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Lojong and Art Therapy

Lojongs are mind trainings in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. If this sounds intense, it's not! Well, it could be, depending on how intensely you're working on training your mind, which I'm fairly certain is addressed in at least one of the mind trainings. Essentially, lojongs are brief slogans that you do your best to heed in your daily life, in order to purify your intentions.

The first lojong ("Train in the preliminaries, the four reminders") consists of four slogans:

1. The preciousness of human life.

2. The inevitability of death.

3. The inevitability of suffering for all human beings.

4. The indelibility of one's thoughts, words, and actions.

In one of my recent art therapy groups at job #4 (substance abuse outpatient program), I had the patients meditate on and create art on this first of 59 lojongs. They closed their eyes as they listened to me recite one lojong, took a few breaths, then opened their eyes and drew/wrote/painted whatever reflections arose. The only stipulation (and this was a big one) was for them to remain silent throughout the entire process. Whatever they were tempted to speak aloud, they were to place it onto paper. We repeated this for the remainder of the reminders: placing their utensils down, closing their eyes, breathing out the last slogan, and preparing to receive the next.

It's not uncommon for my art therapy group attendees, particularly those who are not at all interested in participating, to end the session with a variation on, "Wow, I actually got a lot out of that." Perhaps what is uncommon, then, is the honesty with which one client in particular reflected on his process. He spoke of how he entered the group feeling nervous; he'd always considered himself an artist. But along with his descent into drugs went his desire and ability to create. Returning to a space of cultivating creativity brought up for him feelings of self-consciousness, doubt, and regret. Yet he dove in anyway.

I never make clients do anything. They always have the choice to opt out. Some take this a little too far, and consistently attempt to use my groups as "nap time," though their gleeful exuberance and ability to actually relax makes it difficult for me to deny them at least some respite from the steady stream of daily processing groups.

In the end, the fearful client emerged from the session feeling a little less doubt, a little less fear. It was his first step back into creative light. For the last slogan of the first lojong, he'd taken the paint from his fourth piece of paper, which he'd used as his palette, and created a whole new piece of art with what was already there. "The indelibility of one's thoughts, words, and actions." It was purposeful, resourceful, and insightful.

All of the art is, even if the client is avoiding it, "faking it," or plowing into it full force. You can't hide from the power of art therapy!

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