Artful Practices for Well-Being

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Georgia O’Keeffe. Abstraction Blue, 1927. Oil on canvas. 40 1/4 x 30" (102.1 x 76 cm). Acquired through the Helen Acheson Bequest. © 2020 The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Georgia O'Keeffe. Abstraction Blue. 1927

Oil on canvas, 40 1/4 x 30" (102.1 x 76 cm). Acquired through the Helen Acheson Bequest. © 2024 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Dr. Anita Johnston: Hello, I'm Dr. Anita Johnston. I'm a clinical psychologist, storyteller, and author of Eating in the Light of the Moon. My life's work has been about helping people with eating difficulties through storytelling and metaphor. What I've discovered is that metaphor and symbolism, which is the language of our dreams, our poetry, our songs and our art, can help us get to the deeper meaning of whatever it is we struggle with, and then illuminate the pathway towards the ease and freedom we seek.

I was drawn to this painting because it evoked in me a sense of balance between two distinct halves, much like the yin yang symbol, where you have two sides existing harmoniously without one dominating the other. We use the terms feminine/masculine interchangeably with yin and yang confusing as it can be, because when these archetypal energies sharpen our dreams, they appear symbolically as male and female figures.

It's important to understand these terms ought not to be confused with gender, they are archetypal forces that exist in all of us, regardless of our gender, male, female, non-binary, or gender fluid, archetypes are concepts that cross all culture and all time. And influence us profoundly, most often unconsciously, which means out of our awareness.

In many cultures around the world, the sun is used as a symbol for masculine yang energy with it’s steady constant sharply focused bright light. And the moon as a symbol for feminine yin energy with its ever changing more diffuse and reflective illumination

Looking at this painting, with this symbolism in mind can be a way to metaphorically experience these two sides of ourselves. Bringing into our conscious awareness, the different energies within us, that are separate but interconnected; recognizing that they not only exist side by side, but also within each other.

As you gaze at the painting, relax into your breath and see if you can feel where these two energies land in your body.

To do this, take a deep breath in. All the way into the center of your being, about an inch below your belly button and feel yourself, relax as you exhale.

Notice where your gaze goes with this painting and see if you can find the aspects that relate most closely to your inner sun. This is the energy that is enlightening, both in terms of illumination and levity. It rises upward and ascends and sometimes can feel very spiritual and elevating.

Notice what it's like for you to meet your inner masculine through the imagery of this painting.

With each breath that you take feel the fire of your bright spirit. It's all about doing, about ascending, getting higher.

Now receive a deep breath. Allow it to descend, all the way down into the center of your being. Notice I didn't say, take a breath. I said, receive a breath. Because we're going into the feminine, which has a quality of receptivity rather than activity.

So allow the breath to just come down into your center with no effort. And see if it feels different when you allow it rather than intend it. With each breath you receive, notice where your gaze goes as you attend to your inner moon.

To be receptive is not the same as being passive. This is the energy that allows you to go into the shadowy depths of your being, to be more reflective, to access your deeper feelings and your intuition as you go... in... to... it.

Notice the stillness that comes with receiving a breath. The feminine is about stillness and being, not doing. We access her when we slow down and get into the present moment. This is how we feel those soulful moments when we’re deeply touched and time stands still.

Notice what it's like for you to receive another breath and connect with your inner moon through the imagery of this painting.

With each breath that you receive, feel the depth of your soul. Feel the yin energy in your body.

Now, allow your gaze to move towards the center of the painting and let your breath come naturally in its natural rhythm and focus on the center which is holding the two sides in symmetry. This can represent the Taoist way or the true self, your essential androgynous-self at the core of your being, the you that does the noticing. It is from this vantage point that you can observe the different sides of yourself and invite them to participate in the dance between doing and being. Between taking action and being still. Between thinking and feeling.

As you attend to your breath moving in and out, inhaling and exhaling, feel the center of the painting resonate with the center of your own being, the you that is looking at it.

Sense the balance, the fluidity, and integration between these two energies. We need both. Neither is better than the other. But often, because we live in a world that over emphasizes the yang qualities of doing and achieving and devalues, the yin qualities of being and connecting, we get out of balance and can find ourselves stuck or pulled in two different directions at the same time.

Using your breath to guide you, alternately, taking a breath and receiving a breath, let your gaze, go back and forth between the two sides in this painting and within yourself. And then return to center so you can consciously and deliberately see them both as part of your inner guidance system. And see what is revealed to you.