Saturday, November 30, 2013

Feed Your Inspiration

"Feed Your Inspiration"collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
Here we have 4-7 of 1,0000 ways to have a happy life.  Serious fun for those whose top strengths are in the realm or curiosity and love of learning.  These are all snagged from LifeHack where you will find lots more fun stuff!

4. This link is for Open Course Ware from MIT.  How awesome is this, take a class because you are interested!  Massachusetts Institute of Technology is giving out information for tons of courses online through Open Course Ware. Join hundreds of millions of people who have taken advantage of these courses.

5.  Information is Beautiful is a website full of ideas.  It presents them in a fascinating and visibly beautiful way.  For example check out the visuals for "what is consciousness" which presents a variety of ways of thinking about consciousness that are understandable and very interesting.

6.  Have you ever wanted to read the classics and books that are out of print?  Download them onto your reader or computer!  So easy at Project  (For example, Guntenberg has Edith Kramer's favorite children's book, The Wonderful Adventures of Nils by Selma Lagerlöf.  This is the book that she used in her work with the boys of Wiltwyck School, telling the adventures while the children painted.) 

7.  And finally here's a who would have thought it link to the CIA.  They provides information on the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for 267 world entities.  I cannot attest to the biases you may find within this hallowed site, though.

Fun right?  Stay tuned for more ways to have a happy life.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Creating Inner Satisfaction

"Explore Life" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
'Tis the season now of unbridled, crazy materialism.  I think I'll be devoting the next few blog posts to 1,0000 ways to have a happy life with out spending a whole packet of money and without listening to the advertisers who are appealing to the primitive mammalian part of my brain (see previous post). 

So here we go, an adventure in Inner Satisfaction!
Three of Christine Carter's favorite Gratitude Practices:
1.  During a holiday family dinner, create place cards to which everyone can contribute some love,  appreciation, and or art.
2.  Several times a week take your camera or smart phone for a walk and find and document things of beauty and inspiration, things that make you happy to look at!
3.  If you have kids, at the end of the day go over 3 good things that have happened or that they are just happy about.  Good brain chemistry here, and sharing is definitely value added!  If you live alone, this would be a good evening journaling exercise.

I think this is going to be the beginning of an awesome adventure.  3 down and 997 to go! 

Feel free to leave more ideas in the comments!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Why Inner Satisfaction is so Awesome.

"You are Flow" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.

I was listening to Rick Hanson interview Paul Gilbert in the En*theos's Loving Brain series.  What a delight.  And I feel like I'm starting to grasp a little bit of this neuropsychology material at least enough to help me understand the whole shift of mind/elephant training towards inner satisfaction and intrinsic rewards.  (What follows will be a VERY rough artist-understanding-science kind of description, so bear with me!)

Here's what I "got" from this interview.  If we look at our brains evolutionarily, we see that our brains have evolved from the simple brain-stem type brain of the reptile, to the complex 3lbs., 1.1 trillion brain cells, 100 billion "gray matter" neurons, of the human brain.

As Hanson describes it, we have the primitive lizard part of the brain which is in charge of avoiding "sticks" and danger, the mouse part of the brain (primitive mammalian brain) which approaches "carrots" and opportunities (it's this part of the brain that is sent into overdrive this time of year by advertising, but more on that in a minute), and the "monkey" part of the brain (complex primate brain) which is in charge of attaching and bonding.

What I was "getting" from the interview with Paul Gilbert, is that we are trained by our culture to be driven, to use the "approaching" system of the primitive mammalian part of our brain, to achieve the things that the most complex part of our brain is hoping for, a feeling of attachment and bonding with our tribe, family, and or partner.  The culture teaches us (very persuasively and compellingly) that we can be loved and appreciated if only we had just a little more of this or that, usually material stuff but it can also apply to non-material achievements.  So we are trying endlessly to meet those complex needs with more primitive part of the brain, and not surprisingly, we never quite get those needs met.

And here's the cool thing about inner satisfaction or intrinsic rewards, these are the feelings and rewards that actually help the complex part of the brain feel the attachment and bonding that is already here, all around us.  It's all well within our reach and doesn't require a second mortgage or anything illegal.  Gilbert and Hanson suggest the best way to awaken ourselves to this happy state of inner satisfaction is by: developing our self-compassion, "getting on our own side", "mindful self-awareness", mindfulness of the world or "seeing the world clearly", "taking life less personally", and of course taking in the good. 

So how does this work in a daily art practice?  For one thing we can use art to express and explore any or all of these ideas, most importantly when we are working on a piece that is actually making us feel good, that is firing up good brain chemistry, then we are actually "taking in the good" for a bit longer than Hanson suggests is optimal (10-20-30 seconds) for absorbing the good feelings.  Of course we may get so involved in flow that we forget to actually feel the process.  No worries with that.  In my experience, it's relatively easy to sit with a piece for the requisite few seconds and enjoy it before moving into the rest of the day.  It's those few seconds of sitting with the good feelings that provide us with inner satisfaction.  It really can change our neural circuitry, our enjoyment of life, our feelings of connections with others, and of course it can change our lives.

Monday, November 18, 2013

On Creating a Bully-free Environment

"Create Story" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
I've been wondering about the roots of bullying and how to create workshops to support a Bully-Free Environment.  I looked at the old and some not-so-old Jane Elliott "Blue-Eyed Brown-Eyed" videos on YouTube to refresh my memory of being bullied, and what bullying is actually doing, sociologically speaking.

As a missionary kid in Taiwan, I attended a school for US Military dependents where there was no bullying.  Jonathan M. Wainwright DOD School seemed to have no issues about race, income, gender or even artists and class clowns. There was no jockeying for power there, either.  The lines were very clear.  You were either an officer's kid at the top of the heap, an enlisted man's kid at the middle or bottom, or a civilian kid who was more or less exempt from the heap experience altogether.  And my observation was there was no real discomfort for children in the heap or out of the heap.

So I had no idea what was waiting for me in the States when my parents left Taiwan for their furlough.  I found myself in a junior high school in a fairly upper middle class suburb of Chicago, and suddenly WOW!  There were so many amazing, somewhat silly cultural rules and regulations that I had no clue about.  There was no handbook for newcomers, so it was a matter of being corrected by the school's dominant-culture-police, i.e. the bullies.  Not a pleasant experience, I can tell you.

Reviewing the "Blue-Eyed Brown-Eyed" videos put it all in perspective.  What we had was a dominant culture concerned about maintaining its power.  To maintain this power the school population was divided between 'us' and 'them' or 'cool' and 'uncool'.  In some sense the boundaries were thought to be a little flexible, in that if you could learn to dress, speak, and act like 'us' the implication was you might be allowed to join the 'cool' group.  This dangling of a hope to join the 'cool' group was a truly powerful tyranny of peer pressure.  So of course obedience was absolute, unless you were unable to follow the rules, for whatever reason.  In that case you were pretty well doomed, treated like a Jane Elliott 'Blue-Eyed' workshop participant, and not just for the day.

Needless to say, after retuning to my beloved DOD school in Taiwan and my beloved roll as happy class nonconformist and artist, I became very interested in cultural rules and regulations, but found their arbitrary and capricious nature a bit too confining to take seriously ever again.  I found joy in creative expression and in making people laugh.  I felt better, happier, stronger when I was using my gifts or talents, so being a curious human the natural path for me was one that combine psychology and the creative processes. 

After pursuing this path for many years it seems to me that if we want our culture to be strong and able to solve its woes (and there are plenty of woes) then we need everybody within the culture to feel strong and able to participate fully.  In fact we might do a little better with more freedoms of expression and more inner satisfaction, rather that the dominant cultural group dictating to the rest of the culture how to live, be, dress, talk, and find satisfaction and joy.  That feels like bullying.

That's why I think workshops that help bring people together to celebrate their resilience, strengths, and awesomeness might be useful in schools. If you gave teachers some fun narrative building skills they could recreate their own awesomeness workshops in the classroom and have as many varied and amazing narratives as there are children in the classroom!  What could a teacher do with a room full of resilience narratives?  What could a school do if it were full of students who had learned about their own awesomeness?

There are some interesting clips on Jane Elliott's work in the below YouTube video on Tyranny and in the comments section I will add links for more videos from the UK, US, Australia, and Canada.  It's worth the effort to understand how bullying works and why we use it, if we want to think about creating bully-free environments.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Expressive Therapies Summit 2013 End Notes

"Paper Puppets" collage by Lani and textures from FlyPaper

Just back from another fantastic experience at the Expressive Therapies Summit! This year I collaborated with Gioia Chilton, Rebecca Wilkinson and Dan  Tomasulo on a two day Positive Psychology, Art, and Drama workshop.  During the first day Dan raised some interesting ideas, about projection of both the shadow and the light, attributing his thoughts to Jung.  You can read about the exercise he had us think about here and you can read some further discussion between Gioia, Rebecca, and myself over on the 14 Secrets Blog.

The next day I had the great pleasure of presenting a full day Puppet-making, Narrative-building, World-of-Possibility workshop with Gioia, Rebecca, and we were joined by actress/drama therapist Le Clanché du Rand.  Ché led us in some wonderful drama warm ups, I did a slide presentation, and then we got down to Puppet-making business.

Once again I was amazed by the lift in energy, the delightful differences in the puppets, and the clear examples of inner satisfaction which were apparent all over the room.  I don't know why I continue to be amazed, but perhaps it's because the process continues to be fresh and even fun, and just as the puppets are always so delightfully different from each other, so too the workshops are always a unique experience.

So my end notes need to include some thought about why the energy and delight are so apparent. Since this level of energy and delight occurred in depressing mental health centers, in working with cancer patients, in depressed post-hurricane, post-oil-spill communities, I have to think it's not particular to this wonderful group of participants, although they were truly wonderful, but I have to think there is something energizing in allowing and even encouraging ourselves to express our differences within the workshop setting.  In fact it seems that within this puppet-making experience, the more differences the better.  (Sort of the opposite of life as usual, perhaps?)  And of course the fact that all puppets have a special gift or ability which we need to discover, is a very encouraging idea.  And then the group resilience narrative being built with all of these strengths was a totally playful, inclusive, delight to watch!

Mulling over the application of this World of Possibility workshop (because I've tried it in a variety of settings with great success, I am always looking for new applications), I would think it is an excellent format for schools concerned with bullying.  My memory of junior high school bullying was that children that didn't quite fit the mold, or children unwilling to pretend to fit the mold (since who of us was created from a mold?) were bullied.  The children who did the bullying were the ones who were a bit insecure in their own self worth, and needed to be feared to feel powerful.  Now wouldn't it be a terrific experience to get children working on resilience narratives from both ends of the bullying experience and actually celebrating their differences, their creativity, and their awesomeness?

From this ExTxSummit experience, I also came to the conclusion that this is my new/current job description: to help people learn about their own awesomeness, and to encourage it to grow and flourish!   I got a big taste for it, that's for sure!

Friday, November 01, 2013

Illinois Art Therapy Conference End Notes

"Re-kindling" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
Back from a stimulating, inspiring and re-kindling conference in Chicago.  Some interesting questions, points, ideas emerged which could use some further exploration.  If you missed the Keynote for the Illinois Art Therapy Conference, it is viewable and downloadable here.  And there are two articles from the American Art Therapy Journal here as well.  (They are about  subversive art therapists and culture, making changes from the inside out, nearly required reading for understanding what follows.)

The first question that emerged was during the pre-conference workshop.  We were looking at environmental/sociological reasons for "anomic" depression and "compassion" or empathy fatigue. 

Anomic Depression occurs when 1) our traditional cultural structure disappears, or 2) our group experiences deprivation while seeing others’ abundance; and 3) when there is confusion of socio-cultural identity.                                                 -Wolfgang G. Jilek, MD 

“Compassion Fatigue” or “Empathy Fatigue” occurs when 1)we are in a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion, or 2)we have a lessening of our ability to cope with our environment, or 3) we have high levels of stress in our daily lives.
Maslach, C.(1982) Burnout: The cost of caring. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall

The good news is we can counter these factors ourselves.  We have the tools within us.  Here is a list of strategies that can help us become more resilient.

Resilience and Well-being Strategies
1) We can connect, we can take care of our relationships
2) We can take charge of something in our lives, even if it's the smallest thing, it will help
3) We can pay attention to our goals and wishes, we can honor them
4) We can look for good things (this can help counter the negative neurological effects of our hard wiring that looks for what is wrong)
5) We can believe in ourselves
6) We can take time for insight
7)  We can be generous
8)  We can make time for creativity
9) We can practice our sense of humor
10) We can develop our moral compass
11) We can take care of ourselves
12) We can keep a journal (art journal)
13) We can take time for meditation or a spiritual practice
14) We can study resilience and well-being

This short list is from:
Figley, C.R. (2005). Combat stress injury: Theory, research, and management.  Brunner/Routledge
Five Ways to Well-Being.  The New Economics Foundation
Lyubomirsky, S. (2010). The how of happiness: A practical approach to getting the life you want.  London: Piatkus
Road to Resilience, American Psychological Association. 

Much of my work with puppets has been to counter either anomic depression, empathy fatigue, or loss of resilience, and well-being.  I first started thinking about the idea of what a puppet-making art therapist could do to be "on the side of angels" as Edith Kramer called anyone who fought for social justice, while working in a large mental health facility in NYC.  It was an extremely stressful, draining job for staff, administrators, and of course for the patients themselves.  Everyone was suffering from some sort of burnout or depression.  At one point the patients started to speak up for themselves, to fight for what they wanted or needed.  They were becoming quite healthy in many ways.   I noticed the administration was not so happy.  They wanted compliant patients, but the sort of compliance they wanted was not really compatible with learning to be an independent functioning member of society. 

Now I do workshops that focus on strengths and resilience on a personal as well as community level. This is compatible with my views of mental health.  I try to emphasize the intrinsic rewards built into utilizing our inner strengths, because I believe there is nothing that promotes freedom, independence,  and a sense of self worth better than the realization that we have the power to create our own inner satisfaction and intrinsic rewards.

One of the questions that emerged at the end of my keynote was about the style of art therapy that doesn't necessarily see the necessity of making the unconscious conscious.  I had never given it too much thought since I was a student of Edith Kramer and for many of us art making was pretty much the goal in itself.  It was what built resilience, flow, positive feedback loops.  It was a way to communicate more directly, metaphorically, and gently.  But giving it some thought, I might suggest folks look at the work of Milton Erickson and those that followed him, like Joyce Mills and Richard J. Crowley.  They have so much to offer with regard to metaphor. The whole idea that so much of what we offer might be therapeutic without actually making the unconscious conscious is a huge topic for further discussion.

Which brings me to the final panel discussion on social justice.  This was a fabulously thought provoking session!   And of course if we think about it, we can all promote social justice in so many ways, where ever we are and in what ever life situation we find ourselves. Social injustice is so varied, so pervasive, surely there isn't just one answer to the issues.  I believe we all have many answers and we all need to find ways to put these answers into play in the world.

One of the most powerful ideas for me was Savneet Talwar's group of immigrant women using their textile abilities to form a positive, egalitarian, empowering group experience which you can read about here

Once again I am wondering about the nature of self-empowerment.  Could it be that the current power structure  of most institutions is basically a top down kind of thing, a 1% dictating to the 99%? And it seems so easy to fall into that pattern, just push to get the right people into the 1% spot.  But wouldn't that be the same structure just different faces wearing the pearls?

But what if we used a whole different model, something more egalitarian like Savneet's "Creatively Empowering Women" group, in our institutions, wouldn't that actually change the power structure, and allow for greater creativity and growth, more solutions and inspiration?

In my observation part of the trick of colonialism is that we get all entranced with the 1% and all we think they have, so much so that we may actually overlook our own strengths.  But I'm really thinking we need more groups like Savneet's "Creativity Empowering Women" circle and we surely need to be free from our own inner colonizers.

One last item from this panel that I found most helpful was Lynn Kapitan's reading of Nusbaum's list of human rights (thank you Lynn):

1. Life - Being able to live to the end of a human life of normal length...
2. Bodily health - Being able to have good health, including reproductive health...
3. Bodily integrity - Being able to move freely from place to place... secure against violent assault...
4. Senses, imagination, thought - Being able to use our senses; being able to imagine, to think, and to reason...
5. Emotions - Being able to have attachments to things and persons outside ourselves; being able to love those who love and care for us; being able to grieve at their absence, to experience longing, gratitude, and justified anger; not having one's emotional developing blighted by fear or anxiety...
6. Practical reason - Being able to form a conception of the good and to engage in critical reflection about the planning of one's own life...
7. Affiliation - Being able to live for and in relation to others...
8. Other species - Being able to live with concern for and in relation to animals, plants, and the world of nature...
9. Play - Being able to laugh, to play, to enjoy recreational activities.
10. Control over one's environment - (A) Political: being able to participate effectively in political choices that govern one's life...  (B) Material: being able to hold property (both land and movable goods); having the right to seek employment on an equal basis with others...

From Nussbaum, M. (1999). Capabilities, human right, and the universal declaration. In B. H. Weston & S. P. Marks (Eds.), The future of international human rights (pp. 44-46). New York, NY: Transnational.