Wild Art Therapy helps us connect our thoughts and feelings with the restorative flow of Earth's wisdom. Most of us have grown up in a society that has become detached from the natural world. We find ourselves going in circles trying to manage our symptoms without really finding the root of the problem. We become out of synch with the regenerative and balancing ways of the earth and it makes us lose sight of who we really are.
“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.
When I worked in the NHS we were always told that when faced with an emergency situation we should always make sure that we were safe first. On an aeroplane the safety advice is always “Put your own oxygen mask on first before trying to help others”. It’s wise advice. We need to attend to our own care first in order to give us the strength and resilience to help others. It’s unfortunate that many people don’t get this and they tend to repeatedly put the needs of others before their own. They give and give until they are either all washed up or feeling resentful. A common name for this is co-dependency. Is this something you suffer from? It is something that was the bane of my life for many years. Always seeking to attend to other people’s needs, I forgot to tend to my own. I ended up resentful and felt taken for granted and lacking in energy and self-worth.
Yet this imbalance is seldom found in nature. All natural organisms have innate instincts for both self-preservation and pleasure, and attending to others. If we observe the ways of Nature, we can discover a healthy balance between nurturing ourselves and those around us.
Purpose: To explore natural and healthy ways to care for ourselves as well as others.
To do: Take your art materials to a natural place where you feel comfortable and can study your surroundings uninterrupted. Quietly ask for permission to be there and interact. When you feel welcome and comfortable enter the natural space.
1. Ask yourself what you do to take care of yourself emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Write your thoughts in your journal. Do you make yourself a priority? Are you able to recognise your needs and seek to fulfill them or ask for help when you need it? If not, why not?
2. Look around you for something natural that you are drawn to. Study it to understand how it takes care of itself. What does it do to maintain its wellbeing?
3. Draw a picture of the natural entity that you are drawn to and illustrate how it nurtures itself. Give your artwork a title.
4. Make a list of things it needs to take care of itself. Make a list of things you need to take care of yourself.
When you look at your artwork what thoughts and feelings do you have? Is there a message in it for you?
Make a list of things you can do to nurture and take care of yourself. Make it a priority to do at least one of these things every day.
Maya Angelou once said: “The real difficulty is to overcome how you think about yourself.” You must teach yourself that you are worthy of respect, your needs are meant to be met, and your dreams are meant to be fulfilled. You must believe you are as worthy and important as everyone else.
Consider your experience with this activity.
a) On a thought level
b) On a feeling level
c) On a behavioural level (what will you do differently in the future?)
I tried to break the end off a blackberry stem but the strength of the stem and the thorns made it impossible. I picked up a rock and used the edge to cut the stem. It struck me how these two natural entities were so different yet each was strong and flexible in its own way and each had a purpose. The rock was easy to pick up and use as a tool. Its unchanging form made it reliable and gave it many uses. The blackberry stem was difficult to break or pull up but it was easy to pick the fruit it provided.
“When Nature has work to be done she hires a genius”. Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Purpose: Consult Nature to help discover your life purpose and write a mission statement for your life.
Nature has never evolved something that wasn’t needed. That includes you. Everyone has a calling. Why were you born? Why do you exist? Some people have a clear sense of purpose, others stumble around trying to find it. You don’t have to hire an expensive therapist or attend fancy workshops to find out why you are here. All you have to do is step outside and listen. The natural world will tell you why it gave birth to you.
Go to an attractive place in a natural area and quietly seek permission to visit and interact.
1. Observe the area and reflect on the fact that everything has a special value and purpose. Nature created each of these entities to fulfil a special mission. You were born to play a unique role, too. You have a purpose that was fashioned for you and only you. Imagine that Earth had a job vacancy on the day you were born. It sent a help-wanted ad on the wind. Use your pens and paper and design what this ad looked like. What did the earth need? Be creative, draw a picture of it and what it said. Colour it in.
2. Imagine that you saw this help wanted ad before you were born and you applied for it. Design and fill out your application form. Why do you want the job? What are your strengths? Why are you the perfect candidate? What would convince Nature to hire you?
3. Run your hands over your body and feel your warmth and aliveness. Celebrate your existence and let it confirm that your application was accepted. Thank Nature for giving you this opportunity.
Write a personal mission statement for your life. Try to clear the clutter of social conditioning and what other people (and you) think you ‘should’ be and think what you ‘want’ to be. Let Nature inspire an authentic answer. Don’t rush your response; it might be immediate, or it might take days or even weeks for you to discover it. You will know when it arrives because it will feel like it has come from a different source entirely. It will resonate on a deeply spiritual level. The words that come to you will make you tingle and will excite you to the core.
Consider your experience with this activity
A) On a thought level
B) On a feeling level
C) On a behavioural level (what will you do in the future?)
I sat on the bank by the stream feeling the peace of its gentle flow. Some leaves floated by, circling and chasing each other as they disappeared down the stream. I pondered on where they had been and where they were going. My mind wondered to my own life. Where was I going? Where had I been?
We each travel our own journey. Sometimes we feel like we are floating, other times like we are sinking. We are all passengers on the great river of life.
Purpose: Find inspiration in a natural area for meditation on your life journey.
Go to a natural area that you find attractive. Quietly ask for permission to spend time there and interact. Make sure that your surroundings are giving you good and comfortable feelings.
1. Find a comfortable and pleasing place to sit. Preferably choose a hillside, or somewhere with good views. Turn around and look at the distance behind you. For a few moments observe the natural landscape behind you. What do you see? How does it make you feel? Draw a picture a captures your feelings about what you can see. Give your artwork a title.
2. Now look around the area where you are sitting. Concentrate on something close by that captures your attention. Take a few moments to study it and communicate with it. Draw a picture of it and ask it what it tells you about yourself. Give your drawing a title.
3. Now look into the distance in front of you. Use your senses to engage with the natural landscape. What do you see? What thoughts and feelings emerge? Draw a picture that captures how you feel. Title your artwork.
Imagine that your three pictures capture the past, present and future of your life journey. Look at each drawing and ask to understand the message it holds for you.
What message is nature giving you about your past (picture 1)? What does it tell you about where you have been? What have you learned from this time? In what ways is your past influencing your present? How has it prepared you for your life now? Does the title of your drawing tell you anything?
What message is nature giving you about your present? What does your drawing and title tell you about where you are at this particular time in your life? Are there any things that you want, or anything that you need to leave behind before moving on?
What does your future drawing tell you about what lies ahead for you? What guidance is nature giving you?
Draw a map of your life that summarises your journey so far.
Write down a description of your map. What have you discovered:
On a head (thought)level?
On a heart (feeling) level?
On a hand (behavioural) level to do in the future.
“We float effortlessly in the ethereal tide of the movement of the rhythms of Nature and the vibrations of the pulse of life”. Ian Factor.
He told me, “If you’re not happy, get out”, so I did.
After an incredibly stressful day moving things out, and with the car packed with as many things as possible, I drove to Anglesey, to a caravan on the beach. It was dark when we arrived but we could hear the soothing ebb and flow of the waves as we watched the lights flickering on the mainland.
I awoke at 4 am the next morning, I’d left the window wide open so that I could hear the sea. There was the most beautiful sunrise and it felt like it almost beckoned me outside. I got up and walked onto the beach. I felt like I was being wrapped in something beautiful and protected by something powerful. Entranced I sat on a rock and rocked back and forth with the ebb and flow of the tide. There are no words to describe the magic of those moments. I realised that the stress I’d felt had completely vanished. I felt peaceful and connected. With crystal clear vision I saw myself as part of the flow. I looked around, high clouds were silently drifting overhead, the trees moved in the breeze. There was movement everywhere. It seemed like all of nature had heard the music and had come to dance.
Motion is an essential part of nature. From the beat of our heart and the inflation of our lungs, to the rhythm of tides, clouds blown along by the wind, a river flowing over a rock, or a leaf falling from a tree, movement surrounds us inside and out. Motion creates life, and recycles life. Some motion, i.e. a sound wave, is invisible to the naked eye but detectable through other senses such as hearing or touch.
Physical motion influences our biochemistry and thus we can use it to alter our internal state. Even something as simple as smiling can change how we feel.
As we become more aware of our physical sensation of motion, not only do we gain strength in our body, but we can strengthen our mind and spirit too.
Purpose: Discover yourself through movement.
Find a safe, attractive spot in a natural area. This could be a place you already know, in your garden maybe, or you may need to seek it out. Quietly ask for permission to spend time there.
1. Study the area for any signs of movement. Look at the diverse activity you see occurring there. Become aware of and appreciate the many natural senses that you have that are contributing to your ability to perceive and interpret these motions (hearing, sight, touch etc). Think about what you are observing and what the purpose is of these movements.
2. Look for things that are visually still. Can you sense any non-visual hidden motion within them? How can you tell? Sit or stand as still as you can for a moment. Can you sense any silent motion in your body? What benefits are there in being able to feel this inner movement?
3. Look again at the area around you. Can you sense any past and/or future movement in this area? How can you sense it and be aware of it? How is this ability helpful to you?
4. Now take a few moments to do an emotional check-in. How are you feeling right now? Concentrate on each emotion at a time and ask yourself how your body is feeling this emotion and where it is physically located in you?
5. Using your body, imitate a natural motion you see occurring around you. Do you feel any shift in your emotional state? Does this physical motion inspire any thoughts or memories? Repeat this step with other movements in the area. With each unique motion do you feel your thoughts and feelings change? Observe which movements have a positive effect on you and which don’t.
6. Decide which motion in this natural habitat you feel most attracted to. Create an art piece using, imitating or replicating that movement. I felt drawn to the stillness of the rocks under the moving tide. I selected some rocks and balanced them on the stony beach at the edge of the tide. Locate a movement that inspires you and use it creatively to make an artwork. Give your creation a title. For my rocks, I gave each one a name which then collectively made up the title: Balance, Order, Rhythm, Harmony, Strength.
Think about how you feel when you look at your artwork and consider its title. Does it ‘move’ you in any way? What thoughts does it inspire? Does it say anything to you?
Remember that change is a movement too, slow but steady. Think about how much you have changed over the years. Think about what movement has meant to you throughout your life. How has the sense of movement benefitted or influenced you spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically?
Do you feel ‘stuck’ in any part of your life? Are you locked into a harmful habit, or held back from a goal due to fear, or lack of motivation. Everything you do in life is a choice. Your choice. You can choose to move on in your life and find new adventures, challenges, and new experiences that bring about change, or you can choose to remain stuck and ‘safe’. Consider how you can use - either metaphorically or action-wise - one of the natural motions you observed today in nature as inspiration for moving past this inertia.
Considering my artwork, just one stone too many, or not balancing them right can cause them to all come tumbling down. Our lives can be like a balancing act sometimes. It can all come tumbling down so easily and we have to find the patience to rebuild it. Sometimes we have to find the strength to push and disrupt the balance ourselves so that we can rebuild the life we want.
Summarise your experience with this activity. What have you learned:
a: On a head (thought) level.
b: On a heart (feeling) level?
c: On a hand (behavioural) level to do in the future?
“Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.” John Muir.
Find a small smooth pebble and decorate it with an image or words.
Pick up your pebble and smile at it. Consider that the pebble represents space. Put it in the palm of your hand and place your other hand over it.
Breathing in, say to yourself, “I see myself as space”.
Breathing out, “I feel free, space free”.
Recite this silently to yourself as you breathe in and out three times. Space is within you. When we cultivate spaciousness inside and outside of us, we can offer our acceptance and generosity to others. Like the moon travelling through the beautiful night sky we have the capacity for space and freedom no matter where we are. Without freedom we cannot be truly happy. When we touch the space inside of us, we are free.
Adapted from Thich Nhat Hanh’s beautiful book ‘A Handful of Quiet. Happiness in Four Pebbles’.