~ The Art Of Change ~ with Carol Omer ~

Art and Creativity as Mediums for Empowerment , Connection and Change…

Archive for June, 2016

Casting Shadows

Posted by carolom on June 23, 2016

I was walking along a path  that is also  bicycle track in a park on the edge of the city this morning and in spite of the school and heading to work traffic I suddenly experienced a sense of vulnerability. The trees and bushes obscured the path from the main road and my imagination created a scenario based on stories in the news.
My work in domestic violence shelters has created a heightened sense of awareness of the vulnerability of women although many of my friends  will say they are alert to danger in some public places.
These thoughts were not my preferred rumination on a pleasant, brisk winters walk but as I began to refocus them, my own shadow caught my eye as its stretched out before me.

I was reminded of Robert Johnson’s illuminating book Owning your Own Shadow- Understanding the Dark side of the Psyche and what a pivotal moment it was when I read it many years ago.

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I was so immersed in contemplating the shadow and observing my own thinking about how it plays out in people’s lives  that I didn’t hear the footsteps behind me until a shadow unexpectedly imposed itself over  my own, making me jump and turn around, eyes widened by a rush of adrenalin.

A woman’s voice said Oh, I ‘m sorry.I thought that might happen. Good thing you are not a karate person. And there standing in front of me were the sources of the shadow that crossed my path.Harley and Shanti. Two beautiful, friendly happy little souls who were walking without their lead and were so very excited to see a new friend on their walkway they had bounded up to me to say hello!

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I explained to the woman that I had been thinking about shadows and domestic violence and had just taken a photo of my elongated shadow. She said Gee, it’s really long isn’t it?

It was obvious that these thoughts were a long way from her morning walk.

We parted ways at the traffic lights, Harley and Shanti now happily on their leads, wagging their tails and leaving me to ponder about the tale I had been wagging on the beautiful, sunny  crisp winters morning walk, where between our three shadows, mine was most definitely the longest…

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The “N” word and the A,B,C of racism here in Australia.

Posted by carolom on June 21, 2016

*Dedicating this updated post to Nova Peris today after the man who sent her messages with these words in them, pleaded guilty:

 

The Intergenerational Impact of Australia’s Racist History

I have often thought that those divisive, racist terms, Australia’s equivalent to the word,  the ABC of racism, have not been publicly outed here in Australia.

It’s as if those derisive names and derogatory terms have gone underground yet still live and perpetuate in the collective psyche today, erupting occasionally but generally not aired or brought to the light of public discussion and transformation.

I pre-empt the following with an apology to those who are offended.  In the context of the word discussion it is important that we acknowledge the toxic, pervasive impact of the words abo, boong & coon and the inference of the superiority of one group by the demonising of another.   Dehumanising words that  were instilled in the post European settlement consciousness  of  this country.

As a migrant child in the  60’s hearing the adults use the terms in a derisive, mocking, disdainful manner transmitted their racist origins down through the generations and their legacies are alive and breathing long after the first people who uttered them have gone.

That old adage that you can’t heal it until you claim it is as relevant when discussing collective language and divisive stereotyping as it is when discussing personal  mental, emotional and spiritual wounds.

It is the very early days of recovery from the violence of colonisation in this country and naming and accepting responsibility for the impact of the language of Australia’s history of apartheid that was linguistically coded into our schoolyards and policies in very recent times, is another step in the healing process and journey of restorative justice.

An Aboriginal Woman said to me recently: Unless you have experienced it, a person could never know what it feels like to have your culture, your tribe and community demonised to the point where just the word “Aborigine” triggers fear, distrust and loathing in people who have never even sat down with us and had a yarn.

Australia’s history of colonisation, which was an invasion into an occupied country whose inhabitants had   highly sophisticated systems of governance & environmental practices, is the story of many first nations people right across the globe. Domination, theft, rape, genocide, kidnapping of children and loss of language and identity and the slow and painful inter-generational recovery for a nation of people living in the post traumatic state.

I sometimes wonder if people outside of Australia are aware that there are uniquely Australian counterparts to that loathesome and highly political word “nigger’

They are words that imprison the innocent and are not discussed openly  in Australia or made accountable for the role that they have played in demonising one race in order to serve the agenda of another.

Deep within the psyche and at the fore front of many people’s thinking & belief systems, the ABC – abo, boong and coonof Australia’s shameful & very recent past is still very much alive and breathing  a fresh generation of racism despite progress being made in some areas of Reconciliation and healing.

This is what the women in our Aboriginal Women’s Healing groups have told me over and over and when an Aboriginal grandmother is standing at the bus stop with her three grandchildren and a car full of teenagers drives by and calls out boongs, it is evidence that the virus of racism is still beng transmitted in Austraia today.

Click here to read “The Virus” – a story of how racism is ‘caught’ in the schoolyard…

Definition of boong in the Urban Dictionary reveals the derogatory intent of the term:Urban dictionary Definition of ‘boong’

Many Warriors are still in chains.

For more on this topic, I highly recommend the following book “Blood on the Wattle” which details the history of some of the massacres across Australia. It is a hard book to read but one that should be read by every Australian.
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Posted in Abo, Aboriginal, Aborigines in Chains, Apartheid in Australia, Australia, Australia's abuse of human rights, Boong, Coon, Human Rights, Indigenous, Nigger, Racism, racism in australia, Reconciliation, Slavery in Australia, What Oprah should know, What the Australian Tourism Commission won't tell you | Tagged: | 19 Comments »

How Colouring is making a difference in Domestic Violence Shelters

Posted by carolom on June 21, 2016

I was recently invited to contribute to the newspaper article How Colouring-in heals the psychological scars of trauma ( <– see link) and as a result of the interview process I have a couple of pages of added information.

I thought it would be a good idea to blog some of  the questions and answers  that formed the basis of the article.

How did Coloring come into your domestic violence service?

Throughout the late 90’s and early 2000’s I was publishing an in house newsletter for the staff and women at our shelter. I called it C.H.A.N.G.E. – an acronym for Creating Happiness And New Growth Everyday

The newsletter created an opportunity for residents of the  shelter and outreach programs to share poetry and stories and for staff to promote programs and provide information relevant to the groups they facilitated.

We had already undergone a cultural change in the shelter regarding the physical environment evolving from one of issue based posters and imagery, to a much more positive and uplifting setting.

*See this blog entry for further detail:

Domestic Violence Shelters as a place of possibility not pain

C.H.A.N.G.E. updated

I was aware that the written word as a form of personal expression and communication relies on being able to read and write English.

…and that it isn’t everyone’s preferred form of expression. Delivering information in written form was not always culturally relevant for Aboriginal women or for women from CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) backgrounds.

As the daughter of a very creative mother, I recognised that many of the programs and systems in place in shelters are developed within an academic, not a creative framework so with the support of our management team and my colleagues I began to create tools that tapped into women’s creativity and gave the hands something to do that was engaging and fun. “Fun” is not usually associated with domestic violence shelters.

In the late 90’s I read Carl Jung’s memoir, “Memories Dreams and Reflections” and was fascinated by the concept of the Mandala. I had seen how the young women at our shelter would get very involved in some of the playgroup activities that were designed for their children, including colouring in.

I drew a very rudimentary Mandala and put the words “Believe in Yourself” at the centre and from that very first colouring sheet the women let me know that sitting at the table and colouring while the personal development information was being delivered had changed the group from a class room setting where they were often bored to a much more dynamic and engaging setting.

Our group attendance and retention rate increased dramatically as a result of offering creativity and colouring groups to the women.

I Believe n Myself Poster
Over the next few years I developed creative tools to accompany most of our in house information. For skills training in the area of budgeting, I designed a colouring sheet with circles representing their different financial obligations, such as rent, groceries, electricity etc and we coloured the sheet as we explored topics like budgets, direct debits etc.
The completed poster became a visual tool for budgeting rather than a hand written form that is often left in drawers or left behind in the group room after the session.

A very common topic in dv shelters is how do I change negative patterns?

…especially if it is the 2nd or 3rd domestic violence relationship that a woman is experiencing or she has grown up with domestic violence and does not recognise the intergenerational cycle.

For those sessions I designed Mandalas that had affirmations such as “I release the patterns that no longer serve me” and “I love and accept myself”.

Within a couple of years I had created a master copy folder of colouring pages that were designed specifically for issues affecting women in domestic violence settings but also other pages that related to relaxation and goal setting.
Our staff team enjoyed the colouring process also so I occasionally designed Vision statement colouring sheets for our team building days.

Patterns

How does colouring-in help people touched by domestic violence?

Colouring in is a form of open eyed meditation.  The rhythmic movement of the pencil slows the mind, acting like a kind of mantra because of its repetitive nature. Colouring brings the consciousness into the present moment. Rather than worrying about past events and speculating about the uncertain future around court cases and hospital visits, the creative process is relaxing and soothing. It is a form of mindfulness that is very effective for women dealing with trauma, who are in recovery from domestic violence.

Colouring is not competitive and it engages the hands which are often excluded from learning and relaxation processes.

Breathing relaxes, the mind slows down and for many women the internal stress is transformed into creativity and focus while they are colouring in.

Breathe Deeply b:w
When a woman arrives at a domestic violence shelter she is often in a highly traumatised and distressed state. She may have physical pain, post-traumatic stress  issues and is finding  it difficult to concentrate and focus.
Along with dealing with court cases, hospital visits, financial issues and worry for pets who have been left behind, a woman will often be managing distressed children and in some cases extended family conflict relating to her decision to leave.

I created a Colouring Pack for the women who arrived at our shelter.

We added pencils and blank paper to the pack. Many of the residents said that although they hadn’t coloured in since they were young, they felt relaxed and peaceful as they coloured.

I reminded them that we all had colouring pencils for the first few years of our life, at kindergarten and in junior primary but as time went on our creativity was often left behind in preference to the academic processes and outcomes driven education system that places the “arts” on the bottom of academic prestige and sciences on the top. As a result it is often seen to be childish or unprofessional to engage colouring-in as a training tool.
At the shelter new arrivals were often shy or distressed and uncomfortable sitting in a group setting but once they sat at the colouring table and there was no pressure to speak or hold eye contact, they would often relax and begin to share their stories in a much more organic and relaxed manner than if they were sitting with hands on laps and expected to participate in the group dynamics.

Colouring-in creates something beautiful from a black and white page. It is a personal, unique interpretation of the image and that in itself can be very reassuring and nourishing during times of distress and uncertainty.

Labyrinth

Tell me a little about some of the people who have found solace (if that is a fitting word) through your work?

Colouring Mandalas and black and white pictures is a process that is relevant for women of all ages and cultural backgrounds.

When *P was colouring her Mandala she looked up after half an hour of colouring and said I think this Mandala just spoke to me I asked her what it ‘said’ to her and this was her reply:
“When I was young if I ever felt proud about something I had done at school, my step father (who was abusive) used to always say self praise is no recommendation.
I never felt good enough around him and he was always cristicising me, he still does, but this Mandala made me realise I am good enough and I don’t need to listen to what he said all the time.
The next week she arrived at the group glowing, with a piece of paper in her hand. She had created her own Mandala with the words Self praise. The best recommendation.

We made many copies of her Mandala over the ensuing years and long after she left our service and went to University, her colouring page was there in our group room for other women to colour and medARTate on the words she had written and the important message she left us all with.
Colouring has taken her to a deeper, more reflective place within herself and in that place where she had rarely visited, insights and a new level of resolve awaited her.

There was a young woman in the shelter from a refugee background. *L had lived in a camp in one of the African countries for most of her childhood.

She was married at a young age and had courageously left domestic violence with her young baby. *L did not speak English and the staff members did not speak her language. She was shy in the group settings but her colouring style was so bright and skilful that she drew many compliments from the rest of the shelter residents.

Although the colouring circles were not competitive as such and everyone’s unique style was celebrated it was obvious that *L was a gifted artist and the recognition of her art connected her to the women around her. She was proud of her work and generous in showing the other women her unique shading techniques.

In this scenario colouring raised her confidence and self esteem and enabled her to be the “expert” in the room rather than experience isolation because she did not speak the language and we did not have interpreters on site.

Big Girls Picnic copy

 Would you like to see Coloring used across the country to help victims and survivors?

As a life coach and an advocate for equitable learning and embracing diversity I would like to see colouring circles in women’s prisons, homeless and domestic violence shelters and Community health and healing environments.
I would also like to see social workers trained in the process of engaging with creativity as a tool for case management as many of the students who come to our shelters are often very uncomfortable with their own creativity or using it as a tool for developing trusting relationships.
In settings where there are Aboriginal clients the colouring process draws on the cultural practices of art and creativity as central to community and learning through story and sharing creative practices.

Victims of domestic violence are entitled to heal and recover in their own time and colouring is a gentle, easy meditation and in that moment of colouring they can have respite from dealing with the vast array of pressing matters that fill every waking moment.

I would like to see front line staff and management and board members trained in the simple process of establishing colouring and conversation circles, this includes access to the colouring process as part of an organizations work-life balance policies.

As a community education and relationship building tool, colouring and the self reflection and creativity that it unleashes is  a fabulous, inexpensive way to build relationships and encourage creativity amongst women who are looking for new answers to old problems

Colouring circles are creative way for women who have escaped domestic violence  to offer her knowledge and experience, to “give back” as one woman put it in the Talking Circle aspect of the colouring circle.

Healing Power of Nature b-w

Carol Omer is a Certified Life Coach and Artist, specialising in Women’s Personal Development and Empowerment programs.
The Big Girls Little Colouring Book is available on her website: CarolOmer.com

The Big Girls Little Coloring Book is also available on Amazon

Posted in ART of Change, Carol Omer, Community, Creativity, Domestic Violence, feminism, Healing, Patterns | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Mandalas as tools for Staff Training and Development.

Posted by carolom on June 21, 2016

*Updated:

The Mandala ( the Circular form) which I have shared in other sections of my blog,  is a great tool for inspiring right brain thinking and reflection during our  creativity based staff training sessions.

As people engage with the rhythmic movement of adding colour and meaning to the individual black and white templates, the process is akin to a mind-massage that facilitates  access to parts of the brain we may have lost touch with in education settings and workplaces that don’t engage the hands equally as the eyes and ears for training purposes.

This is especially so in the western system whereas other cultures, i.e. Aboriginal culture, engage hands and creativity as part of the process of telling stories, generating ideas  and transmitting knowledge. This multi-sensory engagement is core to every day life.

In some cultures creative expression and development is not reduced  after early childhood as happens in some aspects of the western school system where the arts are often not considered as important as the sciences and therefore colour movement, dance, story telling, art and the application of the imagination are diminished over time. Creativity does not conform to a pre-existing template and systems that are outcome oriented are often not able accommodate creative expression and exploration.

 The system we are brought up in has enormous influence on how we think and create.

Sadly many people are living their life with the belief (belief )  I am not Creative, in spite of shared experience we all had as creative, imaginative, ‘magical’ children who were not bound by pre-existing templates during times of play and invention.
You can read a little story about what happens to the ‘magical child in exile’ by clicking here..

Feedback after the creativity based training  includes statements like this:

  • I was amazed at how much more information I absorbed even though I was not always looking up
  • thank you for giving us permission to go in to our own creative space and contribute without having to sit still all day in the one position, i am always the biro flicker in workshops because my hands get bored sitting still all day
  • Wow! That was fabulous! I am going to share these tools with my daughter and grandchildren

The following are samples of some of the work that was created during a series of Cultural Inclusivity Action Plan workshops.

The four themes that were central to the day were

  • Team
  • Community
  • Our Place
  • Workplace Balance

You can see the theme is written on the Mandala and the individual creative input is an unique and diverse as the participants and the Community they serve.

We honour the traditional owners of this great land when we implement processes that Aborginalise the western mindset by engaging with traditional cultural practices of art, creativity, story sharing, talking circles and FUN! (Thankyou Dana Shen for introducing me to  the term Aboriginalising ways of learning and information sharing).

This kind of training setting is a along way vastly different from sitting in a row of chairs or around tables and watching but not actively engaging with information. Slide shows, pie graphs and classroom style information sharing  lacks the creative engagement that occurs when hands are given access to creative processes and the information is presented in a way that evokes the imagination and new ideas.

Creativity based learning is a very different setting than the more common workshop environment where people sit still, watch and listen rather than create and interact with the material.

Our Place

Team

Balance in the Workplace

Each Mandala has a developmental theme and is used as both a creative and discussion tool as

  • an individual process,
  • in the small group talking /action plan group and
  • as a larger group we have poster size replicas which, by the end of the day become the centre of an action-plan installation art.

You can see how wonderful it is to create the ART of Vision / Action over the tired old butchers paper sheets that tend to be rolled away and disappeared forever once the workshop is over….

Posted in Aboriginal, ART of Change, Community, Creativity, Imagination, Patterns, Power of Focus, Reconciliation, Social Artistry, Staff Training, Stories, The Art of Change, Transformation, Uncategorized, Wisdom | Leave a Comment »