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 EXA Philippines’ 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.

Seeing Social Work in the Philippines through a Psychosocial Lens: MAGIS at NASWEI book launch

We commemorated Human Rights Day this year with the National Association for Social Work Education, Inc. (Philippines), at their book launch of The Human Costs of the Philippine War on Drugs: a collection of case studies that poignantly capture the landscape in which social workers all over the country currently focus on.

We were in the company of professionals who have dedicated their careers and lives to the incredible and unique calling of Social Work. This professional field is all too familiar with contexts with profound needs for human dignity: conflict zones, disaster areas, national borders, and communities of poverty. To have a heart in these margins and knots in society is both a tall order and a natural inclination of the human spirit. As keynote speaker Evelyn Balais-Serrano said, “we have common humanity.”

As the field of Social Work goes through a paradigm shift from dealing with welfare, to involving themselves with the all-encompassing and currently controversial landscape of human rights, we are also significantly moved by the need for further deepening of resilience and strength in body, mind, and spirit.

We sincerely thank everyone we met yesterday and for the stories that were shared. We look forward to sharing in the journey of, and helping how these brave helping professionals help themselves and help each other.


Photos:
1: Keynote Speaker Evelyn Balais-Serrano
2: NASWEI VP – NCR and Executive Director, Dr. Elsa H. Ruiz; with MAGIS Managing Director Kathy V. Ponce
3: NASWEI President, Dr Melba L. Manapol; and VP – Visayas, Ms. Rose Sequitin with MAGIS representatives Kathy (Managing Director), Miah Tanchoco (Assistant Director for Program Management), Adi Santos (Communications Officer)

A Morning with Asian Hospital and Medical Center: Fit for Good

 

AHMC-FitforGood

Join us Saturday, November 18 as we share the therapeutic experience of dance and movement through a short talk and workshop with Dance Therapist Joey Atayde. Fit for Good is an initiative of the Asian Brain Institute for raising awareness about living well over the age of 50. The morning will cover a range of topics including physical and mental health and fitness, and an introduction to the Institute’s brain wellness program in context of dementia.


About the Speaker

Joey is a Registered Dance/movement Therapist with the American Dance Therapy Association.  She finished her graduate studies in Dance/Movement Therapy at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.  She has worked with children and adults with mental illness, using movement as a form of psychotherapy and using this to integrate the body, the mind and the spirit.

7 Groups and Projects Changing the Conversation on Mental Health in the Philippines

The last decade has changed the conversation about mental health in a significant way. Here are just a few of the amazing activities happening around the country this week, and local organizations working on helping the country address mental health.

MHACTNow is the official campaign for the Philippines’ first ever Mental Health Act. The petition gathered more than 20,000 signatures, and together with the campaign, it was enough for the government to take action and spark nationwide discourse about its importance. The Bill was approved by the Senate on May 2, 2017, and is currently going through amendments for its final reading. Hopefully, this month of Mental Health Awareness will be topped off with the fantastic news of the Bill’s approval in the House of Representatives.

The Youth for Mental Health Coalition is a 1-year-old organization that has taken leaps in a short span of time. Their strong social media presence that has given Filipino youth a platform to be heard and acknowledged in context of mental health issues, and the Coalition has representatives all over the country.  They are holding the National Youth Congress on Mental Health this September 14, 2017. Check out their lineup of activities for this week as published on Facebook, as well.

MentalHealthPH is an online advocacy that, this week for Mental Health Awareness Week in the Philippines, is taking to universities to be part of talks, forums, and other events. They publish story submissions that capture a poignant snapshot of living with mental health issues, which you can find here.

Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Philippines is a professional community that provides psychosocial interventions to victims/survivors of disasters, crises, and emergencies in the Philippines. One of the head trainers and Program Director for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support at the National Center for Mental Health, Ms Thelma Singson Barrera, has activated thousands of psychosocial care providers all over the country through capacity-building in psychosocial support, and been involved with key first-response teams in some of the country’s most devastating disasters. We had a chat with her recently for Mental Health Awareness Week.

“I feel and believe that the awareness on Mental Health has improved in the past years,” she said. “More mental health programs have been established and are successfully in place… and as a post-disaster response, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support is now being recognized as important to be provided to survivors of disaster.” In her career of more than 27 years, Ms Thelma, who began as a hospital-based Mental Health and Psychiatric Nurse before moving into the fieldwork and training she does today, has encountered also the kind of response that stigmatizes the matter: “… if people know you work in a mental hospital, they will give a silly laugh and ask: ‘Don’t you get the disorder too for taking care of the mentally sick patients?’”

As seen in the conversation that transpired after Joey De Leon’s comment about depression and the consequent apology, how we as a society deal with battling stigma is crucial to support and advance mental health initiatives. Responding to lack of awareness with a sincere intention to share and help educate can bring out the lessons in difficult situations.

Self-expression can be a powerful partner for mental wellbeing – it is at the core of what we do at MAGIS as well.  It is not a surprise that there are also wonderful groups and projects that use the arts to have conversations and build an empathic community around mental health: Silakbo PH, Tala: Mental Wellness, Stellar Stranger.

Today, World Mental Health Day, we recognize and salute all the initiatives that have helped to achieve where we are right now with Mental Health. Mental Health can be a sensitive topic. It takes courage to continue the conversation in brave and empathic response to the need of understanding, awareness, and acceptance… and even more so to start it.

 


 

Featured image: A mindful prayer activity with MAGIS Creative Spaces, The Learning Child School, and Cartwheel Foundation in THRiVETrauma-informed Healing and Resilience in Vulnerable Environments; a teacher-training program conducted by MAGIS Founder and Director Gina Alfonso.

Thank you to Ms. Thelma Singson Barrera, from the National Center for Mental Health and long-time friend of MAGIS, for speaking with us this week.

Are you part of or do you know of more organizations making a difference for Mental Health in the Philippines? Let us know in the comments or contact us.

Kick off August with Super Science Saturdays

We’re super excited for these first two Saturdays of August! Find out about the world on a microscopic level, and create paths for electricity to power a lightbulb!

Contact Erika at 0917 842 4247 to reserve your slot today, or head over to register online via the Eventbrite Page.

August 5: Microscope Discovery Lab 
Go skin-deep and know what your skin cells look like or see a leaf the way ants and other insects would!

August 12: Circuit Making Lab 
Why do the lights in a house turn on when you flip a switch? How does a remote-controlled car move? Demystify electricity by getting your little engineer busy with some of our awesome hands-on projects.

WORKSHOP FEES
Per session: P750 per parent-child pair
Both sessions: P1400 per parent-child pair
Extra parent/child: P300
Each session includes the facilitator + materials + snacks.
You’ll go home with worksheets from the first lab and circuit cards from the second.

 

on now

 

Thriving Creatively: the promise of art for healing

Last month, we launched our first run of THRiVE – a psychosocial training program in expressive arts-based approaches to healing and learning in the classroom.  This program is an opportunity for us to create and hold the space for educators to rediscover and be themselves through the ageless method of and tools for expression: art and creativity.

Training educators as people

We started the 4-day intensive standing in a circle, feet hip-width apart, arms stretched out and palms open on either side of us. This moment taught me the power of a standing being. I looked around at our circle. We had come together as 33 educators, coordinators, managers, community builders; but in that moment we were 33 people who were right where they needed to be, 33 stories to be told. The gravity of this collective presence was enough to build us up, a mountain beneath our feet.

To give these individuals space in this way was very important for lead facilitator and MAGIS Director Gina Alfonso. “Each of us has the right to be here. Each of us has a place in this circle and a reason for being here now.” she said.  With so many different journeys that led to the one moment, it was crucial to establish a sense of safety and belonging at the very beginning.   At THRiVE, educators learn to improve the way they work by improving their sense of self, first.

Trauma-informed practice

MAGIS developed THRiVE – Trauma-informed Healing and Resilience-building in Vulnerable Environments – with trauma in mind. Considering it in the broadest sense of the word, the activities over the 4-day intensive addressed both shared community and personal trauma, toxic stress, and the need for resilience. Through arts-based activities, the psychology of play, and individual and communal mindfulness practice, the group learned how to improve their professional work not only by being informed by the science behind the practice of the arts for psychosocial interventions in the classroom, but also by the experience of taking care of themselves first – the same way they take such thoughtful care of the students and colleagues they work with.

One participant described the experience as a realization of the blessings despite issues and everyday challenges. Through activities designed with self-awareness and mindfulness, there was also an element of healing. “I am able to say that I am healed and free from the heavy feelings I was carrying because of my own perception, thinking, and doing,” she said.

Mind the brain

The storytelling, self-awareness, and self-care practice doesn’t end with arts-based activities. From our year-old partnership with Mindworks self-awareness for us as their technology provides a detailed portrait of our brains: brain maps.  Mindworks uses EEG technology to depict brainwave activity, which can accurately show the current state of brain, and which neurotherapists analyze to inform customized programs for improving brain function and mental agility. The brain maps alone, along with interviews about them, provide a wealth of insight into the impact of personal history on how we think, our natural inclinations, and areas we can improve. This greatly helped participants of THRiVE to understand their strengths, their needs, and how they can better work together in their chosen professions.  Most importantly, knowing their needs helped them create their own plans for a self-care practice.

Creative souls

Bambi, one of the co-facilitators of THRiVE and Assistant Director for Community Relations, said the experience for her brought her to deeper appreciation of the arts as a vehicle of self-discovery and healing. Kathy, our Managing Director and a participant of the program, described it as life-changing.  Working behind the scenes, I was moved by the creative fluidity in the program’s facilitation: it was alive, responding to emergent needs of the participants.

Whichever side of experience, we all witnessed people heal, learn, and thrive through the arts. Visual art was a self-made, embodied mirror that someone may have been introduced to for the first time. “I didn’t even know I could do this,” one participant said in surprise. The a-ha moments were resounding by the end of the program. Movement and music gave life new rhythm, whether shared or individual.  Even the thoughtful selection of symbols was a creative experience in itself, giving new meaning to everyday objects around us.

We are deeply grateful for the vibrant participation of the inspiring educators of both The Learning Child School and Cartwheel Foundation, Inc.‘s partner Indigenous communities. We have learned as much, if not more, from each of you.

We also thank our friends at Cartwheel who co-facilitated this program with us.


Were you part of this program? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!

To learn more about THRiVE, or to express interest in organizing it for a group, contact us.

On feeling uninspired, and 3 ways to think with your senses

Some of you may have been directed here from our April 2018 newsletter. There was an error in the newsletter’s linking, so if you are looking for Art and Play for Resilience, click here.


Some of you may already know how important it is to look inward, read into you, and discover something new about your story. This is, however, easier said than done.  According to Art Therapist and and Professor Shaun McNiff, the distress of feeling ‘stuck’ partly comes from having experienced satisfaction in “feelings of potential expression”. In other words, the height of inspiration is what can make the silence of non-expression most demotivating.

Though in context McNiff was speaking about artists and creative block, this feeling is universal and not at all restricted to artists.  Ringing true beside the fact that creativity is innate in everyone, you don’t have to be an artist to feel uninspired, longing for a ‘creative streak’, or wanting to feel like you’re ‘on a roll’.  Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it flow: a “deep sense of enjoyment that is long cherished and that becomes a landmark in memory for what life should be like.” Flow is the sense of control, clarity, peace, and ease. Who wouldn’t make that the benchmark for their life’s moments?

This feeling comes and goes, and going through an uninspired period is difficult, no matter how you use creativity in daily life: as an artist, for leading a team, for solving day-to-day problems.

The silence and stillness of this period can be deafening, but McNiff invites us to try a kinder and more accepting disposition toward being stuck:

The most reliable way to deal with stuck or inactive conditions is to accept them, understanding they are universal features of the creative process and not something belonging to me alone. Acceptance of what is happening in the moment sets the stage for creative expression to regenerate itself.

Most days, we probably have to learn and re-learn how to accept our limitations and the rhythm of flow, but we have to seek out the openness. Acceptance is an undetected strength that is often overpowered by the noise of disappointment, busyness, and simply trying too hard. It is our pursuit of acceptance that leads us to the strength of openness to our reality. It doesn’t matter how small the moments may be – there is always the deep well of possibility, and the next a-ha moment.

Here are a few things to help anyone through the process of being in-between flows of expression, and of accepting the fullness of the present moment even when it feels dead quiet.  Remember to approach these activities with appreciation of process; not at all outcome.

Learn for the first time.

British Artist Leon Kossoff considers his entire career in art as “learning how to draw“. Perhaps, the more knowledgeable you are at something, the more important this is to practise. If you’re stuck, it may mean you need to warm up to a small degree of unlearning what you already know, to reach new and deeper understanding. This isn’t so much about the senses yet, but more a way of being, and a humbling and inspiring way to start the day. Kossoff would wake up in the morning and say, today I might learn how to draw.

Awaken the senses.

“In the creative process we do not just make things: we make ourselves,” McNiff says.  Have you ever said something along the lines of, “I’ve put all that I am into that”?  When we are creative, we are what we do. A simple way to acknowledge this connection is to engage yourself artfully. Artfully, because the explicitly creative act of expression is what opens up your mind and allows your whole body to feel. Awaken the senses, because your senses connect your thinking mind to your experiential, physical self that navigates your physical environment.

For the eyes: draw by looking
I often struggle with drawing because of the tendency to judge and analyze how well I can copy what I’m seeing. While there is value and often jaw-dropping skill in being able to draw accurately to life, there’s also value in the fluidity of instantaneously making marks according to what you see. This helps tone down the analytical mind that can sometimes hinder creative expression. So: put pencil to paper and draw something right in front of you, without taking your eyes off what you’re drawing. Let your seeing mind alone inform your drawing hand.

For the ears: draw what you hear
Blindfold yourself (or close your eyes) and draw what your ears hear. This exercises spatial awareness and can bring in a new way of taking in your surroundings. Here, your hearing mind informs your drawing hand and you might find you’ll still know where things are, how big they are or whether they are fragile or robust. To maximise this little experience, go somewhere outside where there are natural sounds, or to a bustling place.

For the hand: draw what you touch
Have a friend choose objects with differing textures and place them in opaque bags. Chances are, you’re going to know what’s inside – you don’t have to see a book to know you’re holding one. However, in this exercise, challenge yourself to draw what it feels like, not what you know it is. With your non-dominant hand in the bag, feel your way through drawing whatever you can’t see. How do you draw or make marks that will show something is rough or smooth? When I tried this for the first time, I spent fifteen minutes feeling my way through drawing a leaf.

Write a river.

Write whatever comes to mind. Set a timer of around 10 minutes, catch the first thought and go from there. This will exercise your sense of presence and the need to keep writing will eventually ask your brain to pull out all the stops and start asking other parts of yourself what stories they can tell. What did your hands touch? What are you hearing? How does it feel to sit on a chair? Some people prefer doing this with pen and paper, and that’s always an enriched tactile experience. However, you may also choose to type – there are others who prefer typing because to type is to be quicker in recording fleeting thoughts. 10 minutes not enough? Add another 10!

Whatever you decide to do, it’s helpful to reflect on it afterward. Does it tell you something about your feeling of being stuck? Does it tell you what you’re inspired by at the moment?  We’d love to hear from you if you’ve tried these activities, or what you did if you’ve come up with your own.


Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper & Row, 1990. Print.

McNiff, Shaun. Imagination in Action: Secrets for Unleashing Creative Expression. Boston: Shambhala, 2015. Print.