This year has had us talking about clarity. It’s easy to say, 20/20 vision, but what does that really mean? In optometry, 20/20 vision means the clarity or sharpness of what you see at 20 feet is what is normally seen at such a distance. But vision isn’t just about what’s clear to you within a 20-foot radius. Our eyes have other capabilities such as perceiving depth, focusing, seeing color, seeing our periphery, and coordinating with the rest of your body. All of these contribute to vision.
Perhaps we started this year with that 20/20 clarity. After all, the month of January finds most of us drilling down on resolutions and going on the 30 (or 21, or 66) -day journey of forming a new habit.
Here are a few ways to get authentic, and help you grow and focus your vision.
What do you stand for, and stand on?
Assessing vision begins with knowing where you literally stand. Our vision for our lives might ask us of the same. Here are some questions to help figure this out:
Where am I right now?
What is important to me?
What do I want to represent or stand for moving forward?
Can you read the signs?
Paying attention to your inner thoughts and how you respond to your world can say something about your direction. Are there any indicators of what pulls at your heartstrings and fuels your passion?
What inspires me?
What motivates me?
All our work in becoming more aware, being mindful, and showing up little by little each day… prepare us to do the hard things. Have you ever had a moment after a long day at work where you realize you can’t think of one thing that was significant, memorable, or productive that happened during the last 8 hours? Imagine if that was happening to your life. We can spend our whole lives asleep if we don’t face the hard things. Facing the hard things can look like answering these questions:
What am I afraid of?
What am I struggling with?
What’s the worst – and best – that could happen tomorrow?
Look around. Read the signs. And dive deep. What will you be focusing on this month?
Two months remain in the countdown to this year’s international conference on Expressive Arts (EXA) hosted by the Expressive Arts Philippines Network. For a second time, the founders of EXA, Paolo Knill and Margo Fuchs Knill, are flying to the country to facilitate the plenary workshops.
The event, aptly named Duyan: Cradling diversity through the Expressive Arts, aims to bridge the Filipino understanding of healing through the arts. With the mental health law being passed in 2018, we are currently witnessing increased awareness and discourse around personal wellbeing. In addition, it seems that now more than ever, Filipinos could use a safe space, a cradle, to retire and recover from various forms of stress or societal threats. Hence as a people inclined towards creative practices, the conference aims to offer EXA as a relevant approach to encourage healing within the Filipino community. It hopes to bring together leaders and practitioners in the fields of the arts, psychology, healthcare, psychosocial support in disaster response, humanitarian work, inclusive education, and social entrepreneurship.
As a primer to this upcoming event, the MAGIS team has thus prepared a list abridging the many ways in which the arts contribute to wellbeing. Specifically, we intend to shed light on the following questions: How do art and healing converge to create a safe space for diverse expressions? How can the arts be likened to a cradle providing retreat and rejuvenation?
Art meets people where they are.
To “meet people where they are” has been a time-tested adage in service professions. Effectively reaching out to anyone, in a professional setting or even in one’s personal life, takes a sensitivity to the other’s comfort zone. It takes a consideration for their needs and providing these at the right time.
The arts similarly deliver such openness and sensitivity to every person’s ability and expression. Engaging in the arts need not require talent. Exploring a medium–diving into paint with a paintbrush, taking pen to paper, or dancing as if nobody’s watching–already opens up opportunities for creative or emotional expression, learning, and self-discovery.
This is exactly what we learned at last month’s Head On Talk tackling Arts and Inclusion. Amos Manlangit, an artist, educator, and special education consultant, talked about his ladderized model for inducing creative flow for persons with special needs. As a facilitator, Amos allows his participants and students to first explore the materials as well as the process of art-making itself. The output is not judged by technique; rather the process of creation is highlighted by promoting mindfulness. There is then an invitation towards communicating ideas through symbols in the artwork or even further, attaching feelings to the creative process. These are, however, not forced nor required.
The supposed “masterpiece” is not the end goal. The ladderized approach allows the facilitator to meet the individual where they are, at whatever ability level or ease of expression. The arts cradle us all.
Art provides a separate, dedicated space for safety.
The nature of creative expression invokes imagination and a sense of playfulness so that when one engages in the arts, there is a withdrawal from everyday reality and whatever troubles or issues it holds. As one of the principles of Expressive Arts therapy, this process is called decentering (Knill, Levine, & Levine, 2005). It involves feeling safe enough to let go and simply be. As therapist Douglas Mitchell (2012) has put it,
“We step away from ourselves as we know ourselves to be—lawyer, chef, accountant, candlestick maker—and release to the part of ourselves that doesn’t know, doesn’t plan, and doesn’t perceive what is going to happen next.”
The effectiveness of the arts in carving out such a safe space was exemplified in MAGIS’ program, Aesthetics of Self-Care, which we ran earlier this month for the East Asian Pastoral Institute (EAPI). The sabbatical renewal experience at EAPI services religious and lay persons in active ministry who experience high levels of stress, compassion fatigue, and burnout. For a whole week, the MAGIS team enjoined the priests and nuns to return to their childhood. Together we played, danced, and made art. These creative expressions allowed a sense of safety and made room for each to “decenter.” Ultimately, the program helped participants take a step back from the intensity of their work and simply rest through artful self-care practices.
Art rejuvenates through self-discovery.
Resting through the arts is not an exercise of passivity. The senses are kept active (for instance, when listening to music or sculpting clay) while the mind is continually stimulated. The creator appraises the work as it takes shape and modifies it along the way.
Likewise, the finished product can be used as a tool for reflection. Artworks may be viewed as an extension of the creator so then, after finishing a piece, he can ask himself “What does this work say about me?” A simple prompt like this serves as a nudge towards self-discovery. In this way, the artistic process offers the possibility of learning something new. Aristotle referred to this as poeisis, or “learning by making.” Art-making offers true rejuvenation inasmuch as the maker is revitalized by the discoveries he makes—whether about himself or the world.
Part of the core principles of the expressive arts philosophy is to meet you where you’re at. In the clinical setting, an important part of attunement: “a felt embodied experience that can be individualistic as well as communal, that includes a psychological, emotional, and somatic state of consciousness” (Kossak, 2009). This means that, as someone who facilitates an experience or stewards a connection with another, you would offer someone the space to be seen and the time to be heard, just as they are.
Meeting someone where they are requires us to be plainly and profoundly connected to another, without any bias. It is to cultivate inclusivity in an environment by transcending differences and arriving at common threads that bind us together as a human society. From bringing understanding to sometimes misunderstood circumstances of individuals with special needs, to bridging cultures through a universal language of creativity and community, inclusivity cuts across a wide range of the needs of our society today.
Could inclusivity be a principle that applies to more situations than just an expressive arts experience? Here are a few ways the arts is facilitating attunement among individuals and within communities.
Art bridges cultures.
Visual, tactile, and experiential language can bridge culture in ways that go beyond verbal communication. Arguably, this is because such language runs deep in the way we live. With Cartwheel Foundation, the arts bridges two different cultures and allow each one to be enriched by the other.
“Art can be found everywhere,” says Charissa Lopez, Program Officer for Education at Cartwheel. “Every time I visit our partner IP communities it enables me to experience their rich culture and tradition through their unique life ways.” Life ways is a profound way to see and define culture.
Administrative Officer and member of the Talaandig community, Berose Tacal, supports the importance of the arts to understand different ways that people live: “Nang dahil sa art, lumalalim ang pag-intindi mo. Nakikita mong may sariling pinanggalingan individually ang art. Nang dahil doon, lumalabas ang kultura, ang kwento ng tao.” (“Through art, understanding deepens. You begin to see where others come from, uniquely. Because of that, culture emerges: the story of the people.”)
Former Education Coordinator and member of the Talaandig community, Bricks Sintaon, also shares the impact in the educational setting: “Nakakatulong ang workshops sa art sa pagturo ng pagiging open at appreciative. Na-lessen ang judgement. Na-process na ganito ang pananaw para tingnan ang ibang kultura, nagiging madali gawin ito. Nagkaroon ng chance paramag-merge sa ibang community.” (“Arts-based workshops help by teaching us how to be open and appreciative. There is less judgement. When we have such a perspective when it comes to other cultures, it becomes easier to learn about them, and the opportunity arises to integrate into communities.”)
The core of Cartwheel’s developmental work is in thoughtfully and respectfully integrating support and offering opportunities for empowerment in indigenous culture, to help its members be more self-sustaining, gain access to equitable resources, and most of all, be empowered as a people. The arts helps in this process through cultivating connection on a deeper level, and tapping an innate creativity that builds upon differences and new learnings; that is inclusive. As Lopez says: “Through their life ways, art is naturally born within [indigenous peoples]. Art creates a bridge between IP and non-IP, through sharing of their stories, cultures and traditions.”
Art can be an accessible vehicle for discussing important issues.
“[It] has been my personal research interest for the last ten years,” says Project Head Ange Viceral, “and has magically manifested in the last two years of leading the Get Wired! Projects.” Get Wired! practices interdisciplinary and participatory approaches of the arts. As its name suggests, the activities and talks “help people ‘get more wired’ to themselves by connecting to other people in the workshops,” Viceral describes. “The expertise of the invited guests in the roundtable connected the people and stakeholders in Benilde towards one goal of helping out our students and associates in their mental wellness through the arts and a holistic view of the body through the self, soul and the other.”
The first of Get Wired!’s two events tested the waters by starting conversations about the landscape of therapy practice in Metro Manila, as well as exploring the emerging field of neuroaesthetics. Motivated by positive response, this year’s focus was deepening the discussion around neuroaesthetics. People wanted to understand how the brain worked, to understand how healing can happen. Viceral had different groups of students produce aesthetic responses to her own personal brain map — an assessment done by Mindworks Center for Mind Health that measures brain activity through EEG technology. Students responded to a recording of the music produced as feedback for the brain during the session.
As participants in both years’ events, the team at MAGIS has seen how art can be an accessible vehicle for people to discuss important issues. Witnessing the art of a brain map being interpreted through movement, textiles, and visual art was a discussion in itself.
Discussing themes that run common threads through individuals is a valuable step in becoming better attuned to each other. “I think people had the same fascination and curiosity to this topic continuing the neuroaesthetics perspective and now integrating it into a more local context,” Viceral explained. “The performative installation we did as a collaboration with the students and faculty of Benilde, together with the experienced panel in the roundtable discussion, gave a very meaningful flavor to this year’s Get Wired! 2 and contextualized the context of Ginhawa as a Filipino aesthetic of the body. People still wanted more. I think that we are all in the right path.”
Art can start conversations.
Conversations and meaningful discussion are not exclusive to organized roundtable discussions. FAM Mnl thought about how everyday objects in our day to day routine can start the conversation, too.
“We chose everyday items because it can serve as friendly reminders to our buyers and also conversation starters to those around them,” says Jill Santos, Co-Owner at FAM Mnl. Their first collection, the Semicolon collection, includes apparel, and accessories like waterproof stickers, water bottles, and notebooks. “We believe that with our products more and more people can start conversations on mental health.”
Jill is part of a team of Clinical Psychology graduate students who were inspired to start FAM Mnl as they were exposed to environments where stigma about mental health is evident. “We interact with individuals who express that their feelings aren’t understood or how their voices aren’t heard. We also noticed the increase of individuals who experience mental health problems,” explains Jill.
The objects all around us tell stories about us, and can help us tell stories as well. Jill paints the picture: “With just one question of ‘What does the Semicolon on your shirt mean?’ They are given the opportunity to share their knowledge and stories through powerful narratives.”
To say our narratives are powerful could be an understatement. When we begin to relate to stories–feeling the emotions, growing a connection with the characters whether or not we know them–we are building the foundations of empathy. Paul Zak puts it well: stories bring brains together. We form connections and relationships through empathy, and human connection is the first step in growing into better, more inclusive societies that are safe spaces for all kinds of stories, especially the ones that need to be heard.
Do you know of or have a project that gives the arts the chance to promote inclusivity? Tell us your story.
On July 18th, we took to the Museum Of A History Of Ideas in UP Manila to listen to a talk on expressive arts and the kind of impact it has on the Philippine society. The afternoon’s speaker and workshop facilitator, Amos Manlangit, often integrates mandala-making in his talks and workshops, asking participants to collaborate in filling the spaces of a hand-painted template. For this particular session, Amos also offered a question prompt:
What is art to you?
It was a question simple enough to be both easily accessible and a stepping stone to deeper inquiry. To answer the question, we had to illustrate or write in our chosen space in the mandala. It didn’t matter what kind of creative background we came from, for as long as we were able to reflect on the question and form an answer with which we truly resonated. The end result was a truly beautiful and meaningful piece of collaborative work.
Whether the expressions were simple or intricate, they all found their place in the mandala. And when we stepped back and saw the bigger picture (literally), we realized we were looking at a rich representation of what unity in diversity looks like what a society might look like in acceptance of differences, in celebration of diversity, and in continuous cultivation of inclusivity.
In the expressive arts practice, inclusivity takes shape in its foundational principles of art being a companion that ‘meets you where you’re at’. Art-making becomes a process that fuels outcomes indiscriminate of any skill-level or art-form In other words, you don’t have to be good at art to engage with it. Amos talks about this as well in describing creative engagement – which is a framework he developed on how an individual’s creative development can deepen no matter what point he is in his own personal development or growth.
Creative engagement and arts-based practices do not come without challenges. The discussions at the afternoon’s talk revolved around accessibility for hard-to-reach communities and institutionalizing the practice. In our own programs, we have also experienced the intricate conversations of designing the creative experience and make it more relevant to culture, context, and character.
The rewards can weigh more when creative engagement flourishes and when we are able to embrace diversity in society the same way we appreciated diversity in the creative responses to the mandala. Our community becomes richer because it. This how art-making facilitates an inclusive practice.
Aside from last July 18’s event, one of the wonderful ways we’re seeing how art-making becomes an inclusive practice is through the Autism Society of the Philippines (ASP) event held last July 20. The event they held called Healing Discoveries highlighted how they are taking strides in making integrative arts accessible to the families of kids with autism. Our morning with them at this event saw how the community came together through kids yoga, pottery, and music.
In Healing Discoveries, Expressive arts practitioner and MAGIS Communications Manager, Adi Santos, created pinch pots (and more!) with families, and articulated how its creative process can be a way to strengthen our connections with each other beyond words. Shared art-making becomes a way to be present to someone who may be living differently from the way we do. Perhaps that’s all we need to start cultivating inclusivity through the arts: the intention to connect with each other more deeply, be present with another to understand them, and nurture how we see ourselves and the world around us.
How do you think you can cultivate inclusivity in your own unique, creative way?
“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?
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
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.
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.
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 EXA Philippines’ first workshop this year about art and dance therapy.
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.