Safe Spot

How to creatively respond to fear?

self soothing art Swain

Safe Spot play-in-progress

I watch a video of neo-Nazis in the USA.

It feels like the gut-clenching ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’ scene in ‘Cabaret’.

But it isn’t. It is real. It is now.

Seismic waves of fear course through my body. I leave the computer. I wander in a daze. Where is this leading? What will become of us?

I remember to self-soothe. Lucky I’m not a drinker, or I’d slug a few whiskeys and regret it later. Instead, this ageing hippie drinks a cup of chai and does yoga in the lounge room. I try to find my ground again.

I speak with a friend. I speak with my partner. I speak with my sister. I cook. I eat.

I am OK. Things are OK.

Next morning, there’s the fear again. Stark. A hole forcibly poked in the shimmery fabric of safety of my world. All that trust in human goodness, all that insulation against horror that a sensitive person constructs around herself: gone.

How will I manage to quell my anxiety enough to see a client in a couple of hours? And be open-heartedly, strongly present for her?

I realise I need to make art.

The day that I watched the scary video, I watched another video too. It was the renowned artist Yayoi Kusama – an emotionally vulnerable woman in her 80s, who makes art to survive. Her polka dots inspire me. Her personhood inspires me.

Yayoi Kusama

So I decide to sit down and make art, even for ten minutes. Something to soothe, ground, re-orient myself.

It comes to me.

Dots. Safety Spots. My artist brain puts the two videos together – the scary one and the inspiring one – without my even trying. How to creatively respond to fear? I will begin with dots. In the first instance, dots are enough.

Believe it or not, I feel instant relief.

The dots start out simple.

self soothing art Swain

Safe Spot play-in-progress 1

Then they merge and blend, getting a bit out of control and losing their sense of safety.

I know what to do.

I come back with black. I make outlines and patterns. I redefine the dots. They don’t have to be perfect. They don’t even have to be dots. Just shapes and forms of different colours, living there together on the page – each one unique, but joined together in community.

Swain art self soothe

Safe Spot play-in-progress 2

I am able to go see my art therapy client; able to be empathically, fully present with her joys and travails.

Later, I return to the Safe Spot painting. I am OK enough to play with it, to add silver and white glimmers. The fear has faded. For now.

Swain spot art fear safety

Safe Spot
Sally Swain © original art

I want to thank you for reading this piece. I nearly didn’t write it, as I fear coming out as a scaredy-cat.

But I’ve mustered the courage in the hope it might help you or someone you know.

And get this:

I am a well-resourced, well-supported person, across the world, far away from the direct line of fire, yet I felt significantly fearful.

How might vulnerable Americans be feeling at the moment? People who are Hispanic, black, Jewish, Muslim, LGBTIQ, incest survivors, refugees? People who are being taunted, baited, victimised? People who are triggered back into experiences of raw trauma? 

Cathy Malchiodi, venerable art therapist who specialises in trauma-informed practice, has written a piece for ‘Psychology Today’. I reckon it’s immensely valuable for responding creatively to fear. I encourage you to read it if you are currently feeling fearful, or if you are a helper or healer.

Art Therapy and Fear: Acknowledging the Dread.

with love, art and soul, Sally


19 thoughts on “Safe Spot

  1. Fantastic Sally, I just love where you allow your imagination to take you …. such an awesome creative journey …wonderful in it’s simplicity …a lovely bunch of somethings …says “safety in numbers” to me ….thank you ….much love

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dealing with a dear friend’s illnesses remotely, AND the ugly new regime has brought back my long dormant severe depression. I am posting this so I can enjoy it every day. THIS REALLY HELPED ME.
    Thank you…we creators will be all right. Your generosity and wisdom really helped me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ginny – I am so sorry to hear of the disturbances in both your personal and broader world. It’s tough.
      And I am moved that my words and pictures have helped you. Grateful, in fact.
      Yes! We creators will be all right. Yes!!
      Thank you for making the effort (and having the courage?) to publicly comment here. wishing you well, Sally


      • And Ginny – I encourage you to keep creating, whether you like what you are creating or not, whether you allow ten minutes of creating time…if you find it soothing, helpful, even transformative, keep going. It’s such a source of nourishment for tired souls.


  3. It is a fearful time in the states
    and I believe it started way before this
    Now it just gives people licenses
    To be stupid
    I live with it daily
    But you see it’s every where
    You must try to stay positive
    While not to aggressive
    I’ve had some things happen to me
    And I’ve even have written about it
    As always Sheldon

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sheldon – I am very sorry to hear you are living with it daily. My heart goes out to you. Wishing you the strength and support to, as you say, stay positive and assertive without being aggressive. with kindness, Sally

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh my goodness, you won’t believe what I did about 2 weeks ago. I took out some poster paint which had been sitting in a drawer, untouched for a year, and I did a blue and purple and pink dotted painting. I sat outside to do it. I wanted to get away from the horror of the US elections. But I didn’t think to add all the pretty extras as you have. Maybe I will sometime. I fear we are heading for an abyss and can’t understand why some very good friends don’t believe we are.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gallivanta, dear friend, that is remarkable synchronicity about the blue, purple and pink dots.
      I’m sorry to hear you are feeling the fear too. I guess different people respond in different ways to fear/horror/disbelief. I think it takes courage to look it in the eye. And also the desire for escape/avoidance must be truly honoured and respected.
      I have a long tradition of burying my head in sand and singing lalalala.
      The synchronicity with our art-making helps give me heart. It tells me of connection of sensitised souls. There’s some message for me in all this of banding together with others, even if we have no idea of strategies or solutions.

      Liked by 1 person

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