- Loose, comfortable clothes
- A quiet, private room to self-express
We do not need to go into memory to heal the past. Any part of our mind or emotional body that is still hurting and stuck in the past will always be available to express itself in the present moment. In Gestalt therapy our "unfinished business" (our emotional disturbances) in awareness and perception can be discovered in the here-and-now and expressively worked through with body movement and emotional and vocal expression.
The more we connect to ourselves, through honest self-expression, the more passion we will feel. In Gestalt therapy, our disturbing experiences , needs, blocks, fixations, emotional blind spots and unconscious split-off aspects of our personality can be dialogued with a therapist, a trusted other, or with our own higher witnessing consciousness.
Exploring Passion and Withdrawal
In any moment, we are either connecting to or withdrawing away from other people and the environment. Most of us give up extending our authentic truth early in life. Yet we can only understand who we are by how we extend love.
The aim of life is to learn how to extend more of our unique truth into life. Passion is the charismatic giving forth of our truthful expression. To restore passion, we can learn what causes us to withdraw, and what inspires us to extend our energy.
As adults we can re-develop the capacity to extend love and passion from the places where we hurt inside. We get caught in our patterns of withdrawal from childhood and our muscle of extending love can become atrophied. As adults, our habitual contractions seem to be who we are.
Constellations therapist Bert Helliger explains how our reaching out movements become trapped in our body postures: "When the reaching out movement is interrupted (we recoil and separate) the body pulls back and the head goes up. The opposite movement would be bending the head forward and down, and stretching the hands out front."
See how you feel in both postures of extending and withdrawing. When you explore withdrawal vs. the extension of love, you can "sculpt" your body into the shape of withdrawal so that you can creatively and gesturally feel how you habitually withdraw. In contrast, extend your body forward in the particularity of the way that you love - to feel the difference in your heart between opening and closing.
With Gestalt therapy we practice actions, movements, expressions, vocal declarations, and emotional gestures that might have been unthinkable in the past. Gestalt therapy encourages that we express feelings through the body and voice instead of talking about them. Through expressive Gestalt movement, you can try on new possible selves, explore an opposite of forbidden quality, express strong emotions, and play with the multidimensionality of your existence.
Exploring the opposite polarities in our character offers the possibility of change. Once we understand how we close, we can practice the opposite gesture of openness. If, for example, your movements of hurt and withdrawal have you closing your arms over your chest and pulling back your energy, the opposite movement might be opening up the arms and moving forward with your energy. These "opening up" body gestures, repeated over time, will help you to open up your biology, and encourage you to extend more of yourself into the world.
Experiments in Expressive Movement and Vocal Expression
Following are some of the ways that use expressive movement and vocal expression to restore passion - inspired by Gestalt therapy. This series of exercises can be worked through privately or with a trusted, witnessing other.
1. Present Moment Spontaneous Expression - Wherever we were unsuccessful at expressing our needs, feelings, and upsets in the past, we can express gesturally, vocally, and emotionally - right now in the present moment. Standing alone in a room, or with a trusted other, spontaneously speak and move your body. Listen inside and without thought, allow your body to move you. Feel free to be dramatic and to amplify your verbal and body expression.
2. Eternalizing Internal Dialogue - This exercise is excellent for when you are struggling with two parts of self that cannot come to an agreement. You can use empty chairs to represent the various inner parts that are fighting to get their needs known. Set out two or more chairs, and as each part of self, sit in each designated chair, and externalize your inner conversation. Continue to talk out loud with your various parts until your conflict is resolved.
3. Expressing to an External Person - in this expressive experiment you can set out two chairs and begin a dialogue with another person who you could not normally talk to in your everyday life. This might be a person who is closed to your point of view, or someone who has hurt you. Practice clearly expressing yourself out loud. If you stutter or stumble say each sentence with more force until it comes out clear and strong.
You may also want to practice expressing yourself to a person that you have passionate feelings for, that for some reason might be inappropriate for you to express in real life. Allow yourself to say anything you need to say to this person out loud. Emote and stand up. Move your body as you express yourself if you feel inspired. Exaggerate your expression more than you would in daily life. Practice your self-expression so that you can feel more comfortable being yourself in your daily, practical life.
4. Trying Out Opposite Behaviors - Working privately, or with a trusted, accepting other, can allow you to try out opposite aspects of your character that you do not normally express in your everyday life. Playing with opposites can be great fun. You can over-exaggerate unfamiliar behaviors to explore contrast and differences in your voice, movement and character.
If, for example, you are reserved and hesitant to approach people, you can practice in the safety of your own private space, going up to imaginary people and saying hello and telling them about yourself. Feel free to amplify your expression and say something outrageously different that what you would normally say. Feel the freedom from your habitual carefulness. Pay special attention to your body postures and how they change your inner emotional states.
5. Rehearing - Rehearsing, to reduce anxiety or fear about a needed step that needs to happen in your practical life can help make the unfamiliar more comfortable. Practicing a new way of being, over and over, helps the body to find its natural place of expression within new behaviors. This exercise can be done in the mirror to prepare for expressing yourself in front of a group or an audience.
6. Exaggerating and Repeating - The repression of feelings keeps us at a low level of energy where it becomes difficult to shift emotionally. When you intensify your feelings by exaggerating them through your voice and the intensity of your gestures, they will often "pop" into a higher and better feeling state.
If, for example, you never allowed yourself to express anger, simply repeat, over and over, "I am angry!" Allow your facial expressions to intensify and exaggerate in a way that you normally would not in your everyday life. As you intensify your voice and your movements, you can claim aspects of self that you have previously denied, with the love and acceptance of your higher witnessing self.
7. Staying with Feelings - An important part of Gestalt therapy is to keep your energy focused on your difficult feeling states until they shift. When we move into what we normally wish to avoid, we create a forward movement. It is possible to stay with a difficult feeling until it is gone, and only a positive state remains.
Layers of feelings can be felt and released with an intensity of presence and focus, but usually one layer is enough for a movement session. Each layer released will bring a feeling of relief and respite, until the next layer comes up. Feeling emotional pain takes courage but we are always rewarded with increased strength and self-confidence when we are able to stay with difficult feelings until they change into more positive states.
8. Indebtedness - Often when we express the stronger emotions of anger, sadness, and grief, we can stay stuck in them and feel defeated by the circumstances in our life that seemed to have hurt us irreparably. Yet those who have hurt us the most can invoke our greatest strengths.
Indebtedness is a powerful way to heal. A powerful exercise inspired by psychologist Chuck Spezzano called "Indebtedness to Those Who Seemed to Harm You" - adapted to voice and movement - invites you to focus on someone who has hurt you deeply. Imagine them before you and feel the hurt that they caused you, that you cannot seem to heal.
Say to the person who has hurt you, out loud, "Name....you have helped me to become..." Declare what strengths you have gained. Say, " I am grateful to you because..."
You might then choose to put on a soothing piece of music and dance your "thank-you." Thank the person who has harmed you for the particular strengths you have had to develop in your interactions with them. Repeat "thank-you" over and over as you move, and reverantly dance the particularity of your strength.
9. Acceptance - From the witnessing part of yourself which resides in the location of your heart, you can embrace yourself, be good to yourself, and love yourself. Whatever you fight inside of yourself will cause emotional pain. Whatever you accept about yourself you can feel fully, experience richly, and learn from.
Put on a piece of music that inspires self-love, confidence, or new strength. As you sing and dance, know that any part of yourself that you continue to resist will continue to hurt. You might speak out loud to yourself as you dance, words of affirmation, and encouragement towards your hurting parts of self. You might enjoy holding your heart as you dance, spreading the warmth of your unconditional heart throughout your body.
10. Expressing True Passion - Untrue passion arises from urgency and need. It is a form of desperation which tries to take from others to heal the emptiness inside. You might explore untrue passion gesturally. Untrue passion on a body level usually seeks to suck what is outside - into itself - to fill an emotional hole. Being aware of this gesture can help you to interrupt your untrue passion, and express what is heartbroken through the exercises above.
The aim of all psychological and emotional processing is to come out of our habitual withdrawal and feel a full engagement with life again. We feel true passion when we fully express, heal and grow the our strength of presence in the midst of what previously would have brought us to our knees with emotional pain.
When we heal our hurt, by wholeheartedly accepting ourselves, and even being indebted to those who have hurt us for the strengths we have gained, we become willing to extend to life again. True passion is a total giving and extending what we have most needed emotionally in our past - forward from our whole heart, to help others. When we give to life this fully we become larger and stronger than our emotional pain.
"When we embrace life so fully, we feel swept away by it. We give ourselves to people so thoroughly that we are continuously falling in love with them. We do the same with our work or whatever we are doing, and enjoy it completely. We give ourselves so totally that we know and appreciate fully who or whatever we are in relationship with. When we taste a peach and the juices run down our face, everyone licks their lips." - Chuck Spezzano
When we experience trauma we feel unprotected and alone. Psychotherapist Belleruth writes, "Without belief in a fair and moral universe, a sense of control of one's fate, a coherent sense of self, and a continuous personal narrative, life makes no sense.
Living becomes a pointless exercise of getting through the day. People reeling from trauma are thrown into a crisis of meaning that goes far beyond disillusionment; they are plunged into and abyss of despair."
Creating a Caring World - One Page at a Time
The aim of a creating a self-caring art journal is to re-condition a safe, and caring world within. To create a caring world for ourselves, we can process and integrate disturbing thoughts and emotions gently and kindly as they naturally arise. Digging for memories is not required. There is a timing to healing. Art journaling is a way to understand and release the remnants of trauma regularly and slowly - one page at a time - in a format that can be closed and put away if emotions become overwhelming.
The aim of processing memory through art journaling is not to revisit a traumatic emotions over and over again, but to recognize where we have stopped living forward, and clear what is blocked. When we discover what pieces are missing, we can begin the process of re-conditioning and transforming our biological, mental and emotional holding patterns into more positive and nurturing states to carry life forward.
The Fluidity of Perception and Memory
Whatever emotional, physical or emotional state is being triggered now is the only thing that you need to process in your art journal. There is no need to dig for memories or rush trauma work. What needs to be healed comes up in layers and in its own unique timing when you are psychologically strong enough to heal it.
Keeping an art journal is an art therapy modality which allows what is hidden within to come forward in the form of words and imagery to create the needed change that is pressing for completion. Art journaling can allow memories that are intruding into the present moment to be seen, understood and cared for.
Memory can perpetuate your thoughts, emotions and behaviors in a static, repetitive and ongoing way. As you create a visual story of your perceptions, with spontaneous marks, and color, line, textures and words, you reveal the nature of your memories. Through the process of art journaling self-discovery, you will see in visual form, how your perceptions of the past have programmed your entire life, and how they can be changed now as an adult.
Containing Past Experiences in an Art Journal
Simply catharting difficult feelings in an art journal is helpful for people who have trouble expressing their emotions but if you are prone to emotional flooding, cathartic writing can lead to fragmentation. Art journaling for healing can include "taking breaks" from emotional processing. It is also important to remember as you undertake your own healing that you have far more strengths and capacities now, than you did when you were younger.
Counsellor Jasmin Cori explains the difference between catharsis and containment:
"With containment, instead of just spitting out a feeling (and perhaps getting high off the rush`associated with that), we learn to turn it over in our mouths and taste it. We learn to discriminate how much we can handle at any given moment without overload. We understand that the point is to keep the feelings from getting so intense that they burn us. We learn to contain a feeling so that it doesn't run roughshod over us but instead is given a place to be listened to."
Art Journal Exercises for Healing Trauma
Following are list of ten tasks by trauma counsellor Jasmin Lee Cori from her book "Healing Trauma" adapted to include expressive art jounaling processes. If you are new to art journaling you can explore How to Create an Experimental Art Journal.
1. Resetting your Nervous System - Cori writes: "The one fact of trauma cannot be emphasized enough: trauma changes your nervous system; therefore, a full recovery from trauma requires resetting the nervous system." This means managing anxiety, fear and arousal and finding ways to self-soothe. See Create a Calming Collage for more ideas on how to calm yourself through art journaling.
2. Freeing Your Body from Holding Patterns - Our bodies hold memories of trauma in the tissues. The defensive contractions and the aches and pains that result from withholding energy away from fully engaged living will stay in place if you do not work on the levels of mental, emotional, and physical change - in tandem.
Yoga, vigorous physical exercise, expressive movement and bodywork can help to open up the emotional and mental changes that you make in your art journal further. You can use your art journal to write about and identify where you feel tight, sore and contracted. with the intention of opening up your body and your life. You can also process memories in an embodied way through Healing Traumatic Memories with Embodied Writing.
3. Expanding Your Capacity to Stay Present - The intensity of traumatic memories freezes past pain in place. Cori offers the following five directives for developing presence to interrupt the magnetic pull of trauma patterning:
Practice Grounding - The past is not here now. Connect to the details of your current life. Find your feet on the ground. Breathe. Look around you and journal with gratitude about the concrete details of the good that surround you in this moment.
Defuse Triggers and Self-Regulate - Keep a detailed account of the places, people, words, smells, and associations that trigger your fears. Learn to calm yourself when you are triggered and have tools to remind you how to stay open when you would normally close. Remind yourself that the past is not here in the present. Write in your journal about how your present life is different from the past. Remind yourself of the strengths you have gathered over your life that you did not have when you were younger.
Learn to Recognize Dissociation - When you "leave" your body and your mind during periods of overwhelm, practice bringing yourself back to your current reality by identifying what is happening in the present moment by Journaling Through Emotional Overwhelm.
Develop a Sense of Safety - As we learn to trust your ability to trust that you can set healthy boundaries, and speak up for yourself in ways that you could not when you were younger, you will feel the safety of your own strength and ability to handle more of life. Explore The Art of Setting Boundaries in your art journal.
Cultivate Witness Consciousness - Your emotions and thoughts can be noticed without becoming embroiled in them. Art activities that require focused detailing and concentration help quiet the mind. To center deeper than your trauma patterning and develop your witnessing consciousness try Intuitive Zendoodling in your art journal.
4. Mastering Your Trauma Symptoms - You can defuse your trauma symptoms by Unburdening the Past
5. Feel Your Emotions without being Controlled by Them - When we close down to negative feelings we numb our positive feelings as well. With traumatic patterning you can explore the negative belief system that cements your emotional pain in place through Healing Negative Core Beliefs.
6. Managing Memories and Finding Peace with What Happened - We experience traumatic memories through the eyes of younger parts of self. To defuse the past explore Age-Regression - An Integrative Journaling Exercise.
7. Coming to Terms with What Happened - Learning and eventually seeing how your trauma has made you into a stronger person involves grieving what you never had, and moving forward into life with the gifts and strengths that you developed through your hardships. Journal through Grief and Loss as well as Healing Grief Through Art Journaling Therapy so that you can move on. Explore Creating Intentions in your art journal to clarify how you will move forward with your life.
8. Making up for What You Missed - As you reclaim aspects of yourself that were frozen in the past, you can move forward into a fresh, more vibrant life. This involves making up for developmental needs that were not met in the past, and entails exploring possibilities that you might not have considered before now. Explore Portals into Possibilities with Collage in your art journal.
9. Integrating - Finding wholeness begins now. As you heal you reclaim and integrate all the pieces of yourself that have been "missing" from the past you form the new identity of who you were always meant to be in your essence. To recover your wholeness explore Creating a Mandala for Healing.
10. Giving Back - Giving what we most long for to others helps us heal. We are wired to give our gifts to life. To amplify our own growth we can practice giving what we did not get in our childhoods - sometimes even before we feel quite ready. We amplify our understanding of what we most need by giving it to others.
Since we each have an area of "expertise" born from the challenges we have triumphed over in life, we can help others do the same. It is helpful to give others what we most have longed to have for form our primary caregivers, be it time, attention, kindness, respect or love.
Assessing Your Healing Process
Take time now in your journal to look over the list above and assess where you are in your healing journey. Look at each healing task, and give it a number that represents where you are - with one being you have not started the healing, and ten being the task of healing is complete. Pick one or more tasks and create an action plan to support the aspect of your healing that is calling for your attention right now.
- 8x10 inch spiral bound sketchbook
- Acrylic and watercolor paints
- Papers to paint and draw on
- Printed and colored tissue papers
- Collage materials, magazines, glue stick, and scissors
- Drawing pens, markers, pastels
Art Journaling for New Awareness
Art journaling invites and nurtures new awareness by playing with odd combinations of words, metaphors and imagery to allow contact with something new and fresh inside. By playing creatively in your art journal, without judging or evaluating what emerges, new information infuses old repeating patterns with fresh new life and possibilities.
Art journaling can be a process of developing unconditional inner empathy for your own feeling process. Most of us perpetuate the same emotional reactions and mental patterns repeatedly until they are interrupted with new information and fresh understandings.
1. Create a Painted Background - The aim of an experiment art journal is to practice being loose and free. Each background can be painted like an abstract painting. Create your backgrounds with the aim of loosening up. Experiment with painting fast and vigorously without thinking.
You can paint one page at a time or paint several at a time if you wish. Acrylic paint, gessoes and gel mediums sometimes can be sticky, especially if you store your journals in a warm room. With acrylic mediums, you may need to place wax paper between your journal pages until they are completely cured.
2. Gestural Mark Making - Use pastels, markers, pens and pencils to make gestural marks. Aim on freeing your yourself, with random fast marks, scribbles, and intuitive marks.
3. Stamping, Printing and Stencilling - To create richer backgrounds, you can consider ink stamping, paint stamping, or painting through stencils.
4. Transparent Elements - To further build up your background, you can experiment with veiling with colored and printed tissue papers. You can add transparent elements as the end of your art journaling session as well.
5. Doodling and Drawing - Draw and doodle on your background in any way you feel called to with gel pens, markers, and pencil crayons. Feel free to collage old or new drawings and paintings onto your journal page as well.
6. Writing and Words - To express feelings, thoughts, ideas, inspirations, allow words to come spontaneously to mind or explore a line of thinking that is running through your head. Sometimes a spontaneous journal spread will inspire fresh thoughts. Alternatively, you can go into an old magazine and tear or cut out words to create spontaneous poetry,
Words chosen spontaneously feel mysterious at first. Some days, you may feel called to add a long written entry onto your journal page. You can letter with colored gel pens on top or your paint or on a separated peice of paper that you collage onto your journal page.
Cultivating Creative Freedom:
Performance Artist Nina Wise, author of "A Big, New, Free, Happy, Unusual Life" offers guidelines on how to loosen up which I paraphrase here and apply to the art jounaling process:
1. Begin each art journal page from stillness. Take a moment to empty your mind of thought and then see what comes. Instead of planning what you will write, paint and draw go for it without knowing what you are doing. If you decide what to do before you begin creating, you limit the possibility of what can arise in the freshness of the moment.
2. Be true to whatever you are feeling physically. If you are tired, paint and draw in a tired way. Experiment with minimal movement, Draw in small gestures. Deliver the truth in your art journal. Trying to be energetic when you are exhausted is a lie. Authentic creative self-expression is about delivering the truth.
3. Respond to emotional impulses as they arise from moment to moment. If you are feeling irritated or resistant draw in a way that expresses irritation and resistance. If you feel frightened, express fear. Be aware that there are cliche ways to demonstrate feelings rather than genuinely express the nuance of feelings. As you paint or describe your emotions allow yourself to express freshly in new ways.
4. Include everything. If you make a "mistake" on your journal page include it. Everything you are feeling, thinking, seeing, or hearing can be included on your page. We can create anywhere, anytime. Condition yourself to use the reality of your life to create.
5. Surrender. Let go of believing that you are in charge of the way your life goes. Give up, yield, lose control. There is a deeper creative impulse that is better at art making than your conscious mind.
6. Surprise yourself. Go towards what you do not know, what you've never done before. When you access the off balance, the quirky, odd, awkward parts that you do not normally access you are flowing with your subconscious mind. Move towards what feels uncomfortable and unfamiliar. Move into new territory.
7. Take risks. Move beyond what is known into the unknown. Risk adds excitement and interest to your journal pages. Move to the edge of your capacity, expand your ability, and then continue to move to the next growth edge. Challenge yourself to write, draw and paint beyond your emotional comfort level.
8. Make mistakes. Allow yourself to be awkward and ridiculous. Write the worst poetry imaginable. Paint or draw a horrible picture. Embarrass yourself. Within mistakes is the wisdom of stupidity, the grace in awkwardness, the truth in the ridiculous. When you fail in your efforts, congratulate yourself for your courage and vitality.
9. Commit to what you are doing. Commitment plus energy equals enjoyment. Don't hold back. Pour energy into your art journal pages. Even as you censoring mind wants to withdraw in inertia by saying, "This is boring. This is dumb. This is a waste of time" don't pay too much attention. Even if on some days you do not believe in what you are creating in your art journal, simply do it anyway.
- Journal and a pen
Daily Journaling from the Body
Inner body listening involves sitting with your journal, getting still, closing your eyes, and listening within your body for messages. A part of your body may feel uncomfortable. If so, direct all of your witnessing attention to that spot. Sit with that uncomfortable place, say hello and wait.
As you start to soften your resistance to your discomfort you might start to see visual images, or hear phrases or words. After recording the imagery, memories, inklings, and feelings that arise in your journal, ask your body feeling what it needs from you. Often, what it needs may come in the form of an image, a phrase, a word or a metaphor. Write your insights down.
Try to leave your rational mind out of the process, and steep yourself in the mystery of what has come through. Thank your embodied knowing for sharing with you. Close your journal and come back to your body journaling process tomorrow. See if you can stay with the process everyday for a month to find out what you can discover about yourself.
Over a period of daily journaling from the body, knowings piece together into a larger whole. Daily fragments form larger meanings, and what was once difficult to own and assimilate is reclaimed and included into a fuller sense of self.
Welcoming what is Difficult
Spiritual teacher Robert Masters speaks eloquently about turning towards our darkest and most difficult feelings:
"Stop pathologizing your negativity, stop relegating it to a lower status, stop keeping it in the dark. Go to it, open its doors and windows, take it by the hand. Meet its gaze. Feel its woundedness, feel into it, feel for it, feel it without any buffers. Soon you will start to sense that its gaze is none other than your own, perhaps from an earlier time, but yours nonetheless, containing so much of you. Humanize it fully. Keep something in the dark long enough and it will probably behave badly.
Turn on the lights, slowly but surely. Your simple presence is enough. Let your heart soften. Breathe a little more deeply, bringing what you call your negativity closer to you, opening at a fitting pace. No rush. Let it shift, however slowly, from a distant foreign object to a reclaimed part of your being. Let its pain and longing break your heart.
Your ambition to transcend your negativity is now all but gone, as you realize right to your core that your real work is to reclaim and reembody it. You are with yourself more deeply, your initial aversion all but gone, and now hold what you previously termed your negativity in the way that loving parents hold their distressed child, bringing it into your heart, feeling a rising desire and power to protect that little one. No negativity now. Just love, ease, recognition, presence, effortless wholeness. This is life in the raw, too real to be reduced to positive and negative, too alive to be shut down."
Your Body Knows Everything
Adapted into a creative journal meditation, inspired by Focusing Psychotherapy teacher Ann Weiser Cornell (author of the "Power of Focusing") following is a deep body listening process. Do not rush through the steps. Allow yourself to not know, and to let your answers arise slowly, from a place of depth and embodied knowing.
This is an exercise of listening to the edge of what you do not know about yourself. Be prepared to sense into the unknown. Do not try to understand what comes up from your subconscious mind with your rational mind. Allow what your body says to not make sense. Rest in the mystery. Really wait and wonder, as previously hidden information comes up.
Find a time and place to get some quiet time for yourself. Make sure you are warm and comfortable. You can sit or lay down in any position that you like. Have your journal and a pen handy. Take few deep breaths. You might decide to go into your inner body focusing with a specific question or issue, or you might just want to listen to your body and see what comes. You might want to concentrate on the parts of your body that feel stiff, tight, withheld, sore, or neglected.
1.) Entering Your Body:
Your body is a storehouse of knowledge, personalities, ages, creativity, memories, and soul wisdom. It holds everything that has ever happened to you, and it can tell you anything that you need to know.
Start your session by saying, “I am sensing into my body.” Sit quietly and start to notice where you feel sensation. It might be something like “flutteriness”, tightness, joy, or pain. Make up your own words and phrases for the different parts of your body that want your attention, and write them down. At this point you do not have to be discriminating – just notice all of the varied parts of self that are asking for your attention right now, and write them down.
Ask “What wants my awareness now?” Place your awareness where the feeling is the strongest and rest there. Write down what bodily feeling wants your awareness the most. What does it feel like? Is it afraid, tight, joyful, warm, tingly?”
Say, “I am saying hello to what’s there.” When you say hello to the main thing that is arising to meet your attention - welcome it. See how it responds to your greeting. It might ease or relax a bit, or it might become clearer or stronger by your attention. Take your time, and if other body sensations arise, to say hello to them too.
“I’m finding the best way to describe it.” After you say hello to the strongest sensation of ‘something” in your body, find a word, phrase or image to describe how your body feels. As you describe the feeling, it might sound like, “I feel a heavy feeling in my belly, it feels like lead. I see a figure crunched up with her head on her knees….” Allow yourself to be creative and spontaneous with your descriptions.
Reach for what that you do not know about yourself. Allow your inner imagery and words to arise spontaneously from your body knowing. If the description is not quite right, keep defining it further, until it feels true in your body. If you cannot find a description, just sit for a while, and love the body sensation that is arising, even if it is painful.
“I am checking back with my body.” For every descriptive image, word or phrase, check back with that part of your body, and let it tell you if it feels right and true. It might be wholly true, partially true, or not true. What is your body communicating to you about your accuracy?
2.) Deepening Into Your Body
“Is it Ok to just be with this right now?” You have just said hello, and come to know the name/description of this part of yourself. Now it is time to just gently spend time with it. The part of you that is arising, perhaps shyly wanting to communicate with you, may have been ignored for a long time and is angry or evasive. Let it know you are just going to be with it, lovingly and with interested curiosity. Describe in your journal what it feels like to just be with this part of yourself.
“I’m sensing how it feels from its point of view.” You have just seen how the something inside of you feels from your witnessing point of view. Now it is time to treat it as though it is a separate function of your consciousness, and find out what it has to say. It might seem odd to do, but this is a profound way to hear your body’s messages and tap into its wisdom.
Do any words pop into your head? Do you see an image, or have a memory, or feel a sensation, or see a color? You might visualize a body posture, such as hiding, or being ready to fight. Speak this language of the body in living colour, feeling and metaphor.
“I’m Asking…” Asking your inner part questions helps you to direct and structure your presence into the direction that you need to know about.
“I’m asking if it has an emotional quality.” If for example you feel a bodily feeling of tightness, you can ask that body feeling if it has an emotional quality. “What is the emotional quality of this tightness?” The tightness might feel scared, angry, or excited. Write your sense of the emotional quality in your journal.
“I’m asking what gets it so….” You might investigate the tightness in your body by asking, “What gets it so tight?” Make sure that you lean towards what you do not already know.
“I’m asking it for what it needs.” You can ask the feeling in your body if it needs something from you or the world. You could ask it what kind of presence it needs. Does it need peace and quiet, or love, or encouragement? Asking what this part of you needs is a profound way to find inner healing. For example, if you are experiencing an emotional block, your body may share specifically what you can do to unblock.
3. Ending Your Session
“I’m checking if it is ok to stop soon.” You will often not solve your entire problem, block or dilemma in one session. You might get a sense that you can only take in a certain amount of information, and will get a sense that it is ok to stop your session. Welcome the little changes and shifts that happen during each body focusing session. End each session gently.
“I’m saying, “I’ll be back.” Tell your body that you will be back later and that you will continue listening to what it has to tell you. Write down what feelings and knowings you embed with so that you can embark from that point when you next resume your body journaling process.
Understand that the little piece that you received today will be part of your larger creative life process. Take time to rest, integrate, and journal what you have learned about yourself during this session. It is helpful to journal the understandings that you reached during this session so that you can return to them later. There might be a word, a phrase, or a particular image that reflects the knowing that you reached today.
“I’m thanking my body and the parts that have been with me.” As you complete this process thank the parts of your body that spoke to you today. Even if you were only able to notice and stay with a difficult feeling for 5 or 10 minutes, and no new information came, congratulate yourself. Celebrate the body focusing process, and the difficult feelings that you attended to with love and attention.
- Art Journal
- Magazines, glue stick, scissors
- Calming music
Pacing Your Healing
We must again and again face fear until we can do so without being thrown back into lower self functioning."
- Richard Moss
Some trauma therapists believe that if you are feeling overwhelmed, you are going too fast with emotional processing. During therapy, or if you are processing heavy emotions on your own, it is often helpful to have self-soothing tools to calm, regulate and slow down the overwhelm of arising emotions. As you learn how to calm yourself, you can learn how to remain open and vulnerable, and to nurture feelings of safety at the same time. By pacing your own healing you can teach yourself to remain open and able to function in the world, while regulating your fear.
Why Process Emotional Pain?
Spiritual teacher Richard Moss writes, "We are rightfully afraid of pain, but when pain - especially emotional pain - is what is, then to continue to rely on a self-avoidance survival structure created in childhood is to remain barren of potential." When we turn towards our emotional pain and the fears that guard our hurt, we paradoxically become more alive. By facing what we habitually avoid, we spiritually and creatively open up our authentic potential.
We can develop a conscious relationship to our own suffering by compassionately respecting our internal timing and pace, and by taking breaks when the emotional pain and intensity feels overwhelming. Following are some calming, grounding, slowing, and self-soothing tools inspired and informed by trauma counsellor Jasmin Lee Cori, author of "Healing from Trauma." You can use these directives - adapted to expressive art therapy, whenever your intense emotions or fears feel too difficult to manage.
Get Present: When we are holding emotional pain, a good portion of our awareness is caught in past time. Our agitated nervous system generalizes the present moment as being the same as the traumas of past. Observant attention to the here-and-now stops the past process of generalization.
When you are going into emotional overwhelm, divert as much of your attention away from the traumatic material that is coming up from the past, and place your attention on the acute details of your present moment. Now is not the past. It is different. Observe the differences. Breathe. Look around and see colors and details. Breathe again.
Breathe deeply and gratefully and lovingly take in your immediate surroundings. You might want to create a calming collage that you can meditate on and use as a resource when you are emotionally flooded using whatever imagery evokes a feeling safety, beauty and calm for yourself. Connect to each image emotionally as a calming resource that helps you to self-regulate.
Change Channels: There are several different channels for our life experience. Thoughts are one channel, emotions another, and body sensations a third. If one channel is overwhelming you, switch to another channel.
If your are thinking dark thoughts repeatedly or are emotionally flooded and cannot seem to stop the discomfort, it is always helpful to move your body. Go for a walk in nature, or put on some soothing music and dance slowly. Amplify your attention towards how your body moves moment-by-moment.
Give Yourself Breaks: Purposely divert your attention to manage the pacing of your healing process. Interrupt the patterns of your thinking or emotional states to gain distance and perspective. Take a break when you are feeling dysregulated. Don't deny your feelings, but oscillate your attention between processing your fear, anger, grief or upset for a time, and do something fun or relaxing.
Have healthy activities set up as diversions from the intensities of emotional processing. Have your art table stocked with supplies to play with. Create art. Light a candle. Take a bath. Make yourself a pot of soup. Put on some quiet music. Watch a movie.
Grounding - Grounding is about literally and metaphorically remaining in your body, with your feet solidly on the ground, in the here and now. If you have experienced trauma in the past it might be difficult to ground into your body, in which case you can focus on the calming energy of the ground itself. Literal grounding (called earthing) is rooted in scientific studies that measure how touching the earth with your bare feet and body immediately equalizes your body to the same solid, calming energy as the earth.
Sitting in the sand, or on the ground with your bare feet on the grass is calming and regulating to the nervous system. Spend twenty minutes in silence with your bare feet on the ground to soothe your emotional discomfort.
Find Your Regulating Resource - When we have regular caring attunement with another living being we can oscillate between clearing the intensity of the past with our loving connection to our "regulating resource". If you lacked parental regulation and soothing when you were young, it is not too late to recondition your nervous system towards love now.
Intimate companionship reminds us we are not alone in our life. Ultimately we cannot heal alone. We all need the positive touchstone of comfort and love as we process, learn from, and release a painful past. Our regulating resource is whatever living being represents love or inspiration. We can connect to love with our spouse, partner, or lover, a pet, a good friend, our therapist, or a parent. We can ask to be held, encouraged, touched, and loved.
Who in your life has the capacity to help you out of overwhelm and into a feeling of love? Take time to touch, hold and be with the ones you love when you feel dysregulated in your emotions. Ask for a hug!
Self-Soothing - When you are activated emotionally, stop what you are doing. You likely cannot concentrate on anything anyway. Stop fighting your emotionality and accept that you need to do something different in this moment. Create a safe comforting environment for yourself where you can calm down your nervous system until you feel strong enough to process your feelings again.
We each have unique ways of feeling whole. Your calming collage will indicate a unique calming environment, colors, and activities that can help to relax and to gather up your scattered pieces back into your center again. Based on what your intuitive collage tells you that you need, you might, as illustrated in the collage above, make yourself a cup of tea, put on soothing music, cover yourself with a warm blanket and close your eyes. You also might enjoy meditating on nurturing mothering messages here.
- Art Journal
- Pens, pencils, markers, pencil crayons, old magazines, glue stick and scissors
Resisting Past Experience
It is only in the present moment that we can connect to our spontaneous and authentic self. Whenever we shut down to fully experiencing the present moment, we are most often in some form of age regression.
Even if our mind is in the future, we often fear that the future will be similar to our unhealed past. Becoming aware of when we are age-regressing (defending against feeling unfinished emotional pain from the past) is a process that can be visually and verbally explored through the art journaling process.
Most of us experience age-regression on a fairly regular basis, especially when we are feeling stressed or vulnerable within our life circumstances. In order to not integrate - to resist - a traumatic experience, the child self freezes the body by tightening the muscles and holding the breath in a particular way to avoid feeling a difficult emotion. After much repetition over the years, this pattern of contraction becomes an automatic response that can carry on for decades until it is seen, understood, and interrupted.
There are several ways to differentiate from, interrupt, and integrate age-regressed states. Following are a few art therapy exercises adapted and inspired by psychologist Stephen Wolinsky from his book, "The Trances People Live."
Self-Observe: Observe what you do when you regress to an earlier age. Become aware of your symptoms when you go into a younger self.
Witness and Write Down the Details: As you explore how you constrict your awareness to a past time, you will see that there is a particular "recipe" for the way that you close down. There is a distinct way of thinking, feeling and tensing your body when you age-regress.
There will be a particular "younger" thought patterns and frozen beliefs from an earlier time that goes along with your body tension or constricting symptoms such as acute body pain, a blurring of vision and so on. As you write about how you constrict into a formal smaller sense of yourself - honor yourself. You are a masterful creator of your own survival.
In your journal answer these questions: How old are you when you first created this self that is "frozen in time?" What was the relational trauma or hurt that stopped up your strength and access to resources at this age? What choices did you make and beliefs about life did you form during this time? Write out the "recipe" of your age regressed state. Create a character sketch of yourself. What to you do, think, believe and feel when you are in this regressed state in your current life?
Alter Your Associations: Because age regression is unconsciously on "automatic", anything that you do to create new associations in the present moment will interrupt the pattern. You can explore an opposite gesture of thought, emotion, or belief each time that you regress. You can contruct a different reality in present time.
In your journal, beside the "recipe" of your contraction or frozen state, write an opposite or alternative thought, emotion, belief, or body posture beside it. Reflect on the possibility of becoming opposite or different from who you have been.
Retrieve Resources from the Past: Any resisted experience from the past hides unclaimed resources that you can benefit from right now. Whenever you age regress, you can go back to a time where you left inner resources behind, and discover and reclaim them. As you alter your age regression through practicing different responses, long suppressed developmental resources that were available in the past will "float" to the surface of your awareness.
In your journal: Write a list in your journal of the resources, strengths and gifts that you shut down a challenging times in the past. A hint: look for what you complain about or see is missing in life or in other people. What we do not see in or receive from others points the way to what we are meant to give to life.
Some of the resources that can easily get tamped down in childhood are the qualities of openness, vulnerability, the free expression of emotions, and playfulness. If trauma occurred during your teen years, you might discover that you have shut down your uniqueness, sexual identity, or inspirational leadership qualities.
In your journal, choose imagery that reflects the tamped down resources that you left behind. If you left behind strength, for example, find imagery that evokes the feeling of strength to contemplate regularly.
Everything is a Resource: We hold trauma and hurt within rigid roles and behavior patterns. If, for example, we developed the compensatory coping behavior of chirpy cheerfulness to cope with the stress in our original family, exploring the opposite "resource" of anger, depression, or "blah-ness might feel extremely liberating. Allowing the opposite of extreme behaviors helps to find the genuine balance that we authentically are.
In your journal: Reflect on who you do not allow yourself to be. Explore this opposite self through imagery and writing by choosing a picture of a person in a magazine who appears to be the exact opposite of what you think you are. Write down your reactions to this person and explore how their qualities could enhance your life.
Feel the Pain Under the Resistance: Whenever we let down our defensive walls, we will experience the emotional pain that has been frozen at the age where we stopped growing in some essential way. As we dismantle our resistance to what happened in the past, we will go through a period of "unfreezing" the feared emotions that hold our numbing defenses in place.
In your journal: you can process difficult feelings and memories through Embodied Writing.
Help Your Regressed Child Self from Your Witness = Let yourself go more deeply into the intense emotions that are experiencing and simply witness them. Note that there is a way that you are afraid to grow as you expand your frame of awareness. See your mental, emotional and physical contractions as you are having them and look specifically at who you are afraid of being.
Integration Process - When you are aware that you are in two states at once - both the witness, and an age regressed child - notice if there are any resources, feelings, thoughts, or actions that might help the child that is age-regressed become who it was meant to be. Talk to your regressed child, as it were a living child, telling it what it needs to hear to grow, to feel safe, and to flourish.
Now, allow all of these resources to merge with your hurt and traumatized child so that you begin the healing process. As your resources become integrated with your age-regressed self, embrace and lovingly become one with your child. Then bring your age regressed inner child along with its reclaimed resources into present time.
In your journal: draw or write about this integrated past self and the resources and gifts it brings to your life right now. Reclaim what you lost in the past and write about how you would live if you were bringing your disowned strengths to your life right now.
- Art journal, sketchbook
- Black marker, ballpoint pen, felt pens, pencil crayons, patels
Finding New Life in Loss
Expressing emotion through expressive drawing can help to cathart the feelings of loss and grief, but it does it not always heal the beliefs that feed into grief. Life affirming decisions about how to grow, learn and understand, like any other time in life, need to be made amidst feelings of grief. When we experience loss, some new life direction must eventually take the place of the feelings of loss and devastation.
Too often in expressive art we can express or "cathart" out challenging emotions, only to have them return, and cycle back again and again. When grief cycles without end, we can come to know that we are not seeing and learning the life lessons inherent in our losses.
Moving through the layers of loss and grief can be addressed through a step-by-step process developed by holistic counsellor and expressive art facilitator Barbara Ganim in her book "Drawing from the Heart".
I simplify the process on how to deal with feelings of loss into an abbreviated three week process and I recommend the book "Drawing from the Heart" for a more comprehensive seven week process on how to heal grief and loss with expressive drawing.
Grieving loss in a weekly directed way provides enough time to integrate the intuitive messages for healing and strength that come through your drawings. To integrate the wisdom that comes through your drawings, it is helpful to spend time contemplating your drawings and writings everyday.
Accessing, Releasing and Transforming Grief
Barbara Ganim offers the acronym ART to point the way on how to heal through expressive art.
- Access the painful emotion
- Release the emotion through expressive drawing
- Transform the painful image into a new positive way to respond to what causes you pain.
Healing Comes from the Heart
It takes time, heart-filled self-nurturance, and depth of insight to transform grief and loss. Life as it continually moves forward does not allow us to stop growing. In my own experience of having moved through much loss in my own life, I have needed to make pointed positive changes to love and learn in new ways in the midst of grief.
This expressive art drawing process will help you to identify and understand how you feel about your loss and grief. These drawing processes alternate between what your mind understands about your grief (and how your thoughts cycle into your emotions and continue to feed your thoughts) and what your heart knows about your grief. Often what we think we need to do to heal our grief is very different from the deeper purposes of what our grief is meant to teach us about living and loving on a much deeper level than we have in the past.
Week 1: Deciding What You Need to Heal
1. Setting a healing intention - We cannot tackle grief in its immensity all at once. If you pay attention to the nuances of grief, each layer arises for healing in a timely and manageable way. So even if you cognitively know what you want to heal, listen to your heart for what is bothering you. Trust whatever issue is currently presenting itself to you for healing even if it is seemingly unrelated. What is coming up may seem to have little to do with your major loss but it may the first layer of the process.
1. Writing an intention from your mind - Before you start drawing, have all of your materials ready. Close your eyes and contemplatively ask yourself what you need to heal right now. When you get an answer write it down on the top of your journal page.
2. Drawing an image from your heart - How does your heart feel about the pain that you wish to heal? Underneath your healing intention begin to draw an image from your heart. You might want draw spontaneously, or alternately close you eyes and see if an image comes up from your heart into your mind's eye. When you finish your drawing, ask yourself the following processing questions.
Processing questions to discern the differences between your mind and heart:
- What does your healing intention tell you about your mind's interpretation about what needs to be healed?
- How did it feel to do the drawing of how your heart responds to your pain?
- Do you see any conflict between what your thinking words tell you vs. what your feeling imagery tells you?
- What do your colors reveal about what your heart feels?
- Are any details, lines or squiggles in your drawing trying to tell you something?
- If your drawing could speak what would it say about how your heart reacts to your pain?
- What have you learned from your drawing about the pain you wish to heal?
Week 2: Accessing, Releasing, and Transforming what is Causing Your Pain
1. Accessing your most painful emotion with your mind - When we heal a layer of grief, there is always an acutely painful emotion that prominently wants to heal right now. Once you know what it is, write down that feeling word at the top of your journal. "I intend to heal this feeling of..."
2. Drawing and releasing your painful emotion from your body - Quiet your thoughts by focusing on your breathing and bring all of your awareness into your body. Focus all of your awareness on your painful emotion. Notice where in your body you feel the sensation of this emotion. Imagine what this feeling would look like if it was an image, a scribble, a series of lines, a mass of color, or a shape. If an image does not come to your mind, open your eyes and draw spontaneously.
Processing questions to discern the difference between thoughts and feelings:
- Is there a difference between what your thoughts told you about your painful emotion and what your body tells you?
- What did it feel like to do this drawing?
- How does your body feel now?
- What do the colors tell you about your pain?
- Are any details in your drawing trying to tell you something?
- If this drawing could speak, what would it say to you?
- Would you like to change the way you react to this painful emotion? If so, why?
3. Transforming your reaction to your painful emotion - We have choice on how we respond to any emotion. Just because we release a feeling through expressively drawing it, does not mean the we have healed or resolved it. While there is no way to resolve the loss of a loved one, we can heal a large portion of the pain by changing the way we react to it.
Changing your Image association - The image that you have drawn to express your emotional pain can trigger a repeating stress response that can keep you thinking about and feeling the same grief if you were to continue to meditate on it. To deactivate your habitual stress response it is helpful to change your imagery.
Drawing from your heart - Close your eyes and move into your heart center. Ask your heart for a symbol that represents a more healing, constructive way to respond to your painful emotion. When you see a symbol in your minds eye, draw it. Alternatively, simply intuitively choose your art materials to spontaneously draw from your heart center. It often helps to place your hand over heart with your other hand while you draw.
- How does it feel to look at this heart-centered drawing?
- How did it feel to do this heart-centered drawing?
- How is this transformation symbol different than the drawing of your emotional pain?
- What is this symbol trying to tell you about how to transform the way you respond to your painful emotion?
- If this symbol could speak what would it say to you about the way you respond to your painful emotion?
- What do the colors in your drawing symbolize?
- Do any of the details convey a special message about how to respond to your painful emotion in a healing way?
- How might this new way of responding change your reactions or behaviors?
4. Learning from your pain - messages from the heart - Emotions are messengers that have something to teach us. Connect with your body and focus on the painful emotion that you have been working with. Then shift your awareness to your heart center. Ask your heart to present you with a symbol of what your painful emotion has to teach you. When you know what this symbol is, draw it, or simply choose a few colors and spontaneously draw squiggle, lines, shapes and colors from your heart center.
- How does is feel to look at the drawing of your heart symbol?
- What does this symbol tell you about the lesson of your painful emotion?
- How do the colors in your symbol relate to this lesson?
- Do any of the details in your drawing suggest something important about this lesson?
- How can you apply this lesson in your life right now?
Week 3 - Acknowledging and Transforming Loss
Every life change, even positive changes produce loss as we leave people and old ways of living behind. Tangible losses, such as the loss of a loved one, a job, or of belonging to a community are easy to recognize and acknowledge. Ganim writes, "Intangible losses include the loss of faith in God, loss of trust in ourselves or others, loss of hope, courage, ambition, creativity, spirit, independence, and security, to name just a few. When such losses occur they can eat away at our soul."
1. Identifying and acknowledging losses - With your eyes closed, think about the painful situation you have chosen to work with and write this sentence at the top of your journal:
"When I think about my situation, it hurts to know I have lost..." Write down any loss that comes to mind even if it feels insignificant or unrelated. Write down an entire list of your losses - include whatever you think about without editing or judging.
2. Draw an image of how Your loss feels - Close your eyes and focus on the most significant feeling loss you wrote down in the previous exercise. As you think about your loss notice where in your body your feelings are coming from. Concentrate on this feeling sensation, then imagine what this feeling would look like as an image and draw it.
- Where in your body did you feel your loss?
- How does your body feel now that you did this drawing?
- What does this drawing tell you about how your body reacts to the thoughts about your loss?
- What do the colors tell you about your reaction to your loss?
- Are any details in your drawing trying to tell you about your reaction to your loss?
-If this drawing could speak, what would it say about the way you experience your loss?
3. Transformation: Drawing loss from your heart's perspective - Close your eyes and connect with your body and shift your awareness into your heart center. Ask your heart to present you with an image of how it perceives your loss. When you sense an image, begin to draw. When you finish your drawing compare it to the drawing you did in the previous exercise and answer the questions below.
- How does the drawing make you feel as you look at it?
- What is the difference between the drawing from your heart's perspective, and the drawing you did of your feeling of loss?
- If this drawing could speak, what would it tell you about your heart's view of your loss?
- What do the colors tell you about how your heart responds to your loss?
- Are there any details that might tell you something more in your drawing about your heart's response?
- What did you learn from this drawing?
4, What is your loss meant to teach you? - Connect with your body and focus on your feeling of loss. Put all of your awareness into your heart and ask your heart to present you with a symbol of what you loss is trying to teach you, and then spontaneously draw it.
- How does this drawing of your heart's symbol make you feel?
- What do you feel this symbol tells you about the life lesson of your loss?
- How do the colors relate to your life lesson?
- Are their any details in this drawing that are trying to tell you something?
- How can you apply the lesson of your loss to you current life?
Focusing on the Gain, Not the Loss - There is a gift in every experience. Even regret about not loving as deeply as we could while we had the chance can intensify the intention to love more deeply from this point forward. Every loss invites a new strength that might not have come to the fore in easier times. Staying focused on the gain, the lesson, the blessing, or the discovery that comes out of each loss deepens the meaning of our life. Every loss keeps us moving forward with an intensity of devotion that is inspired by the brevity of life.
- Journal and Pen
- Watercolor paints, brushes, water
"For millennia, we women have been taught to be energetically open to the world, to be personal and accepting. We have been trained to move through life with an open energy field, to blend with the people in our lives who are important to us.
Everyone "knows" that it is feminine to be receptive and available, to be able to interact smoothly and pleasantly with other people and to blend our energies with theirs."
- Sidra Stone
A Period of Independent Self-Reflection
In our patriarchal culture women are expected to be available energetically. As psychologist Sidra Stone explains in her book "The Shadow King" men have been trained to set boundaries, to be objective, and to be self-contained. For women it is often a challenge to learn how and when to make the inner choice to have an open energy field, and when it is necessary to close our energy field for self-regenerating purposes.
Because women are not supported to keep other people's energies out, our creative journey involves getting to know ourselves clearly and succinctly, separate from our feminine societal conditioning, to be able to express our "yes's and no's" without guilt.
This self-definition requires a period of independent self-exploration. Once we learn how to set our own boundaries, we can deepen our relationships - not through fusion, co-dependency, and confusion about where we end and others begin - but through a solid and unwavering understanding and sharing of who we really are.
Each one of us has pockets in our life where we feel drained or where we are giving to areas where we do not feel we are growing in the ways we need to. In order to actualize our personal goals and purposes it is imperative to learn how to protect our time and energy from unnecessary outer demands.
Unhealthy and Unnecessary Giving
Often we will feel guilty when we begin to set boundaries to protect our energy and time. During the process of learning to set boundaries it helpful to understand that the true aim of giving is to support emotional and psychological learning and growth, not ego stagnancy - in ourselves and others. It is important to understand, especially for women, that we can still love and support other people, through the example of setting authentic boundaries.
As we go through the necessary period of sorting ourselves out, to understand where we specifically we are meant to give, it will entail a time of saying no to other areas of life where we are currently unnecessarily over-spending our energy and time. Often when we stop giving in unhealthy ways a backlash in the form of outer or inner resistance occurs.
An important point to understand and to help maintain a solid stance about unnecessary giving - is that when we fill a place in life that we do not need to for our highest growth, we are actually preventing the people who need grow - from finding their own strength. Giving in unnecessary or unhealthy ways creates dependency and a feeling of deadness for both people. Giving in ways that are needed always furthers both people on their growth path.
We can sort out our "yes's and no's" by feeling the tone and quality of our energy in each situation that we are giving to. As we give to the areas of our greatest growth we find our joy and flow. And as we leave situations where we are over-giving beyond that is needed - after a period of initial upset - the people around us will find new resources within to grow into.
And just as we need to say "no "to people and activities that do not support our greatest growth, so too must we say some strong "no's" to our own internal ego processes that prevent us from moving forward. At the bottom of it all, it is only ourselves, and our own choices that hold us back.
Growing forward involves saying, "no" to the ways that we hold ourselves back, and we keep ourselves small to fit in - as well as the ways we internally attack and criticize ourselves to keep ourselves safe from fear of the unknown. Giving intuitively to ourselves involves saying a firm "no" to the habitual ways we hold ourselves down.
How we are meant to authentically give to life is often very different from catering to our own and other people's ego agendas. We grow by learning about where to best give our gifts and
talents for our own and other people's growth. When we give to the highest growth in people, it might initially look like not offering any support at all. Sometimes others need to find their own
way, and over-giving in ways that are not necessary actually stunts the way life is meant to evolve.
From our egos we give to get something in return - if only to feel better about ourselves as a compensation for underlying feelings of guilt or unworthiness, or as a delay tactic away from our true path. Ego-based compensatory giving is exhausting and it stagnates our own and other people's growth.
When we give from our truth, and our centered and balanced understanding of ourselves, giving feels good, meaningful, a divinely inspired. Giving in an intuitive and inspired way sweetens life immeasurably. Intuitive giving operates in the flow so that what is given is received, and both parties are nourished. Inspired giving - even the smallest things - a word, a favor, a kind gesture builds energy, insight, and inspiration. This is the way we learn how to expand.
Keeping Energy Out - A Painting Exercise
The following art therapy exercises are inspired by psychologist Sidra Stone that will help you to discern between true and false giving:
When we come to know ourselves profoundly, we can actually give far more than we can from our fractured ego/emotional states. When we give from the center of our authenticity we can intuit
exactly where and when to give, as well as where our giving will not be fully received.
When we are learning to stop giving in unnecessary and/or unhealthy ways it is helpful to learn how to unblend from other people's energy fields and expectations. Getting to know what our own unique energy field feels like is immensely helpful in the process of setting boundaries.
Following are some creative suggestions to explore your energy field when you are giving in unnecessary ways, and oppositely to explore how it feels when you feel centered, intuitive, and sure of what you are meant to give:
1. It is useful to creatively explore what your energy feels like when you are doubtful and unsure about yourself - so you can come to recognize yourself when you are bending to the needs of other people over your own. With watercolor paint in your journal intuitively sketch out how you feel when you energetically divide and confuse your energies.
You might typically feel different internal and external conflicting energies pulling at you in the course of your daily life. Illustrate and perhaps even label the various ways that you currently spread out your energy. You might even want to draw a diagram - allotting percentages that indicate where you life energy is currently going.
2. Now center all of your energy into the core of your body and breathe deeply. You might imagine that you have a shining core running down the center of your spine. As you extend your energies outward from your center, imagine yourself gently and lovingly surrounded by your own coherent energy field.
Feel the outer edge of your energy and notice how it still allows you to be with people without blending with them. As Sidra Stone suggests, "Think of yourself and the other person like colors in a painting. These colors do not run together, but there is no harsh black outline that separates them. The two colors have been painted side by side, and each one remains distinct.
Paint a symbolic representation of yourself in your journal with watercolor, with soft, yet distinct boundaries that allow love in and out. Meditate on moving through life in this soft, centered, contained way.
Creating an Energy Sheild
Sometimes if we are emerging from extreme forms of unhealthy giving, or from draining ourselves with unhealthy beliefs, guilt, self-attack, and criticism, we need to become much stronger energetically. At such times it is possible to practice intensifying our core, authentic energy against the feelings of invasion and attack from personal, societal, and conditioned forces.
Sometimes a strong "no" to unhealthy energies is required. This can be done energetically and creatively by making our personal energy stronger, thicker, and as impenetrable as we wish. We can create an energy shield to our own unhelpful, conditioned ego energies from the past, or to other people or societal energies that trigger old unhealthy ways of behaving and coping.
Often, just before we are ready to grow into a new level of confidence, inner or outer energies will rise up to try to thwart us. At such times it is helpful to draw, paint, sculpt or build a symbolic energy shield - which when imagined creates an actual energetic protection that can be viscerally sensed by other people.
It is possible to energetically create a shield that surrounds you completely. Imagine an egg shaped shield that you can move around it and that completely protects and nourishes your solid inner authentic core being. Sense into where you are feeling attacked or invaded, either by past remembered energies, or from a current person. If you wish to create extra protection in other areas such as in your sexual/pelvic area, or over your heart, do so.
Sidra Stone suggests creating your energy shield in your everyday life to see the visceral effects of how people kinesthetically feel when you are protecting yourself. Try extending your energy shield in line at the grocery store, for example, and see how people sense and move away from your energy.
Healing the Root of Needing Boundaries - Releasing Self-Attack
The following is an exercise to work through the pain of self-attack which is the fundamental root of needing boundaries to other people in the first place. The more we know ourselves, the less we need to protect ourselves. We feel safe when we know who we are and are able to understand how to give our gifts authentically.
We can heal the negative ways that we attack ourselves, especially when we are about to step into new areas of confidence in life. How we attack ourselves creates an unconscious energetic openness to outer invasion and attack - that we can choose to heal at its root.
We unknowingly allow other people to keep us small wherever we unconsciously choose and want to stay small. Whenever we feel emotional pain, we are attacking ourselves in some way. When we feel pain, we can follow the pain to the root, and see when we ourselves started to keep ourselves small - and concurrently invited outer forces to thwart us from moving forward.
The following is an excellent exercise by psychologist and transpersonal coach Chuck Spezzano on how to find the root of self-attack:
If I where to know the root of this self-attack began it was probably at the age of....
Back then, the positive lessons that I was trying to learn to get beyond the pain were...
If I were to know the positive gift I had within, at a soul level, that would have been the antidote to the situation back then, and helpful now, it would be.....
Who, besides myself was I attacking to have that experience occur was....The excuse I was using that situation for was....
The self-image that I built as a result of that was....
The purpose of that self-image was....
Imagine yourself back to the situation where you got hurt and instead of using someone or something to hold yourself back as your excuse, apologize to them and yourself, and give them your love.
As we give up our own attack thoughts - the criticisms, judgements and negativity that hide attacking thoughts melt into peace, safety, and reconciliation. Our need for outer boundaries decrease immeasurably when we do the deep healing work from the past to understand who we really are. When we know who we genuinely are, the "yes's and no's" arise effortlessly and intuitively, without guilt.
- An old book to alter
- Paints, collage items, old magazines, markers, pastels, pencil crayons
- Acrylic medium, diluted white glue, or Mod Podge
See Altered Book Making Directions HERE
For this expressive art activity I reference the excellent book, "Healing from Trauma" by Jasmin Lee Cori. I abbreviate her ten points about trauma as follows:
1. Our bodies don't lie. Trauma leaves "footprints" on the body as well as in every other part of our lives.
2. A high level of trauma leaves people feeling overly sensitive to just about everything. We will be particularly sensitive to anything that reminds us of the trauma.
3. When things are too much for us to stay present, we find a way to leave, even if only psychologically. Dissociation is a pattern of splitting off some part of yourself when you are uncomfortable.
4. Another defense is simply to numb yourself so that you don't feel.
5. Often there are cognitive losses that accompany trauma, and you may wonder what is wrong with your brain.
6. Memories of traumatic events are often like shards that have shattered everywhere. Our memories come in bits and pieces and are often far too intense.
7. Very rarely could we have done something to prevent our trauma. Yet the helplessness of the situation is hard to bear, and we often blame ourselves and feel guilt rather than feel at the mercy of forces we can't control.
8. We contract in trauma to become a smaller target, and tragically, we often stay contracted, in very small lives, in an unconscious attempt to feel safe.
9. Often we feel vulnerable and unprotected because our energetic boundaries are in some way still broken.
10. Trauma rocks your world. It can be hard to imagine how others go along so blithely, creating their futures, as if one could control that. Those who have experienced a lot of trauma don't have this basic confidence in things working out.
Creating an Altered Point of View
Our subconscious beliefs about ourselves keep traumatic holding patterns in place. Jasmin Lee Cori writes, "With trauma, parts of us are blocked, and parts of us are flooded. Our life energy is disturbed, and we do not have the supports to thrive and be healthy. When we are blocked in this way, our energy gets congested and our consciousness becomes muddied. It we can clear the obstacles and let our life force flow more freely again, we can recover our aliveness. This recovery of aliveness and free flow is what resilience is all about."
When we are emotionally flooded or emotionally blocked, we hold our body trauma patterns in place by subconscious beliefs. Our body, emotions and beliefs form an interlocking "trauma pattern" that unconsciously repeats through our life, unless it can be consciously interrupted and recreated into more life-affiming patterns of living.
Cori explains, "Trauma shows up as chronically constricted tissue, a shrinking and bracing of the overall structure, a tight diaphragm and shallow breathing, cold hands and feet (because energy is withdrawn from extremities) and a strong tension at the base of the skull and the bottom of the spine. In essence the body feels like a too tight package. It is tight because it is caught in a pattern of alarm and self-protection. These characteristics lead to postural problems, unhealthy, achy tissues, headaches and backaches, and circulatory and mobility problems."
The aim of all therapies is essentially to interrupt unhealthy patterns that have been operating on automatic for years and often decades. To heal trauma we need to work on many levels of body, psyche and soul. Bodywork is essential to help interrupt the body holding patterns of trauma, but if the same belief patterns continue to feed into creating the same distressing emotions, the body will constrict back into its contracted emergency state once again.
Interrupting Belief In an Altered Book
We can begin to play creatively with belief by alternating page spreads in an altered book. As we illustrate what holds trauma in place, we can play with opposite beliefs on opposite pages to tangibly see and feel how the mechanics of belief can open up our body to more pleasurable feelings. Following is an altered book exercise that I have developed to discover, loosen, and interrupt traumatic patterning within an altered book format, adapted from the innovative work of psychologist Stephen Wolinsky from his book "Trances People Live":
1. Observe How your Trauma Pattern Operates - Focus on an area of life that is troubling you. Observe how you put yourself into a particular "trauma trance". Study yourself. What does your body do? How does your body constrict? In what particular places hurt in your body?
2. Notice Your Troubling Thoughts - If you cannot access your troubling thoughts, try vocalizing or writing an opposite positive belief. Often this invites your subconscious negative belief to pop up in argument. Working with positive affirmations to bring up strong contrary beliefs might look something like this: "I love myself - I hate myself. I love sex - Sex is bad. I am amazing - I am worthless. People like me - People hurt me. I am a strong person - I am helpless. I love my life - Nothing works out. I have courage - I am terrified. I am successful - I am a loser. I am good person - I am guilty. I am safe - Don't trust people."
3. Identify and Illustrate Your Negative Belief - Once you have discovered your subconscious debilitating belief, write it down, and illustrate it pictorially and symbolically in your altered book page spread. Notice how your feelings and body constrict into particular patterns around this belief as you work in your book.
4. Notice How You Identify with Your Trauma State - When you finish your page spread, meditate on your page, and notice how you typically are completely identified with the particular belief that feeds your traumatic state whether it be, "I hate myself" or "I am terrified" or "I am guilty". When we are identified, we stand in the middle of the belief state believing it is the total picture of reality. When we place our belief out of our body/mind/emotional state onto the page - as we become witness to the state that we normally live in - we expand.
5. Understand the Mechanics of Your Traumatic Belief System. Instead of becoming your habitual belief system, observe your relationship to your traumatic state. The perceiver is not the perceived. If you can perceive your traumatic states, then obviously you are not that state, Your reality extends beyond it.
Observe how you are creating your contracted state and how your belief cements your body contraction and emotional upset in place. If you can see how you create your constricted states, you can begin to uncreate them.
6. Disidentify with Your Belief and Creatively Work with It - Once you have disidentified with your trauma belief, you can begin to creatively work with it in your altered book. Wolinsky's approach to disassembling trance states is not to work with the storyline of the past as the causal agent of change. His aim in healing "hypnotic" trauma states is to see how we recreate past trauma by actively creating and sustaining old patterns of coping in the present moment.
7. Creating Resources - In this technique take your negative belief from your previous page spread, say it is, "DON'T TRUST PEOPLE" and create a new page spread with the opposite belief which would simply be, "TRUST PEOPLE". It is also very effective to illustrate the contrasting beliefs on the two side-by side book pages facing you.
As you work on your "resource page" notice all the subtle changes that happen in your body. Allow yourself to focus on the pleasure of long-buried resources in your physical body. Practice creating this opposite resource whenever you feel calm so that you can draw upon its strength and momentum when trauma patterning threatens to overwhelm your consciousness.
8. Doubting - Take the list of suggestions and beliefs that you say to yourself when you are in your trauma patterning, write them, or print them out and collage them in your altered book with a question mark behind each one. "I hate myself? I am guilty? I am worthless? I do not want to live?" You might want to repetitively print out one suggestion over and over with a question, intensifying your doubt each time. Embellish and meditate on this page while you deepen your doubt of your regular patterning. This kind of doubting allows new resources to enter.
9. Creating Multiple Meanings - Take your trigger words such as hate, don't trust, don't touch that are at the core of your trauma trance states and create multiple meanings and entirely new associations. For example with the trigger phrase "I hate myself" - reassociate it with different meanings such as, "I rate myself. I date myself. I fate myself. I create myself. I recreate myself."
With each new suggestion, allow yourself to drift into a sleepy state where healing resources and symbols begin to emerge. Find, draw, or paint imagery that reflects these changed associations. This is a creative exercise in confusing the one-pointed belief systems that we have lived our life acting out in our emotional and bodily strictures. Confusing our static mental processes allows the unconscious mind to flow - where long tamped down resources, can begin to emerge spontaneously.
10. Find Healing Resources in Your Book - Inherent in the synchronistic healing process will be the passages and pages that stand out in the book that you are altering. Feel free to block out passages of the book that you do not like, and choose to highlight, underline and otherwise emphasize the passages and words that feel healing and helpful to you. When our intention to heal old traumatic patterning is strong, everything pops in front of our consciousness to help us.
- A suitable book to alter
- White glue
- Matte acrylic medium
- Acrylic or latex paints
- Pencil crayons, pastels, markers, and pens to doodle with
- Collage materials, glue stick, scissors, pictures from used books and magazines.
An altered book is an artist-made book recycled and changed into something new in appearance, and meaning. An altered book, used in an art therapy context offers a long-term art-making process for healing. Altered books can be used to work through long standing emotional issues, to change unhelpful psychological patterns of belief, to find and cultivate a new strengths, or to process and accurately remember the past. Altered books can be joyfully made to help climb out of depressive cycles and to cultivate inspiration.
Literally and metaphorically, altered books can be closed when emotions or memories feel too intense, and opened and worked upon at a later time when the timing is right for healing. When working through long standing psychological patterns, altered books can sometimes be shelved and restarted weeks, months, and even years later. Altered books can express the "book of our life" illustrating the many facets of self, and integrating the fragments of mind and body back into the soul, one page at a time.
1. Choose a strong and durable book to alter. Hardcover books work the best, especially those with pages sewn rather than glued. If you are using an old book check the pages to see that they are strong enough to withstand layers of paint and glue. If the pages are thin, yellow and brittle they likely will not hold up under layers of paint and drawing. Children's board books can work well for altered books, but they take a good bit of preparation to lay the ground for your page spreads. Because the pages are glossy, they need to sanded and gessoed first.
Choose a book that inspires you, especially if you are planning to leave words peeking through your backgrounds and want to spontaneously underline passages. If you are planning to cover all of the pages up with paint it will not matter what kind of book you choose - as long as it is sturdy.
2. Cut out and remove some of the pages out of the book with an exacto knife, so that when your pages swell with paint and collage the book will fit into its cover without bulging. You can cut out pages later but it is better to intermittently cut out the pages before the painting and embellishing begins. Save some of your pages to collage back into your altered book later.
3. Glue pages together with white glues to form a stronger page base for your artwork. Depending on the thickness of your pages, you might glue together anywhere from 2-10 pages. Use a sponge brush to evenly coat your pages and seal them inside with white glue. Glue the front and back of your thicker page as well to "waterproof" and seal it for further painting and collaging later.
Altered books can also have pockets and niches to hold three dimensional objects of meaning. To create niches in your altered book - glue many pages together to create a thicker page and cut your niches with an exacto knife. Niches can be made into shrines for healing with sacred objects, stones, and items from nature to meditate on.
4. Prepare the background of your pages for further painting and altering. As you put wet mediums on your pages, they may wrinkle at first. Most wrinkles will flatten as your pages dry.
Some possibilities for preparing your pages:
- Clear Coat - your entire page with acrylic matte medium, white glue, or acrylic varnish and let dry. This allows the page to be partially covered with paint, or simply left unpainted and drawn on. With the words showing clearly - you can be guided by the words in your spread by underlining them, blocking some out, working around them ect.
- Glaze - mix acrylic paint with matte acrylic medium to create a colored, transparent background for your page.
- Metallic Paint - works well as a background, especially gold and copper.
- Gesso - black or white gesso can be used to coat the entire page, or partial pages. Alternately black, white, or colored acrylic paint can be an undercoat. Gel medium can be used for a textural background.
- Collage - you can prepare your background with collaged patterned paper, and then slightly obscure your collage items with paint.
5, Create Your Page Spread - Using both the right and left side of your page create one unified page "spread" and then begin spontaneously adding foreground elements to your background.
Some Possibilities for Creating Your Page Spread:
- Doodling - Start with a line drawing on top of the words on your page - allow your unconscious mind to influence your drawing.
- Underlining and Circling Words - Using different colored markers, pencil crayons and pens highlight, emphasize words and phrases that strike you as emotionally powerful.
- Add Magazine Collage - Intuitively choose magazine imagery to add to your page spread. Collage items can be glued on the front and back with white glue to make it waterproof so that you can alter - paint and draw over parts of your collage when the glue is dry.
- Black and White Photocopies - Patterns, vintage stock illustrations, music sheets, and nature and botanical woodcuts provide contrast, symbolism, and strength to your page
- Tissue Paper - Tissue Paper adds transparency, veiling, and obscuring certain elements of your page spread.
- Stenciling and Stamping - Ink stamping and acrylic paint pounced through stencils add dimension and texture.
6. Make Your Altered Book Cover - Altered book covers can be painted, collaged, covered in fabric. Old hardcover books often have carved covers that can be painted and further textured for patina. Book covers can be 3-D and embellished with beads, ribbons, buttons, old keys, lace, small toys, dried leaves and flowers, feathers, carved and painted air dried clay - the possibilities are endless.
- A dedicated Intention Journal
- Pen and assorted art supplies
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step," says a well known Chinese proverb. Nowhere is that statement more pertinent than in our urge to transform our consciousness. Despite grand schemes and noble ideas, transformation boils down to how we use the sixty-five thousand seconds that make up the average working day.
We know how difficult it is to break a habit that commits us to a negative pattern of behavior once it is acquired. What may not be so obvious is the ease with which how good habits also gain momentum and perpetuate themselves. The same habit forming consciousness that commits us to destructive behavior routines also allows us to cultivate constructive behaviors."
-F. Aster Barnwell
Setting Firm and Constant Intentions
The word intention in Latin means "to stretch towards". Forming intentions is a spiritual practice that helps us to clarify what qualities of being we are stretching towards, yearning for, and longing to grow into. We each have great freedom to use the power of our mind to choose our own thoughts, feelings, and growth directions. But most often we live in the ways we always have - even if they are not life-affirming because they seem to feel "natural", familiar, and safe.
We would permanently live in a higher, happier state if all parts of ourselves where aligned towards the same intentions. We each have many parts of self that have contrasting goals and ideas for our happiness. So intention setting also becomes a practice in healing all of our unconscious "counter-intentions".
Deliberately creating ourselves forward into more inspiring ways of being is to create something wholly new and fresh, and different from the past. The movement away from entrenched, self-defeating and repeating habits from the past requires determined practice to create new affirming mental and emotional habits. Anything is possible if we desire change deeply enough.
It is helpful to set your higher intention every day in a small dedicated journal to carry throughout your day. Repeating the same intention until we are fully living and embodying our desired change is the key to effective intention setting. Intending until it becomes a full reality takes time. For example, when we are finally willing to change a core life struggle into something new, it could take a year or more of daily repetition in order to richly embody the needed difference in our life.
Repeating a new intention over and over eventually overcomes any old and entrenched state. With daily devotion to change, anything becomes possible, but initially it requires great repetition, and a dedication to feel better mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Even though thoughts seem to come automatically each thought represents a choice. Carrying a small intention journal throughout the day, as well as reflecting on it morning and evening when your mind is the most receptive can help you remember, reflect upon, and "sculpt" the truer self that you are becoming. Most often desired change requires a passionate declaration and effort towards a new way of being that builds and intensifies over time instead of dissipates.
It seems to be the human path of least resistance to forget our higher intentions because the more fearful, hurting, and embedded aspects of our personality structure fight back, and insist on continuing with old ways of doing things whenever we effort to make a positive change. As a result our higher intentions seem to wane, become weaker over time, and often are forgotten completely.
Intensifying intentions involves forgetting, falling down, and determinedly getting back up, until our new patterns of thought, action, and feeling become an effortless and permanent part of our being. It is helpful to start a daily intention journal that can be illustrated with imagery, cues, and reminders for a daily intention practice to visually intensify the direction that you want and need to grow into.
Growing Forward Involves Loss
"What must I give more death to today, in order to generate more life? What do I know should die, but am hesitant to allow to do so? What must die in me in order for me to love? What
should die today? What should live? What life am I afraid to give birth to? If not now, when?" - Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes
As we move into new aspects of our being, we will experience a loss as we let go of old parts of self that no longer contribute to our well-being. Without knowing it, we most often maintain the state of being that won us love, attention and belonging in the past.
As fear and loss bubbles up when we effort grow into a new intentions, there might be a message we can hear underneath our resistance. If we were to be deeply honest, we might hear a fearful "younger" voice that says something like, "If I am strong, I will not be loved. If I am well, I might not get the attention I need. If I am successful, I might not be supported emotionally. If I express my uniqueness, I might not fit in."
The Disparity Between Beliefs and Intentions
When we attempt to up-level our life into a new life affirming way of being and thinking, fear arises. It feels shocking at first to deliberately interrupt limiting thoughts as they are so familiar and seem to be who we are. We can, however, at any time, interrupt the mental films that habitually run through our mind. We can practice reversing mechanical, negative thinking to see how it feels to be expansive. Interrupting negative thought does not have to feed the polarity between pessimism and optimism. It can open us up to a "third" option of possibility and a window into what it feels like to be expanded beyond our normal limits.
It is helpful to notice what fear does in our body and play with opposite feelings and try out new expansive thoughts. We can meditate on more life-affirming ideas than we normally entertain to see how they feel in our body. "I love myself when I am strong. I get the positive attention I need when I am healthy and well. I emotionally support myself to be successful. When I express my unique self, I find out where I truly fit in."
Wanting Implies Lack
Ironically when we say, "I want...to feel strong, happy, and successful" it implies the opposite "I don't feel strong, heathy or successful right now". It is often helpful to frame intentions by saying, "May I feel strong, happy and successful today." It is also a helpful practice throughout the day to contemplate, embody, and take action on how higher intentions become embodied in real life. For example, we can translate intentions into aligning posture, gestures, and our speaking voice to further the embodiment of what we are stretching towards.
The power of our imagination helps us to envision ourselves in higher and freer states so that we can emotionally align with them as we go through our practical life. To climb the ladder of affirming thought and feeling, we can practice becoming what we intend to be each day, no matter what our circumstances.
Our higher intentions hold a particular energy that we are either in alignment with on a regular basis - or not. Our higher intentions may only represent 10% of who we are on a daily basis. What we create in our mind always waits for us for our devoted emotional alignment with it. This is why we do not always manifest what we think about right away. Sometimes alignment with our higher visions can arrive in an instant if we are sustaining the emotional note it requires to manifest in our life. And sometimes it takes years for our emotional energy to align with what we have been thinking about.
Making Space for Intentions to Manifest
If we have habitual mental and emotional patterns that take up a great deal of "room" in our being, we can intend for things to change, while at the same time make no room for that change to occur. As we progress old ways of looking at life need to be examined and let go of. As we let go of old beliefs and unhelpful emotional habits, we create a space for new things to enter.
Sometimes this means doing the opposite of what we have always done, or thinking the opposite of what we have always thought so that we can - over time - create new life. Reminding ourselves, when we catch ourselves engaging in old self-defeating thoughts and emotions by trying to embodying the opposite is a creative and inspiring way to play with energy and power to create change.
Setting Goals and Intentions in your Journal
When you set emotional intentions in your journal, the aim is keep your attention on it until it is fully achieved, embodied, and integrated into your body, mind and spirit. This involves remembering to choose your forward intention in every moment. If you are forgetting your intention then pay attention to everything that blocks you with the aim to move heal and move through.
Goals and intentions for positive change give us energy and hope for a new way of living. Living into higher intentions to connect, to grow, to love, and to feel good helps us feel alive and excited about life.
How to Keep an Intention Journal
1. Set a new intention for the coming year. Usually you will know what growth step you have been habitually avoiding, and may feel some resistance to your higher intention at first.
2. Growth always implies effort that can feel uncomfortable and unfamiliar but growth always feels more pleasurable as you gather speed and motivation. Write down your intention to grow in a particular way in your journal in the morning, and spend some time envisioning how your day will unfold as you live into your intention.
3. Keep your attention on your intention as much as you possibly can throughout the day. Remember to choose your higher intention in al many moments as you possibly can.
4. As often as possible envision your intention as already accomplished in your life, Walk, talk and feel your intention as completed as you move through your day.
5. If you feel a strong emotional block to embodying your intention, focus on understanding and healing the block first instead of trying to "wallpaper" over top of it with positive intentions.
6. At the end of your day reflect on how much you focused on, and took action on your intention. Recommit to your intention before you fall asleep and carry it into your dream state.
As we deepen into our higher intentions to love more, feel better, and grow in life-affirming ways, our intentions eventually stop feeling like effort and work, and they grow into a deepened consecration for living. Over time, our cherished and nourishing daily devotions bring much needed light and love to life.
- Black paper
- White and colored pencils
- Oil pastels
When we are imbalanced emotionally, mentally, or physically, we are operating from more hidden, life negating emotional and mental patterns from the past.
Because it takes great effort to change from habitual, more constricted states of mind, body and feeling, it is helpful to set a firm intention to heal. Intending to heal draws forth the insights and resources needed to heal. Drawing patterns of light emerging from black paper in a mandala format offers a process of discovering the inherent patterns of light and wholeness that are trying to come through into your conscious awareness right now.
Drawing the healing light in whatever symbolic form it wants to take, as it emerges from the darkness of the unconscious mind, is as one way to discover how to heal emotional, mental, or physical imbalances.
Creating Newer, Healthier Patterns
We can approach the mandala making process as a way to activate the latent healing powers of our mind to generate symbols for healing. As we allow our inner symbols of healing to emerge from our unconscious mind into tangible form we strengthen our will to heal.
Through our personal symbols we will see that something good and true wants to unfold from within us. The inner symbol that we can see and create on the outside becomes more real to our conscious mind when we draw it in visual form. This outer vision of our inner vision helps to amplify our focus and intention in a healing direction.
Mandalas have long been a method of facilitating the healing of psychological fragmentation. Drawing in a sacred circle format helps to make the invisible world of intuition visible, and can help us express larger patterns of reality that we might not be able to see in any other way.
Drawing a mandala with a healing intention helps to reveal the unity between our human selves and the cosmos. It helps us to understand how our life is connected to the whole. Mandalas for healing can give form to intuitive insight and spiritual truths that we could not be able to see otherwise.
Blessing the Materials
In the tradition of creating healing art as inspired Mandala teacher Judith Cornell writes about in her book "Mandala - Luminous Symbols for Healing" all materials are blessed before beginning the drawing:
- Sit in an upright position with your spine straight and your feet flat on the floor.
- Hold two white pencils while resting that hand comfortably in your lap. Place your other hand palm down on a piece of black paper. If you wish, play soft, inspirational music in the background.
- Slowly take three deep breaths and on each out breath release all tension or negative thoughts from your mind and body. Gently quiet your body.
- Keeping your heart receptive close your eyes, and gently focus your attention between your eyebrows which is your spiritual eye .
- In your spiritual eye, imagine pure white light being radiantly present and full of blessing for and within you.
- Meditate on the blessing energy. Direct it down your neck and and into your heart, feeling warmth and love. Continue directing the light to all of the organs, cells, and atoms in your body.
- Imagine the light in your body increasing and becoming incandescent. Now visualize and move this sacred light back into your heart and open to unconditional love. See the love and light flowing from your heart through your arms, hands, and fingertips, blessing the pencils and paper you are holding.
Imagine this light impregnating and energizing all of the atoms of molecules of these materials. When you have finished proceed to the drawing exercise.
Accessing Your Healing Symbols
Judith Cornell developed the mandala method of drawing "light" onto black paper and I share how I work with her methods here:
- Create a safe, sacred workspace surrounded and protected by divine light.
- Ask with clear intention to receive the perfect healing symbol. Write your intention on a piece of paper.
- Bless the materials.
- Meditate on filling your body with divine light.
- Keep your attention focused on your third eye while meditating
- Refrain from a constructing a symbol intellectually - relax and allow it to arise spontaneously in meditation.
- Humbly accept the symbol that is revealed.
- Bring the symbol into your heart and infuse it with unconditional love and brilliant light.
- Trace a circle on black paper with a white pencil crayon.
- Bring your white pencil crayon to the paper and without thinking, allow your heart to flow through your hands and begin to spontaneously draw. Allow your symbol to change if it needs to as you draw. You might have an inkling of a visualization of your healing symbols before you start, but as you draw more will be revealed.
- Color can be added onto the white designs of your symbology. Oil and watercolor pastels (added dry) can imbue vibrant color onto your healing symbol.
Meditating on Your Healing Symbol
When we are not feeling well, we will have negative thought and emotional patterns creating our health. It is difficult at first to change emotional and mental set-points that has been conditioned into our psychology for most of our life.
Because our mind is often not strong, or even willing enough to change the course of emotional imbalance or dis-ease quickly, it is helpful to meditate on a personal healing symbol many times a day. It is also helpful during such times of learning to intuit into well-being to also seek conventional treatments, especially in the case of illness.
A truth to remember as you are striving to feel better emotionally, physically or mentally is that the better you are feeling, the more you are connected to Source energy. The worse you feel, the less you are allowing your connection to Source. Meditating on a healing mandala can help increase your connection to the Source of well-being that is larger than your personal capacity to heal.
- Journal page
- Paint and brushes
An Emotional Approach to Illness
There is an emotional component that accompanies every illness that can be listened to and learned from. In my work facilitating art for people who are near the end of life, I am often struck by the contrast between a mind that is at peace, and a body that is in pain. In my "life experience studies" I have seen that healing happens on levels of being we often cannot always conceive of.
The emotional struggles that we cannot work out consciously, will often try to work their way through the body in the form of illness. The emotional component of illness can be explored symbolically through spontaneous painting, by sensing into the body, and by meditating on direct questions in a journal writing process.
The purpose of this journaling prompt is to explore the spiritual idea that when we feel healed we become one with other people and with the wholeness of life. Transpersonally speaking, the separate self uses illness to express problems, and to identify itself as a separate self that suffers from emotional wounds that have not healed yet.
This is not to say that as we grow older we do not suffer physically. Indeed many of us have an "illness journey" as part of our life path, but what has astounded me most profoundly about working with the elderly, is that illness and death is not always as predictable as we think. Old age does not always imply a straight downhill decline. There is an emotional quality of life that can be uplifted at any age despite physical or cognitive limitations. We are not just our bodies that hurt and suffer.
Over the past 7 years of working intimately with hundreds of older adults in their eighties and nineties, I have witnessed that emotional and spiritual healing happens at any stage of life. I have seen physical, cognitive, and emotional "healings" with my own eyes several times. I have observed elderly people fall into deep depressions, have long bed-ridden illnesses and hospitalization, with the end of life seeming near. Then on several marked occasions I have been surprised to see those same people back in the art studio again, ready to create another period of their life.
I have been gifted to witness a few elderly people come back from the edge of frailty and death - sometimes several times with one person. I have witnessed elderly people in a long death direction, reverse it quite spontaneously and become robust, cheerful, and full of life again. When they come back to life, my direct sense is that they feel emotionally lighter. I see them laugh and smile more. They start to paint and weave again. They connect, join, and love more. They exclaim joy. And I always intuitively feel that something emotionally heavy inside has cleared away to make room for a fresh experience of life.
A Journal Meditation on Illness
- Begin your particular meditation by resting in stillness and listening within to the particular place within where your pain resides. And beyond any physical pain that you feel, you may find a place in your body that holds a particularly acute feeling of emotional pain.
- As you rest in the particularity of the emotional part in your body, it might have a story to tell you about why it feels apart from love in some way. Meditate into this particular "flavor" of not feeling loved and on not loving others. It might, for example, feel bitter, or lonely, or mistrustful, or angry.
Painting What is Separate from Love
When you have a feeling sense of what part of you feels separated away from love, you might feel inspired to intuitively paint this particular "feeling tone" in your art journal. What we become conscious of - we can heal - if not physically, then emotionally and spiritually.
If you decide to paint the pain of your particular feeling-tone of separateness, allow the pain of your separateness to move into your hand, into the brush, and onto your paper. As an image emerges, welcome it. Your painting might be elaborate, or simply be lines, colors or shapes that do not make sense at first. Allow your painting to be as simple or as complex as it needs to be.
Keeping your "Separateness" Company
When you are finished your painting, say hello to it, and sit with it for a while. Keep it company. Realize that this painting intentionally expresses a part of you that you regularly ignore. Perhaps it has a direct message. It might be saying something like, "Pay attention to me, I need love, I am angry, stop hurting me, or stop ignoring me."
Perhaps each of the colors or the symbols in your painting have words or questions. You can consciously dialogue with your symbology by asking it questions. You could write in your journal a series of questions that might look something like this: "Red: I feel anger streaking through my body and I do not know why. Circle: I want to open up to a higher way of thinking about my life. Why can't I find a way though this anger pattern? No Mouth: What are you trying to say?"
A Healing Story - A Meditation on Ego and Spirit
When I was meditating upon this prompt, I was struck with a spiritual story of spiritually healing the ego mind that medical doctor David Hawkins recounted in his book Power vs. Force which I will share with you here:
"One day a mute catatonic was brought into the hospital with a straight jacket. She had a severe neurological disorder and was unable to stand - she squirmed on the floor in spasms, and her eyes were rolling in the back of her head. Her hair was matted and she's torn all her clothes and could only utter guttural sounds. Her family was fairly wealthy; therefore, she'd been seen by innumerable physicians over the years, including famous specialists from all over the world. Every treatment has been tried on her and the medical profession had finally given up, calling her situation "hopeless."
I looked at her and asked nonverbally, "What do you want me to do with her, God?" I then realized that I was just to love her; that was all. Her inner self shone through her eyes, and I connected with that loving essence. In that second she was healed by her own recognition of who she really was; what happened to her mind or body did not matter to her any longer.
This, in essence, happened with countless patients. Some recovered in the eyes of the world and some did not, but whether or not a clinical recovery had occurred no longer mattered to the patients. Their inner agony was over; as they felt loved and at peace within, their pain stopped. The phenomenon can only be explained by saying that the compassion of the Presence recontextualized each patient's reality so that he or she experienced healing on a level that transcended the world of appearances. The inner peace in which I existed encompassed us both, beyond time and identity.
I saw that all pain and suffering arises solely from the ego, and not from God. This was a truth that I silently communicated to all of my patients. When I intuited this mental block in another mute catatonic who had not spoken in many years, I said to him, "You're blaming God for what your ego has done to you." He then jumped to his feet and began to talk, much to the shock of the nurse who witnessed the incident."
Meditating on Your Ego
Healing illness involves coming out of isolation in some way and moving towards joining with and loving other people, or joining with what you experience as your Higher Power. As we heal our illness we heal our mind that is separated away from love in some way.
This healing of mind and emotional struggle does not mean that we will not inevitably have to deal with the physical fallout of illness, old age, or disability. But it is possible feel deeply connected to love, whatever our health situation. Even in the midst of body pain we can find great presence, peace, love and appreciation of what is.
This expressive art prompt focuses on the power of the whole, healed mind and spirit, even as our body seems to betray us with emotionally embedded expressions of our human life story.
Some Questions for the Ego
And as you rest and gaze upon your painting notice what wants your recognition right now. Let your thoughts inform you of why you feel separate from life. Ask yourself the following questions from your Higher Self to your defended and separate ego, and answer them honestly in your journal:
- Am I afraid of life in some way? What am I afraid of?
- Who in my life do I dislike or feel separate from?
- Is there something that I feel that I need to complete, do, or become that my illness is keeping me from doing?
- Is my illness helping me in some way? Why?
- Is there something that I am avoiding, or some higher quality of being that I am afraid of growing into by being ill?
- Is there something I need to be responsible for or someone I need to accountable to in order to heal?
- Is there anyone or anything that I am trying to control through my illness?
- What "good things" do I "get" from my illness? What are the reasons that I do not want to heal?
- Who would I be if I was healed and whole?
You may not yet know or deeply understand the buried aspect of your mind that expresses itself by being sick, but send the "vagueness" love, ask for its messages, and rest in the sense of wholeness and healing that arrives from listening to yourself on a deeper level. Rest in your meditation before you close your journal, and write down anything that floats into your mind. Allow yourself to rest on the edge of what you do not know instead of what you think you know about your illness. Allow new information to come in.
Asking for a Healing Idea
As you rest in stillness, just before closing your jounaling session, allow healing thoughts to float up from your unconscious mind for a time, and ask your higher mind, "What is the next step of my healing?" The answer might feel obvious or surprising. It might be a simple word, like "rest, stop, love, or relax". Healing steps arrive into our conscious awareness one at a time. Healing is most often a slow and gentle intuitive process.
Once a healing idea comes into your mind, you may try sending that same healing idea out to everyone to amplify your experience of it. You can send your healing idea out into the world with a general inner gesture of "may you all be well". Or you may pick a particular person to send it to. "May you be well." This magnanimous gesture opens up the frame of compassion for yourself and other people. You may even sense that certain individuals are being placed in your mind to send healing to, perhaps even total strangers who suffer in similar ways to you.
As you do your step-by-step healing work you might want to focus in a healing idea from A Course in Miracles: "When I am healed I am not healed alone. And I bless everyone, I am healed with them, as they are healed with me."
Meditating on Your Healed Self
As an additional entry in your journal, you can take time to sense into who you really are, beneath all of your defenses, your fears, and your buried hurt and anger. Create a collage that touches into the feeling tone of who you are as your most healed and whole self. Create a collage that is comprised of words and imagery that feels representative of your Essence Self - your larger True Self behind the smaller, more withdrawn and ill self that you present to the world.
- Felt pens in various colors
When our emotional and mental energy is flowing freely in an integrated direction, good health builds and self-understanding increases. Most people believe that disease is due to outer factors, but when our mind and emotions remain agitated, upset and irritated, often over years of time, we are more likely to get physically ill.
Developing intuition about what our bodies authentically need, emotionally, physically, and mentally, greatly contributes to good health. To enhance health holistically, it is necessary to be in connection with the deeper self, or soul, as well as all parts of our mind, body, and emotional patterning, When in our entirety, we are willing to move in a healing direction, a process of loving what was lost and disenfranchised in the past can begin.
Dialoguing with both hands, over time, deepens our understanding of the thought and emotional systems of younger parts of self which are influencing our direction away from good health. Often younger parts of self will protest to a lifetime of overriding the feelings that we could not bear to integrate in childhood through illness and bodily discomfort. This need not be overt abuse or trauma, but involves an essential way that we did not feel loved when we were younger.
Art therapist Lucia Capacchione offers helpful and wise guidance in her book the "Power of Your Other Hand", in an exercise called "Body Talk". I will share my adaptions, recommendations, and contemplative perspectives with you here:
Listening to your Body
1. Sit quietly and focus inward. Get in touch with a body part that is painful or diseased. It is helpful to move into your heart-filled compassion with your dominant hand as you ask your distressed parts of self to express honestly.
2. Draw an outline of your entire body in your journal. Using color draw in the body part or the disease. If you do not know how to realistically draw your discomfort, use your intuition or make something up spontaneously with your imagination. In your drawing, color your painful or diseased part. If your pain has a burning feeling, for example, use a hot color like red or orange to express it. If there is a lump or a distortion in your body, include that in your drawing.
3. Interview your body part or disease by writing your questions with your dominant hand. Move into a compassionate place as your curious questions flow through your dominant hand and onto the paper. Let the painful body part or the disease write the answers in your non-dominant hand. Use two different colors, one for each hand.
Ask the following questions in your journal:
a. Who are you or What are you?
b. How do you feel?
c. What caused you to feel this way?
d. How can I help you? What do you want me to do for you?
Paying Attention to "Younger" Emotional Needs
We can ask our younger parts of self any question we want to know. The questions above are a starting point. It is possible to fill an entire journal of dialogue between our loving, witnessing
self, and the younger, fearful, ignored, or traumatized selves that keep us feeling ill.
Often our conscious mind over-rides the more submerged parts of our mind that are calling out for love and attention. Illness can be seen as a call for help and understanding from a younger part of ourself towards our adult, witnessing consciousness. The compassionate witness, in this exercise, is expressed by our dominant hand. Our non-dominant hand will need to ask for help in some way that it likely was not allowed to as a child.
Often younger parts of self remain emotionally arrested and upset if we continuously do not pay attention to their messages. As we mature through life they embed can express themselves in our body through illness, pain, and discomfort. Our younger thought and emotional systems will often express through body discomfort, and they often have an immature and unrealistic plan for our happiness that no longer works in our mature adult life.
Healing Rebel Parts of Self
Moving into the holistic health of an integrated psyche and soul requires that all parts of our body, mind, and feeling system want to heal. Fully participating life energy is especially needed in the healing of serious or chronic illness. Some parts of our younger self may be in so much emotional pain that they, without our realizing it, unconsciously have us pointed in a withdrawal pattern or a death direction, to help us ultimately "get rid" of the pain that we fear being present for.
Parts of self that do not want to move into the light of a conscious and integrated life direction hold tremendous amounts of emotional pain that our illness is likely expressing quite metaphorically and exactly in the body in location, scope, and intensity.
To move through to the other side, these pockets of pain need to be faced, felt, and integrated with conscious, mature, and intensely loving presence. Otherwise, however we felt unloved, unseen, or unheard in the past may continue to express itself through illness, until we learn how to specifically give ourselves the love, understanding, and attention that seemed to be missing as children.
Parts that feel hurt in ways that we do not want to admit to in our adult selves can rebelliously and angrily turn away from integration and love. It can feel uncomfortable to admit that some, more fearful and vulnerable parts of ourselves may want to be ill.
Younger parts of self that fear the more overwhelming requirements of emotional growth will often keep us ill, withdrawn, and "young" inside. So even as we consciously want to move towards, light, meaning, and purpose, some parts of self may stubbornly resist moving into a change that is required for growth.
It is helpful to understand that our body is a profound messaging system, that when dialogued with, will tell us everything we need to know to learn how to accept and feel the love what has never felt before. It is possible to understand what ails us on a body, metaphorical, and emotional level so that all of our life energy can consolidate in a healing direction.
For a further exploration of your body's messages of illness, you might also like to try starting a Body Focusing journal.
- Journal and pen
Psychologist Stephen Wolinsky describes how we arrive into adulthood carrying varying amounts of post-hypnotic baggage that determines the negative core beliefs that form our life experiences.
"A developing child is deluged with hundreds of post-hypnotic suggestions that form the filters that we see the world though, delivered by well-meaning, as well as abusive parents. Not all of these are internalized."
In many ways we arrive into adulthood mystified and hypnotized by what we chose to believe about what our parents taught us when we were little.
Wolinsky offers the factors that determine our negative conditioned core beliefs which I have interpreted as follows. Note that is can be just as difficult to be overpraised, as being negatively reflected. In both situations we can remain hypnotized within an outer-imposed habitual emotional and mental structure that can be difficult to let go of.
1. A negative experience once resisted, persists until we are willing to "experience" the experience.
In essence, all of the negative voices that plague us are resisted experiences. Negative core beliefs gain their foothold through our resistance of them. When we internalize negative suggestions or interpret events negatively as children, we spend our life energy constantly working against them. It can be helpful to simply write out your negative core beliefs in your journal, over and over, until they no longer trigger a reaction. When negative beliefs begin to feel neutral - as they seem run all by themselves at the beginning of the healing process - it is possible to notice self-judgement without reaction.
2. A positive experience consistently followed with overpraising becomes an obsessive part of our belief system.
Few of us think of approval as driving our behaviours inauthentically, but repetitively seeking the approval that we have won in the past can become obsessive and all-consuming. We can seek to change ourselves to win love, and never know who we are and what we want. We can spend our life energy, for example, trying to be good, beautiful, or helpful in order to gain the approval we crave. It is healing, if you feel dependent on outer praise and validation to write out what you need to be praised for, over and over again, until the emotional charge of neediness for outer validation dissipates.
The Trance of Core Beliefs
While we think of our negative core beliefs as words, they also hold the perceived energy of experience through our personal view of reality when we were children. If our parent was introverted and withdrawn, for example, they many not have communicated anything verbally abusive, but in our young mind, we may have adopted a world view of feeling unimportant. In this case, if we see through the world view of feeling unimportant, we would be in an "I am not important" trance, sometimes all through adulthood, and well into old age.
If we can recall our childhood, we did not take everything that people said to heart. We knew in some part of ourselves that some things we were told were wrong, and we did not carry them forward. The baggage that we bring into adulthood is actually a self-led creative process of carrying forward a set of belief, emotional, and body patterns that involve continuous choice-making in order to maintain. At the root of these continuous defended choices are the grieving, angry, emotional parts of self that need attention and understanding.
Our self-perpetuated patterns do not run themselves. In resistance to our own inner pain, we subconsciously collude with our past experiences, and recreate them in our body and mind, over and over again. We in truth, are not a victim of our past circumstances at all. We are the "re-creators" of them!
Our emotional reactions seem automatic, but they are actually a complex and subtly continuous series of self-made contractions in our body and mind. With deeper awareness, and the initial willingness to accept and feel intensely held-in emotional pain, we can start to see that we are free to create, or uncreate our conditioned responses at any point in our life. We just have to be determined and willing to do so.
You can ask yourself in your journal:
1.) What am I doing to recreate the original experiences in my childhood/teen years well into my adult life? It is helpful to know your emotional, mental, and physical patterning so intimately that you can actually see yourself doing it in your minds eye. As you describe it in your journal start to see yourself creating your conditioned state. Write about how you do it - play by play.
2.) What am I consistently believing about myself to lock this pattern in place? As you write our your beliefs in your journal. Say them out loud and watch what they do inside of your body. Experiment with saying out loud, the opposite of your conditioned beliefs. For example, change the belief of, "I don't believe in love" into "I believe in love" and see how each belief feels in your body.
3.) How do I recreate this negative emotional pattern in my body? Do I cringe, tighten my muscles, distract my thinking ect.? As you record the specifics about how you habitually close yourself down, practice exaggerating the closing gesture. If you were to sculpt your belief system, how would you shape your body? Practice contrasting your closed conditioned state, with the opposite gesture of opening up your body physically. See how it feels to play with, and control your energy in this way.
4.) What is the hypnotic suggestion inherent in my self-negating behaviors? It is helpful to pick a problem area of your life, and write out how you put yourself into a trance of low self-esteem, or fear and anxiety, or any negative feeling that is plaguing you. What do your tell yourself over and over again - many times a day - about other people, life, relationships, work, and about love? Start to doubt what you say to yourself. Watch how your body changes its posture when you are in your belief system. Ask yourself, "Is this true?" Begin writing out how exactly, you put yourself into the "trance" that repeats what you learned and believed when you were young.
5.) If your were overpraised ask yourself, "What are the "have to's" and "shoulds" in my life that I put pressure on myself to live up to?" Write out what you "have to do" to be loved. It is helpful to create a collage of how you were "praised into" being someone that you are not. Collage a picture of who you were expected to be. Write out your lists of "shoulds" and catch yourself as you act them out in your daily life. Feel the pressure and the forcing in your body. Experiment with relaxing your efforts to impress others and see how that feels.
6.) What is the root of the original pain that I am avoiding? Finally, in our journal, we can sink deep within our body, and seek to know what emotional loss we are avoiding. Some emotionally devastating disappointment or loss from the past must be felt and come to terms with so that we can stop creating our negative emotional reactions. Wherever we did not get our emotional needs met as a child must be grieved, and its stored energy pattern in our body must be released and completed. This stored and undigested loss, is in essence what we structure our entire defended psychology around trying not to feel. Once the root loss is grieved, we are freer to be true selves and make fresh choices.
Intervening on Conditioned Patterns
Many of us live in our conditioning most of the time, and only experience small windows into our authentic self. This seems to make our limiting emotional patterns seem stronger, and more real than they actually are. But as soon as we start to perceive how we habitually close down to our authentic life energy, we will come to understand that we are larger than our patterns. As soon as we stand back and disidentify with the conditioning that keeps us limited, we can begin to disassemble the emotional, mental and physical structures that hold us back.
Whatever has been created "on top" of our essence self can be taken off again. As we learn more about what we do to close our emotional mental and bodily structure down, and stop doing it, we will move through all of the layers of emotional pain that we are afraid to feel from the past. Each layer of emotional pain felt and released - without our negative belief systems continually feeding into them - releases some of the stored energy of grief that we have been avoiding all of our life. We can grieve where we were not nurtured, loved, honored, or respected in the past. When we grieve the old losses from the past, a piece of our heart opens up again. After we grieve, we can find a way give ourselves what we have been needing, so that we can remember who we really are.
- Journal and a pen
"Ambiguity has a destabilizing effect.
Very few have the courage or the strength to hold the tension between opposites until a completely new standpoint emerges.
This is because in acknowledging contradictory truths, one has to create an inner equilibrium to keep from being torn in two."
- Aldo Corotenuto
Because our psyche functions in pairs of opposites, it is no surprise that we tend to get caught in inner conflict and polarization much of the time. Mixed feelings can be exhausting. When we are struggling with an inner conflict, we cannot move forward because both sides can have strong viewpoints that do not want to waver.
The purpose of not picking sides during an inner conflict is to see what new creative solutions arise by sitting in the middle and listening to both sides equally. This writing/speaking/storytelling exercise offers a way to hold opposing parts of your consciousness in your awareness at the same time, to see what new options arise.
In Focusing psychotherapy, teachers Ann Weiser Cornell and Barbara McGavin, authors of the excellent book "The Radical Acceptance of Everything" call staying in the middle of opposite feelings, "Standing In". I have applied their methods of standing in the middle of opposing parts - to a speaking and writing exercise - to help you see what emerges. I detail the teachings as I apply them to expressive art therapy here:
Finding the Different Stories in our Body
"Whenever you mentally oppose what is, you’re going to experience sadness and apparent separation." - Byron Katie
It is self-honoring to witness all of the personal stories that we store within our body/mind. Each story has a particular place that it lives inside of our body, and when it is active we can feel it - usually through discomfort, pain, or illness. When we find where the opposing parts of ourselves exist in our body, we can begin the process of sitting in the middle of inner conflict, listening to both sides, and writing or speaking the opposing stories out loud.
Usually we choose sides between feelings like fear and excitement, and become identified with only one side of the story. When we are only aware of fear, for example, our whole self feels afraid. Fear is everywhere in our body. In Focusing Psychotherapy terms, we no longer keep the opposite feeling of excitement "company" with our awareness. We have disowned excitement and have fallen into fear. We are all fear
When we are all fear, we do not keep our fear company either. Cornell and McGavin write, "There is no inner "I" who can say hello to the fear and ask it to tell more about itself. The universe of me is fear."
Waiting in the Middle for Inspiration
When we feel overtaken by one side of an inner conflict we can admit instead, "A big part of me is afraid!" At this point we can exaggerate the fear through bodily movement, gesture and spoken words so that we can witness it. As soon as we admit that we are in a part of self, this allows room for the opposite part to be expressed. We can gesturally exaggerate our excitement at this point to become more aware of it. We can say as our witness self, "I am going to let the fear and the excitement both be here."
We hold the two opposing feelings in our body - staying present with both parts at the same time. In a sense when we are in the middle, there is no problem or conflict. Something new and creative waits in potential to be born within the center point. When we "stand" in the middle of inner conflict, we stay still, right in the center of opposing feelings to see if something new will be revealed. Only after we spend time being present for our ambiguity do we open up to a "third" possibility that we likely have not considered before.
If, for example we have a part of self that is excited about moving forward, and a part of self that is afraid to move ahead, we can give inner breathing room to both parts, allowing each to share their own point of view. Expressively, we can touch each part of our body where each particular story lives - even giving it a characteristic body gesture, such as cringing, moving forward, passivity or exuberance.
As we embody and experiment with each opposite gesture of our inner conflict, we can be gently touching each body part separately with our hands as well as with our awareness. Once we feel gesturally clear, we can then move our attention and our hands to the mid-point on our body, to see what emerges.
Standing In the Middle
In Focusing psychotherapy the "Inner Relationship" has three modes that explain inner conflict:
1.) Identification - expressed as, "I am..."
2.) Dissociation - expressed as, "I am not..."
3.) Disidentification and Association - expressed neither as, "I am afraid" or "I am not afraid". Instead we would say, "Part of me is afraid," or "Something in me is excited."
Usually we have no awareness about why we are stuck. When we want to understand why we are stuck we can follow the four moves of "standing" in the midst of inner conflict.
The Four Moves of Standing in the Middle:
1.) Becoming Aware that Two Parts Need Company - The identified-disassociated place is our "normal". If we are stuck, there is always a part of ourselves that is disassociated, and another part that we feel is "all" of who we are. Fear is powerful and often over-rides subtler, higher feelings. The part that fears moving forward often feels like it is all of who we are. Touching each part of our body where our conflict resides deepens the process of honoring the two parts.
2.) Saying Hello to Both Parts - "There is a part of me that is excited about moving forward, and a part of me that is afraid. Both are here with me. I'm saying hello to each one." As we say hello, we can recognize and touch each corresponding part of our body in a nurturing way.
3.) Allow Both Parts Without Pushing for Resolution - We can patiently wait for fresh inspiration. We usually want our inner struggle to be over, rather than to sit in the inner fire of waiting for a possible inner transformation. In the middle of a long-standing inner conflict, we can trust that with enough presence we can find the creative center point - the point where neither side is wholly "right".
When we are silently immersed in the creativity and discomfort of "not knowing", we can touch the "middle point" on our body that is physically between the two parts of our inner conflict. As we hold this physical midpoint on our body we may receive deeper insights and impressions.
When we recognize our two conflicting parts we can sit in presence without pushing for a premature resolution. We can remain undecided. In this spontaneous place we can allow whatever poetry or story of the moment to be spoken or written. We can explore the opposite body location and the gestures that emanate from each story that need to be expressed. We can alternate between the two sides - allowing each one to form a kind of dance of polarities.
4.) Sensing Into Each Part With Compassion and Empathy - Finally after "sitting in the fire" of the middle without resolution we can sense into each part of our conflict, and let it reveal more of its point of view - without taking sides and without arguing or agreeing. Argument and agreement indicate identification. As we journal or speak each point of view, we allow each side to enrich and inform the "whole problem".
When we listen to all of what is there - within an inner conflict, a way that will be revealed that does not come from our logical mind. When we carry forward from sitting in the middle of opposites, neither side needs to be compromised. There can be an inner consensus that feels absolutely right to all parts of the self. As we come to a new way, we can speak our new resolution out loud, perhaps many times during the day, to solidify the way forward.
"Standing It brings with it a special kind of grace,as we feel the gratitude of all the parts being heard without being pushed, and we allow for a larger place that honors and includes all parts without denying any."
- Ann Wieser Cornell and Barbara McGavin
- Journal and a pen
- A timer or a clock
This is a meditative writing exercise to help bring you into the present moment when you are experiencing intense emotional pain. Our life perspective shrinks and energy starts to drain when we get caught in the closed circuit of negative thought and emotion.
This journal method offers a way to unify energy instead of dissipating life force into emotional overwhelm. I owe the inspiration to this writing exercise - as it applies to self-therapy - to Richard Moss MD, who has developed many methods of opening up the emotional field during a health crisis. I recommend his book "How Shall I Live?" for more information. I share my use and interpretation of his methods for stream of consciousness writing below:
Heavy Emotions Shrink Awareness
When we are overwhelmed with a personal crisis or emotional pain we tend to close into our ourselves into extreme self-focus. Our world becomes very small. In emotional overwhelm we cannot vision our possibilities very far beyond the perimeter of our own body. We tend to collapse our awareness around whatever feels difficult.
We shut down our present moment awareness when we are in emotional pain. We become self-absorbed and unaware of our surrounding. When we struggle emotionally we become dominated by the lower energies of consciousness such as fear, anger, hopelessness, and despair.
We can raise our energy beyond emotional overwhelm by becoming intensely present to the moment. We gain strength and authority of our internal world by interrupting the "belly mind". The closed circle between thought and emotion cycles between the negative thoughts that generate negative emotions - and the negative emotions that generate negative thoughts. A thought can never fully explain or understand the rich complexity of emotion. Thought substantiates and locks an emotion in place. Emotion needs to be experienced sensation by sensation.
The Practice of Opening up the Emotional Field
When we practice stream of consciousness writing, our present moment awareness can expand our contracted emotional field. We can gather the strength that is only available through present moment attention to bodily sensation. We can do this writing exercise to give our tumultuous emotions and mental states a break.
This form of stream of consciousness writing does not involve writing any thoughts down. We can unify our being by attuning to the moment-to-moment sensations in our body. This exercise teaches us to commit to the moment by recognizing all of the sensations that are happening both within and without - beyond our thinking and feeling states. It helps to open up the closed state that emotional overwhelm creates.
The Stream of Consciousness Writing Process
- Set your writing time for 30 minutes. If you are going thought an intensely difficult time you can repeat the cycle of this exercise morning and evening. It takes about an hour and a half. To process intensely challenging emotions this exercise involves a 30 minute writing session, a 15 minute walk, another 30 minute writing session, and another 15 minute walk.
- Begin by meditatively noting and writing simple descriptions of anything you are sensing within and without in this moment, to give yourself a break from intense feeling. Sensing means detailing what you sense in your body as it arises, and noticing what is happening around you, such as what you are seeing, hearing, smelling, and tasting. Write what you notice, as it happens, without stopping in your journal for 30 minutes.
- It is important to not censor what you write. If it comes up in your awareness, write it down. You do not have to be tedious about it. You can abbreviate. Move randomly from one sensation to another. Richard Moss offers this example, "Fingers curled, wind, shadow moving, weight on buttocks, shoulder tight, jaw clenched, eyes softening, itchy nose, warmth in belly, mouth dry, dog barking, hesitation..."
- Do not analyze. The aim is to notice the flow of awareness but not interfere with it. It is essential to keep writing and to not interpret or explain.
- When you are finished note how you are feeling. Is there a change in your quality of awareness? There may be a centering in a more peaceful space of consciousness. There may be be a deeper connection to your body. When we break the link-up between the "belly mind" cycle we most often feel freer.
- After you sit quietly and reflect for several moments get up and go for a walk. Walk briskly for about 15 minutes and then return to your journal. Set the timer and begin the stream of consciousness writing again for 30 minutes. When the thirty minutes are up, for another 15 minute walk. Alternately you can meditate on music for 15 between writing sessions.
"We are reminded that our strongest condition is one of unity within. To find unity we must enter dimension that transcends thought and emotion. This dimension is one of energy or presence that is available to all of us when we are centered in ourselves and fully present. Now." - Richard Moss
- A dedicated shadow journal
- Pens, pastels, pencil crayons
We can get very busy avoiding whatever we cannot bear to feel. We tend to tighten our muscles and breathe more shallowly. We can turn to addictions, distractions, and numbing activities to avoid what is trying to get our attention. We treat what is uncomfortable within as the enemy to be kept at bay at all costs, but what if we befriended our shadow parts of self?
If we were to engage and communicate with our most frightening aspects of self we would find that our inner demons need love, attention, and acceptance. When we give our denied aspects what we need, they change into allies, gifts, and strengths.
Whatever is most unwelcome in our consciousness - whether it be shame, anger, prejudice, hidden urges or instincts can be accessed in a friendly, creative way through the Buddhist practice of "Feeding your Demons" as detailed in the excellent book of the same name by Tsultrim Allione. Many of us do not want to admit that we struggle silently with our inner demons. Our demons are any negative, thought, belief system, or emotion that we fear looking at.
We can learn to be a nurturer to our shadow parts of self. Our inner demons are any part of our psyche that hinders the realization of our essence Self. When we personify and give our inner demons form, we give voice to the parts of ourselves that attack and persecute us. We discover what our denied aspects really need. We can look for the emotional needs below our desires, obsessions, distractions, and cravings to find the root of what disturbs us.
We can choose not fight or indulge our inner demons, or we can meet them head on with compassion and creative interest. Instead of trying to get away from our most discomforting feelings, we can explore a relationship with them. Below is a close approximation to the Buddhist practice by Tsultrim Allione as I have understood it and used in my own practice:
The Five Steps to Feeding Your Demons - Nourishing Your Disowned Parts
1. Prepare your dedicated demon/shadow journal and all of your art supplies. To go within, close your eyes and keep them closed through as much of this process as possible to attune to your inner state. You will need to open your eyes to journal and draw, but other than that, stay within.
Take nine relaxing breaths:
For the first three breaths travel through your physical body and breathe into the area of physical tension that is most acute. Release this tension with your out-breaths.
For the second three breaths, breathe into your emotional tension, and release your tension on your out-breaths.
For the final three breaths, breathe into your mental tension, and release your tension on your out-breaths.
Dedicate your nurturing process for the benefit of yourself and all people.
Step 1: Find the Demon in Your Body
Each aspect of our shadow resides in a particular place of tension in our body. Each "inner demon" becomes more twisted away from life and love - the longer it is supressed. Become aware of the specific sensory qualities of the tension in your body and journal your questions and answers:
Description of Body Tension:
- What color is it?
- What shape does it have?
- Does it have a texture?
- What is its temperature?
- If it emitted a sound what would it be?
- If it had a smell what would it be?
Step 2: Personify the Demon and Ask it What it Needs
In this step we invite our inner demon to take form into a living entity that is sitting right in front of us. Because our shadow parts of self are so hidden, they are often difficult to identify and talk to. Encourage your body sensations to appear before you, personified in some way.
Do not try to control how your inner aspect appears. Let your unconscious mind produce the image. Work with whatever comes up without censoring. It is helpful if your inner demon has a face, eyes and appendages so that you can communicate with it expressively. You can ask, "How would you look if you were an animate being?"
You can record the following details intuitively in your journal. To solidfy your impression of your demon, you can also make a drawing of it:
- What size is it?
- Does it have arms and legs. If so what are they like?
- What color is it?
- What is the surface of its body like?
- Does the demon have an age?
- Does it have a gender?
- What is its emotional state?
- How do I feel looking at it?
Make eye contact and notice the expression in its eyes. Feel the nature of your connection. If your mind interrupts your felt connection, your demon might change with your thinking. Stick with your original spontaneous image.
Asking Your Demon What it Needs
The second part of this step involves asking your inner demon a set of three questions that will help you understand what it emotionally needs. As soon as you ask the questions, change places with the demon and answer the questions in "first person" as the embodiment of your demon.
Write in Your Journal:
- What do you want from me?
- What do you need from me?
- How will you feel if you get what you need?
Step 3: Become your Inner Demon
With your eyes closed step inside of your demon's body and take a deep breath. Imagine yourself walking in your demon's shoes. Often we think we might know what our demon is feeling but when we embody it, it feels distinctly different. We will likely be surprised at the level of empathy we feel when we step inside the thinking and feeling process of what has been hidden and denied.
Answer in Your Journal
- What I want from you is...
- What I need from you is...
- When this need is met, I will feel...
It is important to note that what your inner demon wants - for example: to suck up your energy, to control you, to make you pursue your addictions - will be vastly different from what is needs. The emotional need is hidden below the wants and desires. If your demon wants alcohol for instance, the need underneath the addiction might be for relaxation. The core feeling that the inner demon will feel after its need is met, is what you will feed and nourish it. This will heal the root cause of your emotional distress.
Step 4: Nourish the Demon and Meet Your Ally
Feeding Your Demon
Settle into your own body again. Close your eyes and see your demon in front of you. In the Buddhist tradition, the directions are to remove your awareness from your body so as to transform your body in a nectar that will nourish your shadow part of self. In the traditional meditation you can turn your whole body into liquid, gas, nectar, steam or smoke. The demon can drink, bathe in, or inhale the nurturing substance. This nectar is the emotional essence of what the demon has expressed it will feel when it gets what it needs. If your demon has expressed it will feel powerful, loved, or accepted when it gets what it needs, feed it the creative essence of power, love or acceptance.
In my experience of the process, I alternatively send the needed emotional nourishment directly to the particular place of tension in my body. I let the tension in my body drink in the nourishment it needs for as a long as it wants it. If it is a long denied aspect of self, it may need longer or more frequent periods of nourishment until it calms down enough to integrate into our conscious psychology.
Meeting Your Ally
After you feed and nourish your disowned inner demon and give it the emotional need that it craves, it tends to lose its scary, twisted, gargoyle qualities. When anything in our consciousness feels loved, accepted, and nourished, it changes, and its negative destructive energies become a positive, needed, constructive force in our life.
A satisfied inner demon may turn into a benevolent figure, and animal, a bird, a god or goddess, a child or a familiar person. If you feel inspired, draw your ally alongside your questions and answers in your journal. If your inner demon softens and morphs into something different after you nourish it with the love it needs, ask it the following questions in your journal:
- How will you help me?
- How will you protect me?
- What pledge or commitment do you make to me?
- How can I gain access to you?
Then change places to embody your ally fully and then answer the questions as specifically as possible:
- I will help you by...
- I will protect you by...
- I pledge I will...
- You can access to me by...
Once your ally has articulated how it will serve and protect you, and how you can summon it, return back to your own body. Imagine you are receiving the help and commitment that your ally has promised. Take in this supportive energy deeply and allow yourself to bask in the warmth of feeling taken care of. And finally imagine your ally becoming a part of you - integrating with you. The more intense and difficult your inner demon is, the more powerfully supportive your ally will be.
Step 5: Rest in Awareness
After you do your inner work, notice the profoundly relaxed feeling that arises when you are no longer struggling with inner conflict. After an inner disowned aspect of your shadow has been nourished and fed it will no longer clamour for your attention. Relax and rest in stillness and presence that you have created through your inner work. Enjoy the freedom state and natural well-being that is your essence Self.
- Old magazines, scissors, glue stick
- Pen and Journal
Clearing Emotional Burdens to Make Way for a New Life
"We are not unified. We often feel that we are, because we do not have many bodies and many limbs, and because one hand does not fight with the other. But, metaphorically that is exactly what does happen within us. Several sub-personalities are continually scuffing with each other; impulses, desires, principles, aspirations are engaged in an unceasing struggle."
- Susan Bello
We all have fears about moving out of our "safety" zone and into new growth. Sometimes we need to let go of an old emotional need, or an old dream for our life, to allow something new
in. Our entire psychology is built on defending away from emotional pain. So it could be said that our fundamental core conflict is to whether or not we will choose to feel what is difficult
within and transform it into new strengths. We each have some parts of our psyche that hold onto the emotional hurt of the past.
The root of inner conflict are emotional burdens that we cannot bear to feel, and the losses we fear we will incur if we grow. Our core conflict in life is whether we will stay in the emotional conditioning of our past, or move forward into who we are meant to become. If we could be wholly present, and willing to face and witness the anger, fear, and grief that exists in our body, we would recognize that growth always means a facing a loss and starting again. If we were willing to turn towards the loss we feel we cannot withstand we could choose to begin the unburdening process, layer by layer. We would be able let the truth of life move through us more freely.
When we do not live into the required lessons of our growing pains, and stay fearful, we lose our connection to our authentic Self. Life and our relationships requires that we grow. But some parts of ourselves may fear that we will not be loved in some way if we move forward. Most often they are the long ignored parts of ourselves that we have been unwilling to give attention to for most of our life.
When we choose not to address our deeper fears of the loss of love, belonging and safety, we become less of ourselves. We will dissociate away what we are here to contribute, and we lose touch with reality, intimacy, and our creativity. When we grow, we have to unburden the younger more fearful parts of self that cannot take the journey with us as they are - by acknowledging them, listening to their feelings, and assigning them a new role in our journey towards actualization.
The Pull Between Holding Back and Moving Forward
Most of us spend a good portion of our days polarized in inner conflict between parts of our psyche that wants different things - often in extreme ways. For example, one part wants to grow. One part wants to stay the same. One part wants to eat a lot. One part wants to be scrupulously healthy. One part wants to be passionate. One part wants to be conservative. It is helpful to collage the conflicting parts of self, and to journal about what each side needs and wants so that you can become more conscious when your habitual inner conflicts arise in your body and mind.
At the root of all conflicts is the desire to grow forward into who we are meant to be, and the need to avoid extreme feelings of loss and the potential for rejection similar to the past. Our hurting parts of self have an intense need to belong, and to feel love and safety. Often we will not grow forward for years - if we perceive we will not be loved in our authentic truths. Our younger and rejected parts of self will simply not let us progress if we do not address their feelings.
Every place where we do not move forward into our truth creates a place of binding in our body that diminishes our ability to breathe, move, and express freely. Every time we hold ourselves back, we limit our spontaneity, authenticity and creativity. Because we must move forward as a whole, we can choose to spend time learning about what parts of ourselves want to stay the same, and why they are hurting so much.
Unburdening the Past
When we are trying to grow in a passionate and purposeful way, old grief and fears arise as a feeling of inner conflict. We all have protective managerial parts of self that help us navigate our life. Our emotional managers exert tremendous control over our psychology so that difficult feelings do not flood into our functionality. We have parts of self that armor us against the possibility of being hurt in similar ways to the past. Unfortunately, these closed off and protected areas numb us, keep us isolated, and affect our relationships and creativity. The need for change brings up the core conflict between our conditioned psyche and our spontaneous soul.
Richard Schwartz, creator of Inner Family Systems Therapy writes, "Child-like parts of self are often stuck when the person was scared, rejected, humiliated, abandoned, or traumatized, or experienced a loss. That part feels as if it lives in that time period, which accounts for the fact that no matter how much attention it receives from the Self or from external people, it remains extreme. Only after such a part can be retrieved from the past and can be nurtured in the present, can it let go of its extreme feelings or beliefs."
Releasing Burdens from the Body Expressively
The easiest and fastest way to discover and release the burdens we carry - that keep us frozen in the past - is to see where we feel dense, sore, numb, constricted or pained in our body. To clear the bodily accumulation of past hurt involves understanding that our extreme feelings and feelings from the past are not a part of our authentic Self. They are a burden imposed from the outside, and therefore can be released. Because our emotional burdens were put on top of authentic Self, we can choose to take them out of our body, and out of our mind.
We can unburden ourselves expressively, visually, kinesthetically or symbolically:
Drawing or Painting - If we feel like we are carrying a burden over our heart for example, we can draw or paint a "before-unburdening portrait" of our heart, and an "after-unburdening portrait" and meditate on it daily.
Creative Movement - We can also pull our pain out through creative movement. We can viscerally pull the energy out of our heart with our hands in the form of a dance.
Symbolic Mind - The higher mind responds to pictures. We can also work with a burden symbolically in our mind. Every time we contract into old beliefs, we can summon a visual image of symbolically removing a burden in our mind and heart, and replacing it with a truer and more life-affirming image that reflects the needs of our present life.
Kinesthetic Imagination - We can also release old burdens emotionally. We can imagine the emotional freedom we felt before we took on our emotional burden, and go back to viscerally imagine that time of freedom in our body.
Vigorous Exercise - Exercise of any sort, symbolically, emotionally, and physically moves us forward. Because old beliefs embed themselves into our body musculature over time, vigorous exercise can help the stagnant body open up to life affirming, forward moving beliefs.
Caring and Commitment - After we remove the emotional burdens out of our body, it is important to pour love and care into what was once hurt and abandoned - on a very consistent basis - until it become habitual. We can envision loving light going into the places in our body where we have held emotional burdens. Because our bodies have been conditioned for years into contracting around the fear of rejection, pain, hurt and fear, there may be a period of intensive caring and commitment that will be needed, to help the body remain open.
When we are longing for change, we can choose to dedicate a good portion of our attention into releasing old emotional burdens so that our creative, emotional, and bodily energy can flow and express itself freely. We can choose to release emotional burdens at any point in life.
Psychologist Judith Blackstone writes, "Emotional pain, when held in our body for decades, can cause severe blockages in our energy circulation. This is the blockage that eventually causes illness. This in no way a sign of weakness on the part of the sufferer. No one is entirely without bound childhood pain. but it does mean that there is the possibility of healing through the release of psychological holding patterns."
- Black permanent markers - various sizes
- Journal page, or smooth hard pressed paper
What is an Intuitive Zendoodle?
Zendoodles are more freeform patterned drawings inspired by the patented "zentangle" - created by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas.
Zentangling is a structured, visual form of meditation using "strings" which define areas for doodling within a 3-1/2" square.
Each area is patterned using an existing list of patterns (which are called tangles).
An Intuitive Approach
In this expressive art activity, I offer an example of using an intuitive drawing that is intrinsically meaningful to you instead of a preset pattern as in the patented method of Zentangling. Drawing spontaneously brings up material from the subconscious and unconscious mind to be seen and integrated. Patterning a spontaneous drawing gives pause to take it in, and integrate it more deeply. In Zendoodling we will be looking at our intuitive drawing for a long time, as we meditatively draw small patterns.
Spending time meditating on a drawing that arises from your intuition allows you to contemplate the more hidden parts of your mind while you doodle. Start with a spontaneous drawing. After you finish an intuitive structure or drawing - section off areas for patterning. Organically create your own spontaneous patterns in the spirit of silent meditation and deep concentration.
Single Focus Visual Meditation
Most of us multitask and dissipate our energies. Focusing intently on small, repetitive creative tasks integrates the mind and gathers energy. Singularly attending to a deliberate visual task can be astoundingly centering in a way that you will not believe until you try.
Intense concentration can invoke the deep pleasure of a still and integrated mind, where all conflicts, worries, and inner struggles disappear for time. Zendoodling could be considered a form of concentration meditation akin to formal sitting meditation in the Zen Buddhist tradition. You can even set up your drawing table as meditation space with a lit candle, and drawing tools at hand.
Traditional Buddhist Concentration Meditation
Concentration meditation has a long lineage in the Zen tradition. In traditional single focus meditation we focus single-pointedly on an object and hold our mind on it without movement. Single pointed concentration meditation involves choosing an object of concentration, such as a candle to meditate on each day until "samadhi" (a state of oneness) is attained. If you want to approach drawing as a structured, daily meditation, it is helpful to understand the challenges and benefits of zen meditation below:
The Five Obstacles to Oneness
Concentrating on an object for a set period of time each day is a profound way to achieve a feeling of oneness and inner peace. Understanding the obstacles to concentration helps us to hone our clarity, so that we can touch into feelings of wholeness more often.
The five obstacles to samadhi (oneness) - and to a focused and clear mind in every day life - are laziness, forgetfulness, mental wandering and depression, failure to correct problems when they arise, and mistakenly trying to correct problems that are imaginary.
When we find the joys of profound concentration and inner harmony, visually focusing becomes a treasured time to let go of stress and worries. Whenever we feel lazy and do not feel like concentrating, we simply need to remember the pleasure and inner harmony that we feel, when we do concentrate deeply.
The benefit of deep concentration is a timeless state of mind that is free of thinking. Any moment that we are free of the habitual thoughts that structure and uphold our defended psyche, healing occurs. As we experience freedom from heavier emotional states, we create a window into inspired solutions to our problems. The more we cultivate moments of emotional freedom, the more we become accustomed to holding feelings of love and openness.
Typically when we sit in formal meditation, we choose an object of meditation such as a picture of a deity, a blank wall as in zen meditation, a candle, clouds, or a flower. Because these objects of focus are relatively unchanging, meditating in this way can be arduous.
For most creative types, it is helpful to have an active form of visual focus - one that is inspired from deep within - that changes according to intuitive directives. When we doodle in a deliberate, "zen" way we can deepen our one-pointed focus. Because doodling is active, it is less likely that we will become bored and forget to focus on our drawing. Most often we will stay fascinated and at peace for extended periods of time.
Wandering and Depression
Sleepiness is a form of depression. Sometimes when we try to concentrate, we can be resistant to the process and we will feel sleepy. Because concentration meditation is aimed at promoting clarity, we will lack meditative strength when we lose focus.
Sometimes when we concentrate too intensely, we might feel agitated or distracted. This may mean emotions are arising that are not in alignment with an integrated state of mind state. Identifying and accepting feelings that are arising, allows them become integrated into oneness.
A wandering mind is not as common in intuitive Zendoodling unless we are resisting feeling that are coming up. Often "wandering" consists of flashes of inspiration because the mind is open and still. Insightful thoughts and ideas come into our awareness when we are in a state of deep, non-thinking awareness. Memories, forgotten dreams, and other important thoughts may pop in, that are normally covered up with habitual thinking patterns. We can keep a notepad nearby to record insights and then return to meditatively drawing.
Failure to Correct Problems
Each problem that we have with concentrating and quieting our mind has an antidote. When our interest is "depressed" we can tighten our concentration, for example. When we are wandering away from our focus, we are trying to hard, and we can loosen our efforts a little bit.
Concentration is an eloquent dance between relaxing and tightening up our focus as need be and a meditative practice is a great way to develop presence in daily life. Developing a balanced, bright composure is the aim. In this way we can also practice moving through our day in a state of exquisite, meditative joy that takes in each moment with equanimity.
Correcting Non-Existent Problems
The fifth obstacle is overly watching for problems. It is best to flow intuitively with the process.
A Visual Meditation Session
Start your meditation session with the intention to focus on your drawing/doodling session. As you settle into your drawing session, aim to cultivate clarity and quietude. Be aware that when concentration is too intense there will be a need to wander mentally to break the intensity. When concentration is too loose you will feel sleepy or bored.
The purpose of visual meditation is to learn how to concentrate and stop thought for progressively longer periods of time. This is the practice of gathering moments of presence which invite emotional healing and integration. As we become more present, the inner harmony of body and mind becomes increasingly strong. As concentration grows it is possible to experience great pleasure - even ecstasy - during the meditation process.
- Oil Pastels
- White or Colored Pastel Paper
Leaping Beyond Reason
Free association was used by Sigmund Freud to access subconscious and unconscious levels of the mind. Emptying the mind of its conscious agenda and opening up to curiosity and self-acceptance invites the subconscious to take intuitive leaps to new levels of personal meaning.
Free association helps to surprise us out of our familiar preference for maintaining the status quo. Freud wrote, "Where there is a creative mind - reason - so it seems to me - relaxes its watch upon the gates, and the ideas rush in pell-mell."
Since our reasoning, judging mind guards against deeper self-knowledge, free association can be used to access our more hidden parts of self in the spirit of self-acceptance, play, and the willingness to grow.
Accessing Unconscious Thinking Processes
Free association has been explored throughout history in various ways to spark imagination and creativity. Leonardo DaVinci enjoyed interpreting "ambiguous designs" within artwork. The Rorchach test - the random interpretation of ink blots - was used by psychologists to draw out people who where reluctant to share their thinking processes openly.
Creating a series of spontaneous pastel drawings is an effective way to explore your own sub-conscious thought processes through color, line, and movement. Intuitively and wordlessly understanding the emotional energy patterns that are moving through your life right now by meditating on your spontaneous drawings, can be understood and further explored through free association.
Take some time before you begin, to center into your body. Intuitively choose a color that represents the felt-sense that you are currently experiencing and begin drawing. Sense where the strongest energy resides, and allow your emotional energy to move through your body, into your arm, and onto the paper.
When you are finished, hold each drawing in your hand, and rotate it until a response is triggered in you. The response to your drawing might come as a word, as a feeling in a particular part of your body, as a memory, or a recollection of a moment in your day. Record your responses in a few words on the back of your drawing or in your journal.
Take some time to rationally reflect and journal about your free associations:
- Are the energy patterns that you have drawn with pastels reflect the current feeling state of your life right now? How?
- Do your drawings and responses conflict with how you are consciously experiencing your life today? How?
- What motivates or excites you today?
- What troubles you today?
- Crayons or pastels
- Paper or journal page
Creating Separately from Others
We all have parts of ourselves that do not want to grow in healthy ways. When we are non-integrated within, we operate from different part of our psyche, depending on our current emotional state. Our "inner rebel" is a part of our mind that compensates for unmet emotional needs. From our "inner rebel" we consume life and seek to "try to feel good" in ways that do not contribute to the whole.
Our inner rebel creates separately from the whole - to the point of extreme selfishness. It seeks to feel good about itself, and further itself without equal regard to the other people in our lives. Taken too far, the inner rebel can turn to extreme self-focus on personal happiness to the detriment of others.
Our inner rebel can even be exceedingly creative but in a narcissistic way - to the point of creating beyond what is needed or necessary. As we create a life that suits us alone, to the detriment of those we love, care for, and work with, we create dissonance in relationship to the larger creativity that wants to live through us. As our entitlement continues through our life, we will remain immature and increasingly dissatisfied. We will expect to have our practical and emotional needs to be met by others - as a substitution for what needs to looked at and healed within.
Drawing Your Inner Rebel
Because our inner rebel stems from unmet needs from the past, it is helpful to draw your "inner rebel" with your non-dominant hand. When you are finished, you can ask in writing with your dominant hand, "What do you want?" In your non-dominant hand, write out all that you inner rebel expects from life without censorship, no matter how immature, ridiculous, or grandiose.
When you finish writing, contemplate what your "inner rebel" is demanding from life. Is it realistic? Meditate on what emotional needs might be underwriting your rebel's demands. Is there a need for love, attention, acceptance, connection? From whom? Are these needs realistic to your daily life now? How can your emotional needs be attended to in the present in a way that is considerate of the other people in your life?
The Creative Gifts in the Inner Brat
Every separate and split-off part of our mind has creative gifts and strengths that can be tempered and included in relationship with others. Our inner rebel for example, knows what we want, and finds the drive to go and get it. Being defiant, it is often willing to deviate from the norm. It is creative, and even innovative about getting its needs met. The inner rebel is young in spirit, sassy, and willing to say what it wants with great irreverence.
Creating Within the Whole
In order to be healthy we need to be whole, integrated, and emotionally "at one" on the inside. Once we feel integrated emotionally on the inside, we can intuitively contribute to the wholeness that is needing to unfold in our outer life. When we heal ourselves on the inside, we come to understand how to create within the context of our current relationships instead of separately from them. Intuiting our place as part of the whole - is where our purpose and meaning for existence is created from.
Emotional neediness is an attempt to try to heal past hurt in the present, and is often in dissonance with the reality that is unfolding in the moment. And, since all emotional need comes from a loss of love and connection, understanding what we emotionally need right now, forgiving the past, and giving what we most need to ourselves and others is the antidote to self-serving defiance.
Every upset is an opportunity for healing. Separation away from love, connection, and belonging is the beginning of every split away from our wholeness. But because the past is over, we can look at who we can love and heal with - in our relationships right now. When we connect, give and love - in the here and now - past losses begin to heal. As we heal old losses, by offering love to our current relationships, our inner brat softens, and becomes connected to its creativity in a holistic way. When our entitlement softens into inclusion, our need to take from life changes, and it becomes much easier to consider the whole.
- Watercolor paints
- Collage materials: magazines, scissors, glue stick
- Watercolor paper or journal page
"Each person comes into this world with a specific destiny. We each have something to fulfill, some message to be delivered, some work to be completed. You are not here accidentally. You are here meaningfully. There is a purpose behind you. The whole intends to do something through you."
Making Room for Possibility
As we heal our lives emotionally and psychologically, we progressively clear the way to connect to the realm of larger possibilities. These possibilities and potentialities are actually around us all of the time, but we can easily disassociate from seeing them clearly if we are struggling with emotional flooding, and the jumbled up thinking that results from inner psychological conflict.
Consider that each one of us is here as a soul in a human form to bring something essential to the web of life. It could be a specific skill, a way of caring, or particular passion for learning that we share with others. Michael Meade calls our particular life's work or destiny, our "Life Opus".
We might not come to know our "Opus" if we remain caught up in our psychological struggles. But inherent in our traumas, heartbreaks, and challenging life circumstances, are the strengths that we need to develop - to bring our specific gifts to the world around us. As old traumas are felt, and our life lessons are learned, we begin to see into the possibility of bringing our unique spiritual and creative gifts to life.
Creating a Portal
Creating a collage of possibilities is helpful to do, especially if you have been doing a great deal of heavy emotional inner work. Creating a portal into possibility is akin to seeing a crack in the door, and peeking at what is beyond the daily emotional and psychological material that we struggle with. You can begin by drawing or painting a portal in any way you feel called to. After you do, quiet your mind and emotions, and begin to sense into what exists beyond your personal problems.
As you set aside all of the drama that is in your life right now, allow yourself to be receptive to new ideas. Contemplate your collage materials, and be willing to be flexible and surprised about what you choose. Never worry if your imagery does not make immediate sense. If you are meditating on possibility, the imagery that wants to speak to you will feel emotionally strong.
Assemble your collage inside of your painted portal. Allow your imagery, ideas, thoughts, and inklings to surprise you. You might feel excited, apprehensive, confused, or even disappointed. It is possible to even feel frightened about what you are here to give. What comes to you when you are receptive to possibilities might seem out of your realm, or feel like far more than you can handle. The feelings evoked in your collage might feel beyond your regular thoughts about your life.
Asking the Big Questions
Most of us spend a good part of our lives avoiding emotional pain, trying to fit into society, and trying to be more successful. Asking the big question opens up the window of possibility, which is especially needed when we are struggling with emotional heaviness. It is helpful in the process of healing old negative conditioning to have something to reach for that is outside of what we normally consider our reality.
You might ask for higher hints that exist outside of your emotional heaviness. In your journal you could ask, "How do I become more authentic in my life? What am I meant to share with the world? How can I share my gifts with other people? What small steps can I take today to live into my potential? Who am I afraid to be? Who am I in my greatness?" As you meditate on these big questions more often, the answers will come through various means.
We will feel often lost if we look out into the world to tell us who we are. Our heart's path always waits to be heard behind the outer static and our inner limitations. Our heart's answers are unique, and we may not see other examples of our particular gifts being shared in the world just yet. Possibilities are revealed when we ask the bigger questions.
We may not yet see an outer mirror or have a tangible example of what we are meant to create in manifest form but we are still meant to bring our inner gifts to our outer life. Our soul has a unique contribution that is designed to add to and improve upon the wholeness of life. For our essence to come forward into this world, we need to ask the big questions, and be willing to go where our heart leads.
- Journal and a pen
The Guardian of Difficult Memories
We all have one or more protective survival selves that protect us from emotionally charged memories which may include fear, loneliness, overwhelm, powerlessness, lack of hope and perspective, fury, shame, disgust, or guilt. We can relive past traumas over and over in our mind intellectually - but the past will not heal unless we are willing to face, and finally feel and be lovingly present for the original stored feelings in our body.
It is common to mentally process past traumas in a detached way that can trick us into thinking we fully understand what happened and should move on. In the interest of continuing to function in our daily lives, our protective survival selves will likely be cognitively weary of revisiting past stories, but in truth, we may have never truly felt the emotions embedded within our body life history. The body biologically remembers everything that has ever happened.
If we need to process trauma there will be areas in our body that feel numb and sore. As we mature emotionally into our capacity to be more strongly present and unconditionally self-loving, we can tenderly ask the inner guardians of our past memories to allow our body recollections to arise. Emotions that we were too fragile to process in the past, can be met with an increasing strength of presence when the timing is right, and when we have the time and safe space to do so.
We can record our embodied memories in a journal with the intention of emotionally connecting our body stories from the past. Each past emotion courageously felt and withstood without closing down - dissociating, distracting, or numbing - increases presence and builds tremendous psychological and emotional strength, as well as self-respect, pride, and self-love.
Untangling Emotional Pain
When we are psychologically and emotionally strong enough to feel stored pain and trauma we can unravel emotional pain right down to its roots. From our higher witnessing mind, we ask the protective parts of ourselves that have kept our difficult emotions hidden to allow whatever needs to be loved to come to the surface. With exquisitely deep and loving attention on the body, emotional pain can be untangled with gentle and poignant self-care.
By allowing ourselves to revisit past shame, hurt, loss, or abuse through embodied, descriptive writing, we can emotionally connect, as a witnessing adult, to what was once too painful to feel and understand as child and teen. After the emotional connection to the past is sustained and integrated, we can reexamine the perceptions that we formed about life in the midst of difficult and traumatic experiences, and claim the previously numbed resources inherent within extreme circumstances.
The key to emotional healing is to avoid becoming cognitively trapped in our past negative stories as if they are the entire truth. Past beliefs and immaturely formed perceptions may no longer apply to our current life and likely do not encompass a mature, multidimensional view of reality. Memories may seem true for the age that we were when we experienced our hardships, but as adults we have the power to re-percieve what happened through our objective, reasoning mind.
Our protective/survival selves are not all of who we are but when we are storing away and compensating for unintegrated painful experiences, our protective self has a full-time, exhausting job to do. Protective strategies are explained by psychotherapist Franz Rupert. I encapsulate them for you here:
Avoidance: The survival/protective self will go to great lengths to create emotional safely zones to the point of making life our very small and narrow. One's entire life can become a series of avoidance strategies to avoid people and situations that could trigger emotional memories.
Control: The survival/protective self will impose inner control on the strict avoidance of feelings. Our protector will also impose outer control, manipulating and censoring people about what they can and cannot say. This most often keeps interactions on the surface. Non-threatening topics avoid deep intimacy in relationships.
Compensation: Because avoidance and control makes life feel arduous - and lacking in connection - emotional substitutes for warmth, intimacy, and happiness must be found. Overeating, drugs, alcohol, overwork and unhealthy sexual relationships with other people can be used to try to fulfill an intimate connection that is missing inside of the self.
Illusions: Making up fantasies about a better life in the future is a survival aid when there is a lack of love and connection to the present moment. Not to be confused with healthy optimism, idealizing life creates a sense of false hope that is destined to crumble and disappoint.
Further Splitting: If the above strategies no longer work, it is possible that the protective survival self, can split further and determinedly push the emotional truth further into the unconscious mind. While there is a surface relief - for a while - the protective survival self loses further contact with authentic reality and warm, intimate contact with life and other people.
Emotionally Connecting to Memory
Most often we quickly turn away from difficult emotions instead of towards them. As we become determined and willing to intimately feel our way through stored body emotions, we come to see how we keep our past traumas locked in place through body armoring, illness, protective behaviors and mistaken belief systems that have kept us intensely busy and exhausted avoiding our inner pain.
We can however, choose from our adult mind whether we want to keep our old defense structures or open them up to allow for fresh creative experiences of life. After we sustain presence towards our disowned body feelings our lives will begin to change. Because we have risked painful intimacy with ourselves, our lives will open up to more freely and deeply connect with other people. We will start to feel better emotionally, physically, and mentally, and our excessive thinking will quiet down.
Writing specifically about what we believed, decided and chose in the midst of hurt and trauma can help us discover the perceptions that we structure our entire defense system around. Once we revisit original emotions poignantly and completely, we can discontinue living our lives as an elaborate compensating defense system. We will no longer need our defensive structures and all of the elaborated effort it takes to maintain them.
Feeling Through Embodied Writing
Slow Writing - Slow down and allow your emotional impressions and fragments of memory to arise spontaneously - impulse by impulse. Don't worry if you need to long pauses between writing. You might sit and feel numb at first. When we have lived in denial for a long time, honesty comes slowly at first. Begin by following your slightest body twinges and simply describe them very slowly and succinctly.
Progressively follow the thread of each sensation as a form of slow, quiet writing meditation. This is a practice in building the strength and subtlety of your awareness. See if you can start with five minutes of deep, attuned awareness to your body without shutting down or distracting away.
Practice withstanding the strength and eloquence of your writing presence for ten minutes, twenty minutes, and then for half an hour as you build the strength of your awareness each day. After your writing session give yourself a break and do something else, or take a nap. Sustaining presence is exhausting at first but it returns as increased strength, confidence and energy over time.
Body Poetry - Record each memory sensation as it arises from your body's language. Your body's voice will sound different from your cognitive voice - almost like poetry. Write from inside of your body sensations using metaphor, color, shape, texture, sound, and any intuitive descriptions that spontaneously arise. Allow your body to find, feel, and express it own unique language from the inside out.
Emotional memory patterns often arise as symbolism or visual imagery that takes leaps in sentence structure to best describe what cannot be described logically. Do not worry if your poetry seems accurate or realistic according to what you mentally remember. Allow any imagery that comes to your mind to be a welcome metaphor for your feeling world.
The Story of Sensations - Write vivid descriptions of memories, remembering the sounds, smells, sights, and feelings that surround your difficult life events in the form of a story. The story can have fictional elements where memory lapses. Allow your imagination to fuel your story as it will reflect the emotional tone of the period you are describing.
Writing each perception as it arises - viscerally describing sensate memory and imaginative memory without worrying about accuracy or grammar - provides an organic storyboard how younger selves experienced our pain in past - and often reveals what you are specifically still spending your life avoiding today.
Intuitive Inquiry - Writing from inside our past experiences, we can explore our curiosity with questions that arise intuitively. The witnessing Self can ask the traumatized younger self questions with gentleness and care, Noticing the guarding inside of your body structure around difficult memories, for example. You can ask the tight parts of your body, "What memories are you protecting right now?" You might ask different parts of your body, or different ages of selves, "What are you afraid of feeling, saying, doing, or being?"
Mindful Nuance - Our traumas form a specific map of pain in our body that once noticed with care can move, shift, and release. Every little detail matters, and even the most difficult body sensations can be recorded with tender, mindful, loving attention, with the aim of untangling defensive guarding and stored emotions layer by layer. Record the particularities of the pain within your heart, for example, noticing every twinge, tweak, flutter and stab. Your body nuances will share the truth of what your mind denies.
Authentic Voice - When we write from the body - we ineffably express our unique and authentic self. Sometimes our authentic voice is hesitant and slow at first. If your writing feels false, hone it and change it until it rings completely true. Learn to note the difference between your dissociated thinking mind and your full-feeling embodied mind. Revise your writing until it feels completely authentic and you feel a sense of rightness in your body.
Writing Through Fear - Courage is required in embodied writing because intense fear arises first in the healing process. Fear is the gate in front of difficult emotions and most of simply turn away from the gate of fear and never go further. Fearful perceptions of life form the backbone of our defensive false self.
Embodying your fear, and recording how it moves and shifts into different and multilayered tones and textures of feeling invites deeper insights to move forward into awareness. It is fruitful to deeply explore fear and sometimes spend an entire writing session describing the nuances, color, and tone of how fear travels through your body. Fear will have a voice that may need to be listened to first so that it will open the gate to further layers of emotion.
Reframing Difficult Memories
As children we were poignantly sensitive to our surroundings, and tended to take disproportionate responsibility for what went wrong in our family. When our writing comes from a child part of self that is stuck in the past, our writing voice may sometimes appear immature and irrational, but listening to this voice will reveal heart-wrenching feelings and belief systems that hinder us in our current life. Listening to the negative core beliefs that we formed in earlier parts of our life is key to finding the needed awareness and self-confidence to move forward.
It is helpful to revisit the hurt child, teen, and young adult voices in our journal to see how their beliefs disproportionately run our life. After we embody, integrate, express, and honor the emotions stuck in old traumas, we can rewrite our hurt stories and negative belief systems into new stories of growth and transformation. We heal our emotional lives by realistically reframing our past perceptions into current realities and truths that enrich and help solve the challenges that we face in our present life.
- Collage papers, old magazines
- Pastels, markers
- Journal page or card stock
Symbolizing Your Current State of Mind
It is possible to explore our personality dynamics by mapping them out visually with spontaneous collage and drawing. More often than not, in a single day, we can feel conflicted in our consciousness in several different ways.
Sorting ourselves out on the inside can be a confusing task at first. Inner conflict arises initially as anxiety and often, without the aid of visual imagery, it can be difficult to identify what our inner struggles are about.
Most of us live our life in layers:
The Social Mask: Our primary personality/survival self sits out front of our consciousness, and is compensating mask that hides all that is repressed and disowned within. Our survival self presents the kind of picture that we believe we need to present to world to be safe, loved and accepted. This outer referenced survival mask is often the self that we can live the majority of our life from, and we can often mistake it as our True Self.
The Protectors and Guards: Underneath of our primary survival personality self is a guard, or several guards, that protect us from all that remains ungrieved and unfelt from our past. Our protector can often be harsh and critical or angry, and will often caution us away from any area of life where we could fail, be embarrassed, or be hurt as we were in the past. The protector suppresses our hurt and traumatized selves.
Hurt and Traumatized Selves: Most of us have many traumatized or hurt parts of self that have remained suppressed, exiled away, and remained stuck at certain ages, where we lost our sense of love and belonging. Our "younger" selves each have different belief systems that are stuck in the past and are "split off" from, or denied by our everyday awareness. These selves form our shadow. Often past events that we would dismiss as "no big deal" in our primary personality and our guarded parts of self, will mean a great deal to the younger and more sensitive parts of ourselves. For example, simply being ignored or unseen feels traumatic to a young child.
Authentic Healthy Self: Underneath all of the layers of our psyche is our vital True Self. When we integrate, heal, and help our hurt and traumatized younger selves, we release specific vital gifts and strengths that have been buried underneath all that we have been unwilling to feel.
Reconciling Inner Conflicts
For this exercise, choose your imagery without conscious intent, trusting that usually there are usually two or more personality parts active in your consciousness at any given time. Choose two to four images that feel intuitively right, and without much thought, arrange them on your paper. Once you have placed and glued down your images, intuitively draw "energy lines" to indicate how the various elements of your map of consciousness "relate" to one another.
When you are finished your map of consciousness sense into what parts are active in your psyche right now. Consider that your social and guarded selves will often clash with exiled authentic emotions that want to be reclaimed and healed. The visual symbols that you chose may indicate different ages and different potentials inherent in your consciousness. Consider how the various conflicting parts of yourself could work together in a more harmonious whole. You might want to name each visual symbol in your journal and ask it to speak in first person, "I am the one who...."
- Pen and paper or journal page
- Colored pencils, markers, and watercolor paint
At some point in our growing up years, we experience our first loss of love and belonging, and in our grief we shut down emotionally. We, in effect, arrest ourselves at the age when our feelings become too overwhelming to feel.
Grief is often difficult to heal because is holds a complex set of "younger" belief systems that continue to compound and gather speed throughout our lives with each subsequent heartbreak. Often grief holds broken dreams of what we wished our childhood could have been.
As we continue to verify and affirm our childhood and teenage belief systems, and see through the eyes of sadness, hopelessness, we will perpetuate the feeling that we have lost something essential about ourselves. Whenever we repress grief, we will feel like there is a missing piece in our life. When we feel this "hole" in the inherent wholeness of our psyche, we solidify the original places where we believe that we could not be loved.
Stored Grief Runs Our Life
Consider your grief from this perspective by Michael Singer:
"What happens to that experience that didn't make it through? What you don't realize is that that your entire experience of life is about to change because of what didn't make it through you. Life must now compete with this blocked event for your attention, and the impression does not just sit there quietly. You will see that your tendency is to think about it constantly.
"This is all an attempt to process it through your mind. All of that inner noise is an attempt to process the blocked energy and get it out of the way. Long term, the energy patterns that cannot make it through you are pushed out to the forefront of the mind and held until you are prepared to release them.
These energy patterns hold a tremendous detail about the events associated with them. As you willfully struggle to keep these events from passing through your consciousness, the energy first tries to release by manifesting through the mind. This is why the mind becomes so active."
When the energy cannot make it through the mind because of conficts with other thoughts and mental concepts, it then tries to release through the heart. When you resist even that release, the energy gets packed up and forced into deep storage within the heart. In the yogic tradition, that unfinished energy pattern is called a Samskara. It's an unfinished energy pattern that ends up running your life."
Clearing Unfinished Grief
We can develop elaborate compensatory behavior patterns to avoid feeling our raw, deep-seated grief. When we have unfinished grief taking up the seat of our consciousness it can run our entire life. Psychologist Jay Early describes it - additions in brackets are my own:
"We each have a place in our psyche that determines our identity, choices, feelings, and perceptions. This seat can be occupied by the Self (the authentic self) or by a part (run by unfinished grief). Whoever resided in the seat of consciousness at any given moment is in charge of our psyche at that time. Whether it is a part or the Self, the occupant of the seat determines how we feel, what our intentions are, how we perceive other people, how we relate to them, and what our choices and actions will be."
When our unfinished grief is running our consciousness, we are seeing through the eyes of the age that we were when we stopped up our emotional release. We cannot heal grief when we are inside of the defensive emotional patterning of the child, teen, or young adult because our grief will continue to feel unconsolable. Mature witnessing presence is necessary to clear old grief patterns.
Witnessing Old Grief
When a younger grieving part takes over the seat of our consciousness, we think that is who we are. Most of us see ourselves as one united personality, but in truth we are often blended with "energy patterns" that create separate "personality parts" that each have their own feelings, beliefs, plans and goals. Yet underneath old unprocessed grief is a sense of hopelessness that will not change until we our perspective to a witnessing consciousness.
Usually, we wholly become and think we are our grief. Grief has a way of entirely occupying the seat of our consciousness. However, it is possible to "unblend" with the parts of ourselves that grieve and allow the energy patterns of our grief move all the way though us and finish for good. It is possible to both feel the raw aching of loss, and witness our younger grieving parts with the compassion and wisdom of our True Self - at the same time.
Blending and Seeing Through the Eyes of Grief
Because grief is so all encompassing we tend to immerse our entire being inside of it. According to Jay Earley, author of "Self Therapy", we can know when we are blended with a personality part that - in this case - is grieving:
1.) We are flooded with the part's emotions to such a degree that we are not grounded. We become lost in our feelings of grief.
2.) We get caught up in the hopeless beliefs of the part so that we lose perspective on our lives. We see our life through the distorted perceptions of the grieving part of self that lives in the past. We see the wounded perspective of past grief as the truth.
3.) We do not feel enough of our Authentic Self. We are ungrounded/uncentered and we have no access to the witnessing part of our consciousness.
Healing Through Dual Consciousness
We each have the extraordinary capacity to feel, and to witness ourselves feeling at the same time. However, when we blend with a personality part completely, we forget we have an authentic witnessing Self that can "reparent" our distressed and grieving younger parts of self. We need to have a "critical mass" of Self available, so that we can step outside of our grieving part of self, and tend to it with tender compassion, curiosity, and care. Time spent cultivating present moment awareness is the key to strengthening the "critical mass" of our strong Core Self.
The Parts of Self That Protect Against Grief
Unintegrated grieving parts of our consciousness are looking to be understood, so often they will be willing to communicate, but most often we have a protector part of self that helps us to avoid the raw intensity of fully felt grief. Most of us have behaviors that protect us from feeling raw grief. We might eat too much, or reach for a glass of wine when the aching begins. We might seek to distract ourselves away from feeling our guilt in a myriad of ways.
We can ask the part of ourselves that is protecting us from feeling our grief to separate, so that we can come to understand our grieving parts of self. We can separate from our personality parts in a variety of ways:
- We can ask a grieving part to contain the grief so we can function and are not so flooded with emotion.
- We can ask the protector of our grief to move out of our body, especially if they are defending against grief by tensing up our musculature and are causing us pain.
- We can ask any part of self to move over in our mind to make room for our witnessing consciousness to participate in the healing process.
If a part will not separate, you will likely feel the same as before. You will not sense a shift in your consciousness. Some personality parts will refuse to step aside because they have felt disowned for so long. They may not trust that you will want to get to know them. Ask, "What are you afraid would happen if you separated from me?"
Sometimes the only strategy that disowned and emotionally hurting parts of self have had for being understood - until now - has been to blend and to take over the seat of our consciousness. We heal by seeing and hearing all the parts of self that we have ignored, disowned, and left behind.
Asking Your Parts to Express
There are few ways to creatively express your disowned part of self so that you can integrate your unfinished grief. I have been inspired by the work of psychologist Jay Earley. I have added expressive art directives to his methods:
1.) Moving into the True Self - Most often our parts energetically reside "out front" of our consciousness and we see life through their eyes. Shifting back into our seat of consciousness is a way to center and ground our energy. We can energetically step back from a grieving part, and into our core Self so as to take up the witnessing seat of consciousness.
Discerning what the True Self feels like, as opposed to what each personality part feels like can be journaled in detail. The authentic Self and the target personality part will feel distinctly different. As you continue to acknowledge the difference you will come to know what part of self is occupying your seat of consciousness at any given time. Vividly journal the characteristics of your target personality part, and if you feel inspired, give it a name - or better yet, let it tell you its name.
2.) Visualizing the Part as Separate - Allow a visual image of the grieving or self-protective part to arise. Draw or paint your image either as a symbol, as an energy, or as an actual person. You can also choose an image spontaneously that represents this part from a book or a magazine. Having a concrete symbol, image, or object helps create separation from it.
3.) Finding an Opposed Part - Doing parts work can be in confusing, in that each difficult part in our psyche has an opposing and compensating part. If we have a grieving part, for example, we will likely have a part that overly strives to be overly hopeful or cheerful. Neither part is the True Self. It is possible to map out our psyche as pairs of opposites in our journal. Draw, paint or write about your inner conflicts in your journal. Give each opposing part a descriptive name. Start to watch when conflicts become activated in your consciousness on a daily basis.
4.) Self-Meditation to Unblend - To develop enough "critical mass" of your True Self to heal, let go of your focus on your target part for a while. Take the time to become present inside of your body to focus on the feeling tone of your True Self - so that you can become more present and able to witness the activated parts of your psyche. Close your eyes and notice the sensations in your body, and try to find the center of your authenticity. You might notice your sensations change from moment to moment. Follow them without judgment. Each time your mind wanders bring it back to your center core of your body.
Move your attention into your belly, breathe deeply, and allow your breath to calm and deepen you. As time passes, move your awareness to your heart. Your heart is the home of your True Self. Let your heart soften. Allow it to be open to all of your unintegrated personality parts. Your heart is where you will eventually reconcile all of your inner conflicts and emotional disparities. When you are centered enough in the abiding presence of your True Self, extend tender lines of connection from your heart to your target part.
5.) Journaling About Your Parts - Some parts literally run our life, and they can occupy our seat of consciousness much more than our True Self, often for long periods of our life. When you start your journaling session, see if there is a part blended with you. Choose that as your target part to work with. If there is a part that is blended with you for extended periods of time, sit down to a journaling session with the part when it is activated, On the spur of the moment, practice unblending and differentiating away from the part, as per the methods above.
Get to know your target part through your journaling process. Create a written dialogue between your target part and your True Self. Ask your personality part how it is feeling and what it is concerned about as though it was a separate person. Ask it why it is activating inside of you right now. What is emotionally triggering it? What is it afraid of? As you ask questions of your target part you will start to understand its belief system and it defense structures.
Ask your personality part any question that comes spontaneously to mind. You might asking it what its emotional and physical needs are, and how you could meet them. You might want to try writing your questions in your dominant hand, and answering with your non-dominant hand. Often our disowned parts of self will have belief systems suitable to a child or a teen, but they no longer apply to our mature adult life right now. As you identify your active personality parts, name them, draw them, and dialogue with them. Start to map out their belief systems, so that you can better identify when they are running your life.
Feeling Pure Raw Grief
Often what we are most afraid of is feeling pure raw grief and sadness. Most of us have experienced profound loss of love, care, attention, acceptance, dignity, and belonging in our past at some point. Most of our avoidance behaviors stem from avoiding the grief, losses and shattered dreams of the past. Grief is at the "bottom" of all of our difficult feelings, and avoiding grief keeps us stuck in the past. Feeling pure grief, and setting aside time to cry, to feel, and to cleanse the losses of the past, is always the best medicine for healing and moving forward.
When we come to understand how all of our defense systems mitigate, compensate away from, and change the truth of the grief we feel, we can begin disassembling massive defensive structures in our psyche - to make room for wisdom, creativity, and freedom from the losses of the past. When we emotionally release our grief, we will discover that there is always something gained in the midst of loss, such as strength, new resources, or support that we did now know we had. Focusing on what strengths and gifts we have gained through our losses helps heal old grief.
- Black or multicolored markers
- Watercolor paint
- Journal page
Spontaneous Art a Route to the Unconscious
Scribble drawing is a tried and true art therapy exercise that works as a visual starter for spontaneous drawing. Scribble drawing was developed by art educator Florence Cane. Her sister, art therapist Margaret Naumburg started a progressive school for children in 1914 that encouraged spontaneous creative expression and self-motivated learning. Naumburg was a visionary in children's education in her time, who was influenced by Jungian psychology, parapsychology, and surrealistic and primitive art.
In 1930 Naumburg left progressive education and began to devote her life to the development of art therapy. Having undergone Jungian therapy herself, she felt that art therapy was a more effective route to the unconscious than verbal therapy. Her sister Florence Cane, a teacher at her school, was a pioneer in facilitating art for children that emphasized the expression of feelings. Her approach was to intuitively search for ways to stimulate the creative process. One creative method she developed was the scribble drawing. I will share the way that I use it here for you here:
Playing with Line
With your choice of markers, create a quick and spontaneous scribble, or as Cane put it, "a kind of play with flowing, continuous line” on your page - with your eyes open or closed. Scribble until it intuitively feels done, but avoid making your scribble too dense.
After you have finished your scribble, take the time to relax your mind, and then turn your drawing around to contemplate it from all angles. Similar to seeing shapes in clouds and in ink blots, allow your unconscious mind to pick an image out of the scribble. You may see several images. Develop your found imagery with heavier lines. Embellish your imagery with details and color. After you are finished, intuitively name your drawing, or write a few free-form spontaneous sentences about it.
Allow yourself to verbally write down a few insights about your drawing to anchor your non-verbal expression. Take a few moments to meditate on how your drawing expresses your deeper feelings. You may even want to write a free-form story about your drawing if you have the urge.
Cane used drawing and painting to help people find their essence. She was influenced by the metaphysical teacher George Gurdjieff, who coined the world “essence” as a term for the intrinsic, unchanging authentic soul within each person. She felt that spontaneous art could take people beyond their “driven”, compensatory behaviors. Both sister’s worked with the intuitive, creative and nonverbal process of accessing the unconscious through intuitive art - all throughout their lives. Their discoveries unpin the current practices of art therapy today.
- Pen and journal
- Meditative music
Expressing vs. Understanding
When we self-express without deeper reflection, we release our emotional accumulations without understanding them. Methods such as free-form automatic writing and Artist's Way morning pages support an emotional release or a "brain drain" but unless we examine the deeper meaning of our thoughts and feelings, we will continue to repeat the same patterns of self-expression without knowing why.
If we really listened to what we think about in a day, a month, a year, we would discover that our seemingly random thoughts communicate our inspiring and challenging life themes. Our thoughts reflect the emotional patterns and struggles of our life perfectly.
To understand the way our mind works more profoundly, we can set aside time each day to quietly and curiously listen to our mind unfold. To do this requires a set amount of time, a private place, and some simple quieting rituals that will provide an inviting space to listen to, write down, and reflect on our thinking process.
If you have ever had the experience of becoming emotionally flooded out of seeming nowhere, it is helpful to remember what you where thinking about before you became overwhelmed. Meditatively writing and reflecting on your thinking process helps to catch the "roots" of your belief systems before they turn into full-fledged emotional reactions. Our unaware thinking triggers our emotional reactions.
We often miss understanding our life as it is being revealed to us. We usually do not listen very deeply to how we think. The aim of meditative writing is to hold your thoughts still long enough to reflect on them as you write them down.
An insightful book on meditative writing called "Writing the Mind Alive" by Linda Trichter Metcalf and Tobin Simon offers up a detailed structure for a meditative writing practice. I will simplify and share how I have practiced it here for you.
Setting Up Your Meditative Writing Space
1. Set up a prayerful space with a candle, your journal, and 25 minutes of meditative music, with the intention that you will be delving into the deeper meanings of your thoughts. This differs from traditional meditation where you would dismiss your thoughts as distractions.
2. Write for 25 minutes at least 5 times a week in order to deepen into knowing yourself more profoundly through reflective writing. Light the candle before you start, and blow it out after your finish. Write on unlined paper in case your words want to change size. Do not write beyond the 25 minutes, as inner focus is strongest during this time frame.
The Three Rules of Reflective Writing
1. Write What You Hear
Usually we tune out our thoughts and ignore the deeper messages that they are always revealing. Slow down, turn up your hearing and imagine your thoughts as spoken words. Write them down exactly as you hear them - word for word. Do not try to change your thoughts, push them around, or try to get rid of them. Receive and honor all of your thoughts from the lowly to the most high, without censorship. Receive and write. Do not be concerned with grammar, punctuation, or the fear that anyone else will read or judge your thoughts.
2. Listen to What You Write
Being deeply present to our thinking process is something we rarely do. Take the time to listen to yourself think with intensely focused and alert attention. Listen from your higher witnessing part of self to everything that rolls out of your mind with curious patient attention. This acute listening is a devoted meditation, and a heartfelt, auditory honoring of each verbal thought that arises into your witnessing consciousness.
3. Ask for Meaning
Words have power. For each phrase or word that feels emotionally charged, or mysteriously catches your attention ask, "What do I mean by....?" This simple questions amplifies your thought and "draws out the concrete details that are buried within the thought." Certain words hold memories, feelings, and attitudes that have been "charged" by your life experiences. They hold stories that will heal and enlighten you. Each time your attention is aroused, ask "What do I mean by....?" Unpack the memories and stories behind your charged thoughts. At the end of 25 minutes write down your last thought. You can "unpack" the rest tomorrow.
Four Final Questions
Before blowing out your candle write down and answer the following final questions:
1. What thoughts were heard but not written? Look back over the last twenty five minutes to see if there were any "flashes" of thought that you quickly repressed again. Record in a few words what you missed writing down during your session.
2. How or what do I feel now? Find a word or a phrase that comes the closest to your emotional state at this moment and write it down.
3. What larger story is my writing session a part of? Every story that you write about during your session will touch upon your major life themes. As you write each day you can reflect on and deepen into understanding the larger life stories that well up through your thoughts.
4. What ideas come up for future writing sessions? Write down ideas that call for further exploration in future writing sessions. These seed ideas help form a steady writing practice that deepens and widens your understanding of the themes that you have come to heal in your life.
Once you finish your four final questions, blow your candle out. If you have the time, before you close your journal, it is helpful to read your writing out loud to yourself. This helps you to touch upon the deeper feelings that you may not have felt in your silence. As you hear your thoughts out loud through your own voice, you amplify your own reflection of yourself - in all the voices and parts that you have silently listened to. Allow yourself to tenderly feel each aspect of your thinking process, and every attendant emotion fully as you speak, and then quietly put your journal away until tomorrow.
- Watercolor or acrylic paint, brushes
- Watercolor paper or journal page
Inciting Creative Passion
Moving from the mundane states of consciousness of dissipation, boredom and negativity into inspiration and creative expansion sometimes requires music. One way to intensify focus and shift surface attention into a more expanded state is to paint spontaneously to music.
We all need a passionate boost in our creative process once in a while. Julia Cameron makes the point, "When I am afraid of my own creativity (which may be to say I am afraid of my own passion), I turn to passion and creativity of others whose hearts have burst into music and I let them light the way for me."
Seeing Music as Color
The link between visual and musical expression was explored in depth by abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky who spiritually connected musical notes with specific colors. Kandinsky was a synaesthete. He could actually spiritually see sounds as colors. Kandinsky loved classical music. He would play music and paint how it made him feel. He painted what the notes looked like in colors, and how musical compositions in appeared visually in lines and shapes.
This exercise is as simple as it is profound. While you may not be able to actually see notes as colors - you can stretch towards intuiting how music feels in color. Choose a piece of music and close your eyes. You may even want to move to the music for a while and then allow the music to move you. Paint rhythmically and freely to the notes as if they are colors that you can see. Allow the senses of your hearing and your sight to blend together into one symbiotic felt-sense. Experiment with your expanded hearing and allow it to learn towards creative and spiritual sight.
On music Kandinsky wrote, "Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies. The soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key then another to cause vibration in the soul."
- Watercolor or acrylic paint
- Colored markers
- Magazines and books
- Scissors and glue stick
- Watercolor paper or journal page
Our bodies hold many stories, dreams, memories and purposes. Using collage to tell the story of our body, either in part or in whole, reveals what is hidden from our everyday thinking. Our bodies are a living metaphor of what we feel and think on subconscious and unconscious levels. Whatever we are unwilling to feel or acknowledge will be held in the "story" of our body.
Our body is our most reliable and truthful source of information. We can choose to see our body stories by focusing on the individual parts that need attention. Alternatively we can do a collage "body scan" of our entire body to see what areas of our body want to speak first.
We all have parts of our body that we love, and parts of our body that we dislike, ignore, and even hate. A simple way to look at what you celebrate and what you denigrate about your body can be contemplated in two collages. We can enter each collage through the breath. The breath faithfully connects us to our body sensations and allows us to choose accurate imagery to reflect what our body is holding.
What Do You Love About Your Body?
Wherever we feel loose, free, accomplished and alive is where we celebrate and allow the life force to live through our body. It is encouraging to do a "body love" collage first to celebrate that there is hope for total self-love and aliveness. Most of us have some part of our body that we nurture and use well on a regular basis. You may not cognitively know what part of your body that you love the most. Perhaps it works so well, you do not even notice it. Allow yourself to rest in your breathing and listen to your sensations. What body part would like to speak to you, and thank-you for something that you do?
Trace or draw the part of your body that you love, and choose one or more images that resonate with this part of yourself. When you are finished with your collage, slowly sit back and contemplate what inspires you about it. Breathe into your self-love and feel how you would like to celebrate this part of your body that works so well for you.
Journal with your feelings of well being:
What are you saying to me?
What memories do you hold?
What are you expressing about me?
What I am doing well for you?
How can I continue to give to and nurture you?
What Do You Dislike About Your Body?
Each part of our body has its own unique story that expresses all that we think and feel. Art Therapist Lucia Capacchione calls our body - our emotional "storage locker". Each body part could be seen as holding a personality that has its own strengths and weaknesses. Often we overemphasize the parts of our body that are "working" and ignore the parts that are suffering because they feel too painful, shameful, or weak. Our disowned body parts hold memories that we may have forgotten, and they may need our loving attention to come alive again.
Focus on your breathing and choose a part of your body that feels numb, sore, stiff, or disowned. What part of yourself do you prefer not to think about? Draw an outline of this part of your body and intuitively choose one of more images that represent how you feel in this area and glue them onto your collage.
We all would like to feel good on a regular basis, and when we don't, we can feel frustrated and discouraged about life. Sit back and breathe into where you feel that your body is betraying you with physical discomfort or pain. We heal and transform our pain by changing how we react to it. When we close down around our hurt, we keep it locked in our body and over time this can turn into chronic pain, body stiffness and soreness, illness and disease.
Consider that each part of our body and mind would prefer to be used for joy instead of pain. We can be sure if we are harboring a negative emotional charge in our body, we are missing the lesson and strength that was missed - that could have been lived into in the past - when we experienced the original hurt and emotional hardship. We can contemplate how we can reframe our original hurt and pain into a new strength and a potential for joy.
Journal with your painful body symptoms:
When did you begin? When did I start to close you down?
What am I continuing to believe about myself that makes you feel worse?
How could I react to you right now in a way that would help you feel better?
What do I need to do to help you heal? What do I need to heal from the past?
What are you teaching me?
What would you like me to commit to everyday to help you get well?
What positive quality in myself am I avoiding by holding onto you?
What new strength would you like me to live into?
- Watercolor, tempura, or acrylic paint, or colored pencils and markers
- Watercolor paper or journal page
Bodily Truth vs. Outward Appearances
Our bodies symptomatically mirror what we are thinking about. Most of us think - way more than we feel. To become exquisitely aware of our body's feelings is to become aware of our intuitive nature. But we most often ignore our bodies until they hurt.
As much as we try to store away all that is uncomfortable within, our body will faithfully and accurately record and express all of our thoughts and emotions.
Most of us spend most of our lives with our attention directed towards the outer world and away from our bodily feelings. What percentage of your attention is focused inward towards how you feel in your body on a daily basis? What percentage of your attention is directed outside of yourself towards what other people think? Our bodies begin to hurt when we make the "outside" more important than our "inside".
If we live mainly in the world of appearances - in the ego world - where we put on a "social mask" to navigate our life's practicalities - we lose touch with the breath and the authentic present moment feelings that exist within our body.
We think we are our thoughts, but our body does not think. It knows who we really are. The discrepancy between the thoughts that fuel our social mask, and the feelings that are our bodily truth, create pain, soreness, extra weight, and illness in our body. Our body does not lie. It is incapable of being inauthentic. When we think one thing, and feel another, the body will communicate somatically through uncomfortable symptoms.
Color Mapping Your Body
Because we spend most of our life experience out of our body and in our heads, it is helpful to explore color body mapping in order to visually see where we are ignoring ourselves. Body mapping involves drawing different body parts, and meditatively painting the "feeling color tones" of each part.
It is important to color map your body where you hurt the most first - as that is the part that is speaking the loudest. Alternatively, or in addition to, you can color map your entire body all at once by either having someone trace you on a large sheet of paper, or by drawing an outline of your body in your journal - to help you decide what body part needs your kindest attention.
Body Meditation of Acceptance
When you welcome your emotions as teachers, every emotion brings good news, even the ones that are painful.
- Gary Zukav
When we drop our awareness from our thinking mind into our bodily feelings we will likely notice where we feel uncomfortable, uneasy, anxious, tight and sore first. Spending time with our aches and discomforts is a meditation of kind attention. When we focus on what hurts, it will either intensify, or will relax gratefully from our attention. Our aim can be to stay with our discomfort, send it love, and simply accept that it has been waiting for our attention.
Simply accepting where we hurt without trying to control it, change it, or distract away from it is the first step towards healing the incongruity between our thinking and feeling. We heal suffering, not by denying it but by accepting it first. Eckhart Tolle writes about suffering, "The ego says, "I shouldn't have to suffer", and that thought makes you suffer so much more. It is a distortion of the truth, which is always paradoxical. The truth is you need to say yes to suffering before you can transcend it."
- Felt pens
- Journal page
Draw Your Anger
Instead of letting anger eat away at us, we can express our anger by vigorously scribbling and swearing in our journal or by drawing a portrait of our anger. If you are going through a challenging time or have a great deal of anger to process, it is helpful to start a dedicated anger journal. Our anger is not all of who we are, but we can practice allowing our anger to move and create change in a daily anger processing journal.
Anger holds tremendous energy. The aim in processing anger is not to get rid of anger, but to get our emotionally stagnant energy moving in order to see what we are not looking at within ourselves. When we begin to feel our anger we can know that we are starting move stuck and repressed energy, and that change needs to happen. Anger that is safely expressed and mobilized can invoke the passion and power to grow. In order to process anger it is helpful to begin by expressing the energy of anger in a drawing, a painting, in a dance, or through your voice.
Tell Your Anger Story Fully
On the opposite page of your journal write out your "anger story". Write from only your point of view about how you have been wronged in vivid and furious detail. At this stage it is important to let out on the paper how you feel victimized. Feel free to write about how you despise certain parts of your life, who irritates and angers you and why, as well as who you feel has hurt you terribly. You also may be angry at yourself and will need to fully express your upset at yourself.
Note that it is important not to get stuck in resentment, but to get your anger story out of your body, and onto your journal page so that you can begin to witness your thinking process. You should feel released when you tell yourself your anger story for the first few times. If your story starts to repeat itself inordinately, you may be stuck at the level of resentment because you are afraid to feel your deeper feelings of grief, loss, and the heartbreak of self-betrayal.
Feel Anger Fully Through Your Body
Processing your anger through your body is essential for shifting out of your victim mentality. Our victim stories keep us emotionally and physically weak and unable to find the drive to move forward in our life. Mobilizing energy with power through body movement and vocalization helps transform the repressed anger of victimization into empowerment for change. In order to move past resentment it is essential to deeply feel and explore the feelings that hide beneath your anger in your body.
At this stage, vigorous vocal and physical activity can help you "drop" below your anger to the grief and hurt that you are afraid to feel. Pounding or yelling into a pillow, engaging in vigorous physical activity, or even cleaning your house while angry can move thoughts of anger and resentment through your body into feeling the sadness of self-betrayal that underlies anger.
As you drop into your tears - your grief, loss and sadness - know that as you feel and release your heartache, you will recover your joy, strength, and heart again. Anger can be moved through into self-empowement. It starts as fear and anxiety and the reluctance to feel upset. Fear moves into irritation, frustration and then anger, and perhaps even rage. Once anger is fully mobilized in a safe way it drops into grief and usually tears. And in the end, if you do not get stuck in rage, victimization and resentment you will likely notice that your heart has softened. Now you are ready to look at your anger story in a new way.
Disassemble Your Anger Story
Our anger stories hold our emotional pain but are they wholly true? Rationally separating your beliefs from the truth will help heal your victim story. We can start to look carefully at our victim stories only after we have released the bodily charge of our anger. As we neutrally witness our victim stories we will start to uncover the core negative beliefs that we formed about ourselves as children, teens and young adults. As we discover our negative core beliefs, we will wake up to how we see our entire life through the lens of what we believe is wrong with us, and where we think the world cannot love us.
Most of our anger stories as Radical Forgiveness author Colin Tipping writes, are mostly "B.S." They mostly contain belief systems that are toxic and that continue to affect and create our life in negative ways. Rationally separating the facts of what happened and what our interpretations of what happened is essential so that we can heal our victim stories. We can create our entire lives around a system of untrue beliefs about ourselves. Our anger points the way to where we can become accountable for everything that has "happened" to us.
When we start to look at what we really believe about ourselves, intense resistance and sometimes even nausea can arise. To disassemble your anger story you can turn to a fresh page in your journal and divide it into two columns. Looking at your victim story - in one column write out all of the facts about your story. In the other column write out your beliefs about yourself in the middle of your story. Meditate on what you believe about yourself and really pay attention to where in your body you carry your negative beliefs. Send your needy inner places love and encouragement.
Reframe Your Anger Story
You can never spiritually or cognitively reframe or deeply understand your anger story if you have not fully felt all of your feelings around it. Trying to cognitively reframe your way out of your anger without embodying it only represses it more. Your anger wants or needs something, and understanding what that is will help you to integrate it into your embodied wholeness. Deeper understanding always comes through feeling not thinking.
Even though our life seemingly happens on its own - on a very deep level we play a part in everything that happens to us. Reframing your anger story involves becoming as deeply accountable as you possibly can about how you played your part in the drama of your life story through the lens of your negative core beliefs about yourself.
Accountability asks us to look at the deepest and seemingly shameful patterns of struggle in our psyche that we are trying to heal. Our fearful minds have ways of avoiding our greatest strengths. We all have inklings when something is wrong. So if we have been victimized we must ask, "What was I believing about myself to have allowed this to happen? What was I trying to get by having this happen in my life? What need was I trying to fulfill? What purpose or gift was I avoiding living into by having this happen in my life?
The best way to become accountable is to pretend that you wanted the pain that you have experienced and ask yourself "Why?" There are many reasons why we want bad things to happen. On a soul level we are often trying to heal deep longstanding emotional patterns. Our greatest challenges bring great spiritual strengths into this world. On an ego level we use all kinds of problems to delay our unfoldment into the strengths that we are meant to be living into in order to meaningfully and joyfully contribute to life.
Another accountability exercise is to integrate all that we hate about other people inside of ourselves. If we simply cannot get off of the idea that the other person is "wrong" we can make a list of all of the qualities that we hate about them. Often we compensate for the very qualities that we hate about other people by working very hard to act completely the opposite way. But we all have been out of our integrity at some point in our lives. If we accept other people's behaviour as our own - or as possibility of our own if we had the same life circumstances - we can integrate it and forgive it.
By being accountable for everything that has happened to us refines our highest integrity and helps us clean up our side of the story completely. If we cannot incite change in an unhealthy situation or another person, we can choose the strength we will develop in the middle of hardship and difficulty. In the end, we need to work with the serenity prayer in the midst of our anger, "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference."
- Journal page and pen
Active Imagination is a Jungian method, as psychologist Robert Johnson in his book Inner Work says "to invite the creatures of the unconscious to come up to the surface and make contact with us." As we make contact with the characters in our unconscious mind through our imagination, we can journal and dialogue with what wants to make itself known to our conscious awareness. I simplify, and elucidate how I apply Robert Johnson's teachings to expressive journaling process:
Usually, if we wait in stillness long enough, an inner image will want to come forward and will want to speak to us. Our spontaneous imagination happens when we sleep and dream at night, but it is possible to access our dream imagery during our daily journaling process while we are awake.
This symbolic arising of imagery in our imagination is an interior part our unconscious self coming up into our awareness to heal, reconcile and join with our everyday consciousness. With regular active imagination journaling, we can set up a flow between the layers of our psyche - between our conscious ego mind and our subconscious and unconscious truths.
The Four Steps to Active Imagination
1. Inviting our unconscious mind to speak.
2. Dialoguing with our unconscious mind.
3. Expressing higher values to resolve conflict.
4. Making our intuitive insights concrete in everyday life.
Inviting Our Unconscious Mind to Speak
To go into our imagination, we can quiet and withdraw our mind away from the external, and go within. We can turn to our inner world inside and simply expectantly wait with pen in hand. We might invite, "Who would like to speak to me?" If you wait long enough, a figure may arise in your imagination. The simplest invitation would be to kindly ask, "Who are you? What do you want? What do you have to say?"
Once you have contacted your inner figure, it is important to let go of control and be careful not to impose any particular direction on the conversation. Be prepared to listen to your inner characters with a sense of wonder and curiosity. Invite the conversation to evolve intuitively.
If you are drawing a blank and no inner imagery is arising, you can choose a current fantasy that has been running through your mind and speak to the characters within it. When we do not give enough time to our unconscious workings, we can become flooded with fantasies during our daily life. The need for fantasy usually indicates that there is an inner conflict between our conscious and unconscious mind to be worked through. Persistent fantasies force us involuntarily to pay attention to our inner world.
You can also visit symbolic places to invite inner imagery. We each have, or can create inner imaginal places that feel imbued with energy. We can visit a favourite forest or beach in our mind to see who emerges in our imagination to speak to us. Another way to invite active imagination is to return to a particular night-time dream landscape that does not feel complete. It is possible to remember our dream figures, and invite them to extend into our waking life to speak to us further.
Dialoguing With Our Unconscious Mind
Once an unconscious image has risen up, you can begin your spontaneous conversation by asking questions. Your approach towards your imaginal figures would be one of respect and the willingness to listen. Each inner figure has a life of its own. When your inner figure does or says anything, write it down in your journal. Everything is symbolic of your inner life. Note the details that you see about how your figure appears and feels to you.
Remember that the intention of Active Imagination is to have a deeply honest and authentic conversation. You can let your inner figure know how you honesty feel about it when it approaches you. Expressing deep feelings about how your inner figure affects you is the best way to start an authentic conversation. You might even have a conflict with, or feel a strong aversion to your inner figure. You can let it know how you feel in completely honest language.
Let your honest conversation have a beginning, a middle and an end. Fully participate until the conversation comes to a resolution. Journal your part in the conversation, as well as the imaginal figure's voice, including all of the details of nuance, and emotion that arise within you as you communicate. Allow your exchange to feel fully real. Amplify your emotions. Ask, "Who are you? What do you have to say? I will listen to you. Say anything you want!" Even if your arising character is loathsome, inferior, or frightening to you, give it your full attention. Listen to it carefully and record all of the details. Later, you may want to search for its wisdom, and the deeper messages underneath its presentation, especially if what it says bothers you.
Be on watch for how your conscious mind might try to skew the conversation to its own ends. Tell your normally controlling ego mind to quiet down during this journalling process. This form of journaling is not a programming of your unconscious by trying to change it to become more positive, but rather a deep inner listening about hidden aspects in your psyche. Write everything that you exchange with your inner figure down in your journal. . When you reply to your inner figure, share your opinions, feelings and values.
Expressing Higher Values to Resolve Conflict
As the conversation comes to a close, we can start to make decisions about how it will be resolved. When any two individuals come together for a conversation on an outer level there will be conflicting values. How we resolve any conflict - whether inner or outer - is to decide which side is expressing the highest, most ethical and truthful values. So when we have two inner parts arguing, a decision must be made between the two that reflects the highest good for growth and emotional health. Choosing the highest good is how we resolve all inner conflict.
We become whole by being ethical and truthful. In every sense the "most high" and the most authentic must always win the conflict. Some parts of our unconscious mind are hurting, needy, angry, destructive, rebellious, weak, afraid, and not willing to make an effort for the good. They have been hurt and may be choosing unhealthy behaviors to try to feel safe that are not necessarily the most authentic or helpful to our current life.
We always need to consider our functional humanness when we listen to our inner parts of self. If a figure arises wanting something that would take us away from the healthy, mature human functioning that we need in our life right now, we need to come to an ethical and moral resolution - while still honoring what the each side is really needing. Perhaps our inner figure - feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, does not need us to quit our job for example, but we could honor our inner unconscious voice by creating more time to relax instead.
Making Our Intuitive Insights Concrete in Everyday Life
Whenever we have intuitive insights about how to resolve inner conflict and move forward, we need to bring them into action in our practical everyday life in order to complete the process. Otherwise our journaling process is simply an ungrounded imaginary exercise. Whatever we decide between our conscious mind and our unconscious imagery must be brought back out of our imagination, and grounded in everyday human life in some form of practical gesture, a simple ritual, or a daily practice.
This means that if we are having an contentious inner dialogue with an inner figure in our psyche that is appearing as our mother for example, we do not call our real mother up on the phone and yell at her! Perhaps instead we can take time each day with our own negatively introjected "inner mother" and work with our own self-criticism in some concrete, positive, practical daily way.
It bears emphasizing that often people who currently exist in our life will play out dialogues within our psyche that seem real, but are in fact an inner representation of a conflict that is going on within. If this is the case, it is wise to "non-particularize" our inner characters and make them more archetypal instead. We can make the faces more generic, for example, to make our inner figures less exactly reflective of our outer real-life figures.
It imperative as we do our inner work, not to make outer people in our lives wrong or bad because we have not resolved and owned our inner conflicts. To recognize inner dialogues as subjective to our own psyche's inner conflicts and struggles helps to differentiate real life from fantasy. Subjective fantasies about real people, furthermore, affect their unconscious mind, because on a deeper level we are all connected.
The aim in all inner work is to resolve inner conflicts between the various parts of our psyche and soul. The different parts of ourselves do not see things alike, and so we must begin "inner negotiations" in order to feel integrated and at peace. Our inner parts of self need to work out some kind of a healthy resolution to function at optimum levels. Communication between our various parts that have not been speaking to one another - sometimes of decades - eventually leads to great inner synthesis and wholeness. This integrative kind of inner work translates to a marked decrease in outer conflict in our lives as well.
- Assorted colored markers, oil and/or chalk pastels.
- Journal Page
Each one of us has a unique visual language. We can all make signs, symbols, and marks on paper that express our inner feeling states. The simplest of imagery can express the workings of the psyche and soul most profoundly and eloquently. In fact with visual journaling - the simpler the better.
Pioneered by Barbara Ganim and Susan Fox, visual journaling process is a simple form of self-expression for people who do not feel like they can draw. In fact in their workshops, they often ask skilled artists to draw with their non-dominant hand so that they do not get caught up in the look of the imagery.
The Conflict Between Thinking and Feeling
The fundamental cause of all stress is the conflict between thinking and feeling. Whenever we feel anxiety or stress, we can be sure that we are thinking one thing and feeling something else.
Our thinking mind is more concerned about who we "should" be - based on our family and cultural conditioning. And our feelings communicate the intuitive messages that are trying to express who we really are. This conflict between thoughts and feelings arise as a feeling of anxiety, resistance to life, muscular contraction in the body, and shallow or constricted breathing.
Most of us reflexively and habitually shut down what arises in our emotional body - especially if what we feel is not acceptable to us or other people in some way - either now or in the past. Most of us - in our habituated thinking selves - prefer the comforting familiarity of patterned way of thinking, even if it is not true or constructive.
The soul's native language is imagery. When we create simple, spontaneous drawings, our soul will offer us wisdom about the steps we need to take in our life right now to be healthy and whole. When our mind has other plans and goals that are not in alignment with our feeling/intuitive nature, we can feel anxious, irritated, conflicted, and tired.
Intuition is Most Often Visual and Symbolic
Most of us cannot properly describe our inner feeling states with words. What we think we feel is not always what we really feel. Our words interpret our feelings - they rarely fully express them. Our mind wants to hold on tight to the familiar belief systems and judgements that we acquired in childhood. We commonly try to fit every feeling into our belief system.
Imagery can hold much more information than words. Imagery expresses the intuitive, feeling, right side of our brain. If we feel an emotion and put it straight into spontaneous imagery, we can express it before the mind identifies it, labels it, and judges it. If we let ourselves express imagery first, we will be able find much more insightful words for how we feel afterwards.
By drawing our feelings first, and verbalizing them second, we can access our intuitive feelings more easily. When we express our feelings in simple gestures, colors, lines and symbols, we can release them out of our body, and onto the page to be seen and understood from a much deeper place than if we try to describe them verbally.
Expressing Feelings Provides Relief
Simply and truthfully drawing and recognizing a feeling is all that is required to feel relief from anxiety. Feelings do not even have to be resolved. They just need to be seen and acknowledged for what they truthfully are. When you sit down to visual journal, set an intention to understand whatever known or unknown emotion is arising in your body right now. You might say, "I want to connect with the uneasiness in my heart." Write your intention at the top of your journal page.
Quiet your mind and breathe deeply into your body. Once you feel connected to your body, go to the area of your body where you are uneasy, hurting, or uncomfortable. Close your eyes and sense into your inner imagery in that particular place. You might see a color, an image, or you might have a spontaneous feeling or felt energy come to mind. You might hear a spontaneous word. For instance you might randomly hear the word, "hot". When you open your eyes, pick up your art materials and translate your inner image onto the paper simply and quickly. It might be in the form of scribbles, lines, dots, a stick figure, ect.
Visual and Written Daily Check-In
This quick exercise inner imaging and drawing exercise can be a way of visually checking in with yourself in your journal every day. After you check in visually, you can ask yourself the following questions - encapsulated from the book Visual Journaling by Barbara Ganim and Susan Fox:
1. As you look at your check-in drawing, how does it make you feel?
2. How do the colors make you feel?
3. Is there anything in the drawing that disturbs you? How or why does this part of the drawing disturb you?
4. What do you like best about your drawing? How does this part of the drawing make you feel?
6. Are the emotions in this drawing related to a current issue or concern in your life?
7. Does this drawing help you understand how to deal with your current issue or concern? Do you have any insights as to a step you could take to deal with your current problem?
- Acrylic paint on canvas, or tempura paint on paper, or watercolor on a journal page
- Brushes, water
Exploring Unknown Feelings
It often does not occur to us that we can create, learn, and grow, and even delve right into the center of our most challenging feelings.
When we feel uncomfortable inside we generally want to do everything we can to avoid, change or distract away from our discomfort.
We wear our repressed emotions in our body. Wherever we feel tight, sore, or cannot take a deep breath into any part of our body, we will find something that is longing to be expressed.
Our emotional discomforts drive our behaviors. It is as at such times of intense discomfort that we turn to our favorite ways of numbing or sedating our emotional pain, whether it be through overeating, grabbing a glass of wine, spending money, or any other of our favorite distracting or destructive behaviors.
The Energy of Feelings
Many intense feelings cannot be put into words, yet painting into the unknown of ourselves opens up new possibilities of understanding what underlying feelings drive us to think and act the way we do. As we "live into" and express an unknown feeling, something new and creatively fresh will come into our awareness. We will feel different, more real. We will remember and recover who we were before we became emotionally stuck.
The amount of energy that we use up to stuff down our uncomfortable feelings can take up an enormous amount of our life force vitality. So when we make the opposite gesture of moving right into the "eye of the storm" of our grief, hurt, anger, shame or fear we can access tremendous energy, joy and passion.
When we listen to each feeling that burns, hurts, disturbs, shames, unsettles or torments us through intuitively painting - one symbol and one color at a time - we change in ways that we cannot anticipate. We can learn to love our uncomfortable feelings because - on the other side of them - they bring wisdom and joy into this world. We can say to our feelings, "Bring it on! I want to know you!" We can turn towards whatever we are afraid of feeling - one brushstroke at a time.
- Pencil Crayons
- Mandala Coloring Book
Calming Emotional Distress
Coloring pre-drawn mandala patterns can be surprisingly soothing especially during times of emotional distress. Psychotherapist Rudiger Dahlke - the "father" of the the mandala coloring epidemic - found that working within a predetermined framework promoted a sense of peace and inner order. The aim in working within a pre-drawn structure is to feel and intuitively color as a form of ritual or prayer.
Coloring is for everyone. As children we color before we begin to draw. Many artists and art therapists are against coloring and prefer pure, spontaneous creation instead. However coloring within a "perfect, rotating geometric figure" is a way to study and integrate a high level of emotional and mental harmony. If we can quiet our intellect when we spontaneously color, our emotional focus can come to a state of peaceful rest.
Mandalas as a Pattern of Creation
Intuitively coloring within established structures reflects being creative within the limits and structures of everyday human life. Dahlke says, "Working with coloring books is equally as important for children and for adults. When small and big children practice adhering to to predetermined structures, they symbolically learn to show humility towards creation. We can easily see that people who show humility towards creation accept the greater framework of their lives."
Human life is a balance of living creatively within rules. Being creative and spontaneous within the regular structures of our lives is to live artfully and ingeniously. We all work and live within the structures of work, family, and practical responsibilities. Coloring within a "preordained" mandala can symbolize respecting and creatively working within the larger creation that is our lives.
Practicing creativity within rules and structures is way to relax into the larger order of things and to let go of some of the overwhelm of our busy lives. We can relax about having to create and do it all. We can focus on the simple focused task of intuitively choosing colors and relaxing our mind, body and emotions. We can color our mandalas in the direction that we need to move in our lives. If we need to consolidate and center our emotions, we can color from the outside in. If we need to expand our horizons and reach out to life and other people more, we can color from the center outwards. Pattern, order, and focus bring a sense of safely within the larger framework that we create and live within.
Watercolor paper soaked for 5 minutes in a tray of water
The Wordless Feeling of Color
Our minds cannot really think about color. We can only feel color. Color is prior to the birth of imagery. In color we can steep in the mystery of our feelings. And in spontaneous creativity, as in feeling, we must learn to surrender control.
Each painting, each feeling has a life of its own. Painting wet on wet gives birth to the spontaneous flow of color and our inner and outer emotional movements. To reflect your inner movements of feeling, wet your watercolor paper, and let your paint diffuse and move in the way it wants to.
Feeling and Painting
Sometimes we try too hard in our life. To "not try" invites fresh possibilities and new movements within our being. Practicing surrender in one or more freeform watercolor paintings is a good way to process unknown feelings. When we become present to what we are feeling, we can begin moving in color. We can allow each successive painting to move as it needs to move until we feel finished and complete.
Painting the Beginning, Middle and End
You may want to do several wet on wet paintings in a row to reflect how your feelings move and change. You cannot meddle too much with wet on wet watercolor. You can approach your wet on wet paintings like music. They begin. They have several movements. And then finally, they complete themselves.
The Outer Movement of Color
When we flow with the ease of this freeform watercolor process, uncomfortable feelings can untangle within. The aim of the surrender to the feelings that want to flow - is to be effortless. We do not need a reason to paint spontaneously. We need only to have an inner emotional movement that wants to be discovered through an outer movement of color. There is no resistance with watercolor. It flows like our feelings. Allow your wet on wet paintings sessions to be soft, free and self-nurturing.
Watercolor paper, or art journal page
Watercolor paint and brushes
Water spray bottle or an eye dropper
Watercolor is a free flowing medium that is fun to splash around in. Painting watercolor drops is a practice of not forcing anything to happen with your creativity.
The watercolor medium does all of the work. This is a wonderful warm-up exercise before other types of creative work. It is also a way to open up creative blocks.
Simply take a large clean watercolor brush, a spray bottle, or an eye dropper, and drop spots of water on your dry watercolor paper or journal page.
Then fill each "pool" of water with watercolor. Let each drop of water hold the paint and watch what happens on your paper.
Let your intuition choose the colors. This is an excellent activity for opening up your creative flow. Let the benevolent energy of color relax you. Play. Don't worry.
This is an excellent activity to try when you cannot "think" of what you want to create next. Just sit back and meditate on your colors as they flow.
- Old magazines and books
- Scissors and glue stick
- Matte board/cardboard cut to size for your cards such as 5x7 inches or 6x6 inches if you prefer working in a square format
Mapping Out Our Inner Worlds
We each have a treasure trove of sub-personalities that live below our conscious awareness. Each personality part has its own goals and dreams for our happiness.This often sets up inner conflicts within and we can preoccupy our time with inner struggle between opposing parts of self. It is helpful to map out our inner world, so that we can start to recognize what aspects of our psyche are dominating our awareness at any given moment.
Our various parts of self can drive us crazy in their incongruity. As we collage all of various parts of self, we will likely find many polarities in our thought and feeling states. Yet even our "negative" parts of self are trying to get us to happiness, even if their methods are misaligned. Often our negative parts of self are trying to protect us from difficult feelings. Seeing our inner conflicts in visual form can be an enlightening way to reconcile, direct, and integrate our different drives, fears, needs, and desires.
The Ease of Spontaneous Collage
Making spontaneous collage cards can help you map out your habitual and subconscious belief patterns so that you can become conscious of them and work with them in a constructive way. Seena B. Frost who is the originator of the method called "Soul Collage" has written two informative books on the process on the process of intuitive collage that divides the cards into structured suits if your prefer specific instructions.
For myself, I found that it did feel right to me to organize my psyche into "suits" but instead to sit down when I noticed an emotional pattern was dominating my psychology and make a spontaneous collage card with imagery that felt strong in the moment. I have included some of my cards below to share my visual process of self-discovery with you.
I went through a period of two years where I intensively "mapped" out my psyche through the collage cards. Since then I have added a few new cards a year, and taken out a few cards that no longer feel "charged" from my deck. Every time I felt an emotion that felt inchoate and unknown to me, I would pull imagery from magazines that resonated with the feelings in my body. If you feel drawn to try this method, I encourage you to have a collage table ready with all of your materials so that you can sit down and collage from the immediacy of your body mind/states. Reflecting on your newly created card for a day or a week will usually reveal the essence of the what your sub-personality is needing and longing for.
Naming Your Cards
It is helpful to name your various aspects of yourself on the back of each card. Each part of our conditioned thought and feeling constellations has a life of its own with certain needs, goals, likes and dislikes. Naming these parts helps you step outside of them to witness them with curious interest. As you come to identify the patterns of your psyche, you can keep an ongoing journal of your cards to record your insights.
I found it fascinating to color photocopy my collage cards and record what emotional needs each card was expressing in my journal. As each emotional need is addressed and integrated into conscious awareness, some cards may no longer be "active" and new layers of emotional need will arise and form into new cards. When you consciously become aware of and meet your emotional needs, you will feel less conflicted and accumulated with emotional overwhelm, and your collection of emotionally "active" cards may simplify.
Using Your Collage Cards as an Awareness Tool
As you become more conscious of your mental and emotional patterns, you gradually will become larger than than your emotional states and longings, and they will not overwhelm your life so much. Often when I am in a conditioned feeling/thought pattern for example, the visual image of my collage card will immediately come to mind. As a growth tool, collage cards can help us to find an antidote to unfulfilled emotional needs. For every difficult emotional pattern that we have, there is an opposite, life affirming pattern that we can newly condition into our consciousness.
- Watercolor paint
- Watercolor paper or journal page
Exploring Spontaneous Color Choices
Intuitively feeling what colors you are drawn to is the first step towards creating a spontaneous painting. Sometimes simply and intuitively choosing colors is a relaxing and emotional releasing exercise in itself. I offer this structured exercise as method to explore what colors emotionally call to you, and to encourage you to practice the process of intuitive choice-making.
Draw a simple line grid with pencil on your watercolor paper or journal page and prepare to take the time to meditate on each color choice. You might want to go so far as to put on soft music and to light a candle as you paint. This meditation is simply the practice of sensing into what color you want to use next, and where you will place it on the grid.
Developing a Personal Relationship with Color
While there are many guides to color meanings and to the practices of color and chroma therapy, I invite you to use this time to explore what color personally feels like for you. Within the grid structure you can relax between each color and placement choice, Get used to centering within and following one impulse after another. Pause between each square that you choose to paint in, take a few deep breaths, and look at your color palette with soft eyes.
Choose one color at a time and slowly paint your color onto your chosen square on the grid. You might notice a feeling or a place in your body when you look at each color. For each time of choosing, trust that only one color will strongly stand out. You need only pay attention to each moment-by-moment feeling in your body and you will get a strong sense of "this is the one". Continue to follow each impulse - one at a time - paying attention to the one color that stands out the most strongly in the moment.
In this exercise I encourage you to go beyond intellectual choice-making about what colors should go together, and instead focus on emotional choice-making. Center your awareness on your heart and choose from your excitement, warmth, inkling, or your emotionality. Allow your choices to be irrational. Your painting does not have to look a certain way. If your entire grid wants to be yellow green and brown follow your inner urges. Know that what you instinctively choose will express the part of you that wants to speak in color right now.
- Ballpoint pen our waterproof fine marker
- Watercolor paint
- Watercolor paper or journal page
What Does your Unique Spiritual Strength Feel Like?
To take the time to focus in on what our unique spiritual strength feels like can be something that we reflexively avoid. All to often we can drown in feelings of lack, emotional need and loneliness. When we meditate on what our spiritual strength feels like, we can practice making our soul strength larger than our problems. This exercise involves doing a short meditation and then a free-form intuitive drawing to express the essence of what your soul feels like in color, shape or form.
In our quiet time we can ask how we can best use our gifts to contribute to our life situation at this time. We can start to see ourselves as love flowing outwards. We can begin to intuit where to direct our love in the course of our day. Often the urges we have to help will feel small and seemingly inconsequential, but if we follow them, we find we will feel happier. If we really listen, we will always have an inkling about how to uplift the fabric of our daily, practical lives.
When we give to life in an intuitively, heart-felt way we understand ourselves as having a period of influence that has a beginning and an end. We each have a finite time in this human form that we now exist in. We can choose to either give to life, or demand that life give to us. Knowing that our life span is a period of influence that will never exist in the same way ever again, we can find the motivation to live our best life. We can choose to use our aliveness and our gifts well.
Today as we draw from within, we can experiment with feeling every moment as precious. As we draw, we can practice what it would feel like to allow our Soul Self to become more strongly present than our psychology.
- Fine Art Magazines
- Card stock or journal page
When you want to make a more surrealistic collage, fine art magazines provide an excellent opportunity to find provocative and visually stimulating imagery.
Art magazines offer a rich resource of soulful and surprising subject matter for collage. Fine art imagery inherently invites us to stretch the limits of our imagination.
Fine Art Reassemblage
Consider choosing a large art image as a background for your collage and assemble your smaller collage pieces on top. Experiment with placing imagery in ways that do not rationally belong together.
Take the time to move your collage pieces around and intuit where they need to go. Allow your collage to be curious, strange, absurd, colorful, dark, or light.
- Several old paintings and drawings that you are not quite happy with.
- Glue Stick
Focusing on What Feels Meaningful
Usually when we express an inner truth through art-making we get a sense of rightness that we have expressed what we needed to express. When a painting or drawing feels right, there is a feeling of completeness, as if something has become clean and honest inside.
But not every painting feels right. One way to "re-express" yourself is to cut up old paintings and drawings that did not quite "hit the mark" and to collage them into a more powerful, coherent, meaningful expression of yourself.
Gathering the Truthful Elements
You can start to keep a stack of drawings and paintings that have not quite hit the truth of you. If there is even one element in your work that feels strong, save your paintings and drawings and cut out what feels intuitively eloquent of what you need to express. Consider using one of your paintings as a background for your newly assembled collage. Feel free to combine all mediums, such as pastel drawings and watercolor paintings, both figurative and abstract, into a newly expressed truthful, visual representation of how you feel right now.
- Watercolor or acrylic paint
- Watercolor paper or journal page
Ten Quick Abstract Paintings
Sometimes less is more, and simple abstract shapes can express the purity of a singular feeling that can get confused in a more detailed painting. If you are used to adding a great deal of intensity and detail in your paintings you might like to try painting ten fast, simple abstract paintings instead. Place your finished abstract paintings down on the floor side-by-side to contemplate your progression of feeling.
Looking Without Thinking
Artist Ellsworth Kelly, age 79 has devoted his entire life to painting and exploring the simple relationship between abstract shapes. As a painter, he looks at his external world without thought and conception. As Kelly says, "If you can turn off the mind and look at things with only your eyes, ultimately everything becomes abstract." Consider looking at the world without thought, and simply gazing upon plants, buildings, shadows and reflections on the water without labelling and categorizing.
Practicing Open Vision
Once our world is taken in with this kind of open vision we can open our minds to new possibilities. Painting without thinking, laying down simple shapes and colors can express the most eloquent of inner states. Consider too, the relationships between your painted forms and colors. You might want to write a simple, spontaneous word at the bottom of each painting that feels evocative of each painting. Consider looking at your external and internal world in fresh and surprising ways. The next time you go for a walk, experiment with softening your eyes and turning your thought volume down for a time. Enjoy taking the world in freshly without preconceptions.
- Acrylic or tempura paint, brushes
- Heavy paper, stretched canvas, or journal page
Spontaneous painting is not a technique that you learn with your mind so that the result will be "art" but more of a joyful process of exploration of your inner world through intuitive art making.
Every human being has the deep urge to express themselves honestly but we are not often encouraged to be our most unique selves. Spontaneous painting requires no special talent, skill or inspiration. Because your natural, original style is already within, you are already good enough to begin.
Talent Arises Out of Self-Love and Acceptance
Our creativity is available at all times and needs only an invitation to reawaken. Talent as an artist comes from taking risks and feeling everything. This invites spontaneity. In my opinion "good" art is authentic art, no matter what it looks like. In authentic art we do not pre-plan anything during the art making and we learn to embrace whatever is expressed without judgement. As soon as we try to create something "good" we can easily become tense and self-critical. Creativity is about loving yourself just as you are and allowing yourself to express yourself as you are meant to without shame or judgement.
There are Two Ways To Create
As a former gallery artist I have both a "cultivated style" and a "natural intuititive style" of creating. I once visited an artist's studio and she also had two distinct styles of paintingas well. Her one style was realistic with a heavy emphasis on trying out new techniques. She told me that she liked to challenge her mind to stretch in new artistic ways and that she often copied other artist's styles and techniques. "I work very hard on these paintings!" she told me. This is what I would call her cultivated style. She painted this body of work for the results they produced.
When I pointed out several of her almost primitive, tribal paintings on the wall, she laughed, "Oh those are easy!" She exclaimed, "I do those just for myself for relaxation." I have been drawing like that since I was a child." She told me that her intuitive paintings just poured out of her effortlessly but that she thought they were strange and not very marketable. To me they were beautiful in their rawness and aliveness, full of risk and adventure. These paintings were the outpouring of her natural, intuitive style. She painted this body of work for the love and passion of the creative process.
How to Paint Intuitively
My inspiration to paint intuitively came from within almost 20 years ago and when I found the newly released book Life Paint and Passion by Michele Cassou and Stewart Cubley it felt like a gift from the gods!
I offer some of what has inspired me here:
- The aim of spontaneous painting is to express in an undefended way. Follow a sense of what is truthful in your body. If you feel defended, or you have the urge to not paint something, or to cover something up, question yourself.
- Feel free to play. Do not care about the results.
- Have respect for what looks like nothing or that is beyond your cognitive understanding. Colored areas, slashes and lines allow certain feelings to be expressed non-verbally.
- If a recognizable image wants to enter the painting, take that risk.
- Know that judgement of your painting comes from a threatened self-image.
- Know when you are immersed in the spontaneous painting process with you will feel an aliveness, and a deepening of feeling. You will feel a heightened awareness of the moment.
- What are you most afraid of as you face the paper? Try to paint what you most fear and allow all of the things inside of you have their time in your loving awareness.
- Rest in the unknown. Something wants to be born on the paper. Treat it with respect. Enter your painting slowly and carefully. Be sensitive to the brush as an extension of your hand. Something in your body wants to move through you. Meditating on uncertainty opens up your intuition.
- There is a deeper intelligence behind the seeming random suggestions our intuition gives us. Intuition is not mental decision making. When intuition passes through you - in each moment -there is only one possibility. Watch your painting unfold as you would watch a garden bloom. You are the perfection of nature. All colors and forms have just one way to be painted in each moment.
- You have the right to paint what you want. Nothing is forbidden.
- Boredom in the spontaneous painting process is avoidance and a fear of feeling.
- Paint each simple thing with integrity.
- Instead of waiting for something special to happen, just paint.
- Meet yourself through your spontaneous painting process. Know and accept yourself as you are.
- Nothing is a mistake.
- Be as honest as possible.
- Intuition is impersonal insight.
- What you want to paint is irrelevant. What you need to paint is pushing inside to be born. To create is to be alive, all that you think may be too strong, too childish, to different is to be welcomed.
- Old magazines and picture books
- Glue stick and scissors
- Card stock or journal page
Fear embeds itself into our body musculature. Wherever there is a body blockage - there is stored fear and a defensive strategy against love, growth and new information. You can meditate into the tight and constricted parts of your body with collage, and choose images that reflect your fearful places.
The next time you feel overwhelmed with fear, take a few minutes to spontaneously choose some images that reflect your feelings. As you choose your imagery, center your awareness on where you feel a constriction in your body. Fear reflects a fear of the future based on what you have not grieved and learned from in the past.
When you feel a strong emotion such as fear you will project onto the images that resonate strongly for you. Trust that the imagery you choose reflects your fear. Once you have chosen a few images, spontaneously put them together in quick collage. Do not over-think your collage. Allow your collage to form itself around your feelings of fear. Move your fear from inside of your body to the outside of your body in the form of a collage, and study it in visual form.
The Gift of Fear
Spontaneous collage is an intuitive way to dream while you are awake. Collage brings what feels unbalanced inside into focus in a visual way. When we resonate with imagery it can tell us things that we would not otherwise recognize. When we align with and honor what we have collaged we discover that all of our feelings hold gifts.
Psychologist Chuck Spezzano says, "Fear comes about from resisting our own energy. It is an attempt to block the energy that wants to fountain up inside of us and make life thrilling."
Consider that when you feel fear you may be scared of a risk that you need to take in your life to transcend old fearful conditioning. You may want to journal alongside of your collage about what where you feel scared and are holding back your energy from fully expressing itself in the way it needs to in your life right now. Wherever we have an unprocessed hurt or lack in the past, our emotional blockage will create a fear about the future.
Feeling Original Fear
We become arrested in our fear wherever we stopped growing at various points in our lives. We grow in strength when we face our fears and can make the higher choice to face and understand our fears.
Our ego mind is underpinned with fear, so the hurting inner child parts ourselves will always want to hang onto fear to keep us small and separate from our higher goals and purposes for growth as they did in the past. When we feel emotionally, physically, creatively or financially blocked we are most often courting an old fear that can be moved through with guts and strength in a new way that we were unable to muster when we were younger.
In order to grow we often must face the fears of our greatness and our gifts that we have been avoiding for years. It is possible to face and "burn through" fear with presence, maturity and courage to find the strengths and purposes that we left behind Fears can be felt fully until they are gone and only good feelings remain. Once we can face and feel our fear all the way, we are no longer so emotionally blocked and arrested in the past. Love and inspired action can take the place of fear, and when it does, our future will feel hopeful again.
Fears often indicates old emotions need to come up for healing so that we can move on with our lives. Fear is incredibly powerful but when we face and overcome fear we can reclaim all of the power that our fear has been hiding. We reduce fear by turning towards it with love and friendliness. When we become friends with our fear, we can approach it with love to try to understand what it is communicating.
We can increase our tolerance for feeling fear with practice and grow to love its power to indicate a needed change. When we befriend our fear and stay present instead of turning away from it we can see fear as a sign of something that we can become excited about a limiting thought or emotion that is arising to be faced and moved through. Fear can be leaned into and even intensified until it pops into more positive feelings such as excitement and positive anticipation. When we see our fear as excitement, we can harness its power for positive, forward-moving change.
Facing the Intensity of Fear
When we let fear keep our life small and protected, our fear intensifies over time and our life gets narrower instead of more exciting. We can use the intense energy of fear to motivate ourselves to change in positive ways.
Most of our fears are based on untrue beliefs about our unloveability that we formed as children and teens by personally misinterpreting traumatic, hurtful, or uncomfortable events. Uncovering mistaken beliefs by looking at the past from a holistic and mature viewpoint dissolves much of the underpinning of fear.
We can challenge our faulty beliefs by trying out new behaviors in our present life. Because life repeatedly offers situations to help us heal and transcend past fears, we can use our present life to overcome limitations that we were afraid to move through in the past.
Challenging Fearful Thoughts
Most of our fear and limitations were conditioned in childhood. Because fear is habitual and runs automatically, we can consciously choose to interrupt fear by creating new memories and experiences in the present moment. When we fearfully reinforce that we cannot handle life in the same way we could not when we were young we never give ourselves the chance grow up. When we let our fears rule us, we remain as children - little inside - hoping that life and other people will take care of us so that we do not have to change and grow.
When we break the link to childhood memory by doing something different, we grow to be able to handle life in a mature, creative and powerful way. It is possible to creatively speak to ourselves in powerful, bold and encouraging ways to counteract old childhood tendencies to shrink, withdraw and avoid life. In the face of fear we can say to ourselves "I can do this." "I am strong." "I can handle this."
Because fear is primal and physiological it is important to have coping tools available for when it overtakes our psychology so that it is challenging to function in practical life. Practicing new thoughts, bold behaviors, and confidence building affirmations when life is going well helps to embed new neural pathways of strength, maturity and confidence into our being that transcends the limitations of the past.
- Watercolor paint, brushes
- Watercolor paper, or journal page
Creativity Overrides Conformity
It is not hard to paint spontaneously but most of us are conditioned out of our creativity early when we we are taught that if we could not make "good art" as children we should not bother at all. Expressive Art Therapist Natalie Rogers writes about how creativity overrides the conformity of what we were taught.
She writes, "The creative process involves intuition, mystery, delving into the unknown, messing around with ideas, shapes, and colors; being willing to play and experiment. And part of the process is to allow feelings to be expressed through all media: the written word, speech, color, line, form, drama, music. Through this whole process, we find our individuality, self-esteem, and ability to act consciously."
Start Painting with Spontaneous Simple Shapes
If you have forgotten how to paint spontaneously, start with simple shapes, such as circles or squares. Concentrate on color, gesture and line and allow yourself to practice painting in a loose, free way. Expressive art is an exercise in becoming fully ourselves. Even a simple painting can express individuality, feeling, and self-empowerment.
The urge to express ourselves underpins our human life from birth to death and our creativity can be easily discouraged in childhood. In my experience, many adults that I meet feel reluctant to try creating again, and most can remember the exact point where they shut down their creativity as children.
Painting gestural circles with juicy watercolor paint is an easy way to warm up and begin tasting the freedom of creative self-expression again. Expressing yourself, even through simple shapes and gestures can start stagnant creativity flowing. Creativity is our innate life force energy. As creativity flows, we awaken from the illusion of conformity and become ourselves.
- Watercolor paper or journal page
- Watercolor, acrylic or tempura paint
- Brushes, water
A Starting Point
Painting spontaneously without external references or preconceived notions about how your painting will turn out can be a challenge at first. When I first started facililitating spontaneous painting classes, I was surprised to find that most people found it difficult to access their intuitive imagery. This is why I often choose to teach spontaneous collage, as anyone can intuitively choose ready-made imagery.
A blank page can be daunting for most people. Often at the beginning of a class, I will offer a starting point. You could start with a simple shape such as circle, or sense within for a figurative image that wants to be painted. If nothing arises from your imagination, intuitively painting a tree can be a good place to begin
Intuitively Choosing Colors and Shapes
When you paint your tree, allow its shape and color to unfold under your brush spontaneously instead of relying on memory or habit. Allow the shape, color and tone of your feelings to travel through your hand and onto the paper. Be prepared to allow your tree to morph into something completely different if it wants to. The focus in spontaneous painting is be tenderly and exquisitely present with each movement and gesture of your brush as it reflects the nuances of your feelings.
The process of spontaneous painting is more important than the end-product, and the entire purpose is to enjoy the flow of feelings as you paint. As your feelings move and become unstuck through the painting process, you may feel yourself feeling less emotionally accumulated. See if you can practice choosing your colors from an intuitive place. It is often helpful to stop between colors and give yourself time to check within to feel what color you are drawn to. Only one color at at time will stand out. Follow each strong urge. Allow yourself to be surprised as your intuitive felt-sense may be attracted to colors that your regular thinking mind would not normally choose.
- Fabric scraps
- Ribbon, cord, wire and string
- Small ephemera such as feathers, buttons, beads and small objects
- Pinking shears, scissors
- White glue
- Needle and thread
Creating Assemblage for Relaxation
It is rare that we take the time to spend a few quiet hours to simply play with color, pattern and texture with no pre-designed end product in mind. Focusing on a simple spontaneous assemblage can invite a relaxed awareness on the simple tasks of arranging intuitive compostions, working with color, juxtaposing textures, playing with interesting objects, and sewing with a needle and thread.
This art activity can be approached as creative meditation to quiet your mind. Whenever we intensely concentrate on a small task - such as sewing or beading - our attention amplifies. Casually arrange fabric pieces and small items on your fabric background. Try dropping string, cord, beads, and fabric pieces onto your assemblage and see if you like where they land. Glue and sew your ephemera to your fabric background.
Allow yourself to to work slowly, intuitively and with no end aim. Simply build upon on each next step, intuitively layer your items, and allow yourself to be surprised about what emerges. With such relaxed concentration allow yourself to move into peaceful mind states where all other thoughts disappear. Allow your thoughts to come to a rest and focus on the task at hand.
- Old Magazines
- Scissors and glue stick
- Journal Page
What Emotional Needs Arise in Your Silence?
- Watercolor paints, brushes
- Watercolour paper or journal page
The medium of watercolor is spontaneous by nature and is well suited for intuitive painting. Watercolour behaves in an fresh and translucent way that is different than other paint mediums that can be changed or painted over. Watercolor - by the nature of the medium is a practice in allowing what needs to happen - happen.
Self-Image vs. Intuition
Before you begin to paint, it is helpful to quiet your mind and relax your body. To paint intuitively, try painting without pre-sketching and allow yourself to paint what comes spontaneously. Allow your painting to become what it needs to be - whether it is beautiful or ugly. Intuitive paintings requires total self-acceptance. Any judgment that you feel while painting will indicate a conflict between a part of your psyche that needs to express itself and your preferred self-image.
When painting intuitively, in each moment, only one true possibility will present itself to you. Follow each deeper inclination and paint what you need to paint. When we paint what we want to paint, we are often trying to "appear" a certain way though our paintings. Very often, intuitive paintings will not turn out the way we wish they would. Practice allowing and honouring whatever happens under your brush. To allow whatever needs to be expressed its time in front of your awareness is a courageous and devoted practice.
- Acrylic paint
- Collage papers and magazine clippings
- White glue and sponge brush
- Heavy paper or journal page
It is intriguing to create an expressive self-portrait that focuses more on your inner state than your outer appearance. This expressive art exercise is good when you feel like one stage of your life is ending and you do not yet know where you are going. Reflect on the question. "Who am I right now?" Or you might ask, "Who am I becoming?"
Paint a loose representation of a face in acrylic paint. As you let your paint dry, gather and cut out your collage items. When your underpainting is dry, quickly and spontaneously glue on your imagery by painting both sides of the image liberally with white glue. The white glue on top of the image will waterproof it so that you can paint or glaze over top of it. When your collage items have dried you can "bury" some of your imagery into your self-portrait with more acrylic paint.
Allow your expressive self-portrait to be "negative" or "ugly" if it needs to be. We often express what we have hidden or rejected about ourselves before we can truly celebrate and own our beautiful qualities. Consider this quote by psychologist Eugene Gendlin, who writes, "What is split off, not felt, remains the same. When it is felt, it changes....if there is in you something bad, sick, or unsound, let it inwardly be and breathe. That's the only way it can evolve and change into the form it needs."
- Ballpoint pen
- Felt Pens
- Journal Page
Doodling can be taken to an eloquent level of personal expression and is a good activity to do when you feel emotions that you cannot put words to. Sometimes drawn symbols can express and encompass a feeling more completely than thoughts.
All it takes is a simple ballpoint pen and some colored markers. Intuitive drawing can be a way to make the unconscious - conscious. Doodle when you want to strengthen you intuitive connection to yourself.
Put your pen to paper and start making marks and shapes automatically and quickly and without thought. Keep your lines loose and uncensored. Allow yourself to scribble and doodle. Watch your pen move of its own volition. Move all of your thoughts into your heart. Let your intuition draw for you.
See if your doodles shapes want to become a face, a body, an animal, or a bird. Allow a spontaneous image to take shape. Your doodle may be abstract or representational. You may want to emphasize certain areas with heavy lines or crosshatching. Do not be deliberate with your pen. Allow a loose freedom with your lines.
Doodling is a wordless activity that is more felt than understood. Allow any feelings you may have to move into your hand and through your pen. Your drawing can be simple or elaborate. You can spend up to 30 minutes on a doodle or just a few minutes. It is helpful to doodle until you feel complete emotionally. You will just "know" when you are finished.
- Card stock or heavy paper
- Circle template
- Old magazines and books
- Art Journal
It is interesting to make a collage in a circular format. Use a circular object to trace a circle onto your card stock and cut out your circle.
Ask yourself a Question:
Because mandalas are a contemplative form of making art you can ask yourself a question about something that you want to know about your life. A good question to ask before beginning is, "What do I most need in my life right now?"
As you center into your question, spontaneously choose imagery that feels emotionally charged and alive for you. Try not to think. Choose your images without knowing why you are choosing them. Allow your images to overlap over the edge of your cut-out circle. When your collage feels finished turn your circle over and cut around the edge of the circle. Glue the image in your art journal.
You may want to contemplate your mandala and journal the answer to your question after you finish. What does your collage journal reveal. Visual imagery can help you grow and give you a tangible symbol of your needed growth to connect to. In my collage above, I could see I was longing for more depth. I was too busy at the time and was skating along the surface of life. I enjoyed cutting out images of Jacques Cousteau that visually illustrated my desire to "dive deeper".
- Still life - your choice of fruit, vegetables and/or flowers
- Oil pastels
- Paper/art journal page
When I was a gallery artist in my twenties it took me a month to complete each painting. Each piece was rationally thought out, patiently designed, and painstakingly composed.
When I was in my thirties, I started teaching expressive art groups to seniors. I was gifted with a true artist in my class. She was in her early 90's and her name was Tru! She had dementia and she had forgotten that she was an artist. Yet when I gave her a box of fresh pastels and an inspiring still life to look at she would begin to draw furiously and passionately.
I worked both in group settings and one-to-one with Tru. I did this drawing alongside her in one of our private art sessions. When I look at it today, I still feel the energy and expression that Tru inspired in me.
I invite you to set a timer for ten minutes for this exercise. Before you begin drawing take five minutes to soften your eyes and see the "whole picture" of your still-life. Try to read all of the different elements as one piece.
The aim is to create quickly and without much thought. Ignore the individual details and "see" and draw with your heart. See if you can capture the "soul essence" of your still-life with short quick strokes of pastel. Allow yourself to work fast and furiously. If you really want to loosen up, try five - ten minute expressive pastel drawings in a row. Progressively you will practice the art of loosening up!
- Pastels or watercolor paint
- Scissors and glue stick
- Old magazines and books
- Art Journal
It is often quite revealing to randomly choose words and phrases to spontaneously collage. Prepare a free-form colored background for your word collage, using pastels or watercolor paint.
Open up a magazine and look at it with soft eyes. When you soften your focus and breathe deeply certain words will stand out for you on the page. Without questioning, cut your words out and glue them onto your background.
Allow yourself to choose words that have an emotional charge, either positive or negative. Often when you feel positive, a more negative message will come up that will indicate the next layer of your psyche that is coming up for healing.
Often when you choose positive words, you may be struggling emotionally. Often word collages will encourage us when we feel down. Our minds will always reveal the next layer that is waiting to come up to be seen, acknowledged, accepted and healed.
This collage method is helpful if you have a niggling feeling that you do not understand and you want clues to consciously see what you are feeling. It will help you bring up thoughts, beliefs and feelings that are submerged into your conscious awareness to be understood.
This form of spontaneous collage is different from an intentional collage where you choose words that point towards what you want to feel. The aim is to not know why you are choosing your words. You can choose to meditate on your word collage for a day or more and journal about what it is telling you.
Often we have positive qualities hidden within that are longing to emerge into our life. When we disown our heightened possibilities we most often find them in our intense admiration of other people. It is interesting to find an image of someone you admire and contemplate why.
This collage exercise is an exploration of positive projection. You may have someone that you admire already in mind. You can search for and print an image off of the internet. Alternately you can allow yourself to "positively project" onto an image in a magazine. The person that you choose does not need to be recognizable, familiar or famous. Simply choose someone that you can "read" positive qualities into.
Simply find an image of a person that brings up feelings of admiration, or a positive longing for you. As you look at your chosen image, allow spontaneous words to arise. You may want to write these words on your collage and journal about the higher qualities that you sense you need to live into at this time in your life.
If you could name one higher quality that you sense you need to live into, what would it be?
- Vintage thrift store books and discarded library books
- Paper/journal page
- Glue Sticks
It is intriguing to use old books for collage. I often buy old art and nature books and old novels in libraries and thrift shops. I even search new books stores for bargain picture books to cut up.
Often the images are so much richer than what I can find in magazines. It is worth the small investment. Unusual imagery sparks poetic collages.
Choosing Your Imagery
Put together a quick spontaneous collage using imagery that intrigues and mystifies you. Allow yourself to put together a collage that makes no logical sense.
Choosing Your Words
Scan your books for words or phrases that intrigue you. Or you can randomly open a page in a book and pick words that strike you on am emotional level.
Allow your collage and words to take poetic leaps and to not make immediate sense to your everyday mind. Take a few minutes to reflect on the wordless feelings that your poetic collage invokes.
- Paper or journal page
- Oil pastels
Take five minutes to quiet your mind. Settle into a wordless, mysterious place inside.
Pick up a pastel and make loose marks on your page.
Intuitively, pick up each color that attracts your attention and continue to make gestural marks.
When you are finished your gestural pastel drawing, meditate on it for five minutes. Allow yourself to free associate and allow subconscious feelings and memories to arise as you gaze at your drawing with soft eyes.
Allow a spontaneous phrase or mind come into your mind. Do not worry if it does not make sense. Your drawing might offer you a piece of spontaneous wisdom or a mysterious message. Title your drawing with your spontaneous word or phrase.
For example for this gestural pastel I wrote:
Out of the Box
You are larger than you consciously are willing to admit...open up your energies to embrace and receive more of life.
Paper or Journal
It common to try really hard and not be successful with our efforts. We can often feel like we are on a treadmill that is getting no results. To be successful in any area you need to want with all of your heart. If you are not successful in some area of your life be it in your love relationships, your creativity, your career, or your family relationships - you simply do not want success with all of your heart.
I offer you this honest journal writing exercise inspired by Psychologist Chuck Spezzano where you simply ask yourself the same question over and over again to discover the hidden parts of your mind that do not want success.
First, ask yourself the question at least 10 times - give as many answers that you can - from the deepest part of your defensive and afraid ego-mind until you realize what is holding you back.
Be prepared to accept that many of your hidden motivations and fears that block your success will come up to be seen and accepted. We all have buried parts of our ego mind that want to hold us back form love, success and happiness. When we come clean about the parts of ourselves that are feeling sick, afraid or victimized by life we can integrate them with love and move ahead in our life.
Secondly enjoy writing out your authentic, positive motivations for success and celebrate your intentions to move forward. This journal exercise is designed to give all parts of your psyche and soul a voice.
Ask and answer this question at least 10 times each for your positive and negative motivations:
In my situation regarding my success what I really want is.....
The Negative Motivations:
In my situation regarding my success what I really want is.....
Write ten or more negative motivations that you can think of that describe why you resist doing well.
For example : "What I really want is to hide away from the world for fear of criticism."
Now the Positive Motivations:
In my situation regarding my success what I really want is.....
Write ten or more negative motivations that you can think of that describe why you authentically want to do well in your life.
For example: "What I really want is to do well financially and travel more."
"Our lives show the accumulation of all of our varied wishes. Wanting something with all your heart will begin to slough away all of your untrue and idle wishes. Success comes from an undivided heart."
- Pictures of people from magazines
- Glue stick and scissors
Choose 4-6 images of people that draw your emotional intention, and glue pictures to the paper. Make sure that you leave room for comic strip "dialogue baloons." Ask yourself, "Are they family members? Strangers? Friends? Do they represent your inner children?
Consider that we intuitively choose characters that represent different parts of our psyche. For instance we have many inner children, teen, and adult parts of our psyche that represent where we have our frozen emotions and our non-integrated life experiences.
This collage offers an opportunity to represent the inner parts of yourself conversing and coming to a new understandings, healing and reconciliation.
Create an improvisation in your mind. What would your characters be saying to each other? Contemplate each person in your collage and intuit what each person is thinking or saying, almost as you would watch characters interacting in a dream. Let the dialogue come to your spontaneously. Use markers to record each person's words.
This exercise is a visual psycho-drama. The interactions and words depicted may be harsh, scary, comforting, loving or encouraging.
This can be done as an individual art journal exercise. This is an excellent exercise to do with children. I also do this as a conversational group exercise with my art group for older adults with dementia.
- Colored Papers
- Magazine clippings
- Glue Stick
It is challenging but possible to change our emotional set point. We all have varying degrees of happiness, self-love and self-regard that our "normal". Our "normal" is usually similar to the emotional climate that we grew up in.
Take five minutes to close your eyes and go within. Feel into the emotional state that is your normal. A hint: Often our normal is a low hum of anxiety, or an everpresent worry, or a state of withdrawal. What is the everpresent emotional hum that runs under your days?
What colors and images would represent your "normal"? Many years ago - when I did the art journal page - illustrated above - I found myself collaging many bright colors from my head but I was not yet engaging fully with my life. My imagination was rich, but my "normal emotional set-point was feeling of being withdrawn from life.
Put together images and colors that represents the texures and colors of the current emotional set-point. Do not think to much about what you are putting together. Allow yourself to not know. Just feel your body's emotional state and create a collage from there.
Be careful not to collage what you wish you would feel like. Sense into your habitual emotional state without words or labels and let the images reveal to you to yourself.
Changing Your Emotional Set-Point:
A good way to meditate into your emotional set-point is to sense into how much love you let in on a daily basis. Is love peeking out into your life, or is it living through you at full throttle?
Our emotional set point is the degree that we feel love and nourishment from the inside. We all have areas where we reject ourselves and look for love on the outside.
Love is always available but we have to open up to receive it with awareness and determination. We will not invite love into our life unless we both ask for it and intensify our efforts to move beyond our regular ways of thinking and defending.
Meditating on the truth of love brings love closer to you. It is especially helpful if you repeat Good Mother phrases (see Expressive Art Activity # 6) with your whole heart until they become alive within you. If the phrases do not resonate with you, express them in a way that is meaningful to you - perhaps creating an journal page for each message.
Life responds to what we contemplate. As we move through the wall of resistance and let a higher ideas root themselves into our body chemistry we start to see evidence that the love we seek is inside of us.
- Small Journal
- Ballpoint Pen
When we do not have the feeling tone of self-love within we are forever looking on the outside of ourselves for love. If we have not known what good mothering energy feels like, we have to find ways to embed the feelings of warmth, nurture, safety and love into our body on a regular basis in order to heal from past fears and traumas.
Jack Lee Rosenberg, psychologist and author of Body, Self and Soul delineates of all the inner feeling tones that we need to feel complete self-love through a series of messages that we would have received from a mother who was able to be unconditionally loving. He calls them "Good Mother Messages". Read them over and see which ones you feel complete with, and which messages you feel you are missing in your mind and body.
As you meditate daily on the unique feeling tone of each Good Mother Message you will likely notice a considerable decline in the often hidden but desperate need for outside love and approval. Practiced on a daily dedicated basis, this meditation has the potential to soothe the various hurt and split-off inner child parts of self, inviting them back into a feeling of safety, wholeness and unconditional love.
Slowly write out the list below with deeply meditative mind in a small, dedicated journal every morning or every night before going to sleep. Imagine a yourself as a mother unconditionally loving her child - and practice soothing yourself as you do this daily healing meditation for yourself.
Try to set a goal of speaking or writing this list everyday for three months so that these messages of unconditional love can become more deeply embedded in your body and mind. If you feel inspired by imagery, collect draw images that amplify your feelings of self-love, care and nurture. Include them in your daily self-love meditation journal.
As you say or write these good mother messages it is often helpful to touch your body in some nurturing way, so that when difficult feelings do come up, you can anchor into your own internal "good mother." You might try holding your heart while you meditate on each phrase, or you might stroke your other hand or arm, or touch your face or hair much in the way a good mother would love her own child.
Good Mother Messages
1.) I want you.
2.) I love you.
3.) I’ll take care of you.
4.) You can trust me.
5.) I’ll be there for you: I’ll be there for you even when you die.
6.) It’s not what you do but who you are that I love.
7.) You are special to me.
8.) I love you and I give you permission to be different from me.
9.) Sometimes I will tell you “no” and that is because I love you.
10.) My love will make you well.
11.) I see you and I hear you.
12.) You can trust your inner voice.
13.) You don’t have to be afraid anymore.
Some of us may have received some of these healing messages from our real mother, and not others. Some of us may not have received any good mother messages growing up. It is helpful to practice these internal messages, especially for those of us who have experienced trauma as a strengthening process before serious inner work around trauma begins.
As traumatic memories arise or emotional pain emerges in our life to be healed and integrated, we need to have a firmly developed "inner good mother" that we can trust, so that younger more arrested parts of self feel safe enough to express, feel, and heal.
- A small journal
- A ballpoint pen
"Most traditional methods of working on oneself are mostly pain centered. People get to repeat over and over their painful emotions without knowing how to use the body's own inherently positive direction and force."
Understanding Your Problems in Your Journal
I will share psychologist Eugene Gendlin's intuitive process to help you to help you address the "stuck feelings" in your body:
In your journal write down each of the following headings and jot down your inklings underneath each heading. You can do a short meditation process with this focusing method each day to touch into your inner body intuitions and feelings.
1.) Clearing a Space
On any given day we are all likely to have half a dozen problems that keep us stuck inside. Ask yourself. "What is bugging me? Why don't I feel wonderful right now? How is my life going? What is the main thing for me right now?"
Problems: Stay quiet and let what comes come. Do not try to list every problem you can think of but only what has you tense right now. Let all these problems come up and out. List them, stack them in front of you and survey them from a distance.
Background Feeling: Sometimes there is also an ever present background feeling that always you carry in your body. Describe the ongoing background feeling in your body and put that on you stack of feelings in front of you.
Stay cheerfully detached from them as much as you can. "Well, except for all of these, I am fine."
All Fine: We all have a deep sense of well-being running at all times, but most often it covered with the static of problems and anxieties. Sense into how you feel when everything is all fine. Invite a word or phrase or image to come forward to describe it.
2.) Choosing a Problem to Work Through:
Ask which problem feels the worst right now. Ask which one hurts the most and feels the heaviest, the biggest, the sharpest, the most prickly or clammy or sticky. Choose one problem.
Don't go inside the problem as you usually would. Stand back from it. Ask, "What does this whole problem feel like?" But don't answer in words. Feel the problem whole, the sense of all that.
Ask yourself to be quiet, listen and feel. Try to feel the whole inner aura of the problem. Try to get down to the single feeling of "all that" about the problem. The feel of the problem comes to you whole without details, like listening to a piece music made up of many notes and having one whole sense of it. You may find the problem is located in a very specific part of your body.
This felt sense is the holistic, unclear sense of the whole thing. This is something most people would pass by because it is murky, fuzzy and vague. You might think, "Oh that! But that is just an uncomfortable nothing!" This is how your body senses a problem, it is at first quite fuzzy.
3.) Finding a Symbol for the Problem
Find a quality word, phrase, or image for the felt sense. Find a quality like sticky, heavy, jumpy, helpless, tight, burdened" ect. Or find a short phrase such as, "like in a box, have to perform". A combination of words might work best like "scared tight or jumpy restless. Or the description of an image might work better.
Try out different qualities until you feel a bodily shift and then discard everything else. You will know which one is right.
4.) Resonating and Checking the Symbol
This is a double checking of the word and the felt sense to see if they resonate. Make sure the word is just right with the feeling. Once you get the sense of rightness, your body will shift again.
Listen to the word you have decided is right and tune into the unclear felt sense for one minute. Using your word if it is say "jumpy", ask "What is it about this whole problem that makes me so jumpy?"
If you hear a lot of fast answers from your head, just let them go. What comes swiftly is old information from your mind. The mind rushes in and gives you no time to contact the felt sense directly. Ask yourself the question and wait.
Words and images will flow out of the feeling and offer a freshly felt difference. Just repeat your open-ended questions until the felt sense stirs. Ask, "What is the worst of this?" What would it take for this to feel okay? What does this felt sense need?"
This is not meant to be work but it is a friendly time within your body, inquiring.
Whatever comes in focusing, welcome it. Take the attitude that you are glad your body spoke to you, whatever it said. This is only one bodily shift and is not the last word. You do not need to believe, agree with, or do what the felt sense says. You just need to receive it. With each shift, your body changes and your life direction will appear step by step. Be willing to receive just one step. Once you locate this one shift it is very much like a place, a spot in your inner landscape. Once you know where it is and how to find it, you can leave it and return to it later.
"A felt sense is a bodily awareness of a situation or person or event...an internal aura that encompasses everything you feel and know about a given subject at a given time. It encompasses it and communicates it to you all at once. Think of it as a taste, or a great musical chord that make you feel a powerful impact, a big, round, unclear feeling."
- Felt markers and pencil crayons
- Paper or an art journal
- Old magazines, glue sticks, scissors
- Collage or draw what your inner critic says to you in a quick and spontaneous way. Try not to think it out too much before you start. As you create your picture - invite the critcal part of yourself to come forward and tell how it thinks you are not good enough.
- You might want to write these critical statements down on the opposite page of your art journal. This helps you become more conscious of the critical voice that runs under your life.
- Sit for five minutes and meditate on your drawing/collage. Consider what your inner critic has just told you.
Psychologists Hal and Sidra Stone say that the inner critic makes absolute pronouncements as though it has the truth of heaven behind it. It is for this reason that it is initially difficult to separate from the critic's voice. We think our inner critic is all encompassing. We think our inner critic's voice is all of us. Our inner critic feels like God or our parents condemning us.
Underneath the critic's voice is a fear of feeling shame and of feeling not good enough. Our entire society is based on perfectionism, on having the right things, on looking good. To give ourselves the permission to be human and to know we are doing our best given our current emotional circumstances and life situation helps our inner critic to relax.
Starting an Inner Critic Journal
It is extremely helpful to keep a dedicated journal to record your inner critic's voices and fears. As you become more conscious of your inner critic - you can start to listen to what it is saying with a more balanced ear. Our inner critic is not bad. It is trying to protect us from the shame and embarrassment that we could not tolerate in the past.
The positive side of the critic is that it is extremely discerning and able to analyze everything. We could reassign it to be a firm but benevolent inner coach urging us forward. Our inner critic keeps us on track and does not let us get off with the job half done.
Our inner critic has focus and discipline. Through our inner critic we can see clearly where we need to grow. With the inner critic applied in balance we can pull up our socks and move forward in a focused way.
Ask yourself these questions in your journal:
What is your inner critic afraid of - for you?
Is your inner criticism valid or is it just plain cruel?
Where did your criticism originate from? Your parents? Society?
Are you allowing yourself to be human and to make mistakes?
Is there a shred of truth to your inner criticism? How could you use all of your inner criticism to find the grain of truth, and live to a higher level of integrity? How could you use your inner critic's fears to step forward with care and discernment?
What part of your inner critic's criticism is true? How could you take a gentle step forward?
- 1 magazine - and only one - chosen randomly from a pile
- Paper, cardboard, or an art journal
- Glue Stick
Seeing Our Demands on Life
Our everyday mind constantly demands that life make us happy in this way and that. This dissatisfaction is the place from where all of our unecessary doing comes from. From this place of demands we create false ideas about what would make us happy - and all the seemingly necessary tasks to go along with those false needs.
To see through "higher eyes" takes persistence and great dedication. When we see through our higher eyes we realize that there is not that much we have to do. We do not even have to have elaborate goals or dreams. Life is truly laying itself out at our feet, waiting to be noticed and appreciated. To take life in richly and simply is often the only task. "What is my life revealing to me that I can appreciate?" is often the only question.
Working With What You Have
- "Just the way you look at it...change the world." Choose only one magazine and practice looking for things that you appreciate. Even if you do not like the magazine that you have chosen, really dig in and make every effort to find things that you like. Cut out the imagery and words that you appreciate and glue them down in your art journal.
- Spend five minute beholding your collage with appreciation and gratitude for your willingness to work with what you have. Allow the feelinkg of appreciation to build in your body and sense into how you can do this in your daily life. You can work with what you have in your life and make it richer for your appreciation of it. Use this exercise as a practice for building the "muscle" of your appreciation for your daily practical circumstances.
- As you practice seeing what you love in your collage - you might notice that you will start to see beauty in your life where there seemed to be none before. We can never think or dream ourselves into happiness - we can only be present for the life that we have right now. We can bring appreciation to each unfolding moment.
Some good questions to ask yourself in your art journal:
1) How much do you complain in a day? Can you see that your every complaint is an unreasonable demand that life should conform to your personal wishes?
2) Can you step back from your own thoughts and watch your complaints with curiousity? What if you viewed all of life as helping you to grow into your best self? How would that change how much you engage with your life the way it is - instead of withdraw from it?
- Paper, cardboard or art journal
- Glue stick
Defining our values helps us make conscious choices and determines the intensity and flow of our psychological energies. If we do not define our highest values we will be caught living from our habitual conditioned thinking and emotional patterns.
Once you find your primary values, you can begin to make all of your life decisions in alignment with your values, and you will know what you stand for in every situation.
- To discover the values that you feel connected to on an subconscious level, randomly clip out images and words that inspire you. Put your collage together quickly and without much thought. Do not worry if your collage does not make immediate sense.
- After you finish your spontaneous collage contemplate it for five minutes and write down the feelings that come up when you look at it. What surprises you when you look at your collage? Is there anything that you did not expect?
- Now consider the life values listed below. See if you can consciously choose the three top values that you want to live your life by. Do they relate to your spontaneous collage or are they different?
Calm, quietude Peace
Inner peace Quietude
- Ballpoint Pen
In your art journal invite your "pain" to write you a letter. If you are having trouble finding a voice for your pain you might first want to personify it with an image or a collage. Take some time to center into your pain and ask it to help you choose your images.
Go to the part of your body that feels tight, contracted and sore. Ask you pain to speak to you and explain to you why it is there. Begin writing your letter. "Dear....I am here to..." Ask your pain what it needs. Ask it to tell you what you need to do to help release or releive the the pain. After you finish the letter, stop and breath deeply for a few moments
Read the letter aloud to yourself and then write a response to your emotional or physical pain from your conscious mind. You might want to write how you will honor your pain's expression.
Adapted from The Expressive Arts Activity Book by Suzanne Darley and Wende Heath