Being positive is kind’ve like the new drug of the New Age movement I’ve noticed. It seems to be a sin to ever not radiate constant positivity like a constant hose spurting out in some sick geyser.
Controversial guru and spiritual guru, Osho believed it is terrible advice to be dishing out because we are being overly harsh on ourselves and denying our own reality. Osho said;
The philosophy of positive thinking means being untruthful; it means being dishonest. It means seeing a certain thing and yet denying what you have seen; it means deceiving yourself and others.
Positive thinking is the only bullshit philosophy that America has contributed to human thought – nothing else. Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, and the Christian priest, Vincent Peale – all these people have filled the whole American mind with this absolutely absurd idea of a positive philosophy.
And it appeals particularly to mediocre minds.
Don’t see the negative part, don’t see the darker side. But by your not seeing it, do you think it disappears? You are just befooling yourself. You cannot change reality. The night will still be there; you can think that it is daytime for twenty-four hours, but by your thinking it, it is not going to be light twenty-four hours a day.
The negative is as much part of life as the positive. They balance each other.
I am in favor of taking the whole truth, and that’s what I would like you to do too: take the whole truth, because the negative is as essential as the positive.
You cannot create electricity with only the positive pole; you will need the negative pole too. Only with both the negative and the positive pole can you create electricity. Is the negative absolutely negative? It is complementary, so it is not against the positive.
The technique of positive thinking is not a technique that transforms you. It is simply repressing the negative aspects of your personality. It is a method of choice. It cannot help awareness; it goes against awareness. Awareness is always choiceless.
Positive thinking simply means forcing the negative into the unconscious and conditioning the conscious mind with positive thoughts. But the trouble is that the unconscious is far more powerful, nine times more powerful, than the conscious mind. So once a thing becomes unconscious, it becomes nine times more powerful than it was before. It may not show in the old fashion, but it will find new ways of expression.
So positive thinking is a very poor method, without any deep understanding, and it goes on giving you wrong ideas about yourself.
Positive thinking is simply the philosophy of hypocrisy – to give it the right name. When you are feeling like crying, it teaches you to sing. You can manage if you try, but those repressed tears will come out at some point, in some situation. There is a limitation to repression. And the song that you were singing was absolutely meaningless; you were not feeling it, it was not born out of your heart.
It was just because the philosophy says to always choose the positive.
I am absolutely against positive thinking. You will be surprised that if you don’t choose, if you remain in a choiceless awareness, your life will start expressing something which is beyond both positive and negative, which is higher than both. So you are not going to be a loser. It is not going to be negative, it is not going to be positive, it is going to be existential.
What do you think of positive psychology and the advice to “just think positive?”
It is all about touching the paper, the mediums, seeing and allowing the energy of the way we view the images we’ve created to move through our bodies. Feeling the wax of the crayons on our fingers, feeling the texture of the paper.
Art therapy can also help people with physical illness because they can temporarily forget they are sick as they create art. Patients in hospital who have lost a sense of autonomy over their bodies can regain some control over their lives through choosing the medium they wish to draw with, the style or subject matter they want to create…
Drawing about health problems can bring in a big sense of control to a situation where you could be feeling helpless or victimised. You can feel like you’re back in the drivers seat again of at least one aspect of your life.
If you are suffering with an illness you could start a somatic drawing journal to create a personal visual language for your pain. Start by drawing your physical symptoms. This can help you understand how things change over the course of days and weeks and what might be triggering them.
If you have a certain pain that you suffer from regularly such as back pain say, think about how it feels and then how you would creatively capture that feeling. What shapes, lines, colours, themes would you use to describe that back pain? Would you use pencils, markers, crayons, collage, paint, ink or pens?
Regularly draw shapes and colours that are connected to the bodily sensations you feel and in particular pay attention to your dreams. Drawing your dreams can give us all sorts of clues to what’s going on with your body and your unconscious.
One client brought in their health art journal with me and we were able to discover that a particular repeating dream predicted he was on the cusp of getting an infection.
The artistic health journal helps clients suffering illness feel a sense of mastery over their lives again.
Keep an art journal! Go buy one from an art shop, newsagent or even KMART! Try to buy a really big one so you’re not constrained by the small size of the page.
Your journal’s purpose will be to document how life is. Just draw images from your life. No judging. Just capturing them.
Try to set aside a little time every day to work on your art journal so that it becomes a habit. Even just five minutes a day is better than spending hours just on a Saturday.
You might draw your emotions, things you see on your day or an actual experience that unfolded for you.
Don’t try to dissect or analyse your expressions. Just give them the outlet they require. Allow them to be. Pay attention to the glimpses they are giving you.
If you are struggling to draw anything or find yourself judging yourself too harshly try this exercise to help you get outside of that harsh and analytical judgment space.
Grab a pencil or a felt tipped pen. Grab some paper or turn to a page of your journal. Choose something in front of you that you want to draw. Do not look at your pen or paper but only on the thing you are drawing. See what is actually there without looking at what you are drawing. Draw the entire thing without looking at the page once. Trust your hand and fully notice the object you are drawing.
This is a special kind of disciplined seeing. You could even find yourself over many of these exercises being able to draw an inner feeling using the same technique. Don’t look at the page, just draw what you see or feel.
Yeah I know what you’re going to say. You’re romanticising it Cat. What would you know? Well I’ve dealt with chronic pain since I was 21 years old. I spent years of my life in my early 20’s sick in bed only able to get out of bed one day a week. My friends were out partying, being young, having fun and all that jazz and I didn’t have the energy to even leave my bedroom after I’d got up and put on clothes.
I know it sounds stupid but it’s true. Chronic pain has made me a better person.
Chronic pain has made me; more humble, more empathetic, more grateful, more understanding, less blinded by irrelevant stuff, much stronger and more focussed.
You can’t slip permanently into the dark place of becoming your pain or illness. You give away your power and it’s hard to claw your way out of that place and it beats you down. Repeat after me, YOU ARE NOT YOUR PAIN!
YOU ARE NOT YOUR ILLNESS!
However it’s when you claw your way out of that place, you emerge stronger and with some pretty powerful insights as extra weapons on your tool belt… Of course I can be cranky and slip. In no way am I a noble and perfect pain warrior but you use your mental strength to not stay in that dark place for too long.
I spent years angry about it. Raging. Indignant. But that doesn’t help. There has to be some grace somewhere and with that new grace suddenly you’re freed up to think, “how will I tackle this now that everything is changed? How will I work with this?” rather than “It’s not fair, here’s the lists of all the things I can’t do now.” I went from being a young, healthy, full of energy 21 year old who’d just finished studying at uni full time and working every single day to BOOM someone with the energy of a sick 130 year old.
You have to use the power of your mind to never give up and to overcome. And that’s what chronic pain can be all about. A battleground of the mind and spirit.
You have to change how you think about suffering, set backs, fear and loneliness. You have to enter a new world of self understanding. You have to let go of stubbornly holding onto the old way of being and the old way of thinking when things have changed. You have to accept that “Okay things are different and I’m going to have to come up with a new plan now” rather than butting your head against your old plans; “I used to be able to do this!”
Chronic pain taught me how to think about pain differently, think outside the box and come up with creative solutions that no one else is using. Pain forces me to use my initiative in ways that now I’m grateful for.
How could I still help people and do the work I’m so passionate about and spent so many years training for so that I still get enough rest? How could I creatively design a life so I could work with my body rather than against it in balance rather than forced servitude?
Pain taught me to be aware of my body and be in tune with it in new and transformative ways. I listen to my body now. I used to ignore it when it had important messages for me and just force it to keep doing what I wanted it to do.
I’m learning to be kinder to myself. This is a lifelong journey.
My pain doesn’t define me. I define myself. Pain has helped refine what was already there.
My suffering does not define me.
I never would’ve worked for myself if it wasn’t for this pain. Choosing my own schedule and working hours has been key to thriving rather than just surviving. It means I can be more present for my clients and have more of myself to give. It means I am in charge of a balanced life and managing burn out.
Pain is a great teacher. It’s taught me to be a greater self advocate, to look after myself better so that in turn I can be more helpful and present for others. It helps me say no to social things I’m not well enough for when previously I’d bend over backwards never to disappoint anyone. Pain helped me cut through the people pleasing nonsense.
Pain helps me fine tune my priorities with razor sharpness. It forces you to adapt and change.
Pain keeps teaching me to stop comparing myself to others because that will only steal my joy.
Pain first taught me to find altered states of consciousness through meditation and creativity at the age of 21. I learnt how to use my mind to turn the focus off the pain and focus on pleasure and ecstatic states. When I was 22 I was sick of taking painkillers every single day, so I learnt about meditation and all sorts of skills that helped me relax and change the way I saw pain. I would experiment with breathing techniques that brought me pleasure whilst my body was in pain. I felt like a bit of a mad scientist playing and experimenting with new ways of being in my body that so often frustrated me. I may have been stuck in my bed for weeks, but in my mind I was travelling far and wide and harnessing the power of active imagination and visualisation. These are the skills I’m passionate about using with clients today.
Pain helps me to be the person I always wanted to be but thought I never had the time to become. Pain forced me to draw on an inner strength I never knew I had. Pain reminds me to let go of my ego and ask for help. Pain helps me let go.
Pain has made me not afraid of being on my own, not afraid of the darkness and not afraid of suffering.
Chronic pain has made me a better person.
I hope this helps you if you are dealing with pain.
Wow! Watch this documentary about the Aboriginal art and engravings in the wilderness area our next women’s retreat is being held. Nowhere in the world is there such a site with so many rare drawings on the edge of a major city. Wollemi National Park, has more than 120 ancient rock art sites!
The blurb reads, “Wollemi National Park is one of the most rugged and wild parks of New South Wales, Australia. Since 2001, a team of archaeologists, Aboriginal community members and bushwalkers has discovered and documented hundreds of archaeological sites, many with magnificent drawings, stencils, paintings and engravings in sandstone rock shelters and on rock platforms.”
(I acknowledge my Westernised bias here and openly acknowledge I am no expert on Australian Aboriginal spirituality. In this writing I reflect on what I learnt from the documentary and make some observations with how it relates to the practice of art therapy and transpersonal psychology.)
Dreaming tracks document the journey of spirit ancestors as they travelled through the landscape. This region is all about the journey of the eagle ancestor.
The documentary talks about Eagles Reach and the area that was devoted to the Dreamtime being, the Eagle ancestor. Putting the landscape into totems is a way Indigenous people remembered the landscape. This helped them navigate their way. Listening to the description of seeing the eagle in the hills gave me goosebumps.
The artwork at Eagles Reach was only uncovered a few years ago after lying secret for generations. Eagles Reach revealed 1200 images depicting at least 25 different species of animals, and even some composite beings; half animal, half human that were created around 2000 BC to the early 19th century. It was pretty unusual that there were various different styles of art and that there was up to 11 layers of art one on top of the other. This is almost unheard of according to local researchers.
Some archaeologists believe it was a junction or meeting place where people from different Aborginal groups were using the area together.
I was quite struck by the mention of interconnectedness. The documentary discusses the ‘chains of connections’ and how all these different things are related to each other though dreaming tracks, songlines, the powers of ancestral beings and through people coming together for ceremony.
I love how the elder talks about different images and metaphors that would hold different meanings for you at different parts of your life and through your iniations. This has incredible paralells with art therapy.
Images work on our unconscious and hold very different meaning and power for everyone. Art therapy has many links with spirituality and ritual. Indigeneous perspectives towards mental health “includes a much more holistic and spiritual approach than is embraced by most counseling theories used by the dominant society”(Roberts et al., 1998.)
The reason I studied transpersonal counselling and art therapy for over three years was because transpersonal psychology bridges spirituality and psychology. Art therapy has so much to give in the area of spirituality and wellness. I was discontented after being trained in the western mental health model and saw so many limitations.
Transpersonal art therapists can use active imagination and creative processes to help intergrate archetypal dreams and symbols from the unconscious.
I first became fascinated with the idea of art therapy when I travelled all over the Northern Territory, Australia and Ireland and the UK when I was the tender age of 18, 19 and 21. The ancient rock art that I was blessed to witness everywhere from walking around the base of Uluru (I refused to climb it) or Ubirr Rock, to walking inside the tomb at Newgrange or the Westbury White Horse, first got me deeply thinking about the use of symbols throughout different cultures. These ruminations evolved into a passion about using symbols and working with art as a healing tool. It were these first seeds that started germinating and growing as I was working as a photographer and using creativity in my personal life to help me everyday.
Shaun McNiff called art making “soul making” and encouraged art therapists to use models of shamanic healing. We can access our emotions and thoughts easily in a non verbal way through symbols and art. Art bypasses our verbal defenses.
Art therapy professor, Bruce Moon describes art therapy as more of a pilgrimage or a journey. I’ve witnessed how art therapy has helped my clients take positive steps in their lives through creating a new sense of spirit.
Fellow transpersonal art therapist Mimi Farelly Hansen has documented how art therapy can help clients reconnect with their relationship to nature. Like her, I agree that art making is inherently spiritual and spirituality is an important element in therapy and becoming whole.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, it was accepted in the West that art making was an accepted medium for shining light onto spiritual truths. It wasn’t until the Expressionists, Impressionists and Surrealists that art became concerned again with depicting worlds beyond our material plane.
There’s an amazing part of the documentary when the elder describes how one of the drawings depicts how a wedge tailed eagle is first lifting off and about to fly.
In this eagle ancestral area one of the men says about the detailed rock art that shows men dressed as eagles;
“You’ve got to be the form of the animal. We are taught who we are through dance, and you’ve got to be able to do that correctly and we’ve got to be able to be that animal.. And through that you learn who are you and what your processes are. “
Embodiment, movement, dance, ceremony can all be important processes in self awareness and identity in art therapy. In the same way the men in this documenatry undertake a pilgrimage of sorts to access this ancient art in accessible places, art therapy is also an inner pilgrimage.
The concept of “sacred purpose” to western thought generally makes us think of religious activity. In many Indigeneous teachings, “sacred purpose” refers to our intimate relationship and responsibility we have with the earth. This is firmly underpinned by the belief that everything is interconnected and interrelated. This term has more of an overlap with the western term, “life’s purpose.” What is your reason for being on the earth. Plato wrote about each of us being born into this world with a specific calling.
As an art therapist I was really struck by the power of the images in the cave and on the rock and how they deeply affected the male viewers. One man said he was crying and then happy and then crying again. The emotion in the cave was palpable.
Creating art with intention in a therapeutic setting creates outcomes very similar with various spiritual practices; reawakening of the senses and of the body, a more heightened sense of our selves and others, more acceptance for our all aspects of our self and others, compassion, love and a greater sense of belonging to something beyond our own ego, greater ability to be fully present in the moment and a sense of wonder at the ways the image speaks to us of worlds way beyond our conscious understanding.
If you re-read the above list, I believe that’s what some of those men were feeling in that cave and that ridge when they gazed at the ancient rock art and engravings.
How did you feel watching the documentary? I’d love to know your thoughts.
I thought I’d end with quoting this poem written by Jennifer Sharon Vivian. Living in Canada, Vivian is an Inuit descendent who explores her identity through poetry, ritual and art. She proposes an art therapy model based on Aboriginal traditional healing modalities and traditional art therapy.
Breathe. Get grounded.
Set in roots.
Hold the rocks where your ancestors danced.
Trust that they are with you.
When you call, they are there
The rocks hold you to the earth
Set in your roots like a tree
Balance like a tree
Accept all parts of yourself
Your heart seeks what is
Your heart knows what is bad
For you, not for everyone
Everything is connected
I can’t wait to be surrounded by this beautiful ancient wilderness with a small group of powerful women…
The retreat is almost sold out!
See you there
Oh and here’s the professor in the documentary. He’s doing some great work that you can read more about here.
There’s a big difference between being sexually empowered and using sex to make yourself feel good about yourself because deep down you don’t like yourself at all.
Sexual empowerment is NOT using sex to feel validated about who you are as a person.
Sexual empowerment is not about using sex to keep intimacy at arms length. It’s not about using sex to feel loved, wanted, needed, in control, worthy, high or get over a relationship. It’s not even having a lot of sex.
Sexual empowerment is not using sex as a ‘fix’ to feel good about your body or sexually desirable again and then feel that wane off until you get the next ‘high.’
You are giving away your power if you use sex as a drug to prop up your self esteem or to make yourself feel desirable. You are giving away your power if you use sex to numb yourself to feel less emotional responses to tough things in life.
The more disconnected you are from your conscious sexuality the more you might use sex to make yourself feel worthy or important. Remember that you don’t have to have sex to be liked or get what you want. You don’t have to have sex to get love.
Sex from a disempowered space can be confusing and hurt like hell. Always trying to keep your vulnerability at arms length. Always trying to stay in control of your emotions by playing games, choosing emotionally unavailable types or shutting down emotionally or disassociating.
It is not sexual empowerment to have weak sexual boundaries. An example might be having sex with someone when you’re not sure or not ready but you feel obliged to or don’t want to let them down or disappoint them.
Letting go of our unconscious shields and defences is how we start to step into our truly empowered conscious sexuality. In my one on one sessions and at my retreats I take you on various relaxing and creative exercises to help you get deep into your unconscious world to start changing this.
When we feel empty and disconnected we can be always searching for something to fill up that emptiness whether compulsive eating, sex, drugs or other addicitive behaviours.
Working on our relationship with ourselves can break these unhealthy patterns.
It is pretty dam common to give our sexual power away. The fact that you can recognise it is the first starting point. Don’t beat yourself up about it.
Acknowledge it and decide to change it.
In our society a lot of people equate being sexually desired as a type of validation or power. Sex and attractiveness is sold to us as a commodity, something you can purchase if you buy the right perfume or other material object with the right label.
Reclaiming your body and your sexuality for you is a complete shift in the opposite direction.
You can dissolve this fear and you can amp up that love and compassion for yourself.
You can feel comfortable in your own body.
You can get to the point where you embrace being vulnerable.
Whatever point you’re at in your sexual journey I honour your progress. It takes courage to work through this stuff in a society that hangs a lot of shame and mixed messages onto us. You are not alone in your struggle and there is a way out.
In honour of International Women’s Day, here are some of my hopes and dreams for Women for the future of liberated sex and relationships.
The sexual double standard be scrapped
No more shaming women with high sex drives, who are deemed “pretty” or dress in a certain way.
No more blaming women for sexual assault. No, it had nothing to do with what they were wearing!
No more shaming women for enthusiastically wanting sex.
No more calling women the ‘gatekeepers’ of sex and men the pursuers. These are cultural ideas and in reality some women think about sex often more than men do.
No more defining men as more ‘visual’ and ‘sexual’ than women and other gigantic claptrap myths. It’s both women and men’s big sex drives that made humanity evolve to where we are now, women didn’t evolve with no eyes and no desire!
Reclaim Your Own Pleasure
No more lying back and thinking it’s more important to look pretty during sex than experiencing pleasure.
No more thinking it’s important to endure things your partner wants sexually that you don’t enjoy.
No more expecting your partner to pleasure you before understanding how your body works and how to pleasure yourself.
More Agency and Equality in Relationships
Research into heterosexual couples shows us that women have more agency and equality in their relationships they have a better sex life, are happier in their relationships and have more improved communication.
Sharing more household chores leads to better sex and greater relationship satisfaction.
There are lower divorce rates when husbands take a bigger role in childcare, shopping and housework and more relationship stability when he can take on paternity leave.
Gender equality is good for sex and relationships!
Reclaim your dating life.
Men shouldn’t have to be expected to make the first move.
Women can make the first move!
Embrace the possibility of rejection!
You don’t need to sit back and be passive and hope someone will come and talk to you!
Let go of sexual and gender stereotypes
So, say you complain your man is too uncaring and aloof and you wish he’d be able to communicate verbally with you like your girlfriends do. Then say he gets sick and opens up to you and you can’t handle seeing him that vulnerable, helpless and emotional because unconsciously these are always traits you’ve seen as feminine and ‘weak.’
Or, say you and your friends tease your male friend because you say he’s “pussy whipped” (another stupid term!) because he’s not always 100% in control and the ‘boss’ in his relationship.
A relationship is about shared roles and responsibilities and looking out for your partner is nothing to do with being ‘whipped.’
These gender stereotypes about what a man or a woman should be can be very destructive for our relationships.
A man is not always stoic, independent and unemotional anymore than a woman is always passive, submissive, emotional and sensitive.
Such black and white stereotypical thinking can hinder your relationship.
Men can embrace their softer side and women can get in touch with their power and strength!
Those are just a few of my wishes for our sexual and relationship satisfaction for International Women’s Day with a particular focus on heterosexual relationships!
What are your wishes?
Originally published for the International Women’s Day edition of Ciao magazine.