Interconnectedness, metaphors, symbols and meaning..

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.

eagel ancestor

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.


eagle aborginal
The word for wedge tailed eagle in four Indigenous languages.  It is Australia’s largest bird of prey.

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.