Indigenous Expressive Arts Exercise Invitation IV

Collective Natural Element Mandala

Age Range: 3 to 100

Objective: To create a mandala or natural design as a collective group or family experiential. The objective is to connect to nature, seek natural elements found through a nature exploration, calling on a childlike sense of play and curiosity.

*This natural mandala can be created by an individual as well as with a group.

Inspirational quote: “Each person’s life is like a mandala – a vast, limitless circle. We stand in the center of our own circle, and everything we see, hear and think forms the mandala of our life.”   –Pema Chodron

“The word mandala means ‘circle’. A mandala represents wholeness, a cosmic diagram reminding us of our relation to infinity, extending beyond and within our bodies and minds. The mandala appears to us in all aspects of life, the Earth, the Sun, the Moon and more obviously the circles of life encompassing friends, family and communities”.

Materials Needed:

  • A natural area to roam through and collect/gather natural elements
  • Bag with pouches to gather varying elements (wildflowers, sticks, leaves, rocks, pinecones, berries)
  • An surface to create your collective mandala (indoors or outdoors)
  • Native flute music or classical music if mandala is completed indoors (if desired)


  • Read the quotes above and meditate on your collective connection to the mandala and its meaning for you both collectively and individually.
  • Take a few moments to engage in nature by offering a group directive to connect to the natural environment. Take a walk as a walking meditation, following the breath in and out or noticing the sights, sounds, and scents as you connect to nature.
  • If desired by the group, take your shoes off and ground your body in the grass or dirt to feel the earth and charge your body.
  • Wander around and go where you feel led as individuals. Each person can follow their own inner guide to collect what they are drawn to. Allow yourselves to be with nature and go with the intention of gathering natural elements that speak to you.

* Be curious, turning things upside down and looking at nature anew!

  • Gather what’s beautiful, curious, forgotten, mystical, natural, wondrous, normally forgotten or perceived as devoid of beauty…
  • Once your family or collective community has gathered all the natural elements they desire, find a sacred circle or space to create the mandala.
  • In forming a mandala, it’s nice to commence and give order to the organic process by placing some elements in the center of the area to create from the inside out of the circle. (If you are outside by a small pond or waterfall, this may be the center of your mandala as well). The mandala can be large or small, symmetrical or asymmetrical.
  • Allow the group to work in its own rhythm, creating in silence to engage in a meditative and collective creative process. (There becomes a kind of order to the chaos, as is the nature of mandalas).
  • Once the last of the elements is placed, feel free to move around and observe the mandala from all angles.
  • After the process, a group or family discussion about the meaning and experience around this process can bring closure.

*I’ve led this activity with both my family as well as two different groups of colleagues. Each time, the process is different. Every result is beautiful and unique. There is a tremendous harmony that emerges in the group regardless of who engages in the process.

Special Consideration: When a group is forced to relocate the experiential due to weather or timing, etc., the energy and silence of the group can be severed. Bringing in meditative music or reading a quote about nature or oneness can create a holding space again and re-focus the group to create the mandala.

Group holding: Let go of rules, but create a small bit of structure and guidance for a group to help people feel playful and safe in the exercise.

Plan to be surprised! People who would not normally be inclined to do something like this can be very engaged and offer something very important to the collective. A child may create the order for the adults and an adult may bring the needed spontaneity. In the photo below, a child formed the word love from leaves with remaining earth elements.

Download the exercise!

Indigenous Expressive Arts Exercise Invitation III

Rock Beings

Age Range: 3 to 100 (A young child can enjoy activity on a more simple level)

Objective: To connect to the greater landscape through seeking a broader sense of connection to a rock or stone, something generally conceived as inanimate and devoid of life in modern Western culture. In this exercise, we invite a more indigenous spirit to expand from what you ordinarily feel and think in relation to a rock or other earth elements that are not “living”. The question becomes, “Are they devoid of soul and spirit even if they are not considered living?”

*A little unlearning is invited by way of approaching this expressive exercise, as you’ll discover in the procedures.

 Inspiration: Tunkashila is a word that has complex meaning, something simplified as the “mystery of all life” in translation of Standing Bear. Within this tunkashila spirit, there is a reverence and connection to rocks as persons, something authors Grim, Walker and Densmore reflect in Grim’s article. This “tunkashila” has embedded within the Lakota culture a relationship to rocks as part of the greater connection to all things, rather than as inanimate objects wholly unrelated to us.

“Everything was possessed of personality, only differing from us in form. Knowledge was inherent in all things. The world was a library”  — Standing Bear

 Materials Needed:

  • A rock or stone found in nature
  • Markers, paints, oil pastels…
  • Small and long bristled-brushes for detail painting if rock/stone is small; choose hardy brushes that are not expensive as they take some wear and tear
  • *Permanent paint for outdoors (patio paint or permanent ink at art stores)
  • *Urethane Sealer if desired to keep in the garden/outdoors


  • Read the indigenous quote above. If inspired, read the article attached that gave inspiration for this exercise.
  • Take a few moments to engage in nature. Take a walk as a walking meditation, following the breath in and out or noticing the sights, sounds, and scents as you connect to nature.
  • If you can, take your shoes off and ground your body in the grass or dirt to feel the earth and charge your body.
  • Wander around and go where you feel led. Allow yourself to be with nature and go with the intention of not finding a rock, but rather letting the rock find you. (This is where the unlearning comes into play. This is where the intellect will sabotage your connection to a rock or stone. If you can, trust the rock will find you). *Of course, make sure you’re in an environment that permits the taking of a rock!
  • Once you’re led to a rock, hold it in your hand with your eyes closed. Make sure you know this rock, sense this rock, and connect to the spirit of the rock.
  • If this is the rock that has found you, return to a quiet place in nature where you have your supplies.
  • This may feel sacreligious to now paint a rock spirit or being. It may feel better to keep this rock close and leave it in its natural state. You may sense the rock should remain where it is.
  • * If not, and painting or adorning it feels reverent and resonant, create any artistic reflection of the rock that emerges. You may find an image emerge from holding and contemplating the rock. Let the experience guide you in this process and emergence of an image.
  • My rock felt like a reminder of oneness and along came a sacred geometry image of earth elements in some unified design. Many painted rocks are animals, natural elements and organic designs.
  • Find a sacred place to keep the rock after painting it. Place it on an alter, in a garden, by your bed, in your home or office. Let it’s new home arrive by intuition if possible!

Special Consideration: Extracting from a deeply evolved and expansive culture’s sense of reverence and interconnectedness falls short of complete. In offering this “Western” take on indigenous wisdom, I hope to simply open a window to a deeper well of insight into the earth’s connection to all. This exercise was powerful and humbling for me and so it is in this spirit, I share it with the collective.

Download the exercise!


Reference: Grim, J. A. (n.d.). Indigenous Traditions and Ecology. Retrieved February 25, 2017, from

IEATA Interviews: TAE Peru

As spring slowly turns to summer, the timing is perfect for our interview with Ximena Maurial, Directora, TAE Peru, with its beautiful gardens and mosaics. Click here to read the TAE Peru interview in Spanish!


Wendy:  What is your vision for TAE Peru?

Ximena:  The goals of TAE Peru for the future are to continue developing therapies for the expressive arts that take the healing power of the expressive arts to the community, either in context or in clinical, educational, and community settings and to facilitate social change. Our wish is to continue integrating our previous knowledge, our traditions, rituals, and images through a process tied to the health and welfare of our communities. We are interested in shaping creative, autonomous students, getting them ready to meet and face the environment.

Wendy:  Is your program open to the public as well as students?

Ximena:  We receive students from different professions who are dedicated to the different arts. People from different provinces of Peru and foreigners come to us, interested in being introduced to art processes related to promoting health and inspiring transformation. Our graduates have created centers in different parts of Lima and have participated in developmental projects with different populations.

Wendy:  What are your training programs, their levels, and lengths of time?

Ximena:  TAE Peru has three levels. We offer a year-long course of study that awards a diploma in Expressive Arts Therapies. The students in this program are in residence with us for a year. The second level is Preparation to Become an Expressive Arts Therapist, a three-year-long program. The third level is a Low Residency Diploma (two short residencies in two consecutive years). The people who want to become a Therapist after receiving a Diploma in Expressive Arts Therapy have to complete two additional years of study. In order to become a therapist in the expressive arts you need to study for three years at our Institution. The third modality we offer is our Low Residency Program. This modality is offered to students who live in different provinces of Peru and in foreign countries.

Wendy:  How many students participate each year?

Ximena:  Every year we receive close to 22 new students for the Diploma Program. Of that group, about 16 persons continue their studies and become Expressive Arts Therapists.

Wendy:  Are you interested in opportunities for becoming a mentor?

Ximena:  All the professors from TAE Peru are interested in the possibility of being a mentor to different students. Our work is basically centered in education. The development of our students is constant and as a team of professors we are continually enriching ourselves through seminars, supervision, and artistic practice. At TAE Peru our curriculum is quite broad and extensive, and each one of our professors has specialized in a different aspect of Expressive Arts Therapy.

Wendy:  What’s your classroom space like? Is it inside? Outside?

Ximena:  Our Center is in the city. I’m sending you some pictures of the two rooms in which we work…Both are connected by a garden. Once a year we create art communities in the field and during the year work with students on art and social transformation projects in the outskirts of the city.

Wendy:  Are you interested in more opportunities for communication through social networks?

Ximena:  We are very interested in extending our communication through networking. TAE Peru has been working in Peru for ten years. A great number of students have finished their studies and have taken the expressive arts to different fields. There is immense artistic wealth that they are discovering in their work with different populations. Many of our students have conducted very interesting research in expressive arts. We, as teachers, are constantly in development, forming. It would be very interesting to start an exchange through networking through social webs. We believe that this would nourish our discipline. Latin America has much to contribute from its traditions, myths, legends, and culture.

At TAE Peru we are beginning to use virtual learning for the students of the Low Residency program. This is a very important resource because it allows for people who live outside of Lima to be connected. It would be very interesting to connect with foreign teachers and students and begin to exchange experiences. The central work of TAE Peru is education. It would be very interesting to receive students from other places and also to give seminars in different places in Latin America.

Wendy:  Would you like to write a blog?

Ximena:  It would be very motivating to be able to write a blog. In TAE Peru we are five partners and I’m sure everyone would write a blog with a lot of enthusiasm.

Wendy:  What information does IEATA need to present on their website to best represent you?

Ximena:  Having the IEATA connection is something we value highly. Participating in its International Conferences has been a very enriching experience. Hosting the 9th International Conference in 2011 was an experience of deep learning, as well as participating in the First Latin American Congress in Guatemala. The information that the website presents about TAE could be more specific and give more details. Since last year we are offering the Low Residency Diploma to foreign students. We think that it would be interesting for this information to be on the IEATA website.

Thank you!

Thank you to everyone for the beautiful Earth Day images and rituals weaving together the arts with honoring the earth!

Click here to view

Our special thanks to Roselle O’Brien, Publications Committee, for working closely with us to create a wonderful EXPRESS Earth Day site! We sincerely thank Amy Morrison, Social Action Committee, David Eckelkamp, Public Relations, and Jacob Kaminker, Regional, for their collaborative spirit! And gratitude to Mitchell Kossak for his encouragement.


Wendy Phillips and Roxanne Daleo, Co-Chairs, Ed Resources

Earth Day & the Expressive Arts

earthday800The International Expressive Arts Therapy Association EXPRESS Earth Day 2016

Be the world together!

Online event

April 22, 2016


So much has happened in the field of expressive arts since the first Earth Day 1970:

  • Encouraging artistic expression among the veterans with PTSD – Vets are finding relief in artistic enterprises.
  • Research in psychoneuroimmunology has demonstrated the interrelationship between the mind and body with evidence that the brain releases neurochemicals prompted by a person’s beliefs and attitudes that directly affects our immunune systems. This mind-body connection directs healing from within and evolves the field of expressive arts therapy.
  • More research has proved that visualizing health through art, music, and guided imagery techniques empower adults and children: an image held in the mind’s eye can and does literally affect every cell in the body.

I have especially focused on the role of art in nature and the outdoors with my clients who are anxious children. My personal experience has been supported by the emerging field of ecopsychology and studies of the effects of the natural environment on the brain and stress reduction.

Just as our planet is constantly undergoing change, so is our field of expressive arts constantly evolving. From this perspective, I greet Earth Day with more enthusiasm than ever!

The power of expressive arts therapy is as a catalyst for psychological, physical, and spiritual change, healing, and wellness.

Essential to—and at the core of—all healing is spirit. The reclaiming of our spirit is not dependent on the outside world. It is our essence, our true inner nature, that defines us. It is not bound by culture or language. It is universal and unique.

Dr. Roxanne Daleo –

2016 EXPRESS Earth Day

earthday800The IEATA Educational Resources Connection BLOG interactive platform is hosting the first online global event of EXPRESS Earth Day!  April 22nd noon – 1:00pm (EST)

Join us – be the world together at the same hour to creatively express a moment of global community without borders, not bound by language, to honor our planet Earth using the power of the expressive arts.

We do this together, through the expressive arts of world traditions, in a variety of artistic performance and art forms. We begin with a meditation, opening to the Presence of the Earth spirit and our human spirit as we pray to preserve, protect and promise Earth Mother that our children and our children’s children for seven generations will enjoy the beauty and bounty of the natural world.

Please join us with your ritual of EXPRESS Earth Day. Register your organization to participate in this premier event.

Registration is now – sign up using the comment box below!

IEATA Interviews: CELA

In-between snow storms, I interviewed Roselle O’Brien, LMHC, REAT, Director of CELA – The Center for English Language & Creative Arts.


Dr. Roxie: What is your vision for CELA?

Roselle: In the broadest sense, CELA’s mission is to offer educational and support services to enhance personal growth, promote healing, and transform lives. The vision for the certification programs is multi-layered. I wanted to create a program that was accessible financially and academically for students. Too many times dreams for career directions and personal dreams get de-railed by tuition costs and expenses that many people can’t afford. Accessible also means do-able–for people who may be working full time, be raising families. We–all of us–have many demands on our resources: time, energy, wallet. My vision for CELA and the certification programs, bottom line, is providing an opportunity and the necessary supports for people to not only acquire training they may want and need, but also to successfully complete the program and be empowered to move their lives in the direction they want while inspiring and supporting others through the creative arts.

Dr. Roxie: Is your program open to the public as well as students?

Roselle: Oh, yes. You don’t have to be enrolled in a certification program to take classes.

Dr. Roxie: What are your training programs, their levels, and lengths of time?

Roselle: The first important thing is that CELA’s programs are online. All of the courses are offered online through CELA–and we do accept transfer credits for classes. It’s truly an international program. You can take it from wherever you live. Supervision for the internships are provided virtually, by telephone, email, in-person, and in combinations.

CELA offers two levels of certification: Intermodal Creative Arts Facilitator (ICAF) and Intermodal Creative Arts Therapist (ICAT). The main difference between the two programs is that the ICAF– Facilitator level–is for educators, facilitators, artists, and professionals  who would like to use Creative Arts Therapy approaches in their work. Facilitators are not therapists but are trained in understanding and working with their arts areas and the therapeutic effects and benefits many people experience through the creative arts. The ICAT–Therapist level–is Creative Arts Therapy training for therapists and requires the student to have independent licensure in their state or where they live, prior to enrolling in the program. The independent licensure could be as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Social Worker, Marriage and Family Therapist, Nurse, Psychologist. The training components for both programs include general education coursework, arts area coursework, required reading, and the supervised internship.

Dr. Roxie: Tell me more about the creative arts and how they fit in your programs.

Roselle: The certification programs are both intermodal–which means each student chooses a primary arts area and two additional, secondary, arts areas within which they will focus their work and studies. One student may choose visual arts for their primary arts area and music and language arts for their secondary arts areas. Another student may choose music for their primary arts area and culinary arts and dance and movement for their secondary arts areas. The students focus their internship work on their three chosen arts areas, moving among them in the work they do with their clients. Their supervisor supports their learning. We’ve been very successful at matching up students and their arts areas with supervisors whose work and experience share those creative arts areas.

Dr. Roxie: How long does it take to complete the program?

Roselle: The length of time it takes to finish a certification program depends on what transfer credits, if any, a student many have when they begin. The CELA review process is highly individualized. For example, within the field of nursing there are different levels of training for an RN. An RN could have gone to a hospital school, could have an Associates Degree, or a Bachelor’s, or a Master’s. The prerequisite for ICAT is for the candidate to have independent licensure prior to applying. We really examine closely the training, the completed coursework if any, and the work experiences of each applicant to make a determination.

The CELA school year is divided into four 10-week sessions. It starts on or about September 1st of each calendar year and runs through June of each year. If a student began the certification program with no transfer credits it would take one academic year full-time, (which is four classes per session,) September through June, to complete the required coursework. And then it would take an additional 6-8 months to complete the internship–but that’s based on doing 20 hours per week for the internship. It can take less time if a student spends more hours per week at their internship (if, for example, their internship site is also where they work.) The internship could definitely be completed in less time than the 6-8 months. Everything is all about the student, their schedule, their needs.

Dr. Roxie: How much do your programs cost to complete?

Roselle: The program costs for someone with more approved transfer credits will be less than for someone with fewer or no approved transfer credits. If someone were to begin a certification program with no transfer credits at all, the total cost for the certification program including the supervision for their internship, is $4,300.00. That doesn’t include  books.

Dr. Roxie: Are you open to new mentoring opportunities?

Roselle: Yes.

Dr. Roxie: Are you interested in social media outreach?

Roselle: Absolutely! Those are the communication platforms that reach the most people. You have to go to the places where people connect and join in the conversations!

Dr. Roxie: Is there anything else you would like to include for the blog or any suggestions for the IEATA Committee for Educational Resources?

Roselle: I think it’s huge having the information that Educational Resources and the other Committees present on IEATA’s website. I remember, when I first discovered IEATA, going to the website to learn more about the organization and the people who are involved. I read through everything, but especially lingered on the information provided by Educational Resources (and the Artists’ Gallery.) It’s a wonderful service you provide and more people and agencies need to take advantage of the connections and the opportunities.