What exactly is the effect of creating art? Can painting, singing, dancing, making pottery or poetry really change or heal us? My research and experience has me absolutely convinced it does. In fact, from my perspective, creativity is the most healing tool we have available to claim a more empowered, healthy and fulfilling life.
More than simply “art,” I am addressing the act of creative self-expression; a vital, powerful and vibrant act, which is much more than painting a pretty picture or singing a song. Creativity is the opportunity to give expression to the soul and can support us in living an authentic, empowered and passionate lives. Creativity is the opportunity to communicate one’s true self and allow us to express our own awesome, wonderful, interesting and unique version of the Divine.
I often hear people claim they are not creative. It is my belief, as human beings, we are all aspects of the Creator, and therefore innately and naturally creative. Anyone who has walked into a kindergarten classroom has experienced the high vibrational energy of creativity. No four or five year old says “I’m not an artist.” That is a learned or acquired limiting belief. Picasso said it best: “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once you grow up.”
Even if one has lost that sense of being an artist, saying yes to creative endeavors, in any form, can be a powerful tool for introspection, revelation and deep healing. It can also be a way to communicate and connect with a much deeper part of ourselves. Creativity can help us to understand who we are, what we feel and why we are here.
Optimal health comes from the balance of body, mind and spirit. When the spirit is awake, it can dialogue with the body and mind. When the soul is listened to, honored and expressed, the body, mind and spirit are aligned and resonate congruently. When the spirit is not listened to, imbalance will inevitably occur. When we do not do not have genuinely meaningful activities to pursue, aliveness eventually turns to listlessness; one can easily become distracted or even addicted. When we are disconnected from our creativity we can become anxious, bored and/or uneasy. In order to reduce this anxiety many turn to food, alcohol, drugs, sex or other anxiety-reducing activities.
Art and creativity has its own kind of language and reaches us in ways words cannot. Bypassing the intellect, visual symbols, music, dance and other forms of creative expression can provide a sense of relief, joy, understanding, wonder, excitement and/or peace. Studies indicate that art has the powerful potential to heal. This is done by shifting ones thoughts, focus and attitude. Art can affect the autonomic nervous system, hormonal balance and create different brain wave patterns. This can instantly change a person’s attitude from fear to hope and their physiology from that of stress to relaxation.
Creativity is also a powerful way we can heal emotional trauma. When we acknowledge and give expression to our buried feelings, past hurts, anguish and pain, a great burden is lifted as we release the heavy, toxic build up of emotions or “energy in motion.” In Barbara Ganim’s book “Art and Healing”, she explains how creativity can be a powerful tool for emotional and physical healing: “Art is the voice or expression of this inner language. Expressing painful emotions through color, form, shape and image, releases their hold on the body and mind, clearing the path for healing.”
In order to clear out any unexpressed emotions one may transfer the imagistic expression of them onto paper, canvas or sculpture. Once this is done, not only does the artist detach from stress producing emotions, it can also support one in seeing things from a new perspective. Messages can serve as a guide to assist in the resolution of inner emotional conflict. It is then possible to transform negative images that represent painful uncomfortable emotions into positive constructive images that can activate the healing response from within.
Art is a powerful tool and gives us the capacity and ability to express not just buried emotions, but also complex and overwhelming ones. Many have found that making art, even years or decades after trauma has occurred, can initiate the process of recovery and reparation. Creativity can support us in taking charge of how we experience our emotional reactions and minimize the stress in our bodies, minds and lives.
Gene Cohen, director of the Center on Aging, Health and Humanities at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., found that art gave study participants a sense of accomplishment, boosted the immune system and decreased loneliness. Cohen was quoted as saying: “Art is like chocolate to the brain, it taps into both sides. It has benefited the soul of the species since the time of cavemen or before.”
The following are a few suggestions and exercises to support you in accessing your own states of inspired creativity:
Heart Collage: What you will need: Magazines, poster board and a glue stick. Go through the magazines quickly, and tear out the images, words and phrases that make your heart smile. Do not attempt to make choices from the intellect or the mind. You do not need to understand why certain pictures appeal to you and others do not. Just trust your joy and invite your heart to be your guide.
When you have 15-30 images gathered, cut them out neatly and intuitively arrange them on the poster board. Next glue all of your images, words and phrases on your poster board with your glue stick. When everything is on, place it about 5 – 10 feet away from you. Now take some time to look at your collage as a complete work of art. You may begin to see themes and patterns. You may have “aha’s,” epiphanies and revelations. You may realize things about yourself that you did not consciously know. Your collage can reveal to you what is important, your deep intentions, your passion, your joy and the authentic longing of your heart.
God Box: Get a shoe box, cigar box or a wooden box of any size. It can be hinged or have a lid, or a box with a slotted top. Just about any kind of box can work for this project. The next step is to paint it, cover it with construction paper using a glue stick, or fabric using a glue gun. Once your box is covered, decorate it with embellishments such as stickers, crystals, rhinestones, buttons, items from nature, pictures, images from magazines or any other items that have personal significance or bring you joy. Arrange your items on the box and glue them on.
After your box is complete, sit down with pen and paper in a quiet, relaxing place and write a letter to God. This can include anything you would like to say along with any requests. Some examples of requests may look like support with challenge, clarity about an issue in your life, your desire for improved health, a new relationship, a different home, world peace, greater prosperity, a new job, miracles, synchronicity, a car, grace and ease, assistance in losing weight. You may also make requests to cultivate qualities such as intuition, inspiration, motivation, compassion, kindness, peace, equanimity, forgiveness, healing, wholeness, or love. Claim what you want, big and/or small, and in as much detail as possible. When you are complete, place your letter in the God Box. Keep your God Box in a place where you will see it every day. Every time you want something, or want help with something, write it down on a small slip of paper, fold it up and put it in your God Box. Then forget about it. Relax in confidence that God has heard you, knows your desires and will respond in a positive, favorable and wonderful way. Not only is this creative project fun, it is a way to line up more fully with your spiritual nature, deepen your faith and bring about a sense of peace and well-being.
Art for Healing: For this project you need paint (acrylic or tempera works well) a piece of typing paper (or other simple white paper) and either a canvas, canvas board, poster board or a piece of heavy paper. You will also need makeup sponges, q-tips, paper towels, paper plates, and a cup of water. This process will help you answer questions and in the language of color.
As a warm up exercise, get your piece of typing paper and divide it into 4 sections.
Now consider what is the color and shape of anger? Using a q-tip or sponge, use one color to paint the answer in one of the sections.
Next, what is the color and shape of happiness? Again using a q-tip or sponge and the placing color and shape that comes forward for you on your paper.
Next consider the color of sadness. Paint it on your paper.
What is the color of love? Again, paint your answer on the paper.
After you get a feel for colors as answers to questions, and as a language for emotions, answer the following questions in the same way on the heavy paper or canvas using 2 or 3 colors to answer each question.
1. What is something you are unhappy about in your life?
2. Ask your heart what your soul is trying to learn from this situation?
3. What is something you could find to be grateful for in this situation?
4. What is something in your life that you are really happy or optimistic about?
5. What is something you like or love about yourself?
6. Ask your heart or Higher Self how you can move more in the direction of your happiness, your dreams or your life’s purpose?
7. Take some time to complete your painting covering the whole canvas or paper.
This exercise can be used with any set of questions and can be posed around the subject of money, love, forgiveness, healing, God, compassion, and more. You can also begin to translate songs, and music into color and shapes. Once you start to see color as a language it can be translated in any number of ways which can be very healing, fun, creative and revelatory.
Mandala: The word mandala comes from the ancient language of Sanskrit and means “sacred circle” or “container of essence.” They have been referred to as a spiritual path disguised as art, and a painted prayer. Carl Jung referred to the mandala as the archetype of wholeness and the ultimate healing tool. You can download mandala images from your computer to color or find mandala kits at your local book store. If you are ready to create your own mandala try this simple exercise. Take a few relaxing healing cleansing breaths. Once your mind has calmed down, ask your heart or Higher Self for the Healing Symbol for you now. Patiently allow it to come into focus in its way and its time. Once you have a sense of the colors, image, lines, angles give yourself permission to create it. This can be done on a simple piece of typing paper or newsprint with crayons. Or you may get heavier paper and use colored pencils, magic markers or pastels (or any combination of these materials). Perhaps you want to paint it with water colors, acrylics or oils. There is no one way, or right way, to create a mandala. Do not put pressure on yourself and allow the process to be simple and fun. If you enjoy it, it can evolve. The first ones I created were with crayon, then colored pencil, they evolved into small water color paintings and then large acrylic and mixed medium paintings. There is no wrong way to create a mandala, allow your inner wisdom and intuition to be your guide and have fun with the process!
If none of these simple exercises call to you, consider taking a creative class in your area. Some possibilities may look like painting, drawing, jewelry making, writing, poetry, welding, dancing, movement, music making, singing, computer classes, photo shop, photography, gardening, flower arranging, sculpting, pottery, acting, and more. Invite your heart to be your compass and joy to be your guide as you consider and explore what would be fun for you to do. The opportunities for cultivating creativity are endless and a way we can continue to unfold our inner being, go into the mystery of our Selves and know ourselves in deeper ways.
I am convinced no one’s life can feel satisfying or complete until they explore their inner gifts. Physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health is the natural byproduct of tapping into ones inner treasures and sharing them with the world. I have seen it happen repeatedly; when one discovers and claims their inner creative resources, it supports them not only in cultivating vibrant health, but also tapping into happiness, purpose, prosperity, joy and a deep sense of satisfaction.
Explore what brings you joy, open your heart to locating your bless and invite these qualities to be your compass and guiding light. May your journey be met with abundant blessings of grace, ease, healing, wholeness and inspired creativity.