We wish you an artful year ahead!

Seven Ways Wayfinding: How we’re claiming rest and rejuvenation this season

December can be a whirlwind of shopping, gift-giving, reunions, and food. These are all joys in many ways, especially when we share our time with dear loved ones. But this year, we at MAGIS HQ reminded each other to give ourselves the gift of self-care too. Here are some of the ways – our Christmas Wayfinding – we’ve resolved to do that, at least for the next twenty days.

1.   Do something for yourself every day

Christmas is a giving season – don’t forget to give to yourself, too.  Our Dance and Movement Therapist Joey encourages you to do something for yourself every day this holiday season!  One of the most valuable gifts you can give yourself is the gift of time.  In the hustle and bustle of the next few days, take time to be yourself, remember yourself.  Return to your body and rediscover how vital your presence is in this world.

2.   Organize your space

The space you have to yourself plays an important part in stewarding your time to breathe, relax, and reflect on the year that’s passed.  Clear out the clutter.  Place a picture on the wall that inspires you.  Paint the room!  Whatever it is, our Administration Superwoman Imee says good space will help with a good start to the new year.

3.   Inhale the essential

Did you know that our sense of smell sends signals straight to our amygdala, the seat of our emotions? This means it by-passes the fog that can bring us into analysis paralysis or stress in the form of mental clutter. For our Managing Director Kathy, who is also a management consultant and leadership coach, clarity and inner calm are important.  For all this, she’s realized that finding time for the mind and soul to rest in each other is essential.  This holiday season, essential oils will help her carve that time and space for herself.  She recommends Lemon as an energy booster, and Sandalwood for staying in the present.

4.   Be with the early birds

Day in day out, our Management Team deals with timelines for projects, concerns, people; they take care of our business direction.  For Miah, making the effort to wake up early for quiet time with the birds is helping her keep up with everyday matters.  Starting the day this way can help ground you and set you up to take on a full day powering through a to-do list.  This season, she’s accompanied by a meditation app we all love: Headspace.

5.   Savor the treats of the season

Christmas gatherings are full of food! Overeating can make us sluggish and tired. Bambi, one of our Program Developers, is committing to a mindfulness practice in eating, so that the digestive system doesn’t take up too much energy that could keep her from staying present and fully experiencing the joy and love from gatherings with family and friends this season.

6.   Open your heart to magic

The story of Christmas is one of a great, miraculous love – and if we rush past the season, we might miss the magic this story brings. For our Director, Gina, the work she does brings her heart in many different directions – and to return to herself, she’s committing to keep her heart open through the solitude of good rest, writing, and painting. What opens up your heart?

7.   Write a gratitude list – and make it as long as you possibly can

This season is often also one of reflection, whether it’s over a glass of wine or cup of tsokolate, or in the solitude of your own room or a sacred space you find yourself in. Being a writer and a crafter, Communications Officer Adi appreciates how list-making can help tendencies of being hyper-organized and organic find middle ground. Gratitude also has a positive impact on our outlook and behaviour: check out this video from The Tremendousness Collective to learn more about the research on the impact of gratitude on our lives.

We hope these help you keep a mindful disposition this season. When we give ourselves time and presence, we can give others our time and presence, too.