A Platform for Expression

Written By: Sarina Van Zyl, Family Clinician, Community Services

My journey as a Family Clinician began at COMPASS over 2 years ago, but my passion for working with youth and families in the mental health field began over a decade ago.

Growing up, my home was filled with passion, color, an emphasis on creative self-expression, and spirituality. This experience was incredibly impactful, providing a meaningful platform to not only explore my success in life, but my deep and challenging hardships, loss, and difficult life lessons. Anytime I struggled in my youth, it was natural for me to turn towards my spirituality and the arts for guidance and release. Through this I have learned so much about myself, my relationships, self worth, connection to my community, and the world at large.

In 2009, having been a part of my local youth interfaith community, I raised enough money to attend a global peace conference in Melbourne, Australia to continue learning from those both similar and different to me. As a way to give back to those who supported my learning and growth on this trip, I committed to sharing my knowledge once I returned through a platform that I greatly loved and enjoyed: photography and film.

The global peace conference gathered thousands of people from all over the world from all different faiths, traditions, backgrounds, and life experiences, including the key guest of honor: The Dalai Llama himself. The conference was a feast for the eyes; I had never imagined being surrounded by such color, vibrancy, and such a passion of so many people trying to collaborate on ways to better our planet.

During my time at the conference, I photographed all of my experiences avidly. On the last day at the conference, though, I accidentally deleted every single photo and video I had taken during the trip! This experience was so challenging for me; as I was mourning this loss, I felt that I had let down all those who supported and encouraged my experience.

Through this experience, I encountered several women from different religious backgrounds who gave me meaningful advice on loss and non-attachment through the lens of their faith. The first was from an Islamic woman who shared a story of the prophet Muhammad who was traveling by caravan when beggars tried to rob all of his possessions. As this happened, he pleaded to the thieves not to take his sacred texts, to which they responded, “If those teachings are only on those pages, and not in your mind and heart, do you really know them at all?”

The next was a story from a Jewish woman who shared of her travels to Jerusalem, on which she was video recording a sacred ceremony on top of a Holy Mountain for this Rabbi. On the way down the mountain, she accidentally deleted the footage, and the Rabbi comforted her with a Hebrew saying “Leshem Shamayim”, roughly translating to “for the eyes of angels and you”.

Last was a short story from a Mayan elder, who shared about a time when an American journalist went to document the lives and stories from a small tribe in an African village. She was by the riverbed, photographing a small child washing her face in the river, when her expensive camera floated down stream. As she was about to jump in the river to retrieve her equipment, the village elder came out to express to her that this was God’s way of reminding her to absorb these moments and be present, not just through the lens of her camera.

Through the lens of these women I learned several different yet similar views on loss, non-attachment, and remaining present in the moment. I can see now how my upbringing and these exceptional experiences and opportunities led me to pursue this passion full time, becoming a specialist in the Expressive Arts, working towards my license as a Mental Health Counselor, and to finding COMPASS. Working at COMPASS has been so impactful in my life, and I continue to learn from and grow through the families I serve.

I truly feel that I am making a difference on a daily basis in small and larger ways, whether through my physical presence, support, guidance, or hands-on creative interventions. Although we all have different life experiences, hardships and journeys, one thing is clear to me: all of us want the same things in life and we have far more in common than we sometimes believe.

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