by Angela Kirby, NewEarth University faculty, School of The Living Arts
Note: Art Therapy photos courtesy of the author, Angela Kirby
I can honestly say that art saved my life, but first I will talk a bit more generally about emotions, choices and lifestyle before I share a little of my story.
We all have our own journey to attend, and the pathway ahead in life is not always obvious, especially when wrapped up in emotions that can make no sense, that may even have become a way of life! Normalizing the difficult, often obsessive way of feeling and thinking has the potential to lead one down some very jagged roads. Those roads certainly have lessons to be learnt from, but then it’s knowing when the feelings are asking you to step away and make any necessary changes. That is in the listening, from within yourself!
Whether we experience going through minor or massive change and emotional upheaval, from what seems or appears to be from the very difficult and disruptive, we have choices. Our thinking as to how we segue from one situation to another, simply (or not so simply) we can decide how we handle that. While it may seem difficult thinking about it, it’s through doing the emotional work that helps the way we react to a given situation and the choices we make. We are now working with the unconscious realms – and if the situation is extreme – then our mind will disassociate to protect us.
I entered this life as a child to be adopted.
At 58 – this stage of my life in hindsight, I can see the greatness and value in that original situation. From the outside looking in it would certainly appear the ideal transition and all parties involved to be grateful, blessed and how lucky was I, very! There was no two ways about it: I was fortunate; and being bought up in the country where I had plenty of space to spread out, a generous family to be a part of and schooling all set up for me. I’m not sure when I began to say that I felt like I didn’t belong, I just had very uneasy feelings at some stage as a child, that even with love being liberally shared and all that went with that something didn’t feel good.
There are so many variables with issues that go with cohabitating with others as a family unit. And in my family the age difference between siblings and parents could be seen as vast. Along with behaviors, dominance, addictions, and then the death of my parents (the ones who had adopted me) when I was 18 my mother, and at 30 my father, began to eat away at the core of what keeps things stable. A conversation could go on forever about what can, could, should, must and will be done about this. It becomes a place where one must seek solitude, building momentum to take steps in gathering information, tools or simply being in silence to move through pain and suffering to then transform it.
I sought solitude by spending time walking around the paddocks of the property where I was bought up or sitting on the fence watching many full moons rise up into the evening sky. I found comfort being around the various animals that we had as a means of helping me with the feelings of not belonging. Watching the skies and being able to see great distance, that living on the land provided, filled my heart with grace as I was held gently feeling great sadness of which always left me perplexed.
I spent a lot of time in my room as a child, questioning myself wondering about such things as if I ‘pushed things’ much more with my family would I be returned to where I originally came from? I certainly wasn’t feeling secure even though I would say I was supported, I was finding life difficult and being difficult.
There was a part of me that was deeply angry and sad and the frustration of that was pushing me into making choices that weren’t healthy. I had a habit of sabotaging anything good that came my way and my defensiveness and shame spilled over. My home was hard to live in as I was moving into my teenage years and arguments became a daily occurrence, school became the refuge away from the sadness. And my behavior appeared as overcompensated loudness and rebelliousness, and smoking cigarettes then went straight into smoking marijuana and then onto all things available in the 70s and onwards.
I don’t regret what I went through as the journey was powerful, only that of being sorry to those who may have caught the wrath of any toxic flurry. I went into some very dark places that held space for my pain, that covered it exquisitely with an array of out of worldly intoxications. And as much as I got lost in that, the juxtaposition of that world and maintaining a life of survival appeared to be strangely supported. I feel that there was always a part of me looking after me, guiding, mothering me and while I walked the edges and sometimes falling off, I somehow survived. It was being in my bedroom that opened the door of extrication and deliverance that assisted with facing myself. Not that I knew it at the time (maybe at some level I did), but it was a long time ago! In the frustrations I began to write, what I was feeling, the annoyance I had with others in my family and continually asking why I was here and what for. I would rant and go on and on… until I had nothing else to say. Then I would stop, I had written enough, come to the end and then began to scribble that then went onto drawing, either abstract shapes or sometimes quite realistic landscapes, animals or figures.
I loved the gentle movement of drawing as that replaced the darkness and lit the way to releasing the toxicity and intensity allowing space for calm and quiet to wash over me. And sometimes poetry would emerge and then the drawing. It wasn’t about sitting down to draw something for the state of being an artist it was about being compelled to expel what needed to come out, in words on paper and then in drawing. It was not about me being an ‘artist’ at that stage because my self-esteem was below the line of recognition and saying I could draw was not on the radar at all. But it was through this time that I began to trust more aspects of self, that the artist began to appear. I was always surprised if I drew something recognizable. Sometimes through my drawing figures or animals would appear, from the mark making of the medium I was using, they just appeared, that has happened throughout my life, welcome the world of the Transpersonal.
I sought answers from teachers and loved them for their answers, it’s where I began co-dependent relational behaviors where I was projecting either a mother or father ideal onto them. And I was also privy to behaviors in the family that leant itself to co-dependence, addictions and not being able to speak my truth, it was about shutting who I was down. A sign of the times and still can be for many. There was a protocol to live by, some of which was seriously valuable and some destructive. But this was a part of my map to learn by and I am truly grateful for the lessons that came from the pain and suffering as well as the great opportunities that I was bestowed with.
It is in the journey of writing, drawing and painting that I learnt to trust and understand more about myself. I felt compelled to draw, I felt compelled to write my feelings down, not because someone told me to, I just knew that I needed to do it, to release what I needed to say that I know I couldn’t share with anyone else. This was my ‘Safe’ environment that within this I could express fully what needed to be shed.
I learnt that I painted what my soul required to see for healing, that I drew and painted my ‘prescription’ to take further steps and to continue to learn, being healthful and trusting in life. It is an on-going journey. The ‘prescription’ was the art work being placed on the wall to be seen daily, it worked on my inner world that in turn over time changed my outer world. It became like a hologram figuratively speaking.
Over the past 50 years my art has unfolded from my sacred space as a child where I learnt to express my inner anxieties. Then my curiosity of wanting to know about the various mediums began, that can be used to be creative with. So, I went onto studying fine art as to understand more about composition, perspective, history and exhibiting. I have exhibited my art since my twenties, but after many years I felt a sense that this world for me was hollow and I needed more answers. Emotionally I was bereft and I knew that something was on the horizon but it wasn’t obvious as yet, I was in my late 30s.
I thought of a degree in Psychology but it felt too restrictive; I certainly appreciated it, but it just didn’t sit right – it didn’t feel good. I was certainly interested in why we do the things we do, behaviors, emotions, mental health in other words. After a short time, it came to me that whatever I was looking for needed to be creative, and that was even more perplexing, mental health and creativity?
During that time, I was at a gallery looking after the current exhibition that I had some art work in and a woman came in to look after the gallery for the rest of the day. We got to talking about a variety of things and we got on like a house on fire, neither of us afraid to speak, it was a great conversation. She went onto talk about art therapy and I remember feeling exceptionally good about it, curious and delighted to hear all about it. But, I went onto thinking that while that sounded fantastic it certainly wouldn’t be in Adelaide South Australia! So, I left and while I was excited about it I let it go. A couple of weeks later I was in the city having a cup of tea, reading a magazine that comes out monthly covering social, political, creative topics and goings on in Adelaide and advertising. I was flicking through and turned a page over to discover an advertisement for Transpersonal Art Therapy. And that was as they say history. I knew immediately that was my answer, I needed to study it. I wasn’t sure where that would lead only that I needed to do it. And from day one it made sense on many levels why I was doing it. The study was experiential in nature along with the research, it was profound and life changing to say the least.
Another era began with my art work where it completely changed about 20 years ago. It became spiritual in nature, not that I intended that. It was that bigger picture in me that had me step into the next stages. I painted a series of 15 paintings, oils on canvas that while I thought I understood what the meanings were about, it was over the years that what I couldn’t see at the beginning began to reveal itself. Fascinating to see that I was painting myself into wellness, unfolding my life and while that was the final of my paintings I now draw mandalas, and have done hundreds of them. They are like containers that embrace the expression coming through, I felt compelled to do them, it was almost an urgency.
Carl Jung opened the doorway from east to west with mandalas and that -‘he believed that mandalas created spontaneously in dreams or in waking life were unconscious attempts to heal one’s inner self, to impose order on one’s psyche’. (Pg 78 Mandala – Baily Cunningham)
I have a series of mandalas that are for commercial use, for others to utilize also. And the story where this began was another unintended stage of my life. I was gifted some exquisite paper to draw on and the journey began. I have 56 thus far, and just starting number 57. I wanted to compile them other than on my website so I published a book “Creating Wisdom and Magic in Life and Love’ where 54 of them are.
This more spiritual approach to my art set up a completely different way of working, the paper up on the easel, I awaited it to call me to draw, ideas came through. The moment I tried to thumb nail sketch or force anything it didn’t feel right to draw upon.
Sometimes a mandala would take only a few weeks and then others months would go by. I let go of wondering if I was being dismissive of the ways I had been taught by not getting the job done straight away. But I learnt to trust the process and roll with the unfolding. This work was ethereal that I was the conduit of. And consisted for some of the work needing to remain at certain stages for short and long periods of time and that was the way it was to be.
Instead of writing about each art piece like I had in the past, and began with thumb nail sketches, record the colours and whatever else that I did to prep’, these mandalas did not work that way. I worked on them when I was called and would write about them as a series at the end of each year.
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that these become an oracle, they began to expound meaning other than a yearly summation. I went with what was coming through intuitively and ignored any inner critic that crept in saying that it was ridiculous thing to do. I have learnt to trust what comes through over the years. The mandalas work well as a means of inviting council in to assist with where you are in a given situation or the like, by asking a question, not for a direct yes or no answer but for guidance. I also became aware that I had gone through each of the stages the mandalas exuded as I drew them and some of which weren’t that easy, the drawing of them was indeed a process unto its own.
Learning to be and trust fully in me has been a huge journey and one where I would say that my art has saved my life on many an occasion, I have learnt to listen from within and trust the ‘I don’t know’ for the answers arrive and it never is in a linear way. That in a moment of despair to sit and draw was to invite sanity and calm, the movement of the pen, charcoal, pastel or brush was soothing, comforting, nurturing.
I could go on and on but for now I’ll wrap this up to say that I have been working as an art therapist for around 18 years and have seen profound changes for those who have decided to do the work and what an honor it is to hold space for my clients. And my own personal daily journey work continues, I don’t question it, I just turn up. Meditation at 4am, writing at about 5.30am or so then I ask for guidance through using my oracle along with a couple of others whose work I admire and then do the mantra to begin my yoga practice. Then breakfast and the day begins.
Below are some examples of the creative expressions from myself (not the commercial works), clients and workshops that have been done in the therapeutic process. Unfolding pain, suffering and trauma, or simply wanting more clarity and feeling supported in life. First a discussion on what was appearing the issue, then a process is chosen along with meditation. Next is the creative work using a variety of mediums to unfurl and assuage the fears and release allowing the now to be a very pleasant place to be.
Blessings and grace,
Angela Kirby plans to present an inspiring online Art Therapy Workshop at NewEarth University’s School of The Living Arts
Stay-tuned to learn more: https://www.newearth.university