Expressive Arts Therapy as a tool for prayer meditation by Kim Balke

by Christine Sine

This morning’s post comes from Kim Balke, an expressive arts therapist in British Columbia

Daffodil rooted in hand; My life an embodied prayer.

Daffodil rooted in hand; My life an embodied prayer.

I was looking at this drawing the other day and I asked myself, just where did this image come from? I invite you to do a little digging with me in my prayer garden using a few tools that I have on hand from my work as an expressive arts therapist.

It was during a record cold spell in Edmonton, Alberta, March 2011, that I found myself one evening with pencil in hand, doodling this image, eyes closed, using my non-dominant hand. I was staying at a friend’s home while taking a course on Art Therapy with Children and Adolescents through St. Stephen’s College, U. of Alberta. I had taken an hour bus ride back to their home and just walked through the driest and coldest weather I had experienced in my life. I live in sunny Tsawwassen, BC –er, uhm…sunnier than the city of Vancouver.…Well, actually it rains quite a lot here but at least it is mostly mild all year ‘round when compared to the rest of the country.

I walked through the squeaky snow totally covered from head to toe in winter clothing I had dug out from years living on the east coast of Canada. I was trying to take the last rays of sunset and deep blue sky into my watering eyes and nose, where the moisture was also turning to ice, mindful of the slippery roads under my feet as I contemplated my day. My day had been quite a journey through my studies and reflection on children/ adolescents who had suffered abuse and trauma and found expression for their suffering in expressive arts therapy. This blended with contemplation of my own childhood and adolescence as well as with my work during my EXAT practicum with children and trauma in an east side Vancouver elementary school, and pressing personal experiences of the past year:

all swirling around,

 eddies of snow forming mounds of cold,

over wintery wonders, muffled, covered up,

beckoning, subtle, stirring thoughts

 through sleepy frozen stillness and silence.

In the past year three women in my life died in the same month, and my own mother died (March 5th, 2009). The course took place just before the one year anniversary of her death. I had also faced major work transition and challenges as did my husband.

I usually start doodling/drawing in this way with an exercise to check in with myself, my body, to bring me into the here and now. A simple roll breathing relaxation exercise would be a good way to start, I thought, but shortly after starting, I found myself wanting to shiver, to shake, shake, shake, shake all that cold snowy heaviness away; to shake it off like a dog after a bath; like a hunted animal shakes off after escaping the hunter. So I stayed with this feeling in my body until I found myself all warm and waiting…beloved. The doodle drawing emerged, I added a bit of oil pastel colour; beheld the image and did some dialogue with the daffodil in hand; then moved my body in ways that were an enactment of what I saw before me. I felt truly that I was this daffodil emerging from the coldest of ground, responding to the warmth of my Maker’s love holding me, calling, beckoning hesitant new beginnings out of the wintry places of my life; gratitude and wonder rooting me into the Loving Hand who is forming me, sustaining me. I was mindful of the words, Behold, I have engraved you on the palm of my hand (?)

So, what were the tools I had in my EXAT basket that day?

  • Check in: I began with a relaxation exercise like roll breathing that brings to my awareness how I am feeling, from sensations of delight to discomfort, connecting body, breath and heart in the here and now. I found an excellent example recently of a check in breathing exercise in the newsletter of by Christine Valters Painter, who is an expressive arts therapist and writer. In my breathing exercises, I acknowledge my Maker as the giver of life and breath; as the One in whom I live and move and have my being; the Lover of my Soul.
  • Awareness and attending: as I became aware of what I was feeling in my body, I followed through with some simple movement that gave expression to what I sensed. For me it was shake like a dog. By the way, this is a natural, healthy response to trauma and a great way to follow through on letting go of challenging events in one’s life.
  • Openness to the moment: I had pencils, paper and oil pastels on hand for further expression. I chose to doodle with my non-dominant hand because I find this activity invites openness and engages right brain contemplation. I trusted in the creative process (and the Creator of that process) to take me where I needed to go.
  • Dialogue with the image: as the daffodil in hand emerged, I asked the image who are you, what do you need, want, wish, where do you want to go?
  • Move it further: an invitation to take what I had drawn back into my body through movement as prayer.
  • Reflection: I journaled whatever it was that came to mind and heart. As you can see, I wrote about how I perceived that I was emerging into this world as an embodied prayer, beloved beginner emerging from under a wintry world of late spring.

I hope you have been able to glean a few tools for your own prayer meditations- the expressive arts way.

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