The Arts as Healer
It is no surprise that much has been written about the power of the arts, from ancient times to the present.
On the one hand we are intrigued by what the arts offer us – on the other hand, we sometimes forget that the arts are innate within us – they are indeed our birthright for the discovery and expression of a more creative and meaningful life.
Although there are specific and hard-earned skills associated with playing music and making art, these approaches are only part of an unfolding story, which taps into the healing power of these modalities. By visiting the worlds within us, we find access to a vast array of possibilities which are available to us all – infinite ways of inviting creative expression into our worlds. And the wonder of all is that music and art by-pass words – they communicate through image and sound, thus tapping into the deepest and often least known parts of ourselves – that place of the collective and personal unconscious mind. And the documented health benefits are many, including the balancing of right and left brain.
When we engage with the healing power of the arts, we tap into this vast reservoir of universal knowledge and we expand ourselves and our view of our world – in short – we begin then to make meaning out of the many challenges which face us daily and we give voice to our existential longings and needs.
As the case studies below will demonstrate, music and art (in this case) are a powerful accompaniment to our healing journeys – these modalities can support our efforts in self-understanding, they can help us heal from trauma and they can assist us in mapping our paths through unknown territory.
The more we understand about life below the radar, the more effective we can become as loving and lovable human beings, enhancing our capacity to contribute meaningfully to our own lives as well as the lives of others. We can find access to relief from physical pain, mental anguish, emotional denial and spiritual questioning, emerging instead with joyous mind, peaceful heart and tools for ongoing support through life.
The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (BMGIM) is a psycho-therapeutic modality, which uses a listening process to assist clients in accessing information from the shadow self. Specific music is listened to, often with a chosen intention for eliciting imagery, kinesthetic responses to or insights from the music being heard. This process culminates in mandala-drawing, which represents images and insights brought by the client’s experience with the music. No art experience is necessary and, very often, child-like images appear, which offer a visual document from the client’s life within. The genre of music used is usually classical music for its capacity to express a vast range of emotion, expressing the musical elements as projections of the client’s inner world. With the co-support of music and therapist, the client is encouraged to move into challenging areas of their physical or emotional life and to allow the music to guide them through the pain.
Mandala Assessment Research Instrument (MARI) is a therapeutic art modality, which draws on the energy of symbols and colours to represent a client’s current psychological state. During a MARI session, these symbols and colours, chosen intuitively, are placed on a board reflecting 13 stages of The Great Round – a walk through various stages of life. The Great Round represents the developmental stages of life and is likened to the cycles in nature, the growth of a seed into a sapling, becoming a tree which flowers and bears fruit and is followed by the fruit becoming seed once again. This speaks to the spiral nature of life.
The MARI offers a therapeutic space for clients, inviting an opportunity to engage creatively with current challenging situations, to ‘see’ the possible obstacles and to ‘listen’ to their own intuition (reflected in their choice of colours and cards) which offers suggestions for practical application in daily life. This process, too, is further enhanced through the creative act of art-making.
Many clients book one-off sessions to be repeated some months later, while others find it useful to engage weekly or bi-weekly over longer periods, as ongoing support for working through life situations.
The therapeutic value of the creative arts case studies
yla booked three online sessions, after the birth of her first baby at the onset of Covid last year. She was experiencing anxiety around bonding with her new baby, at the same time, having lost work due to the pandemic. The sessions helped to ease her anxiety, bringing clarity and peace of mind and a deepened understanding of her connection to her baby. She felt strengthened and found it easier to focus on positive ways to engage with her baby and her environment, such as spending time in nature, as well listening to more music at home. This was empowering for her family unit as they all benefited from hearing more music being played in the home. We explored the importance of singing to her child, something which is natural to the human experience of communication, but which can be forgotten during times of stress and which becomes soothing to both mother/father and child. Kyla’s experience of drawing with the music was a powerful reminder of her innate capacity to express emotion through image and colour. She was encouraged to revisit her drawings after her sessions, as supportive memories of the profound, though subtle changes brought about by her engagement with the creative arts. Kyla felt encouraged by remembering that, as her baby grows, they will be able to make music and art together – forever bonding through the experience of creativity.
Tina booked a MARI session, to try and cope with a very heavy workload. By engaging with the MARI cards, the music and drawing, she discovered that her lower back pain disappeared.
A few weeks later, having just moved house, Tina booked a second session, feeling tense about a relationship issue as well as the move (in with her partner) and, by the end of this session, her neck, jaw and upper back tension considerably eased and she felt relieved that the session confirmed for her that her choice to move felt right.
Tina reported: “I was feeling so stressed and, after the first session, I felt more grounded and I found a greater sense of clarity. In the second session, I understood the necessity of learning to take care of myself and the people I love. I began to see how I use my stress to attack myself and how I harm myself with my thought patterns. Once we allow ourselves to connect with our inner world, we learn to live life very differently by connecting with the many aspects of ourselves, including the physical body and this is how we can prevent disease. I feel it now – if there is no music and art as support, I think that is how people go crazy.”
During a one-off session, Jeanette, a medical doctor,admitted that she had had very little experience with processing her emotions. Her partner, who is immersed in creative arts work, suggested she book a MARI session. She had many insights during the session and, although she was left with much to process, she felt unburdened from finding safety to place her ‘worries’ and questions into the process. She opened up about aspects of her life which she had not discussed with anyone previously – this was a powerful release for her.
Jane is currently enrolled in a 12-week creativity course, which incorporates MARI, GIM as well as process art and writing. After her fifth session, she reported: “I feel more conscious and aware of myself and my world. New themes have emerged which I was not aware of before – themes of moving and growing, beginnings and endings. My awareness has intensified and I am literally seeing things differently”
In January this year, Roland quit his job and embarked on monthly MARI and GIM sessions. He reports that his inner world has opened up, offering him insights for ‘where to from here’. As a result of repeated music-listening, he is becoming experienced at listening to the yearnings and directives of his inner life, thus enabling sure-footed decision-making going forward.
Some general changes noted with clients:
Their sense of noticing and connecting to themselves, their home and working environment is enhanced by a new understanding of how they express their love of colour, texture and symbols in their environment.
The music aspect of this work invites clients to discover new ways of listening to music, finding strength and a sense of joy in the music they invite into their lives. They become more sensitive to what genres of music they wish to engage with, and they learn about how to support themselves through music-listening. Some clients even admit to dancing to music at home or even singing in the shower – experiencing immense joy in the simplicity of these acts of expression.
The artists’ voices.
Benvenuto Cellini, the Florentine sculptor: “For I am confident that my hands will be such that they will say who I am!”
Paul Gauguin, the artist: “I shut my eyes in order to see.”
Louis Armstrong, musician: “What we play is life.”
Snoopy, from Peanuts, by Charles Schulz: “To dance is to live.”
Diane has a special interest in the transformative power of the creative arts. She uses Mandala Assessment Research Instrument (MARI) and The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music, as therapeutic support for the endeavours of Life towards Balance. Diane’s approach incorporates process art techniques as well as energy medicine, to enhance the alchemy of creative expression. She offers courses and sessions, both live and online, for individuals and groups of all ages.
A testimonial from one of Diane’s international MARI students, Jean, who recently studied the online course to become a certified MARI practitioner:
“The past months spending time to learn MARI from you have been really a precious process. There is so much to learn about MARI and thank you for your unconditional teaching. In addition, you have walked with me through a transition in my career, I feel the support and guidance. With the deepest thanks from my heart, thank you Diane.”
It is common for new theories to arise, claiming, for example, that we should eat certain foods which have been modified for optimal health. Generally, after some time, we discover something was wrong with the theory and it turns out that the whole fruit, whole egg, and so on, is better for us than those that have been modified or that have had parts removed or added. Instead of theorising, we can try to model our diet on that of our ancestors, eating natural whole foods, seeing what works for us, and cutting out what causes our body any kind of problem.
Just as food affects the way we feel, physically, so ideas affect our mental stability, emotional well-being, and our spirit or our attitude. And just as we can see how we feel after eating certain food, so we can watch our thoughts to see how an idea, or a belief system, affects our emotions and our attitude towards others and towards life. And we must reject those ideas and belief systems that damage us. If an idea or an ideology leads us to feel depressed, angry, resentful, or to blame others or to feel incapable of acting on our own behalf, then we should reject it. If, however, an idea or a belief makes us feel enthusiastic, positive, loving, patient, optimistic, determined, and capable, then it is more likely to express something of our true or archetypal nature.
Practising some kind of physical art or discipline can help us in regard to understanding our thinking, especially our preconceptions. I want to paint a self-portrait, let’s say. I do not realise it, but, due to some insecurity, I have a conception of my face that is incorrect. I think I have a long nose, or big ears, small eyes, or small lips. I begin drawing my face, but, then, as I look in the mirror and check the proportions, I discover that my face is not as I had thought. I have drawn my nose too long or the ears too big, because of my distorted self-image. I must correct the drawing and I must correct my own self-image.
Or I think I know how to look after a plant, but place it where it will not get enough light. Then it withers, and I am forced to move it to where it will get sunlight. Or perhaps I think I know how to cook some particular food, but I over-spice it or undercook it. Or I might believe I have mastered a martial art, but then I get punched in the face by someone with less training. In any case, I have to have the humility to think about what I did wrong, and adjust. My beliefs have to be less important than the physical nature that I am working with.
To work with the hands—aspect of the Creator of the world itself. It requires us to know how things work, to accept the quality of each thing, and, to be able to work with them, rather than trying to impose our wrong ideas on reality.
Once I accept its qualities, I can focus on, and develop, the object of my attention, sometimes finding interesting new applications or possibilities. Hence, accepting that gold is too soft and too scarce to be used in the production of tools, but noting that it reflected the light of the fire, it was used ritualistically and decoratively, covering the monarch’s throne, for example. Noticing that the arms and other parts of the body had limitations in where and how they could move, some martial arts developed methods for subduing an opponent by manipulating them in ways that were unnatural, and thus painful or that prevented an opponent from moving to counter-attack.
But that is only one way in which we work with the object of our attention. The other involves our own body, which harmonises with it. The martial artist must use his own body when grappling with an opponent. When painting, using the traditional tools of ink and brush, the Chinese or Japanese artist will exhale as he makes each stroke. Polishing a mirror or cleaning and polishing a sword involved the use of the breath in the same way, and so was considered a type of meditation. But we find this elsewhere. When a tailor cuts fabric, he will look in front of the shears and exhale as he slides the shears through the cloth. How the body is used is dictated by the object itself. It is the same principle.
But the body, too, must be cultivated. Plato believed physical training (gymnastic) should be taught from early childhood and that it should continue to be practised throughout the life of the individual. However, this, he believed, had to be learned and practised alongside music, because “exclusive devotion to gymnastic” tends to produce “a temper of hardness and ferocity,” while single-minded devotion to music produces an equally undesirable “softness and effeminacy.”
In the west, we have come to associate the spiritual man with the figure of Jesus, at least as he has overwhelmingly been represented in Christian art: placid, passive, slender, soft, and meek. And even as Christianity has declined in many parts of the west, this image lives on in our psyches. As such, perhaps it seems that we are overemphasising the physical. After all, both religion and spirituality ultimately direct our attention away from the material world and toward the Divine. But without a grounding in a physical practice, where we must face our limitations and overcome them—only to face new limitations and overcome those—it is easy to detach ourselves from reality and to fool ourselves that our quirks, fantasies, and delusions are proof of our spiritual superiority and perhaps even of psychic ability. We must wrestle with reality, as Sri Aurobindo, has said, discovering infinity out of our limitations.
Doubtlessly, the thin, mysterious, effeminate man in contact with spirits and immersed in dreams is one male archetype. There is something both religious and sexual—and even sexually ambiguous—about him. He is the artist, the mystic, dreamer, poet, author, and sexual adventurer. He emerges in the figure of the tribal shaman, who sometimes dressed in female clothes, thus presenting himself as both male and female. At once transgressing and embodying nature, it was this contradiction that gave the shaman his power to speak directly with nature and its manifestations as spirits or demons. In Norse mythology, too, we hear Odin—the god of war, magic, and poetry—being criticised for being “unmanly.” The basis of this accusation is Odin’s practice of a feminine type of magic (Seið), but, a more British or European than American sensibility, in the modern era we find this archetype emerging through such figures as David Bowie (especially, perhaps, in his Ziggy Stardust persona), the band Bauhaus, and in the art of Aubrey Beardsley.
Nevertheless, this figure—like that of its opposite, the vulgar, unthinking man who trains his body but not his mind—is merely a shadowy half of what we are aspiring to be. We have not only mentioned Plato’s belief that the individual should be educated and practised in both the hard and soft arts, but we have also looked at these dual qualities in the knight, in chivalry, and in the samurai, and it is this dual nature, and its cultivation, that provides us with a more complete and multidimensional model or archetype of the initiated or fully-developed man.”
Excerpt from Chapter 3: The Necessary Work
From the book: The Path of the Warrior-Mystic.
Being a Man in an Age of Chaos
About the Author: Angel Millar is a well-known lecturer on initiation, symbolism, Freemasonry, and self-development as well as an artist and student of the martial arts. The author of several books, including The Three Stages of Initiatic Spirituality and The Path of the Warrior-Mystic, he lives in New York City. https://angelmillar.com/
The Path of the Warrior-Mystic by Angel Millar © 2021 Inner Traditions. Printed with permission from the publisher Inner Traditions International. www.InnerTraditions.com