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.

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.

Your Book of Life: considering imagination and the personal narrative

What’s your story?

You might feel the weight of such a casual yet dauntingly rhetorical question. Or maybe, in the age of social media, you’ve learned the shorthand: either something short and poetic, or a neat string of definitive one-worded sentences: Root fact. Current Fact. Aspiration/Raison d’être. Mostly, though, maybe the real feeling is: where do I start?

The first thing to realize: the reason why it may feel daunting is that it is important.

As we interact with the world, we experience change and our minds intuitively navigate it. Paolo Knill explains it as rituals of change:

Individuals’ or communities’ situations of change usually have ritual containers within which they are framed in space and time.

The idea of rituals of change nods to how human experience is interpreted as narrative: we sense life in chapters, milestones, eras. Sometimes this encompasses chronological sense, but narrative is beyond chronology when change is considered in a way that we look at how it impacts us as people. We are not just dots on a timeline going from A to B. We are people living lives. We have stories. We are stories.

Stories shaping our thoughts and our lives

In 1988, psychologist Jerome Bruner wrote of a curious study about personal narratives. Bruner was interested in how people told stories and how language impacted their meaning and thought process. In a fascinating case of listening to the stories of a family, Bruner proposes a hypothesis that language does not only express, but can, out of habit – or ritual, to connect to Knill – begin to structure experience itself:

I believe that the ways of telling and the ways of conceptualizing that go with them become so habitual that they finally become recipes for structuring experience itself, for laying down routes into memory, for not only guiding the life narrative up to the present but directing it into the future.

In this light it feels sound to say that we need to be keepers of our story as if our lives depend on it – because it does. What we say about ourselves and our lives will eventually begin to shape us and our lives.  However, this is not only a matter of constantly taking note of and reflecting on what happens in our lives (though this is vital).

Stuck in suspension in front of a brick wall

To go through change means to move away from life as we know it: “entering devotional space for a period of time”. Thinking about change or transition as space is interesting in this way. To illustrate: perhaps you’ve felt suspended. Unmoving. Stuck. At a dead end. If you’re a writer, no matter how many pages you’ve rewritten, everything feels like the exaggerated combination of metaphors in the subheading of this portion of the blog.

Sometimes, we will walk into, run into change that we don’t have a ritual for, that we don’t have previous reference of. We’ll walk into a part of the story we have never read or seen, felt or told. Knill identifies times like this–or rather, spaces like this–often caused by disruption, loss, or conflict. The more grave the disruption to life as you know it, the more important it is to respond mindfully, lest our story begin to become a fuzzy picture, break down, or even be locked away and forgotten.

Drawing from imagination

When we are pushed to our limits and are unable to move forward to navigate through change, it can be described as a ‘lack of play range’ (Knill, 2005). Play in this context refers to an active process of interaction led by imagination, openness and even joy, with a sense of curiosity and discovery.  If you’re associating play with children right now, you’re on the right track.  The way we played as children – it helps to still know how to do it and to be in that disposition when we are older. Children navigate change intuitively and with this pure sense of openness, and this is essential in gaining fresh perspective to challenges as adults.

If we are in a situation challenges our sense of openness, the solution is to open us up. This is where expressive arts therapists begin their work: increasing the ‘play range’. Childlike but not childish, engaging in a sense of play as adults means to connect to our innate wellspring of imagination. Through imagination we create a nuanced narrative, an ‘alternative world experience’ (Knill, 2005) that helps inform us of our realities and our potential to move through it and even grow from it. It we listen to it, our lives will tell us what to do next.

Knill (2005) quotes Dutch writer Harry Mulisch (1999) to explain the connection between imagination and story:

… the storyteller is telling the story; he is also not the essential story teller. The story as such as the essential story teller. The story itself is telling the story; from the first sentence on, the story is a surprise for the story teller, and this is known to all story tellers.

Let’s not forget to be surprised, and remember just how much our life responds to us if we allow it. Look inward, read into you, and discover something new about your story.

Bruner, Jerome. “Research Currents: Life as Narrative”. Language Arts 65.6 (1988): 574–583. Web. Retrieved from

Knill, Paolo J., Ellen G. Levine, and Stephen K. Levine. Principles and Practice of Expressive Arts Therapy: Toward a Therapeutic Aesthetics. London: Jessica Kingsley, 2005. Print.

Mulisch, H. Die Prozedur. Munchen: Hanser, 1999. Print.

For more information on expressive arts therapy, or to express interest in taking an introductory course on the Expressive Arts, email us. We’d love to hear from you. 

Art for empathy

When was the last time you stepped into an art gallery? Or marvelled at the drawing of a 2-year-old? Or drew or made something yourself, and didn’t have dismissive thoughts for lack of artistic aptitude?

If you can’t remember the last time you appreciated art, or can’t remember the last time you were proud of something you drew — I invite you now, today, to pause and embark on a little project.

The House Project

You’ll need: paper/notebook; writing instrument of your choice

  1. Draw a house on a piece of paper or in a notebook. (No need to think too much about it – let it come naturally.)
  2. Approach someone nearby, and ask them to draw a another house. If you have a notebook, it may be fun to ask them to draw it on whichever page they like.
  3. Ask them to sign their creation.
  4. Approach another person and ask them to do the same.
  5. Keep going until you are content with your collection of houses.

There is a likelihood that even if those houses are ‘just’ a triangle-square combo with hatched circles for a bay window, you’ll still appreciate it. Especially if there are a whole book of them. But what I am excited to tell you about this little project is that even the most basic assembly of shapes is a very honest piece of expression.

Drawing a house is one of the earliest creative activities most of us make as young children. I see it often in pre-school: motifs of home emergent when children are given free rein to make or draw whatever they want. The significance of this in The House Project — particularly if you’re a little older than the days of the triangle-square combo — is that it brings you to be aware of yourself right now, and of yourself however many years ago.

Subsequently, the second part of The House Project allow you to bring that awareness in your connection with others. What kind of conversations surfaced during the process? Did you learn anything new about the people you approached; did they feel more familiar afterwards? Did anyone tell you a story of how they used to draw the exact same way when they were 4 years old?

This is art appreciation: to be aware of how you are and how you do things, and to bring that awareness into knowing how others are and how they do things. It is to notice both the sameness and the differentness, and to exist peacefully in the bridges between. This is also empathy.

This year, the first Perth International Arts Festival (PIAF) find empathy as its running theme. “I think it says something about the world right now that empathy is an idea that artists feel there’s an urgency to explore,” said Wendy Martin, the Artistic Director of PIAF. One of the projects featured at this Festival is Empathy Museum’s A Mile in My Shoes: where you are invited to walk a mile while listening to someone’s life story.

Art can cultivate empathy because it bridges differentness with artistic expression as a leveller. Yet: it goes beyond that, too. To create is generally to bring into this world an extension of oneself, and it is as independent as it is relational. In cultivating empathy through art, we can begin to transform society to see with new eyes and an open mind, and live with a bigger heart.

Gratitude: see with new eyes

It’s the third week into the new year. Perhaps you are utterly inspired, and on track with resolutions; perhaps to you it is just another day and week in a long line of days and weeks. Whatever your disposition toward the New Year, a good leveller we can never have too much of is gratitude.

The VIA Institute on Character, a non-profit organization devoted to advancing research in the science and practice of character, lists Gratitude as a strength of Transcendence: the ability to forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning.

To us, this is a thoughtful creative process as we constantly exercise our capacity to imagine, recreate, and see with new eyes.

Paolo Knill, one of the founders of the philosophy of the Expressive Arts, describes this well:

The creative act expands ones’ range of play in times of crisis and reminds the individual/group of his/her/their inherent capacity to shape the world.

As a strength, gratitude as a connection to life is uniquely powerful because it has the capacity to give perspective in difficult situations, and sustain the truly good and joyful moments we encounter in our lives. Bringing it back to the New Year: gratitude can keep us in balance between that overwhelming burst of inspiration, and the idleness of non-expectation caused by fear, resistance, and past experiences. It can open hidden doors for fresh perspective, and keep us grounded in the truth of yourself. Whether we’re struggling or soaring, you can be assured that with gratitude, you’ll keep yourself headed in the right direction.

Whether you have that list to help you live a better year, or you are taking it one day at a time to make better choices, to start with gratitude is a sure step forward. Below are some suggestions for starting your own Gratitude Journal.

Meaning in reason
Go through this pair of questions each day, repeating the cycle for as long as you would like:

  • What are you grateful for today?
  • Why are you grateful for it?

Notice the details
List down one person, one object, and one moment in your day that you are grateful for.

Appreciating the hard things

When faced with a bad day, reflect on it by listing/writing down what lessons you learned from it. Our trials are one of our greatest teachers.

  • What did you learn about yourself?
  • What did you learn / are you learning to do because of the bad experience?
  • Can you find a way to appreciate the experience? (This does not need to happen right now. If you can’t, imagine how it might in the future. This helps just as much, and is the first step in the right direction.)

We’d love to hear from you: what do you think? How do you keep gratitude growing in your life?