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  • Writer's pictureKirsten Holmes

Sand Play: Bury your Adult

Hello and welcome to h e r e . Art Therapy.

I was a little reluctant to share this as it's personal and it's a window to my vulnerable self. I thought for a moment and decided, if I can't be vulnerable with you, why would you allow yourself to be vulnerable with me?

So, have you ever tried Sand Play Therapy? Well you must. It is so surprising what a tray of sand and a few small objects/figurines/animals can stir in the psyche. There are stories within us that are waiting to be dramatised in the mini theatre of the sand box. Stories that we are not sure how begin, unfold or end; sometimes stories that we do not even believe to be our own.

Being a member of the British Association of Art Therapists, I was invited to the regional meeting which started off with an introduction to Sandplay. Now my first introduction to Sandplay was a few years back during personal therapy. For me it was an unimaginably powerful therapeutic medium. Since then, I have always wanted to learn more about this method.

This introduction to Sandplay was going to prove to be a very different experience indeed. The facilitator, who works with children, oriented the session around the element of play. With my box of chosen objects and figurines, I went to the sand tray and spent the allocated 20 minutes simply playing.

Nothing more.

Simply playing.

I was surprised at how the time easily passed and how a story just seemed to unfold between the pieces that I had selected. Relationships and bonds strengthened between the characters. There was a giraffe, an elephant and a seal, a journey, support from one to another, protection, home, friendship, that fierce macho strength in the form of a chest beating Tarzan (adamant independence or is that just a facade for loneliness?) and a tiny dinosaur that was almost instantly buried (a mistake choice I thought, but ‘instinct’ made me keep it).

And then it came to the little stone heart, all pretty and pink. I held it high and just let it drop into the box. No gentle placement like all the other pieces. Why? I’d actually forgotten that I’d done this until right at the end when my observer highlighted it.

So why was I so callous with the heart? I am ashamed to say that I think it is because I am embarrassed that I just want love in my life, true love and the genuine companionship that I believe goes with it. I have been a strong (well mostly on the outside) independent woman for a very long time. The heart couldn’t ride on the giant seal like all the other characters as they got transported through the changing landscape and summited the mountain in the Sandplay journey. The heart kept falling off the seal’s back. Macho Man tried to carry the heart but his arms were bent to beat his chest and flex his muscles rather than to nurture love. In the end I had to place the heart where I wanted it to be. It was heavy and cold, but looked beautiful, bright and colourful.

From the outside.

I am sure if I’d held it longer in my hand, it would have been warm and smooth and protected.

Life is full of juxtapositions though. The piece that I felt most drawn to was a little painted elephant. It was surprisingly light. Then there was its friend, the mini giraffe which was surprisingly short. They made a garden and the heart rested between their watchful protection.

It becomes evident that we truly cannot judge anything by what we at first perceive.

Mr Macho Man got buried in the mountain which was both a sickening feeling of suffocation and death, and a letting go feeling of allowing the strong independent guard to drop. I couldn’t leave Mr Macho Man completely buried with no air, so Tiny Dinosaur unburied his head and now he stood, literally embodying the mountain and watching over the unusual love between unexpected characters, and strangely reigning out a sense of even more protection.

These symbols keep popping up, even months later, and the story seems to be continuously infolding, always with unexpected twists.

I was given a large glass heart the day I wrote this unposted entry. It is so surprisingly heavy that I’d imagine Mr Macho Man couldn’t have picked it up. But then his arms remain buried in the mountain he is currently holding up.

What would Light Elephant, Short Giraffe, Giant Seal and Tiny Dinosaur have done? Please help! Where to next? There is a Heavy Heart that needs to be carried.

But they simply continued on their way. Giant Seal wallowing along. Tiny Dinosaur and Short Giraffe inspecting the foliage. Macho Man quietly embodying the strength to move mountains.

Then Light Elephant wisely trumpeted; “and you all thought I was the heavy one!”

Then barely audibly, someone heard him say; “simply put your hand on your heart and listen to it speak”.

(Hey hold up Kirsten. You are getting waaaay too carried away. Have you completely buried your adult? … comment left unanswered …. )

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