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April 25, 2021

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Finding your inner peace in art

WHEN working as an art inspirer in Singapore, Ingela Johansson noticed many of her students “were looking for purpose,” rather than just creativity.

“And that sparked the idea of how we can bring this to creative classes,” Johansson said.

About the same time, she also struggled personally when her son developed depression, and her children’s father died. Gradually shifting her method, she found her process of meditation, creativity and reflection, which has become “Creative Meditation.”

She has written two books on it, “Create to Relax” and “Create to Flow,” introducing a dozen exercises, such as “Butterfly Collage” and “Find your intuitive GPS.” The third, “Create Together” and available soon, focuses on enhancing parent-child bonding through art.

This week, Johansson is still with us, sharing her exploration of the healing power of art, the theoretical basis and simple daily exercises that require no artistic knowledge.

Q: How do you develop your method?

A: I was living as an expat for many years with my family in different countries. For many expats, the ongoing worry is quite often how long we are going to stay here, where we will go next and what will happen. When you get stuck in that mind loop every day, you’re kind of almost in a limbo.

This is one of the reason I started to develop this method, because it made me stop being in that limbo, and instead brought me back to the present.

I have had this client for over 20 years who always told me: “Ingela, you need to discover the importance of reflection.” And finally I did, I started to do this every morning. Short mindfulness, creativity and reflection, doesn’t take me more than 20 minutes a day. But it puts me back in the driving seat, so I can have a clear vision where my life is going, and how I feel while doing it, and how I would like it to become. That’s the central part of my method.

You don’t need to know anything about painting to do this method. If you already had a practice you are using today ... Just add on the part of creativity and reflection. And there you are.

Q: What is creative meditation?

A: It is not about learning what materials you use when you create, but to learn different ways to slow down, open up in creativity, reach and listen to your intuition, or gut feelings, in the reflective part.

It’s basically a way of meeting yourself, for a short time every morning. That’s how I do it. And meeting yourself not only in the logical mind, but meeting your emotions that you can connect through when you do your creative process — painting. And then start to listen to yourself when you do the writing, look at your art piece and see where you are right now. But to be able to do this, we always have to start with calming ourselves down, so that we are not in the stress mode. That’s the mediation part.

Many of us lose touch of this during our life. Maybe once, or maybe quite often, we get so lost in what we need to achieve and what others believe we need to achieve, and how much we want to please the people that we love, or are important to us.

I’ve been doing this since 2016. The best gift this has given me is that I feel I know myself on a much deeper level.

Q: Why do you use art as a way of healing and self-discovery?

A: Creativity can be the sounding board of how you feel, how you can process different things you’ve experienced in life — traumas, hardship, things that’ve been done to you. When it’s too difficult to talk about, somehow we are sometimes able to paint them.

There are studies on how art and wellbeing are connected. Swedish cultural health researcher Eva Bojner Horwitz and her fellow researchers did an intervention study, “The Culture Palette,” for women with burnout symptoms in Sweden. Based on the research work and its implementation in healthcare centers and schools, they developed “The Cultural Health Box” (2019), a set of six books to help people use creativity in all forms — dance, art, music, among others — as prevention in health care.

Another study has been done in the UK called “Arts for Health and Wellbeing” (2016), which saw introducing arts could reduce hospital visits and hospital nights.

Q: Give one or two examples of simple daily practice.

A: Take a pen and a piece of paper, and you just go up when you breathe in and go down when you breathe out. So you start to draw your breath. You can try that a few days, just to see if it’s different. And you can do that for like three minutes. Even in this short simple thing, you start to become aware of how you are feeling, because you notice the shifting in your breath.

Or you can go out on a walk and try to find three new things that you haven’t noticed before. Because sometimes when we walk, our mind is actually somewhere else. Take a walk will actually notice what’s around you. Simple.

Listen to your favorite song from childhood, and try to stay present in the song.



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