In June, I completed the expressive arts and ecotherapy 100-hour training at Sky Mountain Institute with Lali Mitchell, Sophia Reinders and Alden Hough in the San Diego area of California, USA.  It was an immediate sense of kinship with shared values of deeply caring for the Earth and wanting to share the creative expression of eco-arts and inspire ecological change.  The training took place over the course of four weekends, one a month, with the same group of creators from various walks of life. Together, we walked barefoot on the Earth, put our hands in the dirt, looked up to the sky, sang, danced, learned about natural processes and permaculture, created sandtrays, sculpted clay, brought our mask-creations to life through ceremony and, most of all, celebrated our connection to each other and our dedication to the planet. Every weekend was a healing experience dedicated to one of the elements: Earth, Water, Fire and Air.

This work is revolutionary, needed and deeply restorative. The weekends were full of useful and straightforward practices which I could immediately implement in my work at Contra Costa County health services, USA. The Tuesday following the water module, I facilitated an expressive arts group for a chronic pain and wellness group. I led the guided visualization which I had learned that weekend: we explored various forms of water (rain, a river, the ocean, a lake, snow, etc.) and invited participants to find a form of water that represents how they feel in the present moment and how they would like to feel in the future. We then partnered up into dyads and discussed what arose for them in the visualization. I invited participants to embody their chosen form of water in movement. Group members shared a lot of gratitude for the process and the material that arose.

Other practices over the duration of the training add to my list of interventions that combine expressive arts and ecotherapy. The first weekend, we created a tree together as a group; first in an embodied way, as some of us represented roots, others the trunk, the phloem and stomata (which help the flow of water and nutrients in the tree) and the leaves, as we incorporated the teachings of the intricate nutritional exchange system.Next,we collected natural material from the woods (bark, dirt, dried leaves, sticks, etc.), and with paint created a large tree together as our first group art project, which has since been hung in exhibition at Sky Mountain Institute.

All the moments of the training were deeply nurturing and healing. As a recent graduate from California Institute of Integral Studies, at the beginning of my journey as an expressive arts therapist, this training taught me how crucial it is for me to nourish myself in creative workshops which are experiential and aligned with my values. Throughout my schooling, we learned how important self-care is for therapists, but it was this concrete experience that proved to me how essential it actually is and that I’m capable of providing this for myself.In addition, I was able to bring photographs of my sandtrays and other creations into my own personal therapy to continue to process them and to add to the therapeutic work I was already engaged in.  One of the memorable healing moments for meoccurred in the fire module, in which we learned how to build and created a compost pile. Then, using an assortment of materials, we created objects which represented what in our lives we wanted to compost, release, or transform. We circled around our compost pile and one by one shared what we wanted to let go of, which was repeated back to us by the group. We then placed or threw our objects into the compost pile as the group sang, “I step into the fire and then I let it go. I open my mind, my heart, and my soul.”

I hold an immense gratitude for the experience of the training and what Lali Mitchell, Sophia Reinders, Alden Hough, Sky Mountain Institute and all the other training participants provide to the world. I feel empowered and elated. I highly encourage you to explore their program if you feel called to ecotherapy, expressive arts and eco-arts. I also welcome any messages of how you are incorporating the intersection of these three fields in your work.

We closed the last weekend with prayers for the planet and all of us. Here is my prayer:

As the sun and the moon cycle to hold you,
With wings of hope and trust,
May you know that you are loved and cared for
May you heal with nourishment
May all beings arise and awaken to care for you and demand your safety,
For you are everything.

The Author: Larissa Hull