Creative Kick!

I had a long conversation with an old friend today about making changes in ones life. About how we can become stagnant, unhappy, numb and overwhelmed by where we are in our lives. I made some significant changes in my life about 10 years ago, including going back to school and completing my BA and MA degrees. These endeavors lead me to a new career as an art therapist and psychotherapist. I have to say, I am quite happy in my newly-designed life.  But, it was not just external changes that took place, it was with much introspection and change in perspectives that has me feeling great about my life.  So, here are some questions I'd like you to ponder and visually play with by using collage, journal writing, or any other creative medium you wish. After you read the question, answer it authentically and see where it takes you.
What you will need to do this exercise: magazine cut-outs, glue stick, scissors, blank paper or journal.
Question 1: What are you passionate about?  Choose images that answer this question. Then reflect on whether you are getting enough of this in your life.

Question 2. What in my life do I need to let go of to move forward?
Question 3: What in my life do I need to nurture?
Question 4. If I'm single, have I created a life I enjoy?
Question 5: Can I be alone with myself?

If you answer these questions with collage, you can expand on the exercise by writing about the process and experience after you are finished. And, if you begin the exercise with writing, see what happens when you turn the writing into a collage.

Once you have completed the exercise, use it as a guide to bring things into your life and to let go of the things that no longer work for you.
Enjoy the process!


I had a flash of gratitude today while I was standing outside the Honey Baked Ham store amidst the crowd of  focused shoppers. As I stood there, waiting for my friend to finish her shopping, I realized how fortunate I am and all I have to be thankful for in 2011. Let me just say, I've had years where it has felt like like I had all I could do to keeping my head above water.  But this year, I got to the finishing line of  being a licensed marriage and family therapist. That in and of its self has me grateful ten times over.  Writing a list of what one is grateful for is definitely an inspiring activity and a reminder of what gifts you've received throughout the last 12 months. And, I recommend everyone do it as a centering activity. Even if you are going through one of your more challenging of years, find one thing that you feel grateful for.  Anyway, this is not a posting about all that I have to be thankful for, though I could easily write many pages on this  subject, I want to help you gear up for the days and nights ahead by finding a practice that has you centered.  I want to suggest ways in which you can keep your wits about you, experience peace amongst the insanity, discover love in unlikely places, and most of all, trust in yourself when you might be swayed to doubt.

So, where do you find centering?  Do you have a meditation practice? Do you have a creative outlet? Do you make tine to walk in nature? When was the last time you went outside and counted the many different species of birds you saw? When was the last time you allowed yourself space to draw or paint a mandala?  Are there books you've been wanting to read?  If you are reading this and wondering just how and when you are going to fit any of this into your busy schedule, have you thought about asking your family to give you the gift of time this year? Do you trust someone else to take over while you take a break? Or do you feel you are the only one to keep the household functioning? I invite you take care of yourself this holiday and ask for what you need. Dear Santa, may I please have 12 hours once a week, once a month, or (you fill in the blank) to myself this year?

How do you know when your are centered? I invite you to get creative and one way is to begin by writing a gratitude list. You can also get creative and make a gratitude collage with images cut from magazines that reflect all that you are grateful this year. You might also want to create a centering collage or mandala that reflects calm in your life. Fill it with images that relax you and provide a sense of peace for you. Hang it some place in your home or office so you will be reminded of its power. See my other posts for information on how to create mandalas. 

No matter where you find centering, stay in the here and now...not in the past and not in the future, there you will only find anxiety. If you stay in the moment, may calm and centering be with you.

Getting a head start on the holiday blues

This is one of my first postings on the holidays that are looming ahead like a storm over the horizon. I personally find this time of year emotionally pack-filled.  For some, they zoom by without a flicker like a racehorse galloping around a track.  Maybe, you leave town and check into a fine ski resort with only the snowfall to worry about. Maybe, you have to choose who you are going to spend the holidays with and who you might have to disappoint. For many, the holidays bring on a shift in mood, stress, expectations, expense and an abundance of tasty temptations. How do we remain in control or at least behind the wheel of our emotions during this energy-packed time of year? How do we acknowledge feelings and emotions that can surface without a clue where they came from while not falling into a deep depressive state? I believe being prepared is one way. Nurturing ourselves and our feelings is another. Not running from our emotions and allowing them to be felt is an important tool to respecting and having a deeper understanding of ourselves.

One thing to remember, is there does not have to be one event or disappointment to create the "gray cloud" effect. Sometimes, a shift in one's mood can occur like a drop in temperature.  Holidays can and are a reminder of the past. Memories can be triggered; expectations can run wild setting us up for a downward spiral. It is important to know how to take care of yourself in times like this. Journalling is a great way to put your feelings to paper. Art is another even if you don't consider yourself an artist. Try collage, it is a non-threatening creative medium. Make a list now of all the things you've been wanting to accomplish and haven't gotten around to, such as clearing out closets, organizing your home, getting together with a friend you haven't seen in a while. Most of all, take care of your feelings. Don't try to push them away. Feel them. Write about them, Paint or collage about them.

That's it for now...more to come.

The holidays are coming, the holidays are coming...

Collage Greeting Card
 It begins in November and December, those months where we can be swept away by expectations, spending and mood shifts that can occur  as often as the temperatures outside change.  Mood shifts can come over us like a dark cloud from out of nowhere. Nothing drastic happened, just suddenly, there we are, overcome with sadness, holiday blues, anxiety or some other state that has cast its spell on us. My intention here is to let you know it is not unusual to feel this way during this time of year. The dark days of winter are upon us along with the craziness of the holidays.

OK, so what can you do to make it through to the other side of the new year?  Here are a few tips I've learned along the way about getting through the holidays with my spirit intact.
  • Plan ahead - have some creative projects in line to work on to focus your attention. Collage, draw, or paint MANDALAS.
  • Journal - give yourself the gift of a beautiful journal
  • We can learn a lot about ourselves in the dark days as well as light. Be curious about your moods and write about them. Let the page hold them.
  • Move your body - walk, take a yoga class, offer to walk dogs at a shelter.
  • Volunteer
  • Reach out to friends
  • Read 
  • If aloneness triggers feelings, don't push them away, be with the feelings and realize they are coming up to be healed not ignored.
  • Feelings pass
  • Reach out to friends
  • Make your holiday cards using collage or some other creative tool.
  • Attend a spiritual celebration
Collage Mandala

So, here you have a few tips and tools to help you manage the possible emotional effects the holidays can bring on. I think we forget that we can use this time creatively. To explore creative practices that during the rest of the year, we might not have time for. Think outside the box.
These do not have to be the dark emotional days, but rather, the awakening days of the spirit and creative energy that resides inside of us.


The "Committee""

Did you ever stop and listen to the way you speak to yourself? The internal dialogue that goes on behind closed doors with you, yourself & I. It is very common to internalize the critical voice of others and begin using it with ourselves. We do it so often and unconsciously, that many times we aren't even aware it is happening. In my private practice, when I ask people about how they speak to themselves, they are shocked when they become aware of the harshness of the voice they use. We are usually very aware of how others speak to us, but totally unaware of how we speak to ourselves.

Try stopping and listening the next time you are beating yourself up or unhappy with a choice you've made or when you look in the mirror. Be curious about that voice. You might want to ask it where it came from or what it gets out of putting you down. The best time to listen is when you're being challenged or struggling with something, or when you've made a "mistake." Notice if you use the voice of the saboteur? The punisher? The critic? Or, are you gentle with yourself taking on the voice of the coach or supporter? I like to call these various voices that take hostage of our thoughts as the "committee." See if you can identify the committee in your head. Do any images come up for you? Do you need to let some committee members go? Do they no longer serve their purpose? Be aware of which committee members you'd like to keep on board and which ones need a pink slip. Many times we believe we won't be able to get things done without the harsh and critical voice to keep us on track. Most likely this will not be the case and you will find the encouraging voice just as motivating. Once you've figured out which members need to go, politely ask them to leave and thank them for their service. Some might resist, but be insistent, that they need to leave.

With your new committee that supports and encourages you in place, practice a new way of speaking to yourself that works with you instead of against you. And if you slip, or if an unwanted member returns, be patient with yourself. A new muscle is forming!

Calm your Anxiety Away - create a mandala

If you've followed my blog, you know I write a lot about the art of mandalas. The Sanskrit word that means simply "circle." Every culture uses some form of the circle as a tool to promote calm, healing, meditation, enlightenment and more. Carl Jung, the Swiss Analyst believed the mandala is the voice of the unconscious. In my workshops, the art of creating mandalas, you create freestyle mandalas that represent where you are in your life today. No one mandala will look the same. We use colored pencils, collage and crayons to create personal mandalas. It is fun, connecting, relaxing and  telling.

How do mandalas help with anxiety? First, the circle is a contained space that provides safety. Second, creating mandalas is a meditative process that allows you to become centered, focused and relaxed, especially when you can silence the critical voice within. It helps to train the active thinking brain to be in the here and now and be totally in the process rather than product. Even if you color an already pre-printed mandala, your focus is on the design and not the thoughts in your head.  You can download pre-printed mandalas off the internet and color away.  Allow yourself to let go and let the process happen  You do not have to be an artist or even consider yourself create to make a mandala.  Be aware of how the shapes, images and colors affect your mood. Ask your critical voice to step outside as you move around in your circle.  You can even draw a freestyle circle on a small piece of paper if are waiting for a test or exam to begin and watch how your anxiety and worry shift.

The next time you feel yourself feeling overwhelmed, create a circle and begin coloring!

Balancing Act - keeping the left and right hemispheres in check

In case you didn't know, we actually have more than one brain.  For the sake of this posting, I'm only going to talk about the left and right sides of our brains called hemiespheres. You've probably heard people refer to left-handed people as being more artistic, because being left-handed triggers a right-brain response. Our emotions reside in the right hemisphere of the brain along with our creative nature in an area called the amygdala. This is where our emotions live not our thoughts. Our thought command center is located in our left brain.  Over there in left-field is where we make lists, think projects through, balance our check books, etc.

One of the things I talk to clients about is learning to live in a more balanced state where one side of the brain is not dominating the other unless of course you are doing a math problem and there really is no need for the emotions to step in. If we live primarily in our right brains, we are ruled by our emotions and if we live in our thinking-left brains, we are disconnected from our feelings and emotions. I hear many people say, "I don't know what I'm feeling." This is usually an example of someone who lives in their left brain and can be totally unaware that our thoughts affect our feelings. A thought is usually what takes up to a feeling state. For example, lets say, you find out you failed a test. A first thought might be, "I'm stupid," which might trigger a feeling of sadness. But, if you fail the test and think, "next time, I'm going to study harder, ask for help and work on my anxiety," you will most likely feel, an sense of empowerment rather than sadness.

As your day skips along, be aware of where you are. If you are doing an artistic project, are you judging it? Critical of it? Or, are you allowing the process to happen. If you are doing something creative that needs to be a certain way, be aware of how you are talking to yourself. You can get to a product or end result without self-criticism. Try getting there with support and kindness from your right brain.  Same goes with if you are doing something that requires thinking. Are you balancing your check book and allowing your right brain to step in and become sad because you have no money in your account OR, are you being gentle with yourself and THINKING of ways to get back on track with your money management?

Take a little time out of each day and be aware of where you've been spending your time: have I been completely in my right brain or left? Have I made room for balance. If you work in a thinking field such as accounting, have you maybe done some mindfulness or doodling to give your right brain a rest? If not, give it a try...your hemispheres will thank you!

Beginnings - Where do I start? How do I start? Will it be good enough?

So, here I am staring at a blank page on my blog. I want to write today, but nothing is coming to me; No ideas. No thoughts: No hip, cool subjects jumped out at me. I feel lost about what to write. Then it hits me...beginnings. Oxford Dictionary: perform the first part of; start.  Yikes. Starting. Does that sending chills up your spine? Starting your taxes, starting a diet, starting a conversation. Staring at a blank page. As a writer and artist, I find staring at a blank page very intimidating. I want it to be good and I want it to express what I'm are thinking and feeling. In other words, I have an expectation about how it should be, look, etc. One of my favorite quotes is by Anne Lamott, writer.  In her book, "Bird by Bird" she says, don't be afraid to write a shitty first draft. Whether it's an exercise program, writing an essay, creating art, or anything else, we can feel as though a huge question mark is staring at us.  When I lead my Mandala workshops, I tell participants, if you are having trouble beginning, place your pencil anywhere in the circle and let the pencil guide you. Give the power over to the pencil. Allow it to speak for you for a few moments. I really believe that whether it is a creative piece or an academic paper, we can give ourselves some room for exploration or curiosity as be move into unknown territory of the blank page. One small movement is a beginning. One word is a beginning. One stoke of the brush is a beginning. BEWARE....the voice of criticism will be lurking just around the corner waiting to pounce. Ask it to step aside; remind it, you are having fun and don't need its help; and ask it, what do you get out of putting me down?


  • Place a blank piece of white paper in front of you about 8 1/2/11 plain computer paper.
  • Use whichever medium you feel most comfortable with
  • Ask the paper if it has any messages for you today
  • Close you eyes for a few moments as you rest your hand on the paper in front of you
  • Move your hand around the paper
  • Does a color, shape, size, image come to mind?
  • Does the paper feel warm, cold, or hot?
  • Does it feel soft, hard, textured?
  • Maybe a question such as where do you suggest I begin? would be helpful
  • As you move your hand on the paper does a particular shape form?  
  • Let all of this be a guide for you.
  • Allow the page to speak to you and when you feel images, shapes, or colors come to you...go with them.
  • Do not judge
  • Do not erase
  • Just play!
Everything you have done so far has been a beginning. You have begun. Be careful about judgement. This is not about how much, how good, how perfect; it's about getting started and moving forward. Have fun with it and ask all critics to step outside. Be kind and gentle with yourself...No punishing talk. Kind, loving words as though you are speaking to a young child...

Helping Children EXpress Their not-so-fun Feelings

I'm sure, if you have children, or been around them, you've experienced at least once, and I'm sure more, the emotional, confusing and overwhelming temper tantrum. I remember walking with my friend and her 4 year old son when suddenly he dropped to the ground and began wailing. I asked her what was wrong and she simply replied, "I don't have a clue." We both stood their in utter disbelief.

I've learned a thing or two about children's behavior since then and one thing I have learned is never try to reach a child when they are in the midst of a temper tantrum. It's similar to getting my dog's attention when she sees a's just not going to happen. The point is, once a child is in a state of emotional overload, not much is going to distract them let alone getting them to talk about what they are feeling. What you can do though, is let them know you are there for them, hold them, tell them they must be feeling really bad right now proceed to gently rock them. Once they have calmed down, you can then move to the next step which is getting them to verbalize what they are feeling. I recommend giving the names of feelings to them such as, are you feeling mad, sad, happy, frustrated? Children, depending on their age, can't always identify the feeling on their own. Another idea is to have a "feeling" chart in your house. Many times children can look at a facial expression of a feeling and can identify how they are feeling that way. When there is the time, I ask children to create a picture of how they are feeling. I ask them to pick a color, shape and size of their feeling. I would recommend always having markers or crayons on hand and paper. I like to help children identify when they are reaching their so to speak breaking point. They begin to recognize how anger, for instance, they are and can take steps to calm themselves down. They can count, take deep breaths, jump on one foot, do push-ups or take out the coloring supplies. To help children express what they are feeling, here are a few tips:

  • Talk openly in your family about feelings
  • All feelings are's how you express them
  • Encourage children to use their words not their fists to express feelings
  • Help by suggesting a few feelings they might be feeling
  • Have a feeling chart in your home
  • Share how you are feeling
  • Be a positive example, i.e., do you use bad words; do you yell and scream? do you hit?
  • children learn by observing and if you do the above...they will.
  • Last but not least....STAY CALM!

Long weekend blues...

If you're like me, when a long weekend looms, I feel the urge to to stay home and stay away from the crowds. Though in a city like Los Angeles, many people leave town. Either way, for those of you who stay home and are looking for something creative to engage in, I have an idea. One of my favorite creative practices is making collage greeting cards. All you really need is magazine cut-out images, a few glue sticks, scissors and construction paper. You can also jazz them up with cool ribbon if you wish. I love giving and getting homemade cards. If you have any birthdays coming up, now might be a good time to personalize a few cards so that they are ready when the birthdays roll around. And, it's never too late to get a jump start on those holiday cards.
What I recommend you do first, is beginning to go through any magazines you have sitting around and begin cutting or tearing out images that you like. Keep them in a shoebox and when you're in the mood to work on your cards, the images will be ready for you. Along with images, I cut out sayings, words, and images that make neat backgrounds. You can cut images such as smiles, faces and attach them to other images. Be creative and think outside the box. Lay out the images first before gluing and when you have the card design the way you want it, glue it down. I sometimes trim my cards with color ribbon, or interesting design boarders. See the cards I have included in this blog posting for examples and get started on your card project. Be aware, it can become addicting!

TAMING THE BEAST OF ANXIETY...1 mandala at a time

We all experience anxiety....anxiety is our fight or flight response that warns us of danger. It is a primal feeling that has its roots in protecting us from danger, BUT, we have learned through evolution to use it even when we are not physically in danger. It comes up at crazy times for instance when we are afraid we've made a mistake. OR, have a made a mistake and worry about the outcome. Anxiety surfaces when some feeling triggers a fear response that has us feeling unsafe. Another example might be when we have to give a speech or lecture. One of man's most feared events besides death is public speaking. Ask anyone and they will tell you they would rather do anything than speak in front of a crowd. I believe when we are experiencing a bout of anxiety, we are also in a place of not trusting ourselves. We fear something will go wrong; we will be laughed out; we fear we will embarrass ourselves in front others. At this moment, we have lost the ability to trust that we will be OK. In other words...we feel as though we are looking into the eyes of danger, we in fact, we are not in danger. Coloring mandalas are one creative technique that can aid in the calming of anxiety. Coloring within a boundaries of the circle provide a sense of safety, and boarders. Mandala is the Sanskrit word for "circle." I could write for lines about mandalas, but for this posting, I'm focusing on the use of mandalas to aid in managing the beast known as anxiety. If you can draw a circle, you can create a mandala...and it doesn't have to be a perfect circle. You can also print pre-drawn mandalas and color them in with markers, colored pencils, crayons or any other drawing medium you wish. You can make them as small or large as you wish. You can draw a circle using a circular object as a guide. Once you have created your circle, begin to draw within the circle. You can begin anywhere in the circle you wish. Begin drawing and observe how you begin to focus on the circle and not on your worry. I invite you to take on the mandala when you are faced with worry. Enjoy the process. For more about mandalas, read some of my earlier posts.

I'm good enough, smart enough and...

I'm enough! Period. End of story. Wouldn't it be great if that's the way it really worked. This idea has been coming up a lot in my life recently both on a personal level and with my work with clients. I've been giving a lot of thought to the idea of really believing that one is good enough just the way they are. At what point do we learn that we are not good enough and where do we stumble on or get programmed to believe that we are not? We surely don't come out of the womb with a belief system that we are not good enough. We enter the world whole and then we are bombarded with shoulds, shame, judgement, doubt, criticism, and the list goes on. This is typically when we learn to these reject aspects of ourselves as though they were limbs we could amputate; we take these parts of ourselves and shove them away so no one will find them. And, we forget about them. So we think. They have ways of sneaking around and tormenting us when we least expect it. Times of feeling rejected, abandoned, fearful, lonely...oh yes, they're still around.

So, what parts of yourself do you reject? Or maybe I should say, disown. Or maybe your are ashamed of. Can you name a few? What about the part of you that tends to be forgetful? Or the part that gets jealous? Or, the part that can be careless...that's a big one. And, what about the part that you feel is NOT PERFECT? Yes, even that one. What I'm asking is how do you take care of yourself when these aspects of yourself come up? Do you berate yourself? Shame yourself? Or, are you loving and kind to yourself?

Here's the art directive:
Create a collage using cut-out magazine images, of all the many aspects of you. Good, bad, ugly, unacceptable, unforgiving, not allowed; the parts you embrace and the parts you reject...they are all welcome...invite them all in. Use images that reflect these parts of you. Glue them to the paper and really take time to look at them and get to know them. Realize, that like it or not, these are what make you who you are. They are all part of the amazing whole that make you YOU. No one collage will look the same. Practice seeing what it feels like to really take these pieces of yourself in. Bring them forward and acknowledge them. Take them out of the closet and allow them to be seen. You do not have to hide them anymore. They create the whole of who you are and if you took one away, the whole would not be complete. After completing your self-collage, I would encourage you to journal about the process. Write about what came up and you might want to even name these beautiful parts of what make you YOU. Give them names. They all have a right to be here. They are not wrong.

Go in peace...

The "MAGIC" of Model Magic

It is always a challenge, well at least for me, when a teen comes into session with their head hung low, unwilling to participate in therapy, and wanting the session to end yesterday! I don't know what I would do if I didn't have training as an art therapist. Recently, a young boy ambivalently came into the playroom remarking that he didn't want to be there and didn't want to do "anything." I validated his feelings and at one point, asked him where in his body he feels the intense feelings he was having. He reported, "his stomach." I quickly told him that many times we have physical symptoms when the feelings have not been expressed. I let him mull on a few of the things I said and then handed him a large piece of model magic. Model Magic is a clay-like substance that comes in different colors and hardens if you leave it out in the air. It is soft to touch when first opened and stays soft if kept in a plastic bag. Young and old love it's texture and its tactile experience. Colors can be mixed to make interesting combinations of colors or you can color pieces with magic markers also creating a beautiful kaleidoscope of color combinations. I suggested my client hold the clay in his hands to see how it felt. He continued to hang his head, but also proceeded to play with the clay by squeezing and twisted it eventually lifting his head up. I showed him how the clay can be made into a ball and that it can bounce. At one point the boy made a ball out of the clay and began to toss it in the air and against the wall. As I worked with another piece of clay, I also formed a ball and asked him if he knew how to juggle. Be then made two balls out of the same piece of clay and began to juggle with two and eventually with three balls of clay. I acknowledged what a good juggler his is and this might be something he can do when he is feeling anxious. I know this teen plays basketball, so at one point we both shot baskets into the waste basket using the balls we had made. My client appeared to relax and engage in the process with me. 5 minutes before the end of the session, my client announced he wanted to leave and I walked with him to the waiting area to wait for his parents. If children and teens are not taught how to manage anxiety, they become adults that are not in control of their overwhelming worry. Knowing tools to manage anxiety is as important as knowing how to take care of a headache or toothache.

I made sure that he understood that juggling and or tossing balls was something he could do when he felt anxious. It is important for children and teens to have tools they can turn to when feelings come up that they have difficulty managing. I call it their emotional toolbox. I suggested he come up with some other tools he can used when he feels overwhelmed by anxiety and worry.

New beliefs

Welcome 2011....goodbye 2010. Every January New Year's rolls around, many are busy writing their New Year's resolutions, which they hope will make some kind of a change in their lives. I do not adhere to resolutions, because I don't believe they stick and usually no one is sitting on our shoulders keeping an eye on us. So, it is easy to let exercise, dieting, writing, spending habits fall by the wayside. I usually begin a new journal to start the New Year off and begin writing about what I'd like to let go of in the new year and what I'd like to bring in. Not necessarily material things, but what new energy, belief systems, thoughts, and/or accomplishments would I like to happen in the new year. So, instead of one of my resolutions being exercise daily, I might write, I'd like to take on a new belief system about exercise, which I like to call "moving" instead of the E word. So, I don't set myself up for failure or disappointment about not moving, I give myself permission to see moving from a different perspective. I have a choice of activities that allow my body to move instead of one, that is "go to the gym." I might workout at home with weights, put a CD on and dance, walk my dogs; you get the picture. Give yourself more than one option to move.

A belief I'm working on in 2011 is the idea that I do not need others approval to feel important. I can trust and believe it without the actions of others as my radar. I will also, not beat myself up if I do slip into old patterns, but I will acknowledge the thoughts and feelings. So, what is a new belief you would like to bring into 2011? Maybe it is about not feeling entitled to have certain feelings. What feeling do you believe you need to give yourself permission to have? Anger? Sadness? Joy? Pick one to work on. I recommend journaling daily about feelings and the thoughts you have about them. Practice allowing yourself to have them, write about them and be curious about them. Be kind and gentle with them and with yourself. Don't run from them. Draw an image of them in your journal and get to know the feeling.

You might want to work with a friend, therapist or someone you trust in case feelings surface that feel overwhelming or you are not familiar with.

Be well,