Coming back from a 6 week trip is a lot to unpack from, emotionally and physically. Today as I sit at my desk back at home, watching the snow fly outside my office window, I am thinking a lot about all the connections, places, people and events of all kinds that have happened in the last month and a half. I am aware that in being back in quiet Vermont, I miss the rich social connections that exist in Asia.
There have been many threads of conversations on this trip that have entered and been woven through most if not all the trainings. I think the largest conversation was about gender issues, sparked in part by the killing of a 23 year old physiology student in Delhi last November. What it did do was provide the overdue and much needed catalyst for a world wide protest(one billion rising was born in the midst of the initial protests) and demonstration for Women’s rights and for holding all accountable for the ways in which women are not equal -in pay, work and social stature and safe from constant harassment and violence-domestic and otherwise. This theme was a constant- In all the trainings in both countries. In the process of teaching technique and form, we told stories, created art that looked at and witnessed the deep needs of both men and women, and allowed women the much needed space to state what it is that they need from their relationships, and their lives. What was palpable and important for me was the fact that while I was visiting another culture, there were so many similarities for us. The trainings were made richer by this as well as understanding the differences within our countries. In one session, during the Introduction to Art Therapy training through the East/West Center for Counselling, the women in my group, after seeing an intense documentary of women’s rights (or the lack of them) in India, pounded, cajoled and nurtured the clay as a group creating stunning art and talking about what their needs were, what they wanted for their lives, and in what ways they could go after their dreams.
Other discussions were just as important. Climate change is on the list of high concern. Water shortages are everywhere. People are terrified by the prospects, and trying to make sense of it in real terms. Having enough water and being able to survive climate change is on the high priority list no matter which gender you are. Clinicians are aware of all of this. Right now clinicians, teachers, artists and others are all trying to find the right kind of tools to support people, to support themselves and to find a better way to approach being in our bitter and often challenging world. The tools themselves can be challenging to understand for cultural or other reasons. Helping people become grounded is the key in my work- To understand how to help others, one has to help themselves first. Diving down and deep, while at the same time creating an important toolkit to take to others supports this process. Teaching in an experiential way that makes sense, and makes the most impact is the basis of my style.
In Hong Kong, through the Arts for the Disabled Association, the focus of the workshop centered around providing expressive arts to those with disabilities. My first question to those who participated was: How does one define disability? What does this really mean? How are we impacted or not by disability in our lives? Our culture? Climate change, gender disparity all entered the conversations. Cultural issues around caring for aging parents was also part of the deeper conversations.Before we could go further and talk about ways to approach working with those with disabilities, we had to break down the commonly held constructs of how we think about disability to begin with. For many this was a eye opening experience. Grounding the conversation with role plays, Playback Theatre, Art s based therapeutic techniques, students chewed on this over the week. They also experienced understanding stepping into the shoes of one with “disability”, painting with blindfolds, creating adapting tools to work with, exploring using these tools first for themselves and then to be able to translate it for using in their work.
There is a lot to work through. In the end, I hope that somehow, people feel empowered in India and Hong Kong with enough tools to keep going.