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Art of Peace
By Christine L. Evans, Ph.D., REAT
Newsletter of the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association, 2003, Edition 2, pp. 9-10.

How do we create opportunities to share the gifts of expressive arts with others? Many of us have years of personal transformation fueling our passion for the arts as tools for healing. Yet bridging the gap between our own experience and the needs of others requires an awareness that stretches beyond the shore of our personal histories.

On April 19, 2003 I hosted an event at a local community center auditorium in Mountain View, California, for people to grieve in time of war. Over thirty people attended. Throughout our five hours together, participants found their own ways to express the anger, sadness, betrayal, frustration, confusion, fear, love, yearning, hope, and voicelessness they felt. Through movement, drawing, painting, sounding, sculpture, collage, and creations made from a variety of fabrics and found objects, they made visible their internal experiences.

In the morning these men, women and children created individual expressions within the larger community. Later in the day they each collected materials representing their life experiences of belonging, peace and safety, brought them into small groups and co-created. The day ended with everyone arm in arm singing the Buddhist blessing, "May all beings be well. May all beings be happy. Peace. Peace. Peace."

The event was birthed one afternoon three weeks earlier as I sat in my studio contemplating two issues that weighed heavily on my mind. The first was my refusal to accept war with Iraq as the way to create peace in our world. The other was my determination to hold onto judgments about someone I dearly love. On that day I gave myself permission to write about all of the attributes and behaviors that I detest in this friend, things having primarily to do with waste of resources. I wrote and wrote and wrote. At some point, it occurred to me to substitute my own name for my friend's. In that moment I saw that my judgments about her were also misgivings I held against myself. Suddenly I felt an enormous release of energy. Some part of me knew that I had something to give, and to withhold that possibility would keep me hostage to my judgments of others and myself.

Ideas about this community event began to form as I wept with gratitude. They grew in dimension as I visited another friend over the following weekend. To my surprise she revealed that she was in favor of our military efforts to remove the Iraqi regime. As I spoke of the certain loss of life, she cried, revealing her own sadness about that reality. Yet she felt morally aligned with what she believed would strengthen the possibility of peace in the Middle East. How could we educated and heartfelt people be so opposed in our views while sharing such similar feelings?

As I spoke with dozens, if not hundreds, of friends, family, and acquaintances over the weeks that followed, I discovered that whether we supported or opposed the war, what we shared was our grief and our desire for peace. This awareness fueled the creation of this gathering. Soon the momentum of community support offered this event a life of its own. I was simply one of the many who responded to the flow of its needs. Flyers, press releases, emails, translators, supplies, a sound system, structure of the day, set up and clean up were manifest with what felt like miraculous ease. My participation in this event brought home to me that peace really does start with each one of us. But first I had to see my judgments of another as blocks in myself. I had to open to the possibility of shared experience in the midst of difference.

As members of IEATA, I invite you to step off the shore of your own experience, to sacrifice your judgments, and to discover the peace found only in community with people of foreign soil. Blessings on your journey into the unknown.

Christine Evans, Ph.D., REAT
Co-Founder of the Living Arts Center
Mountain View, CA
(650) 314-0193
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