Organizations, Disaster, Scandal, and Expressive Arts


downloadThe Power of Group Work:
Building Bridges to Shared Understandings Some time ago I had a group of school counselors come to do an Expressive Arts workshop that was arranged by their independent school district. The purpose of the workshop was to reduce the counselor’s stress levels and for team-building; to get to know each other better. The counselors came in not feeling very thrilled about doing anything to do with art. One of them told me very clearly that she thought there were better ways to release their stress and strengthen their friendships. The rest of them laughed in agreement. With that I understood that they were uncomfortable and not familiar with what was about to happen.

As a warm up to break the ice among them, we did some theater-based activities in which we explored the idea of greeting people and their favorite ways to greet people. I had them walk around first passing by each other without eye contact, and as they were doing that they commented on how that felt. Then I had them make brief eye contact and slightly nod. Again they commented on how that felt. Finally I asked them to pretend that they were at the airport meeting a dear friend that they hadn’t seen in years and really cared about. The participants began to give each other big hugs, to laugh, to be affectionate with each other, and have pretend conversations.

Once they were more comfortable, we did other art-based activities where they collaborated to create small artworks that specifically addressed communication style, current emotional state, desired emotional state, and other aspects. All the activities were experiential and their expressions were spontaneous reports of what they wanted to share. After the 2-hour workshop, several participants said that they had come to the workshop feeling alone and overwhelmed with their work stress, but that after the activities they realized that their experiences at work were similar to that of the other participants. The person who stated that she believed that there were better ways to achieve relaxation and friendship at the beginning of the workshop told me that other’s responses about their artwork had mirrored her own feelings. She shared that she now felt heard and deeply understood. She mentioned that realizing she was not alone also helped her to feel more relaxed and empowered. Several individuals said that it had been a profound experience and that they had a change of mind regarding the usefulness and power of art.

I share this story because it exemplifies the process of how individuals can find common ground through art in a group along with others who endure similar stresses. The reason I love to use art processes with groups of people is because it allows individuals to create tangible representations of their own perspectives and interpretations of events that might be hidden even from them yet may guide their behavior and emotions. These perceptions are often painful and the suffering may be compounded by the fact that individuals feel alone with them. When a group of people use art processes to decipher what is happening or to make sense of situations, they become able to see with their own eyes the commonalities among their perspectives and interpretations which would have otherwise remained hidden in their individual minds.

Art processes provide a bridge to other people’s minds that can allow a group to become aware that they share much in common. During art-based experiences members of a group often realize that they are not alone; that they can provide support to each other and that they can help each other gain more balanced understandings, perspectives and interpretations of events. This process of finding common ground among members of a group is what routinely happens in Expressive Arts workshops.

When something bad happens in an organization, such as a disaster or scandal, individuals are first alone with their fear and grief about the situation. They might fear for the organization, for their own job, and they might experience grief about the disaster or scandal and its consequences.

If at the time of confusion outside entities such as the press come to talk to individuals from the organization, individuals may offer statements in order to mitigate their own confusion, fear, and grief. While many organizations have a communications department that issues ‘talking points’ for individuals to recite to outside entities, this strategy does not address the underlying emotions of confusion, fear and grief felt by people in the organization. Moreover, the communications department may be dealing with their own confusion, which may result in talking points that are defensive, erroneous, or regrettable.

When an organization or individual has made a mistake, it is helpful to do the following:

1. Take responsibility for the mistake.

2. Acknowledge publicly that a mistake has been made.

3. Announce that amends will be made and ensure that efforts will be made to fix the consequences of the mistake as best as is possible.

4. Announce and implement extensive measures to prevent the mistake from happening again.

While these are the steps individuals and organizations may follow once the rational mind has begun working again, in times of high emotions and confusion it may be very difficult to follow these steps because many other concerns and possibilities torment the individuals involved. Therefore, it is helpful to have an Expressive Arts workshop to facilitate the expression and release of the emotions that are clouding people’s minds. Art-based activities are an effective way to help the group arrive at a clear intellectual grasp of the situation as it tends to emerge in group process. Emotional turmoil, fear and grief provoked by a crisis in an organization make rational thinking very difficult.

Emotional turmoil can be dissipated much faster if we intervene with an art-based procedure in which people can express all their fears privately inside the organization. After that process everyone may be more able to think clearly and discern rational steps to take.

Lorena Fernandez, PhD, is the author of Art and Self-Creation: The Roots of Creativity and Innovation (Think Media: EGS Media Philosophy Series). She is a creativity coach working in Houston, Texas.

Creativity: Your Spiritual Connection to Life Force and the Universe

This article was written for the Indigo Sun Magazine in Houston, September 2016

downloadWe humans have been using the arts and imaginative rituals from the beginning of our time on Earth to heal ourselves and to ensure our survival. The night before the hunt, ancient peoples gathered around the fire to visualize how they wanted the hunt to go, using music, acting, storytelling and drawing representations of their visions and desires on the cave walls.

Through that preparation they sharpened their senses, honed their awareness and summoned their energies to ensure peak performance, without hesitation, at the time of action.

Since then, Shamans from all world cultures have used the power of Expressive Arts, symbolism and rituals to increase their people’s chances of survival, peak performance and success in obtaining whatever the people wanted and needed.

As humans we are born with extraordinary capacities to use and create symbols. A three-year-old child can talk on the phone using a banana and can draw two circles and say “this is me and that is my dog!” The high level cognitive skills required to create that scenario is truly remarkable, and it would be impossible to teach it to one who could not do it naturally. For instance, there are many intelligent species that can never recognize that their own image reflected in the mirror is, in fact, a representation of themselves and not someone else!

This capacity to create symbols in order to manage what is not currently happening, but events we want to happen, scenarios that intrigue, bother or scare us from the past and/or the future, might be the ultimate reason why humans mustered the courage to attempt great feats and succeed at them. It might be the reason why human kind, with our frail bodies, did not become extinct, but instead flourished all over the world. Creating tangible symbols and rituals to alleviate our own suffering, our fears and to envision and clarify our desires is, and has always been, at our fingertips.

However, at some point in our history we bought into the idea that art is about how it looks or how it sounds, and that became more important than the powerful transformation it can produce in our own mental, spiritual and energetic states.

Many humans were shamed because a tangible expression of their soul, an artwork they made,  was confused with a superficial thing that did not meet some aesthetic requirements.  The tangible symbols from the human spirit cannot be judged. They simply are. Just like any other natural expression of the universe such as a sunset or a waterfall; they simply are.

The artistic self expression of the human deserves respect not only from other people but also from the creator. Through his or her own art (poem, drawing, dance, etc.) the creator can understand something important about current life circumstances, and about his or her connection with the energy that allows for life on earth and for the existence of the universe.

That is the proper context for personal artistic self expression that deals with your emotions and your spirit. In my Expressive Arts Coaching Sessions, individuals begin reconnecting with their own deeper, authentic self through symbol making. There they recover those parts of themselves that brought them delight, aliveness and creative energy in the past, and discover new ones. The joy and creative energy unleashed through artistic self expression spills to all other projects and areas of life.

Testimonials:

“I participated in Dr. Fernandez workshops and got really impressed on how from seemingly simplistic directed art activities participants were able to gather information from their minds and hearts that was hidden somewhere, like the big elephant in the room of their lives.  I saw how we can all use art to heal, to leave our baggage behind and move on.”   Mariela T.

 “Lorena, you are so warm and genuine, your love, excitement and enthusiasm are infectious. They drew me in to your workshop. I was very surprised how much came out for me in the art and in sharing it.” Lisa. UK

 “Me divertí, gocé como loca. Además me permitiste entrar en las profundidades mas secretas de mi misma. Tu espontaneidad, tu diosa interna, tu creatividad y mera presencia hicieron de este workshop una experiencia inolvidable para mi (y para muchas también.) Sos una facilitadora y una artista increíble!! Gracias.”: Rosario S.

Dr. Fernandez offers individual and group person-centered Expressive Arts Coaching session in Houston and around the world aimed to energize five areas of impact:

  • 1.       The Self (Self-development, self-discovery, self-expression, self-improvement)
  • 2.       Emotional Management (Lifting the fog of difficult emotions, adding joy and playfulness)
  • 3.       Communication  (Relationships with others)
  • 4.       Interactions with the World (Systems and materials management)
  • 5.       Creative Visualization (Imagining new possibilities and solutions)

She is the author of three books: Art and Self-Creation: The Roots of Creativity and Innovation (Think Media: EGS Media and Philosophy Series) ,  Spiritual Healing with Art / Curacion Espiritual con Arte, and  How to Exist, an impractical guide / Como Existir Guia impractica. 

For more information and to set up an appointment visit: LFcreative.org, text: 281 748 1477 or email Lorena@LFcreative.org