The art therapy group at a local college hosted a workshop on how to teach patients in psychiatric institutions to use art to create a space in which they feel safe. Because many patients have been abused, it is difficult for them to feel secure in their own bodies and the space which they inhabit. When this freedom has been taken away, patients must learn to get it back.
That is hard when we are used to our bodies not being our own and being used for another person’s pleasure. That is why to create sacred space is to learn how to navigate the obstacles and circumvent the barriers that keep us from connecting with ourselves so we can once again feel safe and not controlled our invaded.
The speaker opened by saying, “We are all born innocent and pure but for those who are abused we continue to act out our abuse until we forgive ourselves. We are not to blame. We did not elicit this abuse. We are more than our abuse that stripped us of independence and self worth.”
As someone who has been abused, has spent time in rehab and used art as a mechanism to cope, this workshop appealed to me. It reminded me of my own journey and how I had used art to help me feel safe again.
It was during the several months I spent in rehab that I first learned how to create shadows in my artwork. Because I could not trust the advice another student could offer or listen to lessons a professor taught, the only way I truly learned how to create light in my work was when I was left with no choice but to fully experience it. When I studied art in school, I had struggled with shadows, it frustrated me. I had given up on them. Tossed any notion away that I could ever create them in my work.
But when I was forced to sit in solitude for hours in a room with nothing but four white walls and a mattress on the floor, I truly learned how to be an artist. As I sat there alone in silence, my mind screamed for distraction, any form of stimulation to free me from this monotony. Even though it was quiet my mind raged with worry and my thoughts filled with fear. At the time, I could not leave and I did not know when I would be able to see beyond these four walls again.
But with little to notice other than the way the light flooded in the room, cast shadows on the floor and reflected on the window pane, I was fully immersed in the principles of shadow and light. So I examined them, watched their patterns, their shapes, their simplicity and their beauty.
At first it seemed ironic to be isolated from the world to learn how to express oneself, but after a few days I began to understand the logic. Surrounded by these four white walls, I was forced to do something I had not done in a long time: connect with my body. With no other way to distract myself than by using my senses, I had no other choice than to feel what it was like to inhabit this space that is my body.
After I got over my initial fright and I had resigned myself to the fact that I had to exist in this small room, I began to think. And by think, I don’t mean ruminating like I did the first days, I mean I had a dialogue with the sounds I heard, with the differences in light and temperature I sensed during the day. For my awareness became so heightened that there was no other stimuli to distract me other than these subtle vagaries.
With art, you do not need materials, you do not need a special space, when there is a willingness to create there is art. Learning to feel movement, feel sensations in our body, really move in our bodies it’s so emotional so compelling—touch things, feel paper, feel its texture, its consistency, to move not only in our minds but with our bodies. We have this spirit to create what we feel inside. For when we make something, when we have a vision it is our own choice, it is about honoring ourselves and trusting that it is okay to accept and express how we react to the environment that surrounds us.
Author: Jane CoCo Cowles
Editor: Travis May
Main Image: Author’s Own. Featured Image: Flickr/Clix Renfew