Carl Jung was said to play along the shores of the lake by his house. With a stick, the old man played on, moving sand and objects about, creating, and envisioning in a three dimensional world. This play spoke to his soul, his psyche, in a way mere words could not. Dora Kalff, a client of Jung’s wife Emma, fused Jung’s active imagination work with the work of British pediatrician Margaret Lowenfeld’s technique in which she provided a “free and protected space” in which children could communicate their needs and fantasies. This “wonder box,”as she referred to it, was at first a zinc tray filled with sand that children could place any number of miniature objects. Lowenfeld was known to say this play was appropriate to all ages.
Central to the philosophy Kalff developed was the employment of the technique “visioning.” Visioning is the age old technique employed by shamans the world over. In it the shaman’s visions were adopted to provide prosperity and health to their tribes.
I was first introduced to Sandplay just a few days after returning from my firsts day solo vision quest in the ancient lands of the anasazi. Now the proud ceremonial lands of the Navajo, Canyon de Chelly is reserved for its people with exceptions only granted access with accompanying Navajo. I slept under the night sky and the yellowing leaves of a strong old cottonwood. My post lay directly under a collection of Shaman petroglyphs I discovered my first day (climbing up a loose shale hillside at great risk to myself). Below my tree and to my right was a roaring stream, that grew quiet the first day. The Tsaile damn had closed off the rush of waters– an echo of this frozen ceremonial time. I wandered about the second day only to discover the origin of the ever-present yellow jackets. Lying under a stand of cottonwoods was the carcass of a dead bay mare. This dead horse was significant as I had been pelted by the death of many significant friends in the years prior to the vision quest. The third day I came across a herd of wild horses, the third night I was awakened by a trio of wild horses, amongst them a lone white stallion which reared as I bolted up awake. The fourth night a group of seven horses could be seen directly below the 7 shaman petroglyphs on the unsteady shale above, this highlighted by the full moon night sky.
I came back to civilization, cognizant, that I had endured a most significant experience. My conscious mind was clouded by the eeriness of it all, my psyche craved an intepreter. The timing of a three day sand play workshop was the key to the lock. I, along with other hopeful therapists, sat poised in front of our wooden boxes, with blue painted sides. We perused the endless number of objects. The horses, the sand, the trees, the shamans, all objects that I needed were there. I related to the archetypal Dorothy of the wizard of oz, on a rare and magical journey, which I shared with my colleagues. I walked along the rear table holding miniatures and books and came across a book written by a sand play therapist that is the great granddaughter of the late author of the Oz series. Synchronicity set into the sand.
In the days that followed, my trays evolved. The story became edited, less cluttered, more refined, well hewn. What was most palpable was the growing sense of calm I felt within. Somehow as the figures evolved in space, my soul began to settle.
In the end, I wrote some fourteen pages on my experience and how it was held by this shamanic technique.
More recently, I have worked with Native American people in Santa Fe. My preferred practice, is to invite clients to take to the sand box with their hearts moving the objects few or many. The stories they share are accompanied by relief and inspiration by what they see before them: their psyches/souls in three dimensional reality. My favored nickname for the process: Ceremony in a box.
This morning, in the aftermath of an unending snow storm, I took to the sand myself. There I placed Dorothy ( a figure I won at a silent auction at the sand play associations 2013 annual meeting while seated next to Frank Baum’s great granddaughter, the author of the wizard of oz—quite by coincidence) at the center of a labyrinth, calling to mind, my journey to the center of my heart with my bear, my healing helper. To the far right stands the cottonwood tree, and behind her the turquoise horse, and the navajo people standing next to the rainbow I saw in the canyon. To the far left is Mauna Kea volcano of the big isle of Hawaii, where I spent a winter swimming with dolphins and exploring the jungle there. To the close near left is the quail, a reminder of my first peruvian ceremony at Big Tesuque where I spotted a mother quail and her four children who ran off as I approached, only to discover my mentor dead 5 hours later in the sol y loma subdivision opposite the Quail Run Subdivision. Finally, the far near right recalls my five months in Peru, the sacred rocks, the winged Apus, the Owl of Wicucu that I spied that magical day. This journey of my recent life, I recapture. It is an utterance without words. My soul recognizes the symbols in such a deep way, I can exhale satiated and somehow deeply connected to that which is.
Come, come, play in the sand, it can be better than a day at the beach!