Thursday, January 26, 2017

Comparative Analysis of the United States, South Africa, Northern Ireland, and Iceland (for Multicultural Portfolio)

Living in a poor neighborhood changes everything about your life
Alvin Chang on January 12, 2017

The role of social housing in Northern Ireland's divided communities
Paddy Gray on October 12, 2016

FACTSHEET: The housing situation in South Africa
Kate Wilkinson

‘No doubt’ Iceland’s elves exist: anthropologist certain the creatures live alongside regular folks
South China Morning Post on May 14, 2016

The sources I have chosen and am reflecting on are current events reporting on the intersectional topics of: historic conflict, nationalism, racism, housing, poverty, segregation, discrimination, and displacement.  While these issues occur across the globe, I am reflecting on the nature of these issues within the contexts of the United States, South Africa, Northern Ireland, and Iceland.  Each of the aforementioned topics are all happening in one way or another in each of these countries, however, these topics are more predominant in the United States, South Africa, and Northern Ireland.  Iceland is by no means a perfect country, but I chose Iceland and the article about the Elves and Hidden People there as background to juxtapose, compare, and contrast the other nations and articles with.
The ranging contrast between what is considered fair housing and equitable treatment to all constituents within a community shows stark differences when viewing these issues in the United States, South Africa, and Northern Ireland next to Iceland.  The United States has a long history, centuries in fact, of systemic and institutional racism.  Institutional racism is a monster with many heads and one of those heads is the fact that People of Color tend to occupy a lower socioeconomic status than Whites.  One exhaustive study after another reports the many detrimental ways poverty affects the overall wellbeing of the poor and working class.  The disturbing statistics gained from these findings in the U.S. show that systemic racism causes more people of color to live in poverty and therefore to experience higher rates of ill health and other issues.  What’s more disturbing is how many people are reluctant to blame such economic disparities on racism.  Additionally, despite the progress and policy changes which came from the Civil Rights movement, the harsh reality is that the socioeconomic wellbeing of Black people has changed very little and there is an up-rise in dormant racism that many thought had been eradicated.
Income disparities as well as well as disparities regarding the quality of neighborhoods between extremely rich and poor are increasing dramatically.  In the U.S. there are two very distinct classes. The one’s who have money, a lot of money, and the ones who don’t, which are mostly Black and other People of Color.  The poorer neighborhoods have cyclical problems with unemployment, crime, and health, and constituents in poor neighborhoods often get sucked into downward spirals of lack and illness, the revolving door to jail, or the school-to-prison-pipeline.  One of the health issues which poverty exacerbates has to do with learned behaviors and brain development, as well as being exposed to physical and environmental toxicities.  The more people are exposed to the overlapping complexities of poverty the more they become accustomed to exposure to environmental toxins, substance abuse issues, poor food choices, and the higher chances they have of developing illnesses.  Additionally, neural pathways are built and being poor becomes familiar, the norm, the way things are with no expectation or hope for change, especially for intergenerationally impoverished families.  The longer one lives in poverty and adjusts to the complex hardships of poverty, thus getting stuck in their ways, the harder it is for brain plasticity to build new neural pathways for living in a more privileged environment.  Moreover, research shows living in poor neighborhoods which have higher rates of crime, ill health, homelessness, and unemployment, can change the brain just as trauma changes the brain.  Finally, living in poverty can affect a person’s ability to learn and do well in school too, it increases stress and decreases the ability to experience happiness, and it pollutes the individual and collective psyche and aptitude for self-actualizing their highest potential. 
Similarly, in post-Apartheid South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) was designed to bring balance to a previously imbalanced, racist and highly volatile sociopolitical power structure which severely abused and enslaved native Black Africans, who are also the majority in South Africa. The TRC was meant to allow oppressed and harmed peoples the opportunity to share their stories and even to forgive their oppressors in hopes that they might heal from being given that opportunity.  The TRC was also a forum to hold White Afrikaner oppressors accountable for their racist crimes against humanity, as well as to create a balance of power socioeconomically, and it did to a degree but not nearly enough change came from the commission. Presently, post-TRC trends in South Africa are similar to post-Civil Rights Movement trends in the United States, as Blacks still live in extreme poverty and homelessness, while Whites still live in privilege, holding most of the wealth and power.  Both the TRC and the Civil Rights era raised awareness and brought much needed changes, yet, somehow systemic and institutional racism continue to thrive in both nations.  Racial and class injustices were not fully dealt with; therefore, old wounds have not fully healed.  The result of such failures are on-going segregation and disparities, including power imbalances, between Communities of Color and White communities.  Interestingly, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela worked together to end apartheids and to end the war on poor people across the globe.  What would they think if they were alive today and could see the results of their life’s work?   
In Northern Ireland, nationalism and religious segregation are the source of the Troubles between Protestant British nationalists and Catholic Irish nationalists.  Segregation between the religions and nationalists are the impetus for centuries of violent conflicts and the Troubles which were on-going for thirty years.  Northern Ireland is only now considered to be in a post-Troubles conflict era.  Bloody battles, prejudice, religious discrimination, and socioeconomic disparities which include housing and poverty issues have negatively affected many communities.  In addition, the fighting between groups was so violent that peace walls or peace lines were constructed to separate people.  Out of 110 peace walls, a thirty year-old, eight-foot brick wall, was demolished last year with 109 to go.  Government agencies were created and funds allotted to build the peace lines to begin with.  These agencies also deal with housing and are supposed to create ways to encourage mixed habitation of Catholics and Protestants within the same neighborhoods.  Currently, an outdated point system is designed to promote choice and encourage people to choose housing in religiously diverse neighborhoods, while concomitantly giving points to those who report having been intimidated by others, which perpetuates division as well as discriminatory housing practices.  According to Gray, the goal is to demolish all of Northern Ireland’s peace walls by 2023 and to create a more tolerant and unified Northern Ireland, but are some people or agencies invested in the continuation of the conflict?
Conversely, 75 years ago in the U.S. when racism and segregation were more concrete and blatant, it was actually legal to build a wall to separate people, like what was done in Northern Ireland and many other nations.  In the U.S. the wall was built between a White and Black neighborhood in order to increase the property value of and to increase eligibility for construction loans to build White neighborhoods.  Without the wall, funding would be cut, so the wall went up and Black people were forced into spaces which became increasingly destitute and isolated.  The seeming segregation of the past still exists across the U.S. and it perpetuates itself in the present.  The results are causing People of Color to be less healthy, educated, employed, safe, happy and financially stable.  Similarly, in Ireland, British nationals in Northern Ireland receive support from England while the Irish nationals in the South struggle to survive.  Discrimination and bloodshed have taken their toll on both groups.  The peace walls may have decreased physical conflict but they have not promoted cooperation, reconciliation and equity.  
In conclusion, the article on Iceland’s Elves and Hidden People glaringly contrasts with the racist and nationalist segregation issues in the United States, South Africa, and Northern Ireland.  While poor living conditions, even poorer negotiation skills, and socioeconomic disparities are predominant in the U.S, S.A., and N. I.—which is none other than a symbol and an inability to see the other as real—mythical beings are believed to be a real part of society by many Icelanders.  Even if a large majority of Islanders do not believe in the existence or realness of these invisible creatures, Elves and the Hidden People are still respected enough that they are considered and negotiated with in urban planning projects and in policy making procedures.  Such acts legitimize their existence in very reifying ways.  Personally, I believe in the magic of Nature and the Cosmos and that there is much more to it than what meets the human eyes and intellect which are limited and conditioned by many things.  It is astonishing that Iceland chooses to hold its presumably mythical beings in higher standings and treats those beings with more respect than how other nations shamefully treat visibly real members of society, who have been historically brutalized, abused, and disenfranchised.  Sadly, with the current state of American politics being the corrupt disaster that it is, I have little hope that healing historic racial conflicts and reducing socioeconomic disparities in the U.S. will be located anywhere on the Administration's or Congress’ priority list.    

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Postmodern Approach to Art Therapy: Healing Through Constructivism (for AT Theories class)

Human beings are meaning-makers and story tellers.  In essence, we are natural weavers of concepts, emotions, and images.  We understand and communicate the complexities of life and the human condition by way of symbols and through relationships.  The human brain, in most cases, is constantly storing, building, and interpreting information in order to meet basic survival needs, but also to thrive and enjoy life.  Because we are story-tellers, we live in a world full of inter-subjective realities.  Together we co-create various social constructs which are based on stories we co-produce and co-perpetuate.  Whether we accept these narratives as true or untrue, they are nonetheless, a substantial aspect of a collective reality we all co-inhabit in different ways.       
            The postmodern approach to therapy and art therapy is based on the concept and field of social constructionism.  Social constructionism posits that an understanding of the world is created by multiple and by often conflicting versions of truth and reality.  These versions are bound to context and experience as opposed to being objective facts.  Furthermore, as the world is created through and composed of different versions of truth and reality; national, cultural and familial identities, as well as individual concepts of self, are also constructed through our socially storied lives and environments (Corey, 2017).  Postmodern thought concentrates on language and the use of language in socially constructed stories. Consequently, postmodern approaches to therapy focus on investigating the stories people tell themselves, especially those which are harmful, and on constructing new narratives with the therapeutic goal of healing and creating a more positive reality system.  Conversely, art therapy concentrates on the nonverbal, image-based construction and interpretation of previously formulated stories.  It uses creative arts expressions to generate strengths-based, solution-oriented narratives which inspire, explore, and document resilience, healing, and growth.  
            For me, postmodern therapies also fall beneath the umbrella of humanistic and existential worldviews and therapies.  Each genre acknowledges the inherent qualities which make humans human.  They each explore concepts such as the inherent fluidity, goodness, and creativity of humans; and our ability to solve problems by transforming ourselves, our relationships, and our environments.  Each genre is also founded on the premise that humans are curious about cause and effect patters and that we seek to make meaning of the events which occur in our lives and world, even trauma and tragedy (Corey, 2017).  These fundamental aspects of human nature enable us to be cooperative, resilient, and resourceful creatures, but we are nonetheless vulnerable to a vast array of elemental forces beyond our control, and all of these forces come with their own stories. 
             Narrative art therapy is a postmodern genre of therapy which I feel motivated to incorporate into my practice.  Tinnin & Gantt’s graphic narrative (2007; retrieved in Rubin, 2016) explores book-making and healing from trauma by allowing survivors to create an image-based story with a beginning, middle and end to the trauma(s) they experienced.  This practice allows survivors to contextualize and contain their trauma, to emphasize the finality of the traumatic experience, to recognize personal strengths and fortitude, and to author an empowering ending which can serve as a precursor to a new chapter in life.  The strategy is especially interesting because graphic narratives are not necessarily historically linear and truthful, nor do they need to be, as the therapeutic nature of such a collection of images comes from the survivor’s subjective experiences and relationship to those experiences.  While the graphic narrative is intended to incorporate the stages of the Instinctual Trauma Response (ITR), a term codified and understood as a universal human response to trauma by Tinnin & Gantt (2014; retrieved in Rubin, 2016; pp. 359), I can vividly imagine the possibilities of building on and adapting their work and art-making process to meet the unique needs of different populations and situations.  In my view, all art therapy is narrative art therapy, and wonderfully so, because, as I mentioned, we humans are masters of narrative, especially when we incorporate solution-oriented intentionality and creativity with our incredible capacities to survive and thrive.  
Innate human capacities to survive and thrive are of spiritual, phenomenological, altruistic, artistic and scholarly interest to me.  As an undergraduate student, I majored in Negotiation, Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding and I minored in Studio Art.  I felt inspired to merge the fields of problem solving, social justice, and healing through art-making.  Therefore, all of my academic endeavors centered around community building, restorative justice, youth programming, conflict resolution, creativity and spiritual practice. Through these avenues, I learned to engage and connect with individuals and collectives focusing on solution-based creativity and education as vehicles for transformation. I later incorporated work in the fields of advocacy and domestic violence.  No matter which population I worked with I discovered that the big work was in excavating and meeting unmet needs and repairing the damage from those needs going unmet in the first place.  “One of the first steps in the peaceful resolution of conflict is to look behind the obvious and learn what each party really wants” (Kaplan, 2007; pp. 89).  Kaplan’s assumption is congruent with many conflict transformation strategists, theorists and authors, as key points in the literature point not only to the discovery of the wants and needs of both parties, but to the discovery of the values and interests which both parties have in common. Additionally, the creative arts can effectively serve in the mediation process and they can mitigate the stress of conflict. 
Whether mediating a dialogue in order to empower a fair negotiation between parties which yields resolutions to conflicts; advocating for children, youth, victims/survivors of trauma; or facilitating a safe studio for creative expression as an art therapist, my core objective is to support my clients in re-authoring a narrative where they are the expert of their own problems; possess the capability to transform their crises into solutions; are able to get their needs met; and are able to dissolve their personal and cultural pain bodies (Tolle, 2005). Tolle refers to pain bodies as narratives which cause a person or a group to remain trapped in a state of ill-being which is the result of getting stuck in the past, often as a result of experiencing violence, poverty, disenfranchisement, injustice, genocide and other forms of trauma.  To me, all of the work I do and aspire to do in the future is the holistic work of a peacemaker, so other than being a counselor, I actually refer to myself as a peacemaker.  My peacemaking goals include domestic and international therapeutic and educational work with refugees; various types of victims of war and political systems; victims of domestic violence; victims of racial injustice; victims of natural disasters; environmental stewardship and sustainability projects which address resource scarcity and food insecurity; human and animal rights; health and wellness; gender equality; restorative justice; violence prevention; and conflict resolution.  The creative arts will play a main role in the healing modalities and educational strategies I aspire to facilitate.
In conclusion, the constructivist, postmodern approach to art therapy and counseling will provide a safe space for self-determined verbal and nonverbal creative expression. In this space, spontaneous expression and healing may arise, resulting in the differentiation and integration of past experiences and the construction of new reality systems which promote choice, autonomy, and empowerment.  It is through the re-authorship of narratives, one persona at a time, that social action can transform a collective.  A group of brave, intentional individuals willing to reconstruct themselves can likewise, reconstruct their communities and co-create a more peaceful and equitable world.  There is still time for a happy ending to our on-going human saga.  

Corey, G. (2017). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy (10th ed.)
            Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Gantt, L., & Greenstone, L. (2016). Narrative art therapy in trauma treatment. In J. A. Rubin        (Ed.), Approaches to art therapy: Theory and technique. (353-370). New York, NY:       Routledge.
 Kaplan, F. (2007). Art and conflict resolution. In F. Kaplan (Ed.). Art therapy and social action: Treating the world's wounds. London. England: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Tolle, E. (2005). A new earth: Awakening to your life’s purpose. New York, NY: Plume. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Moon, Stars, and Trees Dialectic

When I listen, I synthesize Truth (my truth from within and truth which has been transmitted to me granted):

  • Do no harm
  • Transcend the binary
  • Everything is not as it seems
  • Talk less; feel, listen and look more deeply 
  • Everything is its own universe combined in the One
  • Separation is an illusion
  • Identifying with thought-forms is delusional
  • Common human behavior stems from a false sense of Self  
  • Pay attention to the silence surrounding the sound  
  • Release the outcome; work not for the fruit of the labor 
  • Release the struggle; in a tug of war, drop the rope
  • Path of least resistance; go where the love is 
  • Re-frame and redirect negative and unskillful energies
  • Do not take unconsciousness personally 
  • Let it go 
  • Through the body temple, personal practice and self-care I can discover many things
  • Trust myself, follow desire maps and pay attention to my dreams/aspirations; they're there for very good and important reasons; explore my Knowing
  • Everything is useful and may have a reason, especially in the bigger picture; keep and open heart/mind
  • Look for similarities, shared interests and values, and for the good in people, places and not get discouraged 
  • Be solution oriented and creative 
  • Be quick to forgetfulness and forgiveness and slow to forming conclusions, firm opinions and judgments
  • Earth-peace through self-peace
  • My problem was my solution/Our problems are our solutions
  • Lift the veil; learn to see patterns and think in relationships 
  • Less is more
  • Be present in the aliveness of the Now; the present moment is where Life happens
  • Choice is only available through consciousness
  • Time to wake up
  • Pay attention to the feeling of the inner subtle body at the tips of the fingers, palms of the hands, top of the head and where the feet connect to the Earth; breathe and lengthen/expand 
  • co-operate interdependently
  • revise, revise, revise; be slow to "post," "send," "share," and "publish."
  • Think before I speak...stop...think again, feel what's going on in my body, then speak
  • Contain my excitement; practice patience
  • Share my very special treasures and magical world with appropriate people only
  • As a therapist and facilitator, be extremely cautious about leading someone into deep emotional realms; let them lead; ex: punching bags/feeling and expressing intense anger or deeply feeling darkness and sadness is unskillful for a great many people...offer a way into experiencing the construction of a new reality in the present moment, not getting caught up in schemas of the past or projections into the future...right now, it's like this...trusting the mind/body to heal slowly at its own pace, always mindful, never rushing or causing more harm in the process
  • and...sometimes it's okay to pull a Frank Sinatra and do it my way (ethically and mindfully of course) in order to release the pressure I put on myself; I can't do it all and certainly not at 100% top quality 
  • Edge awareness/self-sensitivity/respect my boundaries and limitations
  • Never give up! 
  • No matter what happens, create and take up my own space, my tiny corner of the Multiverse is mine and was given to me for very good and important reasons. I will maintain my private peace within it...I will not waste this precious gift of Life! 
  • Believing is better than doubting
  • Nature is magical 
  • Hope and faith in good works are always options and alternatives to despair 

Moon, Stars, and Trees, and other elements teach me to listen.  We have always had teachers.  The older and wiser I become the more I understand that the key to learning is humility, getting out of my own way, and showing up.  When I listen, I learn.  I used to listen with my stomach and other senses, which is a great skill and I still do this, but that was also because my hearing was impaired.  Now that I have hearing aids, I can hear and listen with all of my senses including hearing with my ears.  I feel like Maggie when she catches a scent on the breeze and follows it all over yonder.  Oh, the nuances! 


Friday, January 20, 2017

The Beauty Way (for History of Art Therapy)

Southwestern College Students Standing with the Water Protectors

Assignment for History of Art Therapy in the United States:

Today my colleagues and I presented on Navajo aesthetics and philosophy, which is extremely rich and complex. We felt inspired by Navajo Sand Paintings which can be likened to the sand mandalas Tibetan Buddhist monastics create. Both cultures use ephemeral artistic expression to mindfully and prayerfully disperse healing which may be directed toward an individual, a community, ancestral lineages and future generations. Ephemeral art is also used to set and release intentions for collective peace and enlightenment for the world and can serve other purposes as well.

We began our presentation, which we intentionally designed to be a ritual, by performing a sage clearing ceremony to encourage our class to drop into sacred attention and attunement. We discussed the Navajo Creation Myth, chanted a version of the Beauty Way Prayer, and touched on basic principles of Hózhó, which is the essence of the Navajo worldview and aesthetics.
Hózhó encapsulates, inspires, and is the root of Navajo art and life. Within its complex phenomenological nature some key concepts and principles are responsibility and creativity.

According to Hózhó, it is the duty of human beings to take responsibility for our thoughts, words, deeds, co-creations and more, so that we maintain, rather, so that we live, a conscious and consistent process of restoring ourselves and the world to the perfect beauty and harmony which we were created in, by, and inherently are. This world view is similar in spirit to Gandhi's suggestion that human beings ought to strive to be the changes they wish to see in the world. Both interpretations point toward a seemingly universal concept of morality. From a multicultural standpoint, this basic moral construct is found in most cultural interpretations of the human condition, various schools of philosophy, as well as religious and spiritual beliefs. They encourage humans to take responsibility for our conscious evolution and to be the change as it were, through vigilant, daily practice of Self-mastery, humility, gratitude, and through standing for altruistic concepts such as justice, truth and love according to self-or culturally-determined standards.

Our group learned that Navajo art and aesthetics are more process oriented which fundamentally contrasts with the goal and product orientation found in Western aesthetics and worldviews. Although, the many forms of Navajo art from traditional sand paintings to rugs, pottery, silversmithing, music, and contemporary art are beautiful, clearly, in every sense of the word, the Beauty Way navigates the depths beneath beauty which is seen, heard and made to be enjoyed. The Beauty Way, thus an aspect of the Navajo phenomenological world view, is truly an art in and of itself. The Beauty Way is a process of healing and restoration which is the purpose for being and doing anything and everything. The Beauty Way is not a thing, an idea, a product or achievement; it is a feeling, a way of life and the reason for living. It is intentional Self-realization, Self-actualization and dedication of merit for the benefit of all beings. The Beauty Way is the process of becoming more fully alive and human. It is the choice to live in wholeness connected to all of creation, embodying the best versions of ourselves who co-create and re-create a harmonious world for all beings including future generations. The Beauty Way is our home, it is our birthright, it is our family of origin, and although we stray from it, we may prodigally return to it whenever we choose to.

But what does it mean to be restored? What are we being restored to? What are the implications alluded to through this seemingly nebulous question? In what ways can we take responsibility for restoring the inherent essence of Truth and Beauty within ourselves, our communities and our world?
Deep ontological and philosophical questions like these in conjunction with contemplating the Navajo's Beauty Way or Hózhó led our group to feeling motivated to use art as a vehicle for community expression and activism on the Southwestern College campus. To complete our presentation, we led our class in an experiential creative ritual focused solely on process and healing.

As a class, we created a collaborative sand painting with the intention of supporting and honoring the Water Protectors in North Dakota who oppose the construction of the North Dakota Pipe Line. As a class we stood and still stand in solidarity with the Water Protectors and we also oppose the construction of the pipeline. We stand in solidarity with indigenous Peoples and their right to be self-determined, sovereign nations in control of their well-being and natural resources. Finally, as a group we placed our love, support and prayers within the ephemeral constructs of the designs made with sand and upon completion we gently carried our sand painting/mandala to the labyrinth on campus, all the while chanting the Beauty Way Prayer, then we mindfully destroyed our piece and placed all of our intentions in the center space of the labyrinth. However small our endeavor, our intentions were powerful and heartfelt. It is an honor to stand with our brothers and sisters at Standing Rock and we are dedicated to continuing in the struggle.

The creative processes and interpretations we chose to work with in our presentation are not attempts in any way to imitate or appropriate Navajo or Tibetan creative processes, traditions and meanings. We just felt and feel so inspired by them and wanted to follow in their path by incorporating several concepts that we found meaningful. We also felt a responsibility to share what we learned with our class, in the spirit of cultivating a deeper connection to ancient wisdom, and in the spirit of activating collective devotion while expanding our vision with precision.

In conclusion, we must constantly apply Cornell West's idea that, "justice is what love looks like in public." The journey of awakening and realizing our wholeness as individuals and as a collective is the path of and to restoration. It is a journey of responsibility and of returning to ourselves. As an institution, Southwestern College is dedicated to a multicultural and pluralist worldview which honors all beings and wisdom traditions and promotes healing through the creative arts and other therapeutic modalities. By way of showing up in integrity, motivated by a love for justice and equity, in SWC's spirit of transformation through consciousness, our class, inspired by the Navajo concept of Hózhó, used art in the most creative, productive, responsible and healing way, the Beauty Way.

Our collective sand paintings: