Wellness: Using Art Journalling to Find Gratitude, by Debbie Anderson

It is a fairly new practice for me to feel gratitude not just daily, but on a moment-to-moment basis. Six years ago I didn’t really see how one could be grateful for all aspects of life. I waited for the “good” stuff to feel grateful for: a child’s accomplishment, losing ten pounds, a work bonus, a beautiful new plant for the garden… you know what I mean.

When I went to school in 2004 to pursue training in Art Therapy, I began to realize that I had been missing the awareness of a tremendous amount of living going on just beneath the surface of my consciousness! So began a journey into understanding and experiencing all things much differently.

When expressed through creative art, my inner experience became something I could see. It felt witnessed, and assimilated into my conscious self. I calmed down, and became open to the present moment — and that was when I experienced ongoing gratitude. I noticed the everyday occurrences that were enriching each moment of my life on this planet. The question is, how did I come to this awareness?

Words often don’t do justice to what needs expressing. How do you put into words what you feel when you look into your newborn’s eyes, when a loved one dies, when your life is threatened by illness, or when you get that ‘feeling’ that even though it seems crazy, you should do that thing you’re thinking about doing?

Most of our experience goes unexpressed because it is beyond words. Yet what is unacknowledged can create blocks in our perception and behaviors that keep us from having a life filled with positive possibilities. Using basic art materials and allowing yourself to be free to just create, with no censor, is a healing process. It is not really about what you make, but about how you get there.

I have started keeping an art journal. Not disciplined, not every day. But when I feel full of emotion I go to my quiet chair in my room and scribble in a sketchbook. That’s right… scribbling. No fancy art, no trying to get it “right”. I just start making marks on the page. I thought I would give you a few examples of what I mean, just to make you feel better about truly letting yourself go!

debbie-scribbles1-smallerdebbie scribbles2 smaller

Perhaps you can see that I didn’t start out with any ‘thing’ to depict. I let my hand guide my pen. The results can surprise me or puzzle me, but I often write my reaction on the page. Not exactly an interpretation, so much as an internal response to what is there.

Each page of my journal represents an aspect of my life I had not considered in this way before. My perception is enriched. I am more comfortable with my inner experience because I have expressed it in form, outside of my body. This is how I have become more grateful. As my inner and outer worlds feel more balanced I have more awareness for the JOY in life! So what do you say? Is there a sketchbook and a black marker with your name on it at your local art supply store?
Debbie_bioDebbie Anderson is an art therapist with a private practice in midtown Toronto. She holds a Graduate Diploma in Art Therapy from the Toronto Art Therapy Institute, and an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Waterloo. She is a member of the Canadian Art Therapy Association, the Ontario Art Therapy Association and the OACCPP (Ontario Association of Consultants, Counsellors, Psychometrists and Psychotherapists). Her focus is on self-psychology and relational therapy, the law of attraction, mindfulness principles in therapeutic practice, and facilitating spontaneous art expression. In addition to her private practice, she conducts workshops for medical and social facilities, women’s groups, high schools and corporations. Her website is www.debbieandersonarttherapy.com.