Mind Support

Theoretical Framework of Creative Compassion Practice

Understanding Your Doing

What You Get in Eight Chapters

The chapters offer an overview of the theoretical foundation of Creative Compassion practice

Literature references


The arts engagement you will be doing is an elementary practice with color, line and form. It is a social practice as well: Your artistic experience and the experience with yourself as person are intertwined

The arts directives you are introduced to start with perceiving. From there you step into action-oriented arts engagement from the body sense

A body sense is a small unclear bodily feeling at the edge of experiencing. It is actualizing itself implicitely in any situation

Embodied receptive-active arts engagement is cultivating your Art Sense. An Art Sense is a body sense actualizing from Fine Arts responding. Among other things it is related to the contextual frame of the art piece (e.g. cultural epoche, artist's fabrication style etc)  

An Art Sense is implictly generated through arts engagement and aesthetic empathy. Aesthetic empathy (a term first introduced by Friedl Dicker-Brandeis) is the capacity to resonate to and respond from aesthetic feeling within the context of the arts. Resonance and response can have many forms but are grounded in empathy throughout the process

The human capacity for aesthetic feeling is inherent. It is individual and relational same time. It goes beyond cultural bound symbolization and historical periods of human symbolization. For that it is wider than the Art Sense (an Art Sense can stay structure-bound within cultural traditions)

Aesthetic empathy is one of the foundations of Creative Compassion. Another foundation is embodied imagination


Imagination is nothing abstract, it comes from elsewhere than your head. Imagination is a symbolization of the body sense which is a kinaesthetic sense of being-in-the-world that can be felt inwardly (Eugene Gendlin). We created the term 'embodied imagination' to describe this phenomenon

The body sense is forming itself in resonance to something. This something is the complexity of a given situation (including feelings, social interactions, activities etc)

The body sense is not only situational, it also is time-related. It relates to the past, present and future time and cross-generational heritage. The unseparatedness of all times is called Theta Time (Eugene Gendlin)

Imagination (the inner picture) is revealing the intricacy of a given situation in Theta Time

What is situational 'intricacy'?

A situation as a whole is complex and cannot be grasped by mind. There is always more in a situation than logic can explain

This More is connected to living a situation bodily. We humans live situations as bodies. Our bodies are unseparated from our environment (Eugene Gendlin). Our Self is the living body processing from moment to moment while responding to the complexity of the situation

The intricacy of a given situation is constantly forwarding itself into something that stays beyond consciousness or knowing. There are ways to get access to this intricay. These ways work with the body sensed from within. The practice of working with the body sensed from within is called Focusing (Eugene Gendlin)

Embodied imagination and aesthetic empathy can interplay within the arts. Their marriage offers a sense of being-in-the world that is expanding sensual experiencing on all channels of the senses, and into the More

We call this marriage Embodied Polyaesthetics refering to the theory of Polyaesthetic Education by Prof Wolfgang Roscher (AT) and the Philosophy of the Implict (The Process Model) by Prof Eugene Gendlin (US)

CLICK HERE for more and watch a video on polyaesthetics by Paolo Knill ©EGS 2021


Any human experience is manifesting itself within four existential dimensions: The physical, the social, the personal and the spiritual dimension (Emmy van Deurzen). The four dimensions are not always manifested in same quality, intensity or outcome

Creative Compassion Practice is synthesizing these four dimensions through embodied polyaesthetic arts activities

What are existential dimensions within artistic contexts?

Physical dimension:

  • Reference material from a professional artist
  • Quality of art materials
  • The art tools to work with
  • The art space itself
  • Physical state of the art practitioner

Social dimension:

  • Relation between art practitioner and art of reference
  • The practioner as part of the therapeutic triad (practitioner, fascilitator, artwork)
  • The practitioner as participant of an art practice group
  • The arts engagment in its cultural framing

Personal dimension:

  • Biography of the art practitioner (with all their art experiences made in life)
  • Biographical experiences of past, present and future of the practitioner bringing up other themes of matter
  • Favored art work of the practitioner

Spiritual dimension:

  • Any kind of transcendent feeling or relating towards a transcendence of the artistic situation (meditation, prayer, nature art, art as contemplation)
  • Focusing or FOAT® as spiritual practice

Within existential philosophy the arts (as expression of beauty) are assigned to the spiritual dimension of life

Creative Compassion practice is not producing art for beauty but does express existential qualities through artmaking as a creative act of living


Compassion is an attitude rooted in agape (selfless love) and generally seen as part of moral ethics

The idea of compassion can be symbolized in the image of Sara's circle (Mathew Fox). Sarah's circle is a theological methaphor of the Old Testament standing for connectedness, social justice and inclusion

Compassion is integrative as the circle is. It is not exclusive as the famous dream of Jakob's ladder suggests. The metaphor of Jakob's ladder (Old Testament) tells about the opportunity to live in grace and climb top. Falling out of grace comes with a deep crash

Individual thriving and orientation towards success seems to stand opposite to the ethics of Sarah's circle: The symbol of the circle has no upwarding spirale for personal agency or progression of the individual. Ethics of the collective seem to be guideline here

This is the point where Relational Empathy (RE) (Maureen O'Hara) comes into play

RE is the capacity to respond flexible towards individualistic and collective issues depending on the given situation

The capacity for RE implies to be able to pendule between an egocentric and a sociocentric world view. RE enables to tune in to a specific situation and the specific needs of the humans involved from felt empathy

Relational Empathy offers an alternative to living socially exclusive (with indifference to minorities or the marginalized) or socially inclusive (with indifference to personal thriving or need for individualistic progression)

RE is a creative way of polyphoning life's dichotomics symbolized through the metaphors of circle and ladder

RE opens up to multiplicity in terms that the Bigger Picture of life is holding both the life of the individual and the life of the collective with all its complexity of relationships

In such RE is life affirming, holding the promise of humaness


Relational Empathy (RE) is an attitude that can be learned and trained. Any training needs a format to start with. Our Focusing based Creative Compassion Practice offers a user-friendly entry to the basics of RE-attitude

Practitioners learn to resonate to and hold inside personal preferences and limitations. They approach what they feel attracted to and easily can identify with - standing for: something of ME HERE (egocentric view)

They also approach what they are desinterested in, not attracted to, hesitant to identify with or even do not like to look at - standing for: something of THE OTHER/of you there

To avoid being overwhelmed or feeling stuck with what feels too negative to approach to, arts engagement has to be done along baby steps of Creative Compassion Practice

Practitioners are guided to creatively process contradictious orientations (idea of ME HERE - idea of THE OTHER/you there) towards positive outcome. They are supported in paying respect to both poles (sociocentric view) by their Creative Compassion guide and by their body sense

Taking Focusing and the arts as floor for building basic RE-skills has a lot of advantages. Focusing is a vehicle to connect to the inside allowing a bodily feeling to come as a handle, depicting what feels true for the practitioner. Focusing is always practiced along friendly curiosity (Focusing attitude)

Advantages to take the arts as floor to build basics of RE:

1. Arts can offer a safe container for to process difficult feelings. They allow to symbolize what cannot be expressed in words

2. Any activity is a forwarding of the life movment of the practitioner (a forwarding of the actualizing tendency)(Eugene Gendlin), and leads to new experience and insight

3. Within the arts the practitioner can use canvas and paints to learn about general aspects of life that are dichotomous (usually exclusive and difficult to handle), such as:

Inside-out, included-excluded, a part-the whole, top-bottom, calm-dynamic, dark-light, framed-unframed, chaotic-regulated etc. Those dichotomies of life can be represented through artistic forms, lines and color symbolization.

4. Arts engagement allows to create linear forms (representing private or collective space and protective borderlines) that do not have to be rigid. Those lines can be blurred, exceeded or dissolved. They stand for 'opening up' instead of 'blocking off'. This allows the practitioner to master what is difficult in life as agent of their artistic action

5. Exploring dichotomies of life within a mindful and embodied art practice has direct impact on the practitioner as person. Art activities allow the practitioner to experience themselves as a person of becoming (processing art issues and processing personal issues are intertwined). In such arts engagement can change the person's understanding of the world

6. During art activities the body sense of the practitioner is implicitly actualized (Laury Rappaport), launching its own sense of organismic ethics (the ethics of the life forwarding movement). Organismic ethics are - without exception - positive and supportive. They are a vibrant source for finding out about one's own socioethical orientation. Art making in itself is ethic-free and can generate new kinds of ethics

7. A body sense being actualized through artmaking makes the practitioner being part of a First Person Science (Eugene Gendlin). The moment their body is operating as an inner laboratory of evidence (that is: truth and validation are felt from within), the practitioner gets access to meaning beyond cultural knowledge, cultural habits and cultural relating. This is important as ethical standards are culturally structure-bound and dependent on cultural or religious framing

According to Gendlin any practice of First Person Science is stepping out of cultural frames and concepts. First Person Science is generating embodied meaning that implies more than any already known concept and scheme can reveal. Using the body as an inner laboratory of truth, the practitioner steps into deconstructing and reconstructing their ideas of culturally bound ethics. They are enabled to rebind to a sense of human connectedness that is beyond already known framing

Sum up

The process of sorting out new ideas of how to be in the world from a standpoint of felt humaness is self-empowering. This self-empowerment has potential for social change. Feeling self-empowered from within is reducing fear. Reduced fear is opening up to see other people being empowered too as equals

The process of becoming aware of and change one's mindset through arts engagement is self-educational. It is forwarding a process of consciousness-building through self-directed agency


The journey of building Relational Empathy takes place in the context of the arts with reference to the body sense/Art Sense. This is what the term 'Creative Compassion Practice' stands for

The practitioner makes their start within an safe framed setting, set up from Focusing attitude. They perceive and reproduce material from the Fine Arts, experience intermodal shifts and find new ways of self-expression through arts activities

The practitioner starts from a stand of indirect creativity that is more common to most of us (receptive arts engagement). From there the practitioner steps towards active arts engagement, learning about empathy on three levels:

  • as a person doing arts
  • as a person relating to their Inner Artist
  • as a person relating to another artist

How can the practicitoner relate to another person when doing Creative Compassion Practice on their own?

Being involved in embodied arts engagment, the practitioner is relating to the invisable artist who speaks through the Fine Art piece of reference. The artist's message comes through, the practitioner cannot shut down from this

Any artist's body of work is art created from a person of becoming. According to Eugene Gendlin no person just 'is' but always 'is and becoming'. This means: The self of a person is no fixed thing or entity

This is true even for a professional artist having passed away. Their expression (professional Fine Art piece of reference) has been done from a person of becoming with an infinite self. Something of the creator's infinite self is inevitably speaking through their art and resonates to the viewer. This is experienced as the 'energy' a picture is holding or as the 'energy' of an art piece expressing universal feelings

It can happen that the practitioner likes the professional artpiece (or parts of it) and dislikes the artist behind the reference picture. Although this ambiguity may be given, the artpiece the practitioner feels attracted to would not exist without the artist having created it. So wether the practitioner likes the artist or not, relating to someone of becoming dwelling within the reference happens and is part of the process

In daily life the practitoner may feel uncomfortable relating to significant others, expecially when disliking them or disliking their attitudes, cultural habits or religious practices. In Creative Compassion Practice the Inner Artist of the practitioner and their body sense are doing the relational work

This is of high benefit especially when the personal background of the practitioner contains feelings of isolation, being expelled or bullied, or when the practitioner feels powerless and helpless. Going out into the world and encounter people who are challenging might then be too big a step to do

Being enabled to artistically relate to someone else (the artist-within-the-picture as a person of becoming) is enlivening. It bridges the gap between the idea of ME HERE (in my atomic zone of perceiving the world) and the idea of THE OTHER/you there (in a world I am cut off from). Even highly isolated practitioners can benefit from artistic being-and-becoming interaction

Sum up

1. The practice of Creative Compassion is implicitly training interactive skills in any setting (practicing in groups or practicing on one's own)

2. The practitioner steps into aesthetic encounter with another human and their existential life story: They implicitely approach a kind of interaction of being-and-becoming (interaction with the creator of their reference)

3. The practitioner is relating artistically in other ways than they relate in daily life. In addition, they experience Focusing based relating. The crossing of these two different ways of relating is powerful and self-affirming

4. The practitioner is safely contained both in the field of Focusing and in the field of the arts. Creative Compassion Practice is trauma-informative in terms that the practitioner is revitalised by a profound safe setting. Given a safe environment, curiosity to experiment and try out new things in small doses has the say in every human being

5. The Creative Compassion practice is an introduction to RE-attitude. It reveals a feel of the Bigger Us. The Bigger is: The art practitioner, their Inner Artist, the art piece of reference, the professional artist-within and the Experiential Third (what comes up unexpectedly as a gift through artistic relating, artistic expression and embodied experiencing)

The practitioner's shifts (body shifts, artistic shifts, shifts in RE-insight) need to be acknowleded to make these shifts sustainable. The practitioner also needs to find small action steps to transfer art based experiencing to social life (bridging)

Bodily felt action steps (not too big to take in practical life) are part of Focusing as method and can be found with the help of a Focusing Professional

There are many options for Focusing oriented support: Focusing based Counseling, Existential Wellbeing Counseling, Focusing Therapy, Focusing based Art Therapy or Focusing oriented Expressive Arts FOAT®


To put it personally: We feel deeply drawned to the art of Emil Nolde (1867–1956). Emil Nolde was a student of Adolf Hölzel whose pastells are references for Creative Compassion Practice

Noldes work is full of bright and powerful colors and implies impressive religious motives. The expressionist is one of the best-known degenerate artists and seen as a persecuted pioneer of a new German art and as victim of Nazi art policy. No other painter had so many works (over 1,000 art pieces) confiscated as him

At the same time Nolde's anti-semitism, political conviction and loyality to the National Socialist Party remained unshaken till the end of his life. He created the narrative of the secretly Unpainted Pictures for his own popularity after WWII. Knowing Nolde's story we have to navigate very contradictory feelings when approaching his art

Our inner compass of tolerance for this professional artist can be broadened by embodied receptive-active arts engagement which in itself is ethical-free

Doing arts engagement using material of Nolde-art has the power to stimulate growth, - both in aesthetic feeling and in empathy for the 'someone always in there' (Eugene Gendlin). The 'someone always in there' is the one who dwells inside Nolde-art looking out into the world through colorful paintings. The 'someone in there' is the someone within the professional artist Emil Nolde we do not know. Emil Nolde is a person of becoming within his historical time and within Focusing Teta Time (time spanning past, present, future as one)

Practicing the Focusing attitude of friendly curiosity while approaching Nolde-art, our empathy for the 'artist Nolde within' is actualized. It is actualized through artistic encounter from the body sense. Our body sense and our Inner Artist live from the same source within (the self-actualizing ongoing life force). Body sense and Inner Artist are bridging the gap between artist Nolde and us as viewer of Nolde-art

When practicing Creative Compassion with Nolde-art material (taking Nolde's pictures as reference) we learn to integrate our ambiguity towards Nolde as a historical figure who acted diametrical to our ethical and moral standards. We are growing as a person of becoming by transforming discomfort into art experience that makes us 'bigger' (makes us become part of a bigger frame)

This experience has impact on our self-awareness. We can see ourselves as a person not giving in to desintegrative forces that are splitting off from empathy but as a person cultivating a broader sense of empathy (sociocentric orientation)


Creative Compassion for Practitioners

Once the practitioner has found a little empathy for their artwork and themselves engaging in the arts, the practitioner can develop their empathy further. They can forward it step by step, art piece by art piece

The practitioner can explore their sense of aesthetic empathy through visual arts and also through free writing, movement, dance or sound exploration (experimenting with expressive modalities)

Continuous embodied art activities will broaden up not only the the practitioner's relationship with the arts but also the practitioner's relating to the world 

All this works best when the practitioner is holding on to a friendly attitude towards themselves and keeping up company with their Inner Artist

It is not required to know Focusing as method or being familiar with Focusing experience to start Creative Compassion Practice. All what is required is to be curious for the doing moment to moment .... and the excitement to start with it all over again, once at a time, freshly

Creative Compassion for Professionals

Creative arts counselors, art therapists, Focusing practitioners, FOAT® practitioners or Expressive Arts practitioners may find Creative Compassion practise useful for themselves and their clients

Here is the point to discuss some theoretical terms to better understand the doing of Creative Compassion in the field of Arts and Health

It is important to differentiate between Felt Sense or body sense, Inner Client, Inner Artist and Art Sense

Clinical Focusing practitioners speak of the Felt Sense or body sense as the Inner Client (Akira Ikemi). Focusing practioners in the field of the Expressive Arts speak of the body sense or Felt Sense as the sense of the Inner Artist (Laury Rappaport)

The framework of Creative Compassion practice is related to the term 'Art Sense' introduced by Swish lecturer, curator, artist and cultural pulicist Paolo Bianchi. Bianchi speaks of the body sense or Felt Sense as Art Sense when the body is relating explicitly to the Fine Arts. This kind of relating is happening in Museum arts-based Therapy and its practice of receptive-active arts engagement. On other occasions Bianchi uses Gendlin's term Felt Sense

A conceptual distinction between body sense/Felt Sense and Art Sense is helpful for the professional for several reasons

Focusing and Art Therapy have shown that the self-actualizing life force can be different (in expression and outcome) depending on the situation given. Also the existential dimensions being actualized in the given moment can have an impact

A person can be forwarding their process in Focusing Therapy but staying tensed and structure-bound in the field of the arts. This means: The Inner Client (as body sense/Felt Sense) feels very alive in the therapeutic context and the Art Sense (as body sense/Felt Sense) is not forwarding at all in the artistic context. All this is happening to the same person (client, coachee)

Support from the fascilitator or therapist is most effective when the professional is in tune with the modality most alive in the client. Sensing inwardly and verbalizing a Felt Sense can be okey for a client but expressing the Felt Sense through action-oriented arts can be not okey (as doing arts is happening in a modaliy this clients feels shut down with or is not at ease with)

The same can happen vice versa: The person feels artistically fully alive and creative but cannot forward clinical issues, relate to other persons or communicate adequate what they feel inside

Professionals can attune to the modality most alive in the client by sensing towards their actualizing verbalization (Christiane Geiser)

Instead of using standardized phrases ('see if there is', 'sense inside' or 'listen inside') Geiser, a Swish body psychotherapist and pioneer of European 'Focusing Plus', suggests to adapt therapeutic invitations to the client's language (as is occurs freshly at any moment of the session). Otherwise the professional is provoking stoppages without noticing it

The client is trying to put into language what comes to their senses in the given moment. They verbalize according to what is actualizing in the here and now and according to their character structure-boundness (Christiane Geiser). Character structure-boundness are outcomes of bodily frozen wholes, they limitate what can be actualized in the here and now. Empathic tuning in to the momentary language of the client is therefore highly important to process all kinds of self expression of the client

* Mirroring as professional: 'see if there is ...' is corresponding to inner images of the client they start to perceive (visual modality)

* Mirroring 'listen inside' is corresponding to inner words of the client they become aware of (auditive channel)

* Mirroring 'sense inside' is corresponding to bodily feelings the client is noticing (kinaesthetic modality)

* Mirrowing emotions can be put as 'feel inside' instead of 'sense inside'

To activate expression on all channels, the fascilitator can use the invitation 'can you show me'. This intervention bypasses verbalization and invites the practitioner to show gestures, movement, sound, visual arts or role play

Creative Compassion - Support for understanding your doing ©Anna Zakharova/Unsplash

Choose a reference picture and get started

If art making is a brand new adventure for you, you might want to learn about the Inner Artist

When you feel stuck in your Creative Compassion practice we are happy to be there for you

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