I've come to where I am in my life by a long and circuitous route. I've tried many and varied paths, reached and navigated crossroads, backtracked, detoured, got waylaid [not to mention the odd ambush] and been lost, more times than I care to remember. Doing the Camino de Santiago in Spain finally enabled me to find a life path - Art Therapy - that I could imagine pursuing from now until the day I drop off the twig [so to speak].
I undertook this pilgrimage in 2006, walking approximately six hundred kilometres across the top of Spain. It was a journey which affected me profoundly, in ways and on levels which I had not anticipated. Being close to the earth every day for seven weeks gave me a renewed love and appreciation of this most beautiful planet we call home and of my own place on it.
Walking the Camino also showed me the difference between my normal way of seeing the world with all the endless mental chatter and how I started to perceive the world around me after some time of walking, walking, walking, one foot after another, day after day. Establishing a rhythm closer to the earth's natural rhythm of day and night, the rising and the setting of the sun, feeling my body growing stronger, looser enabled my mind - eventually - to grow quiet and settle. Seeing the world in this way - grasses and wildflowers casting shadows, the pattern of light like a lace doily thrown on the path beside me and ahead of me, the soft-skinned texture of leaves, happy little Spanish sparrows hopping around the ubiquitous village fountains - through silence that ultimately became reverence and awe, is something I revisit as often as I can now that the Camino is long behind me.
It is a way of seeing the world that is enhanced by doing art, making art, taking photographs. It is, quite simply, mindfulness.
The greatest gift the Camino gave me was the time and space to think deeply, to look upon my life as a journey and to realise that at the core of any journey is the realisation of beginnings and endings. As I approached the end of the Camino, I slowed my steps, so that I could draw out each and every moment of what I had come to love so much - life lived slowly, in constant connection with the Earth, being in my body rather than constantly in my head.
I believe that it is a gift to realise our own mortality, that our own journey has a final destination and that we will, one day, die. I believe that this awareness gives us a deeper appreciation for the very existence of our own life, of the sheer good luck and blessedness of being alive. I also recognise that life, by its very nature, is sometimes difficult and that some lives are quite horrendous. Viewing these times as stages of our journey, steps along the way, rather than the whole journey, gives us a different perspective and different tools with which to deal with these moments. It's a kinder, more gentle way of looking at ourselves and our lives. Using art at these times can give us a picture, an image, to mark where we're at and to also realise in a concrete, visual form that 'this, too shall pass' - as it has in the past and as it will do so again in the future.
Material Anthropology is the study of the material culture - i.e. the things which are made - by a society. Viewing a culture through the lens of what it has produced, provides an entry point into its overall structure - what it needs and values, its social, spiritual, political, economic, environmental and historic framework.
In a world of diversity such as ours, cultural sensitivity in regard to mental health issues is essential. The religious and spiritual dimensions of culture are among the most important factors which structure human experience, beliefs, values, and behaviour, as well as illness patterns. To be ignorant of an individual's spiritual beliefs is to be missing a very large piece of the puzzle of their humanity.
In my Transpersonal Art Therapy practice, I use my graduate studies in Material Anthropology to provide additional ways of seeing and understanding a client's artwork.
An object has links to both the maker, artist or artisan and to the culture as a whole. It can be viewed as a visual and tangible representation of connections and connectedness, of meaning - as can a drawing or artwork made by a client in an art therapy session.
Being able - via amplification, careful listening and unconditional positive regard - to draw out the multitude of meanings of a client's artwork, can provide levels and depths of understanding of which the client was previously unaware. Using the artwork as a link or a stepping stone to both their internal and external worlds can enable a client to see patterns and make connections which have previously been invisible, thus enabling more conscious choices and wiser decision-making.