Part 3: PS for EAI (Rescripted)

It took years before I was able to actively integrate these childhood and adolescent experiences. I was encouraged to reevaluate my early circumstances to see if they were impacting my current reality. Nietzche said that when we are faced with the most dreadful circumstances “Art approaches as a saving sorceress, expert at healing. She alone knows how to turn these nauseous thoughts about the horror of absurdity of existence into notions with which one can live”.

            Through engaging in visual and performance art that incorporates rhythmic motions, light, shadow, and story lines, I learned that I had accepted the belief that “the world is not a safe place and we are alone in it”. So I worked hard to actively transform and adopt the new paradigm: “I am safe and we are all in this together”. This new story served me well but I still had more work to do before being ready to assist others in shifting their narrative.

            While living in Lima, Peru I exhibited a body of work that points to the ability of the human spirit to overcome devastating experiences through mind body practices. I perforated designs into x-rays (records of trauma), hung them from the ceiling, and illuminated them with candle light. The fire represented the power of the soul and universal life force. The work is a reminder that one can rise above any physical or emotional challenge with loving mindfulness. The euphoric trance I experienced when I physically pushed hundreds of holes through each x-ray, each black memory of pain, and worked to let the light to come through, was a result of unifying the spiritual, mental and corporeal. This process is also something I look forward to facilitating for others.

            In my mid twenties my intuit encouraged me to acknowledge my empathic power and explore it professionally. She gave me tips for preserving my well being while providing loving care and direction to others. I began to use these exercises in social and family discourse and continued creating therapeutic art that centered around the zen of repetitive motion with crocheting, potter’s wheels, and painting. It wasn’t until I had spent 13 adults years receiving talk therapy, attending sanghas, immersing in spirit work and using art as self-care, that I felt certain I could deliver creative, therapeutic services professionally.

            As a human that has cultivated well-being through a mindful arts practices, I am dedicated to learning about and sharing the power of creative flow to better the lives of people locally and around the world. I am conscious of how fortunate I have been to escape and survive dark circumstances, therefor I am called to bring light to others who may be faced with similar situations.  Learning under excellent therapists will be the most effective way for me to develop brilliant services within the field. I look forward to mastering my gifts at the Expressive Arts Institute.  

Part 2: PS for EAI (Divulging my Story)

            Personally, I value a therapist with a strong mindfulness practice, because if they are able to navigate their own experience gracefully, they will be better able to remain mentally and emotionally present for the client. I am ready to take on this academic and professional endeavor because I have a strong foundation in self work that I am happy to demonstrate. I understand that it’s highly rewarding to become clear and open about your personal history so that you may embrace it, use it to better your life and be an example to others. This is why I have included my story below. I see integrity in giving others the opportunity to relate to it. I paint my past with unapologetic words to convey what exactly the expressive arts have assisted me with and why I feel so passionately about making it a profession.

            In the past I have described my history as ‘colorful’, and it is. I’m ready, however, to elaborate and reveal more than that euphemism can offer. The experiences I have known range from happy bright yellow to twisted murky green. Fortunately, aided by the gifts of empathy and creativity, I am able to acknowledge the dark, yet live in the light. Here’s a look at both, and how I am working to illuminate new paths to joy and freedom through the expressive arts.

            In my early youth I filled my days with visual, literary and performance art to cope with loneliness and combat parental neglect.  I moved a few times a year and suffered child abuse from the age of 5 to 18. In the moments that I was drawing or writing as a kid, I was free. In the hours I was in dance or theatre rehearsals as a teen, I was safe from self-destruction and crime. My passion for understanding human thought and emotions arose from having a psychologist as a step father and a mother who introduced me to meditation. I began to explore the complexities of how the mind handles trauma through art. I created and performed monologues from the film Sybil to illustrate dissociative identity disorder as well as wrote sequels to the film The Bad Seed as an attempt to understand violent, psychopathic behaviors. Many adults in my life encouraged me to consider becoming an Art Therapist. As a youth and young adult however, I felt so overwhelmed by my own traumas and those of my friends and relatives, that I couldn’t conceive of holding the weight of other peoples’ sadness.

            My identity went through a radical transformation in my 19th year. I had lived through, but had not yet acknowledged to myself (nor spoken about it aloud), years of child abuse, both sexual and violent in nature. Luckily, I was able to free myself. A shotgun held to my head incentivized me to escape my abuser, a step-brother with whom I lived. He was six years my elder and had put me in the hospital before when he heard me say ‘no’ to him.  I was terrified to leave and fortunately he went to jail on the night that I did. I had time to get out safely.

            Following my escape, I continued using alcohol to numb the painful memories as I had done for six years. One night a girlfriend and I were in a dangerous situation in Tijuana. My intoxicated, adolescent mind thought little of the risks we were facing until all of our money had been taken and we were being held captive in a car by two men who attempted to sedate us with heroine and sell us to a corrupt police officer- or anyone else in the market for humans. Luckily our captors were unable to find a buyer before sunrise when our screams began to draw the attention of the public and we were eventually released.

Part 1: Personal Statement for the Expressive Arts Institute

            In the book Art Heals, Shaun McNiff writes, “Art adapts to every conceivable problem and leads its transformative, insightful and experience heightening powers to people in need.” Reflecting on how art kept me safe when I was in my time of need as a youth, and how it’s insightful powers heal me as an adult, my belief in the importance and efficacy of Expressive Art Therapy grows deeper. Therefore, I am compelled to give people creative opportunities to find solace, to heal and to thrive.                      

            My spirit lit up and is incredibly motivated since attending the 101 course at the Expressive Arts Institute. I will be forever grateful because my sense of purpose and confidence expanded there. So much so, that I accepted a volunteer position directing an Expressive Art Therapy program at the Rancho de los Niños children’s home in Baja. Four full days at the UCLArts and Healing Summit further confirmed my commitment to this work and so I began facilitating expressive art practices one on one with my friends and family members.

            In regards to professional work, I recently co-directed and facilitated a two day transformative arts experience in Rancho Santa Fe. I led a group of 15 in painting, book making, and clay exercises that assisted participants in re-scripting old stories of self. I was also able to perform business aspects of the profession in marketing and budgeting for the event. These opportunities have been incredibly informative and beneficial as I choose to move forward with my education and career in the field.

            As a San Diego resident who witnesses the extreme juxtaposition of wealth in North County with the poverty across the border, I seek to cultivate balance in a business model that serves both communities. Volunteering and fundraising to combat human trafficking has been so meaningful to me that I’d like to continue serving populations vulnerable to that industry. In contrast, my history as a domestic employee and in home-educator in upper net worth estates, grants me an ease with high profile clients as well. I am designing a business plan where I can manifest abundance by providing premium services to the upper class and offer pro bono services to those who lack key emotional and financial resources to keep themselves safe. I also am dedicated to delivering expressive arts services online in a way that is effective for my clients and sustainable for business.

            Academically, I’d like to learn from the program how to create a safe space for clients to express themselves freely and improve their quality of life. More specifically, I have a strong interest in honing my skills at assisting people with healing and ending the cycle of sexual trauma through drama therapy. I especially feel called to master, then introduce to others, the inherent power of creative play to shift troubling memories to manageable and valuable narratives. I see how creating, directing and performing scenes can serve clients as they rescript old stories in ways that best serve their soul.     

SD Voyager Interview

Rachael, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
I spent most of my youth in Southern California where I moved around frequently. I attended 15 schools and lived in 33 homes (a trailer in the wilderness, a three-story mansion in Laguna Hills, and everything in between). As an adult, I’ve also lived in Latin America and Spain. It’s been colorful, and I’m lucky to have seen a lot.

When I was a kid, I was alone often and had a lot of time to create. The people around me labeled me ‘artistic’ which I came to like. I thought it meant that I was skilled and expressed myself freely. You can do whatever you want when you identify as an artist. It’s a great excuse! People just say “Oh, it’s ok; she’s an artist.” I think everyone should do that. Maybe we’d lay off the self-editing and quiet our inner critics.

My interest in light and art started in the second grade when my teacher explained how the French impressionists played. Monet was my favorite, and I dreamt of visiting his gardens. I just completed that pilgrimage to his home in France last October.

I studied Fine Art with an Emphasis in Education at San Diego State University. It was the time of my life. Around 19 I was introduced to the work of James Turrell, a light and space artist who is building a monumental piece that is part of land art and part naked eye observatory in the Arizona desert. I recommend everyone look it up. It’s called the Roden Crater. I truly revere Turrell and had the honor of interning for him. I’ve traveled all over the world to enter the spaces he creates with light.

We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
I’ve worked with all sorts of mediums, but light is my favorite. I use it to represent the ethereal. From there I choose which material it will penetrate whether it be water, paper, plants or xrays. The art process I enjoy most involves repetitive movement, like the rotation of a pottery wheel or poking thousands of tiny holes into something. I feel the most content when I’m enveloped in the zen of repetitive motion. Listening to music while I work is a vital element to that state of bliss as well.

My last solo show was in Lima, Peru. It was about the ability of the human spirit to overcome devastating experiences through mind-body practices. I perforated designs into X-rays, hung them from the ceiling and illuminated them with candlelight. The x-rays were clear records of trauma that I pierced through to let in the firelight which represents the human soul and universal life force.

The work is a reminder that one can get through any physical or emotional challenge. I physically pushed through each x-ray thinking of them as dark memories of pain, and I worked to let the light out. This practice of unifying the spiritual, mental and corporeal to transform a state of being was not only the concept behind this installation but was also the way of its formation.

I enjoy making art that facilitates healing for myself as well as others. I share profits with humanitarian groups. A large portion of my work has been influenced by a kidnapping a friend, and I survived. Expressive Art Therapy plays a vital role in integrating traumas like that one. I just completed several intense trainings on trauma and neuroscience in relation to art making with UCLArts and Healing. I’m employing those concepts by offering refugees served by Victims of Torture International special access to, and services in, the show I’m designing right now.

What do you know now that you wished you had learned earlier?
My only advice to other artists is to honor, harness and share their weird.

Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
People can see some of my work (mostly photography) on my Instagram page rachaelmariemcdaniel, and there’s more at rachaelmcdaniel.com where collectors purchase prints and commission custom pieces. Both are updated regularly with exhibition info.