A dear friend wrote me a letter after she read my last blog. Along with her usual wise reflections, she said, “…yesterday’s blog is so lonely–for Vic, for your brother–and filled with the stress of your Mother-in-law’s care and your own Meniere’s Disease. How that presses upon you!”
The image of being pressed upon made me weep. It’s true–and I’m not the only one. It also made me remember the many healing tools I’ve gathered and my basic trust that hard times teach important soul lessons.
In the late 1960s, I began my lifetime study of Carl Jung‘s psychology. I looked into dreams, archetypal structures of the psyche, and mythology. I was graced with a gifted teacher, a husband, and a community that loved Jung, psychology, and philosophy. I began building my how-to-get-through-hard-stuff “toolbox” then. From meditation and mythology to philosophy and a reverence for nature. From dream exploration and Active Imagination to painting and ritual.
Sandtray and I first met in 1993.
At the time, I struggled with a difficult decision about work. A friend and Jungian therapist suggested I see someone who practiced sandtray (or sandplay) since dreams and discussion weren’t clarifying the issues.
“Sandplay is hands on psychological work. It is a powerful therapeutic technique that facilitates the psyche’s natural capacity for healing. In a “free and protected” space provided by the analyst, a client creates a concrete manifestation of his or her imaginal world using sand, water, and miniature objects.” Harriet S. Friedman, M.A., M.F.T., J.A.
On appointment day, I walked up a narrow stairs to the second floor office. The therapist ushered me into a room with large windows and a bookcase filled with small figures. There were miniature angels and monsters, children and old people, animals and stones, houses and trees.
After briefly discussing my conflict, she motioned me toward a shallow wooden tray filled with sand and suggested I choose a figure or two from the shelves. I smoothed the sand with my hands and added miniatures to form a circle of protective figures. Inner turmoil settled as I played in silence. I felt like a trusting child hanging out in a backyard sandbox.
In a short time, the therapist began discussing what I’d created. Something in me pulled back from an overlay of interpretation. I needed the tactile and sensory, not more ideas.
I thanked the therapist for introducing me to sandtray but didn’t make a second appointment. Instead, I went shopping.
At the hardware store, I bought a bag of white sand and a wide shallow container. I visited the Woolworth’s craft department for the first time since I was a kid and found tiny naked babies and shiny glass stars. At toy stores, I looked for miniature elephants, farm animals, toy snakes, and fairytale characters like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I gathered acorns and shalestone on walks and bought bright tumbled stones. I unpacked miniature tractors and matchbox cars saved from when my sons were young.
As my collection grew, I bought a few fishing and craft storage containers so I could find a particular red glass star or Great Mother figure. My shopping spree cost less than two visits with the therapist. (I’m not suggesting therapists aren’t important. I see a Jungian dream therapist.)
As I played in my sandbox, I developed a certain style. I loved protective figures such as angels and also animals that had appeared in dreams. I also like creating harmonious, balanced mandala-like patterns, especially when my world lacked equilibrium.
Since I wasn’t confined to a set time, I could work/play with one sandtray for days or weeks, until the initial issue shifted or resolved. Like Active Imagination and painting, sandtray calmed and clarified psychological turmoil. Like ritual, it brought quiet and a sense of protection.
My friend’s letter inspired me to start a new sandtray about my mother-in-law. Her loving words shifted my attention from conceptual exploration to imagination and the feeling of being “pressed upon.” I can’t change the outer situation, but hope to transform my emotional response.
Do you have playful ways to calm and heal yourself or your family? I think of the jigsaw puzzle I did with my sick brother, the joy of creating sand sculpture at the beach, or my sons playing with miniature toys when they were children. If you’re curious about techniques for inner exploration, you might also enjoy Active Imagination: Facing the Inner Critic or this post about painting my dreams.