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Christmas is over, as evidenced by the Turkey Pot Pie in my oven (I'm dubious that my puff pastry will really puff). Instead of a lump of coal, I got a block of clay. 
Looking at this slab of clay on my table can be daunting. Long ago I had the experience of being 'triggered' when using clay. Only during my Art Therapy training did I understand that clay elicits that response from many people who have had experiences ofsexual trauma. In the past, that triggering effect served to make me feel more crazy, different, like I didn't belong, etc. With my current knowledge, I chose to approach my slab of clay like any other art medium, and let the process guide me. I stayed cognizant of the possibility that I COULD be affected by the feel of the clay, and I knew that at this point I am able to manage those feelings. 
The piece I subsequently created was no accident. While the feeling of the clay squishing through my fingers did guide the image, the intent was born of an art invitation that was very specific. This is another way to use art therapy- as an invitation to give form to a specific image that wants to be released from our bodies.
This invitation was a spark of an idea that grew out of a conversation I had with my long- time therapist/ mentor. We were talking about ways that I could nurture the little girl within who had been so badly hurt all those years ago, and he asked if I could picture holding her. In that instant I had an image in my mind, and I knew what I had to do.

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So I sat with my lump of clay, inhaled deeply, and put my hands on the clay. I felt an immediate jolt of pain- a memory that found its way into my hands as I worked. I continued to breathe rhythmically, and reminded myself that a memory cannot hurt me (although it certainly feels like it can). I allowed the feelings to just 'be' until I was ready to shape and mould my image. 
I was surprised to note that as I worked I found a calm that I gleaned from focus on the details of what I was doing. 
The conversation I had with Floyd (my EXCELLENT therapist) played itself out, as I very literally gave form to the formless. 

I worked in stages, forming first the body of ME who could hold all that needs holding in my life. Then I created an image of the child that I was- still part of me, reflected in the umbilical chord still attached. Finally came faces that haunt me even today.
The first depiction of 'me', captures the deepest sense of me, the heart and soul of who I am. I believe that I am 'mother' at my core, meaning that it is my greatest desire to nurture, to heal. It is that essence that Floyd was inquiring about: could I find a way to give to myself that which I have always given so naturally to my children, and now- to my grandchild? 
This being has a strong, grounded base, connected to the earth of which it was made. Hollowed belly serves as a reminder of two levels of awareness: 1- the starvation and purging that I have inflicted on myself, as a result  of: 2- the evil I perceive is within me. 
The smaller aspect of me has lived among the demons: the animal face that torments me with blood curdling howls of both the tortured and torturer, 'moon face' who has no affect, and the 'normal' monster, who looks like all of us from the outside. There are many more, but as I scourge myself of their power, I may stop listening to their taunts.
They live in the hollow space in my belly. Sometimes they hurt that tiny being who experienced so much pain, and I feel that pain. I created these images separate from 'me', so I can move them, making room for all of me. When I attempt to banish them for life they reappear, a reminder that kindness will soften them too.
Then there is the small, infant me, who longs to be nurtured- held as a mother does with tender love. Connected by an umbilical chord- I am not willing to let her go too far away. I need her to teach me more: to be kind and gentle, to find self- compassion, and to know that it is alright to love and nurture her- particularly when she is hurting.
Creation of my exploration of 'me in clay' was cathartic. I externalized the voices, and gave them form and faces. They are no longer hidden beings. This was a step towards freeing myself, at a newer and deeper level, from the very hold that the past sometimes retains on me. It will sneak up now and then and grip me in its paralyzing darkness. Unable to see them, I imagine the demons to be all- encompassing. They are not- today, they are only miniature faces made of clay. 

There are so many things still to say about this experience. I will let the ideas flow through me, and continue to process their meanings. For now, I will focus on the art therapy aspect of this. From the medium I chose, specifically for its earthy, though potentially triggering, properties, through the meditative way I worked, to the specific theme I chose to address, this was typical art therapy session. It gave me voice, I conquered my fear of using a medium that could be emotionally challenging, thus gaining confidence, and I was able to see some of the challenges the past holds for me from a different perspective. 
Plus- I really enjoyed doing it!

It doesn't escape me that there are some meta- themes that showed up at my table. My husband walked past when I was done, and said: Oh nativity... Though he knew that it wasn't my subject matter, that is what it conjured for him. And then my son came home and asked me if it was for Charlotte (my daughter who is newly a mother). That had a ring of truth in it for me, as it is both currently in the forefront of my thoughts, and this piece is about mothering myself.
These meta- themes are universal and may speak to a wider audience than my unique issues will. It is my hope that others will resonate with some aspect of this work and be inspired to connect, create...

As always, I welcome comments.
Wishing a happy and healthy New Year filled with joy and peace to all.
Namaste.
 


Comments

Louise
12/27/2013 8:40pm

I saw the photo teaser on Facebook and without knowing any of the back story, just found it such a comforting image - I guess a mothering, nurturing image. Anyways beloved auntie, am as always blown away by your courage.

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Charlotte
12/27/2013 8:41pm

Wow, this is powerful! I appreciate the deeper understanding that this post has given me into art therapy and into your process. Thanks for sharing. (For some reason, I can't see the image you posted though).

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Sam
12/27/2013 9:31pm

Thanks for sharing. Look forward to seeing the photos.

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12/27/2013 10:53pm

Thank you, my loves..
I am loving the process AND sharing it- feels right.
Not sure why some people can see the photos and others cannot. I'll check into it tomorrow.

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katherine
12/28/2013 4:57pm

Thank you for sharing Yona.........................You truly are an amazing woman......Peace..

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12/28/2013 10:50pm

FYI I can see the images. Thank you for sharing your process--it certainly sheds light on the power of externalizing feelings or 'demons' via symbols. I'm curious about the triggering potential of clay. Do you know any resources that discuss this?

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12/29/2013 6:31am

Thank you for the comments, Maren,
I spent some time with the web host yesterday to resolve the viewing pictures problem.
This work (which is the first part of a trilogy, BTW) functions on a number of levels for me: expressive, sensory/ emotion and symbolic.
In terms of media properties, the best reference I have is "Expressive Therapies Continuum: A Framework for Using Art in Therapy" by Lisa Hinz. Her discussion is clear and well laid out. To some extent she talks about the integration of different components. For me, this book lacks heart.
But a good reference nonetheless.
"Work with clay, plasticine, glue or other tacky substances can evoke disgust and attention to other negative affective states."(p.67).
Experience, both mine and that of others, tells me that it is clay is a medium with so many triggering

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12/29/2013 6:34am

(too long a response- wouldn't allow completion)
...(triggering) aspects: smell, texture, color and possibility of creating symbolic images.
Hope this helps.
See you in the New Year!

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11/28/2016 8:16am

I'm also an artist and i would love make different different shapes from that soft and plastic kinda material like you wanna made anything from them and mold them from anything to everything.

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