- Journal and pen
Psychologist Stephen Wolinsky describes how we arrive into adulthood carrying varying amounts of posthypnotic baggage that determines the negative core beliefs that form our life experiences.
"A developing child is deluged with hundreds of posthypnotic 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, 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 a continuous choice 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. Our emotional reactions seem automatic, but they are actually a complex and subtle series of self-made contractions in our body and mind. With deeper awareness, and the 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? 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. 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.
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. Once the root loss is grieved, we are freer to be true selves.
Intervening on Conditioned Patterns
Most 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 the 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. When we have mixed feelings we become stuck and exhausted. We cannot move forward. 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, without choosing sides.
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 method of standing in the middle of opposing parts of self to an embodied exercise of speaking and writing out conflicting stories - and standing in ambiguity to 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 profoundly 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 stories out loud.
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 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, we can be gently touching each body part separately with our hands, as well as our awareness. Once we feel gesturally clear, we can then move our attention and our hands to the center point on our body, to see what emerges.
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.
In Focusing Psychotherapy the "Inner Relationship" has three modes:
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 part that struggles to move forward feels like all of who we are. 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. The identified-disassociated place is our "normal". 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 touch each corresponding part of our body in a nurturing way.
3.) Allow Both Parts Without Pushing for Resolution - 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". We can patiently wait for fresh inspiration.
When we are silent, 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 to be expressed - alternating between the two - allowing each one to form a kind of a dance.
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 in an inner conflict, a way that will be revealed that does not come from our logical mind. When we carry forward from 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 it 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
When we are non-integrated within, we operate from different part of our psyche, depending on our current emotional state. Our "inner brat" is a part of our mind that compensates for unmet emotional needs. From our "inner brat" we consume life and seek to "try to feel good" in ways that do not contribute to the whole.
Our inner brat 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 brat can turn to extreme self-focus on personal happiness to the detriment of others.
Our inner brat can be exceedingly creative 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 Brat
Because our inner brat stems from unmet needs from the past, it is helpful to draw your "inner brat" 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 brat expects from life without censorship, no matter how immature, ridiculous, or grandiose.
When you finish writing, contemplate what your "inner brat" is demanding from life. Is it realistic? Meditate on what emotional needs might be underwriting your brat'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 brat 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 brat 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 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 they will not heal unless we are willing to face, and finally feel and integrate the original feelings in our body.
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 them. It is common to just think about our past struggles. If we fully feel our past hurts, our mind will eventually grow quieter and more peaceful. From our higher, witnessing mind, we can talk to the protective parts of ourselves that keep our difficult memories hidden. We can ask our protector to allow us to remember, feel, and heal.
As we mature emotionally into our witnessing consciousness, we can tenderly ask the inner guardians of our past memories to allow our recollections to arise so that we can move ahead in our lives. We can record our embodied memories in a journal with the intention of emotionally connecting to the past.
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. After the emotional connection to the past is completely felt and integrated, we can reexamine the perceptions that we formed about life in the midst of difficult and traumatic experiences, and claim the resources hiding underneath the traumas.
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. Most often our memories 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 reasoning mind.
Our protective/survival selves are not all of who we are but when we are storing away unintegrated experiences, our protective self has a full time, and often 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
As we become determined and willing to feel our way through stored memories, we come to see how we keep our past traumas lock in place through our belief systems that have kept us busy and exhausted to avoid our pain. We can however, choose from our adult mind whether we want to keep our old beliefs or change them. After we feel our disowned feelings, we can choose new beliefs, our lives will begin to change. And 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 believe and feel in the midst of our hurt can help us discover the perceptions that we structure our entire life around. Once we revisit our original feelings, fully and completely, we can decide whether or not we want to continue living our lives as a monument to the avoidance of the guilt, upset, harm, abuse, and unfairness of the past.
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 at first, and feel numb. When we live in denial for a long time, honesty comes slowly at first. Follow the slightest twinges. Embodied writing can be a meditation with periods of not writing at all and simply deep breathing. Allow yourself to catch the concrete details, of memory, body feeling, and imagery as they arise in your present moment awareness and write them down with reverence.
Body Poetry - Your body's voice will sound different from your cognitive voice - almost like poetry. Write from inside of your body sensations. Allow your body to find, feel, and express it own unique language from the inside out. Record each memory sensation as it arises. Memory may also arise as symbolism or imagery to describe a feeling state that cannot be described. Do not worry if your imagery seems accurate or realistic. Allow any imagery that comes to your mind to be a metaphor for feeling.
Vivid Aliveness - Write vivid descriptions of memories, remembering the sounds, smells, sights, and feelings that surround difficult life events. Writing each perception as it arises - without worrying about grammar or sentence structure - provides an organic map to how we continue to create our personal reality.
Intuitive Inquiry - Writing from inside our experience, 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?"
Mindful Nuance - Every little detail matters, and even the most difficult feelings can be recorded with tender, mindful, loving attention, and will unfold to our witnessing mind, layer by layer. Our traumas form a specific map of pain in our body that once noticed with care can move, shift, and release. Notice and record the particularities of the pain in your heart, for example. Your body 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 thinking mind and you body mind. Revise your writing until it feels completely authentic and you feel a sense of rightness in your body.
Writing Through Fear - Courage is often required in embodied writing because intense fear often arises first in the healing process. Our fearful perceptions of life form the backbone of our defensive belief systems. Embodying your fear and recording how it moves and shifts invites deeper insights to move forward into our 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.
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 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 feelings 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, and our negative beliefs, into a fresh and empowering belief systems that enrich and help 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
In our ordinary workaday selves we may long for something to take us into our creative passion. Moving from the mundane states of consciousness of dissipation, boredom and negativity into inspiration and creative expansion sometimes requires music.
Especially when we feel worried, rushed, or distracted, sometimes the inspiration to paint is just not there. One way to intensify focus and shift our 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 so profoundly, "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.
While you may not be able to actually see notes as colors - you could stretch towards intuiting how music feels in color. This exercise is as simple as it is profound. It involves putting on a piece of music that inspires you and painting intuitively. Allow the music to move you. Paint rhythmically and freely to sound as if it were 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 add how I apply Robert Johnson's teachings to expressive journaling for you to explore.
Sitting quietly invites imagery up from our unconscious mind to consider and understand. 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 in a private place, away from interruptions. We can turn 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. When we do not give enough time to our unconscious, 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. If your are consumed with fantasies in your waking life, you can invite the main characters in your fantasy to speak to you.
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 is of Active Imagination is to have a deeply honest and authentic conversation. You can let your inner figure know how you 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, and the imaginal figure's part, including all of the details of nuance, and emotion that arise within you. Immerse in and 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.
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. Tell your normally controlling ego mind to quiet down during this journalling process. When you reply to your inner figure, share your opinions, feelings and values. Be utterly spontaneous, and be on watch for how your conscious mind might try to skew the conversation to its own ends.
Expressing Higher Values to Resolve Conflict
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, and the 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. As the conversation comes to a close, we can start to make decisions about how it will be resolved.
In every sense the "most high" and the most authentic must always win the conflict. We become whole by being ethical and truthful. 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 values 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 process. 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 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 her up on the phone and yell at her! Perhaps instead we can take time each day with our own "inner mother" and work with our own self-criticism in some concrete, 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.
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. 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.
The aim in all inner work is to resolve our 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 contsriction 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. 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. Wherever we have felt hurt or lack in the past, we will create an emotional blockage and a fear about the future.
Feeling Original Fear
We become arrested in our fear whenever we stopped growing at various points in our lives. We can make a higher choice to face and understand our fears. Our ego mind is underpinned with fear so a part of ourselves will always want to hang onto fear to keep us small and separate from our goals and purposes. When we feel emotionally, physically, artistically or financially blocked we are often courting an old fear that can be moved through. We become arrested in our fear whenever we stopped growing at various points in our lives.
In order to grow we often must face the fears of our greatness and our gifts that we have been avoiding for years. Fears can be felt fully until they are gone and only good feelings remain. It is possible to face and "burn through" fear with presence, maturity and courage to find the strengths and purposes that we left behind. Once we can face and feel our fear all the way, we are no longer so emotionally blocked from the past. Love and inspired action can take the place of fear and suddenly our future feels hopeful again.
- 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.
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 psyche.
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 approval.This meditation soothes all of the various hurt and split off inner child parts of your psyche and invites them back into 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 - as you do this daily healing meditation for yourself.
Try to set a goal of writing this list everyday for three months so that these messages of unconditional love become deeply embedded in your body and mind. If you feel inspired by imagery, collect draw images that amplify your feelings of self-love. Include them in your daily meditation journal.
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.
- 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