Change Michael MacDonald, MA, RP

As a team, the staff agreed upon a theme of Relocation & Change for this month’s newsletter as the families of Regular Force Members, posted to the GTA, settle into their new surroundings and other families face deployment. We agreed that no family (Regular Force or Reserve) is immune to the stress of changing circumstances. “The only constant in life is that things are always changing”. This idea can bring both comfort and at the same time can be unsettling. The individuals, couples and families that come to our Centre know this all too well. 

As an artist and Expressive Arts Psychotherapist, I like to reflect on life’s themes through art-making; with the intent of exploring the theme of “change”, I undertook a reflective artistic process. Through this process I am almost always surprised by what emerges and what the images “have to say”. The process often starts with scribbling. This removes any preconceived ideas about what it “should” look like. I’m allowing my hand to lead the way without too much thinking. 

Gradually something starts to emerge, whether it be a geometric shape, some nebulous form, or it may start to resemble an actual real life object or a being of some kind. I try not to judge what is emerging and try to act as a conduit or even a midwife for this new thing to take shape and come into the world. I let go of controlling while also adding and shaping the emergent image. 

This kind of reflection does not provide straight forward answers to life’s questions. It does however invite us to look at our experience in a different way and usually leaves us with deeper questions to consider.

I took a similar approach in exploring the theme of “Change”. I began to scribble and almost immediately a swan appeared. I could have chosen to scribble over it to allow something else to emerge but this image seemed to jump out as if it “wanted” to be seen and brought forth. The rest of the picture developed fairly easily since the bird’s posture suggested that it was landing, I quickly drew ripples in water moving outward. As I worked, another set of concentric circles or ripples emerged. I became interested in how the two ripples converged travelling in opposite directions. The overall scene became a small pond with the sun setting in the background and flowers in the foreground.

After completing a drawing I reflect on the experience of creating it and also look at what stands out about the finished product and the narrative(s) that emerge along with the image. When I look at this drawing a number of questions come up, like, is the swan landing or is it taking off? Initially the other ripples looked as if something from beneath the surface, like a fish, had created them. But then I thought that perhaps they could have been made by another bird leaving. Whatever it was that caused the ripples, it happened very recently. Did it leave because the swan was coming in for a landing? ...encroaching on its territory? ...a threat? 

The more I stop and think about the potential story of this image, the more possibilities and questions arise. Perhaps the swan’s mate has just taken off and it is following close behind. This last scenario holds my interest because as we know, swans partner for life and are rarely seen apart. But this doesn’t mean that any other story I or you, the reader, make up is any less valid. After all, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Another person might have come up with the story that the swan has lost its mate and is desperately searching from pond to pond. Another story could be that this swan has defiantly chosen the single life and is “extremely happy on her own thank you very much!!” 

The possible stories are endless, it’s almost dizzying. But if we come back to the essence of the image as it is and take note of what’s being presented to us, something else emerges. We can all agree that there is a swan with its wings spread wide, its long neck is curved and its head seems to be looking down towards the rippling water. Both the bird and the ripples suggest movement. This is not a static image. This is not a “still life” drawing of a bowl of fruit. Things are happening in this image; one might say that this is a “life drawing” or that the way it has been drawn “has life”. This becomes evident when I consider the way I drew it, using very quick and “expressive” lines verses slow intentional shading and careful rendering. In Chinese ink paintings the artist works very quickly so that the drawing may have “Chi” or energy.

One might say that the “energy” in my swan drawing is happening in the middle portion and that there is less action in both the top and bottom of the picture. In a sense, the movement and energy seem sandwiched or even “held” by the stillness; that no matter how much the bird splashes about, the sky and flowers remain unaffected. One might also say that the bird is “held” by its environment. 

So what does this have to do with the theme of Relocation & Change? In reflecting and writing about this process and the image I am now thinking about what it means to be in a state of change. Through this reflection I’m considering how each of us can interpret or come up with our own story about what we see. And how it can be hard to agree on one single story. However when we come back to the essence of what we are facing we can find a common ground that says something about the possibility of “coming to life” while “being held”…the possibility of both movement and stillness in the same picture. 

I’m left with the question: “how does one remain “alive” or sustain a sense or vitality in the face of change?” Whether we are arriving or leaving; together or alone; how can we “land” and trust that we will be “held” in some kind of stillness? Can we stop and really look at what’s there, to see the whole picture…to find the stillness? 

As the reader you might be asking “what does this have to do with my life and how I deal with change?”

Good question!