Sandwerk as an individual spiritual practice
by Virginia Bunnell Graham (2006)
How can psychospiritual experiences result from a new form of sandplay, a method of applied Jungian psychology introduced by Kalff in 1980? Sandplay is a therapist-assisted use of miniatures in a sandtray, a nonrational, preverbal, sensate method for self-exploration and healing.
This dissertation explores and documents the phenomenon of an individual's creating three intentional sandtrays in solitude and reflecting on them. I have coined a new term, sandwerk, describing a way one can practice this adaptation of sandplay for personal growth.
Sandwerk offers a process for recognizing and assimilating some contents of the unconscious. One provides one's own free, protected space for creativity and relating to imaginal figures, and explores symbols that personify archetypal patterns of energy. This experience, as a transformative practice, offers the potential to integrate the unconscious into waking life and develop a stronger personality during the second half of life.
Art therapy, drawing mandalas, and dreamwork employ similar visual projective techniques.
This dissertation uses phenomenological research methodology by gathering data from a small sample of six therapists and spiritual directors, aged 49-70. Each co-researcher focused on a subjective question and created three sandtrays within one week. They discussed their individual introductory rituals and experiences of the process. I distilled the interviews after making my own sandwerks.
Some results of the study were unexpected. Participants expressed a range of feelings: surprise, fear, love, despair, wholeness, and fascination. They reported discovering meaning, respect, awe for the process, and further questions. On various levels, co-researchers were able to contain conflict assisted by experiencing the images. They extended their insights and transformed, assimilating contents of the unconscious. Their relationships with imaginal figures deepened their sense of the symbolic, and mediated inner and outer life.
This research finds that sandwerk—an individual practice for personal development that is intentional, serial, imaginal, and relational—offers a method, a process, and a potential for integrating unconscious dynamics into awareness. It facilitates individuation, a Jungian term for becoming one's authentic whole self in relationship to a transpersonal power. Moreover, sandwerk can liberate Jung's depth psychology and Kalff's sandplay from the consulting room.