I'm a self help junkie. My shelves are filled with books about communication, leadership, parenting, creativity, teaching, and spirituality. I've read most of all of them, and some of them really impacted me. But as we all know, change is hard. Reading, and the expansion of consciousness that comes with it, can be temporary. Sometimes so temporary that as soon as you close the book, your mind shrinks back down to a small minded, petty, and whining curmudgeon. I like this example from my own life: yelling at my kids to stop interrupting me because I was reading a book on kindness and spirituality darn it!
I've always been interested in how the arts can help us personally, and how an arts-based approach to personal improvement differs from other approaches. This has lead me to explore and live different identities in the arts: art student, artist, art teacher....and more recently, expressive arts practitioner, which is rooted in art therapy. Each of these identities have a different view of what the arts should and can do for us. Often they are passionately opposed to the methods of the other roles. I work to integrate and find commonality between them all, because I think they are all important, and that to leave out the perspective of any one of them is to miss a key aspect of the arts. One thing these different perspectives all have in common is a sort of manifestation of personal voice and viewpoint. They differ drastically in their ideas about how to cultivate that voice, and in what that voice should be focused on expressing.
My passion is the expressive arts approach. The power of the arts to effect change in our lives is vastly underestimated. I have personally experienced this power, and have witnessed it in others. All those self help books may have prepared me for this transformation by giving me an idea of what I wanted to transform in myself, but reading just wasn't enough. The expressive arts have enabled me to make lasting changes. I am more assertive, I am embracing my role as a leader, I have been more committed to making my dreams a reality. The expressive arts took me deep into myself, to see what I wanted, and gave me access to internal wisdom (or external if you are not an atheist) in a form that you don't find in books. Through visualization, art, writing, music, movement and acting I was able to try on new ways of being, to release old ideas and memories that held me back, to practice living with a new voice. In a sense, the old me died a little, but the arts helped me shed that tired, scared, bitter, regretful self, and to come out fresh and energized with a sense of direction, hope and power.
But more than that, using an arts-based approach to my personal growth gives me something I have never gotten from a book, which is an altered, exhilarating spontaneous spiritual connection to the changes I am trying to make; a sense of connection and meaning that I experience in my bones and blood. As amazing as books are, they are a form of consumption, not creation. The creative, active birthing of color, words, sound and motion from my own being, through me, is healing, and amazing.