Happy Kwanzaa and Do you know anything about it?

Here comes Kwanzaa! Starting today with the principle of Unity, “Umoja”

No I do not know much about it and would like to learn more about it. Some things I did not know that I learned from history.com:

It was founded in 1967.

A child lights each candle  in the evening.

Other information is in this article:

http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/kwanzaa-history

Here is the info on the candles and colors. The bllack middle one is lit first and then the red, then green. The kinara is the candle holder.

In the above article the ritual is outlined…

Multiple Blog Topic Disorder!

I have so many ideas and so many different topics I am thinking about and wanting to blog about my head is spinning! This happens to me in other areas of life, like my art making: Suddenly presented with even 20 minutes (which is a ton of time to have to myself these days) in my studio I have to make a quick decision as to whether to start something new, work on my graphic novel, get back to my big huge project, do another weird mixed media thing that is newish, or pick up a piece and keep working on it, or just chill out and do a collage in my journal. In a case like this, luckily being alone and in my studio, I just go for it and usually just do what feels easiest. If I am at my home and have a very rare opportunity of being alone with a million choices and a few hours time, I am extra challenged. Either I try to do a little of everything, or force myself to just clean some area or do what I did yesterday: I had a book I wanted to read and just sat on the couch reading that book for several hours. That was relaxing for me. No noise whatsoever, no need to look around at the chaotic apartment or be distracted by other things, just focusing on a fascinating riveting book I was learning something every page.

So I could blog about that book or topics related to it. But I have so many topics buzzing in my brain. In no particular order:
1. choose the easy way out and find a cool cultural ritual to discuss and celebrate.
2. pick something to add to the series I’m doing on society’s view of mental illness and separating fact from fiction
3. Mindfulness and how it is used in therapy and everyday life, prescription for any human suffering from anything or avoiding suffering
4. Basic fundamental of the idea of DBT, the dialectic between acceptance and change…
5. Self worth, liking yourself, self esteem, self love, whatever you want to call it and why it is so difficult to deal with in oneself and others and as a therapist as all patients seem to share this issue…
6. Importance of validation for parents
7. Trauma, a million topics emerge from just that word!
8. A holistic view of what “Recovery” means and how it can be empowered and person centered…
9. Borderline Personality Disorder, the hush that still surrounds it, despelling myths
10. many things you might share wtih someone with Borderline Personality Disorder even though you don’t have it, so why does everyone get so angry at even the name of it and why did people argue about it not existing and not being correct to put it in the DSM5 or changing the wording…
11. 9/11 is creeping up on us downtown New Yorkers, what ghosts still lurk down here and in our psyche and collective psyche as humans?
12. All healing boils down to finding balance, following the “Middle Path”. Why is this so incredibly hard to do???
13. Body image again: how can someone say that their low self worth has nothing to do with their body. Liking yourself starts with liking the form that you are in as a person, your shape and size, the inside of your body, things your body does, things you don’t know it does, what you do to it, put in it, stimulate it with, relax it with, soothe it with etc. what is the definition of negative and positive body image? If our own culture is any sign of our relationship with our body, we Americans have a very distorted image about what a body is and a lot of preoccupation with what shape and size it is and what kind of outside appearance we have, and obsession with food, nutrition, good eating, bad eating, dieting, fasting, extremes and middle grounds, feeding our babies and kids, etc. When you think about that, you have to really look at yourself and see how much you unconsciously on a daily basis participate in these fixations…
14. making assumptions about people too quickly. Learning to go back to the child’s curiosity and scientific investigation of everything you encounter through every one of your senses…
15. I can’t end at 14 as I have a crazy preoccupation with odd numbers. For alarms to wake up I have to set the time at an odd number, 8:01, not 8 for example, so I can’t end this post with only 14 topics. I guess the 15th is also about indeciciveness and making choices.
16. Uh oh I just remembered another. Noticing in your relationships with others, do you have some conflicts that could just be reduced to having totally opposing types of coping skills? This is so common in couples as opposites do attract.
17. “Look before you leap” versus “He who hesitates is lost.” The dilemma of the extremes around decision making and reactivity, ie. the person who spends too much time with a pros and cons list versus the person who can’t tolerate being in the “I can’t decide, I don’t know” zone and goes in the direction of acting on impulses and quickly…
18. The use of dollmaking in art therapy.
19. Systems theory explained simply: we all have many parts inside ourselves and we can get to know them better to help them work together. Often extreme crisis, even psychosis happens when all your parts of your psyche are at war or shouting at you at once. Hearing voices could be related to hearing from your parts… (look at “The Beautiful Mind” as example.)

Ok. I am sure I have a hundred more topics but at least I got some of them out there as things I want to investigate. Usually I veer towards making decisions too quickly, but I guess blog writing is helping me slow down, notice my mind’s chaos and speed and curiosity, wanting to connect many ideas and actually having a hard time making a decision!

Burial Rituals

I have been periodically blogging about interesting cultural rituals some of us are less likely to be familiar with. The idea behind it besides learning cool, weird and interesting and often wonderful things that people from other cultures do and observe, is the idea that it is important to learn more about other humans and what they do to promote more tolerance, acceptance, respect and interest in others’ ways of observing the rituals we all tend to partake in, such as birth, death, coming of age, different important ages, marriage and other love partnership type rituals.

I posted a bit about some interesting types of funerals. Here is a link to some ways of burying the dead that you may or may not be familiar with. Besides cremation and burial in a coffin in the cemetery, there are many other ways of dealing with the physical aspect of death — the physical body of the dead loved one… I looked at this website, and frankly didn’t find enough new information, however it does provide alternate solutions during different time frames of human existence…

http://www.health24.com/Lifestyle/Man/Your-life/8-weird-burial-customs-20130326

Here is another website post about different burial rituals. Be forewarned that the blogger/writer of this post tries to inject some humor into it, which I’m not sure about…These were a little more interesting, and I was quite shocked by the idea of the ring (last one on the post) but it made me think I’d like my remains to be turned into a diamond ring. It also describes in more detail how some people in India do elaborate rituals around cremating the body…

http://simplymulticultural.com/2012/11/funeral-rituals-around-the-world/

Not only dead bodies are buried, but the opposite of death, the birth– placenta burial rituals are common around the world. Often they involve doing some kind of cleansing of the placenta and burying it in a special place or with certain things. In one culture it is the father who does it. Here is a description of placenta burial rituals around the world, told in a rather neutral fashion, which I tend to prefer:

http://www.birthtoearth.com/FAQs/Placenta+Traditions.html

Great Use of Dreamcatchers!

Great Use of Dreamcatchers!

My colleague and friend, Anastacia Kurylo, PhD, whose blog I’ve talked about on this blog (http://thecommunicatedstereotype.com/) and who has very kindly recently posted some of my posts as a guest blogger on that site, also has a website for her crafts for kids’ parties business, called the Crafty Kids.

She either makes craft kits for kids’ parties as a goody bag or goes to the party to do the craft with the kids. She is very inventive and will make crafts that go with the theme of the party if the child has a themed party!

Anyway, she did a very “art therapy” activity in a great way for the kids of the school in Newtown, CT. and with the help of volunteers put together about 626 kits for the kids who survived the recent awful events, as a way to do something non verbal and healing. This is the best thing I’ve heard about in terms of that awful traumatic event, besides the therapy dogs that came to interact with the parents who lost children…This kit is the Dreamcatcher kit that I got from her recently and used to make the one I posted on my Dreamcatcher as Ritual recent post on this blog. (link: https://natashashapiroarttherapy.wordpress.com/2012/12/26/native-american-ritual-the-dreamcatcher/)

This link to that part of her website tells about putting these kits together for those children and shows how to make the dreamcatcher and mentions art therapy as well! In addition, she put a photo of my dreamcatcher on this page, as an example of how to embellish and basically in my words “go obsessive with a project.”! Check out the link and check out her website. New Yorkers looking for something fun to do at your child’s birthday party or who want a really great goody bag to give at their party, try out a Crafty Kids craft! They are all lots of fun for a variety of ages and unique, even fun for adults like me who love to do anything fun and different!!!

Gift Giving: A Universal Ritual

I started writing this post yesterday and got bogged down in talking about different kinds of gifts I have given recently and the psychology of giving and receiving. Then I was thinking a lot about receiving gifts from patients and all that that means and what to do as well as when to give a patient some kind of “transitional object”… However, I realized that would be a great idea for another post, and that I was straying from my original intention to celebrate cultural rituals.

Not to get on a tangent, but I have worked with patients, especially those with depression or despressive negative thinking about themselves, who have had a hard time receiving gifts, compliments and just good things from others and the universe. Another reason why dogs and cats are so therapeutic. Even the most depressed person will engage in physical love exchange with their animal when they will not talk to any other human.

But I digress. Back to my series about Celebrating Rituals of Different Cultures. When I started it, my intention was to focus on major life events we all share as humans: pregnancy, birth, birthdays, weddings and commitment ceremonies, and funerals.

Gift giving is an interesting ritual to look at and compare attitudes of Westerners and Easterners and learn about specific countries and their customs around gift giving. The Irish people and the Greek people are known for their very wonderful hospitality, which is a wonderful form of “gift” giving: sharing your home with loved ones and even people you hardly know, or just generally making sure people visiting your country feel welcomed. I don’t know if they do this anymore or ever did it, but I swear I’ve seen a lot of movies where, the people are walking down the stairs of the airplane (old movies), and Hawaiians, especially girls in traditional clothing, come and put Leis around their neck (sort of big necklaces made of just flowers… ) Well, I just looked it up and the Honolulu airport has a special welcome recording greeting.

Yes, there are many many different ways of giving and receiving. One of my patients once said of psychological receiving that you can’t “sort of” receive a little of something (like love, compassion, empathy, etc.), you either receive it in full or if you sort of can’t receive it all, you are really not receiving anything…

Japan, of all countries, is known for their rituals of gift giving. I don’t think any other country matches this cultural ritual around giving gifts, physical things mostly, like tea sets, chocolates, Japanese candies which are visually quite beautiful but quite strange tasting to my American taste buds for sweets, vases, etc. as well as envelopes of money. I lived in Tokyo from 1977-1979 and I remember my parents coming home from events with beautifully wrapped gifts. (Nobody comes close to how wonderfully the Japanese know how to wrap gifts. I remember being intrigued and entranced by the beautiful paper and the way it was folded, by the diagonal approach to the paper and trying to imitate the folds of the wrapping many times…) My father would return from business meetings with gifts he’d been given. One man who was a client of his somehow found out I loved music boxes and gave me several beautiful ones that my father would bring home for me. But what is this constant giving of gifts to mark a special meeting, negotiation, business deal, lunch, dinner, party? How did this begin and why is it done?

Here is an explanation of the origin of the gift giving, and no surprise, it actually brings us back to customs around funerals and dead “ancestors”, so I guess this post is still connected to my funeral customs post…: The Japanese have a special holiday for thinking of the dead. Wow. I think that’s a great idea, to devote a day to that.

Major Gift Giving Holidays

The two most popular occasions for gift giving in Japan happen twice a year. Ochugen falls during the middle of the year and Oseibo falls at the end of the year.

Ochugen originated as an offering to families who had a death in the first half of the year and still takes place two weeks before Obon, the Japanese holiday for honoring the dead. Nowadays, gifts are given as a gesture of gratitude to the people who are close to them. Bosses, colleagues, parents and relatives are common recipients.

Oseibo is more widely observed and began from the custom of placing offerings on ancestors graves. Oseibo gifts are typically given to friends, colleagues, teachers, clients or customers, and to anyone he or she is indebted to. These gifts are specifically given to pay back favors received during the year. The value of the gift does matter as the gift reflects the giver’s evaluation of social indebtedness that he or she has incurred. The recipient can accurately determine the value of the relationship by the monetary value of the gift. Oseibo gifts are typically sent out by the 20th of December.

Gifts commonly given for Ochugen and Oseibo range from department store items to food and alcoholic beverages. People receiving gifts for these occasions usually express their gratitude either by writing or calling the person who gave them the gift.”

I also found on this website an explanation of the importance of the way the gift is wrapped. It is considered rude to open a gift when you receive it, which explains why back in 1978 my parents would come home with gifts that were always beautifully wrapped:

When giving gifts or sending presents in Japan, it is customary to show special care not only to the contents, but to the way a gift is wrapped and the wrapping itself. In Japanese culture, gift wrappingcan be as important as the gift, where the gift is viewed as a form of communication between the giver and the receiver. The chosen gift wrapping serves an important role in shaping the messaging associated with the gift. In short, the wrapping is considered as part of the gift itself and should reflect both the gift being given and the emotions behind the gift.

The distinction of a gift being wrapped is an important one when it comes to receiving a gift. Except among close family members, gifts must not be unwrapped in front of the donor of the gift. The recipient should wait until later to open the gift.”

This is from the following website post: http://www.giftypedia.com/Japan_Gift_Giving_Customs

Native American Ritual: The Dreamcatcher

dreamcatcher

The above image is an appropriation of the original idea and genuine representation of the Native American’s cultural icon, the Dreamcatcher, that has become a popular “New Age” kind of item as well as a lesser known art therapy “project” or “directive”. I am hoping to bring this one shown above, that I decorated at home today, to my studio, so I can add feathers to the hanging strings with the beads, as the feathers are believed to help the dreams to slide into the window. Wikipedia has a good description of the origin of the dreamcatcher and the connection with spider’s webs. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreamcatcher). The basic idea is that the dreams travel through the circular dreamcatcher and the bad dreams are believed to be “caught” in the “weblike” structure, the parts with the string in it and the good dreams slide in with the help of feathers to enter the dreamer.

While it is great to find a really genuine dream catcher, they are a lot of fun to make. In this case, a friend of mine, Anastacia Kurylo, (kid’s party kits website: http://thecraftykids.com), gave me the bigger outer circle and smaller inner circle with precut holes from one of her kid’s party kits and I added my own materials (metallic yarn, paint, rhinestones, mirror, beads) to weave the “web”like part and decorate it. Another way to make them if you don’t have a handy model like this is to take some sculpture wire to make the circle and then wind thinner colored wire around and through it. You can add sequins, beads, buttons to the wire and then tie yarn at the bottom and put feathers and beads on it. You can also wind colorful pipe cleaners around the big wire circle to make your Dreamcatcher more colorful.

I think the Dreamcatcher as a project for art therapy or for a children’s activity in school or home is a beautiful combination of the Tibetan “Mandala” (Sacred Circle), which we art therapists have appropriated for art therapy and the idea of dream interpretation and the importance of dreams in many psychodynamic approaches, especially Jungian, as Carl Jung himself made many mandalas and also had his patients draw or paint them…

Chinese “Funeral” Paper

To continue where I left off with my “multicultural rituals” series, I will now travel to China. It turns out from my hunting around on the internet, that the Chinese have a very complicated series of rituals. This website has a very long exhaustive description to read (http://www.chinaculture.org/gb/en_chinaway/2004-03/03/content_46092.htm), so I will just point out a few interesting points, although the whole long process is fascinating, and it is much longer than traditional “Western” funerals, actually 49 days, with the first 7 days being most important. I point this out in particular because I like the idea. In the West, mourning is often not given enough time, and there is something to be said for having an extended time to be mourning, so that you really experience how life is not back to normal for quite a while. This feels much more respectful of the dead and the loved ones of the dead. The Irish come the closest to understanding that a funeral and wake need a lot of time and many kinds of rituals.

Some interesting superstitions or beliefs: The Chines cover up mirrors so that the reflection of the coffin cannot be seen or it will mean you will have a death in your family shortly.

Funeral papers, called “Joss Paper” are burned, and it seems the kind of paper used depends on who has died: “Joss paper and prayer money (to provide the deceased with sufficient income in the afterlife) are burned continuously throughout the wake.”

I actually first heard of the funeral papers when one of my supervisees, who loved using my orange and gold and grey and silver special paper from the Chinese “Pearl River Mart” in Soho, told me that actually the paper was funeral paper. I was reminded of the paper today while showing it to someone and remembered that I had not ever researched it or checked to see what was done with funeral papers. And many people have been drawn to that paper from a vast array of choices in my paper drawer. Here is a detail of a small collage painting on board that I made a few years ago, in which I used a lot of this “Funeral Paper”. Most of the orange in it is from the orange background and the metallic colors are from both color papers. As I painted on top of it, you see it after it has been manipulated, but the colors are the same. The piece for me has some kind of funeral evocations as it reminds me of the Twin Towers..

Image

There are many interesting aspects of the many rituals described on the above website. Here is another involving paper as well, called “holy paper”:

“When the prayer ceremonies are over, the wailing of the mourners reaches a crescendo and the coffin is nailed shut (this process represents the separation of the dead from the living). Then yellow and white “holy” paper is pasted on the coffin to protect the body from malignant spirits. During the sealing of the coffin all present must turn away since watching a coffin being sealed is considered very unlucky. The coffin is then carried away from the house using a piece of wood tied over the coffin, with the head of the deceased facing forward. It is believed that blessings from the deceased are bestowed upon the pallbearer, so there are usually many volunteers.”

Interview About My Art Therapy Career!

Interview About My Art Therapy Career!

I am very excited to announce that the first of a two part interview that took place in my studio/office with art therapist Victoria Scarborough is now online at the above link! The interview is about how I started out in the field, my past experience, my present experience and current projects I am working on, as well as how I balance being an artist with being an art therapist. As on this blog, there is some personal information in it, in case you don’t want to know too much about me. (ie. patients out there and former patients and others, only read it if you don’t mind knowing a bit about how my personal life impacts my professional life…)

I will announce on this blog when she posts Part 2 of the interview.

New Topic Series: Multicultural Rituals and Their Meanings

The other day, I was reminded of a few things I had read about concerning interesting customs in different countries/cultures that were very particular to that culture. Probably I was connecting this to last week’s American ritual of Thanksgiving, a holiday I try to focus on being grateful and also feeling sad about what really happened with the “first thanksgiving”. Yes, Squanto did have a peace treaty feast with the Pilgrims, but after that, the Puritans came and, according to this interesting website: http://www.manataka.org/page269.html

“In 1637 near present day  Groton, Connecticut, over 700 men, women and children of the Pequot Tribe had gathered for their annual Green Corn Festival which is our Thanksgiving celebration. In the predawn hours the sleeping Indians were surrounded by English and Dutch mercenaries who ordered them to come outside.  Those who came out were shot or clubbed to death while the terrified women and children who huddled inside the longhouse were burned alive. The next day the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared “A Day Of Thanksgiving” because 700 unarmed men, women and children had been murdered.

From then on it became a custom to have a “Thanksgiving Feast” after a successful slaughter of Native Americans…Anyway, back to the main topic: most of these types of rituals I will be posting about are different from what mainstream Americans are accustomed to. I will focus on the big rituals of every country/culture: birth, marriage/joining love ceremony for “life partner” and death. I thought it would be fun to post different descriptions of these rituals on this blog that are interesting approaches to these big life changes we all share as human beings. Having lived abroad and travelled a lot and having been exposed to many cultures and languages and countries from a young age, I have always been interested in ways that we differ and are similar in celebrating important life events or dealing with death, and also some every day life activities that are elevated to ritual in other cultures. When I lived in Japan for two years, fourth and fifth grade, I was exposed to all kinds of unfamiliar rituals, as Japanese culture has a lot more rituals in everyday life than American and other cultures. There is the tea ceremony and the act of giving gifts on non-holiday occasions. I remember my parents coming home with gifts all the time after they had gone to some kind of event or party or business meeting as gifts are given in all sorts of settings and types of daily activities bringing people together. The gifts were always exquisitely wrapped in that distinct style that I tried to copy when wrapping gifts; there are a lot of horizontal folds involved…

Anyway, for the first example, I will skip Pregnancy for now, as I have written about it so much here in a different context, and skip to the child’s first birthday celebration. I found a description of an interesting Korean ritual for the first birthday of a child. I remembered hearing before about this ritual from a friend, but the description is detailed enough to give a good idea of what it is all about. This is a direct quote lifted from: http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/biz/2007/10/123_12172.html

“The first birthday party is special for any baby around the world, but Korea has a unique tradition of putting various things on the table in front of the baby and letting the baby pick one of these to tell the future of the baby.

On the table are usually money, thread, rice and pencil. The baby will be rich if it picks money, will live long with thread, and be a scholar by picking a pencil, which reflects Confucian tradition. Rice means that the baby will have enough food throughout his or her life, which was a huge blessing when people often suffered from famines.

The tradition is changing. Now some parents put a microphone on the table, which means the baby will become an entertainer, or a golf ball, wishing that the baby will be a famous golf player.”

What a lovely idea! In Bali, the first birthday is treated in an entirely different way. I think I first came across this in the book “Eat, Pray, Love”! Actually, if you go to the link below, you will learn that the rituals start in pregnancy and there are several different ones on different days of the baby’s life leading up to the first birthday.

This descritpion comes from the following website:

http://www.bali-travel-life.com/bali-festivals.html

“On the first birthday (Oton), which is according to the Balinese calendar on the 210th day, the baby is allowed to touch the ground for the first time. Because the ground is considered impure, the baby has always been carried around up to this day.

This day is of course again accompanied with a ceremony which is pretty big and takes place at the ancestral temple where families and the community gather to celebrate.”

Here is a great website with descriptions of first birthdays around the world, including the American custom of parties with decorations, cake, etc. The Hindu custom is another great one, and after reading about it, I sense that certain cultures focus on themes like “cleansing the baby”, “evil from past life”, “impurity” that area also part of the Catholic tradition of babtism. What is interesting about the Balinese point of view is the idea that the world the baby enters is “impure”, not the baby!

“On a Hindu child’s first birthday, his or her head is shaved while being held by a special fire. Removal of the hair cleanses the child of any evil in past lives, symbolizing a renewal of the soul.

Usually on the day of the birthday, the child will wear very colorful clothing to school and will pass out chocolates to the entire class. The child will also kneel and touch their parents’ feet as a sign of respect. They then all visit a shrine, where they pray and the child is blessed.

In the afternoon there might be a meal that includes a spicy vegetable stew called curry and chutney which is a spicy fruit relish. The dessert is a treat known as “dudh pakh”, which is rice like pudding (they might also stir in pistachios, almonds, raisins, and a spice called cardamon)”

Another different reference to feet. Interesting.

To end, here is a tradition in Ghana, again involving a cleansing ritual:

“The Asante people in Ghana celebrate “krada” (which means “Soul Day”) on the day of their birth. On a person’s krada, he or she wakes up early and washes themselves using a special leaf soaked overnight in water (this is a cleansing ritual intended to purify the inner soul). Then in the afternoon, they have a feast with family and friends and the celebrant is usually dressed in white clothing.”