Practice the Daily Habit of Creative Spontaneity for 100 Days
It takes about 3 months to deeply ingrain new positive emotional and psychological habits. Imagine having an in-depth set of 100 art and journaling processes arriving in your email each day so that you can cleanse your emotional pain and access your higher potentials.
Envision being able to access creative, indexed methods of spontaneous and creative self-healing - whenever you need them - for years to come.
If you’re a creative person, and are tired of feeling emotionally overwhelmed, spiritually heavy or mentally blocked, you can now purchase 100 Days of Art and Writing Journal Therapy Prompts for less than the fee of one Art Psychotherapy Therapy Session HERE!
Art Journal Therapy Activity #1 - Write Your Emotional Pain a Letter
This art journal directive offers a safe way to honor your "immature" emotions. By paying attention to the emotions that we are ashamed of and afraid of - we "grow ourselves up" into emotional maturity.
- Art journal and pen
- Magazines, scissors and a glue stick
Growing up Your Emotions
“Don't be scared of scars. They just tell stories that are hard to hear.”
~ Ashly Lorenzana
Voicing our raw, immature emotions can be destructive if we act them out in front of other people, and so they need to be expressed in a safe place, such as within a private journal writing process. Our negative emotions are always younger than our current age, formed at a time when we did not rationally understand the truth of life.
It is common to try to force ourselves to feel and act more mature than we actually are. Because most of us are scared of the wild irrationality of our emotional life, we do not not ever let our emotions "grow up." Emotional growing pains are just as necessary as physical or mental growing pains. We experience emotional growing pains when we honestly admit to our immature emotions.
We can learn how to release negative emotions in ways that are not destructive to self and others by privately admitting to where we "play small" without shame. Good, warm, healthy emotions always come after we allow the painful release of negative emotions. Listening to and remembering the times and places where we "arrested" our emotional release due to family and societal disapproval, can free us enough to begin the emotional maturation process.
4 Steps to Writing Your Pain a Letter
In your art journal invite your emotional pain to write you a letter....
Art Journal Therapy Activity #2 - Define Your Core Values
This art journaling directive will help you consciously choose and define your top 10 core values and offers a list of nearly 400 values to choose from. This journal exercise will also help you discover your hidden, subconscious values.
- Art journal
- Glue stick
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi
Defining our values helps us to organize our mind around our higher purposes and will help us make the best decisions in our life. If we do not define our highest core values we will stay stuck living from our habitual self-defeating thinking and our negative emotional patterns.
Once you define your highest core values, you can begin to make all of your life decisions in alignment with what is most important to you. As you know what you stand for in every situation, your guiding principles will align and shape your higher vision for your life.
1. 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.
2. 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? Is there any hidden value that you want to change?
Conscious Discovery of Your Values
Now consider the 377 values listed below. Choose the top 25 values that you most want to live your life by. Then narrow your list down to your top ten values. Do they relate to your spontaneous collage or are they different? Post your list of values in a visible place and contemplate them daily.
Conscious Discovery of Your Values
Now consider the 377 values listed below...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 3 - Collage Your Appreciation
This art journal directive will support you to lift up" your life energy into a better feeling appreciative state when
you are struggling with heavier emotions.
- 1 magazine - and only one - chosen randomly from a pile
- Art journal
- Scissors and glue stick
Seeing Through Higher Eyes
“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”
~ Marcus Aurelius
To see through "higher eyes" takes persistence and dedication. We do not even have to create elaborate changes when we intensely appreciate our life as it is now. So much of our
life creation unfolds from simply making each now moment rich with attention and appreciation for what is currently happening.
Life lays itself out at our feet, waiting to be noticed and appreciated. Even negative circumstances can be appreciated for inciting need growth, change and movement. Embracing the present moment intensely through appreciation is a healing process that does not involve having to change your outer life.
Three States of Awareness
There are only three states of being we can choose to express ourselves in "Victim Mode, Flat-lining Mode, or Appreciation Mode" as informed and inspired by spiritual teacher Lynn Grabhorn.
In Victim Mode we actively see old negative emotional patterns repeatedly arising in our current life. When we focus on what is negative, we will feel helpless instead of creatively willing to handle our life.
In the Flat-Lining Mode, we're neither down nor up, we are just accepting the erratic life energy around us. We do not consider that we can actively choose or create anything different than the state that we are in now. This is what most of us unconsciously do most of the time.
Appreciation is not denial. The high energy of appreciation activates our awareness to a healing level where old mental patterns that hold negative emotions in place can release more effortlessly....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 4 - Draw and Collage Your Inner Critic
This art journal exercise will support you to examine how your inner ways of hurting yourself correlates with the unreasonable fear of outer criticism.
- Art journal
- Felt markers and pencil crayons
- Magazines to cut up, glue stick, scissors
The Fear of "Not Good Enough"
We criticize ourselves in ways that we fear others will criticize us, and most often we are defending ourselves unnecessarily.
When we limit our thinking to repetitive self-critical thoughts, our thinking will stay immature and fearful, we leave no room for the growth of love, creativity, and inspiration. And, while we may need to defend ourselves from harsh outer criticism once in a while, when we keep ourselves in a vigilant self-critical state, we harm ourselves with unnecessary stress. When we learn how to soften our defense system, and stop protecting when there is no need to do so, we can relax and heal our inner critic.
Part of eliminating unnecessary inner criticism is examining whether the outer danger you fear is true. Most of what our inner critic is trying to protect us from is hurt, rejection, frustration, and outer criticism. Since we are only in emotional "danger" and not in mortal danger, we can consider the possibility of withstanding any outer attack with inner peace, self-love, and strength of character. It is helpful to imagine your worst fear of being criticized by others and envision yourself handling the situation from your mature, adult strength, using all of the accumulated resources and life experience that you did not have as a child.
Collage and Draw what you Fear
1. Try not to censor or think it out too much before you start. Collage or draw what your inner critic says to you in a quick and spontaneous way. As you create your collage/drawing in your art journal, invite the critical part of yourself to come forward and explain how it thinks you are not good enough.
2. Be prepared for your critical voice to be quite mean as you bring what is inside into your outer picture to be seen, recognized and healed. Write these critical statements down on the opposite page of your art journal to visually see how this critical voice that runs under your life.
3. Sit for five minutes and meditate on your drawing, collage and writing. Consider what your inner critic has just told you. How does your inner criticism reflect your fear of similar outer criticism? Where would this outer criticism come from?
Separating From Your Critic's Voice
Psychologists Hal and Sidra Stone point out 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 and real. From the part of ourself that holds all of our pain and hurt, we can think that our inner critic's voice is the voice of absolute truth. Our inner critic can feel like God. societal standards, or our parents condemning us.
Our predominantly ego-based society is based on perfectionism, on having the right things, and on looking good. Underneath the critic's voice is a fear of feeling shame and of feeling not good enough. To give ourselves the permission to be human and to know we are doing our best given our current emotional circumstances and life situation will our inner critic to relax.
How to Start an Inner Critic Journal
It is 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 all bad. It is trying to protect us from some kind of shame and embarrassment about not reaching a higher standard.
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 5 - Growing Through Problems
This journal directive will support you to find your next positive growth steps by sensing into your body for fresh information.
- 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." - Eugene Gendlin
Understanding Your Problems
If you have trouble identifying the more subtle cues and signs of your uncomfortable problem states, I share psychologist Eugene Gendlin's focusing process below to support you address the "stuck feelings" in your body. This process will help you to sense into the growth step that is trying to emerge from within your current problem.
In your journal write down each of the following headings and jot down your inner inklings underneath each heading.
1.) Clearing a Space
On any given day we are 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. Remove your problems out your body and put them in front of you by listing them in your journal. Do not try to list every problem you can think of but only the main problems that have you feeling tense right now. Let all these problems come up and out onto your journal page so you can see them in front of you. Or alternately, use your imagination to place them in front of you. Survey them from a distance with an objective eye.
Background Feeling: There will also be an ever present background feeling that always you carry within your body. Describe this ongoing background feeling in your body. Place your background feeling next to the visual image of problems 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, or remember how you feel when everything is all fine. Invite a word or phrase or image to come forward to describe this familiar feeling of wellbeing that peeks through your problems at different times. Place this feeling of "all fine" next to your problems and your background feeling.
2.) Choosing a Problem to Work Through
"A problem is a missing of something needed." Ann Weiser Cornell
Art Journal Therapy Activity #6 - Journal Meditation for Increasing Self-Love
This daily journal exercise will support you to love the pain, loneliness, abandonment that you feel in your heart by daily nurturing your own feelings of inner fulfillment. This prompt includes 13 "Good Mother Messages."
When we do not have the feeling tone of self-love within, we endlessly look outside of ourselves for love. Since no human mother can be perfectly unconditionally loving, it is our own responsibility to embed feelings of warmth, nurture, safety and love into our body on a regular basis in order to heal from past fears and emotional traumas.
Jack Lee Rosenberg, psychologist and author of "Body, Self and Soul" delineates of all the inner feeling tones that we need to feel complete self-love through a series of messages that we would receive from a mother who was able to be unconditionally loving. He calls them "Good Mother Messages". Read them over and see which ones you believe in and which messages feel unfamiliar.
As you meditate daily on the unique feeling tone of each Good Mother Message you will likely notice a considerable decline in the need for outside love and approval. Practiced on a daily dedicated basis, this meditation has the potential to soothe the various hurt and split-off inner child parts of self, inviting lost aspects of yourself back into a feeling of safety, wholeness and unconditional love.
Our emotionality can be personified as inner child parts of self. 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 your higher mind as the mother unconditionally loving your inner child fears and emotionality. Practice regularly soothing yourself as you do this daily healing meditation for yourself.
Try to set a goal of speaking out loud or writing this list everyday for three months so that these messages of unconditional love can become more deeply embedded in your body and mind. If you feel inspired by imagery, collect draw images that amplify your feelings of self-love, care and nurture. Include them in your daily self-love meditation journal.
As you say or write these good mother messages it is often helpful to touch your body in some nurturing way, so that when difficult feelings do come up, you can anchor into your internal "good mother." You might try holding your heart while you meditate on each phrase, or you might stroke your other hand or arm, or touch your face or hair much in the way a good mother would love her own child.
13 Good Mother Messages....
Art Journal Therapy Activity #7 - Collage Your Emotional Set-Point
This art journal directive invites you to reflect upon your current emotional set-point, and using the principles of positive psychology, expand your feelings of well-being.
- Colored papers
- Magazine clippings
- Glue Stick
Our emotional set-point is the habitual background feeling that we carry all through our lives, often without really recognizing that it is there. We all have varying degrees of happiness and self-love that is our "normal." Until we become aware of it, our "normal" is usually similar to the emotional climate that we grew up in.
Take five minutes to close your eyes and go within. Our "normal" is often a hum of anxiety that covers up a predominant feelings of fear, anger, or sadness. Feel into the emotional state that is your unquestioned "normal." What is the ever-present emotional hum that runs under your days?
What colors and images would represent your "normal"? Many years ago, for example, when I made the art journal page illustrated above, I found myself collaging many bright colors around a partial head. My imagination was rich, but my "normal" emotional set-point was a general feeling of being withdrawn from a full engagement with life. I feared being fully honest and expressive.
Creating Your Collage
1. Tune into the background hum of you emotional life. What does it feel like experientially? Put together images and colors that represents the textures and colors of your "normal" emotional set-point.
2. Allow yourself to "not know" as you choose your imagery. Feel your body's emotional state and create a collage using imagery that your "normal" wants to choose.
3. 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 your ever-present "normal" to yourself.
How to Change Your Emotional Set-Point
It is challenging yet possible to upgrade our emotional set point. It begins with noticing how much love and support you let in on a daily basis. Is love peeking out into your life, or is it living through you at full throttle?
Love and well-being is always available but we have to open up to receive it with 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 resisting it....
ARt Journal Therapy Activity # 8 - Dialogue Balloon Collage
This journal exercise will support you to explore your inner cast of characters in a form of visual dialogue.This directive describes 19 different aspects of self that most of us carry inside.
- Pictures of people from magazines
- Paper for dialogue balloons
- Glue stick and scissors
When an submerged energy pattern arises to be integrated it will often conflict with our "primary" social self. It will often show up in our dreams and spontaneous artwork first. Witnessing the energy patterns within ourselves without judging them is a key to inner peace and reconciliation.
This collage journal exercise offers a way to visually see your inner energy patterns in visual form. You may know some parts of yourself and be identified with them and you may not know other parts. This directive provides an opportunity to look at the inner parts of yourself that are struggling against each other, and support you to come to a new levels of integration.
1. Choose 4-6 images of people that have invoke an emotional response and spontaneously glue them in your journal.
2. Make sure that you leave room for comic strip "dialogue balloons."
3. Ask yourself, "Are they family members? Strangers? Friends? Inner children? Inner teens?
4. Create an improvisational dialogue 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 witness characters interacting in a dream. Let the dialogue come to your spontaneously. Use markers to record each person's words in the "dialogue balloons."
Intuitively choose characters that represent different parts of your psyche. We each have many inner children, teen, and adult parts of our psyche that represent where we have our stored our emotions and non-integrated life experiences. Allow your inner voices to spontaneously be chosen and engage together.
19 Different Aspects of Self
Psychologists Hal and Sidra Stone, authors of "Embracing our Selves" share some of the many combinations of inner energies that could be having a voice dialogue. I share my understanding of how the various parts of the inner self could relate to the collage process:
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 9 - Heal Your Blocks to Success
This journal directive invites you to explore the hidden parts of your mind to discover your limiting beliefs about achieving success. This exercise will also offers a six step art journal process for releasing negative beliefs.
- Markers and pencil crayons for drawing
To be successful in any area such as work, relationships, abundance, we need to want our goal with all of our heart, free of inner conflict and contrary beliefs. If you are not successful in some area of your life, be it in your love relationships, your creativity, your career, or your family connections, this journal directive will explore why you do not want your success with all of your heart.
When you feel like you are on a treadmill that is getting no results, you can explore your inner conflicts and hidden beliefs to see what is holding you back from happiness, love, and abundance. This journal exercise is designed to give all parts of your mind and heart a voice, and is informed by transpersonal therapist Chuck Spezzano. It involves simply and honestly asking yourself the same question over and over again, to more deeply discover the hidden parts of your mind that do not want success.
Be prepared to accept that many of your seemingly negative, hidden motivations and fears that block your success will come up to be seen and accepted. We all have buried parts of our mind that want to hold us back from love, success and happiness. When we come clean about the parts of ourselves that are feeling sick, afraid or victimized we can change.
Ask and answer the question at least 10 times each for your positive and negative motivations:
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 in your life.
For example: "What I really want is...to hide away from the world for fear of criticism."
The Positive Motivations:
In my situation regarding my success what I really want is.....
Write ten or more positive 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 so that I can buy a house."
"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."
Letting Go of Limited Beliefs
The following methods for clearing limiting beliefs have been informed by spiritual teacher Amorah Quan Yin and have been translated into an art journaling process:
1. Become aware of the belief that limits you.
2. Be willing to acknowledge your belief as only a belief and not the truth.
3. Be willing to let go of your limiting belief.
4. Be willing to feel and release your associated your emotions.
5. Accept the responsibility for creating your own reality through your limited beliefs. Recognize you are not a victim of your outer circumstances.
6. Imagine an unlimited healthy alternative to your limited belief.
Six Step Art Journal Method for Releasing Limiting Beliefs....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 10 - Gestural Pastel
This art journal directive will support you to explore non-objective spontaneous mark making as a path to insight.
- Paper or journal page
- Oil pastels
Mark Making for Insight
Drawing non-objectively can express inner energy and emotions in vivid and surprising ways. Accessing inner wisdom through spontaneous mark making can invite deeper feelings and insights to arise that we do not normally allow through our habitual thought system.
"It wasn't long before I fell in love with the improvisation process, spontaneous expression, and the strange and graceful phenomena when the mind surprises itself."
~ Ruth Zapora
6 Step Method for Gestural Drawing:
1. Settle into Stillness - Take five minutes to quiet your mind. Settle into a wordless place inside.
2. Intuitively Choose Colors - Pick up the color of pastel that you feel most attracted to and make loose marks on your page at your whim....
Art Journal Therapy Activity #11 - Found Poetry Collage
This art journal directive will support you to explore your creative imagination by seeing and playing with imagery and words in fresh ways.
- Vintage thrift store books and discarded library books
- Glue Stick
Choosing Your Imagery
Unusual imagery can spark poetic collages. Imagery and words from books are often much richer than what can be found in magazines.
Buying image rich books for collage making is worth the small investment. I often buy old art and nature books from libraries and thrift shops. I also search new book stores for bargain picture books to cut up.
Five Steps to Choosing Your Poetry and Imagery
1. Put together a quick spontaneous collage using imagery that intrigues you. Explore free form juxtapositions that make no logical sense to spark your poetry.
2. Randomly open a page in a book, soften you eyes, and pick words that stand out. The words that are most important to your unconscious mind might even seem to glow....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 12 - Collage Who You Admire
This journal directive invites you to explore the qualities that you admire and idealize in other people, in order to consider how you could incorporate similar higher possibilities into your daily life.
- Magazines/old books/internet access/printer
- Glue stick
- Art journal
Negative and Positive Projection
“You will be a beautiful person, as long as you see the beauty in others.”
~ Bryant McGill
We personalize our perceptions based on our past experiences. In order to survive in our ego world, and to avoid feeling our emotional pain, our nervous system generalizes our positive and negative beliefs.
We all have unclaimed positive qualities hidden within that are longing to emerge into our life, and they are often revealed through our positive projection onto other people. It is interesting to find an image of someone you admire and deeply contemplate why.
Exploring Positive Projection
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 a more unknown image in a magazine.
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 13 - Word Collage
This exercise will help you find visual clues about emotions that are below your normal awareness. This prompt
offers three journal explorations for understanding your word collage.
- Pastels or watercolor paint
- Scissors and glue stick
- Old magazines and books
The next layer of our repressed emotional life can be revealed by randomly choosing words and phrases and assembling them into a spontaneous collage.
1. Prepare a free-form colored background for your word collage using pastels or watercolor paint.
2. Open up a magazine and look at it with relaxed eyes. Soften your focus and breathe deeply until certain words stand out for you on the page. Without questioning your choices, cut your words out and glue them onto your background.
3. Allow yourself to choose words that have an emotional charge, either positive or negative. Do not be surprised if your words do not match your current mood. For example, when you feel positive, a more negative message might come up to indicate the next layer of your psyche that is coming up for healing.
Not Knowing Why
Our minds will always reveal the next layer of our unconscious mind that is wanting to be seen, acknowledged, accepted and healed. Spontaneous word collages often reflect the opposite of what we are consciously thinking and feeling. When you might choose positive words, for example, when you are struggling in your daily life. When you feel positive in your daily life your word collage may seem negative, indicating the next layer of repressed emotionality that needs to clear....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 14 - Expressive Still Life Drawing
This art journal directive will support you to draw quickly and instinctively, so that your drawings become more alive, dynamic and expressive. This exercise supports the practice of seeing the essence inside of form.
- Still life - your choice of fruit, vegetables and/or flowers
- Oil pastels
- Art journal page
Each thing is unique - animal, vegetable, or mineral. Each thing is precious, irreplaceable, fragile, mortal. Each thing has a personality - try to find what that distinction is and express it. Not its outward appearance - but its internal meaning." ~ Nancy Doyle
When I was a gallery artist in my twenties it took me at least a month to complete one painting. In my early years I was extremely self-conscious as an artist. I fretted about perfection. Each art piece was rationally thought out, patiently designed, and painstakingly composed.
When I was in my 30's, I started facilitating expressive art groups for seniors and I was able to work with a passionate artist, who long after her death, still inspires me today. In her early 90's, she had dementia, and had long forgotten that she was an accomplished artist and sculptor.
Yet, when I gave my client a box of fresh pastels and an inspiring still life to look at, she would begin to draw quickly and passionately with her whole body arching over the paper. I was in inspired by how she seemed to quickly "digest" the essential nature of her subject matter and move it through her hands onto the paper.
I worked both in group settings and one-to-one with my client. I did the above drawing alongside of her in one of our private art sessions. When I look at my drawing today, I still feel the gestural expression that she inspired in me.
Three Steps to Fast Expressive Drawings
1. I invite you to set a timer for five minutes for this exercise so that you will not get caught up in the details. 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 whole piece, as if your subject matter has a unique essence or soul of its own....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 15 - Collage a Mandala
This art journal activity offers a contemplative way to consider what would support you to feel more whole.
- Circle template made from card stock
- Glue stick
- Magazines and books to cut up
“ The mandala signifies the wholeness of the Self. This circular image represents the wholeness of the psychic ground."
~ Carl Jung
Four Step Method for Creating a Collage Mandala:
1. Use a circular object to trace a circle onto your card stock, and cut out your circle.
2. Because mandalas are a contemplation on wholeness, ask yourself a question or set an intention before you make your collaged mandala. A good question to ask before beginning is, "What do I most need in order to feel whole?"
Art Journal Therapy Activity #16 - Intuitive Doodling
This art journal exercise will support you find your unique drawing style in order to allow a release of emotional "pressure" from within.
- Ballpoint pen
- Felt Pens
- Journal Page
I learned how to draw from being bored in school. I would doodle on the margins of my paper.
~ Kevin Nealon
Intuitive drawing offers a way to make the unconscious - conscious. Many of us doodle randomly and aimlessly when we are bored, when on the telephone, in school, or in a meeting - and yet the act of doodling can be done as an intentional self-expression practice everyday. Intuitive doodling only asks only for a simple ballpoint pen and some colored markers. Doodle when you want to visually strengthen your intuitive connection to yourself.
Doodled shapes, pictures, and symbols can often encompass a feeling more completely than words. Doodling can be taken to an eloquent level of personal expression, and is a good symbolic release of bottled up energy when you feel emotions that you cannot put words to.
Three Steps - Intuitive Doodling
1. Put your pen to paper and start making marks and shapes automatically and quickly and without thought....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 17 - Expressive Self-Portrait
This art journal directive will support you to visually understand how you see yourself on the inside, and offers five steps to creating an inner self-portrait.
- Acrylic paint
- Collage papers and magazine clippings
- White glue and sponge brush
- Journal page
It is interesting to create an expressive self-portrait that focuses more on your inner state than your outer appearance. This expressive art journal therapy exercise is helpful when you feel like one stage of your life is ending, and you do not yet know where you are going. You might reflect on the question. "Who am I right now?" Or you might ask, "Who am I becoming?"
Allowing What Is
Allow your expressive self-portrait to be "negative" or "ugly" if it needs to be. We often need to clear what we have hidden or rejected about ourselves first before we can truly celebrate and own our beautiful qualities.
If you feel uncomfortable with what you have created, consider this quote by psychologist Eugene Gendlin, "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."
Giving Emotional Pain a Face
When a negative emotion is trapped in your body, give it a face and a voice. Allowing it to be seen and heard - helps it to clear. If we do not make strong efforts to see our emotional pain, and listen to what it has to say, it will continue to make its presence known in distorted and destructive ways.
Five Steps to Creating an Inner Self-Portrait....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 18 - Intuitive Watercolor Painting
This intuitive painting exercise will support you to see your emotional patterns in visual form so that you can more easily identify how you feel.
- Watercolor paints, brushes
- Watercolour paper or journal page
“I believe in intuitions and inspirations...I sometimes FEEL that I am right. I do not KNOW that I am.”
~ Albert Einstein
The medium of watercolor is spontaneous by nature, and is well suited for the intuitive painting process. Watercolour behaves in a fresh and translucent way that is more "committed to the moment" than other paint mediums that can be changed or painted over and over again.
Seeing Inner Patterns in Your Paintings
Each day we will always get at least one inkling about how we need to evolve forward in our life but often we ignore it. It is easy to "paint over" the still, small voice of intuition. Watercolor, by the nature of the medium, allows what needs to happen in the intuitive painting process - the first time around.
Looking for connections between your daily life and your intuitive paintings will illustrate how your inner life is supporting you to grow into more integrity. Look for pattens in your art and life. If you are drawn to the color green for example, you might notice the inner urge to grow forward in a particular way.
You might notice conversations that are about gardens or hear a song that gives you a message about how you need to grow. Try painting one intuitive watercolor painting every day for a month and note how the connections between your art and life are confirming how you need to move forward.
Self-Image vs. Intuition - Five Tips for Intuitive Watercolor Painting
Any judgment that you feel while painting will indicate a conflict between a part of your psyche that needs to express itself vs. your preferred self-image. Intuitive water-colour painting requires total self-acceptance as it's transparent nature cannot be painted over.
1. Before you begin to paint....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 19 - Collage Your Stillness
This art journal exercise will support you to self-regulate your emotions by calming your mind and body.
- Scissors and glue stick
- Journal Page
“All artists, whether they know it or not create from a place of inner stillness, a place of no mind.”
~ Eckhart Tolle
"The ego and our higher mind share events, but they accord them different meanings. The ego has a strategy of taking, attacking and building itself up; it wants to be separate. The higher mind wants to heal, give and share; it is always moving us toward greater unity. They have different goals and, thus, they lead us down different paths.
We can follow either guide, but we cannot choose both at the same time. In any situation we get to choose whose guidance we follow, and which path we take. It is the outcome of any situation that reveals whom we listened to. Our ego will bring about separation and ‘righteousness,’ while our higher mind will bring about creativity and dynamic solutions."
What Emotional Needs Arise in Your Stillness?
Expressive Art Activity #20 - Fabric Assemblage
Meditational sewing invites you to attend to small, detailed, spontaneous tasks to "narrow your focus" for inner
- 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 a Fabric Assemblage for Relaxation
In our frenzied modern life, it is rare that we take the time to spend a few quiet hours to sew, and play with color, pattern and texture with no pre-designed end-product in mind. Focusing on a simple, spontaneous fabric assemblage can invite relaxed mental awareness, and the emotional comfort of working with soft, tactile materials.
Deep attention upon the small, simple tasks of arranging intuitive compositions, working with color, juxtaposing textures, playing with interesting objects, and sewing with a needle and thread, intensely focuses awareness on one task at a time.
If you suffer from anxiety, this art activity can be approached as soft, tactile creative meditation to quiet your mind and to condition yourself into feelings of calm. Whenever we intensely concentrate on a small task - such as sewing or beading - our attention intensifies. Worries and uncomfortable emotions quell for the duration of the activity.
6 Tips for Creating a Fabric Assemblage...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 21 - Paint a Tree Spontaneously
This art journal directive offers a familiar starting point to support you to begin the spontaneous painting process.
- Watercolor paper or journal page
- Watercolor, acrylic or tempura paint
- Brushes, water
A Starting Motif
"I want to own a motif so that it flows from my hands effortlessly. That way, it's still spontaneous; I just know where I'm going."
~ Peter Fiore
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 facilitating spontaneous painting classes, I was surprised to find that most people found it difficult to access their intuitive imagery.
A blank page can be daunting for most people. Often at the beginning of a class I will offer a starting motif. 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
Four Tips for Intuitively Choosing Colors and Shapes....
Art Journal Therapy Activity #22 - Warm Up: Paint Spontaneous Circles
This art journal exercise will support you to loosen up before a spontaneous painting session.
- Watercolor paint, brushes
- Watercolor paper, or journal page
Creativity Overrides Conformity
Most of us are conditioned out of our creativity early when we were taught that if we could not make "good art" as children we should not bother at all. Expressive Art therapist Natalie Rogers shares how creativity overrides the conformity of what we were taught:
"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
The urge to express ourselves underpins our human life from birth to death, yet our creativity can be easily discouraged in childhood. In my experience, many adults that I meet feel reluctant to try creating again, and most will remember the exact point where they shut down their creativity as children.....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 23 - Resolving Fear Through Collage
This collage reflection exercise supports you to look at the beliefs that underpin your fears, and to change your withdrawal patterns into confidence.
- Old magazines and picture books
- Glue stick and scissors
- Card stock or journal page
The Gift of Fear
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."
Whenever you feel fear notice where you are holding back your energy from fully expressing itself right now. Fear reflects a dread of the future based on what you have not learned from or let go of from the past. When you feel fear you may be scared of a change that you need to make in your life.
We forget when we are caught in habitual fear that we have many more resources than when when we were younger. With adult strength it is possible to "lean into" fear until it dissipates. When lean into fear we usually find an old mistaken belief about the un-safety of life will pop to the surface of our consciousness for mature understanding.
Once we can face and feel our fear all the way, we will no longer be emotionally arrested in the past because we have found the strength to finally turn towards what we habitually avoid. Fears can be felt fully until they are gone and only good feelings remain.
Fear embeds itself in our nervous system as sweepingly generalizing beliefs. Old over-generalizing fears sound like, "Life is hard. People always hurt me. I never get anywhere." Rationally questioning over-generalizations and finding positive antidote statements that feel encouraging to the the body is one key to releasing fear....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 24 - Spontaneous Painting
This art activity encourages you to find your innate painting style and includes 19 intuitive painting tips.
- Acrylic or tempura paint, brushes
- Heavy paper, stretched canvas, or a 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.
Spontaneous painting requires no special talent, skill or inspiration. Because your natural, original style is already within, you are already good enough to begin painting at any point in your life.
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 allowing everything to emerge from under the brush. A willingness to be completely honest is the key to spontaneous painting.
In authentic art we do not pre-plan anything during the art making process. We shut off our thinking mind and paint with our heart. As we learn to embrace whatever needs to be expressed in the moment without judgement, we learn to love ourselves just as we are - without shame or embarrassment.
Two Ways To Create
As a former gallery artist I have both a "cultivated style" and a "natural intuitive style" of creating. I once visited an artist's studio and she also had two distinct styles of painting as as 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 which mostly involved copying other artists and methods. She painted her cultivated body of work for the end-product.
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 vividness, full of risk and adventure. These paintings were the outpouring of her natural, intuitive style. She painted her intuitive body of work for the innate flow and enjoyment of her unique creative process.
19 Spontaneous Painting Tips
My inspiration to begin paint intuitively came from within almost 20 years ago when I went through a period of great grief and loss. I was already secretly painting and drawing in "strange" and intuitive ways that was vastly different than my paintings for gallery sale...
Art journal Therapy Activity # 25 - Paint Abstract Shapes
This journal exercise invites you to explore the emotionality behind abstract shapes.
- Watercolor or acrylic paint
- Watercolor paper or journal page
Ten Quick Abstract Paintings
Sometimes less is more. Simple abstract shapes can express the purity of a singular feeling that might get lost in a more detailed painting. If you are used to adding a great deal of detail into your paintings you might like to experiment with painting ten fast, simple abstract paintings. When you are finished, place your ten abstract paintings down on the floor side-by-side to contemplate your progression of emotional expression.
Looking Without Thinking
Artist Ellsworth Kelly devoted his entire life to 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 without labelling and categorizing.
Practicing Open Vision
When you look at your experience from this kind of open vision...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 26 - Collage Together Past Paintings and Drawings
This art journal activity invites you to collage together fragments of past paintings and drawings to support the integration of who you are today.
- Several old paintings and drawings that you are not quite happy with.
- Glue Stick
~ Art journal
"I often painted fragments of things because it seemed to make my statement as well as or better than the whole could."
~ Georgia O'Keeffe
Gathering Together What Feels Meaningful From the Past
Usually when we express an inner truth through art-making we get a sense of inner "rightness." When a painting or drawing feels right, there is a feeling of completeness, as if something has become clear and honest inside....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 27 - Fine Art Collage
This art journal exercise invites you to explore fine art imagery to deepen your emotional experience of
- Fine art magazines
- Card stock or journal page
"All my life, my heart has yearned for a thing I cannot name."
~ Andre Breton
Surrealism - the juxtaposition of unlikely symbols to convey unknown feelings can capture the unknown edges of what we do not know about ourselves akin to a waking dream. Fine art magazines provide emotionally stimulating imagery for surrealist collages.
Art magazines offer a rich resource of soulful and surprising subject matter for surrealist collage. Fine art imagery inherently invites us to stretch the limits of our imagination, and provides colourful, evocative, and sometimes discomforting imagery to express the depth of our inner life.
How to Make a Fine Art Re-Assemblage:
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 28 - Draw Your Spiritual Essence
This expressive art journal activity invites you to meditate into and draw how your soul needs to develop.
- Ballpoint pen or waterproof fine marker
- Watercolor paint
- Art journal
What Does your Unique Spiritual Strength Feel Like?
“Bring your Essence Self into your present expression. Aliveness is derived from essence."
~ Ariel Spilsbury & Michael Bryner
It is easy to forget who we are in our spiritual essence, and to be out of touch with who we came to develop in our lifetime. We are born into a world where people live primarily from their limited egos, and only develop the aspects of self needed survive practically. For this reason, many of us shut down our spiritual essence early, in order to fit into our family of origin, and to belong to the society and culture that we live in.
Discovering how our soul feels called to develop can be something that we habitually avoid looking at because it often differentiates us from our loved ones. We can all too easily default to what "works" with our family and social groups. Yet, when we do not develop our soul, we can drown in the well-practiced emotions of limitation, lack, emotional need and loneliness. When are we cut off from our spiritual essence, our emotional and psychological problems seem to loom large.
When we meditate on what our spiritual essence feels like, we can practice making our soul qualities larger than our problems. We heal by bringing our spiritual self in our human existence. This drawing exercise invites you to meditate on how you are meant to develop your soul in the world. After sitting for a few moments with the feeling-tone of your soul, loosely sketch a free-form intuitive drawing to express what your soul essence feels like in color, line and shape...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 29 - Meditate on Color
This art journal exercise invites you to explore a spontaneous, emotional response to color, and it offers 11 steps to developing a personal relationship with color.
- Watercolor paint
- Watercolor paper or journal page
Exploring Spontaneous Color Choices
"Colors, like features, follow the changes of the emotions."
~ Pablo Picasso
Emotionally sensing what colors you are drawn to is the first step towards creating a spontaneous painting. Intuitively choosing colors is an emotional releasing exercise in itself. This simple structured exercise supports you to explore what colors emotionally call to you, and encourages the process of intuitive color choice-making.
This meditation is the simple practice of sensing into what color you want to use next, and where you will place it on a grid. Draw a simple line grid with pencil on your watercolor paper or art journal page, and prepare to take time to meditate on and feel each color choice. You might want to put on relaxing music and light a candle as you paint.
11 Steps to Developing a Personal Relationship with Color
Expressive Art Activity # 30 - Collage Cards for Self-Discovery
This expressive art exercise invites you to create visual representations of different parts of yourself so that you can better
understand your inner landscape.
- 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
- Photocopies of your collage cards so that you can write and reflect upon them in your art journal.
Mapping Out Your Inner World
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. We can preoccupy much of our life with inner struggles between opposing parts of self, not really understanding why we want something and then sabotage having it.
Our various parts of self can drive us crazy in their disparity. As we collage all of various parts of self, we will find many polarities in our thinking that need to be sorted out and reconciled. To sort our our inner conflicts is helpful to map out our inner world into "parts," so that we can start to recognize what aspects of our psyche are dominating our awareness at any given moment.
Recognizing our different parts of self is exciting work because it helps our incongruities to make rational sense. It can even be fun to find our destructive parts of self because it dissipates their power. It is helpful to understand that even our "negative" parts of self are trying to get us to happiness, even if their methods are misaligned. 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 to map out your subconscious belief patterns so that you can 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 was not drawn to create suits when I made my own deck of cards. I simply felt called to sit down, when I noticed an emotional pattern dominating my psychology, and make a spontaneous collage card with imagery that felt strong in the moment.
Mind Mapping with Collage....
Art Journal Therapy Activity #31 - Spontaneous Watercolor Drops
This simple art exercise will support you to let go of control in your painting process. This painting warm-up
exercise is a good way invite a feeling of flow to open up creative blocks.
Watercolor paper, or art journal page
Watercolor paint and brushes
Water spray bottle or an eye dropper
"Because watercolor actually moves on the paper, it is the most active of all mediums, almost a performance art."
~ Nita Engle
Watercolor paint is a free flowing medium that is fun to splash around in. Painting free-form watercolor drops will support you practice the art of allowing anything to happen in your creative practice
For the spontaneous painting process, the watercolor medium does all of the work. This painting warm-up exercise is a good way to invite a feeling of flow, and open up creative blocks.
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 32 - Freeform Watercolor
This art exercise will support you to play and surrender to how color wants to flow for you.
- Watercolor paper soaked for 5 minutes in a tray of water, or a journal page sprayed with water.
- Watercolor paint
The Wordless Feeling of Color
Color is prior to the birth of imagery. Our minds cannot really think about color. We can only feel color. 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 can visually express your emotional movements. To reflect on inner movements of feeling, wet your watercolor paper, and let your paint diffuse in the way it wants to.
Feeling and Painting
Often we try too hard in our life. So, to "not try" invites fresh 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 complete.
Painting the Beginning, Middle and End....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 33 - Mandala Coloring Therapy
This coloring exercise will support you to relax, and will show you how you can intentionally color in order to quiet your emotions or expand your horizons.
- Pencil Crayons
- Mandala coloring book page
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 creating within a predetermined framework promoted a sense of peace and inner order.
As children we often color before we begin to draw. Coloring within a "perfect, rotating geometric figure" is a way to induct emotional and mental harmony. Concentrated focus on geometric patterns can bring the mind into a state of peaceful order.
Mandalas as a Pattern of Creation
Coloring within established structures is similiar 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 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 requires living creatively within rules. To be creative within the structures and limits of human life is to live with possibility. We all live within the sometimes confining structures of work, family, and practical responsibilities. Being "spontaneous within structure" brings vitality to structure. Coloring within a "preordained" mandala can simulate respecting the larger structures that necessarily form our lives.
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 34 - Exploring Difficult Emotions Through Intuitive Painting
This art journal prompt offers ten tips to support you to symbolically express
- Tempura paint
~ Journal page
- Brushes, water
Exploring Emotional Pain
"Sometimes you will go through deep experiences that bring up intense pain inside of you. If it is in there, it is going to come up. If you have any wisdom, you will leave it alone and not try to change your life to avoid it.
You will just relax and give it the space to burn through you. You do not want this stuff inside your heart. To feel love and freedom, to find the presence of God within you, all of this stored pain must go. It is in this inner work that spirituality becomes a reality. Spiritual growth exists in that moment when you are consciously willing to pay the price of freedom. You must be willing at all times, in all circumstances, to remain conscious in the face of pain and work with your heart by relaxing and remaining open." ~ Michael Singer
When we feel uncomfortable inside we generally want to do everything we can to avoid, change or distract away from our discomfort. 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 ignore what we feel, we tend to "wear" our repressed emotions in our body. Wherever you feel tight, sore, or cannot take a deep breath into any part of your body, you will likely find something that is longing to be expressed. Turning and facing difficult emotions through intuitive painting can provide a healthy release.
Our emotional discomforts drive our addictive behaviors. At times of intense emotional pain it can seem easier 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 favorite distracting or destructive behaviors.
Exploring the Energy of Emotions
The amount of energy that we use up to stuff down our uncomfortable feelings can take up an enormous amount of our vitality. When we make the opposite gesture of moving right into the "eye of the storm" of grief, hurt, anger, shame or fear we can access tremendous energy, joy and passion on the other side.
Whatever we dread will lose its power when it is painted. When we listen to each feeling that burns, hurts, disturbs, shames, unsettles or torments us - one symbol and one color at a time - we canfind peace in ways that we cannot anticipate.
We can learn to love our uncomfortable emotions because on the other side of them they bring the wisdom and peace of acceptance and integration. We can say to our emotions, "Bring it on! I want to know you!" We can turn towards whatever difficult emotion that we are afraid to face - one brushstroke at a time.
10 Tips for Intuitive Painting
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 35 - Visual Journaling
This art journal exercise will support you to express your feelings through simple lines, symbols and colors.
- Assorted colored markers, oil and/or chalk pastels.
- Journal page
The simplest of imagery can express the inner workings of the psyche and soul. We can all make signs, symbols, and marks on paper that express our inner feeling states. In fact with visual journaling - the simpler the better.
Pioneered by Barbara Ganim and Susan Fox, this visual journaling process is a simple form of self-expression for people who do not feel like they can draw.
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 early family training and cultural conditioning.
Our feelings express who we authentically are. This conflict between thoughts and feelings creates anxiety. 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 Symbolic
What we think we feel is not always what we really feel. Our words interpret our feelings - they rarely fully express them. We commonly try to fit every feeling into our belief system. Our mind wants to hold on tight to the familiar belief systems that we decided upon in childhood.
Imagery expresses the intuitive, feeling, right side of our brain. If we can express imagery before the mind identifies it, labels it, and judges it, and represses it, we will be able find more insightful words for how we feel afterwards.
Expressing Feelings Provides Relief
Drawing and recognizing a feeling is all that is required to feel relief from anxiety. Feelings do not even have to be changed or resolved. They just need to be seen and acknowledged for what they truthfully are....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 36 - Active Imagination Journaling
This written journal prompt will support you to meet your inner imaginal figures and find out what their emotional needs are. This process "invites the creatures of the unconscious to come up to the surface and make contact with us."
- Journal page and pen
Active Imagination as psychologist Robert Johnson explains is "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.
Waiting for an Image
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. Usually, if we wait in stillness long enough, an inner image will want to come forward and will want to speak to us.
With regular active imagination journaling, we can set up a dialogue between our conscious mind, and our more submerged and rejected unconscious aspects of self. This symbolic arising of imagery can be considered a visual representation of unconscious parts of our mind coming up into our awareness to communicate, reconcile and join with our everyday consciousness.
The Four Steps of 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 insights concrete and active in everyday life.
Inviting Our Unconscious Mind to Speak
1. Quiet and withdraw your mind away from the external, and go within. Turn to your inner world and expectantly wait with a pen in hand. You might invite, "Who would like to speak to me?" If you wait long enough, a figure may arise in your imagination.
2. 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.
2. If no inner imagery is arising, you can choose a current fantasy that has been running through your mind and speak to the characters within it. The need for fantasy usually indicates that there is an inner conflict between our conscious and unconscious mind to be worked through and integrated.
3. You can also create symbolic places through inner imagery. We each have, or can create, inner imaginal places that feel imbued with energy. You can visit a favourite forest or beach in your mind to see who emerges in our imagination to speak to you.
4. Another way to invite active imagination is to return to a particular night-time dream landscape that does not feel complete. Recall your dream figures, and invite them to extend into your waking life to speak to you further.
Eight Steps to Dialoging With Your Unconscious Mind....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 37 - Draw and Journal Your Anger
This art and writing journal prompt will support you to process anger on a very deep level by owning it, expressing it honestly, processing it through your body, disassembling your story, and turning your hardships into a gift.
- Felt pens
- Journal page
Draw Your Anger
Anger holds tremendous energy. The aim of processing anger is not to get rid of anger, but to get stagnant energy moving again. Anger always covers up other feelings of hurt and emotional pain.
When we feel our anger we can know that a 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.
Keeping a Dedicated Anger Processing Journal
Instead of letting anger eat away at you, you can express your anger by vigorously scribbling and swearing in your journal or by drawing a portrait of your 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 out of suppression into acceptance. We can create change by keeping an anger processing journal.
Telling Your Anger Story Fully
On the opposite page of your drawing write out your "anger story." Without censure, write about how you have been wronged in vivid and furious detail. At this stage of anger release it is important to express 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 about your own actions or inactions.
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 anger-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 deeper feelings of grief, loss, and/or the heartbreak of self-betrayal.
Feeling Anger Fully Through Your Body
In order to move past resentment it is essential to deeply feel and explore the feelings that hide beneath your anger in your body. Processing your anger through your body is essential for shifting out of depression and a 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 the power of anger through body movement and vocalization helps transform the repressed anger of victimization into empowerment for change.
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 betrayal and/or 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 transformed into self-empowerment. Suppressed anger usually starts with fear and anxiety and the reluctance to feel upset. Fear moves into irritation, frustration and then anger, and then 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.
Disassembling Your Anger Story....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 38 - Color Body Mapping
This art journal prompt will support you to offer kind attention to where you feel sore in your body, and to heal the split between your thinking and feeling nature.
- Watercolor, tempura, or acrylic paint, or colored pencils and markers
- Watercolor paper or journal page
Bodily Truth vs. Outward Appearances
To become exquisitely aware of our body is to become aware of our intuitive nature. But we most often ignore our bodies until they hurt. Our bodies symptomatically mirror what we are thinking about. And, most of us think way more than we feel.
Most of us spend most of our lives with our attention directed towards the outer world and away from our bodily feelings. But, as much as we try to ignore all that is uncomfortable deep down inside, our body will faithfully and accurately record and express all of our thoughts and emotions somatically.
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."
When we live mainly in the world of appearances - in the outer ego world - we put on a "social mask" to navigate our life's practicalities. We then lose touch with our intuition, our 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 express our
authentic truth creates pain, soreness, extra weight, and illness in our body.
Our body does not lie. Our body is incapable of being inauthentic. When we think one thing, and feel another, the body will communicate somatically through uncomfortable symptoms.
How to Color Map Your Body....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 39 - Body Stories with Collage
This art journal prompt will support you to dialogue with the parts of your body that you like and the parts of your body that you dislike, with the aim of unconditional self-love.
- Watercolor or acrylic paint
- Colored markers
- Magazines and books
- Scissors and glue stick
- 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....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 40 - Painting with Music
This journal exercise aims to give a passionate boost to your creative process and uplift your mood.
- Watercolor or acrylic paint, brushes
- Watercolor paper or journal page
Inciting Creative Passion
We all need a passionate boost in our creative process once in a while. Creative writer Julia Cameron makes the point, "When I am afraid of my own creativity (which may be to say I am afraid of my own passion), I turn to passion and creativity of others whose hearts have burst into music and I let them light the way for me."
Moving from mundane states of consciousness such as dissipation, boredom and negativity into inspiration and creative expansion sometimes requires music. One way to intensify and shift surface attention into a more expanded state is to paint spontaneously to music.
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.
How to Paint to Music...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 41 - Self-Reflective Writing
This journal prompt will support you to understand the deeper patterns and meanings of your thoughts. It includes the three rules of reflective writing and four final questions to reflect upon.
- 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 repetitive struggles of our life perfectly.
To understand the way our thinking operates 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 upon our thinking process.
If you have ever had the experience of becoming emotionally flooded out of seeming nowhere, it is helpful to remember back to what you where thinking about before you became overwhelmed. Our unaware thinking triggers our emotional reactions. 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.
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 personally practiced this method for you below.
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 this reflective writing process. 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....
Art Journal Therapy Activity #42 - Scribble Drawing
This art journal prompt will support you to loosen up and draw spontaneously. It will also help you to see your
unconscious thought processes in your scribbles.
- Black or multicolored markers
- Watercolor paint
- Journal page
Spontaneous Art as a Route to the Unconscious Mind
Scribble drawing is a tried and true art therapy exercise that works well as a visual starter or warm up for spontaneous drawing or painting. 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. She 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 feelingsand she searched for ways to stimulate the creative process. One creative method she developed was the scribble drawing.
Spontaneous Drawing and Spiritual Essence
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.
7 Steps to Create a Scribble Drawing
1. With your choice of black or colored pen, 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.
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 43 - Healing Grief Through Art and Journaling
This art and written journal process will support your to heal your grief through "dual consciousness." This process will teach you how to "unblend" from your grief and witness it from your authentic strength.
- 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. When we store away our grief, we arrest ourselves at the age when our feelings become too overwhelming to process.
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 loss and heartbreak. Grief also holds broken dreams of what we wish our past could have been, that continue to exacerbate and gather evidence as we age.
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 that can not be recovered.
When we chronically repress grief, we will feel like there is a missing piece in our life. We will feel less alive. When we believe that this "hole" of loss is a permanent part of our psyche, we solidify the original places of loss where we believe that we could not be loved, and we can sink into depression..
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 conflicts 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 and is a major cause of depression. Psychologist Jay Early describes it below - additions in brackets - specifically about grief 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."
Mature witnessing presence is necessary to clear old grief patterns. When our unfinished grief is in the primary seat and is running our consciousness, we see through the eyes of the age that we were when we stopped up our emotional release of sadness. We cannot heal grief when we are inside of the emotional patterning of the child, teen, or younger adult that experienced loss.
Witnessing Old Grief
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. Underneath old unprocessed grief is a sense of hopelessness that will not be able to change until we change our perspective to encompass a more witnessing consciousness. When a younger grieving part takes over the seat of our consciousness, we can think that is who we are.
Usually, we wholly become and think we are our grief, sadness, anger, and depression. Accumulated grief can be powerfully strong and it has a way of entirely occupying the entire 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 of our True Self - at the same time.
Blending and Seeing Through the Eyes of Grief
Because accumulated 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 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 so caught up in the hopeless beliefs of the part, 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 sadness and loss, 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 Higher Self that can "reparent" our distressed and grieving younger parts of self. We need to have a "critical mass" of solid Core 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
When we have not fully processed past grief, we will have a protector part of self that helps us to avoid the raw intensity of fully felt loss. Unintegrated grieving parts of our consciousness are looking to be released and understood, and often they will be willing to communicate, but there will be strong methods of repression standing guard.
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 real aching begins. We might seek to distract ourselves away from feeling our grief in a myriad of negative and positive ways.
We can ask the part of ourselves that is protecting us from feeling our grief to separate - and perhaps to metaphorically stand on the other side of the room - so that we can come to better feel and understand our grieving parts of self. We can separate from our grieving and protective parts of self 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 that is causing 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?"
We heal by seeing and hearing all the parts of self that we have ignored, disowned, and left behind. If we continue to repress our emotions, 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 with a barrage of pain. Sometimes, emotional flooding is the only way for a hurting part of self to be known.
Eight Ways to Ask Your Grief to Express and Release
There are few ways to creatively express your disowned part of self so that you can release your unfinished grief. I have been inspired by the work of psychologist Jay Earley and I have added expressive art directives to his methods below....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 44 - Map of Consciousness Collage
This collage exercise will support you to discover your inner relationships, and identify the different parts of your psyche that are in conflict.
- Collage papers, old magazines
- Pastels, markers
- Journal page or card stock
Symbolizing Your Current State of Mind
In a single day, we can feel conflicted in our consciousness in several different ways, and not even realize it. Because different aspects of ourselves can take the leading seat in our consciousness throughout the day, it is helpful to explore our sub-personality dynamics and inner conflicts by mapping them out visually with spontaneous collage and drawing.
Inner Conflict Resolution
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.
The Social Mask: Our primary personality/survival self sits out front of our consciousness. Our compensating mask hides all that is repressed and disowned in our psyche. Our survival self works hard to create the image that we believe we must present to world in order to feel safe, loved and accepted. Our outer referenced survival mask is often the main self that we can live the majority of our life from. And, when we do not know any better, we can mistakenly think that our mask is our true self.
Guard/Protector/Inner Critic: Underneath of our primary survival personality self is a guard, or several guards, that protect us from all that remains ungrieved and undigested from our past. Our protective guards can often be harsh, critical or angry. They 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 some traumatized/hurt parts of self that have remained suppressed, exiled away, and remained stuck at the various 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 denied and hurting 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 still mean a great deal to the younger and more sensitive parts of ourselves. For example, simply being ignored 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 and love 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.
Six Steps to Reconciling Your Inner Conflicts...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 45 - Healing Traumatic Memories with Embodied Writing
This journal process offers eight in-depth embodied writing techniques that will support you to gently process
and release emotional pain and unhelpful beliefs.
- Journal and a pen
The Guardian of Difficult Memories
We can relive past traumas over and over in our mind intellectually but the past will not heal unless we are willing to face, and finally be lovingly present for the original stored
feelings in our body.
We all have one or more inner "guards" that protect us from emotionally charged memories - which may include fear, loneliness, overwhelm, powerlessness, lack of hope and perspective, fury, shame, disgust, or guilt.
In the interest of continuing to function in our daily lives, our protective parts of self will likely be cognitively weary of revisiting past stories, but in truth we may have never truly felt the emotions embedded within our body.
The body biologically remembers everything that has ever happened. It is common to mentally process past traumas in a detached, intellectual way, that can trick us into thinking we fully understand what happened past and should have moved on by now.
As we mature emotionally into our capacity to be more strongly present and unconditionally self-loving, we can tenderly ask the inner guardians of our past memories to allow our body recollections to arise. Emotions that we were too fragile to process in the past, can be met with increased maturity of presence when the timing is right, and when we have a safe space to do so.
We can record our embodied memories in written journal form with the intention of connecting our body's stories from the past. Each embodied emotion courageously felt and withstood without dissociating, distracting, or numbing increases presence, and builds psychological and emotional strength, as well as self-respect and self-love.
Untangling Emotional Pain
When we are psychologically and emotionally strong enough to feel stored pain and trauma we can unravel emotional pain right down to its roots. From our higher witnessing mind, we ask the protective parts of ourselves that have kept our difficult emotions hidden away to allow whatever needs to be loved to come up to the surface. With exquisitely deep and loving attention on the body, emotional pain can be untangled with gentle and poignant self-care.
By allowing ourselves to revisit past shame, hurt, loss, or abuse through embodied, descriptive writing, we can emotionally connect, as a witnessing adult, to what was once too painful to feel and understand when we were younger.
After the emotional connection to the past is sustained, digested and integrated, we can reexamine the validity of the perceptions that we formed about life in the midst of difficult and traumatic experiences, and claim previously numbed resources inherent within extreme circumstances.
The key to emotional healing is to avoid becoming cognitively trapped in our past negative stories as if they are the entire truth. . Memories may seem true for the age that we were when we experienced our hardships, but as adults we have the power to re-percieve what happened through our objective, reasoning mind.
Our protective/survival selves are not all of who we are but when we are compensating for unintegrated painful experiences, our protective self has a full-time exhausting job to do. Protective strategies are explained by psychotherapist Franz Rupert. I encapsulate them for you here:
Avoidance: The 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 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 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 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 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, as well as warm intimate contact with life and other people.
Emotionally Connecting to Memory
As we become determined and willing to intimately feel our way through stored body emotions, we come to see how we keep our past traumas locked in place through body armoring, illness, protective behaviors, and mistaken belief systems.
After we sustain presence towards our disowned body feelings, our lives will begin to change. When we risk 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.
Once we revisit original emotions poignantly and completely, we can discontinue living our lives as an elaborate compensating defense system. We will no longer need our defensive structures and all of the elaborated effort it takes to maintain them.
Allowing Difficult Memories
As children we were poignantly sensitive to our surroundings, and tended to take disproportionate responsibility for what went wrong in our family. When our writing comes from a child part of self that is stuck in the past, our writing voice may sometimes appear immature and irrational.
But listening to this voice will reveal heart-wrenching feelings and belief systems that hinder us in our current life. Listening to the negative core beliefs that we formed in earlier parts of our life is key to finding the needed awareness and self-confidence to transform them.
It is helpful to revisit the hurt child, teen, and young adult voices in your journal to see how your younger beliefs disproportionately run your life. After you embody, integrate, express, and honor the emotions stuck in old traumas, you can rewrite our hurt stories and negative belief systems into new stories of growth and transformation.
We heal our emotional lives by realistically transforming past perceptions into current realities and truths that enrich and help solve the challenges that we face in our present life.
Eight Methods of Embodied Writing
1. Slow Writing - Slow down and allow your emotional impressions to arise spontaneously - impulse by impulse. Don't worry if you need to long pauses between writing. When we have lived in denial for a long time, honesty comes slowly at first. Begin by following your slightest body twinges and simply describe them slowly and succinctly....
Art Journal Therapy Activity #46 - Portal into Possibility with Collage
This art journal directive will support you to open up the frame of your limited thinking and creatively vision into
higher possibilities, and to ask "the big questions."
- 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 Higher Possibilities
As we heal our lives emotionally and psychologically, we become clear enough to connect to the realm of larger possibilities, and we can begin to consider creating new life enhancing forms in the world. Our higher potentialities are actually around us all of the time but we can easily disassociate from seeing them clearly when we are in emotional pain. When we struggle with emotional flooding, and the jumbled up thinking that results from inner psychological conflict, we cannot see beyond our personal life to understand what we want to give to life.
Inherent in our traumas, heartbreaks, and challenging life circumstances are the strengths that we need to develop in order to birth our specific gifts into the world. As old traumas are felt, and our life lessons are learned, we will discover that we have built the needed strength to offer our unique spiritual and creative gifts to life.
Creating a Portal
Creating a collage of possibilities encouraging 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 into what is beyond the emotional and psychological conflicts that we struggle with....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 47 - Transforming Your Inner Brat
This inner child art journal exercise looks more deeply at the emotionally hurting part of your psyche that seeks to take from life instead of contribute.
- 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. Our "inner brat" is a part of our mind that compensates for unmet emotional needs. From our "inner brat" we consume life from a state of emotional neediness. We try to feel good in ways that do not contribute to the whole.
Driven by emotional lack, our inner brat creates separately from the whole - to the point of extreme selfishness. Taken too far, the inner brat can turn to an extreme self-focus on personal happiness to the detriment of other people.
Our inner brat can also be exceedingly creative but in a narcissistic way - to the point of creating beyond what is needed or necessary. When 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 evolve.
As our false 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
1. Because our inner brat unconsciously operates from unmet needs from the childhood, it is helpful to draw your "inner rebel" with your non-dominant hand.
2. When you are finished, you can ask in writing with your dominant hand, "What do you want?" In your non-dominant hand, write out all that you inner rebel expects from life without censorship, no matter how immature, ridiculous, or grandiose.
3. When you finish writing, contemplate what your "inner rebel" is demanding from life. Is it realistic?
4. Meditate on what emotional needs might be underwriting your rebel's wants demands. Is there a need for love, attention, acceptance, connection? From whom?
5. Are these needs realistic in your daily life now? How can your emotional needs be attended to in a way that is considerate of the other people in your life?
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 48 - Free Association Pastel Drawings
This art journal exercise will support you to explore your creative unconscious and to discover your non-rational mind. This drawing practice will support the development of your authentic creative nature.
- Oil Pastels
- White or Colored Pastel Paper
Leaping Beyond Reason
"The years that I was pursuing my inner images were the most important in my life - in them everything essential was decided." ~ Carl Jung
Drawing can be a form of meditation where you can let your inner imagery emerge spontaneously from your unconscious. Since our reasoning, judging mind guards against deeper self-knowledge, free association pastel drawings can be used to access our more hidden parts of self in the spirit of self-acceptance, play, and the willingness to grow into new self-knowledge.
Free association was used by Sigmund Freud to access subconscious and unconscious levels of the mind. Emptying the mind of its conscious agenda invites the subconscious to take intuitive leaps to new levels of personal meaning. Symbols come through our authentic self and they effort to communicate our higher potentials to our conscious, rational mind.
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." In free association drawings the rational left-brained mind surrenders control and another way of right-brained intuitive knowing can come through.
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.
Six Steps to Free Association Drawing....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 49 - Meditate on an Intuitive Zendoodle
This doodling directive will be support you to calm anxiety and increase mental focus.
- Black permanent markers - various sizes
- Journal page
Single Focus Visual Meditation
Singularly attending to a deliberate, detailed visual task can be astoundingly centering. Most of us multitask and continually scatter and dissipate our energies. Focusing intently on small, repetitive creative tasks integrates the mind and gathers energy.
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 ceremoniously at hand.
An Intuitive Approach to Zendoodling
In this art journal activity, I suggest using an intuitive drawing that is intrinsically meaningful to you instead of a pre-set pattern as in the patented method of Zentangling. If you do not feel like using your own drawing, there are many good books on the market that provide structured drawings to doodle within.
Patterning within a spontaneous drawing gives pause to contemplate 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.
1. Start with a spontaneous drawing.
2. After you finish your intuitive drawing, section off areas for patterning.
3. Organically create your own spontaneous patterns within your sectioned areas.
Traditional Buddhist Concentration Meditation
If you want to approach intuitive drawing as a structured, daily meditation, it is helpful to understand the challenges and benefits of zen 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.
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.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 50 - Unburdening the Past
This expressive exercise will support you to release emotional pain out of your body.
- 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
Our entire psychology is built on defending away from emotional pain and most of us have some parts of our psyche that hold onto unprocessed emotional hurt. These unintegrated parts of self
live in the past and have fears about moving out of our "safety" zone and into new growth.
Growth always means a facing a loss and starting again. Our core conflict in life is essentially whether we will stay in the emotional conditioning of our past, or move forward into who we are meant to become.
The Pull Between Holding Back and Moving Forward
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 for our authentic truth. At the root of all conflicts is the desire to grow forward into who we are meant to be, and the need to avoid the potential for hurt and rejection similar to the past.
Every place where we do not move forward into our authentic truth creates a place of binding in our body that diminishes our ability to breathe, move, and express freely. Because we must move forward as a whole, we can choose to spend time learning about what parts of ourselves are hurting.
Unburdening the Past
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 is to notice 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 are a burden imposed from the outside. They are not part of our essential nature, and therefore they can be released.
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."
We can unburden ourselves expressively, visually or symbolically in the following ways:
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 51 - Journal Process for Healing Your "Inner Demons"
This creative journal exercise will support you to understand that whatever is most unwelcome in your consciousness - whether it be shame, anger, fear, prejudice, hidden urges or instincts - can be accessed and healed in a friendly, creative way.
- Journal page
- Pens, pastels, pencil crayons
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 instead of distorting them more into the darkness? Whatever is most unwelcome in our consciousness - whether it be shame, anger, fear, 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 "inner demons." Our demons are any negative thought, belief system or emotion that we fear looking at. Yet, when we give our denied aspects of self what we need, they change into allies, gifts, and strengths.
We can learn to be a nurturer to our shadow parts of self. Our inner demons are any part of our psyche that hinder 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, and we discover what our denied aspects really need. In this way, we can look for the emotional needs below our desires, obsessions, distractions, and cravings to understand the root of what disturbs us.
Instead of trying to get away from our 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 have used in my own journaling 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. 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.
Motivation: Dedicate your inner nurturing process for the benefit of yourself and all people.
Step 1: Find the Demon in Your Body
Each "inner demon" becomes more twisted away from life and love - the longer it is suppressed. Each aspect of our shadow resides in a particular place of tension in our body. Become aware of the specific sensory qualities of the tension in your body and journal your questions and answers.....
Expressive Art Therapy Activity #52 - Journaling Through Emotional Overwhelm
This written journal exercise will teach you how to become intensely present, open, and aware during periods of extreme emotional overwhelm. This journal prompt supports you to be present for emotions such as fear, grief, and anger.
- Journal and a pen
- A timer or a clock
Typically when we feel emotional pain our life force energy fragments and dissipates. This journal method offers a way to unify emotional energy during times of emotional overwhelm. I owe the inspiration to this writing exercise to Richard Moss MD, who has developed many methods of opening up the emotional fieId.
I share my use and interpretation of his methods for stream of consciousness writing below:
Heavy Emotions Shrink Awareness
When we are overwhelmed with emotional pain we tend to close down into a state of extreme self-focus. Our world becomes very small. In emotional overwhelm we cannot envision our possibilities very far beyond the perimeter of our own body.
We all can become dominated by the lower energies of consciousness such as fear, anger, hopelessness, and despair. When we do, we become self-absorbed and unaware of our surrounding. We shut down our present moment awareness when we are in emotional pain.
Strengthening Awareness During Intense Emotional States
We gain strength and authority of our internal world by interrupting the "belly mind" - the closed circle between the negative thoughts that generate negative emotions - and the negative emotions that generate negative thoughts.
The Practice of Opening up the Emotional Field
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. When we practice stream of consciousness writing, our present moment awareness will expand our contracted emotional field. We can gather the strength that is only available through present moment attention to our bodily sensations.
This form of stream of consciousness writing does not involve writing any thoughts down - only sensations. We can unify our being by attuning to the moment-to-moment sensations in our body to open up the closed state that emotional overwhelm creates.
The Stream of Consciousness Writing Process...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 53 - Exploring Mixed Feelings Through Embodied Storytelling
This expressive journal exercise will support you to find the the still, silent "middle point" of your inner conflict to discover new possibilities within your emotional struggles.
- 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
Mixed feelings can be exhausting. 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 are struggling with an inner conflict, we cannot move forward because both sides can have strong viewpoints that do not want to waver.
The purpose of not picking sides during an inner conflict is to see what new creative solutions arise by sitting in the middle and listening to both sides equally. This writing/speaking/storytelling exercise offers a way to hold opposing parts of your consciousness in your awareness at the same time, to see what new options arise.
In Focusing psychotherapy, teachers Ann Weiser Cornell and Barbara McGavin, authors of the book "The Radical Acceptance of Everything" call staying in the middle of opposite feelings, "Standing In." I have applied their methods of standing in the middle of opposing parts - to a speaking and writing exercise - to help you see what emerges. I detail the teachings as I apply them to expressive art therapy here:
Finding the Different Stories in our Body
"Whenever you mentally oppose what is, you’re going to experience sadness and apparent separation." - Byron Katie
It is self-honoring to witness all of the personal stories that we store within our body/mind. Each story has a particular place inside of our body, and when it is active we can feel it - usually through discomfort, pain, or illness. When we then find the opposing part that is conflict, we can begin the process of sitting in the middle, listening to both sides, and writing or speaking the opposing stories out loud.
Most often we choose sides 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....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 54 - Healing Negative Core Beliefs
This journal prompt illustrates how we create our emotional pain by resisting our core negative beliefs. This exercise will support you to face and transform the limiting beliefs you inherited in childhood.
- Journal and pen
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.
Psychologist Stephen Wolinsky describes how we arrive into adulthood carrying varying amounts of post-hypnotic baggage. This determines the negative core beliefs that form our life experiences:
"A developing child is deluged with hundreds of post-hypnotic suggestions that form the filters that we see the world though, delivered by well-meaning, as well as abusive parents. Not all of these are internalized."
The Mother and Father Lineage
Our core negative beliefs are the lineage that we inherit from our mother and father or primary caregivers. We absorb our limited negative core beliefs from our parents in order to connect to them. As we find our negative core beliefs we can return them to the lineage transformed. We can heal what our parents could not heal.
The structure of our negative core beliefs has the purpose of surviving and getting the love and attention that we needed as children. As we come to understand our deepest, darkest negative beliefs about ourself we can "unfuse" from them in our thoughts, emotions, biology, and external world.
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.
Negative core beliefs gain their foothold through our resistance of them. In essence, all of the negative voices that plague us are underpinned by resisted past emotional experiences. When we internalize negative suggestions or interpret events negatively as children, we spend most of our life energy constantly working against them or trying to compensate for them through opposite behaviors.
It can be helpful to simply write out your negative core beliefs - once you discover what they are - in your journal, over and over, until they no longer trigger an emotional reaction. When negative beliefs begin to feel neutral it is possible to eventually notice self-judgement without an emotional 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 really are.
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 the neediness for outer validation dissipates.
The Trance of Negative 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 may not have communicated anything verbally abusive, but in our young mind, we may have adopted a world view of feeling unimportant or unloved in some essential way.
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 sometimes, if unexamined, well into old age.
We in truth, are not a victim of our past circumstances at all. We are the "re-creators" of them! In resistance to our emotional pain, we subconsciously collude with our past experiences, and recreate the same negative emotions in our body and mind, over and over again.
Our emotional reactions seem automatic, but they are actually a complex and subtly continuous series of self-made contractions in our body and mind that are underpinned by a strongly held core,
If we can recall our childhood, we will find that 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 chose not carry them forward.
The baggage that we bring into adulthood is actually a self-led creative process of carrying forward a set of belief, emotional, and body patterns that involve continuous choice-making in order to maintain.
And at the root of these continuous defended choices are the grieving, angry, emotional parts of self that need inner attention, understanding, love, care and reassurance and a restructuring of beliefs.
Six Essential Journal Questions for Healing Core Pain....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 55- Understanding Physical Illness
This art journal exercise will support you to understand how younger, emotionally upset parts of your psyche create illness in your body.
- Felt pens in various colors
When our emotional and mental energy is processed and integrated, good health builds and self-understanding increases. Most people believe that disease is due to outer factors, yet when our emotions remain agitated, upset and irritated, we are more likely to get physically ill.
Younger parts of self will express the feelings that we could not bear to process in childhood through illness and bodily discomfort. Dialoguing with both hands in this journaling process can deepen our understanding of the thought and emotional systems of younger parts of self which are influencing our direction away from good health.
Art therapist Lucia Capacchione offers wise guidance in her book the "Power of Your Other Hand" in an exercise called "Body Talk". I share my adaptions, recommendations, and contemplative perspective with you here:
Listening to your Body
1. Sit quietly and focus within. Get in touch with a body part that is painful or diseased. It is helpful to move into heart-filled compassion with your dominant hand as you ask - in written form - for your distressed parts of self to express honestly.
2. Draw an outline of your body in your journal. Using color draw in the body part that is ill. If you do not know how to realistically draw your discomfort, use your intuition or make something up.
3. Color your painful or diseased part. If your pain has a burning feeling, for example, you might use a hot color like red or orange to express it. If there is a lump or a distortion in your body, include that in your drawing.
4. Interview your body part or disease by writing your questions with your dominant hand. Move into a compassionate place as your curious questions flow through your dominant hand and onto the paper. Let the painful body part or the disease write the answers in your non-dominant hand. Use two different colors, one for each hand.
Ask the following questions in your journal:
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 56 - An Emotional Approach to Healing Illness
This in-depth painting and art journaling meditation will challenge your conventional beliefs about illness and offer ways to tap into your deeper emotions and beliefs in your unconscious mind.
- Journal page
- Paint and brushes
An Emotional Approach
The emotional struggles that we cannot work out consciously, will often try to work their way through the body in the form of an illness. This emotional component of illness can be explored symbolically through spontaneous painting by sensing into the body, and meditating on direct questions in a journal writing process.
Spiritually speaking, the separate self uses illness to express problems, and to express as a separate self that suffers from emotional wounds that have not healed yet. This is not to say that as we grow older we do not suffer physically. Indeed, many of us have an "illness journey" as part of our life path, but what has astounded me most profoundly about working at the end of life, is that illness and death is not always as predictable as we think.
Old age does not always imply a straight downhill decline. There is an emotional quality of life that can be uplifted at any age despite physical or cognitive limitations. We are not just our bodies that sometimes hurt and suffer.
Over a period of 8 years, working in an art therapy capacity with hundreds of older adults in their eighties and nineties, I have witnessed that emotional and spiritual healing happens at the latter stages of life. I have seen physical and emotional "healings" with my own eyes several times.
I have observed older adults fall into deep depressions, have long bed-ridden illnesses and hospitalization, with the end of life seeming near. Then on several marked occasions , I have been surprised to see those same people back in the art studio again, ready to create another period of their life.
I have been gifted to witness a few elderly people come back from the edge of frailty and death - sometimes several times with one person. I have witnessed elderly people in a long death direction, reverse it quite spontaneously and become robust, cheerful, and full of life again.
When they come back to life, my direct sense is that they feel emotionally lighter. I see them laugh and smile more. They start to paint and weave again. They connect, join, and love more. They exclaim joy. And I always intuitively feel that something emotionally heavy inside has cleared away to make room for a fresh experience of life.
A Journal Meditation on Illness
1. Begin your particular meditation by resting in stillness and listening within to the particular place within where your pain resides. Beyond any physical pain that you feel, you may find a place in your body that holds a particularly acute feeling of emotional pain.
2. As you rest in the particularity of the emotional part in your body, it might have a story to tell you about why it feels apart from love in some way. It might, for example, feel bitter, or lonely, or mistrustful, or angry.
3. When you have a feeling sense of what part of you feels separated away from love, you might feel inspired to intuitively paint this particular "feeling tone" in your art journal.
4. Allow the pain of your separateness to move into your hand, into the brush, and onto your paper. As an image emerges, welcome it. Your painting might be elaborate, or simply be lines, colors or shapes that do not make sense at first.
Keeping your "Separateness" Company
5. When you are finished your painting, say hello to it, and sit with it for a while. Keep it company. Realize that this painting might intentionally express a part of you that you regularly ignore. Perhaps it has a direct message. It might be saying something like, "Pay attention to me, I need love, I am angry, stop hurting me, or stop ignoring me."
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 57 - Create a Mandala for Healing
This mandala exercise offers 11 steps to generate symbols of healing for your body, mind, and soul.
- Black paper
- White and colored pencils
- Oil or watercolor pastels
When we are feeling imbalanced emotionally, mentally, or physically, we can be sure that we are operating from negating mental patterns from the past. Drawing healing light in whatever symbolic form it wants to take, as it emerges from the darkness of your unconscious mind, is as one way to discover how to heal your emotional, mental, or physical imbalances.
Because it takes great effort to change the habitual, constriction of thought and emotions, it is helpful to set a firm intention to heal. Intending to heal draws forth the insights and resources needed to heal. Drawing patterns of light emerging from black paper in a mandala format offers a process of discovering the inherent patterns of light and wholeness that are trying to come up into the light into your conscious awareness right now.
Creating Newer, Healthier Patterns
Mandalas have long been a method of facilitating the healing of psychological fragmentation. Drawing in a sacred circle format helps to make the invisible world of intuition visible, and can help
us express larger patterns of reality that we might not be able to see in other ways.
We can approach the mandala making process as a way to activate the latent healing powers of our mind to generate symbols for healing. As we allow our inner symbols to emerge from our unconscious mind into tangible form we can strengthen our will to heal.
Through our personal symbols we will see something true that wants to unfold from within. The inner symbols that we spontaneously create become more real to our conscious mind when we draw them and look at them in visual form. This outer representation of our inner world helps to amplify our focus in a healing direction.
Drawing a mandala with a healing intention helps to reveal the unity between our human selves and the cosmos. It supports us to understand how our life is connected to the whole. Mandalas for healing can give form to intuitive insight and spiritual truths that we could not be able to see otherwise.
Blessing the Materials
In the tradition of creating healing art as inspired Mandala teacher Judith Cornell writes about in her book "Mandala - Luminous Symbols for Healing" all materials can be blessed before beginning the drawing:
1, Sit in an upright position with your spine straight and your feet flat on the floor.
2. Hold two white pencils while resting that hand comfortably in your lap. Place your other hand palm down on a piece of black paper. If you wish, play soft, inspirational music in the background.
3. Slowly take three deep breaths and on each out breath release all tension or negative thoughts from your mind and body. Gently quiet your body.
4. Keeping your heart receptive close your eyes, and gently focus your attention between your eyebrows which is your spiritual eye.
5. In your spiritual eye, imagine pure white light being radiantly present and full of blessing for and within you.
6. Meditate on the blessing energy. Direct it down your neck and and into your heart, feeling warmth and love. Continue directing the light to all of the organs, cells, and atoms in your body.
7. Imagine the light in your body increasing and becoming incandescent. Now visualize and move this sacred light back into your heart and open to unconditional love. See the love and light flowing from your heart through your arms, hands, and fingertips, blessing the pencils and paper you are holding.
8. Imagine this light impregnating and energizing all of the atoms of molecules of these materials. When you have finished proceed to the drawing exercise.
11 Steps to Accessing Your Healing Symbols....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 58 - Create a Higher Intention Journal
This exercise will support you to set higher intentions and help you to identify your conflicting "lower intentions." This prompt include six steps to creating effective higher intentions.
- A dedicated intention journal
- Pen and assorted art supplies
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step," says a well known Chinese proverb. Nowhere is that statement more pertinent than in our urge to transform our consciousness. Despite grand schemes and noble ideas, transformation boils down to how we use the sixty-five thousand seconds that make up the average working day.
We know how difficult it is to break a habit that commits us to a negative pattern of behavior once it is acquired. What may not be so obvious is the ease with which how good habits also gain momentum and perpetuate themselves. The same habit forming consciousness that commits us to destructive behavior routines also allows us to cultivate constructive behaviors."
-F. Aster Barnwell
Setting Firm and Constant Intentions
We each have great freedom to use the power of our mind to choose our own thoughts, feelings, and growth directions. Yet, most often we live in the ways we always have, even if they are not life-affirming because they seem to feel "natural, familiar, and safe." The word intention in Latin means "to stretch towards". Forming intentions is a spiritual practice that helps us to clarify what higher qualities of being we are stretching towards, yearning for, and longing to grow into.
We would permanently live in a higher, happier state if all parts of ourselves where aligned towards the same higher intention. But, we each have many parts of self that have contrasting goals and ideas for our happiness. So, intention setting also becomes a practice in healing all of our unconscious "counter-intentions" so that all parts of ourselves can align towards the same higher goal.
Overcoming the Doubt of "How?"
Deliberately moving ourselves forward into more inspiring ways of being can bring up great doubt about whether our greatest aspirations can come true. To create something wholly different from the past brings up fear.
The movement away from entrenched, self-defeating, and repeating habits from the past requires determined practice to create new affirming mental and emotional habits that may not align with who we have been in the past. Yet, anything is possible if we desire change deeply enough, and are willing to take daily intuitive steps towards that change.
To diffuse doubt, it is helpful to know that your intention setting is a passionate declaration of what you vision for your life. The "how" must left up to the larger creative forces of life. It is helpful to set your higher intention every day in a small dedicated journal to carry throughout your day, and when doubt arises, remind yourself, "The 'how' is not up to me."
Repeating the same intention, without worrying about the "how," until we are fully living and embodying our desired change direction is the key to living towards your higher ideals. Intending something new until it becomes a full embodied reality takes time. When we are finally willing to change a life struggle into something new, it could take a year - or much longer of daily repetition - in order to richly embody the needed higher shift.
Repeating a new intention over and over eventually overcomes any old and entrenched states of fear and doubt. With daily devotion to change, anything becomes possible, but initially it requires great repetition, and a dedication to feel better mentally, emotionally, and physically in order to become large enough to "hold" and embody higher ideals..
Even though thoughts seem to come automatically each thought represents a choice. Carrying a small intention journal throughout the day, as well as reflecting on it morning and evening when your mind is the most receptive can help you remember, reflect upon, and "sculpt" the higher, more inspired self that you are becoming.
It seems to be the human path of least resistance to forget our higher intentions because the more fearful, hurting, and embedded aspects of our personality structure fight back and insist on continuing with old ways of doing things whenever we effort to make a positive change. As a result our higher intentions seem to wane, become weaker over time, and often are forgotten completely.
Intensifying intentions involves forgetting, falling down, and determinedly getting back up, until our new patterns of thought, action, and feeling become an effortless and permanent part of our being. Your daily intention journal can be illustrated with encouraging imagery, visual cues, and verbal reminders to intensify the direction that you want and need to grow into.
Growing Forward Involves Loss
"What must I give more death to today, in order to generate more life? What do I know should die, but am hesitant to allow to do so? What must die in me in order for me to love? What
should die today? What should live? What life am I afraid to give birth to? If not now, when?" - Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes
As we move into new aspects of our being, we will experience a loss as we let go of old parts of self that no longer contribute to our well-being. Without knowing it, we most often maintain the state of being that won us love, attention and belonging in the past.
As fear and loss bubbles up when we effort grow into a new intentions, there might be a message we can hear underneath our resistance. If we were to be deeply honest, we might hear a fearful "younger" voice that says something like, "If I am strong, I will not be loved. If I am well, I might not get the attention I need. If I am successful, I might not be supported emotionally. If I express my uniqueness, I might not fit in."
The Disparity Between Beliefs and Intentions
When we attempt to up-level our life into a new life affirming way of being and thinking, fear inevitably arises. It can feel shocking at first to deliberately interrupt limiting thoughts as they are so familiar they seem to be who we are. We can, however, at any time, interrupt the mental story lines that habitually run through our mind.
We can practice reversing mechanical, negative thinking to see how it feels to be expansive. Interrupting negative thought does not have to feed the polarity between pessimism and optimism. It can open us up to a "third" option of possibility, and a window into what it feels like to be expanded beyond our normal limits.
It is helpful to notice what fear does in our body, and play with opposite feelings as we try out new expansive thoughts. We can meditate on more life-affirming ideas than we normally entertain to see how they feel in our body. "I love myself when I am strong. I get the positive attention I need when I am healthy and well. I can emotionally support myself by being successful. When I express my unique self, I find out where I truly fit in."
Wanting Implies Lack
Ironically when we say, "I want...to feel strong, happy, and successful," it implies the opposite "I don't feel strong, heathy or successful right now". It is often helpful to frame intentions by saying, "May I feel strong, happy and successful today," and to form a mental and emotional picture to hold throughout the day.
It is also a helpful practice throughout the day to contemplate, embody, and take action on how higher intentions. For example, we can translate intentions into aligning our posture, gestures, and our speaking voice to further practice, "act like," and embody what we are stretching towards.
The power of our imagination can help us to envision ourselves in higher and freer states. To climb the ladder of affirming thought and feeling, we can practice becoming what we intend to be each day, no matter what our outer circumstances. Because matter often takes a long time to align with our inner visions and intentions, we often must embody them, often in contrary or non-encouraging outer circumstances, before they "out-picture" into daily life.
Our higher intentions hold a particular energy that we are either in alignment with on a regular basis - or not. Our higher intentions may only currently represent 10% of who we are on a daily level. What we create in our mind always waits for us for our devoted full-bodied alignment with it.
Sometimes alignment with our higher visions arrive in an instant if we are sustaining the feeling-tone vibration that it requires to manifest in our life. And sometimes it takes years for our entire being to wholeheartedly align with what we have been thinking about.
Making Space for Intentions to Manifest
As we progress, old ways of looking at life need to be examined and let go of. As we let go of old beliefs and unhelpful emotional habits, we create a space for new things to enter. If we have habitual mental and emotional patterns that take up a great deal of "room" in our being, we can intend for things to change, while at the same time make no room for that change to occur.
Sometimes this means doing the opposite of what we have always done, or thinking the opposite of what we have always thought so that we can - over time - create a new life. Reminding ourselves, when we catch ourselves engaging in old self-defeating thoughts and emotions, by trying to embodying the opposite is a creative and inspiring way to play with energy and power to create change.
Setting Goals and Intentions in your Journal
When you set an intentions in your journal, keep your attention on it until it is fully achieved, embodied, and integrated into your body, mind and spirit. This involves remembering to choose your forward intention in every moment. If you are forgetting your intention, then pay full attention to everything that blocks you, with the aim to move heal and move through it layer by layer.
How to Keep an Intention Journal....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 59 - How to Create an Altered Book
This expressive art activity offers a long term art-making process for emotional healing.
- A suitable book to alter
- White glue
- Matte acrylic medium
- Acrylic or latex paints
- Pencil crayons, pastels, markers, and pens to doodle with
- Collage materials, glue stick, scissors, pictures from used books and magazines.
An altered book is an artist-made book recycled and changed into something new in appearance and meaning. An altered book, used in an art therapy context offers a long-term art-making process for healing. Altered books can be used to work through long standing emotional issues, to change unhelpful psychological patterns of belief, to find and cultivate a new strengths, or to process and accurately remember the past. Altered books can be joyfully made to help climb out of depressive cycles and to cultivate inspiration.
Literally and metaphorically, altered books can be closed when emotions or memories feel too intense, and opened and worked upon at a later time when the timing is right for healing. When working through long standing psychological patterns, altered books can sometimes be shelved and restarted weeks, months, and even years later. Altered books can express the "book of our life" illustrating the many facets of self, and integrating the fragments of mind and body back into the soul, one page at a time.
Six Steps to Creating an Altered Book
1. Choose a strong and durable book to alter. Hardcover books work the best, especially those with pages sewn rather than glued. If you are using an old book check the pages to see that they are strong enough to withstand layers of paint and glue. If the pages are thin, yellow and brittle they likely will not hold up under layers of paint and drawing. Children's board books can work well for altered books, but they take a good bit of preparation to lay the ground for your page spreads. Because the pages are glossy, they need to sanded and gessoed first.
Choose a book that inspires you, especially if you are planning to leave words peeking through your backgrounds and want to spontaneously underline passages. If you are planning to cover all of the pages up with paint it will not matter what kind of book you choose - as long as it is sturdy...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 60 - Processing Trauma Through Altered Book-Making
This art journal prompt offer 10 methods to process trauma through altered book making, including understanding, disidentifying from, and creatively changing your trauma patterning.
- An old book to alter
- Paints, collage items, old magazines, markers, pastels, pencil crayons
- Acrylic medium, diluted white glue, or Mod Podge
For this expressive art activity I reference the excellent book, "Healing from Trauma" by Jasmin Lee Cori and abbreviate her ten points about trauma as follows:
1. Our bodies don't lie. Trauma leaves "footprints" on the body as well as in every other part of our lives.
2. A high level of trauma leaves people feeling overly sensitive to just about everything. We will be particularly sensitive to anything that reminds us of the trauma.
3. When things are too much for us to stay present, we find a way to leave, even if only psychologically. Dissociation is a pattern of splitting off some part of yourself when you are uncomfortable.
4. Another defense is simply to numb yourself so that you don't feel.
5. Often there are cognitive losses that accompany trauma, and you may wonder what is wrong with your brain.
6. Memories of traumatic events are often like shards that have shattered everywhere. Our memories come in bits and pieces and are often far too intense.
7. Very rarely could we have done something to prevent our trauma. Yet, the helplessness of the situation is hard to bear, and we often blame ourselves and feel guilt rather than feel at the mercy of forces we can't control.
8. We contract in trauma to become a smaller target, and tragically, we often stay contracted, in very small lives, in an unconscious attempt to feel safe.
9. Often we feel vulnerable and unprotected because our energetic boundaries are in some way still broken.
10. Trauma rocks your world. It can be hard to imagine how others go along so blithely, creating their futures, as if one could control that. Those who have experienced a lot of trauma don't have this basic confidence in things working out.
Creating an Altered Point of View
Our subconscious beliefs about ourselves keep traumatic holding patterns in place. Jasmin Lee Cori writes, "With trauma, parts of us are blocked, and parts of us are flooded. Our life energy is disturbed, and we do not have the supports to thrive and be healthy. When we are blocked in this way, our energy gets congested and our consciousness becomes muddied. It we can clear the obstacles and let our life force flow more freely again, we can recover our aliveness. This recovery of aliveness and free flow is what resilience is all about."
When we are emotionally flooded or emotionally blocked, we hold our body trauma patterns in place by subconscious beliefs. Our body, emotions and beliefs form an interlocking "trauma pattern" that unconsciously repeats through our life, unless it can be consciously interrupted and recreated into more life-affiming patterns of living.
Cori explains, "Trauma shows up as chronically constricted tissue, a shrinking and bracing of the overall structure, a tight diaphragm and shallow breathing, cold hands and feet (because energy is withdrawn from extremities) and a strong tension at the base of the skull and the bottom of the spine. In essence the body feels like a too tight package. It is tight because it is caught in a pattern of alarm and self-protection. These characteristics lead to postural problems, unhealthy, achy tissues, headaches and backaches, and circulatory and mobility problems."
The aim of all therapies is essentially to interrupt unhealthy patterns that have been operating on automatic for years and often decades. To heal trauma we need to work on many levels of body, psyche and soul. Bodywork is essential to help interrupt the body holding patterns of trauma, but if the same belief patterns continue to feed into creating the same distressing emotions, the body will constrict back into its contracted emergency state once again.
Ten Methods of Interrupting Negative Belief In Your Altered Book....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 61 - The Art of Setting Boundaries
This in-depth painting and journaling exercise will support you to give to others from inspiration instead of sacrifice, and to set healthy boundaries even when it upsets other people's ego expectations.
- Journal and Pen
- Watercolor paints, brushes, water
"For millennia, we women have been taught to be energetically open to the world, to be personal and accepting. We have been trained to move through life with an open energy field, to blend with the people in our lives who are important to us.
Everyone "knows" that it is feminine to be receptive and available, to be able to interact smoothly and pleasantly with other people and to blend our energies with theirs."
- Sidra Stone
A Period of Independent Self-Reflection
As psychologist Sidra Stone explains in her book "The Shadow King" men have been trained to set boundaries, to be objective, and to be self-contained. For women it is often a challenge to learn how and when to make the inner choice to have an open energy field, and when it is necessary to close our energy field for self-regenerating purposes.
In our patriarchal culture women are expected to be consistently available energetically. Because women are not supported to keep other people's energies out, our self-actualizing journey involves getting to know our personal energy clearly so that we know what feels right and what does not. As we separate from our feminine societal conditioning of alway having to remain soft and accommodating we can learn how express our "yes's and no's" without guilt.
This self-definition requires a period of independent self-exploration, free from outside pressures to conform to others expectations. Once we learn how to set our own boundaries, we can deepen our relationships authentically - or not. Authentic connection is not fusion, care-taking, co-dependency, or confusion about where we end and others begin. When we understand, and honestly communicate about who we really are, we become clear about who we can have real relationships with.
In order to actualize our personal goals and purposes it is imperative to learn how to protect our time and energy from unnecessary outer demands, and to sort out which relationships are reciprocal, and which relationships are draining our life energy. Until we establish healthy boundaries, each one of us will have pockets in our life where we feel drained. Without healthy boundaries we will likely be giving to relationships that drain our personal will towards our unique positive life direction.
Unhealthy and Unnecessary Giving
As women encultured to take care of others, we will feel guilty when we begin to set boundaries to protect our energy and time. During the process of struggling with guilt, it helpful to understand that the aim of authentic giving is to support the emotional, psychological and spiritual growth of others and ourselves.
Giving in ways that support ego stagnancy in ourselves and others is destructive and unhealthy. We love and support other people more by saying "no" to their unhealthy ego patterns even though they may be upset with our boundaries. Through the example of setting authentic boundaries and not always giving people what they want, we upset ego expectations but invite deeper growth and healthier ways of living.
Often when we stop giving in unauthentic ways, an emotional backlash in the form of outer or inner resistance occurs. This backlash from other people whom we have emotionally taken care of can be extreme at times. As we go through the necessary period of sorting ourselves out, to understand where we specifically we are meant to give to life, it will entail a period of saying "no" to other areas of life where we are currently unnecessarily over-spending our energy and time.
To maintain a solid stance about unnecessary giving - it is essential to know that when we fill a place in life that we does not contribute to our highest growth, we are actually care-taking ego comfort and are not supporting others to find their own strength. Giving in unnecessary or unhealthy ways creates dependency and a feeling of deadness for both people.
We can sort out our "yes's and no's" by feeling the tone and quality of our energy in each situation that we are giving to. When we give to someone who is not reciprocating, there will be a sense of emotional heaviness that comes from an imposed mental "should". Alternately, as we give to the areas of our greatest growth, we find our joy and flow. And, as we leave situations where we are over-giving , after a period of initial upset, those we have over-given to will have to make the choice on their own to find new resources within and without.
Just as we need to say "no" to people and activities that do not support our greatest growth, so too must we say a strong "no" to our own internal ego processes that prevent us from moving forward. At the bottom of it all, it is only ourselves, and our own choices that hold us back.
Growing forward involves saying, "no" to the ways that we hold ourselves back, including all of the way we keep ourselves diminished to fit in with our social and family groups. And, as we curtail all of the ways we internally attack and criticize ourselves, we will tolerate it less from other people.
We grow by learning about where to best give our gifts and talents to contribute to our own and other people's growth. When we give to the highest growth in people, it might initially look like
not offering them any support at all. Sometimes others need to find their own way, and over-giving in ways that are not necessary actually stunts the way their life is meant to
Ego-based compensatory giving is exhausting. It stagnates our own and other people's evolution. Ego-giving is giving to get something in return. Often we give only to feel better about ourselves as a compensation for underlying feelings of guilt or unworthiness, or as a delay tactic to distract ourselves away from our authentic life path.
When we give in alignment with our inner truth, giving feels good, meaningful, a divinely inspired. Giving in an intuitive and inspired way sweetens life immeasurably. Intuitive giving operates in the flow so that what is given is received, and both parties are nourished. Inspired giving - even the smallest things - a word, a favor, a kind gesture builds energy, insight, and inspiration.
Keeping Energy Out - A Painting Exercise...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 62 - Healing Grief with Expressive Drawing
This expressive drawing exercise will support you to understand where you are not learning the life lessons inherent in your losses, and will show you how to find the wisdom in your heart to heal.
- Art journal, sketchbook
- Black marker, ballpoint pen, felt pens, pencil crayons, patels
Finding New Life in Loss
Expressing emotions can help to release the feelings of loss and grief but it does it not always heal the beliefs that feed into grief. Life affirming decisions about how to grow, learn and understand, like any other time in life, need to be made amidst feelings of grief. When we experience loss, some new life direction must eventually take the place of the feelings of loss and devastation.
Sometimes when we are grieving, we can "cathart" challenging emotions, only to have them return, and cycle back again and again. When grief cycles without end, we can come to know that we are not seeing and learning the life lessons inherent in our losses.
Moving through layers of old loss and grief can be addressed through a step-by-step process developed by holistic counsellor and expressive art therapist Barbara Ganim in her book "Drawing from the Heart".
I simplify her process on how to deal with feelings of loss into an abbreviated three week process. I recommend the book "Drawing from the Heart" for a more comprehensive seven week process on how to heal grief and loss with expressive drawing.
Grieving loss in a directed way provides enough time to take action on the intuitive messages for healing that come through your drawings. To anchor the wisdom that comes through your drawings, it is helpful to spend time meditating on your drawings and writings everyday.
Accessing, Releasing and Transforming Grief
Barbara Ganim offers the acronym ART to point the way on how to heal through expressive art.
- Access the painful emotion
- Release the emotion through expressive drawing
- Transform the painful image and discover new positive ways to respond to the beliefs that are causing you pain.
Healing Comes from the Heart
It takes time and depth of insight to transform grief and loss. Life as it continually moves forward does not allow us to stop growing. This expressive drawing process will help you to understand how you feel about your loss and grief. These drawing processes alternate between:
1. What your mind understands about your grief and how your negative thoughts cycle into your upset emotions - and prolong your thoughts about grief.
2. And, what your heart knows about your grief. Often what we think we need to do to heal our grief is very different from how our heart can inform us about what our grief is meant to teach us....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 63 - Exploring Age Regression
This directive offers 16 different art journal and writing explorations that will support you to "grow up" the
parts of yourself that are frozen in the past.
- Art journal
- Pens, pencils, markers, pencil crayons, old magazines, glue stick and scissors
Resisting Past Emotions
When we live wholly in the present moment, we can know that we are living in our spontaneous and authentic self. Whenever we are not fully experiencing the present moment, we are most often caught in the past in some form of age regression. Worrying about how we will survive takes us back to the helplessness of childhood when we were dependent on other to meet our physical and emotional needs.
We all age regress, especially when our physical survival feels threatened. We also are more likely to age regress when we are tired, hungry, and are stressed about work, or are fretting about money worries.
Becoming aware of when we are age-regressing (defending against feeling unfinished emotional pain from the past) is a process that can be visually and verbally explored through the art journaling process. Most of us experience age-regression on an almost continuous basis - until we have processed a considerable amount of past pain, and understand how to release limited beliefs from the past.
All unfinished business from the past holds our younger selves frozen in time. In order to resist traumatic experiences, the child freezes the body by tightening the muscles and holding the breath. After much repetition, our patterns of contraction become an automatic response that can carry on for decades until it is seen, understood, interrupted, and changed.
There are several ways to differentiate from, interrupt, and "grow up" age-regressed states. Following are art therapy exercises I have created and adapted - inspired by psychologist Stephen Wolinsky from his book, "The Trances People Live."
16 Directives for Exploring Age-Regression
Self-Observe: Become aware of your emotional and behavioral symptoms when you go into a younger self. Come to know the distinct energy of this child self - which may be one of many.
Witness and Write Down the Details: As you explore how you constrict your awareness to a past time, you will be able to observe that there is a particular "recipe" for the way that you close down. There will be a distinct and familiar way of thinking, feeling and tensing your body when you age-regress.
There will be a particular "younger" thought patterns and frozen beliefs from an earlier time that goes along with body tension or constricting symptoms such as acute body pain, a blurring of vision, particular ways of thinking, younger voice inflections, and more irrational and overwhelming emotional states.
As you write about how you constrict into a younger part of yourself, honor that you are a masterful creator of your own emotional survival, and now it may be time to finally release the constricting patterns that once kept you safe.
In your journal:
1.How old were you when you first created this self that is "frozen in time?"
2. What was the relational trauma, difficult life circumstance, or emotional hurt that stopped up your access to your inherent strengths and resources at this age?
3. What choices did you make and beliefs about life did you form during this time?
4. Write out the "recipe" of your age regressed state. Create a descriptive character sketch of yourself of your body state, your emotional energy, and your mental patterns.
5. What do you do, think, believe and feel when you are in this regressed state in your current life?
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 64 - Self-Soothing for Emotional Overwhelm
This art journal directive is supportive if your are processing heavy emotions, and will provide soothing tools to calm, regulate and slow down the overwhelm of painful emotions.
- Art Journal
- Magazines, glue stick, scissors
- Calming music
Pacing Your Healing
We must again and again face fear until we can do so without being thrown back into lower self functioning." - Richard Moss
Why Process Emotional Pain?
Some trauma therapists believe that if you are feeling overwhelmed, you are going too fast with emotional processing. Yet, spiritual teacher Richard Moss writes, "We are rightfully afraid of pain, but when pain - especially emotional pain - is what is, then to continue to rely on a self-avoidance survival structure created in childhood is to remain barren of potential."
When we turn towards our emotional pain, we paradoxically become more alive. We can develop a conscious relationship to our own suffering by compassionately respecting our internal timing and
pace, and by taking breaks when the emotional pain and intensity feels overwhelming. By facing what we habitually avoid, with great love and gentleness, we open up to our authentic
Following are some calming, grounding, slowing, and self-soothing tools inspired and informed by trauma counsellor Jasmin Lee Cori, author of "Healing from Trauma." You can use these directives - adapted to include expressive art practices, whenever your emotions feel too difficult to manage.
Get Present: When we are holding emotional pain, a good portion of our awareness is caught in past time. Our agitated nervous system generalizes the present moment as being the same as the traumas of past. Observant attention to the here-and-now stops the past process of generalization.
When you are going into emotional overwhelm, divert as much of your attention away from the traumatic material that is coming up from the past, and place your attention on the acute details of the present moment. Now is not the past. It is different. Observe the differences. Breathe. Look around and see colors and details. Breathe again.
1. Breathe deeply. Gratefully and lovingly take in your immediate surroundings in present time.
2. Create a calming collage to meditate on and use as a resource when you are emotionally flooded. Choose imagery that evokes a feeling safety, beauty and calm for yourself. Connect to each image as a calming resource that helps you to self-regulate.
Change Channels: There are several different channels for our life experience. Thoughts are one channel, emotions another, and body sensations a third. If one channel is overwhelming you, switch to another channel.
1. If your are thinking dark thoughts repeatedly or are emotionally flooded and cannot seem to stop the discomfort, it is helpful to move your body.
2. Go for a walk in nature, or put on some soothing music and dance slowly. Amplify your attention towards how your body moves moment-by-moment.
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 65 - Processing Difficult Emotions
This journal exercise includes a daily 5 step journal process, and in-depth journal guide to inner body listening to help you better understand your emotions.
- Journal and a pen
Daily Journaling from the Body
Subtle feelings often begin with an inkling or a slight discomfort. A part of your body, for example, may feel particularly uncomfortable. If so, direct all of your witnessing attention to that spot.
Sit patiently with your uncomfortable place, say hello and wait. Body listening involves sitting with your journal, getting still, closing your eyes, and waiting quietly for your body to share it's messages.
Daily Five Step Journal Process
1. As you start to soften your resistance to your discomfort you might start to see visual images, or hear phrases or words. You might also be able to identify a feeling like "sad, frustrated, irritable, ect."
2. After recording the imagery, memories, inklings, and feelings that arise from your body discomfort in your journal, ask your body feeling what it needs from you. Often, what your discomfort needs may come in the form of an image, a phrase, a word or a metaphor. Write anything that come to your mind in your journal - even if it does not yet make sense.
3. Try to leave your rational mind out of the feeling process, and sit in the mystery of whatever has just come through even if you do not yet understand it. Thank your embodied knowing for sharing with you in a language that you may not yet know.
4. Close your journal and come back to your body journaling process tomorrow. Look for the tightest, sorest, or most uncomfortable place in your body each day. See if you can stay with your emotional process everyday for a month, starting with 5 minutes a day, to see how much tension you can unravel.
5. Over a period of daily journaling from the body, larger knowings piece together into a larger whole. Daily fragments form larger meanings and discernible patterns, and what was once difficult to own and assimilate is gradually reclaimed and included into a fuller sense of self.
Welcoming what is Difficult
Spiritual teacher Robert Masters speaks eloquently about turning towards our darkest and most difficult feelings:
"Stop pathologizing your negativity, stop relegating it to a lower status, stop keeping it in the dark. Go to it, open its doors and windows, take it by the hand. Meet its gaze. Feel its woundedness, feel into it, feel for it, feel it without any buffers. Soon you will start to sense that its gaze is none other than your own, perhaps from an earlier time, but yours nonetheless, containing so much of you. Humanize it fully. Keep something in the dark long enough and it will probably behave badly.
Turn on the lights, slowly but surely. Your simple presence is enough. Let your heart soften. Breathe a little more deeply, bringing what you call your negativity closer to you, opening at a fitting pace. No rush. Let it shift, however slowly, from a distant foreign object to a reclaimed part of your being. Let its pain and longing break your heart.
Your ambition to transcend your negativity is now all but gone, as you realize right to your core that your real work is to reclaim and reembody it. You are with yourself more deeply, your initial aversion all but gone, and now hold what you previously termed your negativity in the way that loving parents hold their distressed child, bringing it into your heart, feeling a rising desire and power to protect that little one. No negativity now. Just love, ease, recognition, presence, effortless wholeness. This is life in the raw, too real to be reduced to positive and negative, too alive to be shut down."
In Depth Guide to Inner Body Listening
Adapted into a creative journal meditation, inspired by Focusing Psychotherapy teacher Ann Weiser Cornell (author of the "Power of Focusing") - I detail a deeper body listening process below. This is an in depth guide to inner body listening for when you have more time to deeply feel into your body. Do not rush through the steps. Allow yourself to not rationally know how you feel. Let your answers arise slowly from your body.
Find time to create a quiet place for yourself. Make sure you are warm and comfortable. You can sit or lay down in any position that you like. Have your journal and a pen handy. Take few deep breaths. You might decide to go into your inner body focusing with a specific question or issue that is pressing into your awareness, or you might just want to listen to your body and see what comes. You might especially want to concentrate on the parts of your body that feel stiff, tight, withheld, sore, or neglected to see what they have to say.
1. Entering Your Body
Your body is a storehouse of knowledge, personalities, ages, creativity, memories, and soul wisdom. It holds everything that has ever happened to you, and it can tell you anything that you need to know....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 66 - Create an Experimental Art Journal
This prompt will support you to loosen up and find emotional freedom in your art journaling process.
- 8x10 inch spiral bound sketchbook
- Acrylic and watercolor paints
- Papers to paint and draw on
- Printed and colored tissue papers
- Collage materials, magazines, glue stick, and scissors
- Drawing pens, markers, pastels
Art Journaling for New Awareness
Most of us perpetuate the same emotional reactions and mental patterns repeatedly until they are interrupted with new information and fresh understandings. Regular art journaling can be a process of developing unconditional inner empathy for your own spontaneous feeling process.
Art journaling invites new possibilities and nurtures new awareness. Playing with odd combinations of words, metaphors and imagery allows contact with something unknown to emerge. By experimenting creatively in your art journal, without judging or evaluating what emerges, new information will infuse old repeating patterns with fresh possibilities for your life.
1. Create a Painted Background - The aim of an experiment art journal is to practice being loose and free. Set aside your normal self-control and practice your spontaneity. Create the backgrounds in your journal with the aim of loosening up. Experiment painting quickly and vigorously without thinking.
Paint one page at a time, or paint several at a time if you wish. Acrylic paint, gessoes, and gel mediums sometimes can be sticky, especially if you store your art journal in a warm room. With acrylic mediums, you may need to place wax paper between your journal pages until the paint is completely cured.
2. Gestural Mark Making - Use pastels, markers, pens and pencils to make gestural marks. Aim to free your yourself, with random fast marks, scribbles, and intuitive marks.
3. Stamping, Printing and Stencilling - To create richer, more multi-layered backgrounds, consider ink stamping, paint stamping, or painting through stencils.
4. Transparent Elements - To further build up your background, experiment veiling your backgrounds with colored and printed tissue papers. You can add transparent elements as the end of your art journaling session as well.
5. Doodling and Drawing - Draw and doodle on your background in any way you feel called to with gel pens, markers, and pencil crayons. Feel free to collage old or new drawings and paintings onto your journal page as well.
6. Writing and Words - To express feelings, thoughts, ideas, inspirations, allow words to come spontaneously to mind, or to explore a persistent line of thinking that is running through your head. Sometimes a spontaneous journal spread will inspire fresh thoughts. Alternatively, you can go into an old magazine and tear or cut out words to create spontaneous poetry,
Words chosen spontaneously feel mysterious at first. Some days, you may feel called to add a long written entry onto your journal page. You can letter with colored gel pens on top of your painted background, or write on a separate piece of paper, and collage onto your journal page.
9 Ways to Cultivate Emotional Freedom:
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 67 - Art Journaling for Healing Trauma
Art journaling allows memories that are intruding into the present moment to be seen, understood and cared for. This art journal prompt also offers many creative exercises to support you to tend to the "10 Healing Tasks of Trauma."
When we experience trauma we feel unprotected and alone. Psychotherapist Belleruth writes:
"Without belief in a fair and moral universe, a sense of control of one's fate, a coherent sense of self, and a continuous personal narrative, life makes no sense.
Living becomes a pointless exercise of getting through the day. People reeling from trauma are thrown into a crisis of meaning that goes far beyond disillusionment; they are plunged into and abyss of despair."
Creating a Self-Caring World - One Page at a Time
The aim of a creating a self-caring art journal is to re-condition a safe, and caring world within. To create a caring world for ourselves, we can process and unravel disturbing thoughts and emotions gently as they naturally arise.
Digging for memories is not required to heal. There is a right timing to healing. Art journaling is a way to understand and release the remnants of trauma regularly and slowly as it arises - one page at a time - in a format that can be closed and put away if emotions become overwhelming.
The aim of processing memories through art journaling is not to revisit traumatic emotions over and over again, but to recognize where we have stopped moving forward. When we discover where we are stuck, we can begin the process of re-conditioning stressful biological, mental and emotional holding patterns into more positive and nurturing states to carry life forward.
The Fluidity of Perception and Memory
There is no need to dig for memories or to rush trauma work. What needs to be healed comes up in layers and in its own unique timing. Whatever emotional, physical or emotional state is being triggered now is the only thing that you need to process in your art journal.
Art journaling can allow memories that are intruding into the present moment to be seen, understood and cared for. Keeping an art journal allows what is hidden within to come forward in the form of words and imagery so that you can visually see the needed change that is pressing for completion.
One dimensional memories can perpetuate negative thoughts, emotions and behaviors in a static, repetitive and ongoing way. As you create a visual story of your perceptions, with spontaneous marks, and color, line, textures and words, you can visually reveal the conditioned quality of memories and creatively change them.
Containing Past Experiences in an Art Journal
Counsellor Jasmin Cori explains the difference between catharsis and containment:
"With containment, instead of just spitting out a feeling (and perhaps getting high off the rush`associated with that), we learn to turn it over in our mouths and taste it. We learn to discriminate how much we can handle at any given moment without overload. We understand that the point is to keep the feelings from getting so intense that they burn us. We learn to contain a feeling so that it doesn't run roughshod over us but instead is given a place to be listened to."
Art Journal Exercises for Healing Trauma
Following are list of ten tasks by trauma counsellor Jasmin Lee Cori from her book "Healing Trauma" adapted to include expressive art jounaling processes.
1. Resetting your Nervous System - Cori writes: "The one fact of trauma cannot be emphasized enough: trauma changes your nervous system; therefore, a full recovery from trauma requires resetting the nervous system." This means managing anxiety, fear and arousal and finding ways to self-soothe. One way to calm your mind and nervous system is to draw and color intricate patterns. This activity narrows your focus so that your mind can quiet down and your body can relax.
2. Freeing Your Body from Holding Patterns - Our bodies hold memories of trauma in the tissues. The defensive contractions and the aches and pains that result from withholding energy away from fully engaged living will stay in place if you do not work on all levels - mental, emotional, and physical change - in tandem.
Yoga, vigorous physical exercise, expressive movement and bodywork can further open up the emotional and mental changes that you make in your art journal. You can use your art journal to write about and identify where you feel contracted. with the intention of opening up your body and your life. Expressive dance is another way to loosen up your holding patterns. Even 5 minutes of freeform dancing a day will help you to release an old layer of pain.
3. Expanding Your Capacity to Stay Present - The intensity of traumatic memories freezes past pain in place. Cori offers the following five directives for developing presence to interrupt the magnetic pull of trauma patterning:
Practice Grounding - The past is not here now. Connect to the details of your current life. Find your feet on the ground. Breathe. Look around you and journal with gratitude about the concrete details of the good that surround you in this moment. In your art journal, draw what you see in your immediate environment, tending to each detail with care and concentration.
Defuse Triggers and Self-Regulate - Keep a detailed account of the places, people, words, smells, and associations that trigger your fears. Learn to calm yourself when you are triggered and have tools to remind you how to stay open when you would normally close. Explore prompt #64 - Self-Soothing with Collage.
Remind yourself that the past is not here in the present. Write in your journal about how your present life is different from the past. Remind yourself in your journal of all of the strengths and resources you have gathered over your life that you did not have when you were younger. Explore prompt #72 to Learn Mindfulness Meditation.
Learn to Recognize Dissociation - When you "leave" your body and your mind during periods of overwhelm, practice bringing yourself back to your current reality by identifying what is happening in the present moment by prompt #52 - Journaling Through Emotional Overwhelm.
Develop a Sense of Safety - As you learn to trust your ability to set healthy boundaries, and speak up for yourself in ways that you could not when you were younger, you will feel the safety of your own strength. Explore prompt # 61 - The Art of Setting Boundaries in your art journal.
Cultivate Witness Consciousness - Art activities that require focused detailing and concentration help quiet the mind. To center deeper than your trauma patterning and develop your witnessing consciousness try prompt #49 - Intuitive Zendoodling in your art journal.
4. Mastering Your Trauma Symptoms - You can defuse your trauma symptoms through prompt #50 - Unburdening the Past
5. Feel Your Emotions without being Controlled by Them - With traumatic patterning you can explore the negative belief system that cements your emotional pain in place through prompt #77- Healing Negative Core Beliefs.
6. Managing Memories and Finding Peace with What Happened - We experience traumatic memories through the eyes of younger parts of self. To defuse the past explore prompt #63 - Age-Regression - An Integrative Journaling Exercise.
7. Coming to Terms with What Happened - Learning and eventually seeing how your trauma has made you into a stronger person involves grieving what you never had, and moving forward into life with the gifts and strengths that you developed through your hardships. Explore prompt # 62 - Healing Grief with Expressive Drawing as well as prompt #43 - Healing Grief Through Art Journaling Therapy so that you can move on. Explore prompt #58 - Creating Intentions in your art journal to clarify how you will move forward with your life.
8. Making up for What You Missed - As you reclaim aspects of yourself that were frozen in the past, you can move forward into a fresh, more vibrant life. This involves making up for developmental needs that were not met in the past, and entails exploring possibilities that you might not have considered before now. Explore prompt #46 Portals into Possibilities with Collage in your art journal.
9. Integrating - Finding wholeness begins now. As you reclaim and integrate all the pieces of yourself that have been "missing" from the past you form the new identity of who you were always meant to be in your essence. To recover your wholeness explore prompt #57 - Creating a Mandala for Healing.
10. Giving Back - We are wired to give our gifts to life. Giving what we most long for - to others - helps us heal. To amplify our own growth we can practice giving what we did not get in our childhood - sometimes even before we feel quite ready. We amplify our understanding of how to receive what we need by giving it to others.
It is helpful to give others what we most have longed to have for from our primary caregivers, be it time, attention, kindness, respect or love. Since we each have an area of "expertise" born from the challenges we have triumphed over in life, we can help others do the same.
Assessing Your Healing Process
Take time now in your journal to look over the list above and assess where you are in your healing journey. Look at each healing task, and give it a number that represents where you are - with one being you have not started the healing, and ten being the task of healing is complete. Pick one or more tasks, and create an action plan to support the aspect of your healing that is calling for your attention right now.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity #68 - Restoring Passion Through Expressive Movement
This expressive movement exercise will support you to practice ways of speaking and moving that you normally do not allow.
- Loose, comfortable clothes
- A private room to self-express
We do not need to go into memory to heal the past. Any part of our emotional body that is still hurting and stuck in the past will always be available to express and heal itself in the present moment.
In Gestalt therapy our "unfinished business" from the past can always be discovered in the here-and-now, and expressively worked through with body movement and emotional and vocal expression.
The more we honestly express ourselves, the more passion we will feel. In Gestalt therapy, our disturbing experiences , needs, blocks, fixations, emotional blind spots and unconscious split-off aspects of our personality can be dialogued with a therapist, a trusted other, or with our own higher witnessing consciousness.
Exploring Passion and Withdrawal
Passion is the charismatic giving forth of our truthful expression. To restore passion, we can learn what causes us to withdraw our truth, and what inspires us to extend our energy. In any moment, we are either extending to or withdrawing away from other people and our environment. Most of us stop extending our authentic truth early in life.
Our withdrawal keeps us stuck in our problems. We can only understand who we are by how we extend love. We all get caught in our patterns of withdrawal from childhood and our muscle of extending love can become atrophied. As adults, our habitual contractions seem to be who we are. As adults we can re-develop the capacity to extend love and passion from the places where we hurt inside.
See how you feel in both postures of extending and withdrawing. Constellations therapist Bert Hellinger explains how our extending-out movements become rejected and trapped in our body postures: "When the reaching out movement is interrupted the body pulls back." This creates withdrawal.
Alternate moving out and in. "Sculpt" your body into the shape of withdrawal so that you can gesturally feel how you close down. In contrast, move your body forward and feel the expansion as you extend your energy out.
Exploring Contrasts and Opposites
With Gestalt therapy we can practice actions, movements, expressions, vocal declarations, and emotional gestures that might have been unthinkable in the past. Gestalt therapy encourages that we express feelings through the body and voice instead of just thinking about them. Through expressive Gestalt movement, you can try on new possible selves, explore an opposite of forbidden quality, express strong emotions, and play passionately with all sides of yourself.
Exploring the opposite polarities in our character offers the possibility of change. Once we understand how we close, we can practice the opposite gestures of openness. If, for example, your movements of hurt and withdrawal have you closing your arms over your chest and pulling back your energy, the opposite movement might be opening up the arms and moving forward with your energy. These "opening up" body gestures, repeated over time, will help you to change your biology. As you practice the new neural pathways of openness in your brain - you begin to sculpt a new you.
Ten Experiments in Expressive Movement and Vocal Expression
Following are ten ways to use expressive movement and vocal expression to restore passion as inspired by Gestalt therapy. This series of exercises can be worked through alone or with a trusted, witnessing other.
1. Present Moment Spontaneous Expression - Wherever we were unsuccessful at expressing our needs, feelings, and upsets in the past, we can express gesturally, vocally, and emotionally in the present moment. Spontaneously speak and move your body as you express your needs and feelings. You might say, "I need you to hear me!" and then allow your body to move emphatically make your point. Feel free to be dramatic and to repeat the same phrase over and over. Exaggerate and amplify your verbal and body expression to feel the antidote to your habitual repression.
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 69 - Healing Post-Traumatic Stress
This art journal directive supports you to heal past trauma through loving self-connection, creating safety, and making art that represents a feeling of "all-healed."
- Art journal or paper
- Collage materials
- Paint, pencil crayons, felt markers, pastels
Living in crisis mode even when life is uneventful take its toll on body, mind, and spirit. For those who struggle with post-traumatic stress, enduring high levels of anxiety is a daily, biological reality. However, it is possible to recover from distressing traumatic events with presence, attention, and love.
Love Heals Trauma
"The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind."
- Caroline Myss
Without proper support and love right after a traumatic event, the effects of harm are more long lasting and continue to cause emotional pain, fear, panic and confusion long after the event has passed. If you did not receive the love and support you needed when you experienced trauma, you can give yourself loving support now.
You can choose to become profoundly present to the intensity of your emotions instead of reflexively resisting and avoiding them. Unconditional acceptance and presence to your own feelings is the highest form of self-love. When you process feelings on your own, it is possible to "ride the waves" of your trauma symptoms with witnessing, loving presence.
Riding the Waves of Uncomfortable Emotions
Counsellor Anastasia Pollock explain how to "ride the waves" of intense emotions:
"Imagine you are out in the ocean, far from shore. Giant waves are coming - very intimidating and scary. The first instinct is to fight, to swim as hard as you can back to shore. However, unless you are a physical anomaly, you only end up exhausting yourself and don’t get closer to your goal of safety. When exhausted, you are at higher risk of drowning.
Thus, survival experts advise that the best thing you can do in this type of situation is to allow your body to relax to conserve energy, floating instead of fighting. This gives you a better chance of getting through the ordeal and allows time to calm yourself so you can think clearly about what to do to in order to survive."
Relaxing into the waves of disturbing emotion takes a new kind of willingness and openness that you may have never cultivated before. This strength of presence and self-compassion can be built up gradually over time just like a muscle in the body.
Surviving a Panic Attack
Chronic anxiety can indicate an unwillingness to process emotions from the past that are trying to come up for presence, acceptance and love. The insistent avoidance of an emotion that is trying to come up to the surface for healing and attention can result in a full-blown panic attack.
Many of us have at least one panic attack in our life. Panic attacks manifest as a racing heartbeat, difficulty breathing and an overwhelming sense of dread. A feeling of annihilation - like death can feel imminent. Panic can be so overwhelmingly chaotic it is common to freeze, or conversely do anything to attempt to douse, sedate, or distract away from the intensity....
Art Journal Therapy Exercise # 70 - Exposure Therapy to Reduce Fear and Anxiety
This in-depth collage journaling directive and written exercise will support you to face your anxiety avoidance tactics
and gradually move through your fears one-by-one.
- Journal and a pen
- Collage materials
What We Avoid Weakens Us
"Do I prefer to grow up and relate to life directly, or do I choose to live and die in fear?"
- Pema Chödrön
When we repeatedly shy away from what we fear, our ability to cope with life decreases. While avoidance tactics might provide a brief respite from anxiety, prolonged exposure therapy is a "fear toleration" or "fear presence" practice that delves past avoidance patterns, so that fear can be faced and overcome.
What we fear will continue to plague us until we turn and face it. Prolonged exposure journaling is a mental and emotional process of writing out fears a detailed way, Through a process of repeated exposure we can learn how to prolong and strengthen our presence in the face of fear.
It is helpful before beginning your journaling process, to have a plan for how to find your power in the midst of your fear. Practicing scenarios of courage in your mind will start to inform your actions. Imagining yourself facing your fears successfully will gradually translate into more strength in your daily life.
Many years ago, during a particularly stressful time in my life, I was plagued with intense fear dreams. In my dreams each night, I was being chased by an army of dark and dangerous beings who were trying to kill me, and a dream figure provided a metaphor for how I could face fear in my daily life.
The turning point in my dream series was when a figure came up to me and told me, "They are only chasing you because they can smell your fear." In my dream I stopped running and found the power inside myself to turn and face my adversaries, and as I did, they disappeared along with my fear.
Create a List of What Distresses You
We can only heal what we can clearly see...
Art Journal Therapy Activity #71 - Understanding Transpersonal Therapy
This exploratory journal exercise will help you understand where you are in your growth journey so that you will know how to focus your inner work. This prompt includes three journal explorations of your Mask, Lower and Higher Self.
- Journal and a pen
Understanding the Three Layers of Yourself
1. The Mask: We create an idealized defensive mask designed to protect ourselves from hurt and rejection because we hide our emotional pain - even from ourselves.
This mask or false self dampens down the vibrancy of love of our core truth.
2. The Wounded Child/Ego/Lower Self: The next layer of our being is the wounded child/ego/shadow or lower self of our human nature. Our ego self is comprised of separated off, rejected parts of self that keep love and connection out. This self-protection causes great pain and isolation. Our lower self does not trust in love.
When we repress and reject our emotions, and do not look at the beliefs that create our emotional pain, our life energy becomes stagnant and hardens into defensive physical armouring in our heart and body - that keeps love out. Our disturbing emotions and untrue negative beliefs cover up the love that is always there.
3. The Core/Higher Self: We are, at our center, a pulsating core that is love and that knows our pure goodness and unconditional lovability. This energetic core self seeks to grow and expand. When we are in touch with our core self we love ourselves and our fellow creatures unconditionally. We give and receive joyously and we live in alignment with our intuition, and our most meaningful purpose and contribution to life. We must look honestly at our mask self, heal the emotional pain that lives below it before we can experience and embody our authentic self on an ongoing basis.
The process of authentic self-actualization involves unblocking psychological and emotional defenses, moving stuck energy in the body to create healthy flow, and transforming negative, distorted beliefs so that our being can rest more continually in our core authentic self.
Reflect in your journal about where you are in your growth process:
1. Mask (surface) self - Do you live mainly in your social self, careful to fit in, and concerned about what other people think of you?
2. Lower (limited) self - Do you have trouble feeling, expressing or understanding the root of your emotional pain?
3.) Higher (unlimited self) - Are you living mainly from your spontaneous, spiritual, loving, truthful core self?
Transpersonal therapy aims to unblock energies that keep us from connecting to our core authentic self. In order to live from our authentic core we must find:
1. Cognitive Understanding: We must find and identify our false social self and understand who we pretend to be to "get" love from the outside.
2. Emotional Expression: We must express our woundedness by feeling and expressing all our emotions, including fear, sadness, hate, grief and pain. We must see where we feed into our difficult emotions with negative, untrue beliefs. Feeling our feelings fully with love and acceptance, and seeing how we perpetuate them with our untrue throughs, transforms them into love.
3, Physical Movement: We must physically work on opening up our bodily defenses, moving through the stagnation, stiffness, soreness and physical weaknesses that keep us rigidly stuck within our negative emotional and psychological patterns.
4. Life Purpose: We must find beauty, meaning, vision and creativity in our life that can express itself through our positive actions. We must discover our purpose in life and our unique reason for being here.
Self-Development Action Plan:
1. Looking at the various ways of unblocking your energy above and assess what kind of inner work you need to do at this point in your life?
2. Write down the numbers 1-4 along with the headings above and write honestly about what areas you have mastered and what areas you most need to work on.
3. Write out an action plan to work on the areas of self-development that you most neglect.
Three Journal Explorations of Your Mask, Lower, and Higher Self....
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 72 - Mindfulness for Obsessive Compulsive Tendencies
This mindfulness exercise offers a way to decrease anxiety through repetitive focus on the breath, and/or focused creative activity.
Increasing Concentration and Calm
Most of us have some perfectionist or obsessive tendencies that intensify during times of emotional distress. The acronym OCD has become a stock term, often used in a casual way to describe someone who is excessively meticulous, perfectionistic, absorbed, or otherwise fixated.
Whenever we have mild or extremely exacting fixating tendencies we can use the gift of our meticulous mind to concentrate on the positive practice of concentrated breathing and mind training to increase inner peace and emotional healing.
Anything done repetitively increases concentration and calm. In the case of obsessive, compulsive tendencies, repetitive and ritualistic behavior that seems to have no apparent meaning, could be channeled into a form of life-enhancing meditation or a focused, repetitive creative activity.
Repetition creates a feeling of safety, and is a way to dissipate the charge of disturbing emotions, uncomfortable thoughts, and feelings of inner chaos and incompletion. Ritualistic behavior such as counting, ordering, checking, touching and arranging, washing, hoarding and doubting can be seen as an attempt to relieve the stress and anxiety of uncomfortable emotions that are flooding up to surface for recognition and healing.
Compulsive rituals can be elaborate and incredibly time consuming. Bernice Sorge author of "Repetition in Art Therapy writes, "The compulsion is considered a disorder in that it interferes with the individual's daily life partly by taking up a lot of time for non-productive activity." The need for structure and control is at the core of obsessions and compulsions, In the repeated practice of compulsion, mastery over inner chaos is achieved.
Translating Compulsion into Concentration in Art
For those who struggle with obsessive compulsive tendencies and behaviors, the downside of consistent concentration on daily rituals is that it keeps the mind in the same unchanged state without allowing the opposite movement of inconsistency, spontaneity and the creative unknown.
When we limit the range of our expression we stay in our conscious defensive mind and cut off the unconscious creative and spiritual part of our being that helps us to heal. Creativity - spontaneity within the structure of disciplined creative tasks - allows for the unconscious, emotional realm to calm so that healing to occur.
Organizing Chaotic Thought and Emotion
In the art therapy studio that I currently work in, I witness obsessive compulsive behaviors being productively channeled into small, repetitive and detailed creative tasks such stitching and needlework, weaving, and in the painting of intricate and repetitive patterns.
I have arrived at the term, "spontaneity within structure" to explain the necessity of offering structured art to people who suffer from a high degree of anxiety. Repetitive and structured art work is being creative within containment. All repetitive creative tasks still offer the spontaneous choice of color, texture and placement within the structure, but contain a calming container of orderly tasks.
Nine Stages of Training the Mind
Another way to allow both sides of our nature - the spontaneous and the structured - is to practice meditative mind training. Practicing precision, dedication and discipline provides a safe container for the chaos of the unknown to become contained within a calm and stabilized mind.
My experience in facilitating art for people with obsessive compulsive tendencies in my studio work is that they demonstrate highly detailed precision in their creative work. They are able to concentrate for long hours, and are considerably calmed by the intense focus. This particular gift and tenacity for concentration in people who have obsessive, compulsive tendencies can contribute to a successful meditative practice.
Left to our own devices, our thoughts can easily wander out of control, and we can resort to outside rituals and compulsions to try to order ourself. A long lineage of Buddhist meditators
have seen the same unfolding process of obtaining a still and stable mind through meditation practice over time. For those who struggle with unhelpful obsessive, compulsive tendencies, meditation
can cultivate a true and productive use of the mind.
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 73 - Healing Perfectionism
This art journal prompt explains the 3 types of masks that we can wear in social situations and how the false self creates painful perfectionism. This activity will guide you to transform your mask through 3 simple steps and 6 journal questions.
- Journal and pen
- Collage materials, magazines that you regularly enjoy, scissors and glue stick
The Mask and Childhood Hurts
Each of us has a protective mask self, and until we heal the wounds from our childhood by re-visiting and releasing them, we will continue to present an overly protective idealized self to the world. Our mask keeps our hurt frozen within our personality structure, and this frozen way of seeing the world continues to attract the same childhood hurts into our current reality.
Because our mask is inauthentic, we will experience continual rejection when we are in our mask. People often avoid inauthenticity, and so this starts the struggle for perfection to create an even more infallible mask, so that the emotional pain of rejection can be avoided. In the quest for further phoniness, the inner critic steps in and chastises our inner child who cannot seem to "win" love no matter what we do.
Our idealized mask self is doomed to failure, disappointment, loss of self-esteem and painful rejection. As we continue to inwardly berate ourselves, we raise the stakes of perfection after every inevitable failure.
Counsellor and Pathwork teacher Susan Thesenga writes about the Three Types of Masks in her book "The Undefended Self ." I encapsulate her wise words for you here:
The Three Types of Mask - The Attempt to Appear Perfect
The pseudo-solution of the mask is usually based on a distortion of one of the three divine principles of love, power, or serenity. In a unified state, these principles operate in harmony. In our dualistic state of being we unconsciously and predominantly choose one of these divine attributes to emulate in an attempt to appear perfect. However, because we are attempting to create an invulnerable perfection, these divine attributes turn into their distortions:
Love becomes dependency and submission
Power becomes control and aggression
Serenity becomes withdrawal
1. The Mask of Love - The mask of love is an attempt to "get" love from others by always appearing to be loving. The personality becomes submissive, dependent, appeasing and self-denying in the hopes of guaranteeing, controlling, and buying love and approval from others. This type of mask believes it must be loved at all costs and is deliberately made weaker, more helpless, or subservient than it really is.
The effect on the personality of such unconscious self-crippling is a deep resentment and bitterness. Others are blamed for such a deep lack of fulfillment. But in order to stay "true" to the idealized "love mask" such resentment is buried with guilt. To heal from this distorted mask self we must admit to and discharge resentment and bitterness and ask directly for what we want.
2. The Mask of Power - The mask of power is an attempt to get control of life and others by always appearing completely independent, aggressive, competent and domineering. Falsely reducing life to a struggle for domination, the power mask is attempting to escape from the feelings of vulnerability experienced as a child. Security and self-esteem rest in winning in all situations, and becoming free of human needs and weaknesses. The power drive is idealized, and love and contact are rejected.
Denial of the real needs for warmth, comfort, affection, caring and communication results in frantic drivenness, an inability to accept life and the self as it is. Unable to admit mistakes or weaknesses, the power mask is obsessed with competition and the drive to win. This mask type tends toward a cynical, pessimistic view of human nature which justifies the idealization of selfishness and domination.
This mask places great value on self-control, but may act out negative feelings while justifying them as the "way of the world." This mask self is often plagued by a secret sense of shame and failure because it is impossible to surpass everyone in all respects, or to win and dominate universally. This mask type compensates by striving harder to win, succeed and dominate, and by blaming others for the failures. To heal from this distorted mask self, we must admit our vulnerability and ask for help.
3. The Mask of Serenity - The mask of serenity is an attempt to escape the difficulties and vulnerabilities of human life by always appearing completely serene and detached. In fact, what the person in this mask really pursues is the distortion of serenity which is withdrawal, indifference, evasion of life, non-commitment, cynical worldly detachment, or false spiritual detachment.
Very often the serenity mask is chosen because the child was unable to make either the "love" or "power" masks work his/her original family. Unable to gain the needed love through submission, or the needed self-assertion through aggression, this mask type withdrew from problems both on the inside and the outside. But underneath the withdrawal is a torn and insecure psyche that believes neither love or self-assertion is an available option.
The misconception of the serenity mask is that problems will go away if we can effectively deny them. Security and self-esteem are believed to be achieved by rising above all difficulties - by being "cool" and "unaffected" by life. The person with a serenity mask idealizes aloofness and detachment, and may have contempt for the struggles of other "mere mortals" but this massive denial hides numbness and massive despair, and either a cynical view of life or an ungrounded spirituality.
To come out from behind this mask of serenity we have to begin to talk about and tolerate our feelings because the emotional self-betrayal of the withdrawal mask is almost complete. Only a small degree of engagement with life and other people can be tolerated. The transformation of the serenity mask is a step-by-step process of risking the expression of the real self.
4.) The Combination Mask - Sometimes the masks of love, power and serenity are mixed in the same person, which causes tremendous confusion in the pursuit of contrary idealizations. Whereas the love mask pretends to be all-loving, to deny strength and independence, the power mask denies the need for love, pretending to be all-powerful. Preferring to be "above it all," the serenity mask engages in neither the struggle to love, nor the battle to dominate, regarding both with contempt.
Many people do have contradictory personality ideals and compartmentalize them into different areas of human functioning, such as having a power mask in the business world, and a love mask operating in their intimate relationships.
3 Steps to Transforming Your Mask....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 74 - Physical Repetition to Calm Anxiety
This art journal and physical expression exercise will support you to discharge intense levels of anxiety when emotions run high.
Repetitive Action to Relieve Anxiety Induced Restlessness
Inner work is often intensely uncomfortable. Sometimes witnessing our feelings feels impossible. Any emotionally charged memory that is difficult to look at will have intense anxiety "sitting on top" of it.
Holding strong presence in the face of extreme restlessness is nearly impossible for most of us. When discomforting emotions arise, and they feel too difficult to be present for, it is often essential to "work them" through the body first.
Since our body is the home to all of our emotional history, our tension and emotionally induced physical blockages often need to be cleared through vigorous physical action before we can feel strong enough to quietly witness, and release the past.
When anxiety feels so great that we cannot sit still, the solution is to take physical action in order to calm and regulate the nervous system enough to become aware of what we are feeling. When anxiety feels explosive and powerfully agitating, and you cannot soothe and calm yourself, it is helpful to immediately find a physical or creative activity that is repetitive to discharge it.
Repetitive Action to Regain Presence
Repetitive activities do not require much thought, yet they offer physical movements upon which to concentrate when anxiety overwhelms. In this way, the mind can let go of its anxieties and worries - or at least decrease their intensity of discomfort - as it loses itself in the sheer, soothing repetition of the action.
The physical concentration on "something but nothing" is a form of moving meditation that dissipates the uncomfortable charge of anxiety, so that underlying emotions can be more clearly seen, felt and released. As our physical tension dissipates, our mental and emotional agitation calms as well, and we can more easily discern the source of our discomfort.
Physical movement is often crucial in reducing anxiety. The following activities provide an outlet for the intensity of anxiety that makes us want to crawl out of our skin. Repetitive physical actions discharges the uncomfortable energies in our body and helps us to stay in our skin until we can feel calm and clear enough to do our inner-feeling work.
17 Ways to Translate Anxious Restlessness into Calming Action....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 75 - Spontaneous Collage Scrap Journal
This collage journal exercise will support you to play freely, using whatever you have on hand, without worrying about results. This prompt also provides a written journal review process to support you to see the unconscious patterns in your creativity.
- Old drawings and paintings, rubbings, colored papers
- Magazine collage scraps, tissue paper
- Scissors and a glue stick
Loosening up Your Creativity
Leftover collage scraps - colorful papers, magazine clippings, rubbings, words, old drawings and paintings - can be created into quick, experimental collages. Collages that take very little thought, time or effort can evoke an unknown feeling, a new idea, or a fresh longing.
Be Happy, Truthful and Free
A spontaneous collage journal is a visual form of play. As writer Brenda Ueland advises, "Create every day, as fast and carelessly, or as often as you possibly can."
Don't be afraid to make as many, awkward or "un-eloquent "collages as you can. Allow yourself to create everything - startling, remarkable, ordinary or ugly collages. Do not concern yourself with composition or aesthetics. Glue scraps down quickly without thought. Listen to your instincts. Play completely.
The Fast Creation Process
- Create fast. Glue down scraps in under two minutes per page.
- Glue your favorite scraps in your journal right away. Use all of the beautiful bits of paper that you cannot bear to throw out. Next add the strange bits that intrigue and puzzle you. Work on many pages at once. Never feel pressured to finish a page. Add to each page over timeuntil it one day feels complete.
- Keep it simple. Practice making intuitive, loose compositions. Don't think. Arrange quickly. Glue pieces down without deliberation.
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 76 - Freedom From Shame
This written journal exercise will support you to understand the beliefs at the root of your shame, and to dispel feelings of embarrassment through honest writing.
- Journal and a pen
The False Conclusions of Childhood
* As children, when we experience emotional shocks or traumas, we generalize the shortcomings of ourselves, our parents, and the world.
These emotional shocks, form static conclusions and vast generalizations about life, and while they defy rational logic, they are held and hidden within our body in a dark, emotionally charged container of shame.
As children, we innocently think that everyone else has a perfect family and ideal home conditions but ourselves. Shame arises when we believe that our challenging life situation is unique, and that our entire thought and emotional process around shame has to be hidden away from others.
Whenever our emotional or thought processes remain hidden, we stop growing. We literally freeze ourselves in time, and a part of our psyche internally stays at the age where we have hidden our "shameful" life assumptions away from others.
Our false conclusions about why we should feel shame form patterns of behaviors and trigger emotional reactions, that in our adult, we often cannot understand. While our outer personality may grow and learn as we mature, we may still hold aspects of ourselves in a state of immaturity that keeps us stuck repeating certain faulty behaviors that cycle around shame, no matter how hard we try to change them.
Our false conclusions about why we should feel ashamed also seem to attract outer circumstances without our seeming to do anything to produce them. This is why when we deeply desire to consciously grow in a certain way, the opposite of what we want comes to pass instead. This is because our unconscious mind is stronger that our conscious mind. Whatever is hidden holds tremendous energy, and always has more power to create and take over our life.
Discovering Repeating Shame Patterns - A Journal Process
This journal process (inspired and informed by the spiritual and psychological pathwork of Eva Pierrakos) involves thinking back to find all of the problems that you have had in your life. This includes problems of all sorts - big small and even nonsensical. It is important to concisely write down each problem that comes to mind so that you can have an overall view that will be necessary for uncovering the one common denominator.
This journal process does not have to be done all in one day and may need to be done over a period of a few months. Once you have an extensive list of your life's challenges, search for the existence of your one common denominator of belief. Our main limited belief may not be easy to find at first but is worth taking good bit of time to quietly meditate on over a period of days, weeks or months.
The answer may be slow in coming but after a long and arduous search, you will likely discover one negative common denominator even though initially all of your problems seem unrelated. Upon deeper looking, there is usually one negative emotional imprint, and one false limited conclusion that undermines your conscious wish to grow and do well.
This one false conclusion that has unconsciously governed your life forms a pocket of shame within, that when discovered, can be examined and let go of. Once your false conclusion is known, you become equipped to eliminate the source of your unhappiness and shame.
Honest Self-Looking Equals Freedom
Once we see the shame imprint and the false conclusion that we formed in childhood that has continued to underpin our entire life, we can, with great humility, and the willingness to feel our shame, dissolve it.
To liberate ourselves from the well-practiced shame-based patterns formed in childhood we have to re-condition ourselves against our habitual shame currents by practicing opposite, more life affirming truths.. This takes time, effort, and patience. It also takes a willingness to admit how much we take pleasure in familiar negativity, even as it is painful.
After we recognize our false conclusions about life, the real inner work begins. It is possible to stay at the level of theoretical knowledge about our false conclusions while continuing to emotionally and biologically react to life with shame and embarrassment, just as we have before. Shame is habit bound, and it can close our body down in defense without our conscious awareness.
And so, it takes a great deal of training, concentration and effort to learn to feel extended pleasure within new life-affirming and life-connecting habits. In our biology, we feel negative pleasure in what we habitually know instead of the genuine, positive pleasure in what we are not familiar with.
The Sting of Shame
What we hide from ourselves keeps us emotionally sick. Even if our false conclusions are not even objectively shameful, they will still hold shame because we have rejected knowing them. We must, if we are to feel emotionally healthy, come to terms with all of the false conclusions that have remained secretive, sometimes for much of our adult life.
When we realize all of the false conclusions that we have hidden from ourselves from childhood, we will initially feel more intense shame and embarrassment surrounding them. Wherever we hide away our false conclusions from ourselves we will feel intensely separate and alone. When shame arises we will feel unworthy of love and support. It is helpful to anticipate an increase in mortification embarrassment as you go through your uncovering and self-admitting process.
The truth is everyone has this same mortified reaction to the separating walls that we mistakenly create in childhood. As we dismantle the self-created walls that separate us from life, we can release our falsely concluded shame quickly and easily. Our false conclusions, when brought out into the light of our mature awareness, and if possible shared with a compassionate other, dispels the painful loneliness of our self-conscious illusions.
Discharging Shame - A Dedicated Journal....
Art Journal Therapy Activity #77 - Heal Your Core Wound
This written journal prompt will help you to uncover your core wound and dismantle its untrue belief system.
- Journal and a pen
What is the Primary Core Wound that Drives Your Negative Behaviors?
When we act from our core pain we will sense our energy extending forward out of our center in a way that is willing to compromise our authenticity, lacking, needy, anxious, and overly effortful to please other people and "win love."
When we excessively "do" positive-seeming things to avoid feeling our core wound, we will feel hollow and drained.
Negative core beliefs are hard to find because we cover them up with virtuous-seeming opposite behaviors. Following is a list of common core wounds that drive the personality to act "as if" it is
the "positive" opposite. The following journal activity is inspired and informed by the work of psychologist Stephen Wolinsky, and his book, "The Way of the Human - Part II."
1. There must be something wrong with me - acting "as if" I am perfect, and everything is perfect.
2. I am unworthy - Acting "as if" I have extraordinary value.
3. Inability to do - Acting "as if" I can do anything and every action is significant.
4. Inadequate - "unappreciated" - Acting "as if" I have everything figured out.
5. I don't exist - "unseen" - Acting "as if" I exist because I know a lot.
6. I am alone - Acting "as if" I have connection to everyone.
7. I am incomplete - Acting "as if" I am happy and enjoy having a wide variety of experiences.
8. I am powerless - Acting "as if" I have incredible power.
9. I am loveless - Acting "as if" I am lovable and loving.
10. I am crazy - Acting "as if" I am clear, healthy, sane and appropriate.
11. I am unsafe - Acting "as if" I am safe and can make others safe.
12. I am out of control - Acting "as if" I am in control.
Write out your specific, common inner message in your journal if you do not see it here. Some other fearful core wound statements might be: "I am not ok. I am stupid. I am unwanted. I am ugly. I am incompetent. I am different. Find your own words for how you feel.
Follow Your Emotions to Your Core Wound
Look at the core wounds and "as if" statements listed above and and sense into the words to see which one feels particularly devastatingly true. See which words emotionally resonate with your familiar pain. What words continually come up in your internal and outer life? Is the word "inadequate or unseen" in your thoughts and complaints, for example?
Your core wound statement will have a strong emotional charge attached to it. You may feel sick to your stomach, or may feel great fear, aversion, or unbearable sadness and limitation when you repeat your core wound statement to yourself. Stay with this process with curiousity if you can. Understanding what your core wound is, will help you become more conscious of what drives most of your unnecessary behaviors.
In your journal, write out the statement that has the strongest "emotional charge" and practice "sitting in" the emotions around what you negatively believe about yourself. See where this core negative emotion manifests inside of your body. Become familiar with the emotional location that has somatized in your body so that you can notice it sooner, and give it the loving attention it needs.
Our defenses against knowing our primary core wound are often complex. While we may identify with many of the core wound statements above, we often focus on a less painful "distracting" problem to compensate against experiencing the intensity of our core wound.
We can stay busy our entire life compensating away from knowing what our core wound really is. But to know the unbearable agony of our core wound is to recognize the architecture of our mistaken limiting beliefs so that they can be dismantled and healed.
Tracing Back to the Root of Your Core Wound...
Art Journal therapy Activity # 78 - 100 Faces Journal Project
This art journal project will support you to loosen up and practice spontaneously expressing yourself.
Illustrating Our Different Selves
"We are not just one person. A trained individual can learn to listen to the voice quality of others and hear them shifting between several levels of their consciousness even within a single sentence. We are capable of very different perspectives and behaviors depending on which facet of consciousness is dominant at a given moment."
- Richard Moss MD
It seems strange that we would have to "practice" being spontaneous but most of us were encultured early on to become rigid about about art-making. Many of us were bound by rules about what "good art" is in elementary school. So, it can be interesting to draw or paint on one theme, or to practice using one subject, size or media, for a hundred days in a row to watch yourself progressively loosen up over time.
A Book of Spontaneous Faces
This project is inspired by artist Carla Sonheim's book "Drawing Lab for Mixed Media Artists" - which I apply to an art therapy/spontaneity practice for you here:
1. Begin a dedicated journal - Keep a daily journal for the next 100 days or longer in which you draw one or more spontaneous faces each day. Your journal may be large and colorful if you have time to be elaborate on the details or want to make large strokes. Or, your journal might be very small, simple, or black and white if you do not have much time to draw.
2. Gather your materials - You may want to focus on only one art medium to really get to know what you can do with it. You might, for example, want to simply want to explore spontaneous line though using a thick or thin black permanent marker each day. I personally love working with a simple black ballpoint pen. I find it to be very fast and expressive - in a way that allows a wide range of gesture and scribbles. Alternatively, you might want to draw your faces in elaborate color or pattern, using pencil crayons, felt markers, watercolor, pastels ect.
3. Experiment - When you first begin creating spontaneously, your drawings might feel stiff and forced. Sometimes our "original" drawing style is quite childlike at first. When we allow our natural drawing style to emerge, we will often go back to drawing like we did when we were children - when we stopped developing our intuitive drawing style to adapt to external standards and expectations.
You might even notice yourself revisiting feelings of awkwardness and self-consciousness when you draw. This inherited inhibition is why drawing 100 faces over a period of 100 days is useful. Do not worry if your drawings look or feel awkward and uncomfortable at first. Spontaneity can be regained with daily experimentation. An eloquence of natural self-expression can be developed with practice, over time.
Ways to loosen up drawing inhibitions are:
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 79 - Intuitive Found Poetry
This poetry journal directive offers an easy spontaneous way to tap into your unconscious mind to discover what you are feeling.
- Printed material such as newspapers, novels, old books, magazines, recipe books, fortunes, horoscopes, textbooks or dictionaries.
- Black and colored markers, pencil crayons, collage items, watercolor or acrylic paint.
"Poetic language expresses what plain language cannot, and thus helps us heal in a very unique way."
- Jon Fox
By embracing the paradoxes that arise out of spontaneous poetry you can open your mind to new possibilities for growth. Found poetry is a magical process that relies on non-linear logic. Your spontaneously found poetry may not make rational sense, yet on a deeper level, it will make intuitive and emotional sense. Allowing yourself to embrace many seemingly contradictory ideas at once within the wide field of poetic expression provides a link to a larger reality.
If you find it challenging to surrender to the spontaneous creative process, found poetry is good way to warm up your willingness to creative from intuitive awareness. Creating found poetry taps into what words feel the strongest to our unconscious mind. Found can reveal hidden emotionality, visionary possibilities, or unknown beliefs in a mysterious and intriguing way.
How to Create Found Poetry
1. Soften your eyes and scan your printed page for words that stand out...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 80 - Express your Vulnerable Inner Child
This journal prompt will support you to see where you are still operating from a childlike perspective in your adult life. This activity offers 10 in-depth journal activities to support you to grow up emotionally.
- Journal and a pen
Growing Up Our Emotions
“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
~ e.e cummings
Spiritual teacher Eva Pierrakos - the inspiration for this journal exercise - states: "The repression of feelings does not alleviate suffering; on the contrary it increases the pain. Feelings need room to grow, just as our minds and bodies do."
Many people believe, "I will not suffer if do not allow myself to feel." Yet, allowing our feelings to come to the surface enables them to grow up and mature.
It might seem strange to consider that our emotions need to grow up, yet mental and physical development without the full mature embodiment of all of our emotions leaves us feeling one-dimensional - like something is missing. To fully function and thrive in our life we need to develop the physical, mental and emotional sides of our nature.
Deeply knowing ourselves on an emotional level involves allowing all of our most uncomfortable feelings to reach the surface of our awareness to be seen, experienced and digested consciously - so that we can grow them up into present time.
Suppressed Emotions Repress Creativity
"To the degree that you close yourself off from your emotional experience, to that very degree the full potential of your creative ability is hindered in manifesting itself. " - Eva Pierrakos
In our world today, we are taught to develop our physical body and our thinking capacities but our emotional life most often remains unsupported and undeveloped. Because we are not taught how to grow up emotionally, many of us unconsciously remain as little children inside, not understanding that feeling all of our immature emotions with strength, presence and love is the key to claiming our mature creativity.
From an unconscious, childlike place we believe, "If I do not feel, then I will not be unhappy." So in this way, our more irrational emotions stay suppressed, often for much of our lifetime. Many of us do not realize that we need to allow the expression of our negative, immature emotions in order to give them the opportunity to grow up and become more constructive, creative and intuitive.
When we repress our emotions, we function at a fraction of our potential. When we withdraw from our emotional pain we numb the possibility to deeply experience happiness, creativity, passion and love. When we are unwilling to experience our pain, our intuitive abilities are dulled along with our creative faculties.
Allowing and Expressing Immature Emotions
When acknowledged and expressed, negative feelings change in direction, aim, intensity and nature into something more positive and life affirming. But this change only happens when we express and honor our emotions exactly as they are arising, even in their younger, unskillful and more distorted forms.
Immature emotions likely earned us punishment or disapproval as a child, and caused undesirable reactions when we expressed them. Early rejections and losses of love can easily shut down our willingness to feel our immature emotions for much of our life. As adults we will unconsciously fear that if we allow our negative immature emotions, the world will punish us in some way.
Most of us have a hidden emotional immaturity that can at first be safely expressed creatively within a private journal. Pure, raw, and even destructive emotions can be opened up to through writing and art making so as not to act them out unskillfully with others.
While our immature emotions are indeed sometimes destructive, as adults, we can learn how express ourselves with the right people, or safely in structured ways that allows a healthy release. When we allow ourselves to express ourselves within healthy limits, we relieve ourselves of unassimilated experiences from the past.
Activating Emotional Growth
Healthy emotions are expressed and accepted emotions. Emotions mature when we pay attention to them and express them. After the painful release of negative emotions, we allow the poisonous matter of our repression to leave our system. This invites a warmth of genuine good feelings that far surpass our previous false good feelings that we superimposed on top of ourselves as part of our childlike dictates of: "This is the way I should feel."
10 Journal Exercises for Processing Immature Thoughts and Emotions....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 81- Healing Negative Intentions
This journal contemplation will support you to uncover your hurt inner child's negative intentions.
"Those parts of ourselves which we reject exist in the unconscious, as separated aspects.
They are the lost sheep of our psyches and we must become the good shephard that welcomes them home."
- Susan Thesenga
Journal and a pen
Our Pleasure Seeking Negative Self
Because our hidden negativity lives in our unconscious mind, it can easily thwart our good intentions despite our best conscious efforts to improve and progress. Our unconscious lower self has a life of its own with hidden negative agendas for finding negative pleasure. When we ignore our negative tendencies, they will seek to fulfill a destructive pattern in our lives that will keep us trapped in emotional pain and lower-self functioning.
Our lower self aspects will fight to maintain the aim of separation through the mechanisms of denial, self-justification, confusion, and dishonesty. To uncover our own confusion it is helpful to get to know our lower tendencies with a loving level of attention that is free of judgment and shame.
This journaling exercise is based on the inspired work of transpersonal counsellor Susan Thesenga, author of "The Undefended Self". This exercise excerpts her deeper insights from Chapter 9 on "Releasing Lower Self Attachments."
Thesenga points our that our lower (inner child) self aims to convince us that the best way to be safe and powerful, and to have pleasure is to follow the path of egocentricity and negativity. Until we uncover and fully admit to the true intentions of our lower self, we will be caught in our negative patterns of seeking negative and destructive pleasures to the detriment of our own psychological health and emotional well-being.
Discovering Negative Intent
Richard Rohr, Franciscan friar, writer and contemplative teacher, speaks about shadow work in this way: "If you are really aware of what your shadow is up to, you'll be humiliated by yourself at least once a day."
We can uncover our negative intentions by examining where we feel unfulfilled in our lives. Even though we might think we want love, happiness, a fulfilling work situation, or creative fulfillment we may be unconsciously punishing ourselves or others, or we may refuse to embrace happiness because it threatens our ego control.
It is often shocking to understand that we each make the deeper choice to resist life and stay split off from our divine core by making negative choices for self-serving pleasures. However, to recognize the hidden inner "no's" that we have to our own love, truth, purpose, and healthy pleasure is liberating.
Our lower self deliberately chooses negativity, denial, spite and hate when we avoid mentally processing and emotionally feeling our own inner hurt. Owning up to our worst - our most destructive and cruel attitudes exposes the truth that we actually choose to participate in the negativity in our life and are not the helpless victims that we pretend to be. When we finally we discover our negative intentionality, we can assume full responsibility for the positive creation of our lives and begin to flourish in our higher purposes.
Becoming Conscious of Negative Intentions
Until we deeply examine our destructive inclinations, we will choose to ignore our hidden choices to perpetuate the negativity in our life. As we learn to remove our false mask self, and expose and accept that we have a lower self that distrusts life, we will learn how to ground ourselves in our higher intuitive self that understands how to positively create our lives moment-to-moment.
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 82 - Healing Sexual Distortions
This journal exercise will support you to understand how the roots of your sexual fantasies trace back to childhood emotional pain and how childhood hurt connects to sexual arousal.
- Journal and a pen
- Collage materials - old magazines, scissors and a glue stick
Understanding Sexual Fantasies
One of the best ways to understand our unconscious mind and our lower self is to take a deep look at our sexual behavior and our sexual fantasies. As transpersonal counsellor Susan Thesenga writes,
"Almost everyone has some sexual fantasy in which sexuality is divorced from love, involving degrading or forcing oneself or others, of being degraded and forced."
Our sexual fantasies - when they are divorced from love - are a strong indication of where our sexual energies became distorted by emotional pain in childhood. When we deeply examine our sexual fantasies we will come to understand our areas of inner child unfulfillment in profound ways.
Moving Past Shame
If we can look past the guilt and shame imposed by parental, religious, and societal injunctions onto our sexuality, we can start to look deeper into the emotional needs that our sexual fantasies are hiding. Getting honest about what we fantasize about will reveal layers of emotional meaning that relieves the shame and self-rejection of our sexual desires.
Our distortions of intimacy begin in childhood. And strangely enough, we can come to crave the same familiar feelings of rejection, perpetration, abandonment, enmeshment or isolation within the metaphors of our sexual life as adults.
The same unhealthy emotional patterns from childhood are hidden within our sexual behaviors and thoughts. When we gradually learn how to separate our childhood emotional pain from our sexual pleasure, we can enjoy the free flowing pleasure of positive sexuality, often for the first time in our mature adult life .
This journal exercise by counsellor Susan Thesenga is adapted to address how adult sexuality becomes distorted by unhealed childhood need:
A Five Part Journal Exercise for Healing Distorted Sexuality
1. Name your primary feeling of unfulfillment - Identify an area of emotional unfulfillment in your life. What is missing? Find and write out what is missing and include expressions of your resentments, bitterness, rage and blame.
2. Write out your negative intentions/involvement in your unfulfillment. Own the attachment you have to feeling unfulfilled emotionally because it feels familiar. Own the part of you that wants to stay negative and contemplate why. Does your misery punish those you believe have hurt you? Are you exacting vengeance on someone for your pain?
3. Look for the negative sexual pleasure you are finding in this same emotional unfulfillment. Find the part of you that is enjoying this unfamiliar lack. What part of you "gets off" sexually on the familiar pain that has haunted you all of your life?
4. Trace back into childhood to see if you can find the origin of this connection between emotional unfulfillment and your current sexual pleasure.
5. Transform Your Negative Sexual Pleasure. After you have uncovered your negative habit of unfulfillment, and have explored the sexual pleasure or fantasy attached to it, consider if you are willing to transform it. Clearly write out the loving sexual attitude, the positive will for love, and the positive sexual pleasure that you would like to substitute for your current distorted sexual/emotional need.
6. Connect Your Sexuality to Your Heart. Meditate deeply on this new positive affirmation deeply for a dedicated amount of time each day. Visualize your sexuality becoming connected to your heart, and to the one you love.
An Explanation for Sexual Abuse....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 83 - Cultivate Concentration with Zen Painting
This expressive art prompt supports the practice of deeply concentrated engagement in the creative process as way to profound peace and integration.
- A wide soft brush - or three brushes - one for each color
- Three different colors of fluid acrylic paint
- 20 or more sheets of 8x10 or 11x14 cardstock or heavy paper
The Way of the Brush
Zen painting is a very simple spontaneous painting exercise, yet it takes great unselfconscious concentration to execute. It loosely involves the spiritual practice of painting one, two or three uninhibited brushstrokes to express a moment when the mind is set free to let the body create.
In this exercise, I invite you to progressively practice letting go of your normal self-conscious ways of being in the world by engaging in painting 20 or more loose, swift, minimalist paintings in one session until your mind goes completely still.
The aim of Zen painting is to practice single-pointed concentration so that the totality of your mind is so completely engaged - it disappears.
John Daido Loori, author of "The Zen of Creativity" writes, "When the totality of our mind is focused on a single point, its power becomes staggering. Building concentration is like any other kind of discipline. If we want to build muscles we lift weights. Soon our muscles respond. To play the piano, we repeat the same exercises over and over. Eventually our fingers fly over the keys. It's the same with movement, and with art. Repetitive practice builds our ability and skill."
Because our normal state of mind is one of distraction, it is helpful to experience and remember a state of integration. Unselfconsciusness is a state of psychological and emotional integration. To achieve integration through art, we can paint until we are no longer thinking.
For visual people, engagement in meditative painting is often preferable to sitting still. Typically, meditation usually involves engaging two parts of ourselves. The witness usually observes the part of our personality that is emotionally or mentally activated.
Deep and wholehearted, concentrated creative engagement invokes the collapsing of the observer and the observed so that life can be experienced directly - without our habitual filters.
Just as we can bring ourselves back to breath when we are sitting in meditation, so we can bring ourselves back to the brush until we become intimate with the integrated working of our hand, body, paintbrush, breath, and brushstroke.
Once we become familiar with the process of acting without thinking, we have an experiential template for engaging with our life in a freer way.
In the moments that we are at one with ourselves, free from all inner conflict, we experience ourselves as we really are - or as John Daido Loori writes, "as a reflection of the boundless creativity of the universe."
The Eight Step Zen Painting Process....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 84 - Practicing Forgiveness With Ho’oponopono
This spiritual forgiveness exercise involves the profound principle of taking 100% responsibility for everything that
happens to you. This prompt explains that everything that we see helps to clear out hidden emotional pain.
- A journal and a pen
- A quiet space to write and reflect
This transpersonal forgiveness tool involves using your voice, either silently or out loud to heal what is troubles you about other people - inside of yourself. All that is needed is a quiet place to meditate and the willingness to love and forgive those who have harmed you.
Ho’oponopono, Forgiveness, and Self-Responsibility
Ho'opononono is a Hawaiian spiritual healing method that focuses on internal healing by taking full responsibility for our outer problems with other people. It is especially helpful to use when forgiveness and reconciliation with another person seems impossible on an outer interpersonal level.
The Hawaiian healing method of Ho’oponopono is based on the deepest spiritual truth that anything that happens to you, and anything that you perceive, notice, and experience is your own creation. Because it is happening uniquely and only to you, in this particular way, at this point in time, it is entirely your your responsibility to heal. A hundred percent, with no exceptions.
If any emotional pain or disorder is coming into into our life experience, it is our issue to heal. Our experience of life is our creation, however, it does not mean that every experience is our fault. It simply means that we are each responsible for healing wherever we feel separated from love inside of ourselves, in order to heal whatever or whoever is appearing as the problem.
Three Steps of Self-Responsibility:
1. Recognize that whatever experience arrives in our outer life is our inner creation to heal. Our unhealed emotional field attracts events towards us to draw out what needs to be healed. Our experiences are the patterned outcome of past memories buried in our mind that need to heal and become conscious through our outer experiences.
2. Regret whatever errors of body, speech and mind caused the bad subconscious memories to create our outer experience - in each moment, we can take full responsibility for how our outer life is showing up. Psychologist Dr. Hew Len explains, "The conscious mind is clueless as to what memories are replaying - 11,000,000 memories per second in the subconscious mind."
3. Request the Divine Intelligence within ourselves to release past negative memories and outer conditions in order to experience the psychological emotional freedom inherent in the present moment.
Think of the person or situation that is troubling you and say internally or out loud - over and over:
Thank-you, I’m Sorry, Please Forgive Me, I Love You.
This meditation aims to arrive to a state where we feel entirely free from the past. When we align with the force that wants to heal the pain in our outer world, we come to inner peace.
Dr, Hew Len's Story
Author Rosaria Montegro writes the following true story - which I encapsulate for you here. She shares how clinical psychologist Dr. Hew Len practiced this method of internal healing in an extremely negative work setting:
More than thirty years ago, in Hawaii, at the Hawaii State Hospital, in the clinic for the mentally ill criminals, psychologist Stanley Hew Len worked with people who had committed extremely serious crimes, and were assigned there either because they had deep mental disorders, or because they needed to be checked to see if they were sane enough to stand trial.
The patients had committed murder, rape, kidnapping or other such crimes. According to a nurse that worked during those years, the place was so bleak that not even the paint could stick to the walls, everything was decaying, terrifying, repulsive. No day would pass without a patient-inmate attacking another inmate or a member of the staff.
The people working there were so frightened that they would walk close to the walls if they saw an inmate coming their way in a corridor, even though they were shackled, all the time, and more than once this wouldn’t stop the aggression. The inmates would never be brought outside to get fresh air because of their relentlessly threatening attitude. The scarcity of staff was a chronic occurrence. Nurses, wardens, employees would prefer to be on sick-leave most of the time in order not to confront such a depressing and dangerous environment.
One day, a newly appointed clinical psychologist, Dr. Stanley Hew Len, arrived at the ward. The nurses rolled their eyes, bracing themselves for one more guy that was going to bug them with new theories and proposals to fix the horrid situation, who would walk away as soon as things became unpleasant.
However, the new doctor didn’t seem to be doing anything in particular, except just coming in and being always cheerful and smiling, in a very natural, relaxed way. He wasn’t even particularly early in arriving every morning. From time to time he would ask for the files of the inmates.
He never tried to see them personally, though. Apparently he just sat in an office, looked at their files, and to members of the staff who showed an interest he would tell them about the healing method called Ho’oponopono.
Little by little things started to change in the hospital. The gardens started being taken care of, some tennis courts were repaired and some prisoners that up until then would never be allowed to go outside started playing tennis with the staff. Other prisoners were no longer shackled, or were receiving less heavy pharmacological drugs. More and more obtained permission to go outside unshackled, without causing trouble to the hospital’s employees.
In the end, the atmosphere changed so much that the staff was not on sick leave any more. Actually, more people than needed wanted to work there. Prisoners started gradually to be released. Dr. Hew Len worked there for close to four years. In the end, there remained only a couple of inmates that were relocated somewhere and the clinic for the mentally insane criminals had to close.
What did Dr. Hew Len do to the patients, how did he treat them that the results were so spectacular? He didn’t do a thing to them nor with them, except looking at their files. He only tried to heal himself, applying an old, traditional community problem-solving system from Hawaii, called Ho’oponopono, adapted to individuals by his teacher, the late Hawaiian sage Morrnah Nalamaku Simeona. In his own words he stated: “I was simply healing the part of me that created them.”
Dr. Hew Len used to sit in his office and look at the patients' files. While perusing them, he would feel something - a pain or an empathy. He then started the healing on himself, taking full responsibility for what was going on with a given patient. That is how the system changed. The doctor had the strange view that it was himself who needed the healing, not them.
Journal Exercise for Taking 100% Self-Responsibility....
Journal Therapy Activity # 85 - Learning the Language of Your Unconscious Mind
This directive offers an in-depth eleven step daily review journal process to help you cleanse your darker emotions through honest writing.
- Journal and a pen
Unifying Our Rejected Parts of Self
"The path to the real self includes learning how to shed our mask, accepting our "lower" imperfect human nature, and embracing our "higher" spiritual nature."
Our unconscious mind hides away everything what we reject about ourselves. When we bring every split-off, lost, and unloved piece of ourselves back into the home of our accepting heart, our strength and vitality returns, and we experience a genuine inner peace that is free of enforced positivity.
The Purpose of Unification
Our separation away from loving certain parts of ourselves creates the contents of our unconscious mind. When we unify all of the contents of our unconscious mind with our conscious mind, we earn
the joy of true inner peace.
1. Idealized Self - Our first stage of development begins when we stop trying to appear perfect, and begin to admit our negative and self-centered intentions, limitations, struggles, and shortcomings.
2. Unconscious Mind - As we drop our idealized self, we get to know all of who we are in our unconscious mind and discover that our "younger" repressed, distorted and undeveloped aspects of self can be transformed and integrated into one unified, peaceful whole.
3. Authentic Self - When we accept all of ourselves - our dark and our light - we can access our true strength and authentic creativity, and live our life from intuition. When we embrace all parts of ourselves, from the highest to the most low, we unify our being, and experience genuine peace.
The Peace of Integration
The ultimate goal of all emotional, psychological and spiritual growth is unification, which is the integration of all disparate parts of self into one integrated whole.
1. Dismantling the defensive mask that pretends it is perfect.
2. Coming to terms with all negative and fearful misperceptions, and destructive emotions and attitudes.
3. Cleaning up all of the unhealthy behavioral patterns - such as addictions and the self-centered actions that arise from lack of self-love.
Unnecessary Emotional Pain
We hide what we do not like about ourselves, and this causes repetitive emotional pain. When we reject the "unlovable" side of our nature, we become alienated from our true self. As we reverse the process of alienation, we start to see through our idealized self-image, and begin to face the hurting, separated off parts of self that we have spent our lifetime trying to avoid.
Ongoing psychological, emotional, and physical pain comes from repeated, half-conscious self-rejection. On any given day, when rejected fragments rise up for integration into our conscious mind for a fleeting second, our inner critic represses them back down again. Anything that does not match our idealized picture of ourselves is quickly relegated back into our unconscious mind.
Denial of Lower Self Negativity
Our lower self/unconscious mind creates all of our emotional suffering. It also holds our creativity and vitality. The more we limit knowing our unconscious mind, the less authentic, creative and vital our self-expression is.
Because the exploration of our unknown darker depths can feel so intimidating, I offer you ten benefits to motivate you to get to know your negative, unconscious mind more profoundly:
Ten Reasons to make efforts to understand your unconscious mind:
1. To reclaim the true humility of your fallible humanness.
2. To understand your individuality through your denied aspects of self, and how it purposely fits into the holistic workings of life.
3. To integrate the splits of "right and wrong", "good and bad", "should and shouldn't into one reconciled, highly functioning personality.
4. To stop denying the reality of the negativity of your lower, unconscious self, and thereby let go of the impulse to blame others for your mistakes.
5. To understand that while admitting the truth of your negative intentions is temporarily painful, honesty is always better than self-flattery or denial.
6. To discover that as you admit to, and name your own negativity, you stop being identified with your negative motives, and become the compassionate observer of the negative intentions that previously filled you with shame.
7. To learn that by becoming a neutral witness to every part of yourself, you develop your higher mind and become more compassionate with others.
11 Step Daily Journal Review
Underneath our everyday mind are the diffuse emotional reactions, half-conscious thoughts, and immature expectations of life that burble up regularly from our unconscious mind. Half-conscious thoughts, barely observed, normally go unnoticed can be captured in a daily journal review at the end of each day.
Art JournalTherapy Activity # 86 - Understanding Your Defense Mechanisms
This written journal directive will support you to understand your defense mechanisms. This prompt includes a journal method of "interrupting and re-associating" your defenses into feelings of openness.
- A journal and a pen
- Collage materials (optional) - old magazines, glue stick and scissors
We all have our own particular architecture of defense that keeps uncomfortable emotions at bay. Our defense mechanisms prevent us from progressing in our psychological and emotional healing work. Defense mechanisms are learned repetitive behaviours designed to repress the original pain that we do not want to process from the past. Our defenses are the "glue" that hold our "learned self" from childhood in place.
Defense mechanisms store buried hurt that keeps us running in place. Our defense mechanisms keep us mentally unchanging, physically stagnant, and emotionally stifled. While our defenses served a useful purpose when we were too immature to handle difficult emotions - left unexamined - they keep us psychologically frozen in limited, outmoded ways of thinking. The good news is - because our defense mechanisms are not who we really are - when the time is right - we can disassemble them in order to feel more open, flowing and alive.
Unblocking Crystallized Defenses
As we get older, our defense mechanisms become detrimental - blocking the ways that we need to best emotionally, psychologically and spiritually unfold. Disassembling our defense mechanisms is the first step to doing deep, fruitful, transformative work. As our defense mechanisms crystallize with each passing year, we start to increasingly "wear" our defenses in our body armor, and on our facial expressions. We express our defenses through a persistent level of anxiety, and in repetitive and sometimes obsessively negative ways of thinking and behaving.
How to Disassemble Your Defense System:
1. Understand how you "close": Become mindful of the "architecture" of your defense system - see below for descriptions of some of the most common defense mechanisms.
2. Stop, Notice, and Open: Stop the "closing mechanism of your habitual defense system and practice doing, feeling and thinking in the opposite way. This opposite, opening gesture of thought, feeling and action will bring up the next layer of emotional and psychological material that needs to be cleared.
3. Feel Your Original Pain: Allow the original pain that was enclosed by the defense mechanism to arise into your emotional, psychological, and somatic awareness, and stay lovingly present with it until it is gone. This can take hours or days and it involves the challenging but fruitful allowing of the pain and discomfort to be alive, expressive, and present until it dissipates.
4. Practice Openness: Dedicating yourself to stay open as much as possible. After years of habitual "closing,",it is important to practice and repeat the gesture of "openness". Notice throughout the day when you feel open and when you feel closed. Become exquisitely mindful to how you close down. Note the mechanics of your habitual closing. You might stop breathing for example, or your heart may feel closed.
5. Emotional Mindfulness of Defense Patterns: Defense structures can run on their own without our conscious awareness for days, months, years, and even a lifetime. The sooner you notice yourself closing down emotionally, somatically and psychologically, the sooner you can ask yourself: "What is upsetting me right now?" The sooner that you become clear that you are defending against feeling a difficult emotion, the sooner it can come to the surface of your consciousness for clearing.
6. Continuous Clearing: Clearing layer after layer of stored emotional pain and heartbreak sounds like a daunting task but the reward is more aliveness, creativity, love, and availability for mature and meaningful relationships. Each progressive level of willingness, openness and presence to emotional pain opens up a new treasure chest of gifts, insight, intuition, creativity, and resourcefulness.
With a dedication to feeling and understanding emotions as soon as they arise - at a certain point - the need for heavy defense structures disassembles and dissipates. Essentially, the strength and power of your presence must become larger than the intensity of your painful emotions. Opening up and breathing through emotional pain as it rises, peaks and dissipates is the key. As each layer of unwillingness to feel intense emotions is faced, we become larger and more present than our pains. We become powerfully available and open to whatever happens, freer and freer from the defensive filters from the past.
Understanding How You Close
When we are young we use primitive mechanisms of defense that work in the short term but are less effective in the long-term. As we get older our defense mechanisms can get more sophisticated, and even exquisite in their cleverness, so becoming aware of the often "crafty" ways that we close down our awareness is essential in our quest to become more passionately available to life.
Your defense mechanisms are the ways that you distance yourself from the full awareness of your unpleasant thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Most defense mechanisms are fairly unconscious. We often do not notice we are using them. In your art journal, make notes about your personal lines of defense and begin to notice the "architecture" of what you do to avoid or compensate away from your emotional pain.
15 Ways that We Close Down and a Journal Exercise....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 87 - Writing Healing Stories
This written journal exercise offers an exploration of memory as a way of digesting and integrating the past.
- Journal and pen
"Stories heal us because we become whole through them. In the process of writing, of discovering our story, we restore those parts of ourselves that have been scattered, hidden, suppressed, denied, distorted, forbidden, and we come to understand that stories heal."
- Deena Metzger
By "re- membering" our life, we gather together our disjointed, alienated, and separated part of self, and begin to re-value what has been hidden and disdained.
It is helpful to understand that whatever we strongly remember still holds an emotional charge. As we remember and re-collect ourself through our stories, we properly digest our past and make ourselves whole. In gathering up our past memories, as writer Deena Metzger says, "we revitalize, rejuvenate, rescue, re-cover, re-claim, re-new" ourselves.
Following are some ideas to get your writing flowing, inspired by author and therapist Deena Metzger in her book Writing for Your Life:
14 Story Writing Ideas
1. Stories from your childhood. What childhood memory feels strong and repetitive in your life right now?
2. Stories your parents and siblings love to tell about you. Who are you to your family? What stories do your family focus on when they talk about you.
3. Stories that your parents tell about their lives. How do your parents "spin" their life stories?
4. Morality tales that your parents told to shape your behavior. How did your parent's values come through their stories?
5. Stories you habitually tell about your parents, siblings, children, lovers. What stories are ingrained in your mind. What stories do you tell over and over?
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 88 - Develop Heart Awareness by Writing Your Life Review
This in-depth journal directive offers profound methods of self-reflection to inspire you to move past your limits to loving others.
~ Journal and pen
Keeping an Open Heart
We rarely love beyond what we are used to. This habitual withdrawal can be considered our limited emotional set-point, or our family system set-point of loving. We only allow ourselves to give just so much, otherwise we fear we might be taken advantage of, or get hurt.
We most often keep our love perimeter tight and careful, and in this way we can learn nothing new about ourselves. It is from this withdrawn place that feel lost and often bemoan how we do not understand what our purposes, gifts and talents are.
We only learn about ourselves and understand the unique way we are meant to give to the fabric of life by extending beyond our restricted, conditioned personal psychology. We can only learn about who we are in our authentic selves by extending our energy past the edges of our emotional comfort zone and by keeping our heart open.
Consider the possibility of keeping you heart open all of the time. This is a high order but a worthy life goal. Having this large goal will make you acutely aware of how often you close your mind and heart in judgment each day. Begin to notice the state of your heart as you go through your day. Is it closed, defended and judging, or is it open to whatever life brings? Grow to learn how to “read” your heart regularly.
Consider this possibility of expanding your defended edges as outlined by spiritual teacher Michael A. Singer. I like to substitute the word “love” for spirituality:
“Your cage is like this. When you approach the edges you feel insecurity, jealousy, fear or self-consciousness. You pull back, and if you are like most people, you stop trying. Spirituality (love) begins when you decide that you’ll never stop trying. Spirituality (love) is the commitment to go no matter what it takes. It is an infinite journey based on going beyond yourself every minute of everyday for the rest of your life. If you’re truly going beyond, you are always at your limits. You’re never back in the comfort zone. A spiritual (loving) being feels they are always against that edge, and they are constantly being pushed through it.”
Whenever we see a need, or an area of life that needs our love and attention, we can stretch past what is personally comfortable. We can offer our loving thoughts, or take some kind of kind action. When we do this, we are a success. We are on purpose. If at the end of your life, you just loved everyone that you met without conditions, your life would be marked for all time as a success. Your worldly accomplishments are secondary to how much you have loved and cared along the way.
How to Write Your Life Review
By the end of your life, all that will really matter is how you loved all of the people that you encountered on your life journey. Write a few paragraphs or more, imagining yourself passing over to the other side. As you go through the tunnel of light and reach the other side, see yourself turning back and watching a film of your life.
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 89 - Integrating Your Shadow
This fun journal exercise offers a way to become friendly with your repressed aspects of self and learn more about your emotional needs.
- Journal and a pen
"The shadow is created because our ego, constantly trying to control our world, sorts out things that do not fit the picture we have constructed for how to survive and be accepted."
~ Carol Adrienne
Your shadow is the storehouse for all of your unrecognized and repressed aspects of self. Psychologist Carl
Jung describes the shadow as all the things inside of ourselves that we do not accept, do not like about ourselves, or do not wish to look at. The shadow begins early in childhood when we start
to hide away parts of ourselves that do not fit in with our parents or society.
As we go through our lives we continue to hide away more and more parts of ourselves that do not gain approval and love from others. By the time we reach young adulthood we have developed an outer mask that is finely honed and designed to gain acceptance from others.
Outer Events as Inner Metaphors
"If you don't go within, you go without" ~Neale Donald Walsh
Self-rejection engenders a great deal of outer threat in our lives. Whatever we resist persists and follows us everywhere - often literally in the form of strange, reoccurring life events, and repetitive symbols in our dreaming and waking life. If we cannot look at something inside of ourselves we project it outside of ourselves and make it "bad" in other people and in outer events.
Every one of us suppresses uncomfortable feelings and disturbing thoughts. Our suppressed discomfort comes into our awareness through the metaphor of outer events. Our shadow leaks out in various ways, one being the negative projection onto others. As soon as we resist our discomfort, it gets projected "out there" through our upset with other people.
When we reject parts of ourselves that we feel are shameful or unacceptable, life and others can feel foreboding. Because we violently push down what feels unacceptable to our normal awareness, our shadow figures - when they have the chance - may violently uprise into our conscious awareness through dark dreams and fantasies.
Our inner shadow figures arise during times of stress, exhaustion, and difficulty. Whenever we feel vulnerable or out of control, our shadow figures will take the opportunity to assert themselves to try to win some time in our conscious awareness. Our shadow figures can keep us awake at night as we wrestle with the anxious task of trying to push back them down, feeling the dread of their insistence and assertion.
How to Become Friendly with Your Shadow Figures....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 90 - Resolving Childhood Emotional Needs
This journal directive will be helpful if you feel angry and frustrated your outer life circumstances. This journal exercise will help you discover if your discontent is from unattended emotional needs that originated in the past.
- Journal and a pen
Childhood Emotional Needs
Often, without even realizing it, we wish and even demand that other people meet the emotional needs that were not met in our childhood long into adulthood.
Some emotional needs that may not have been met in childhood are:
- To be accepted, and loved
- To be acknowledged, admired, approved of
- To be attended to in our basic physical needs
- To be encouraged to be confident
- To be allowed to develop naturally
- To be educated about life
- To be seen as competent
- To seen in our individuality
- To be allowed to develop naturally
- To be empowered to express authentically
- To be forgiven for mistakes
- To free to express differences
- To have happy experiences
- To be seen and heard
- To be helped when we are having difficulty.
- To be allowed to be helpful
- To have some control over our environment
- To feel included
- To have independence
- To have others express interest in us.
- To feel loved and needed
- To be noticed
- To be allowed to be optimistic
- To express openly
- To have privacy
- To be encouraged to be productive
- To be protected
- To have others who feel proud of us
- To feel reassured during difficult times
- To be recognized for our gifts
- To be able to relax
- To be respected for our autonomy and uniqueness
- To feel safe and secure
- To feel significant
- To be celebrated for our successes
- To be treated fairly
- To be supported
- To be understood
- To feel useful, valued and worthy
Resolving Anger About Unmet Emotional Needs
"Anger is a defensive feeling meant to protect deeper feelings such as hurt, guilt, deadness, fear, and frustration. Anger falls away when we allow ourselves to know what the deeper feeling is and experience it, instead of attacking and withdrawing. If we become interested in knowing ourselves, we can choose and attitude of being willing to experience our more primordial emotions and resolve them." - Chuck Spezzano
Anger often hides that we have an emotional need that we want other people to satisfy. Anger may show up as direct attack, passive aggression, withdrawal, complaining or excessive emotional suffering as a way to try and gain control. But as long as we try to change an outside situation to satisfy an inner need, we will remain eternally frustrated.
When you become emotionally triggered about an outer circumstance you can look deeper to see if you can find anger about an emotional need not being met. In this way, you can use every opportunity to learn how to face and feel the primordial/original pain that drives your "neediness."
The person or outer circumstance that is frustrating you can be a catalyst to help you find your most painful and self-defeating attitudes and emotions - if you are willing to look below our anger
11 Steps to Dissolving Anger - A Journal Exercise....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 91 - Write Your Own Fairy Tale
This written journal directive will support you to discover and actualize your authentic self and your life purpose.
- Journal and a pen
- Collage items to embellish your writings - magazine clippings, opulent papers, foils, leaves - anything that represents your past, present and future selves.
The path to authenticity is truly a mythic journey. As we travel along the path of finding and expressing our True Self we join with Universal forces and life feels progressively magical - full of signs, symbols and synchronicities that contribute to our healing.
When we are trying to grow beyond our past familial conditioning into our unique vitality it is helpful to be aware of the mythical path that underpins every human journey to authenticity. To elucidate our true calling and authentic nature we can write our own fairy tale as described by Joseph Campbell's metaphorical hero's journey.
The following art journal directive offers a fairy tale outline with you as the Heroine/Hero of your own life journey. Use your real life details but feel free to imaginatively and metaphorically embellish them too. If you find imagery to depict your life process, collage them along the margins, or in between your writings in your art journal.
Write about yourself as "him" or "her" so as to create an altered point of view, and to express feelings that may not come when you speak from "I." Do not be afraid to take poetic, and creative
leaps of imagination. My interpretation of the mythic fairy tale outline is loosely structured on Dan Bronzite's
movie script outline for the 12 stages of the hero's journey.
The 12 Stages of The Hero's Journey - A Journal Exercise
1. Ordinary World
This is the ordinary world that we exist before the call to authentic living begins, oblivious of the adventures to come. It is here that we exist in the familiar cocoon of our habitual ways of doing things and our family conditioning. There is an uncomfortable unawareness at this point that does not have a name or a direction yet something is pulling us to grow.
Your heroic self is shown against the background of your heredity and personal history. Choose a name for your main character and describe your everyday current life prior to to your call to authenticity. Describe the crucial details of your conditioned nature, your present capabilities and limitations, and your learned outlook on life. This anchors your story in the human dilemma of familial conditioning and describes the common challenges that we all face in leaving our conditioned family fate behind.
2. Call To Adventure
Our heroic adventure to authenticity begins when we receive a call to action, such as through a crisis or a sudden change in life circumstances. A threat happens to our normal ways of doing things, or perhaps a poignant moment manifests itself that ultimately disrupts the comfort of our ordinary world, and presents a challenge or quest that must be undertaken. The call to adventure may also come from sudden inspiration and the deeper desire to pursue a passionate dream or goal.
Write about a call to action to change your life. If you have not yet had a wake-up call write about what would happen if your current comfort zone or regular supports fell away? How do you need to change? What inspires you to change? What goal or larger purpose would you be willing to stake your life on to pursue? Who do you most want to be in the world? Write down and complete this statement, "My deepest calling is...."
3. Refusal Of The Call
Although we might be eager to accept the quest, at this stage we will have fears that need to be overcome. There may be second thoughts or even deep personal doubts as to whether we are up to the challenge of venturing out of our comfort zone and into the unknown. When this fear arises, we will refuse the call to our authentic actualization, and as a result will suffer.
Perhaps an illness, a misfortune, or a loss of income arises when we refuse to to follow our authentic life path. The fears of moving out of our comfort zone may seem to much to handle, and the familiarity of our habitual conditioning may be far more attractive than the perilous road of change ahead.
Describe your fears of the road ahead. What hassles, changes or outer objections might incur? What are you afraid of losing? Describe what you fear might happen if you moved forward.
4. Meeting The Mentor
At this crucial turning point, when we desperately need guidance, we meet a mentor figure who gives us something we need. Symbolically we could be given an object of great importance, or an insight into the dilemma that we face. We might receive wise advice, practical training, or even self-confidence. Whatever the mentor provides the Hero/Heroine with, it serves to dispel the doubts and fears. It offers the strength and courage to begin the quest.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 92 - Journaling to Cultivate Joy
This journaling directive will be helpful if you are struggling with heavy emotions, and you want to interrupt the downward spiral of negativity.
- Journal and a pen
Moving out of Self-Absorption
Most people use the journaling process to move through difficult feelings, problems and worries but a journal can also be used as way to discover what makes us happy. We can use our journal writing as a means to discover happiness, gratitude and inspiration - even amidst heavy feeling states.
Because habitual negative thinking can spiral our emotional state progressively downward, it is helpful to "interrupt" our discomforting states - not a form of denial - but as a way of cherishing the preciousness of life, even when we feel rough. Cultivating joy strengthens emotional health and it can be cultivated.
We can easily spend our life preoccupied with trying to escape heavy emotions through all manner of distraction, addiction and avoidance. It is debatable as to whether it is possible to actually "get rid" of our darker feelings. It seems we all have an inner quota of emotional pain to process in our lifetime. At certain times of life it may be more realistic to consider developing the ability to function through darker emotions, and to learn how to celebrate the poignancy and beauty of life at the same time.
When we look out at life through our pain life can be exquisitely profound. Our perceptions can be made more vivid through pain, with a willingness to open our heart to the fragility and difficulty of life. When we allow ourselves to vulnerably feel grief and sadness, for example, the raw tenderness can open us up to seeing life more deeply than our normal protective filters allow.
Five Ways to Cultivate Joy Through Writing
“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.”
~ Eckhart Tolle
The following journal activities are informed and inspired by "The New Diary" written by Tristine Rainer. Rainer writes, "Giving power to positive perceptions and modes of thinking eventually becomes a habitual way of perceiving and thinking in your life."
1. Recording Positive Emotions
We grasp pleasure more fully when we write it down - so if you want to inculcate more joy in your life, you can include your profound moment of happiness in your journal. A dedicated "joy journal" can serve as a touchstone of encouragement to re-read during times of emotional struggle. Elucidating the details of joy make them full human.
When we we are caught in a negative frame of mind, our experiences can feel all-painful, and we might miss the pleasurable ones that exist alongside. This journal directive involves a commitment to detailing the "good" in your your journal on a regular basis so that you can more easily touch into your possibilities for joy when you feel down.
Make it a practice to to "flesh out" your moments of joy in rich and specific detail. Draw upon these poignant moments when you are descending into difficult emotional states....
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 93 - Keeping a Daily Aspiration Journal
This journal directive will be helpful if you feel stuck and long to go beyond your limitations. The creation of
higher aspirations on a daily basis is particularly helpful if you are struggling with depression or
- A small dedicated "Aspiration Journal" and a pen.
When we are in pain we can become self-absorbed in an emotional heaviness that blinds us to the beauty of life. Keeping a daily "Aspiration Journal" can help you to go beyond your habitual frames of reference, and can support you to lean forward into your heart's desire for growth.
It is possible to be present with a troubling feeling and endeavour towards opening our heart at the same time through the "interruption and alternation" of higher aspirations. Because it is so easy to be over-identified with intense emotions, and the language that they "speak," it is helpful to set a daily higher affirmation to "sit" alongside of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. If, for example, you feel lonely, your higher aspiration for the day might be, "I intend to invite love into my heart today."
1. Write your aspirations before you start your day. You might wake up inspired or you may wake up in emotional pain. Embrace either state without judgment or preference. Reflect upon how you feel naturally without trying to change your state. Sense, from an intuitive place, into what might be emerging from the edge of your awareness for you to aspire to today.
2. As you become more present with your pain you will notice that your hurt is actually saying something. Each hurting part of self has a voice. It might say, "I am failure." Or, "Nobody loves me." Each belief that arises from and that perpetuates your emotional pain has an opposite higher aspiration that can be introduced into your Daily Aspiration Journal.
3. Your higher aspiration for the day might have a soul aching feeling to it. Let yourself feel the yearning in your heart to move into your highest self. If you wake up feeling good, reflect on how you could stretch into an even higher state today. Consider how you could you go beyond your normal functioning into progressively more inspired states?
4. Changing your perceptions involves introducing true thinking into false thinking. If your pain had a voice, what would it tell you? Emotional pain comes in waves, and usually, if you are really aware, it is accompanied by a limiting belief. When your receive the message of your inner pain, welcome it. Acknowledge your limiting belief without trying to change it. And, at the same time reflect on how you aspire to stretch beyond it.
5. Let your negative "pain belief" exist alongside of your higher aspiration for the day. Observe, allow, include and embrace your uncomfortable emotions in your awareness, while at the same time, introducing a higher option. When your negative belief asserts itself - as it might quite aggressively - acknowledge it. Then repeat your higher aspiration. Be willing to wrong about your negative beliefs. Begin to doubt your limited thinking....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 94 - Witnessing and Healing Emotional Pain
This journal directive will support you to heal your emotional pain at its root through a Six Step "Ladder Down" Process that will take you from anxiety to effortless presence.
Journal and a pen
Creating Our Own Pain
When we are in the midst of feeling emotional pain, our habitual defenses that we have been recreating since our early years, seems to run without our conscious control.
Daily, we recreate our emotional pain - and our resistance to it - through the mostly unconscious micro-choices to contract our mind, body, and emotions in ways that seem so automatic,
we think they are our truth. Observing and witnessing ourselves as creators of our anxious and disturbed mental, emotional and body states is a key factor in healing emotional pain.
Our natural essence state is relaxed, open, unbounded, and unconditionally connected to life. Yet, for most of us, we only experience this state of natural ease and flow when we forget our normal psychology, such as when in crisis, or when immersed in the beauty of nature, when we are fully absorbed in a creative process, or immersed in any pleasurable activity that requires our fullest concentrated attention.
The Creator Behind our Conditioning
When habitual states of emotion are triggered in present time, you may notice that you are holding your breath and contracting your body in a particular way that separates you from fully connecting to the imprints of your emotional pain.
Most often we think that our contractions against emotional pain are who we are, as they seem to "run themselves". But as we refine our awareness, we can learn how we habitually make the same choices over and over again to resist an emotional need that wants to come up for recognition, release, and integration in the present moment.
Emotions arise from the places within where we do not love ourselves - or said more more simply - emotions arise where love is not. Resisting emotional pain generally follows a particular process of avoidance as detailed below. If you feel inspired to track where you are in your emotional healing process it helpful to keep notes about your body/emotional states in your journal:
The Six Step "Ladder Down" Process to Healing Emotional Pain
1. Anxiety Avoidance Behaviors - At the "top" of our emotional pain is anxiety stuffing/distracting behaviours such as smoking, drinking, overworking, eating too much, over-exercising or thinking excessively, and addictions of all kinds. The list of behaviors that compensate away from and effort to avoid anxiety is endless. Usually when a difficult emotion is coming up for healing and integration, the first line of defense is to reach for a pleasurable, distracting, or numbing behavior to try to get rid of anxiety....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 95 - Exploring Empowered Anger
This journal exercise will be helpful for you if you have trouble owning that you feel angry, or if you feel inhibited to express anger.
This exercise is especially for those of us who repress anger, feel weakened or unable to take powerful action in life.
- Journal and a pen
" Anger has a will, and it finds a way to make us listen. Anger is meant to be a part of each one of us."
- Deborah Cox
Admitting You Feel Anger
Anger is often deeply repressed, diverted and denied its full expression, especially for women, Even if you think that you fully express your anger, you may be surprised at the deep pockets of anger that you have not yet recognized and released. Many women internalize anger by minimizing it or denying it, or by diverting it into tears or depression. Anger can also be externalized through judgement and blame, or through passive aggressive communication.
It is helpful, whenever you feel angry to immediately admit to yourself, silently or out loud: "I feel angry" or "I feel upset." This admittance, in of itself, releases great energy and starts the process of reclaiming the power inherent in anger.
Ten Myths about Anger
Repressing anger takes tremendous mental and physical energy to shove out of mind and body awareness. When we are reluctant to admit to or express anger it can easily get deeply packed into the heart and body tissues.
Suppressed anger manifest itself through muscular contraction, body tension and pain, gritted teeth, clenched jaw, sexual dysfunction, upset stomach, headaches, and even life
The following ten "myths" about anger are inspired and informed by the book "The Anger Advantage" written by psychologists Deborah Cox, Karin H. Bruckner and Sally Stabb. Take care to "bust" these myths and journal about what you believe and do not believe is true about anger.
1. Anger does not naturally lead to aggression - Anger can help us protect and advocate for ourselves. It is possible to use anger to respond strongly and speak up assertively in conflicts or threatening situations without resorting aggression or violence
2. Anger is not destructive - Anger can be powerfully constructive and create needed change quickly and effectively because it has so much energy inherent in it.
3. Anger does not breed more anger - Anger can solve problems with great cutting clarity. Admitting to anger inspires rapid change.
4. Anger does not make you sick - Stuffing anger out of our awareness does make us sick, as well as tired and weak.
5. Anger is not a weakness - Anger has a powerful strength that can discern between right and wrong. To constantly disguise the parts of ourselves that oppose, direct, manage, lead, or even keep ourselves safe is what actually creates weakness.
6. Anger is not hormonal or emotional instability - Calling women crazy or hormonal trivializes women's anger, and diminishes strength of expression when women need to express separate and distinct needs from others.
7. Anger does not ruin relationships - Skillfully expressed anger does not drive people apart, provided both people are self-reflective and willing to be accountable. Anger can make relationships stronger, as well as more honest and alive.
8. Anger is not avoidable - Everyone feels anger. Anger needs to be released. Anger does not
disappear. It sneaks back into our life sooner or later, more pent up and explosive.
9. Anger does not make us stupid - When we get angry we might fear that we will not be able to "see straight" when in truth people who suppress their feelings actually dampen their concentration and focus. When our anger is suppressed it is difficult to think clearly. Anger actually invokes the mental clarity of knowing and being able to succinctly define what our boundaries and needs are.
10. Anger is not just a cover up for other emotions - Undiluted anger where we have been wronged, betrayed, or violated does not always need to be examined for underlying feelings. Anger is sometimes simply needed to express crystal clear boundaries.
Five Ways to Healthfully Express Your Anger
Anger is an indication that something on the inside or the outside needs to change for the better....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 96 - Healing Fixations - Unblocking Stuck Energy
This journal directive will help you to understand and release varying drives, desires, and fixations on the different levels of your being so that you can flow with reality as it is unfolding, and prepare yourself to hold higher spiritual energies.
- A journal and a pen
- Self-reflective time
Being multidimensional beings, we often confuse one level of healing with another and this can lead to confusion about what is appropriate for our growth. For example, if we are unconditionally loving of all people on a spiritual level but are not in touch with the practical truth of external reality we could get taken advantage of.
We heal best when we work on level that we are stuck on. Becoming unstuck involves loosening our fixations on the various levels of our being. Following are the various dimensions of awareness as explained by psychologist Stephen Wolinsky. Reflect upon where you are in your healing process in your journal. I have adapted some of Wolinsky's experiential exercises for the journaling processes below.
The Fixation of Attention
* "What is true on one level of awareness is not necessarily true at another level of awareness."
We become emotionally stuck at various levels in life. Awareness can be fixated in the external, thinking, emotional, biological dimensions. When our attention is fixated excessively in one area - we cannot grow in a balanced way. Is important to address your problem directly on the level of awareness that you are feeling stuck in. All levels are equally important and need to be integrated in order to function in a balanced way.
The Five Dimensions of Human Experience
- External Dimension
- Thinking Dimension
- Emotional Dimension
- Biological Dimension
- Spiritual Dimension
1. External Dimension
* "Different externals pull up different unresolved internals."
We do not have control over the external through internal thoughts, beliefs, or images (thinking dimension). To function well, we have to learn how to work with the world the way it is. Working with external reality, when trying manifest goals and purposes in the world, for example, requires discernment about the actual external context that we live in. Living in external reality requires seeing realistically what the current market can understand, embrace, or see as valuable.
Our primal nervous system (formed from our earliest experience of life) generalizes our life experience to the point where we are not able to clearly see objective external reality. Different external experiences pull out different unresolved internal responses and reactions. Until we look at our habitual mental and emotional associations, we will continue to overlay the past onto our external experience.
Journal Exercise for Healing Fixation on the External World
1. Look around the room at people and objects. Note how you are viewing your external life right now and write down the memories, internal voices, and associations which automatically "pop up" as you focus on your external life. Contemplate what you emotionally want from your environment, what memories get triggered, how you judge and organize your thinking. Notice any emotional body memories that arise.
2. Now clear your mind, and without using your thoughts, memories, emotions, associations or perceptions, look around the room. Notice the difference in your awareness. Feel the creative openness of viewing your external reality without past associations of any kind.
For a few hours a day, explore being with the people in your life without using memory, mind associations or perceptions. Note the freshness and creativity of your vision. See if any new insights or awareness comes to you "outside" of your normal fixed view of your external reality....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 97 - Healing Patterns of Emotional Abuse
This in-depth written journaling directive will be helpful if you are unsure about what emotional abuse is because it
feels like your "normal." As you question your "normal" you will be able to discern how you unconsciously emotionally abuse yourself, and why you accept it unquestioningly from other
- Journal and a pen
Inner and Outer Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse is defined as any non-physical behaviors or attitudes that are designed to control, intimidate, subjugate, demean, punish, or isolate you. Emotional abuse is like brainwashing that systematically wears away self-confidence, self-worth, trust in your perceptions and your authentic self-concept.
Recognizing how you allow abuse from other people will also help you to see how you continue to "abuse" yourself on an inner level by perpetuating the negative messages that you have heard from others in the past. The patterns of emotional abuse and reflective journal exercises below are informed and adapted from the book, "The Emotionally Abusive Relationship" by therapist Beverly Engel:
Understanding the Patterns of Emotional Abuse
Domination - To dominate is to control another person's actions. The person who tries to dominate another person has a tremendous need to have their own way. Dominating behaviors might include having someone monitor your time and activities, interfering with your opportunities, excessive jealousy or possessiveness, threatening harm to you or your loved ones, abusing loved ones in front of you, forcing or coercing you into illegal or uncomfortable behavior.
Verbal Assaults - Verbal assaults include berating, belittling, criticizing, humiliating, name calling, screaming, threatening, excessive blaming, shaming, using sarcasm in a cutting way, or expressing disgust toward a person. This kind of abuse is extremely damaging to a person's person's self-esteem and self-image. Verbal abuse assaults the mind and the soul, causing wounds that are difficult to heal. Other forms of verbal abuse are withholding, countering, discounting, verbal abuse disguised as jokes, judging, trivializing, ordering, and abusive anger.
Constant Criticism/Continual Blaming - When someone is unrelentingly critical, always finds fault, can never be pleased, and blames you for everything that goes wrong, it is the cumulative effects of the abuse that do the damage. Over time, the abuse eats away at your self-worth, undermining good feelings that you have about yourself and your accomplishments. Constant criticism and blaming can be insidious and done under the guise of humor.
Abusive Expectations - Abusive expectations involves placing unreasonable demands and asks that you put everything aside to satisfy another's needs. It asks for undivided attention, constant sexual availability, or the requirement for you to spend all of your time with another. With abusive expectations there is always more that you could have done. You likely will be subjected to constant criticism, berated because you do not meet another's needs.
Emotional Blackmail - Emotional blackmail is one of the most constant forms of manipulation. It happens when one person consciously or unconsciously coerces the other to do what he or she wants by playing on fear, guilt, or compassion. Using withholding love, or affection or fear tactics to get you under control is emotional blackmail. With emotional black mail a person will try to make you feel like you are selfish or a bad person if you do something that they do not want you to do.
Unpredictable Responses - This type of abuse includes drastic mood swings, sudden emotional outbursts for no apparent reason, and inconsistent responses such as: reacting very differently at different times to the same behavior, saying one thing one day and the opposite the next, or frequently changing one's mind (liking something one day hating it the next).
Unpredictable responses causes you to feel on constantly on edge, never knowing what is expected of you. This kind of behavior is common with alcohol and drug abusers who can exhibit one personality while sober and a totally different one when intoxicated or high. Living with someone like this is extremely demanding and anxiety provoking You feel constantly frightened, unsettled, and off- balance, and must remain hypervigilant.
Constant Chaos/Creating Crisis - This behavior is characterized by continual upheavals and discord. If someone in your life is in constant conflict with others they may be addicted to the drama of chaos. Creating chaos provides excitement for people who are uneasy with silence, those who distract themselves from their own problems by focusing on outer problems, those who feel empty inside and need to fill themselves up with outer activity, and those who were raised in an environment in which harmony and peace where unknown qualities.
Character Assassination - This involves constantly blowing up someone's mistakes out of proportion, humiliating, criticizing, or making fun of someone in front of others, or discounting another's achievements. It can also include lying about someone in order to negatively affect others' opinion of them and gossiping about a person's failures and mistakes. Character assassination can also ruin someone's personal or professional reputation, causing them to lose friends, or even their family.
Gaslighting - This term comes from the classic movie "Gaslight", in which a husband uses a variety of insidious techniques to make his wife question her perceptions, her memory, and her very sanity. A person who does this may continually deny that certain events occurred or may insinuate that you are exaggerating or lying. In this way the abusive person may be trying to gain control over you or avoid taking responsibility for his or her actions. Gaslighting is sometimes used to turn others against you, or as a way to justify inappropriate, cruel, or abusive behavior.
Sexual Harassment - Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances or any physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature that is uninvited and unwelcome. It is also considered sexual harassment when a partner tries to force you into sexual acts that you have no interest in or that upset or repulse you.
Journal Exercise - Action Steps....
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 98 - Resolving Inner Conflict
This journal exercise will help you identify the two parts of your mind that are in conflict, understand how each side is trying to protect you or get needs met, and facilitate a dynamic resolution that helps to reduce emotional pain.
- Journal and a pen
"For us to experience pain, at least two parts of our mind must be in conflict. It is this conflict that generates not only a fear of moving forward, but also pain in the situation that we are experiencing.
Two parts of our mind are in a power struggle, and neither will be satisfied until there is an integration of both parts. Simple acceptance of the pain will not be enough to release us from pain if two of the deeper parts of our mind are still in conflict." - Chuck Spezzano
Identifying the Inner Conflict Between the Known and Unknown Parts of Your Mind
Most often a known part of our mind, a part that we primarily identify with is often in conflict with another more unknown part which is usually represented by the outward manifestation of the problem.
1. To find the specific polarization of your inner conflict, look for the opposite of what is currently the primary direction for growth in your conscious mind.
2.Once you find the opposite hidden part of the conflict look for the particular attachment to have life go a certain way. Your hidden part is trying to feel good in some way. Look for an emotional need that your hidden part of self is demanding to get met.
3. Note how the hidden - more unconscious - part of your mind refuses to go forward until the emotional need or life condition is met. Notice how the more unknown part of your mind emits emotional pain to try to get you to notice it...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 99 - Understanding Your Protector Selves
This journal directive will help you to identify the parts of yourself that work hard to protect you from being harmed that protect your from becoming overwhelmed with intense emotions. This journal activity will support you to relax your protector so that you emotional healing can progress.
- Journal and a pen
Our entire human psyche is organized around avoiding emotional pain and the protective parts of our mind work very hard to keep emotional pain at bay . Developing a trusting relationship with our protector parts of self is essential so that we can begin the process of unburdening our emotional pain.
We cannot access and work with exiled emotional pain until we see the positive aspects of our defense system, and gain permission from our "pain protectors" to process the pain. When you learn about what a good job your protective parts of self have been trying to do to protect you from pain, your various protectors can be transformed and allowed to take on less extreme roles in your psyche.
Finding Your Protector Selves
The following directives are informed and inspired by psychologist Jay Earley, author of "Self-Therapy."
1. Body and Emotions - Note the tension in your body and pay attention to exactly where you steel yourself against unpleasant emotions. A protector part might feel like a tense holding-in of your body energy or a dissociation away from what you are feeling. Sometimes a protective part will freeze your heart or will make your head feel like cotton.
2. Imagery - You can also find a protector part of your personality by allowing an image of it to arise in your mind. You may also want to draw, paint, or collage your protectors to learn more about each one and what they are trying to do for you. Close your eyes and see if a visual character comes to mind.
Look for specific details such as what kinds of clothes your protector is wearing and what it is doing to protect you. You can ask your protector to get up on an inner stage and act out the
role it plays in your life. Note that the protector part may transform as you pay attention to it. What was once hidden from your awareness might brighten and change as you honor it with
your witnessing interest.
3. Direct Knowing - Because your protector parts of self have been with you for most of your life, you may already know them well. Their mistrust, for example, will feel familiar and you will recognize where each of your protectors live within your body. You will understand their feeling tones intimately....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 100 - Positive Life Creation
The following journal directive illustrates how to discover the inner
causes of your unhappiness, and will support you to manifest your desires through "The Four Keys to Positive Life Creation."
- Journal and a pen
"The moment you can see where your concepts, intentions, and attitudes create your life experiences, you have your key to create a different and more desirable life."
- Eva Pierrakos
Principles of Positive Creation
Just as we can create negatively, so we can also create our life positively. We each have a birthright to create our own positive, beautiful, abundant life and at any point we can turn the tide of negative circumstances in your life though the following contemplative journal process.
Record the following directives in your journal, consider and write in detail about your new positive desired reality. Refine your vision each day and reflect on your new positive state in the morning when you get up and in the evening before you fall asleep:
1. Align with your positive inner longing by forming a clear concept of what your desire. Make sure that this desired state is alignment with love for self and others.
2. Impress this concept onto your soul (the receptive principle) on a deep level with frequency.
3. Create a visualization of your new desired state as your permanent inner reality.
4. Affirm and allow the fulfillment of your new state on an inner level daily while also being grateful about the current state of your life at the same time.
5. Wait in faith for your positive desire to come into your outer life
6. At any point if you meet obstacles in your manifestation process go within to discover the lower self causes of your unfulfillment. Pay attention to the obstacles in your outer life and do the inner work needed to remove them.
*The Four Keys to Positive Life Creation...