“Into the Darkness” – a paper written for Term 1 Visual Arts in Expressive Arts Therapy program
A Tale of Soul Bearing Insight and Wisdom in The Emergence of the Courageous Heart

Written December 2016

My journey into dabbling with my subconscious began over ten years ago, when I found myself delving in reiki, energy medicine and kundalini yoga. My hopes and intentions to connect with my intuition and inner knowing spurred this inquiry into different modalities of alternative health. These efforts were thwarted by a veil of darkness, where I experienced what may be known as the “dark night of the soul”. I felt abandoned by God, and focused exclusively on getting grounded in my body and finding wellness from the inside out. I closed myself off to any parts of me that felt uncertain, precarious and threatening.

Fast forward to the present, as I celebrate a sense of renewed vitality and personal peace that I had been searching for. I have been working with my Expressive Arts therapist for over two years now. In doing so, I have opened up to my inner wisdom, to a place of trust in myself and my ability to set boundaries in order to allow my voice to have some space to express itself. I eagerly anticipated attending the Expressive Arts Therapy program, but had some reservations. Would I open up to something beyond my control? I would have to contemplate once again – who was I and what were the voices? Were they me? Were they angels/demons? Would I succumb under the pressure of it all, would I become lost again? I was excited at the prospect of going deeper and finding out about myself and my inner workings, but I also still feared the darkness within me and the enigma it posed for my future. It was through working with Shaun McNiff’s Arts as Medicine book that I was inspired to take a chance and boldly move forward. One quote really stuck with me: Shawn McNiff writes “As creative arts therapist we are often so involved with making sure people have a ‘good’ and ‘pleasant’ experience with art that we do not see that soul might prefer “tearing apart” these positive intentions. It might need chaos rather than order, depression rather than happiness, ugliness rather than beauty, destruction rather than creation, and aggression rather than tranquility. Therapists who try to impose “good feelings” on expressions bent on outrage will find themselves the target of the revolution.” (McNiff, 1992. p63). My therapeutic art (previous to this course) had been centered on finding the positive in my situation and on resolving any challenges with a ‘Pollyanna’ spin. My psyche was ready to take on a new challenge – staying grounded and balanced while opening to deeper levels of my subconscious.

I believe it was the third class when we were encouraged to draw our hands and then expand on the theme with oil pastels accordingly. The artistic process was followed by instructions to “feel” portions of our drawing, and drawings of the group, with our hands. to feel the energy of each painting. This brought back many memories of my past experiences with Reiki, and so I appreciated the opportunity to allow thoughts and feelings to come to me naturally and spontaneously in this process. Here I was, being given permission to open up energetically to the motions of the art practice. Unblocking protective mental barriers and allowing myself to entertain the sensations gave me courage and confidence. Taking baby steps, I allowed my mind to clear without restricting or questioning what was to come to the surface, I just allowed it to be. I was on my way!
One of my initial poems generated in the early classes subtly hinted at the what was yet to come.
Flying to the moon
Set sail – the journey’s begun
Strip away the uncertainty
Look at the years we’ve spent
According to others views.
Find freedom in possibility
Run free – there are no limits
Except the ones you allow
Stay the course
Your true self to reveal
Feeling your way into the unknown
We dare to dream
Seek favour and flight
Though the road may be tough
Your strength and might will surprise you
Great things lay beyond the abyss
The only way to find out is to keeping walking
One step at a time

By class four of the Visual Arts module, a voice identifying itself as “Darkness” emerged, much to my dismay. I was nervous about moving forward, unless I was in the safety and security of a therapy session with my Expressive Arts therapist; however, with her suggestion to create a Contract, I eventually came to the point of feeling resonant with entertaining the possibility of allowing the “Darkness” in, under a set of very strict circumstances. My first conversation with darkness occurred in conjunction with the painting of a set of angel’s wings, which I felt represented the dark and light of my soul. I approached this process with trepidation, as dialogue with the images felt threatening. The risk that something evil or foreboding would come out of the process made me feel on edge. I was more comfortable with poetry, which seemed less intimidating, but also less intimate and personalized. I decided to try dialogue, with a promise to myself that I could stop at any given moment, should I find this energy aggressive or alarming.

My dialogue continued as follows:

Me: What are you feeling?
Darkness: Discombobulated. I search for wholeness and truth. Your truth. Somewhere deep inside you- you know you are safe to converse with me.
Me: I feel scattered and confused, unsure of how to move forward. What do you need?
Darkness: For you to simply listen without judgement. Always there seems to be judgement. You fear me, you are anxious about our communication, you dread me. I mean you no harm, I am part of you.
Me: What do you need?
Darkness: Freedom to speak, to be heard. Won’t you come and play with me?
Me: I am not in the mood for games at this time.
Darkness: There are no games. It is a figure of speech to entice you into conversation. I want to help you. Sometimes you take things so seriously.
Me: How can you help me?
Darkness: Your true self wants to be heard. I am your voice, one of your voices – there are unresolved issues from the past. I am the parts of you that are forbidden, lost, misunderstood. I seek to heal your pain.

My ego was in full force, on the defensive, struggling to protect myself, but there was a softening occurring in me as well. Hearing the needs of “Darkness” echo my own needs to be acknowledged helped to reduce my fears of communicating with this part of me. United by a common desire, I found solace in the personalization of my “Darkness” and its mirroring story. Underlying its words, was the thread of hope that I would find a friend within myself, someone who would love me from the inside. The dialogue created a means of opening up to this energy in a way that still honoured my boundaries, in a way that allowed for my oscillation between fear and trust. It altered my perception of “Darkness” and helped move me along with its offer of hope and freedom. McNiff comments, “dialogue complements the narrating ego with its stories and descriptions. It is more direct, intimate, and to the point. Dialogue is alive, and I feel more alive when I shift to this way of talking. {…} Anything can happen. Images speak to us and through us. Expression is free to move as it pleases and is not constrained by the logical sequence and distance that a discursive statement demands. Image dialogue is a dramatic language that transforms the way we look at art.” (McNiff, 1992. p69). The dialogue had awoken in me the long lost hope of discovering and healing what lies beneath the surface and in the inner recesses of my psyche. I wanted very much to heal this part of me, but still felt nervous to take the risk. My mind reeled, bringing up old hurts and pains from the past. However, my heart cried out to let go – if I could not face my fear, how could I possibly expect my future clients to do so? The concept of self-trust instead of self-loathing spurred me on. As Cassou & Cubley wrote, “Handling a destructive urge properly brings a sense of power for then you feel that anything can be used and expressed, no matter how dark, and then nothing can stop you from creating” (Cassou & Cubley, p65). My hope was that I could overcome my trepidation and angst, knowing that the possibility existed for me to be able to resolve my past dilemma and become a more attuned, more intuitive being – perhaps one day I could work with my sensitivity instead of fighting it. I would confront my “Darkness”, and in doing so, hopefully would decipher what had happened to me years ago in my discombobulated mental state. My biggest wish and goal for the program was to heal myself and come to a peaceful understanding of my past trauma.

This was the first painting where “Darkness” spoke to me in visual form.

angel wings

“Metamorphosis”, October 20, 2016

Out of this painting, came the recognition that there is light in darkness, and darkness in light –it is not simply black or white, or one sided. My old visions of these opposing forces were collapsing in on themselves, and I realized I had outgrown this logic of light being wholly good and darkness being wholly evil. “Darkness” would continue to be a constant pervasive presence in my art, in the classes to come. Greater clarity arose out of “sticking with the image”, allowing different parts of the painting to speak to myself, or to speak to other elements. In this context, the black dots wanted to communicate with the yellow dots. The monologue was as follows:

Dear Yellow dots,
It’s easy for you to judge, to criticize, to blame. Darkness is always your enemy, just by your nature being light. But take a deeper look and you will see – another part of “me”, one with its own voice, its own cares, concerns, loves and fears. You fear me yet need not. We want the same thing – integration, inclusion, acceptance, acknowledgment, words of appreciation. No matter – I will have my say, all in due time and you will come to see that we are actually more similar than you think. Darkness is simply another part of the whole that is reaching for its time to express our deepest feelings, emotions and fears. Listening to us will yield the answers you have been looking for – how to feel more complete, how to find greater peace and happiness. You can’t ignore or fight us forever – we demand to be heard – like the yang to the yin, we hold a key to greater balance and wisdom. (From black dots to yellow dots)

We followed this exercise with movement and poetry in a format of sharing and partaking in personification of the image. Shifting from multiple art modalities allowed for different depths of conveying information from my soul. McNiff writes, “ ‘sticking with the image’ includes staying with sounds, gestures, body movements, feelings, environments, and other aspects of art forms. When we leave the image, we leave the context and the presence of soul. Our method is sustained communion with “the other”, the image or painting“ (McNiff, 1992. p55). My soul had spoken and conveyed its wishes through my contemplation of the “Metamorphosis” winged image – elements of the image spoke to me directly, and to one another, sharing wishes, wants and feelings that I could relate to and empathize with. I grew bolder and braver with each subsequent attempt of “Darkness” to communicate its needs of “balance and wisdom.” Its directive was one of unity, harmony, integration and solidarity. I remained attached to its message, opening doors to further expression in multi-modal form in subsequent paintings.

Our midterm class presentation involved a painting assignment. Out of that process came the further softening toward the “Darkness”, a trusting that it had my best interests at heart and was striving for wholeness and integrity just like me. In my painting, I saw parts of me that were not joined, were not unified; separate from one another yet striving for cohesion. There were gaps existing between the two bodies in my painting, with broken lines attempting to make the connection. There was an invitation on darkness’s part to make contact, but ultimately I realized it was up to me. I must be the one to take the first step.

intro to darkness

“Two Sides of the Coin” – October 28, 2016

Shortly after finishing this piece, a poem arose in response to contemplating the painting.

Reaching into the darkness I see a longing
To be heard – to be seen – to be free
Run with the wind and allow your soul to set sail
There is light hiding within the darkness
Demanding the expression of its voice
You need not fear its depth
Like the sea it is wide and welcoming
Won’t you dip into its great blue waves
Though there may be pain and sadness
It is yours to behold
Beyond the river of madness
There is love

I knew “Darkness” was waiting, I could feel its presence in my restlessness, in the fear of the unknown. I wanted to move forward but oscillated between fear and the possibility of trust. “Darkness” assured me I did not need to fear it, that it wanted to be heard and receive love and acceptance, just like me. It indicated its origins as my shadow self, brought on from years of shame, guilt and self-reproach.

The next painting was symbolic of the looming darkness inching towards me. Black blocks representing “Darkness” abutted with pink blocks of compassion, love and support. Pink blocks communicated that they would be ready to support me when I found myself ready to entertain “Darkness”. The blocky nature of the painting also represented the rigidity of my attitude towards letting “Darkness” in, as well as my attitude towards life. Afflicted with anxiety, I approached life with an unsettling constant desire to prepare myself for the worse case scenario. I always needed to “know” how it would turn out and to brace myself and my sense of control in order to orchestrate a positive outcome. However, the blocks also spoke visually of a newly discovered felt sense of connectivity and networking elements interlaced with one another. Now the pink blocks had something to say, and contribute to my well-being.

blocks

“Building Blocks”, November 12, 2016
A poem surfaced from the “Pink Blocks”, speaking to me as part of the inter-modal fluidity, moving from painting to poetry.
Step by step
One moment at a time
See the light that is present throughout you
And smile as you embark upon the healing of your soul
Self love, self kindness will be your guide
Let to and dive in.

The poem was gentle, encouraging and full of promise. The pink blocks were there to buffer the black blocks. I realized that the pink blocks also wanted to be present (not only to protect me and provide balance and harmony as I delved into unchartered territory, but also to have their own voice and vocalization. McNiff writes, “The pictures and the experience of dialogue begin to act on our emotions. Paintings have stories to tell, feelings to express, complaints to make and endless communications which expand the scope of our studio. If we view paintings as personified images, we identify with them in new ways” (McNiff, 1992. p. 108). This painting told me a story of my inner battle, a clash between opposing energies. The colorful background of blocks with the foreground of my being (circular object) surrounded by white globes of light brought me much joy as I thought of the angels I had once believed in. I felt the support of the pink compassionate blocks, and realized that they personified my need to defend myself against the unknown. Through the creation of the painting and its ensuing dialogue, I had tempered my fear and transformed my relationship with “Darkness”, metaphorically. I realized I was surrounded by helpful guides and inner teachers that expressed their encouragement through my painting and the fluidity of movement from one art form to another.
My next painting was with a limited color palette which I felt guided to use. Imagery consisted of a series of doors, all lined up behind one another, with pretty rainbow pathways leading the way from each door. At the time of this painting, I prepared myself mentally with a prayer that whatever required healing needed to come to the surface to make itself known in my art expression. I was not to be disappointed. I consciously opened myself to the messages of my soul, both the “Darkness” and the “Light”.

doorways rainbows

“Pathway to Greatness” – November 19, 2016

There are many doors that lie beyond the unknown, each with their own mystery. A rainbow path is in place to support me as I travel beyond into possibility. There may be only four doors but the ladder after the yellow door leads to the next level – that of greater self-awareness, love and brilliance. By this time, I had a newfound enjoyment for the dialoguing process, and approached it with greater calmness and receptivity. Some of my conversation with the images include:

I am black door. I am the opening, the first door, remnants of your past.
Black door feels: ready to welcome Tracey, ready to engage and play nice.
Black door wishes: for me to take a leap of faith and trust I am safe.
Black door says: I understand your hesitation, I will be patient and go slow.

I am pink door. I am self-compassion, self-love, self-esteem.
Pink door feels: peaceful and positive, full of possibility and greatness.
Pink door wishes: for Tracey’s trust that the process will be gentle and supportive. Know that you are not alone.
Pink door says: I will catch you if you fall. You can count on me.

In opening my heart to the black door representing “Darkness”, I could receive the words without judgment and reproach. Its message was friendly in nature and inspired me to have faith in the process. The doors were metaphorical. In the sense, represented symbolically a way in and through my life’s challenges, on the next step of my journey. As an entrance, the black door beckoned me first as the front door, but it was followed by my pink door of compassion, which would back me up and provide me with safety and reassurance. As an opportunity, it spoke of new beginnings and pathways of travel –continuous movement into the far recesses of my awareness and consciousness.
The below poem was transcribed in the following class, and I feel it summarizes a new attitude towards myself in terms of personal growth and in discovering more of my inner wisdom. Termed “Transformation”, it speaks of the metamorphosis of my relationship with myself and my view of my inner world.
Transformation
From darkness to light
In a grand show of might
As you live in the moment
Love your opponent
Make use of the day
Come let’s play
Release your struggles to the heavens
Be bold, release your transgressions
The answers will appear
From the process, like a mirror
Reflecting one’s truth
In the fountain of youth
From the depths of clarity
Take control of your destiny
Conquer your fear
Breathe – all will be clear
Let go of strife
Say hello to life
Superwoman I am
A true grit madame

This last poem is indicative of the natural progression of my relationship with “Darkness”, and to a lesser degree, with the “Light” inside me. No longer held captive by fear, I feel it illustrates my new found appreciation for the many parts of me that have been misunderstood or misinterpreted in years past. Allowing myself to create in the moment, and “sticking to the image”, I feel that I have allowed the progression of my soul to present itself in a show of love, self-compassion and self-respect. I have made friends with myself, something I could not do ten years ago. The comforting emotions I experienced from this poem evoked a sense of appreciation and tenderness, as well as pride and satisfaction. McNiff tells the story of how “staying with the image demonstrates how the object before us is an opening to soul. We find “depth” on the surface of the image, in the details of its presentation. In my art therapy studios we not only stay in contact with the image but we “go with it” through its transformations and movements. This is a movement therapy where we travel together, accompany one another, become familiars, and witness changes. When people open to art’s suggestions, they change as they watch the image change” (McNiff, 1992. p.56). In going in depth, through exploring mulit-modal avenues of art, I found myself uncovering parts of myself that wanted to be loved and understood. Movement through the art forms further developed the messages of my soul, and allowed them to unfold naturally and with spontaneity. As I followed along with the images, I allowed my art to reveal a different side of me – the shadow element that has lay dormant and unrecognized for so long.

As a child, I was taught to be a good girl. I learned that negative emotions were not acceptable or appreciated. I suppressed and repressed much of myself, in an attempt to seek favor with my parents and society. From my experiences in this class, I believe that the “Darkness” is the parts of me that have been suffocated for years; the discombobulation that I felt during my time of struggle was a manifestation of pieces of my soul that have long been neglected, undervalued and abandoned. This struggle, though much calmer and muted in present form, continues today and is in a perpetual process of death and rebirth – my current self dying to be rejuvenated in the form of metempsychosis, a reawakening of my true authentic self. The expression of my darkness is an ongoing process, one which I now approach with excitement and a sense of movement. I now welcome the “Darkness” as part of my exploration in my art adventures. As Cassou & Cubley state, “The web unravels when you are mature enough to jump into yourself without knowing where you will land and without the illusion of a safety net.” (Cassou & Cubley, p176-177). It took courage, patience, and fortitude to be willing to revisit my this part of my soul, feeling that the risks were high with the uncertainty for the future outcome. Much of what propelled me in the direction towards healing was the realization that the Darkness had been trying to protect me all along, and with buffer of self-compassion, I was able to listen to the pain that wanted to express itself. As the class progressed, I grew increasingly braver, more confident, and willing to have greater trust in myself. The Darkness wanted what I wanted for myself – to be seen, to be heard, to be acknowledged, to let go of the fear of losing control; to learn self-compassion, to become a “mother” to my inner child. This has led me to learn to connect with my emotions, to learn to accept my feelings without the need to suppress them, to dare to reveal and listen to parts of me that have long been forgotten and left behind. In realizing that I had a voice within that wanted to be experienced and expressed, I learned to acknowledge the pain instead of running from it; to find my answers within, to be sensitive to my perceptions in a process of rewiring my relationship to my emotions, my need to reconnect and reacquaint myself with my true feelings.
My new found personal barometer will continue to focus on listening to what excites me, surprises me, bring life and fills me with love and joy. This is not an ending so much as a beginning: with the inception of a new relationship with myself, one based upon trust, faith in something bigger than me and hope for the mending of my fragmented heart, mind and soul. I have awoken inside me a love for all that I am, and will ever be. I have learned so much from the multi-modal forms of art, have seen how the images themselves have powerfully changed me and come to the realization that my darkness yields much insight and awareness. Fear and uncertainty is to be acknowledged as a part of the process, to be cajoled and soothed as I step gently into this new way of being. This new way of communicating with deeper parts of myself. I look forward to the next stage of my journey as I meet the different parts and personas within myself.

REFERENCES

Cassou, Michele and Cubley, Stewart. (1996) Life Paint and Passion: Reclaiming the Magic of Spontaneous. Tarcher Perigee.

McNiff, Shaun. (1992). Art as Medicine: Creating a Therapy of the Imagination. Boston, Massachusetts. Shambhala Publications Inc.