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Liza Hyatt: finding solace in art

Liza Hyatt (center, front row) gathers with a few other candidates who became associates in November 2010. Pictured are (front row, left to right): Amy Inserra, Liza and Charlotte Norris; (back row): Ronda Hoggatt and Catherine Mader Odle.

Liza Hyatt, an art therapist from the Indianapolis area, made her first commitment as a Providence Associate in November 2010. She was companioned by Sister Carole Kimes, whom Liza describes as “a true companion with many wise insights.”

In Liza’s blog, “Art Therapy with Liza: Imagination’s Journey into Self and World,” she writes occasional descriptions of her “body of play” process and provides information about art therapy.

Below, Liza shares a little about herself and her spiritual journey.

1.) Share with us a little about your early life.

I grew up in Zionsville, Ind., which has become an affluent suburb of Indianapolis but, in the early 1960s ,when I was born, was still quite rural. When I was 3 my family moved to a house on 10 acres so I grew up surrounded by old trees and farm land. I am a middle child and have an older brother and a younger sister.

I currently live in Oaklandon, which is in the northeast corner of Marion County with my fiancé and my 14-year-old daughter. I did not attend church as a child but was encouraged to explore world religions and taught to respect the transcendent metaphor within mythology. Currently, I am an inactive member of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, and I sometimes jokingly refer to myself as a “lasped” Unitarian.

2.) What is your connection to the Sisters of Providence?

I was drawn to become a student in the Earth Literacy master’s program at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in 2001 and this led to me being adjunct faculty for the Earth Literacy and the Art Therapy master’s program. From the beginning of my time as a student at the Woods, I felt a deep connection to the work of the sisters regarding environmental stewardship and eco-justice. I also felt a kinship with the sisters’ recognition that creativity is a spiritual practice and an expression of Providence.

I remember visiting the Woods as a child with my father’s mother, who lived in Washington, Ind. She was a Catholic and wanted to visit a sister who was a friend and to show me the campus, in hopes that I might choose to go there for college. I liked the campus because of the trees, but by the time I was old enough to choose my college, I wanted something more adventurous than what I imagined I’d find in an all-girls’ college near Terre Haute, Ind. My father attended Catholic schools in Washington, Ind., and I am sure that some of his teachers were Sisters of Providence. My grandmother always regretted that my parents chose not to raise us in the Church, and I am sure she would be delighted to know that Providence found a way, within my own unique and untraditional spiritual journey, to bring me to the Woods as a student and to the Sisters of Providence as an associate.

3.) Did you know from an early age that you had an aptitude for art?

I knew that I loved art and that I found solace in it and that I needed to create to feel whole. I had childhood rheumatoid arthritis from the age of 3 to around 11 or 12. The first three letters of arthritis are a-r-t and because I felt unable to be an athlete due to the illness, I retreated to my imagination and trusted that “art” was a gift hidden in having arthritis. I see now that I became an art therapist at an early age to help myself find healing during and after the arthritis.

I have always used the word “art” broadly to include music, movement, creative writing, story and have never been able to restrict myself to one medium. I enjoy color, light, melody, rhythm, improvisation and experimentation. I don’t see myself as more talented or gifted artistically than others, just as someone who made a conscious choice never to “outgrow” art-making and instead to continue cultivating space for it in my life because it is essential to me.

4.) Why did you select St. John’s College for your bachelor’s degree? What years were you there?

I attended St. John’s College in Santa Fe, N.M., from 1981 to 1985. I chose it because I grew up in a house full of books and with parents who pushed me to experience a classic liberal arts education in whatever way I could, from them and from every other resource that could be made available. (When I was learning to read, my mother memorized the prologue to the Canterbury Tales in Middle English and I learned it by listening to her practice it while driving to the grocery.) My mother insisted that the original scholars went to the first universities not to learn a trade but to learn about the universe.

When my older brother received a flyer in the mail from St. John’s with the statement: “The following teachers will return to St. John’s next year … Homer, Euclid, Chaucer, Einstein, Virgil, Augustine, Aristotle …” I immediately knew that St. John’s Great Books program was what I wanted because there I could read and discuss the books on my parent’s shelves.

5.) Why did you go to Antioch University for your master’s work? What years did you attend?

I attended Antioch from 1988 to 1990. At that time, there were no art therapy master’s degree programs in Indiana. I had moved back to Indiana after being in Santa Fe for five years and Oregon for about nine months. I did not want to move again to go to graduate school and Antioch’s McGregor College offered an individualized master’s degree program through which I could design a degree in expressive art therapy with abundant opportunity for experiential learning through practicum and internships in Indianapolis. After St. John’s, I needed to not be in an “ivory tower” anymore and to learn instead from engagement with the world itself and Antioch offered this.

6.) Liza, you are self-employed and you also minister at a cancer center and the Charis Center as well as serve as adjunct faculty at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. Share with us a little about these ministries. Who do you work with at the Charis Center? How does art therapy help people facing challenges such as cancer? Do you teach your graduate courses on the campus of SMWC or via the web?

Art therapy helps people of all ages relax, find multi-layered ways of expressing life’s complexities, reduce stress, play, discover creative solutions, honor and witness pain and growth, listen to the body’s wisdom, and engage in contemplative soul work. I am grateful to be able to work as an art therapist and definitely feel my work as a ministry.

The Charis Center provides treatment for eating disorders. I provide art therapy groups, a therapeutic storytelling group, and a trauma recovery group within their Partial Hospitalization Program, and I also provide individual out-patient therapy.

At IU Simon Cancer Center, I supervise an Art Cart program in which we bring a mobile cart filled with art supplies to patients receiving chemotherapy or waiting in clinic waiting rooms. We also hope to expand the program to serve inpatients receiving cancer treatment. I also have facilitated The Cancer Mosaic Workshops, in which those affected by cancer made public art mosaics which now hang in the IU Simon Cancer Center.

I teach my graduate course — Art Therapy and Spiritual Development — for the Woods through a short campus residency and then via the web.

In addition to these activities, I have a private art therapy practice in which I provide workshops, groups, CEU training, and individual sessions to those who want to engage with the creative arts as part of their spiritual practice, personal growth, recovery and healing. I’d be glad to give more information about workshops, trainings, and individual art therapy to any associate or sister who is interested.

A new, exciting component of my private practice is that I have joined forces with a group of people who have begun to create an art center for the town of Lawrence in northeast Marion County. I have rented a studio within their building where I will be doing my workshops and therapy sessions and I am looking forward to helping create an art center for a part of Indy that needs more of an art scene and the community revitalization that the arts always bring.

7.) You say on your website that even if a person doesn’t have an artistic bone in her body, that art therapy can still help. How?

Everyone is creative. Life involves struggle and conflict and creativity is how human beings respond to such tension. Often, people identify themselves as “not having an artistic bone” because they have been told this by others or taught to distrust creativity from an early age. Art is misunderstood as something only talented professionals do. But if someone who identifies herself as not artistic has the chance to explore, engage with colors, sound, movement, metaphor, she will find that she has abundant creativity and that there is amazing unexplored potential within herself to discover. Often I hear people say, “Oh, I’m not artistic. I can’t even draw a straight line!” Well, growth never asks us to draw in straight lines. And if you can make loops, curves, scribbles, spirals, doodles, then art therapy can help you grow.

8.) How does art help you in your life?

I can’t imagine life without it. When I go through periods without enough creative exploration, I become sad, dry, isolated, depleted, and less giving.

9.) You write on your blog: “I want and need to chronicle my creative efforts.” Why?

Reflecting on my creative efforts deepens the process for me. Most often my creative exploration is done in the midst of a busy, multi-tasking life. I scribble some lines for a poem, or make a doodle on newsprint while I am in between taking my teen to the orthodontist, doing the laundry, or seeing clients at work. Many of these creative experiments are forgotten about, or I judge them as not valuable, because I am not able to really focus on them. But making some effort to go back and reflect on what is created and what I experienced while creating helps me find the value and meaning that I could so easily overlook. It is hard to stay committed to the creative process and easy to fall into the patterns that block the artistic or creative life, patterns that affect us all. Making some effort to chronicle my process helps me trust and honor the process.

10.) What do you mean that you need to create a body of play?

We often hear artists talking about the importance of creating a body of work. As my life has gotten busy with supporting myself and my daughter financially, with being a therapist, a mother, and owning a house, etc., I have often complained that I don’t have time to create my own “body of work.” But my time as a candidate-associate helped me understand that I don’t need more work in my life. In fact, when I try to create a body of work as an artist, I get too serious, too hung up on making something others will judge as good. What I need is to not take myself too seriously, not worry about finished products. I need to engage with the creative process and with Providence playfully, like a friend getting together to play.

The word “body” in the phrase “body of work” is also something important. My body does not need more work, does not need to “work out” or be made to produce. I want to be in a playful body, to enjoy, to slow down, to relax, to be alive. So when I say turn the phrase “body of work” into the phrase “body of play” I am really turning a lot of old habits of thinking upside down, giving myself permission to enjoy the process of creation and to experience that creative process within my own body.

11.) When you made your commitment as a Providence Associate in November 2010, you made the following commitment statement: “I will protect at least three hours/week for playful creative expression in order to open to divine inspiration and experience Providence as a generous collaborative partner. I will explore artistic play as a sacred process and as prayer which deepens and restores my relationship to self, others, world and Providence.” Has your relationship to self, others, the world and Providence been restored and deepened?

Very much so. Without changing the external structure of day-to-day life, in which I used to feel there was not enough time for my creative life, I am now finding abundant opportunities for artistic play because my way of looking at life is different. I am writing, dancing, making music on my folk harp, creating visual art experiments. I am finding a strong kinesthetic current in my creative expression. I used to be drawn to images and now I am discovering how to create through movement and rhythm and the energy of my body. I have made new friends and have come upon unexpected opportunities. I am experiencing the generosity of Providence more.

12.) Finish this thought: Providence is …

Providence is the playful creative spirit of life which is everywhere and is abundantly responsive because it is woven through all.

13.) Why did you want to become a Providence Associate?

Because I have experienced Providence my whole life, and being connected to a community that is rooted in Providence helps me live more wholly.

14.) Is there anything else you’d like to share with our web visitors?

I am grateful for this opportunity to share some of my story and welcome your responses! You can email me at lizahyatt@sbcglobal.net.

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Connie McCammon

Connie McCammon worked in the communications office for the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

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