Digital Sabbath

Digital Sabbath. Not a new idea by any means, but one being thrown around lately. Can you unplug to be with your loved ones for a day, half a day or even an hour? This conundrum we have found ourselves in happened so quickly, most of us can probably trace our rapid plunge into this new reality phone contract by phone contract along with evolving technology. If you have observed young children these days, this is the only reality that they know.

For a little insight into this experiment and experience, please find some paper and jot down a few reasons for not unplugging yourself. Now find a time and some people you enjoy hanging out with for some eye contact, conversation and other activities, preferably in a place which doesn’t have any screens. Turn off your devices and tuck them away somewhere safe. Have your friend or friends do the same. When you return, let the experience sink in for a few hours and then jot down some feelings connected to this experience . What exactly did you miss about your machine? Are you finding it hard to just simply communicate with others as we rely more and more on texts and documenting our world. Good Luck. If you succeeded in this adventure and enjoyed it, could you try it again for a longer period of time?

Yesterday’s project: Were you able to learn more about neuroplasticity. Did any of the information encourage you to try tackle something new?


Write a Letter With Real Paper

Are you feeling overwhelmed by technology and underwhelmed by sincere communication these days? Today we will explore this growing predicament. Please find some real paper and a real writing utensil. Think of someone important in your life and carve out a chunk of time to write this person a real letter.  As you write, maybe even take a risk and share personal feelings in the letter to this person, or just recount your day, current activities etc. How does it feel to communicate this way? Can you find a stamp, the person’s address and mailbox and follow through these tedious steps to communicate? Before you mail it, hang on to the letter for a day. You might want to add more or just admire this form of communication before you send it away. Be aware of your feelings as you do this exercise… How does it feel to use your time to acknowledge someone else? How does it feel to reveal your handwriting to a loved one? Are you anticipating how the recipient will feel to find this letter in their mailbox? Good Luck. Maybe you will receive a hand written letter in return!

Yesterday’s project: How is your attitude these days? What type of inclement weather did you place yourself in and how did it feel? Did you draw yourself with things for protection against the elements such as an umbrella if it was raining or gloves if it was snowing? This art exercise can reflect our attitude of how we drew ourselves in the situation. If you created yourself unprepared and then complained about it, is there something you can do about it to alter this by adding some protection and thus improving your attitude? Can you take responsibility of the person in the image or do you blame someone or something else for the predicament of being outside in inclement weather. Does this image reflect your attitude in your life?  Art making is often quite revealing because we have no experience of putting up our “defenses” in what we create, so the truth is usually right in front of us when feelings and attitudes are drawn rather than spoken. If this exercise revealed a part of yourself that needs further exploration, please find a loved one to share your feelings with whom you trust.

Attitude Check

How is your attitude these days? Really, attitude is everything, and according to people like Viktor Frankl who have spent their career thinking about this topic (author of Man’s Search for Meaning). Attitude is the one thing we have full control over in our lives. Today’s art exercise will explore this element of ourselves and if done honestly, might provide insight into our current satisfaction with things around us. Please find paper and writing or drawing material. Draw an image of yourself outside in some type of inclement weather. Add some word balloons describing what you might be saying or thinking. Don’t worry about creating a masterpiece. The goal of this exercise is to get the information on paper.

Yesterday’s project: So, can you make a mistake? This exercise of blind contour drawing is a challenging one, especially because it forces us to give up the control we seem to have over many elements of our lives. For people who hate making mistakes, this is a very healthy exercise to get out of one’s comfort zone. Conducting an art therapy group on this topic in an in-patient psychiatric setting has proven to be the most powerful and painful activity, forcing participants to come face to face with an honest assessment of themselves and dealing with the very common and real fear of making mistakes.

When you look at your contour drawing of yourself, can you make any honest observations of emotions, mood, attitude? Can you identify how you were feeling as you made it? Art making like this can be quite revealing, and the best way to initiate change in oneself is to make an honest assessment of our current situation. Blind contour drawing is often a very sobering exercise in which we come face to face with a very honest/current assessment of ourselves. The word “current” is quite important here, meaning that this assessment is really temporary, and can change quickly if one puts the work into it.

Can you identify how it feels to have made something less than perfect? We are our own worst enemy and often the barrier preventing us from succeeding. Fear of failure or making a mistake is the fuel for remaining sedentary. If this is a topic in need of exploration in your life, please spend time journaling or sharing your feelings with a loved one.

Can You Remove Your Mask?

We all wear masks. In some ways this is a necessity for functioning in our multifaceted world. Occasionally our masks present a very different persona than what might be lurking underneath. Today we will explore these masks and investigate our interior and exterior self. Please find some paper, scissors and drawing materials. Draw a simple outline of a face and cut it out. Start with the outside of your mask and draw or write how you present yourself to the world, maybe including emotions/adjectives or any descriptive words. Now turn your mask over and do the same thing but identifying parts of yourself you don’t often reveal or that you choose to  “mask.” Be aware of any emotions which surface as you make your mask. Sometimes walking away, then returning to an art piece a few hours later can be an enlightening activity. Art making can be very powerful because we have less defenses built up through this form of communication.

Yesterday’s Project: Did you reveal a secret through your artwork? Was it a cathartic feeling to let go of this information? Sharing your secret with a person you trust is usually a great outlet, but often your own artwork can serve as a vessel to contain feelings that might be too overwhelming to keep inside of yourself. The website is one of the most visited sites on the internet, due to the power of revealing a secret. On this particular site, people mail their secrets through a postcard to a person in the D.C area and he posts many of them on this site.

Revealing Secrets

Got a secret? Sometimes carrying one around for too long can be stressful, painful or even debilitating to your physical and emotional health. Art making can be a powerful vehicle to let secrets out without the viewer of the art even realizing that they are looking at your deepest darkest secret. Please find some paper or something more elaborate if you are feeling crafty. Please write or draw your secret now. You might actually write out the real secret or you might reveal it in a more cryptic fashion such as in a code or symbol. Can you share this secret with someone you trust? Chances are high that you might not feel comfortable doing this yet. Now rip up your paper with this secret, but do not discard the scraps. What can you do with the scraps to aid in the cathartic activity of revealing your secret? “The truth will set you free” is an annoying cliché heard over and over for generations, but in connection with mental health, this is truly the case.

Yesterday’s Project: How did you honor your extra day this year which came in the form of a leap year? Do you carve out enough time for yourself? Do you feel guilty when you do something idle or frivolous with your time? This exercise was meant to think about your relationship to time.

Can You Indulge in a Sick Day?

Too busy for a sick day? This seems to be the growing trend in our world, and this form of thinking seems to have even infected elementary school aged kids. There is no longer time for a sick day, because the amount of work required to make up for the missed day can be more debilitating than the initial one needed. Today’s art project will explore this phenomenon and help discover your relationship to a good old-fashioned “sick day.” Please find some paper. Draw a line down the middle. On one side draw images or write a list of reasons to stay home if you are feeling sick. On the other side, write the reasons you feel pressured to not take a sick day, including the consequences by your employer/school etc. Most likely, your paper might parallel the lopsided view our society has on our physical health. Just because it is the new norm, it does not make it all right. We are often sent mixed message by employers to stay home if we are sick, but then are made to feel very bad if we choose this route of catering to own needs. Sound familiar?

Yesterday’s Project: Did you find any patterns in your two images? Do you tend to be a leader or a follower in your cohort? Are you happy with your social status? Are there things you would like to do to change your pattern or break out of old habits? An honest assessment of our past can be a great place to start to assess these patterns we often carry along and repeat in new relationships. Assertiveness is often the key element needed for change.

Social Status

In honor of President’s Day ( in the USA, which is the location of this blog) today we will explore our own leadership skills and where we fit in a social hierarchy. Please find two pieces of paper. On one, please draw a very simple family portrait (family of origin), maybe just using stick figures or a simple face to represent each person. Make sure to include yourself.  On the other page, please draw a portrait of people in your current environment (this might be your current family/relationship, a group of close friends, co workers, roommates etc). Now look at the two pictures together and look for patterns of where you fit in each group. Are you a leader in both? Are you a follower? There is no “right” place to be. This is an exercise in self exploration and learning about patterns in our lives.

Yesterday’s exercise: Do you suffer from technology overload? Are you nostalgic for a less “connected” stage of life when we relied more on real human interactions? Is there anything you can do to find a balance between the two worlds. Did you notice a connection in your timeline between improved technology and decreased human interactions?

Technology Overload

Do you feel like your life is being overrun by smartphones, email, social media sites, and computers ? This growing love affair with our machines is altering the way the interact with the world. The paradigm shift happened so quickly, it might be interesting to make a personal time line of our growing reliance on our devices.

Find some paper and a pen or pencil. This art exercise might take the form of a comic strip layout, or it might be  a long line at the bottom of the page. Think back to your first machine..maybe it was an Apple Macintosh if you are as old as me, maybe it was a cell phone or even a fax machine. Start there, add more of the machines you purchased as you travel along your time line. As you add each machine, think how this has improved your life, or made it more complicated. Most likely, this exercise will give you perspective on our current scenario.  Do you see a pattern of these machines improving or hindering your real human social interactions?

Yesterday’s project: Boundaries are a gigantic topic and our self-esteem is truly intertwined with how well we defend our boundaries. Although no one can define what an appropriate boundary is for you, when you cross the line you have set for yourself, the feeling is often one of shame and regret. This is true for physical, sexual, emotional and even verbal interactions. Occasionally if our boundaries are too high, we might be missing out on making authentic connections with people in our lives.  Were you able to recognize some areas of your life that need work on the topic of boundaries? Defending the boundary we set for ourselves always results in a feeling of pride and self-worth. We will revisit this topic again in this blog through other art directives.

Love and boundaries

Today we will be exploring the topic of boundaries which are essentially connected to love….a topic fitting for February 14th. Please find some paper and a pen or pencil. Draw an outline of a human form, amorphous and large enough to write in. Don’t worry about any details beyond limbs, a torso and head. Write some messages inside the body reflecting your current feelings connected to a relationship. On the outside of the body, write or draw words, messages, feelings, that a person or people on the outside world are expressing to you or about you.

The body outline serves as the boundary, and our experiment is to explore our physical, emotional, sexual, and/or verbal boundaries with the outside world. Try to pay attention to the feelings that come up as you focus on the interior and exterior of the body.  As you work, ask yourself some of these questions: Are you happy with your boundaries? Are they too high, not allowing others in? Are they too low, letting everyone in at the expense of harming yourself? What can you do to better defend your boundaries? Do you see a connection between your level of self-esteem and your level of personal boundaries? The topic of boundaries is a very large one which will be covered numerous times in this blog’s art exercises. Please check tomorrow’s blog for more questions to help you explore the artwork you created.

Yesterday’s blog: What does your tree look like? What season did you draw around this tree? Do you feel that your tree represents aspect of yourself?  Would you like to have deeper roots, or more extensive branches? Can you add anything to help this tree flourish in its current environment? Is your tree safe? Does your tree need other trees nearby?

A tree can be symbolic on many levels spanning cultures and much of human history as a motif used to represent people and societies. Drawing yourself as a tree can be a powerful exercise to describe personal things that are difficult to put into words. Putting this image away for a few days or weeks and then returning to it can often be insightful, as if reading a diary entry.

Social Risk Taking

It is very easy to get “stuck” in our daily routine. As we grow fond of social media sites as a form of socializing, social isolation is a growing trend. Today for an art exercise, we will explore this theme. Find a piece of paper, draw a grid with four to six boxes resembling a comic strip. Using stick figures if you are not feeling artistically ambitious, think of  a social interaction you would like to have but have, but haven’t mustered up the strength due to our reliance on what is comfortable. This might be simply saying hello to someone in a coffee shop, engaging in a conversation with a co-worker, sharing honest feelings with a loved one, etc. Draw how you would like the conversation to go using word balloons for your stick figures. Once drawn, can you take this risk in your day to make that social connection real? Good Luck!

Yesterday’s project: Were you able to think of someone to forgive? Often carrying anger around can be detrimental to our mental health and a huge waste of energy. Forgiving a person essentially releases us from their power or control they have over us. This simple act can be a huge challenge, but in the end quite liberating. By holding on to the anger and resentment, this person whom you are angry at has power over you. Most likely that connection to this person is painful and letting go of the feelings will allow you to grow and move on.