Christmas was coming and he wanted to draw a Christmas tree.
I have been working with him for a few weeks by now and noticed that he always preferred to make things that he had already made before. He did not feel up to the challenge of imagining and inventing.
I let him do what he chose to do. Several times he wanted to cast a plaster mask and paint it later. There was a lot of white plaster dust on the dark table, and As Jonathan was working on the cast, I spread some white plaster dust on my side of the table and drew in it with my finger.
In the end of the session I asked Jonathan if he wanted to have some dust on his side, so he could draw in it with his finger.
The first time he only smiled.
The second, he shyly drew something.
And it became the ritual in the end of every session. I took pictures of his drawings in the dust and we kept them with his other creations.
One day, in the ritual time, he drew something with a paintbrush on a piece of paper.
Then came the session with the tree.
According to Jonathan, the first tree did not come out right.
He tried another one next to the first, then a third and a fourth. With every additional tree his distress grew.
I wanted for him to enjoy this new stream of creativity that started to appear. I told him that the trees that he made look really good (They did). Especially as they are next to each other, they really look like trees in the field. Every one is somewhat different. One bends to the right, another to the left, as trees behaved in nature.
But clearly this did not improve his mood at all. He became more and more bent under the weight of his sadness.
Maybe you can try another technique, I suggested? You know, if you draw the tree with pieces of plasticine, you have more control and you can change things as you go. His hands were trembling that day from the heavy medications that he was taking at the time.
He made a tree from lines of rolled plasticine.
In his mind, this did not work too.
It was on the tip of my tongue to say that the tree looked good, but I stopped myself.
Something was wrong with trying to convince him that his work was good when he felt that he was failing.
What did he really want from me?
Then I understood.
-You want to show me that you cannot do it?
He looked at me with wide, open eyes.
-You want me to know how hard it is for you to do things?
-You want me to see how sad it is that you can’t?
There were tears in his eyes and I had some in mine, as we looked at each other.
The session ended and there was no need for further talking.
And there is a little tail to the story:
On the next day, at noon, I took my lunch from the kitchen window and started walking back to the art room. I had a pile of lettuce leaves on one side of the plate, and one of them fell to the floor.
I bent down to pick it up and did not notice that Jonathan was walking towards me, on his way to the kitchen window. When he passed near me he caressed my head lightly, as one would do to a cat, and walked on.
I used to be a graphic designer and an illustrator. I became involved with the Chan Meditation Center and studied meditation and Buddhist knowledge with the late Master Sheng-yen from Taiwan. For twelve years I was in a process of deepening my meditation. I had many more experiences and insights and my life changed. After having illustrated more than 40 children’s books and writing two of them, I left this career too and went to New York University to study art therapy.