Soft Sweet Rain and the

Net of Connectedness

Calm bubbles of Art Therapy First Aid

Dear Reader,

will you hang in there with me while I tell you nodes of story? Even I don’t know how the nodes connect; but connect they do and some of them are sparkly.

It rains soft, sweet rain.

Not scary harsh uproot-the-tree crash-the-power-pole flood-the-town rain, but soft, sweet rain. Not scary harsh laceratingly dry fire-cooker pyrocumulus air, but soft, sweet rain. Not choking smoke to fill your lungs, eyes and heart with poison. Just soft, sweet rain.

I attend Carla van Laar’s Art Therapy First Aid training, designed to resource Arts Therapists to assist in bushfire recovery.

Art Therapy First Aid

We make a mandala to honour losses and griefs.

We bring healing, nurturing wishes to the mandala.

Art Therapy First Aid mandala of recovery

We explore the five core elements of Psychological First Aid: 

Safety, Calm, Connectedness, Self (or Group) Efficacy, Hope

And we conduct our explorations in collaborative, creative ways.

We work in small groups as if we are offering creative expressive stations at a community recovery and support event. My group of three is assigned Connectedness.

We organically, spontaneously, swiftly find ourselves creating a net.

We use thread, twine, wool, buttons, sparkly-bobbles. Our process is experiential, in-the-moment, relational, embodied, hands-on, alive, collaborative.

threading together our own little version of Indra’s net (well – the outcome doesn’t look as absolutely immersively engaging as the process was)

Indra’s net comes to mind. Indra’s net weaves itself from Hindu and Buddhist tradition into a bejewelled symbol of the interconnected universe.

Participants from other creative first aid stations join us.

We welcome them.

We sit, knot, tie, crochet, plait, yarn, remember, laugh, cry, exclaim,

make new and old connections.

The net that forms amongst us, between us, threads to, from and around time and place and across the universe.

Art therapy first aid
(OK. the background fabric doesn’t do it justice)

We speak of the world in a grain of sand,

of micro and macro worlds.

One woman talks of braiding her young daughter’s hair being an intimate, bonding experience. Another recalls her European grandmother who taught her to crochet. Someone teaches me to finger-knit. Someone else makes a little nest of eggs to attach to the net. I hold the end of strands of wool while someone makes a multi-coloured plait. I speak of my friend in Alaska braiding pink seaweed.

Stories come forth. Help is at hand.

wool thread twine sparkle plait knot weave

It’s a simple act,

this sitting together and making, even while we are expressing complexity.

We collaborate. We say yes to suggestions. Together, we make art with no rules; no right or wrong. Simply divine play with a purpose.

I am reminded of Art Heart Action – my initiative to bring together Arts Therapists to offer a recovery event to people affected by the 2013 Blue Mountains bushfires. We too had a range of creative expressive stations for people to experience at their own pace, in their own way. Those fires were devastating for so many. We didn’t quite know how exponentially awful it would become in the Australia-wide furnace grounds of this recent summer.

More Calm Bubbles. What do you see? Maybe figures emerging?

I wish soft, sweet rain of care and love to all those fire-scourged folk all around. And animals, the poor animals. And plants. The trees that are able to regenerate and the trees that aren’t.

I think of the What is Collaboration? event coming up in April that I’m part of co-creating. It’s hosted by Anthropocene Transition Network. It is to include a Warm Data Lab and a reflective, life-affirming response from my Out of the Box Playback troupe.

All these ideas, stories, threads, people, possibilities – interwoven.

Meanwhile, at this very moment, my colleague and Leaf-by-Leaf team member Clemency Doyle, is running an Art and Wellbeing program for the fire-impacted communities of Eurobodalla shire.

Bubbles of watery calm

Meanwhile, I daily attempt to bring soft, sweet rain to the fires of distress that rage in the mind and heart of my primary care recipient.

Art Therapy First Aid

Annie Kia writes in ‘Linkmore’, her allegory about the town of Lismore,

But all the long while, amongst the hard stuff and the good, a tissue grew between them, a warp of purpose, a weft of connection. It grew between them, invisible, threaded through the districts, woven everywhere, looped between their houses and their families……

And even now, on full moon nights, up on the hill behind the hospital, if you looked with a sidewise kind of look, you could see the silvery threads, the warp and weft, the tissue of connectedness still there threaded through Linkmore, shimmering.

….. The warp of purpose, and weft of connectivity. 

Because the tissue that prevents harm will heal us from catastrophe.

Please feel free to respond to any of this Soft, Sweet Rain post.

Write in the comments box below if you wish. Let’s stay connected.

with love, art and soul

from Sally


Vividly lighting up the bodymind

How very art therapy

They are still setting up for opening night of Vivid when I’m on my way to Sydney Writers’ Festival. One sculpture captivates me.

I see drawn outlines of the human body, with words written inside.

Write, I mean, right, up my alley.

Vivid Harbour Bridge

a Vivid artwork pre-lighting
check out the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background

On closer inspection,

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How to tend a hurt heart

Creative Wellbeing in a Time of Trump

I cannot pretend. I cannot send out a glib, pretty message disconnected from deeper realities. I want to speak with you directly, from my heart to yours, and hopefully back again, in a loop of realness.

I wish to inspire the feeding of creativity, the gathering of community, the radiating of authentic connection.

heart art collage Swain

Sally Swain © original art

But here comes the Old Steam Train of Doubt … choo choo … puff puff … TOOOT!


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Swoosh, Trickle, Sputsput, Ebb, Flow

OK folks. I’m gonna get all formal on you. Well – a bit more – how to put it? Staid? than our usual chatty approach.
Can you cope?
I’m sharing with you a piece I wrote for the Australian and New Zealand Arts Therapy Association newsletter. I hope you gain something of value from reading it.

Sally Swain art


It’s all about the ecotone.

The what?

The ecotone. A place full of life, bubble and vibrancy.

Read on if you feel inclined…

Swoosh, trickle, sputsput, ebb, flow.
Where the Sand Meets the Sea

Written with gratitude for Lynn Kapitan’s ‘Arts Therapies in the Ecotone: Contact, Collaboration and Creative Entanglement’ ANZATA conference keynote address

Swoosh, trickle, sputsput, ebb, flow.

What happens where sand and sea meet? Do they decide they don’t like each other, only to end this encounter? Does the sand lose its sense of self as the sea rushes in? Does the sea sacrifice its watery essence? I’m no scientist, but it seems the constant contact leads to elemental connection, interdependence, change and aliveness. Sand and sea affect each other, yet

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One breath, one brushstroke, one paper towel at a time

Awash Sally Swain © original art

Sally Swain © original art

Aged care. Hand-washing paraphernalia and paper towel dispensers are everywhere. 

Use the paper towel in art, I say.

I attend the inaugural Creative Ageing Conference. Afterwards, I am awash with ideas and tears.

There’s the macro:

Windows fling open to the wide open sky of amazing creative ageing projects around the globe.

And there’s

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The Joyful Art of Grieving

Joy? Grief? Huh? How do these fit together?

Let’s look at Hiromi Tango’s work.

Hiromi Tango

Nature/Nurture (Green) 2015
Hiromi Tango
neon and mixed media

This wondrous, brave artist threads together

loss, wool and plastic

to create vivid sculptural installations.

Her current Sydney exhibition, Fluorescence, encapsulates Tango’s grief for her

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The Creative Love Exchange

What is it? It’s when you stand in the flow of giving and receiving, feeling creatively alive. And it’s win-win-win.

You do something you love

You share it with others

They benefit – sometimes way beyond your reckoning

You receive the glow

You do more of what you love

One Leaf is Many Leaves

One Leaf is Many Leaves

I was sorrowful. It was the week of the Anzac centenary, destructive storms around Sydney, the execution of two of the Bali Nine and… the Nepal earthquake. Working as an art therapist in aged care, I see more Nepalese people than I ever did before in my sheltered Sydney world. They offer intimate personal care to the frail elderly here, while their families are suffering severely back home in the hills. A tough call.

I gave myself creative space – art-making time. I reached for the grey, allowing paint and tears to flow. I gave myself permission to not know, to not know how these pictures would turn out or IF they would turn into anything in particular.

grey wash of paint and tears

Painting, weeping, following the brush of my heart …. eventually, I noticed shapes and forms emerging.

A guitar appeared in one picture. Wraith-like figures appeared in another.

a wraith there

The paintings became more defined, more present. Crying stopped and thinking began. What if I were to bring gold and white decorations to the images? What if I could put them for sale on Facebook and donate the full proceeds to earthquake survivors?

But what if the paintings are no good? I don’t usually show my raw work so soon after creating it. What if no-one likes this idea? What if it’s crass to mix money and Facebook friends? Continue reading