Art Journal Therapy Activities
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 92 - Journaling to Cultivate Joy
This journaling directive will be helpful if you are struggling with heavy emotions and negative thoughts, and you want to interrupt the downward spiral of negativity.
- Journal and a pen
Moving out of Self-Absorption
We can easily spend our life preoccupied with escaping heavy emotions and difficult mind states 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 pain to process in our lifetime - perhaps some of us more than others. It is often more realistic to consider developing the ability to function through our 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, even through pain, with a willingness to open our heart to life. When we allow ourselves to feel grief and sadness, for example, the raw tenderness can open us up to seeing life more deeply than our normal protective filters allow.
Most people journal 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 our heavy feeling states. Because habitual negative feeling and thinking states 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.
Discovering Joy Through Writing
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
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 simply waiting until you feel good and then sitting down to your journal to record your joy in full-color detail.
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.
2. Active Receptivity
You do not have to wait for a happy mood or a pleasurable experience to experience joy. One writing device to enhance joy is to write down detailed descriptions of your immediate environment. Because we are so self-absorbed when we experience emotional pain, focusing attention outward with acutely loving attention can give a much needed break from emotional heaviness.
When you feel the wonder and immediacy of your life by opening up all of your senses you can transform emotional pain. Write about what you hear, what physical sensations you have in your body. Are you hungry? What do you see? What do you smell? What is the light like? This process of active receptivity of being alive to the magic of the moment can invoke intense delight.
3. Selecting Your Perceptions
Without denying our frustrations and current struggles we can "play" with our moods and see the light and the goodness in even the most difficult situations. This journaling directive offers the truth that in each moment you can choose what you wish to see, observe or record.
We can paint our own picture of life in our diary. We can choose our own colors. We can begin to choose the kinds of perceptions that we want to have and open ourselves to receive the magic and luminosity inherent in each moment. Practice in your journal looking for the good, the beauty, the blessing in every situation, w even if it is deeply hidden.
4. List of Joys
We can literally accumulate "hundreds and thousands" of joyful moments by listing the joys we experienced at the end of each day. When we are struggling with heavy emotions we can carry our "joy journal" with us through the day and keep an ongoing nuanced list of joys as they arise.
Happiness is largely a matter of where we place our attention, and list making can teach you how to give attention to the positive aspects of your life. We can also make retroactive lists of all the things that have brought us the most joy in our past, or we can make lists of what would make us happy in the future. We find joy in the small details of our present day life, when documented, form a tapestry of joy.
5. Playing with Opposites
Developing the ability to take hold of and guide your thinking is like building a muscle for joy that you did not know was there. It is always helpful to quesion negative thinking and to look for deeper truths.One simple journal exercise involves writing down all of your negative beliefs about life and contemplating whether they are true or not.
By seeing what you believe in visual written form, start to play with your beliefs, and write a deeper belief beside it. If, for example, your write, "life is hard" question if that is always true. Write about when life is not hard. Negative beliefs speak in absolutes, so disassembling them, softens the blow of harsh thoughts and allows more breadth into your feeling states.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 91 - Write Your Own Fairy Tale
- 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 and into our unique vitality it is helpful to be aware of the mythical path that underpins the 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.
In many ways, we can employ the hero's journey for small and large changes that we need to make in our lives. The following directive offers a fairy tale outline with you as theHeroine/Hero of your own life journey. Use your real life details but feel free to imaginatively and metaphorically embellish them. If you find imagery to depict your life process, collage them along the margins, or in between your writings in your 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 but 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 change in life circumstances. A threat happens to our normal ways of doing things, or perhaps simply an 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 had a wake-up call imagine what that wake-up call might look like. Write about what would happen if your current comfort zone or regular supports fell away. How would you need to contemplate changing? What inspires you? 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 happens, we will refuse the call to our authentic actualization, and as a result may suffer somehow.
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 you inccur? 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.
Write about your mentor, either real or imagined. Your mentor might be a spiritual helper that is not in a human body or a guardian angel. A mentor might be a colourful inner, imaginal character, someone famous who you admire, or a real person in your current life. Describe your mentor in story form and envision a symbolic gift of strength, encouragement, or insight that he/she offers. Record the insights you receive that encourages you to carry further along in your journey to your authentic self.
5. Crossing The Threshold
You are now ready, with your symbol of courage and wise insights, to act upon your call to adventure, to truly begin your quest whether it be physical, spiritual or emotional. You may go willingly or you may be pushed, but either way you finally cross the threshold between the world that you are familiar with and world that you do not yet know. You may be leaving home for the first time in your life, or just doing something you have always been scared to do. However the threshold presents itself, and this signifies your heroic commitment to your journey and whatever unknown adventures may be in store for you.
Symbolically describe the threshold in your personal life story. Describe the world of your comfort zone that you are leaving and sense into the essence of the unknown that you have ahead of you but do not yet know. At this point in the story, feel the reality that this is the point of no return where you can never again go back to the ignorance of unconsciousness. Your conscious coping mechanisms and your ordinary mind will no longer work as you journey into the unknown. The only way now is forward is by using the strength of your intuition.
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies
Now, finally out of your comfort zone you, as the Hero/Heroine, you are confronted with an ever more difficult series of challenges that test your character in a variety of ways. Obstacles are thrown across your path; whether they be physical hurdles, people bent on thwarting your progress, or an aspect of your personality that does not want you to progress into your light and purpose. You must overcome each challenge that you are presented with on the journey towards your ultimate goal of an authentic, individualized life.
At this point in the journey you need to find out who can be trusted and who can't. You will learn that allies and enemies will, each in their own way, help prepare you for the greater ordeals yet to come. This is the stage where your resolve to move forward and your skills and powers are tested to the maximum. You might feel like giving up as you experience setbacks and failures. Yet, every obstacle that you face helps you gain a deeper insight into the strength of your character. Each battle won contributes to the actualization of your purpose, and strengthens your deepest resources.
Write about a trial that is currently challenging your movement forward. Describe how you are feeling limited in your progression and why. Who in your life is acting as your enemy and does not want you to grow and move into the light and truth of your authentic nature? How does this outer enemy reflect how you treat yourself? Also, write about a current ally. Who in your life encourages you to be your genuine self and supports you to keep growing?
7. Approach To The Inmost Cave
The inmost cave may represent many things in your heroic story such as an actual location in which lies a terrible danger or an inner conflict which up until now you have not had to face. As you approach the cave you must make final preparations before taking that final leap into the great unknown.
We are often torn apart by challenges as we approach the inmost cave, and must go within and put ourselves back together in a stronger way in order to be powerful enough to face the ordeal to come. This involves understanding and empathizing with our enemies in order to get past them. We must integrate the messages they bring,by seeing how they mirror our inner poison. We neutralize their poison by learning how to be with our own shadow and by having a working relationship with the parts of self that we deny.
At the threshold to the inmost cave you as the Hero/Heroine may once again face some of the doubts and fears that first surfaced upon your call to adventure. You may need some time to reflect upon your journey and the treacherous road ahead in order to find the courage to continue. You may need to strengthen certain characteristic in your being to be prepared for full success. This brief respite helps you to prepare for the final test.
Describe a metaphorical threshold where you pause and go inward to prepare for facing the challenges that your upcoming success will hold. How do you rest, restore and repair yourself so that you can carry on through the upcoming challenges? How are you hard on yourself? What areas of your being do you need to love more before you can move forward? What qualities must you develop more fully before you progress? How will you dedicate your days to strengthening yourself? What positive practices will you maintain to bring yourself into a more permanent higher quality of being?
The Supreme Ordeal may be a dangerous physical test or a deep inner crisis that the Hero/Heroine must face in order to survive. Whether it be facing your greatest fear or most deadly foe, you as the Hero/Heroine must draw upon all your skills and your experiences gathered upon the path to the inmost cave in order to overcome your most difficult challenge.
Only through some form of "death" can you as the Hero/Heroine be reborn, experiencing a metaphorical resurrection that somehow grants you the greater power or insight necessary in order to fulfill your destiny or reach your journey's end. This is the high-point of the Hero/Heroine's story where everything you hold dear is put on the line and you realize that any old way of functioning that holds you back from your higher self must be relinquished.
To move forward in life, old thoughts, beliefs, and habitual ways of doing things must "die" so something fresh and original can take its place. What are you most afraid of losing in your life if your were to become your biggest spiritual self? Imagine something that still exists from your past that you fear losing - yet you know that you must let go of it so that you can progress further along your authentic path.
Write about the major detrimental emotional or physical habit or self-defeating thought pattern, negative person, or challenging life circumstance that tamps your life energy down the most. How must you stand up to inside or outside of yourself. What must you change irrevocably inside and outside of yourself in order to move forward on your highest path?
9. Reward (Seizing The Sword)
After defeating the enemy, (inside or out) and overcoming your greatest personal challenge, you as the Hero/Heroine is ultimately transformed into a new state, emerging from battle as a stronger person and often with a prize.
The Reward may come in many forms: an object of great importance or power, a secret, greater knowledge or insight, a new determination or strength, or even a reconciliation with a loved one or ally. Whatever the treasure, which may well facilitate your return to the Ordinary World, the Hero/Heroine must quickly put celebrations aside and prepare for the last leg of his journey.
What is the reward of all of the efforts of your inner work? What is your new solidified resolve that will now irrevocably change who you are forever? Who are you now in your fullest soul stature? Who are you in your most poised authenticity? Describe your best self in full, rich detail. How do you now live out each day as your finest and truest self.
10. The Road Back
This stage in the Hero's/Heroine's journey represents a reverse echo of the Call to Adventure in which we had to cross the first threshold. Now we must return home with our reward - our new way of being - but this time, the anticipation of danger is replaced with that of acclaim and perhaps vindication, absolution or even exoneration.
But the heroic journey is not yet over and we may still need one last push back into the Ordinary World. The moment before we finally commit to the last stage of our journey may be a moment in which we must choose between our own personal objective and that of a Higher Cause.
Write about how your personal life now has been universalized. How has your growth path enlarged you and led you to express a larger purpose in the world? What do you feel called to give that is beyond the simple, practical functioning of your personal life. How must you walk through the world now? How will you offer your gifts to others?
This is the climax in which as the Hero/Heroine we must have a final and most dangerous encounter with death. The final battle also represents something far greater than the our own existence with its outcome having far-reaching consequences to his Ordinary World and the lives of those we left behind.
If we fail to universalize our gifts and talents in a way that can creatively and spiritually contribute to others, we will suffer. This places more of a requirement to rely upon divine support so that we have the energy to carry out our larger tasks. We must be integrated in our emotions and psyche and be able to hold open, listening presence so that we can fulfill our larger tasks. Ultimately, with devotion to stay open enough to the receive the help of Spirit, we will succeed in our larger task of giving something unique to life. We destroy the enemy of our negative counter-pulls, stay whole and integrated within, and emerge from battle cleansed and reborn.
Write about your highest possible self - that you may or may not be genuinely be arriving at now. If this possibility exists in the future, envision and write about your empowered future self. Contemplate your willingness to allow your intuition and divine sustenance to feed and sustain this higher-nourished self. How will you let the divine energy, and hold it within so that you can feed every area of your life with Spirit? What spiritual practices and devotions will you implement to open up your divine channel so as to permanently embed your spiritual statue into your human existence?
12. Return With The Elixir
This is the final stage of the Hero/Heroine's journey where we return home to our Ordinary World a changed person. We will have grown as a person, learned many things, faced many terrible dangers and even death. No we look forward to the start of a new life of bring Spirit into ordinary life. Our return home may bring fresh hope to those we left behind, inspire a direct solution to their problems, or perhaps offer a new perspective for everyone to consider.
Sometimes the return home is a very challenging part of the journey. The profound inner journey and spiritual transformation that has occurred can make it difficult to reintegrate with our old life and key familial relationships as they used to be. There can pressure from significant friends and family members who want us to stay the same as we were before so they don’t have to change to accommodate our new growth. Our return can disrupt the status quo and feel uncomfortable for others.
The final reward that we obtain in the heroic change process from our conditioned fate to our authentic destiny may be literal or metaphoric. It could be a cause for celebration, self-realization, or an end to strife. But whatever it is, it represents three things: change, success and proof of our inner spiritual journey made material. Each day, no matter what outer feedback we receive, we ask the question, "Did I live my deepest calling today?" Ultimately, on the heroic journey to authenticity, we return to where we started but things will clearly never be the same again.
Write about what your own return to the ordinary world would look like. How would you enter the ordinary reality of your workplace, your family, your hometown, quietly transformed within? How
would you feel? How would you operate as you step through your day? What does your luminous inner life, in this ordinary, practical, material world look like? How do you live into your deepest
calling each day? Describe your transformed inner life in full, loving detail, even if it is not seen and reflected in the outside world.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 90 - Resolving Childhood Emotional Needs
- Journal and a pen
Childhood Emotional Needs
Often, without even knowing it, we attempt to get others to act in ways to meet emotional needs that were not met in childhood in order to avoid our feelings of loss.
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 treated fairly
- To be understood
- To feel useful, valued and worthy
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 may show up as direct attack, passive aggression, withdrawal, complaining or suffering as a way to try and gain control so as not learn about what we need. Anger often hides an emotional need that we want to hold onto and have satisfied. But as long as we try to change an outside situation to satisfy an inner need, we will remain frustrated.
The unmet childhood needs that we have buried within us always lead us into situations that trigger them so that they can be resolved. When we become emotionally triggered and angry that an emotional need is not being met, we can use the opportunity to learn and heal.
The person that is frustrating us can be a catalyst to help us find our most painful and self-defeating attitudes and emotions - if we choose not to get caught up in angry, defensive patterns.
The following set of journal questions is informed and inspired by transpersonal therapist Chuck Spezanno:
1. Be aware of any forms of anger today: aggression, complaint, withdrawal, passive aggression, suffering, and any form of victimization.
2. Be willing to experience whatever buried emotional needs there are underneath the anger. (See the list above.)
3. Ask yourself how old these emotional needs are and where they began.
4. Ask yourself what behavioural pattern or compensatory actions you created to cover up these emotional needs.
5. Ask yourself what self concepts you have about yourself (positive or negative) that these emotional needs have supported.
6. Make new decisions about these self-concepts using truth as your guide. Is it really true that you are lacking in the fulfillment of your emotional needs?
7. As you examine old beliefs about what you lack, check if they are realistically true today. What happened in the past will necessarily be happening in the present moment in the exact same way.
8. Practice focusing on where your emotional needs are being met instead of where they are not being met by others.
9. Practice saying the opposite of what you normally say to yourself to invite emotional openness. If you feel unloved, for example, practice saying, "I am loved" and notice what this attitude does in your body. Build this new feeling into a more continuous attitude of body openness.
10.Be willing feel and grieve the searing pain of loss, and the acceptance of the truth that your needs were not met in essential ways in your past.
11. Find ways to creatively meet your own emotional needs in a kind and nurturing way.
We try to control others and our circumstances - through anger and other means - when we think our way of trying to feel better is the only way. Control often comes from the fear of feeling the buried loss of unresolved emotional needs. Healing control involves feeling and becoming present to old losses until they can no longer can threaten to take over our psychology. See Healing Your Core Wound for more journal exercises.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 89 - Integrating Your Shadow
"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."
- Journal and a pen
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. Consider that the shadow is the
storehouse for all of our unrecognized and repressed aspects of self. The shadow begins early in childhood when we start to hide away parts of ourselves that do not fit in with our parents or
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.
"If you don't go within, you go without"
- Neale Donald Walsh
Outer Events as Inner Metaphors
Every one of us suppresses uncomfortable feelings, unmet developmental and emotional needs, and disturbing thoughts. Our suppressed discomfort comes into our awareness through the metaphor of inner and 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 irritation with other people, and in our disdain for what feels unacceptable about life.
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.
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. We might erroneously fear that we are going to die or that something bad is going to happen.
Self-Repression and its Counterforce
Our body's are accumulated with stored non-integrated emotional imprints and unexamined beliefs. We can become so built up with rejected shadow energies that we begin to attract negative experiences through the form of other people. If we vigorously and violently repress our shadow parts of self it can begin to feel like we are ruled by hidden forces.
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.
Underneath our social mask we have many sub-personalities that conflict with our ego need to be "perfect" and lovable in the world. The good news is that we are infinitely designed to heal ourselves and life will conspire to bring us all of the disturbing life events that we need to clear out our self-rejection.
Daily life infallibly brings other people near to "rub up" against our well maintained outer facades. As Carl Jung said, "The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances. If there is any reaction, both are transformed."
In order to quell anxiety and soften our defense system we can regularly practice meeting our shadow figures. It takes a great deal of energy to "hold down" what we reject about ourselves. Often it is helpful to creatively personify and write stories about our rejected parts of self.
I offer you an excellent creative visualization exercise from Debbie Ford's book "The Dark Side of the Light Chasers" to help you to integrate the various aspects of your shadow. Feel free to be very descriptive when you write about your shadow figures. Be aware that as you "meet" your shadow parts of self, you may feel disgust, revulsion, aversion, fear and avoidance. Make every effort to keep your heart open as you do this "friendliness exercise."
Meeting Your Shadow Figures
Do this exercise when you are very relaxed, after a walk or a bath. You are going to meet your inner voices so you want to have your mind as quiet as possible. Early in the morning or before you go to bed is also a good time.
1. Put on some soft music and light an aromatherapy candle to help you create a relaxed mood. close your eyes and start following your breath. Take long, slow deep breaths, retaining the breath for five or more seconds, and then slowly exhale. Do this four or five times until your mind is quiet.
2. Now imagine stepping onto a large, yellow bus. Take a seat in the middle of the bus. Imagine feeling excited about taking a long awaited trip. Imagine riding down the street on a clear, beautiful day. You are sitting there minding your own business when someone taps you on the shoulder.
3. You look up and this person says, "Hello, I'm one of your sub-personalities and all the other people on this bus are also your sub-personalities. Why don't you get up and now and walk around to see who's on your bus." You get up from your seat and you walk through the entire bus looking at all the different people in their seats.
4. You see before you every kind of person - tall people, short people, teenagers, old people, children. There might be circus people, animals, and homeless people on your bus. With you on the bus are people of every race, colour, and creed. Some of them are waving to get your attention, others may be quietly hiding in the corner. Continue walking through the aisles, slowly visualizing all of the characters on the bus.
5. Now the the bus driver directs you to allow one of your sub-personalities to take you for a walk off the bus in a nearby park. Take your time to allow one of your sub-personalities to come and take your hand, and escort you off the bus into the park.
6. Sit down next to this person and ask his or her name. Ask that person to tell you what trait he or she represents along with a name. Fro example, if you meet someone angry you could name this person Angry Alfred or Angry Ann. If you don't hear a name - give the person a name. Take all the time you need for a name to arise.
7. Notice how this person is dressed and looks. What does this person smell like? Notice his or her mood or body language.
8. Take another deep breath and ask, "What is your gift to me?" Or, "What do you need to integrate into my psyche?"
9. After you have heard every answer ask this person, "Is there anything else you need to say to me?" Where you are finished, make sure you acknowledge and walk this person back to the bus.
10. When you are ready, open your eyes and write down the messages you received from your sub-personality.
Then in your journal, write for at least ten minutes about your personal experience of meeting your sub-personality.
Don't worry if you did not get all the answers you needed from your sub-personality. It takes time to practice hearing all of the messages. Make a date with yourself to do it again. This is an exercise that requires that you surrender to yourself, so make sure you have created a safe environment for the process.
Final Note on Emotional Needs:
Our shadow figures hold onto our unmet and ungrieved emotional needs. If your shadow figures continue to uprise into your awareness to the point of anxiety and emotional pain you may need to nourish them in a deeper way with this excellent Buddhist exercise called Feeding Your Demons or further journal about Childhood Emotional Needs.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 88 - Develop Heart Awareness by Writing Your Life Review
Keeping an Open Heart
We are always either withdrawing our energy from life in defense and hurt or extending outwardly in some kind of loving gesture. When we are withdrawing our energy, we are trying to stay within the familiarity of our comfort zone, and within our personal limits of loving.
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 love and 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 our 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 help or 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, if 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 loved and cared along the way.
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 at the end of your life and passing over to the other side. As you go through the tunnel of light and reach the other side, imagine yourself turning back and watching a film of your life.
See your family, your partner, your children, and friends. See all of the strangers you have encountered in your life, such your work-mates and all of the people who you crossed paths with and had brief interactions with. As the film runs, you begin watching a very honest account of how you have loved throughout you life. You experience the effects of your loving through the minds and voices of the people you have loved. Imagine in the film that all the people you have encountered in your life are being interviewed. What would they say about you?
Be very honest. Understanding where you have loved and where you have not loved is important for your own growth and honest self-assessment. Write out your answers with your full and honest heart:
1. What challenges did you have with loving? Where did you withdraw? Where were you afraid to love? Imagine someone popping into your mind and talking to the camera. (Your name) had challenges with….
2. When were you deeply loving in your lifetime, what did it feel like? How did you love others? What was the unique flavor of your love?
3. What was the most loving moment of your life?
4. What was the least loving moment of your life?
5. If after leaving this lifetime were given another chance to return your current age what advice would you give to help deepen and enrich your loving?
Loving Is Not Sacrifice
At the end of your life you do not want to look back and see that you have given up your life to love other people in their ego demands. One of the most important things to understand about loving is to know that saying "no" to people’s unrealistic ego demands and destructive acting out is a very loving act.
We do not become loving people by letting people walk all over us. It is a fear, especially for women, that if we are not “nice” all of the time, we are not being a loving person. Sometimes, sticking with a firm stance, that determinedly sets healthy boundaries is the most loving gesture that you can offer to another person. We most often sacrifice ourselves in love because we are afraid to know our own authentic power and assert it. We fear our assertion might mean the end of our relationship as we know it – and it might.
The comfort of fitting in and belonging cannot be denied. It is very seductive to just try to fit in with another’s ego demands in the name of comfort. We may want to avoid the discomfort of standing up. When we assert our truth, everyone benefits and we uplift all of life by saying “no” to unhealthy and hurtful behaviors.
Expressing Healthy Love - Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Where do you give yourself away in the name of loving?
2. Where do you compromise yourself in the name of love?
3. What personal/emotional needs are you trying to meet by giving yourself away to others?
4. What guilt are you compensating for by giving your love away and not receiving anything in return?
5. Where are you avoiding moving forward in your life by giving too much to other people’s ego demands?
When you start to say "no" to people in their ego demands, it is challenging at first but what you are really doing is calling them to be their best selves. Expressing the truth of what you need to feel whole is what a healthy relationship is for. Who do you need say "no" to with love and firm boundaries? In what way are you calling this person to be their best self by saying "no" to their ego's insistence for emotional, psychological and physical comfort.
Sometimes we need to ask for a higher quality of love from other people. Who do you have to talk to - to improve your relationship - or to make room for something new in your life? Remember that even if a relationship ends, your saying "no" with love, and expressing your true feelings with integrity has lasting loving impact. Write a letter in your journal saying "no" to someone who is not respecting your genuine needs.
Deconstructing the Old
When we start to stand up to the ways that we appease other people in their comfort zones, our own comfort zone becomes shaken. When we begin to love in healthy ways, old way of thinking and acting must be released so that the new can become known. Who would we be if we were stripped of our normal life of daily troubles that keep us preoccupied? Therapist and writer Deena Metzger offers the following two contemplations in her book, "Writing for your Life" :
Imagine you have been sentenced to spend an indefinite amount of time in solitary confinement? What circumstances, external and psychological, have brought you to this?
Enter into the experience of one day in solitary confinement. Describe your life in minute detail. Write a piece that captures and details you inner life under these conditions. Stripped bare of your daily concerns, what do you love?
How are you already living your life as though you are in jail? How do you live now - as though you are in solitary confinement?
What Do You Love?
Once we imagine our live reduced to the bare essentials, we can build what is truthful from there.
Make a list of what you love, and build your character portrait from these details. Who are you in your most loving self?
Writing "Things I Love" can be a very useful meditation, to be repeated frequently, in order to continue to build your character on love.
Imagine the possibility of keeping your heart open at all times. Do not be hard on yourself when you cannot, but notice when you are closing away from reality as it is. Bring yourself back again and again - stretching open your heart and mind. It is in this heart and mind stretch, and in the daily intention to go beyond yourself in your loving, that you will find out new many new things about yourself.
Consider this quote by Michael A. Singer:
“The key is to keep you mind disciplined enough so that it doesn’t trick you into believing that it’s worth closing. Affirm inwardly that you don’t want to close, no matter what happens. Affirm that you want to be at peace and to appreciate life. If you have trouble remembering that, then meditate. Meditation strengthens your center of consciousness so you are always aware enough to not allow your heart to close. You just relax your heart when it starts to tighten. You don’t have to be outwardly glowing all of the time, you are just joyful inside. Instead of complaining you are just having fun with the different situations that unfold.”
Relaxing Your Heart
So often, our supposed dreams and healthy practices and purposes are a compensation for all that we do not want to feel or face about our lives. To live your full inner and outer purpose you will need to round out your character tremendously. When you start the practice of relaxing your heart, all that you do not accept about yourself will arise to be loved and accepted.
Part of finding your real purpose, is to – yes – live into your dreams and goals and plans for self-improvement – but also – to live with an open heart to your life, just as it is right now. In order for your larger purpose to unfold you will need to learn to love yourself in all of the places that you reject and disown.
Consider what areas that you need to love yourself in before you can move forward in your life. Life progresses as a whole and entire piece. If you are very developed in one area, you will usually be quite underdeveloped in another area. The one thing you can trust for sure is that life will always call you to round yourself out, and ask you to put love into all of the areas that you avoid.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 87 - Writing Healing Stories
"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
Through our words and 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.
Through the gathering of our truth we, as Metzger says, "revitalize, rejuvenate, rescue, re-cover, re-claim, re-new" ourselves. As we re-collect ourself through our stories we make ourselves whole.
Following are some ideas to get your writing flowing, inspired by author and therapist Deena Metzger in her book "Writing for Your Life":
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?
6. Family stories. What are you most famous family stories - the stories that are repeated at family event, the ones that sustain your family history?
7. Stories you tell strangers. What stories do you commonly tell strangers about your family in order to reveal the character of your family?
8. Stories that you tell about love, travel and adventure. What stories do you tell so that the high points of your life may be known.
9. Teaching stories. What stories do you tell in order to illustrate your values?
10. Stories for your intimate associates. What stories would you tell a prospective lover or potential dear friend to reveal yourself to see if you will be accepted?
11. Stories so intimate. What stories do you believe it will bind you to someone forever?
12. Lies you tell. What lies have you told so often they have become truths?
13. Stories you will never tell anyone. What stories would you never tell anyone?
14. Stories you will never tell anyone, not even yourself. What stories do you hide even from yourself?
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 86 - Understanding Your Defense Mechanisms
- A journal and a pen
- Collage materials (optional) - old magazines, glue stick and scissors
It almost goes without saying that our defense mechanisms prevent us from progressing in our psychological and emotional healing work. We all have our own particular architecture of defense that keeps uncomfortable thoughts and feelings at bay.
Our defenses are the "glue" that hold our "learned self" from childhood in place. Defense mechanisms are most often learned repetitive behaviours designed to repress the original pain that could not be processed in the past.
Defense mechanisms store the buried and forgotten pain, hurt and sorrow that keeps us running in place - mentally unchanging, physically stagnant, and emotionally stifled. While our defenses served a useful purpose when we were too immature to handle difficult and complex energies - left unexamined they keep us psychologically frozen in unnecessary, outmoded ways of thinking and feeling. The good news is - because our defense mechanisms are not who we really are, we can disassemble them in order to feel more open, flowing and alive - just like we felt as children.
Unblocking Crystallized Defenses
Dissasembling our defense mechanisms is the first step to doing deep, fruitful, transformative work. As we get older, our defense mechanisms become detrimental - blocking the ways that we need to best emotionally, psychologically and spiritually unfold. 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 obsessive ways of thinking and behaving.
Disassembling Your Defense System Involves:
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: The sooner you notice yourself closing down emotionally, somatically and psychologically, the sooner you can ask yourself: "What is upsetting me right now?" Defense structures can run on their own without our conscious awareness for days, months, years, and even a lifetime. The sooner that you become clear that you are defending against feeling something difficult, 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 can then strongly experience life, powerfully available and open to whatever happens, freer and freer from the defensive filters from the past.
Understanding How You Close:
Your defense mechanisms are the ways that you distance yourself from the full awareness of your unpleasant thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Most defense mechanisms are fairly unconscious in that we do not notice we are using them in the moment. In your 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 and psychological pain.
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.
The following excellent list of defence mechanisms below has been informed by psychologist John M. Growl which you can also view here. (I have made slight changes below to reflect my own understanding and experience.) Read the following list of defense mechanisms below and contemplate the following journal exercise.
Primitive Defense Mechanisms
Denial is the refusal to accept reality or fact, acting as if a painful event, thought or feeling did not exist. It is considered one of the most primitive of the defense mechanisms because it is characteristic of early childhood development. Many people use denial in their everyday lives to avoid dealing with painful feelings or areas of their life they don’t wish to admit. For instance, a person who is a functioning alcoholic will often simply deny they have a drinking problem, pointing to how well they function in their job and relationships.
Regression is the reversion to an earlier stage of development in the face of unacceptable thoughts or impulses. For an example an adolescent who is overwhelmed with fear, anger and growing sexual impulses might become clingy and start exhibiting earlier childhood behaviors he has long since overcome, such as bedwetting. An adult may regress when under a great deal of stress, refusing to leave their bed and engage in normal, everyday activities.
3. Acting Out
Acting Out is performing an extreme behavior in order to express thoughts or feelings the person feels incapable of otherwise expressing. Instead of saying, “I’m angry with you,” a person who acts out may instead throw a book at the person, or punch a hole through a wall. When a person acts out, it can act as a pressure release, and often helps the individual feel calmer and peaceful once again. For instance, a child’s temper tantrum is a form of acting out when he or she doesn’t get his or her way with a parent. Self-injury may also be a form of acting-out, expressing in physical pain what one cannot stand to feel emotionally.
Dissociation is when a person loses track of time and/or person, and instead finds another representation of their self in order to continue in the moment. A person who dissociates often loses track of time or themselves and their usual thought processes and memories. People who have a history of any kind of childhood abuse often suffer from some form of dissociation. In extreme cases, dissociation can lead to a person believing they have multiple selves (“multiple personality disorder”).
People who use dissociation often have a disconnected view of themselves in their world. Time and their own self-image may not flow continuously, as it does for most people. In this manner, a person who dissociates can “disconnect” from the real world for a time, and live in a different world that is not cluttered with thoughts, feelings or memories that are unbearable.
Compartmentalization is a lesser form of dissociation, wherein parts of oneself are separated from awareness of other parts and behaving as if one had separate sets of values. An example might be an honest person who cheats on their income tax return and keeps their two value systems distinct and un-integrated while remaining unconscious of the cognitive dissonance.
Projection is the misattribution of a person’s undesired thoughts, feelings or impulses onto another person who does not have those thoughts, feelings or impulses. Projection is used especially when the thoughts are considered unacceptable for the person to express, or they feel completely ill at ease with having them. For example, a spouse may be angry at their significant other for not listening, when in fact it is the angry spouse who does not listen. Projection is often the result of a lack of insight and acknowledgement of one’s own motivations and feelings.
7. Reaction Formation
Reaction Formation is the converting of unwanted or dangerous thoughts, feelings or impulses into their opposites. For instance, a woman who is very angry with her boss and would like to quit her job may instead be overly kind and generous toward her boss and express a desire to keep working there forever. She is incapable of expressing the negative emotions of anger and unhappiness with her job, and instead becomes overly kind to publicly demonstrate her lack of anger and unhappiness.
Less Primitive, More Mature Defense Mechanisms
Less primitive defense mechanisms are a step up from the primitive defense mechanisms in the previous section. Many people employ these defenses as adults, and while they work okay for many, they are not ideal ways of dealing with our feelings, stress and anxiety.
Repression is the unconscious blocking of unacceptable thoughts, feelings and impulses. The key to repression is that people do it unconsciously, so they often have very little control over it. “Repressed memories” are memories that have been unconsciously blocked from access or view. But because memory is very malleable and ever-changing, it is not like playing back a DVD of your life. The DVD has been filtered and even altered by your life experiences, even by what you’ve read or viewed.
Displacement is the redirecting of thoughts feelings and impulses directed at one person or object, but taken out upon another person or object. People often use displacement when they cannot express their feelings in a safe manner to the person they are directed at. The classic example is the man who gets angry at his boss, but can’t express his anger to his boss for fear of being fired.
He instead comes home and kicks the dog or starts an argument with his wife. The man is redirecting his anger from his boss to his dog or wife. Naturally, this is a pretty ineffective defense mechanism, because while the anger finds a route for expression, it’s misapplication to other harmless people or objects will cause additional problems for most people.
Intellectualization is the overemphasis on thinking when confronted with an unacceptable impulse, situation or behavior without employing any emotions whatsoever to help mediate and place the thoughts into an emotional, human context. Rather than deal with the painful associated emotions, a person might employ intellectualization to distance themselves from the impulse, event or behavior. For instance, a person who has just been given a terminal medical diagnosis, instead of expressing their sadness and grief, focuses instead on the details of all possible fruitless medical procedures.
Rationalization is putting something into a different light or offering a different explanation for one’s perceptions or behaviors in the face of a changing reality. For instance, a woman who starts dating a man she really, really likes and thinks the world of is suddenly dumped by the man for no reason. She reframes the situation in her mind with, “I suspected he was a loser all along.”
Undoing is the attempt to take back an unconscious behavior or thought that is unacceptable or hurtful. For instance, after realizing you just insulted your significant other unintentionally, you might spend then next hour praising their beauty, charm and intellect. By “undoing” the previous action, the person is attempting to counteract the damage done by the original comment, hoping the two will balance one another out.
Mature Defense Mechanisms
Mature defense mechanisms are often the most constructive and helpful to most adults, but may require practice and effort to put into daily use. While primitive defense mechanisms do little to try and resolve underlying issues or problems, mature defenses are more focused on helping a person be a more constructive component of their environment. People with more mature defenses tend to be more at peace with themselves and those around them.
Sublimation is simply the channeling of unacceptable impulses, thoughts and emotions into more acceptable ones. For instance, when a person has sexual impulses they would like not to act upon, they may instead focus on rigorous exercise. Refocusing such unacceptable or harmful impulses into productive use helps a person channel energy that otherwise would be lost or used in a manner that might cause the person more anxiety.
Sublimation can also be done with humor or fantasy. Humor, when used as a defense mechanism, is the channeling of unacceptable impulses or thoughts into a light-hearted story or joke. Humor reduces the intensity of a situation, and places a cushion of laughter between the person and the impulses. Fantasy, when used as a defense mechanism, is the channeling of unacceptable or unattainable desires into imagination. For example, imagining one’s ultimate career goals can be helpful when one experiences temporary setbacks in academic achievement. Both can help a person look at a situation in a different way, or focus on aspects of the situation not previously explored.
Compensation is a process of psychologically counterbalancing perceived weaknesses by emphasizing strength in other arena, or by working extremely hard to deny self-doubt and weaknesses through concerted action. When done appropriately and not in denial, compensation is defense mechanism that helps reinforce a person’s self-esteem and self-image.
Assertiveness is the emphasis of a person’s needs or thoughts in a manner that is respectful, direct and firm. Communication styles exist on a continuum, ranging from passive to aggressive, with assertiveness falling neatly inbetween. People who are passive and communicate in a passive manner tend to be good listeners, but rarely speak up for themselves or their own needs in a relationship.
People who are aggressive and communicate in an aggressive manner tend to be good leaders, but often at the expense of being able to listen empathetically to others and their ideas and needs. People who are assertive strike a balance where they speak up for themselves, express their opinions or needs in a respectful yet firm manner, and listen when they are being spoken to. Becoming more assertive is one of the most helpful defense mechanisms.
Journal Exercise for Interrupting Your Defense System
The following journal expertise is inspired by psychologist Stephen Wolinsky from his book "Trances People Live":
1. Identify Your Common Defenses - Review the 15 defense mechanisms above and write out the top three that you most regularly use. Describe them in your journal, or create a collage about how you keep pain out of your awareness.
2. Recreate Your Defense - Check within and ask yourself if you are in one of your favourite defense mechanisms right now. If not, visualize a common emotional trigger and recreate your defense system in your body. Alternatively, envision a scenario from childhood that triggers your defense mechanism. Note the particularity of your defensive body cues such as muscle tightness and shallow breathing.
3. Interrupt Your Defense - "Strip the gears" by adding a positive resource in the middle of your defense. To open up your body in the midst of the "closing" of your defensive reaction and ask yourself, "What was my favourite kind of play as a child?" Write about your favourite memory of play as a child in your journal. Note the disruption and confusion that arises as you associate a pleasurable activity with your habitual tendency to close down.
Wolinksy writes and I paraphrase, "Suddenly the body tightness is reassociated with a pleasant memory. There is a mental clash, as sense of "non-compute" as the (defensive) patterns thrown off its normal course. This is is equivalent to "stripping gears" in a car (the defensive reaction) is headed forward at full throttle, when suddenly it is thrown in reverse. As a result, the transmission (the defense pattern) falls out!"
4. Interweave the Defense with the Positive Resource - To introduce new learning and new responses into your habitual defense mechanism "weave" or alternate your positive "opening" memory with your newly dislodged defense response. This ensures the integration of the positive "open" response with the negative "closing " response - leaving no "loose threads". Blending positive feelings with the tightening of the muscles and breath opens up the the defense system to allow room for fresh expression and brand new creative thought. New positive associations within old habitual defences begin to get created.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 85 - Learning the Language of Your Unconscious Mind
- Journal and a pen
Unifying Our Separated 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 stores and 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 love creates the contents of our unconscious mind. When we unify all of the contents of our unconscious mind with our everyday conscious mind, we earn the joy of true
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 self-cetered actions - that arise from our mistaken perceptions.
Unnecessary Emotional Pain
From our normal ego perception, we hide what we do not like about ourselves, and this causes repetitive emotional pain. When we reject the dark 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 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 some benefits to motivate you to get to know your negative, unconscious mind more profoundly:
Reasons to make efforts to understand your unconscious mind:
1. To reclaim the true humiity 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 should'nt" 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.
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 because they feel as though they are a regular part of who we are - but they can be captured in a daily journal review at the end of each day.
The following journal review process is adapted and informed from the writings of transpersonal counsellor Susan Thesenga, author of "The Undefended Self." It involves reviewing your inner and outer life on a daily basis in a written journal, as a means to identify with your observer self - so as to witness the various separated-off parts of self that need to be loved without judgment
1. Meditate on disharmony - Sit quietly with your eyes closed. Let the events of the day pass in front of you, and specifically note any incidents which gave you a disharmonious feeling or a negative reaction.
2. Focus on daily negativity - Make notes only about the disharmony in your day, knowing that they will provide the essential inner clues to understanding your unconscious mind.
3. Emotionally cleanse through honest writing - As you honestly record all of the negative accumulations of the day, know that you are learning to become "emotionally clean" so that your negative thoughts and feelings do not become accumulated in your body.
4. Strengthen your desire for truth - As you perform your daily "emotional cleansing" you strengthen your desire for truth. Give yourself permission to experience and write about whatever you thought and felt during the day, instead of writing about what you think you ought to have done, felt, or thought.
5. Question your resistance - the unconscious mind is guarded by the mask self's defense and resistance. Contemplate, when you feel resistance, that your daily journal review of your negative thoughts and emotions prevents the mask's modus operandi of self-deception, pretense, and repression - all of the ingredients for mental disturbance and confusion.
6. Track emotional patterns in your daily life - As you journal daily for a month or more, you will start to see patterns. As you write about what has disturbed, conflicted and irked you each day, you will discover the regular patterns in your thinking and behavior. Start to track patterns in your negative reactions and behaviors by making side notes about reoccuring emotions and similarities that run under daily events.
7. Find the inner "unconscious" self that is trying to express itself - Once you track the patterns of your experience, you can ask yourself, "Who is the person within me that acts this way?" This separated off inner personality may have characteristics that are entirely different to your daily social self. You might want to give each reoccuring personality a name, or create a collage or drawing to reflect its place in your life.
8. "Reparent" yourself from your higher self - You can work with the different selves that emerge, initiating a dialogue between the part of yourself in need of healing, and your higher self which can lovingly direct your healing.
9. Dialogue with, support, and "grow up" your unconscious selves daily - After about a month of daily emotionally reviewing your day, you can come to know your journal process as a time to engage with all of the various "unconscious" selves that have emerged during the day. Get to know their unique language, their emotional point of view, and their unique pain and insecurities.
10. Aim to make your journal process fun, creative and interesting - Because we often fiercely want to avoid seeing our darker, more rejected parts of self, is important to go slow if your journaling process becomes too emotionally uncomfortable. Invoking feelings of pleasure, celebration, integration and success are key to maintaining a long-term practice of daily review. Take breaks from your journal process when you feel too emotionally raw about your discoveries. Allow integration. Resume when you feel strong and curious again.
10. Be willing to ask for outside help - While you can do much inner work on your own, there often comes a time when you will need outside relationships to help see, love, and accept your emotional pain and mental struggles. We are often blind to aspects of ourselves that can only be seen by others. Because we self-reject in relationship with outher humans, so do we need other humans to supportively help solidify our self-love and emotional integration.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 84 - Practicing Forgiveness With Ho’oponopono
- A journal and a pen
- A quiet space to write and reflect
This transpersonal therapeutic tool involves using your voice, either silently or out loud to heal what is troubles you about other people - within yourself. All that is needed is a quiet place to meditate and the willingness to love and forgive - in a deep and experiential way - 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 transpersonal truth that anything that happens to you, and anything that you perceive, notice, and experience is your own creation. Because it happening uniquely and only to you, in this particular way - it is entirely your creation and it is your responsibility to heal. A hundred percent, with no exceptions.
Because our experience of life is our creation, however, does not mean that every experience is our fault. It simply means that we are each responsible for healing whatever is separated away from love inside of ourselves, in order to heal whatever or whoever is appearing as the problem. If any emotional pain or disorder is coming into our awareness, and into our life experience, it is our issue to heal.
Three Steps of Self-Responsibility:
1. Recognize that whatever experience arrives in our outer life - is our inner creation to heal. Our experiences are the patterned outcome of past memories buried in our mind. Our unhealed emotional field attracts events towards us to draw out what needs to be healed.
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 emotional conditions to experience the emotional freedom and creative inspiration 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 one is entirely free from the past. In a deep dedication to love and healing another, our being becomes suffused with the Divine Intelligence. When we align with the force that wants to act through each one of us to heal the pain of 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 assignated 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 agression. 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 Self-Responsibility.
Most of the time we are living from the memories in our conditioned mind. When we ask the question, "Who am I?" we usually refer to old programs in our mind. Most of the time we are "dead" to the moment and are not living our immediate creative truth.
Dr, Hew Len practiced the art of taking 100% responsibility, which means that all of our outer problems originate in some part of ourselves. The healing question that he asked, when he was working in the state hospital was, "What is going on in me that I am experiencing this?"
Our old data in our mind and our stored emotions create our continued experience of the same repeating problems. Understanding this deeper truth can bring about profound inner and outer change if we focus on concentrating only on changing ourselves.
All of our emotional upsets give us a chance to heal and clear old memory programs of anger, victimization, hopelessness ect. By practicing letting go of old, conditioned memories and emotional data, we can find and rest in our natural unconflicted, loving and unconditioned mind.
When our mind is emptied of its old contents we can access wisdom and creative inspiration. When we live from our present-moment uncondtioned mind, quantum change can spontaneously happen - in our families, friendship groups, love relationships, and work settings.
Letting go of whatever is dark and unloved within can correct many errors in our life. One profound way of letting go is to thankful for everything that comes to you through your daily circumstances.
Reflect on a difficult situation in your journal, I invite you to write out a difficult life situation that is arising in your life right now.
Thank-you - Allow a feeling of gratitude to surround your outer conflict. Feel grateful that this problem is coming up to the surface of your awareness. When you start feeling your discomforting feelings say "thank-you" over and over again as a way of not having an opinion about your negative feeling - not judging, not fighting, and not engaging with your problem in an emotionally triggered or resistant way.
I am Sorry. Please Forgive Me - See your outer problem as an internal indication that you need to heal something within. Use all of your negative experiences to let go of something dark, rejected and hidden within yourself. See if you can sense an emotional pain or access a feeling of empathy that feels like the essence of your outer problem.
See if there is something within you that is similar to your outer problem that you can clean up inside. If you are being attacked or criticized for example, look within to see where the outer judgment "lands" for you. Clean up any grain of truth that is reflected in your outer situation.
Look at the inner places where you believe the outer jugment is true on an inner level. Is it really true? Would you also have the potential to act this way, if you were inside the other person's emotional pain? As you say thank-you for your problems, you can also repeat: "I am sorry. Please forgive me for whatever has attracted this into my life."
I Love You - By loving our outer "problem" person or negative situation, we can profoundly and gratefully send silent love to them - for showing us on an external level, what we need to heal internally. Sense into - as Dr. Hew Len did with his mentally ill patients - what the people in you life are emotionally struggling with. Whatever you can see well enough to judge and percieve negatively outside of yourself always exists within you to heal.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 83 - Cultivating Unselfconsciousness Through Zen Painting
- A wide soft brush - or three brushes - one for each color
- Black fluid acrylic paint, or 3 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 disicpline. 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, so that it can grow stronger in our life. Unselfconsciusness is a state of psychological and emotional integration. To achieve integration through art, we can paint until we are no longer thinking. We can make brushstrokes until our brush seems to paint all by itself.
For visual, creative people, the engagement of 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 engagment, however, 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 whole and integrated working of our hand, body, paintbrush, breath, and brushstroke.
Once we know what the state of our spontaneous stillness feels like, we become familiar with the process of acting without thinking, and we have an experiential template for engaging with our life in a more free and non-linear 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 Zen Painting Process
Following is an informal way to experiment with Zen Painting, in an accessible, non-traditional way. Zen painting is traditionally done with black ink, but I prefer the viscosity of fluid acrylics, and the juxtapositioning of 2 to 3 colors. I offer you my simple Zen painting practice below:
Prepare your paint and paper - Have all your materials close at hand. Prepare your three trays of paint along with a separate brush for each color. Consider where you will put all of your paintings as they dry. Have a stack of 20 or more sheets of paper spread out for painting.
Prepare your mind and body - Because we habitually live in a near constant state of inner conflict and distraction, consider that it is a rare and worthy practice to bring all of your attention to one still, quiet point. Close your eyes and take 10 deep breaths, Loosen your body by stretching and through spontaneous movement. Take note where you feel tight and sore. Breathe, stretch and move into your body constrictions until they soften from your kind attention.
Paint standing up - The aim of this painting exercise is to fully and completely engage your mind, body and soul into one concentrated point of concentration. Standing up allows you to embody each brush stroke with your entire, integrated being.
Paint simply and spontaneously - As you paint your brushstrokes, follow the rule of "no rules". The only rule you might consider is to paint one color at a time. Paint one stroke of color on all 20 sheets of paper first, let them dry, and then brush on the next color, and so on.
Paint each brushstroke spontaneously, without mental calculation. Each brush stroke strives to be without self-consciousness - organic, intuitive, and uncultivated. Paint as many paintings as you need to - until you arrive at the place where your brush seems to be painting all by itself.
Bask in your direct experience of reality - When you reach the point single-pointed attention to the moment, when your whole body, mind and soul is engaged in each brushstroke, and when you have forgotten how you normally think - stop painting. And sit or stand in your quietude.
Bask in your sudden, yet cultivated quietude. Celebrate the delicious feeling of the directly experiencing your own life. Remember how it feels to be so utterly free of self-consciousness. Remember so that you can cultivate this lack of artificiality more often in your daily life.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 82 - Healing Sexual Distortions
- 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 surface shame and self-rejection of our sexual desires.
Our distortions of intimacy begin in childhood. And strangely enough, we come to crave the same familiar feelings of rejection, perpetration, abandonment, enmeshment or isolation within the metaphors of our sexual life as adults. We chase the same unhealthy emotional patterns within our sexual behaviors and throughts. So, 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 Susan Thesenga is from Expressive Art Activity # 81 - Healing Negative Intentions - and I have adapted it to address how adult sexuality becomes distorted by unhealed childhood need:
Journal Exercise for Healing Distorted Sexuality
1. Identify an area of emotional unfulfillment in your life. What is missing emotionally in your life? Find and write out your negativity - your resentments, bitterness, rage and blame.
a. Next - Write out your negative intentions towards this situation - and own the attachment you have to feeling unfulfilled emotionally. Own the part of you that wants to stay negative and contemplate why. Does your negativity feed your negative conclusions abour life? Does your misery punish those you believe have hurt you? Are you exacting vengeance on someone for your pain?
b. Then look for the negative sexual pleasure you are finding in this emotional unfulfillment. Find the part of you that is enjoying this unfulfillment. What part of you "gets off" sexually on the familiar pain and unfulfillment that has haunted you all of your life? What part of you enjoys the victimization or the control that arises from your emotional pain?
c. Trace back into childhood to see if you can find the origin of this connection between emotional unfulfillment and your current sexual pleasure.
2. After you have uncovered your negative intentionality and explored the sexual pleasure or fantasy attached to it, consider if you are willing to transform it. Clearly write out the loving and genuinely intimate sexual attitude, the positive will for love, and the positive sexual pleasure - that is connected to love - that you would like to substitute for your current distorted sexual/emotional need. 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.
Counsellor Susan Thesenga, author of "Undefended Love" offers the following explanation for understanding childhood sexual abuse which I paraphrase here:
"In the abusive situation, the powerful focused excitement of adult sexuality overwhelms the child's innocent unfocused sexuality. Just as the child does not have a focused ego, his/her sexuality is not yet concentrated in his/her genitals.
For the child, sexuality is not separate from the whole feeling of the body which is open to the undiluted streamings of pleasure and love.
Forced to focus only on the sexual and genital dimension of pleasure, the child is robbed of the sweetness of full-body pleasure, physical safety and innocent play which are the birthright of every child.
If the abuser is also a loved one, the loss includes splitting away from the heart - and away from love, because the experience of being sexually used and overstimulated, and loving the abuser at the same time is too painful and confusing to bear.
When a child's natural openness is violated to gratify an adult's sexual obsession, innocence and trust and life are abruptly lost.
The child who has been sexually abused usually grows to either hate sex or become obsessed with it.
Hurt and Sexual Arousal
As an adult, the sexually abused inner child will be powerfully attracted to confusion between the energetic openness of childhood innocence and adult sexuality. And, whether or not we were hurt sexually as children, we will still be sexually turned on by what has emotionally hurt us as children.
Left unexamined, we will associate the openness of childhood with our emotional pain as one in the same. We will become hooked on the unfulfillment of our childhood because our innate openness to pleasure becomes confused with the pain of our original scenarios.
Childhood Pain in Adult Sexuality
We are most tempted to act out the distorted pleasure of childhood openness through the sexual realm as adults. But, courageously owning and facing our secret sexual fantasies, behaviors and distortions is the key to transforming our sexuality into a healthy expression of love, and fully embodied sexual pleasure.
Counsellor Susan Thesenga writes:
"Everyone has distortions of sexuality. Everyone has elements of sadism or masochism in their sexual expression or fantasies."
Masochism says "Stagnation and self-punishment are sweet. Pleasure is in not doing anything, in being 'done to" without any responsibility for myself. Or the pleasure is in being 'punished' for being sexual and 'forced' to have sexual feelings that I do not have to be responsible for."
Sadism says: "Power is sweet. Pleasure is in having power over others, and especially in 'paying back' all those who were so much more powerful than I was as a child."
Because our unexamined sexual desires and sexual fantasies scare us, and do not match our primary personality's dictates to be more loving, sane and decent, we may choose to repress our sexual urges and fantasies as much as possible.
But childhood emotional needs disguised as adult sexual fantasies never completely disappear. They can manifest physically as pain or disease in the pelvic area. Of they can be expressed through disturbing sexual dreams.
Seeing Your Sexual Fantasies in Dreams
The most powerful way to uncover your repressed sexuality is to pay attention to your night-time dreams. Whatever is deeply sexually repressed will usually powerfully make itself known in our dreaming life. Before you re-repress your sexual dreams, write them out in a private journal, and start to track the emotional needs that are common in your waking and dreaming sexual fantasies.
In Your Journal: Often our dreaming life will show sides of ourselves that we do not care to know about in our waking life. Start tracking your repetitive, most pervasive sexual patterns in your dreams. As you journal look for the underlying emotional needs - instead of getting too caught up in the disturbing sexual content.
Collage Exercise: If you do not remember your dreams, it is helpful to do a simple spontaneous collage instead. Because collage is like waking dreaming, simply allow yourself to create a collage of what feels sexually forbidden.
Because we can repress our sexual urges so deeply, you will likely be drawn towards particular forbidden imagery without knowing why. When you are finished your collage meditate on what your imagery might be telling you about your early emotional childhood needs through the visual metaphors and longings of your adult sexuality.
Identifying Emotional Needs:
Our underlying childhood emotional needs - to be seen or noticed by a parent, for example, can translate into sexual fantasies or behaviors that feel so strong they can become distorted and obsessive.. Here is a list of child, teen and adult emotional needs that may be underlying your distorted or obsessive sexual desires.
The need to be:
accepted, accomplished, acknowledged, admired, alive, appreciated, approved of, attention, capable, competent, confident, developed, empowered, forgiven, free, fulfilled, happy, heard, important, in control, included, interested, listened to, loved, needed, noticed, protected, reassured, recognized, relaxed, respected, safe, satisfied, secure, significant, successful, supported, treated fairly, understood, useful, valued, worthy.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 81- Healing 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 counselor 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 those we love, and our own health and well-being.
We can uncover our negative intentions by examining where we are 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. To recognize the hidden inner "no's" that we have to our own love, truth and healthy pleasure, however is liberating.
Owning up to our worst, destructive and cruel attitudes exposes the truth that we actually choose to participate in the negativity in our life, and are not the helpless vicitims we pretend to be. Our lower self deliberately chooses denial, spite and hate when we avoid menatlly processing and emotionally feeling our own inner hurt. When we finally we discover our negative intentionality, we can assume full responsibility for the positive creation of our lives.
Becoming Conscious of Negative Intentions
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 self. Until we deeply examine our destructive inclinations, we will choose to ignore our choices to perpetuate the negativity in our life.
Whatever negativity we can admit to, we can change and heal. As we own and clearly put our negative intentions into words we become free to finally change them. Counsellor Susan Thesenga elucidates the following hidden negative intentions:
"I intend to withold from life. I don't trust that freely giving myself will be appreciated or returned. I will hold out against other people, and punish them by not giving them what they want from me. That's how I will be powerful."
" I want to cheat life - to get more than I give. I've been deprived by my parents and now it's up to life to make it up to me. I don't want to engage in give and take.
"I like blaming and being a victimized child - it's easier than growing up and being a self-responsible adult."
"I intend to stay deprived and unhappy in my life - that will surely hurt my parents. I won't be happy out of spite; I'll use my misery as a weapon to punish others."
"Being cold and cruel makes me feel powerful. The more unattainable I am, the more others will come after me. I don't care if it's also lonely; I just won't feel."
"I am hopelessly bad and do not deserve any pleasure or goodness in life. I will see life as a punishment and never have joy."
Using our Misery as a Weapon
From a hurt childlike place we mistakenly hang onto our negativity because we think it expresses our individuality. And, while the struggle for autonomy and freedom is appropriate for a child and a teenager, our separated aspects of self become distorted into resistance to life and the avoidance of higher functioning in mature adulthood.
Our separated inner child/ego aspects do not believe that life is good, kind or loving. From our stubborn "no" stance, we think we will guarantee our autonomy from others who may hurt us as we felt hurt in childhood. This self-destructive spite is an inner child tendency to punish our imperfect parents from our past.
The problem with maintaining our stubborn "no's" is that they continue to create the viscious cycle of our negative life circumstances , which then reinforce our negative self-concepts.
We hold onto our negative intentions to avoid feeling the raw, emotional pain of our childhood. When we resist our emotional pain, we breed spite, and the need for negative pleasure. And, the repetition of our negative choices ingrains the power and velocity of our destructive intents more firmly into our being.
The Pleasure of Negativity
We would give up our negativity much sooner if it was not so perversely pleasurable. The more numb we are to the vulnerable flow of our inner emotional experience, the more we will seek external stimulation in order to feel something. When we are out of contact with the higher forces of life, we become addicted to intense levels of external sensory stimulation.
When we avoid feeling our raw inner pain, we will find pleasure by being completely passive and taken care of by others, or alternately through forcing and controlling. These partial, fragmented pleasures alternate between the forcing of high intensity stimulation with the passive collapse and withdrawal from life.
The life force becomes distorted when we avoid feeling our emotional pain. It either attaches itself to situations of passivity and stagnation - which we call masochism. Or, when the distorted pleasure principle becomes attached to over-exertion of power, control, or forcing - we call this sadism.
When the pleasure principle is strongly attached to negativity, cruelty gains intensity and tenacity. Whenever negativity is powerfully and cruelly acted out, painful guilt floods the psyche. In order to ward of the guilt, numbness futher cuts off the warm feelings of human connection, making it easier to perpetrate with even more cruetly. In the extreme case of a serial killer, the negative excitement of cruelty escalates to obliterate the guilt and grief of disconnection.
The Origins of Negative Pleasure in Childhood
Because we experience all of life as united as children we did not yet posess a separate discriminating ego that was able to discern right from wrong, and pleasure becomes mixed with the cruelty, rejection, humiliation or withdrawal of our parents. This creates a compulsion to repeat our negative scenarios and emotional patterns from childhood well into our adult life.
As children we indiscriminatly loved being with our parents, and depended on them for survival. On a primal level of our being we took pleasure in being with our parents, no matter how they treated us.
If we do not feel and integrate the emotional losses from our childhood, when we grow into adults, we will still enjoy repeating our childhood pleasure and openness by re-experiencing the negative patterns from childhood. This longing for the mixture of pain and openness is how childhood vicitimization becomes adult self-destructiveness in one of the following two ways:
Self-Denial: Pleasure, for example, can become tied to self-denial (victimization/masochism) if our independence was supressed in childhood. Our unhealthy enmeshment with other people can feel more comforting than the lonely assertion of our separate self.
Cruelty and Control: Pleasure can also become attached to cruelty (perpetration/sadism) if we compensate for, instead of deeply feel childhood hurts. If we were mistreated in childhood, for example, and felt entirely helpless, we may take pleasure in feeling power over others when we are adults.
As children, to survive, we "soften the blow" of pain by mixing pleasure with mistreatment. This helps us to not feel so devastated by our situation.
Distortions in Sexuality
Unprocessed childhood hurt often expresses itself through negative sexual pleasure, or through unhealthy sexual fantasies in adulthood. As an adult, our negative, unhealed child can be powerfully attracted to re-creating original hurt, deprivation, or helplessness through adult sexuality.
Our sexual distortions are source of great shame and self-rejection. As counsellor Susan Thesenga writes, "We can reclaim the undiluted pleasure behind our distortions which is so much more powerful than the small bits that squeeze through the negative key holes of our negative fantasies and distortions."
Becoming aware of how we operate sexually can help us to separate out our childhood unhealed emotional pain from our adult sexuality. When we courageously face our sexual distortions, we release our trapped life energy, and increase our capacity for healthy pleasure.
Journal Exercise for Releasing Negative Intentions
Counsellor Susan Thesenga offers the following journal exercise to uncover and heal your negative intentions which I encapsulate for you here:
1. Identify an area of unfulfillment in your life. Find and write out your negativity - your resentments, bitterness, rage and blame.
a. Next - Write out your negative intentions towards this situation - and own the attachment you have to feeling negative and unfulfilled. Own the part of you that wants to stay negative and contemplate why. Does your negativity feed your negative conclusions abour life? Does your misery punish those you believe have hurt you? Are you exacting vengeance on someone for your pain?
b. Then look for the negative pleasure you are finding in this situation. Find the part of you that is enjoying this negative situation. What part of you "gets off" on the pain and unfulfillment. What part of you enjoys the victimization or the control?
c. Trace back into childhood to see if you can find the origin of this connection between unfulfillment and pleasure.
2. After you have uncovered your negative intentionality and explored the pleasure attached to it, consider if you are willing to transform it. Clearly write out the positive attitude, the positive will, and the positive pleasure you would like to substitute for your current negative attitude. Meditate deeply on this new positive affirmation deeply for a dedicated amount of time each day.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 80 - Expressing your Vulnerable Inner Child
- 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 we decide we are consciously ready to grow up emotionally, immature emotions must be allowed to express themselves. 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."
Journal Exercises for Processing Immature Thoughts and Emotions
Our immature, emotionally arrested parts of self are not very skillful at dealing with feelings. Most of us fear that if we let our immature feelings up to the surface we will hurt ourselves or others. So, when we allow emotions to arise into our adult awareness, we can choose to experience them within a mature structure.
We mature our emotions by feeling them fully until they no longer have the capacity to change our behaviours into immature ways of coping - through denial, addiction, distraction, ect. We will know we have matured our emotional life when we can get through to other side of discomfort to feel the strength of our mature presence and passion on the other side.
Counselor John Bradshaw, author of "Homecoming" offers the following list of guidelines which I have adapted to the process of expressing immature emotions safely within a private journal.
1. It is okay to feel what I feel. Feelings are not right or wrong, They just are. It is good and necessary to talk about feelings.
You may have been raised with "no talk" rules, or the rule that says emotions are weak and should not be expressed. As adults we need to learn clear guidelines on when it is not safe or appropriate to express feelings. There is a big difference between expressing a feeling and acting on a feeling.
In Your Journal: To create a safe, non-shaming environment to grow up your emotions - it is helpful to express yourself freely in a private journal. Expressing anger in our journal through drawing, writing and painting is valid and safe, but it is obviously not valid or safe to act out anger by hitting, cursing, screaming, or destroying property. Expressing strong "unacceptable" feelings in a journal can become the fuel to get our mature emotional needs met. Expressing strong emotions are a part of our personal power.
2. It is okay to want what I want. There is nothing that I should or should not want. It is good to ask for what I want.
If our parent's did not get their emotional needs met when they were children, they likely felt angry when we expressed our emotional needs. You may feel still feel shamed for what you want to express on a deeply buried level.
You can champion your repressed inner child's emotional life by listening carefully to what you need and want - even if to your adult mind it seems irrational. As an adult, you may need to give yourself permission to have emotional desires. Without desire our life energy, and our will to progress gets crushed.
In Your Journal: Make a list of what you honestly want for your life. Do not censor your desires based on what you think you can or cannot have from your adult self. Write out what you really want - from a child-like place - as if all of your wants and desires could come true. As you honor your inner child's emotional desires, contemplate how you could healthfully attend to those wants and needs. How does this motivate your life energy to move forward?
3. It is okay to see and hear what I see and hear. Whatever I saw and heard as child was what I saw and heard.
Because we are sensory experts as children we must revive our inner child's ability to look, listen, touch, and explore the world to regain access to our emotions. In the interest of learning to trust your own senses and intuition in the face of possible delusion and lying in your original family, it is helpful to practice trusting your inner signals as an adult.
In Your Journal: Start to activate your emotional acuity in your present life. Look back on your childhood and begin to record your truth as you remember it. Examine the family stories that you have been told. Are they really true? Start to record your daily observations about what you sensed below the surface expressions when you were growing up. Record when you sense someone is saying one thing and meaning another. in your current life, and rewrite the truth of your past.
4. It is okay and necessary to have lots of fun and play. It is okay to enjoy sexual play.
Sometimes as adults it is necessary to schedule time to play, in childlike and adult ways. Play is pure being. For adults, sexual play within moral limits is a time to explore touch, taste, smell, sight and voice in a way that opens up awareness and ignites emotion in ways that we may not have access to in our repressed states.
In your journal: How do you allow yourself to play? Do you ever give yourself time to do absolutely nothing? Do you have shame around sensual or sexual play? Do you allow intimate, passionate solo and connected contact in your life? If not, what is blocking you? Explore these questions about passion in your journal. Practice allowing play to invoke your emotions in a way that you may have forgotten.
5. It is essential to tell the truth at all times. This reduces life's pain. Lying distorts reality. All forms of distorted thinking must be corrected.
As children we learn to lie to adapt to survive. Many of us had to partake in lying to emotionally survive in our original family. In adulthood, our absolute and fantasy thinking from must be confronted if we are embed into our authentic emotionality. If we carry unhealed emotional wounds from childhood we will distort the truth in the following ways:
Polarized thinking: The wounded child percieves everything in extremes - either/or - with no in between. People are believed to be either good or bad. Absolute polarized thinking leads to hopelessness. As adults we must learn that everyone is both good and bad so that we can feel free to emotionally express the whole truths about ourselves and others.
Catastrophizing: We can become hypervigilant as children, and unconsciously carry the pattern into adulthood, when we fret and worry as our parents did in ways that limits healthy exploration. We can recover our emotionality by stretching through fear, while reassuring our younger parts of self that it is okay to try new things.
Universalizing: As children we can learn to make sweeping statements born out of negative incidents. Absolute words like never, no one, always, ever, ect. come from our inner child. As adults we can learn to consider possible possibilities using words like often, maybe, and sometimes to allow new possibilities for emotional expression and growth.
Mind-reading: We make assumptions about life when we are afraid to ask questions for fear of appearing stupid. Mind-reading comes from the mechanism of projection of our unexamined emotions onto others. Saying, "I think so-and-so dislikes me" may reflect an inner fabrication instead of an objective truth. The antidote to this is to check things out, and to ask lots of questions so that we can accurately explore the world of other people, as well as our own inner world.
In your Journal: Honesty arises when we learn how to not exagerate or distort reality. As adults we can learn how to correct ourselves with loving discipline to reduce the pain that comes from lying and distortion. Check in daily with your journal to assess how honest you are each day. Pinpoint where you employ mind-reading, catastrophizing, polarized thinking, and universalizing and dedicate yourself to finding the truth in your life.
6. It is important to know my limits and to delay my gratification some of the time. This will reduce life's pain.
When our inner child wounds become reactivated in adulthood, it is hard to delay gratification. In our emotional pain it can still feel like there is a severe scarcity of love, acceptance, attention, food, affection, and enjoyment as there was in childhood. This creates a strong tendency to overindulge.
As adults, we will still experience the voracious neediness of our inner child whenever we suppress our emotional pain. Because all children want what they want - when they want it - part of emotional maturation involves learning how to delay gratification, and to feel our emotional pain before gratifying our desires.
In your journal: Write about your emotional needs in your journal. When we operate as though there is a limited amount of love, we tend to grasp at life in a taking, needy sort of way that repels others. What does your inner child love and need today? How will you pay attention to, and nurture your emotionality today without overindulging?
What are the reasonable limits for your inner child's needs? Outline them in your journal. Start to correlate healing your emotional pain with your inner child's need for delayed gratification and healthy limits, so as not to deny and repress your feelings.
7. It is crucial to develop a balanced sense of responsibility. This means accepting the consequences for what I do and refusing to accept the consequences for what someone else does.
Much of our human suffering comes from the inner child taking on too much responsibility, or refusing to accept enough responsibility. When we do inner child emotional work, we are really beginning the process of becoming responsible, and growing up all of the emotionally arrested parts of ourselves. To become responsible as adults we need to learn how respond to stress instead of react to our pressing emotionality with addictions and over-indulgence.
In your journal: Start the process of becoming responsible for your vulnerability. Commit to emotionally reparenting your inner child, and to growing up your arrested emotional parts of self. Notice and record when you are looking for parenting from those you love, know, and work with. Record where you expect others to give what your parents failed to give you.
8. It is okay to make mistakes. Mistakes help me to learn.
Mistakes are the foundation of life-long lessons. Having permission to make mistakes allows our inner child to be more spontaneous. To live in dread of making a mistake is to live a guarded, unemotional, shallow existence.
In your journal: List all of the greatest mistakes you have made in your journal, and celebrate what you have learned from each one. Particularly write about how each mistake has made you into a better person.
9. Other people's feelings, need and wants are to be respected and valued. Violating other people's needs leads to guilt.
When we violate our own and other people's values we have to become accountable and develop a healthy conscience in order to mature our childish emotions. Our wounded inner child selves need to become clear on the rules of love, value and respect when expressing feelings.
In your journal: Take some time to honestly assess where your value system is distorted based on repressed and unexamined emotional pain from the past. Write about how you would like to have been treated when you were little.
Reflect on how you could treat the loved ones in your life in this same healing way. Treating others in the way you wish you had been treated is a profound way to heal your past. Write about how you apply the Golden Rule each day. Describe how you treat others how you want to be treated.
10. It is okay to have problems. They need to be resolved. It is okay to have conflict. It needs to be resolved.
Life is fraught with problems, and it tempting from an unhealed inner child place to ask, "Why me?" or "I cannot believe this has happened to me." As we mature our emotional life out of helpless victimization into mature responsibility, we must accept that life has problems to heal.
We can remind the inner parts of ourselves that are trying to grow up that problems are normal. It is our work as adults to emotionally experience the pas,t and to become stronger through our emotional difficulties.
In your journal: How would your adult consciousness help the younger, more fearful parts of yourself solve your current problems? How would you speak to your inner younger emotions in a way that help your inner child grow up and accept the difficulties of life?
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 79 - Intuitive Found Poetry
- 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 paint or acrylic paint.
By embracing the paradoxes that arise out of spontaneous poetry you can open your mind to intuition and new possibilities for growth. Poetry relies on non-linear logic. Your spontaneous found poetry may not make rational sense but on a different level, it will make intuitive, 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 creatively make word choices from intuitive awareness. Creating found poetry taps into what words feel the strongest to our unconscious mind, and can reveal hidden emotionality, visionary possibilities, or unknown beliefs in a mysterious and intriguing way.
Creating Spontaneously with Language
1. Soften your eyes and scan your printed page for words that stand out. Do not worry about how the words or sentences that you choose will fit together. Some words may seem to visually "pop out" or even seem to have a glow around them. Some words may feel very important.
2. Underline words in pencil crayons or felt makers that you feel an emotional or visual pull towards.
3. Obscure the words around the your chosen words with black or colored markers, or paint. Leave some areas partly veiled while fully obscuring other areas.
4. Consider keeping a daily found poetry journal using an old novel or a non-ficiton book. Daily, randomly open up the book and intuitively circle the words and obscure others. Track your chosen words and phrases over time in a written journal. Finding interesting fragments of language on a regular basis, and placing them together to see what comes out, can offer uncommon insight, healing and an emotional freshness to your day.
"Poetic language expresses what plain language cannot, and thus helps us heal in a very unique way."
- Jon Fox
Expressive Art Activity # 78 - Practicing Spontaneity - 100 Faces Journal Project
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 we begin creating spontaneously, our drawings can feel stiff and forced. Or, sometimes our "original" drawing self is quite childlike. Often we will first go back to drawing like we did when we were children, where we stopped developing our natural, 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:
- Scribble a face with a black and/or colored pens
- Draw a face with one continuous line
- Draw a face with your eyes closed. Open your eyes and embellish it.
- Fill your face with spontaneous doodled patterns
- Block your face in with watercolor, and draw and detail on top of the color with black felt pen.
- Collage an eye or a nose onto your journal page and spontaneously draw a face around it.
5. Number and Name Your Drawing - Finally, when you finish a face, number your drawing - 1/100, 2/100, ect. Spontaneously pick a name for each drawing and place next to the number.
7. Reflect - At the end of your 100 drawings or at 100 days, reflect on the sheer multiplicity of consciousness that you contain and create within yourself.
Drawing From Within
The following directives on how to draw from within are informed by art therapist Peter London author of "No more Second Hand Art":
1. Go on Automatic Pilot - Close your eyes before you draw and let your mind go on automatic pilot. Notice your visual imagination and watch how your mind oozes imagery. Do not label or identify this imagery - just let it float in and out of your awareness. London writes, "We are am endless and automatic font of unique and universal imagery."
In your sketchbook - Stop working so hard to force it yourself to draw a face. Hold back on your determination, and allow what is already there to stream out.
2. Dream your Drawings - There is a lovely moment between sleep and wakefulness when we are in touch with our unconscious imagery that is free from the self-conscious imagery that ties us to waking physical world. It is often helpful when first re-learning how to draw spontaneously to drift almost into a sleep state, and just before drifting off - draw.
In your sketchbook - Lay back on a pillow with your sketchbook on your lap. Close your eyes and allow yourself to drift almost to sleep. When you are in that mid-state between waking and sleeping sketch out your face. It is ideal to try this drawing exercise right before bed.
3. Relax - Unwrinkle yourself from your tidy, presenting personality that works, pays the bills, and tends to your practical realities. Peter London so eloquently writes, "Unwrinkle yourself in the way you relax best: take a walk, meditate, have a cup of tea, read some poetry. Whatever unwrinkles you, do it. Look at the stars, weed the garden, rearrange your paint box, whatever. You do know how to relax yourself."
In your sketchbook - You will come to notice that your face drawings will begin to reflect your current state of mind. When you are tense from a long day at work, for example, your lines may be tighter and you may feel less inspired. You may feel bored by your drawings when you create them from your everyday consciousness. Try relaxing in your favorite way so as to access more unknown and visionary states of mind, and to see what comes through in your drawings. You might also try drawing first thing in the morning, right after you awake, to see how your intuitive drawings change when you feel relaxed.
4. Play - Combine stuff, experiment without reasoning. Follow your fancy. Have no end in mind but pleasure. Choose colors, shapes, and marks that you would't be caught dead using. Toy with new combinations.
In your sketchbook - When we were young and everything was novel and new. We had no rigid conceptual frames of reference. We toyed and played with everything. In your face drawings, allow them to be anything they want to be. Perhaps your face wants to morph into a fish or an animal or a building with eyes and a nose. Anything goes!
5. Lighten up - Do not take yourself so seriously. If shame or embarrassment arises during your drawing process let it go. In the giant scheme of things, one daily spontaneous drawing in a private sketchbook is a safe way to express whatever has been previously squleched and shut down.
In your sketchbook - Be sure to laugh at yourself with compassion when your drawing looks strange or awkward. Reflect as you daily effort to loosen up the strictures in your life - that your creative efforts, "mistakes", and fumblings are not big deal - just part of the process of finding your intuitive voice.
6. Change your pace - Most of our thinking is pretty ordinary. As live our daily routines we keep our practical rhythms in place. As we tend to our practical duties, we rarely think anything new. If on the other hand we speed up our pace, and do twice what we normally do, or slow down our pace to half speed, we will notice emergent patterns that our usual pace of life does not reveal.
In your sketchbook - Seeing a new creative world does not require changing your entire life or cultivate a new self. Simply walking at a slower reveals new shapes, colors and textures that you may not have noticed before. Try drawing super fast, and alternatively, at a snails pace. See what emerges when you change your drawing pace.
7. Get Lost - Often we fear letting go of our ordinary reality for fear that we will loose our footing and not be able to "normalize" our consciousness again. In truth, our ordinary reality is most often so firmly entrenched, it will come back readily when we foray out into unknown territory. When we stay in our expected, ordinary consciousness, we miss an entire creative universe of new information that is sitting just outside of our habitual perceptions.
In your sketchbook - Knowing the comfort of your familiar, venture out towards the outer edge towards what you do not know - as you draw your face in your sketchbook. Step over towards the edge of the forbidden - towards what you normally do not want to see and bring the exotic, the crazy, the trivial, the absurd, the impossible, the sinful, the childish, the foolish, and the exorbitant into your drawings.
8. See the world differently - When we look at the world from different points of view, each observation holds something new. London calls this way of looking at different angles, "thin slicing." When we meet the world he writes, "We have to actively be there to meet it, poke it, allow it to smack us. Each time we look at life differently we see a different dimension of it.
In your sketchbook - We suffer from an impoverishment of seeing when we look at life in the same way everyday. If we are to enjoy our creative process, we need to practice being different selves to alter our normal perceptions, so that when we draw, we can bring forward fresh ways of being. To cultivate fresh ways of being before we begin our spontaneous drawing session, we can "look underneath things, look closely at things, look very slowly, gobble up lots of things, stay with one thing all day, or try impossible things."
Expressive Art Therapy Activity #77 - Healing Your Core Wound
- Journal and a pen
What is the Primary Core Wound that Drives Your Behavior?
When we act from our core pain it is possible to feel our energy extending forward out of our center in a compensatory way that feels anxious, draining and overly effortful. When we excessively "do" to avoid feeling our core wound, we will feel hollow and drained.
Following is a list of common core wounds that drive the personality to act "as if" it is the 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 alot.
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 loveable and loving.
10. I am crazy - Acting "as if" I am clear, heathy, 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, 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 when you repeat your core wound statement to youself. 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 believe about yourself. See where this core wound emotion manifests inside of your body. Become familiar with this 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 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 knowing and 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, unquestioned beliefs so that they can be dismantled.
Tracing Back to the Root of Your Core Wound
If, for example, you think your core wound is "there must be something wrong with me - I am imperfect" ask yourself, "What is so bad about that?" or "What is the worst that can happen if I am imperfect?' or "What fear is underneath this experience of being imperfect?"
The deepest core wound of being imperfect may be the fear of not being loved. Or, it may be the fear experiencing the pain of being alone. In this case, your deepest core wound might be "I am loveless" or "I am alone."
Explore your core wound in your journal, using the questions above to get "to the bottom" of your core wound.
Cutting the Associational Chains
When we have emotions that override our practical functioning, it is difficult to get stabilized in our innate feelings of wholeness/essence/"all is well." Our unprocessed emotional and psychological material will pull our being "forward" out of our essential state of well-being into an emotionally triggered until we feel and understand our mistaken core assumptions.
As we trace our difficult emotions backwards, and find the courage to sit in the pain of our core wound, we will start to see the root of belief that drives our behaviors, As we accept our core wound, and feel its pain, without trying to get rid of it, our lack of resistance makes it lose its power to drive and control our life.
Every "Story" is Driven by Our Core Pain
The activation of our core pain motivates our mind to move into a compelling story about "why" we feel as we do. And, no matter where the mind moves to, it is always moving to avoid our core pain. In truth, we could forever talk about and observe the movements and compensations away from our core pain but the real question is what is "driving" the movement of our mind?
In your journal, write out the most compelling story that is running through your mind at this present time in your life. It may be a memory that is haunting you, a sexual fantasy, a current work conflict, a relationship problem ect.
As you write out your story, focus your inner experience, and zero in on what is bothering you, or on what lack you are longing to fulfill. As you detail all of the events and people that are currently upsetting or obsessing you, ask, "What is the worst of this?" Be prepared to feel emotional. When you get to the "bottom" of your core pain, you may feel like crying.
What Do You Not Want to Feel?
There is usually one core pain that pulls our chain of associations and "writes" all of our stories. Almost every thought we have points to the root of our core pain and the belief that drives it. At the bottom of all our stories is something that we do not want to feel, think or believe about ourselves. Our core pain is the isolated shame of what we do not want to experience and expose to others.
In your journal, explore what is at the bottom of what you do not want to feel. What painful "seeming" truth do you really do not want to experience?
Write your deepest core pain in your journal. Get to know it and find where it lives in your body. Begin the process of noticing when your core pain becomes active in your daily life.
Going Beyond Your Core Wound
The process of going beyond your core wound:
1. Own your core wound/secret shame.
2. Be it, feel it and observe it. Find our where it resides in your body, and how it makes you think. See how you view the world through your core wound.
3. Un-be-it. Separate from your core wound, and come to experientially understand that it is not who you really are.
4. Know your Essence. Sense into who you authentically are - prior to taking on your core wound. What does your wholeness feel like?
Of course this is much easier said than done. Often our wholeness cycles (or spirals) back into the wound at deeper and deeper levels as we mature into our fullest humanness. Life is ever challenging us to be strong, to develop more presence in the face of pain and fear, and to not take on the negative projections of other people as our own truth.
It is helpful to remember the truth that we are born with an authentic essence, and our personality wounds are acquired after that. Anything acquired on top of our authentic self can be let go of as the driving force of our life. With awareness and the willingness to feel the pain of your mistaken beliefs, your core wound will have, over time, much less driving force and behavioral influence in your life.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 76 - Freedom From Shame - A Journal Process
- 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 in a way that causes us to go numb and feel separate from others and ourselves in mind and body.
These emotional shocks, form static conclusions and vast generalizations about life, and while they defy rational logic, they are held and hidden within 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 situation is unique, and that our entire thought and emotional process 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 perspectives away from others.
Our inner false conclusions form patterns of behaviors and reactions, that in our mature mind, we often cannot understand. While our outer personality may grow and learn as we mature, we will still hold aspects of ourselves in a state of immaturity that keeps us stuck repeating certain faults no matter how hard we try to change them.
Our false conclusions 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 always stronger. Whatever is hidden, always has more power to create 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 on your life 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. It 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 common denominator even though initially all of your problems seem unrelated. Upon deeper looking, there is usually one emotional imprint, and a false conclusion that undermines your conscious wish to grow and do well.
This one false conclusion that has unconsciously governed your life and forms a pocket of pain and shame within. 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 emotional imprint and its 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 emotional patterns and thought systems formed in childhood we have to re-condition ourselves against our habitual one directional shame currents by practicing the opposite. This takes time, effort, and patience. It also takes a willingness to admit how much we take pleasure in the familiar, 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 react to life with shame and embarrassment, just as we have before. Shame is habit bound, and we often quickly submerge it into our subconscious mind the minute it begins to feel uncomfortable.
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 - because we feel negative pleasure in what we know instead of the genuine, positive pleasure in what we are not familiar with.
The Sting of Shame
What we hide 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 intense shame and embarrassment surrounding them. It is helpful to anticipate shame as you go through your uncovering and self-admitting process. For wherever we hide away our false conclusions from ourselves we will feel intensely separate and alone. When shame arises we feel unworthy of love and support.
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 Process
It can feel intensely embarrassing to admit to ourselves that as an adult, we are still ruled by erroneous, ignorant, and illogical beliefs from childhood because they they still hold an emotional charge that seems to statically bind us. When we discover that we are the architect of our own unhappiness through our own beliefs and decisions, we will also feel shame, and yet not know what to do about it.
Upon close examination, our shame appears to be everywhere. Even outer events have seemed to conspire to have certain people act in certain negative ways towards us that triggers our shame. On the deepest of levels, until we feel and release our shame, we will continue to be the cause of the effects that we draw towards ourselves, through our false conclusions about life.
But, whatever we can see and feel, we can heal, change, dispel and dissolve. Shame creates intense self-consciousness and our sense of "apartness" from other people. As an antidote, we can admit our shame to ourselves or a trusted other. Bringing shame into a sense of love and inclusion with of our matured awareness removes the spell of separateness that has plagued us for most of our life.
Shame isolates us. It is helpful when going through feelings of shame, especially for those who have suffered trauma and abuse, to keep a dedicated journal where we simply and honestly write, draw, or paint what we are ashamed of.
If shame could speak, it would say, "I have to be alone in my suffering." We can communicate our shame to dispel its charge, bridge our consciousness to what stands apart from our loving awareness, and render our embarrassment and mortification neutral. Shame has an uncomfortable charge of feeling devastatingly isolated. But when shame is revealed into the loving, witnessing light of our awareness, it dissipates and melts back into the oneness of our caring heart.
There is no shame in keeping a shame journal. On a final personal note, I can share with you that I have created several entire "shame journals" that have helped me to process my mistaken, self-isolating beliefs about myself through writing, drawing and mandala making. As Carl Jung said, “Shame is a soul eating emotion.” Whatever is separate from our soul is shrouded in the darkness of shame. So, when we write about our shame with mature empathy, and the willingness to embrace it in our inclusive awareness, it cannot survive.
* Informed and Inspired by the psychological and spiritual pathwork of Eva Pierrakos.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 75 - Spontaneous Collage Scrap Journal
- Old drawings and paintings, rubbings, colored papers
- Magazine collage scraps, tissue paper
- Scissors and a glue stick
Loosening up Your Creativity
Collages that take very little thought, time or effort can inadvertantly evoke an unknown feeling, a new idea, or a fresh longing. Leftover collage scraps - colorful papers, magazine clippings, rubbings, words, old drawings and paintings - can be created into quick, experimental collages.
- Create fast. Glue down scraps in under two minutes per page.
- Glue your favorite, most eloquent scraps in your journal right away. Work on many pages at once. Never feel pressured to finish a page. Add to each page over time.
- Keep it simple. Practice making intuitive, loose compositions. Don't think. Arrange quickly. Glue peices down without deliberation.
Be Happy Truthful and Free
A sponaneous collage journal is the messy visual form of what writer Brenda Ueland advises, "Create every day, as fast and carelessly, or as often as you possibly can."
Don't be afraid to make many, awkward or uneloquent collages. Allow yourself to create everything - startling, remarkable, ordinary or ugly collages. Do not worry about compostion. Glue scraps down quickly without thought. Listen to your instincts. Play completely.
After several months have passed, or your journal is full, take a good, long look at it. See what you have created in your messy freedom. Note the unexpected pages in your journal that have vitality, brilliance and beauty.
See the awkwardness of your pages with equal curiosity and respect. See the patterns in your choices, the colors you love, the sameness and variations of your subject matter. See your compositions with reverence.
After you fully contemplate your messy collage scrap journal, intuitively write, "The theme of this journal is...." Reflect on how the theme of your journal reflects you inner and outer life at this period of time.
Seeing Unconscious Patterns in Your Creativity
Spontaneous visual art illuminates what is normally vague or hidden. When you reflect on your journal ask yourself the following questions:
1. What do you see in your spontaneous collage journal that you do not see in your everyday life?
2. What do your experimental pages express to you? Are they dark and somber? Are they free and wild? Are they simple? Complex? Messy? Neat?
3. What predominant pattern does your journal express about yourself at this time?
3. What does your collage journal tell you about a possible change you need to make in your life right now?
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 74 - Physical Repetition to Calm Anxiety
Repetitive Action to Relieve Anxiety Induced Restlessness
Emotional inner work is often intensely uncomfortable. Sometimes quiet, calming activities that call for sitting still and silently witnessing our feelings feels impossible.
Any emotional memory that is difficult to look at will have intense anxiety "sitting on top" of it. Holding 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, feel 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 calmly present and aware. 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 repetivive to discharge excessive anxiety.
Repetitive Action to Regain Presence
Engaging in repetitious physical action balances the mind and the body. Repetive 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 feelings can be more clearly seen, felt and released. As we relax through the process of repetitive physical movement, and begin to unwind the intensity of the tension arising in our body, submerged feelings arise and insight becomes possible. 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 when we try to sit still and feel our emotions. 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 more subtle inner-feeling work.
Translating Anxious Restlessness into Repetitive Physical and Creative Action
- Go on a walking meditation repeating a soothing or sacred word.
- Squeeze clay, or create repetitive balls or ropes out of clay.
- Weed or dig in the garden, focusing on each repetitive movement.
- Wash dishes with deep attention. Hold the dish with one hand and pay attention to the scrubbing with the other hand.
- Swim laps and count the strokes.
- Finger paint, moving your fingers around repetitively.
- Paint repetitive shapes with a paintbrush, repeating colors.
- Draw a zendoodle repeating finely detailed patterns, meditatively with your pen.
- Color with crayons and enjoy the repetitive strokes of the crayon.
- Practice gentle, repetitive yoga movements.
- Dance by systematically focusing on each part of your body from the bottom to the top. Create a repetitive dance with your toes, your heels, your calves, your knees and so on.
- Throw and catch a ball with a friend.
- Climb stairs, while counting them
- Run for one minute and walk for one minute, and repeat until your anxiety has dissipated.
- Throw stones into the water.
- Walk and memorize an inspiring poem. Repeat the poem out loud as you walk.
- Clean your entire house, focusing on the vigorous repetitive movements.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 73 - Healing Perfectionism - Understanding Your Idealized Mask
- Journal and pen
- Collage materials, magazines that you regularly enjoy, scissors and glue stick
The Mask and Childhood Hurts
Everyone of us has a mask self, and until we heal the wounds from our childhood by re-experiencing 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 hurts into our current reality.
Because our mask is inauthentic, we experience continual rejection. 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 excellent 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 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-committment, 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.
Transforming the Mask
1. Giving up the idea that we can avoid imperfection, disappointment and rejection: The mask is doomed to fail and to create more misery than it was supposed to prevent, because it is based on the false idea that we can avoid imperfection, disappointment, and rejection. So, when we consent to feeling our human pains, flaws, and struggles, we begin to lessen the attachment that we have to our mask.
2. Grieving the untenable idealized self - Transformation of the mask includes the process of grieving the death of our idealized self, realizing that it is a non-alive version of ourselves andthat must be let go of if we are to become who we really are.
3. Re-experiencing the childhood hurt that created the mask - Beneath all of our emotional reactions to our current life problems is our hurt about not being loved. The hurt of your current problem is the same hurt from a long time ago. And, once you synchronize your current hurt with your past hurt - you will see the simiarities in the people who are currently triggering your hurt with your parents. Hurt always comes from trying to "win" love and feeling defeated.
The Mask as it Reflects the Higher Self
The mask is always a distortion of our higher-self qualities. We draw upon our real strength of love, power or serenity in order to create an imitation of the intense vulnerability of our higher self. In protection of our most precious higher self, we depend on the lower self personality parts and mask to protect us.
When we "imitate" our higher self through our mask ,we hope to be both invulnerable and acceptable to others at the same time.
- Love Mask - The fear of the lower self distorts our capacity for love into submission and dependency.
- Power Mask - The self-will of the lower self distorts true power into agression and and control.
- Serenity Mask - The pride of the lower self distorts serenity into unhealthy detachment and withdrawal.
The Antidote to Perfectionism and Self-Rejection
The fear that our true selves are unacceptable is what made us create the mask in the first place. But out phoniness actually bring the very rejection that we most fear. We then get caught in a viscious cycle of creating a more perfect mask and then creating more rejection.
The principle antidote to help heal and release the mask is to see, accept, and love ourselves as we are, so that we can release the fear of not being loved and accepted by others. We can then reclaim our genuine higher self qualities in their original form.
When we emanate from our authentic higher self, we find people are genuinely attracted to who we are, thus setting in motion a benign circle of reinforcement that encourages us to continue to express our true self.
Choose a magazine that encapsulates the ideas, people and places that you most admire and make a quick collage of your most "perfect self". Who do you feel you "should be" to be loved, accepted, admired and respected? Reflect on your collage as you do the writing exercise below - inspired and informed by counsellor Susan Thesenga.
1. Name the five perfectionistic demands that you have of yourself - Where do these demands come from? Whom are you trying to please, or at least prevent from hurting or rejecting you, by making these demands on yourself? Do these demands conform to either your mother's or father's demands on you? What demands do you see coming from the larger society that you live in?
2. Pick an outer problem, conflict, or disharmony in your life right now - Write out a dialogue in your journal between your inner critic and your current outer conflict. For example, if someone in your life is criticizing you, see how your inner critic speaks to you in the same way.
3. Begin noting, over the next week, when you are in your idealized mask in your interaction with others. Take note of your reactions when your idealized self feels threatened with exposure or penetration by others. Note the emotional vulnerability you feel at these moments.
4. Decide which is your predominant mask - love, power, or serenity. Note examples in your journal of how your mask shows up in your daily life.
5. See how your primary mask is a pseudo-solution to the problem of your childhood pain. Connect your childhood pain to your mask. Note these connections in your journal.
6. In your journal, take current problem in your life and strip it down to the basic feeling of not being loved. Then see if you can find where the original childhood hurt with your parents is the same or similar to the present day feeling of not being loved. Write about the correlations in your journal.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 72 - Mindfulness for Obsessive Compulsive Tendencies
Increasing Concentration and Calm
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. The truth is we may all have some perfectionistic of obsessive tendencies that intensify during times of emotional distress.
Whenever we have mild or extremely exacting fixating tendencies we can use the gift of such a meticulous mind to concentrate on the positive practice of concentrated breathing and mind training to increase inner peace and emotional healing. Or we can employ the practice of repetition in art to positively focus our mind into harmonious creative absorption.
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 creative activity..
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. 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.
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, emotional 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 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 creative within containment. All repetitive creative tasks still offer the spontaneous choice of color, texture and placement within the structure, but contain a calming structure with orderly tasks.
Nine Stages of Training the Mind
Another way to allow both sides of our nature - spontaneous and structured - is to practice meditative mind training to practice precision, dedication and discipline in a way that provides a safe container for the chaos of the unknown to become contained within a calm and stabilized mind.
In my experience in facilitating art for people with obsessive compulsive tendencies in my studio work is that they demonstrate great precision in their creative work. They are able to concentrate for long hours in in their art projects, and are calmed by intense focus.
This particular gift and tenacity for concentration in people who have obsessive, compulsive tendencies can contribute to a successful meditative practice.
Training the mind can employ perfectionist tendencies in a positive and helpful way. Buddhist teacher Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche illustrates a map of the meditative process to train our wild and busy minds into perfect peaceful equanimity.
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.
Following is my encapsulation of Sakkyong Mipham Rinpoche's precice description of the nine stages of meditation.
Map of the Meditative Process
Developing Stability - The first four stages — placement, continual placement, repeated placement and close placement —have to do with developing stability.
Developing Clarity - Stages five and six—taming and pacifying—have to do with developing clarity.
Building Strength - And the last three stages—thoroughly pacifying, one-pointed and equanimity—have to do with building strength.
This moment of placement starts when we extract our mind from its engagement with events, problems, thoughts and emotions. We take our wildly chaotic, busy mind and place it on the breath. This continual attention upon our breath feels very physical. It’s as deliberate as placing a rock on top of a leaf.
In order for placement to be successful, we have to formally acknowledge that we’re letting go of concepts, thoughts and emotions: “Now I’m placing my mind upon the breath.”
The moment of placement gives our meditation a crisp, clean start. If we begin in a vague or ambiguous way, then our meditation will only continue to be vague and ambiguous. How we carefully we place our mind in the first stage will directly affect the development of the next.
After that first moment, each time you choose to recognize and acknowledge a thought, and return your consciousness to the breath, you’re learning placement. It’s such a small act, so innocuous, but it’s one of the most courageous things you can do. When you recognize and release each thought, you can take pride in yourself. You’ve overcome laziness.
Each time you remember to place your mind on the breath, you’re moving forward and are growing. Just by letting a thought go, you’re extracting yourself from concepts, negative emotions and bewilderment. You’re letting go of the need to be endlessly entertained and consumed. And, you have to do it again, and again and again.
The more we’re able to gather our attention and focus, the stronger our mind becomes, the stronger the meditative experience becomes, and the stronger the positive results become. We know we’re able to place our minds properly when we can hold our focus on the breathing for roughly twenty-one cycles without our mind becoming enormously distracted.
2. Continual Placement
Placing our mind on the breath is now fairly easy. We’re experiencing how it feels to be on the breath, to be continually in placement. When discursiveness and distraction take us off the trail, by and large we’re able to implement placement and it get back on the breath.
Another reason we’re able to successfully place our mind on the breath is that we have confidence in the reasons why we’re meditating. We do it with enthusiasm because we know it will bring us peace. We see the futility of outside concerns, fantasies, thoughts and emotions. We’re willing to give them up at least for the period of our meditation.
When resting our mind on the breathing and relating to our thoughts with ease becomes the norm, we’re coming to the end of this stage. A benchmark is that we’re about to rest our minds for roughly 108 cycles of the breath without being caught in distraction. Through 108 breaths, in and out, we can be mindful of the breathing.
At this stage our mindfulness and stability last only so long; then our mind drifts off. But when the mainstay of our practice is that we can stay on the breathing for 108 breaths, giving ourselves a little wiggle room in that we will be neither completely still nor completely distracted. Then we’ve graduated from the second to the third stage, which is known as repeated placement.
3. Repeated Placement
The Tibetan word for this stage is len, which means to retrieve, to gather, to bring back. We’ve learned how to place our mind and how to continue to place our mind, but occasionally a thought still breaks out like a wild horse galloping across the plains. In the first two stages this happened incessantly. By the third stage it happens only occasionally.
As this stage progresses, the speed and efficiency with which we retrieve our mind increases. By comparison, the way we extracted ourselves from thoughts in earlier stages looks messy. Sometimes it was like quicksand—the harder we tried to get out, the more we were embroiled. But now, because mindfulness is so strong, we’re able to remove ourselves with precision.
By the end of this stage we’ve achieved stability. Mindfulness is so potent that we’re able to remain on the breath without ever being fully distracted. Awareness is also becoming more astute. We’re beginning to catch thoughts before they occur.
Our meditation isn’t as clear and vibrant as it could be, but it feels good and peaceful because we’ve stabilized our minds. Throughout the course of a session, our mind always remains in the theater of meditation. This is an admirable accomplishment.
Before the end of the third stage, sometimes we were present for our practice and sometimes we weren’t. Now we’re there for all of it. This is stability. It didn’t happen because we hit ourselves over the head with an overly simplified meditation technique. We achieved it gently and precisely through repetition, consistency, view, attitude, intention, proper posture and good surroundings.
4. Close Placement
The entry to the fourth stage, which is known as close placement, is marked by nondistraction. We always remain close to the breath. That’s when we know we’ve crossed the border. This is stability. We know that even though the horse will wander here and there, it won’t be leaving the trail.
Our meditation now takes on a different twist. Previously, our main concern was not to be distracted from the breath. We were worried that our mind was going to be sucked back into everyday problems. We were always wondering if we’d be strong enough to return to the breath. Now we’re more relaxed. We’re no longer wondering if we can stay on the breath because we know we can.
We’re no longer concerned about outside influences pulling us away from meditation because we know they won’t. Our confidence is heightened. Now we’re concerned about the quality of our meditation—the texture, the experience.
By and large, we’ve overcome the obstacles of laziness and forgetting the instructions. These obstacles were bad because they kept us from meditating. By the end of the third stage and into the fourth stage we’re dealing with the obstacles of elation and laxity. Either extreme has distracting results. However, since by now we’re always remaining at the scene of our practice, these are considered good problems to have.
In Tibet we’re warned that at the fourth stage we might be fool enough to think we’ve achieved enlightenment or high realization—the mind feels so strong and stable and good. Because the struggle with our mind has been reduced greatly, there’s a quality of joy and ease.
But if we enjoy the stability of the mind too much, it will become too relaxed. We might not reach the other stages. Hence the obstacle of laxity. Our mind is stable but not clear.
Even though the accomplishments at the third and fourth stages are heroic, there’s further to go. In the fifth stage we’re able to tighten up our meditation by bringing in more clarity. This stage is known as taming because we begin to experience the true fruits of a tamed mind, something that we began to cultivate long ago in the first stage.
Taming here is the experience of being able to make our mind workable. Our mind is not perfectly still. We still have discursive thoughts. But we’re no longer struggling.
The harmony and synergy create joy. A traditional metaphor for what we experience at this stage is the delight of a bee drawing nectar from a flower. Meditation tastes good, joyous. If you’ve ever had a hard time and then suddenly felt the pressure lift, you might have briefly known such bliss and liberation.
The sixth stage is known as pacifying. A great battle has taken place and there is victory. We know we’ve won. We feel tranquil and vibrant like mountain greenery after a thunderstorm. Everything has been watered and energized. There is tremendous clarity.
We’re still working with a mind that is sometimes tight and sometimes loose. In our practice we still have to make many little adjustments. But in making these adjustments we’re no longer frantic, as we might have been in the first few stages. Then it was questionable that we would ever make our mind an ally, and now the peace we feel tells us that we have. Our meditation is joyous and clear. We begin to experience not only mind’s natural harmony, but also its inherent strength.
At this stage we also feel excitement. We begin to see the possibilities of what we can accomplish with our tamed mind. Before, this relationship was a burden, but now it’s full of possibilities.
7. Thoroughly Pacifying
The battle may be over, but there are still a few little subtle thoughts, mostly about pleasure. We may be slightly attached to how good meditation feels. There are little dualistic rumblings. Although we know that they’re not going to disrupt our meditation, we can’t just sit back and ignore them.
In thoroughly pacifying, we don’t dispel the thoughts as we did in stage four. Now we seduce them, like snow falling into fire. Our meditation is becoming so strong that when thoughts and emotions encounter its heat they naturally dissolve.
Remember the waterfall of thoughts we felt when we first sat down on the cushion to tame our minds? It’s become a lake with only a few little ripples.
By the eighth stage, known as one-pointed, we’re sitting there completely awake, clear and knowing. This is possible because we’re no longer distracted. Our meditation has developed all the attributes of perfection, which is what we will accomplish at the ninth stage. The only difference is that at the beginning of meditation we still have to make a slight effort to point our mind in the direction of the breath.
Our meditation has come to perfection. When we sit down we engage with the breath in a completely fluid and spontaneous manner. Our mind is strong, stable, clear and joyous. We feel a complete sense of victory. We could meditate forever. Even in the back of our mind, there are no traces of thoughts. We’re in union with the present moment. Our mind is at once peaceful and powerful. There’s a sense of equanimity.
This is perfection. Our mind remains motionless but alive with energy. The mind has actually grown—in strength as well as size. We feel magnanimous, expansive. This is the fruition of peaceful abiding. Now we have a mind that is able to focus in any endeavor. We feel centered and confident.
It is a challenging and interesting exercise to see how many times during a normal day you can remember to focus your awareness on your breathing, letting go of thoughts, while learning to stay with the challenging emotions and energies that live below the thoughts. Staying with the pre-story emotions and energies no matter how chaotic they feel is the way to develop a strong and stable mind.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity #71 - Understanding the Transpersonal Therapy Process
- 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, and to hide our emotional pain, even from ourselves. This mask or false self dampens down the vibrancy and love of our core truth.
2. The Wounded Child/Ego/Lower Self: The next layer 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. Even though this self-protection causes great pain and isolation, our lower self does not trust in love.
Our disturbing emotions and untrue beleifs cover up the love that is always there. 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 armoring inheart and body - that keeps love out.
3. The Core/Higher Self: We must look honestly at our mask self, heal the emotional pain that lives below it, before we can experience and embody our authentic core self on an ongoing basis. We are, at our center, a pulsating core that is love and that knows our pure goodness and unconditional loveability. This energetic core self follows the laws of physics, and 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.
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 where you are in your therapeutic process:
1. Mask (surface self) - Do you live mainly in your mask and connect with people only on a surface level?
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 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 feelings, 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.
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.
The following journal explorations are inspired and informed by Pathwork teacher and editor Donovan Thesenga:
In creating our mask we try to make ourselves into our ideal self-image. We create our mask to "win love" and meet the expectations of others. Whenever we fear we are not loved as we are in some way we will solidify our compensating mask.
1. Take some time in your journal to describe how you create your mask on a daily basis.
2. What is your mask personality like? Who do you try to be each day?
3. Who do you think you have to be be loved in your current life situations?
4. Reflect on the love you tried to win as a child. Who did your parents expect you to be?
5. Describe your idealized self in detail. Who would you be if your were "perfect?" How do you specifically feel you have to act and dress to be accepted?
6. How much of your mask self do you express in your daily life? Do you live from your mask most of the time, sometimes, or only rarely?
Hidden Ego/Lower Self Exploration:
Our hidden world of egocentricity is everything that we do not like about ourselves. Our mask self covers up our shadow side of self. From our mask we do not want to admit our negative emotions; fear, anger, sadness, and our distorted beliefs and misperceptions that we have about ourselves about why we are unworthy of love and attention.
1. Describe in your journal what you most fear that others might find out about you if they got close to you?
2. Where do you feel inadequate in your life?
3. What do you not like about yourself?
4. How, particularly, do you feel unworthy of love? Where are you "not enough" yet?
5. What are your darkest beliefs about yourself that you fear might be discovered by others? What is your deepest shame.
6. How much of your ego self do you express in your daily life? Do you live from your ego most of the time, sometimes, or only rarely?
Higher Self Exploration:
Our innermost core - our higher self - is part of the universal intelligence, and is free, spontaneous, loving, giving and intuitive. In our moments of contact with our higher self, we feel true creativity, happiness and streaming pleasure. In our authentic self we feel infinitely good, abundant, loveable and worthy of good things. We can get in touch with our high self through being honest, giving from the heart without thought of personal gain or reward, through caring and loving each other, and through spontaneous creativity, meditation and prayer.
1. In your journal, explore who you are in your highest self. Describe the fullness and poise that you display when you are living from your best self.
2. When in your life do you express the highest in yourself?
3. What particular situations do you express your highest qualities?
4. Who were you born to be in your life?
5. Who are you without your limitations? If you had no fears or barriers to your full-actualization who would you be?
6. How much of your higher self do you express in your daily life? Do you live from your higher self most of the time, sometimes, or only rarely?
Expressive Art Therapy Exercise # 70 - Exposure Therapy to Reduce Fear and Anxiety
- Journal and a pen
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 kind of "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 presence in the face of fear.
It is helpful before beginning your journaling process, to have a plan for how to function in the midst of fear. Practicing scenarios of courage in your mind will start to inform your actions. Imagining yourself facing your fears successfully will translate into more strength in 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.
1. Starting with your mildest fear, write out a list of what you fear the least - to what you fear the most.
2. With your mildest, least anxiety evoking fear, construct the architecture of your fear in your mind and body.
3. Become familiar with how your fear operates; the thoughts that accompany it, the body contractions, and the behaviors that avoid or react to it.
4. With relaxation strategies or coping techniques in place, close your eyes and prepare to address your fear in a new way. When you can vividly feel your fear, open your eyes and write the details of your fear experience in your journal describing what you see, hear, touch, feel and think.
5. Note your level of anxiety from 1-10, with ten being extreme fear.
6. Daily, imagine facing the same fear. Continue prolonging your presence to that same fear scenario each day until your anxiety lessens.
7. As you are hold presence for your fear without dissociation and distraction, it is helpful to place your hand on your heart to help keep it open. Your heart always knows how to move through fear.
Visual Representations of Fear
"We defend ourselves from that which we are unwilling or unable to deal with and make conscious." - Strephon Kaplan Williams
Sometimes fear and anxiety feels "free floating" and without a cause but there is always an untrue thought underneath fear. Fear always reminds us of how we could not mentally and emotionally cope with difficult situations as children.
1. Underlying all emotional pain is a mistake in thinking, belief, or choice. Because fear always confuses thinking - it is helpful to ask yourself, "What am I afraid of?"
2. After asking this question, open up an old magazine. (National Geographic magazines contain good symbolic imagery to represent the psyche.) Spontaneously choose 2-3 images, and one or two words or phrases. Cut then out and glue them in your journal.
3. If you do not initially understand your collage, spend an entire day asking, "What am I afraid of?" The willingness to know the answer will draw it up from your deeper mind.
4. When your willingness to understand becomes stronger than your fear of, the answer will appear.
Note Your Anxiety Avoidance Patterns First
As you become more present to your fear, your common anxiety avoidance mechanisms will come up to be dealt with first. Stopping your avoidance behaviors is essential to access and disconfirm your fears.
To face your fears fully you might also imagine that you are not receiving outer reassurance for your fears. Outer reassurance is a substitute for true inner confidence and self-mastery over fear. Facing your fears inwardly builds strength.
Mental Avoidance and Emotional Numbing
With imaginal exposure to fear, the aim is to be able to practice tolerating and functioning in the face of fear before shutting down mentally, emotionally or physically. Increasingly empowered presence to fears that previously would have closed down your life builds the ability to heal anxiety disorders, panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorders, and post traumatic stress.
Addictions, for example, mask the anxiety that hides deeper fear. Some of us turn to drugs, alcohol or food to soothe anxiety, and avoid hidden fears. Repeatedly stretching into the capacity to stay present in the face of anxiety builds great strength. Addictions become much less gripping when anxiety is faced, and deeper fears are faced and disassembled.
Journal Practice for Facing Fear
The following journaling guidelines are adapted from trauma therapist Sharon L. Johnson.
- Create a safe journaling environment where you can practice sitting with your anxiety without shutting down. This might include lighting a candle or creating an altar dedicated to the emotional and mental strength that you intend to build.
- Write out the hierarchy of what emotions and experiences that you fear, from the least to the most fearful.
- Become familiar with your anxiety avoidance mechanisms. Note exactly how you shut down your emotions. Catch yourself closing around fear in your daily life, Find ways open up again by doing the opposite of what you normally do when you close down.
- Know that structured, timed, repeated exposure to the hierarchy of your fears gives you the opportunity to discomfirm your fears one by one. Set aside 10 minutes a day to sit in presence to your fear. Do not graduate to the next fear on your list until the lesser fear before it has been challenged and discomfirmed.
- Know your fear toleration point and stretch a bit further each day. When you expose yourself to distressing fears, you give your mind and body an opportunity to adjust to the distressing feelings that you would normally close down to. Teach yourself how to relax, self-soothe, and reopen. Take a break after you practice staying open to your fears. Reward yourself with a healthy, fun activity.
- Practice facing your fears everyday to build confidence. Take small, structured outer steps each day to build upon and expand your fear toleration point in your daily life. Lean towards your fear instead of away from it.
- Practice contolling and being in charge of your fear. Intensifying your fear through the thoughts you think and then relax your fear through opposite thoughts. See your power of choice.
- Know that progressively facing your anxieties and fears without shutting down is a self-care practice. You can say to yourself, " I am not going to let this fear control me anymore. I am taking my life back."
- Know that you can consciously stop your "fear toleration practice" any time you want to.
- Have a list of tools and practices to calm yourself. Self-soothing is an essential skill to develop. See Self-Soothing for Emotional Overwhelm.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 69 - Coping with Anxiety, Panic and Post-Traumatic Stress
- 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. It is, however, 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, love and bonding 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 traumatic 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. We can give ourselves the love and presence that others in the past could not offer.
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. You can choose to become profoundly present to the intensity of your emotions instead of reflexively resisting and avoiding them.
Repressing emotions can show up as worried, obsessive thoughts, irritability, frustration and despair. When fear and anxiety become unbearable you can trust that deeper, more uncomfortable emotions are arising to be seen and loved in your unconditional attention.
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.
Becoming Intensely Present to Emotional Pain
While it is instinctive to avoid pain - fighting emotional pain is a pointless battle that will progressively weaken confidence and strength over time. Healing past trauma most often involves learning to be lovingly present to emotional pain that we normally try to shut down and avoid.
Whatever fear or pain that we have been unwilling to feel, process and become present for from the past will continue to knock on our door through the symptoms of anxiety, fear, and panic. The emotional pain that might have been integrated though love, bonding and support in the past waits for the right circumstances of psychological and emotional strength, and/or outer support, before it comes to the surface for integration.
When the body and brain is allowed to more fully process a traumatic event, suffering decreases dramatically and functioning in daily life improves. To heal post-traumatic stress we must become profoundly present for the terrible memories, challenging flashbacks and intensely difficult emotions with great love and understanding.
If you are processing emotional pain on your own it is essential that you learn honor your limits and learn not to not process past your breaking point. When working with intense emotional pain it is often helpful or necessary to have connection with a loving other or to reach out for professional support.
Emotional processing involves leaning past your normal limits of what you are willing to feel. It is possible to learn how to stay open to upset, grief, anguish, ect. while taking care to not go too far all at once so that you cannot function in your daily life. See Self-Soothing for Emotional Overwhelm.
Power over the Fear of Feeling Emotional Pain
When we become present enough for the emotional residues of past experiences, without shutting down, emotional pain no longer has the power to stop our life from progressing. In our mentally confused, emotionally undeveloped, and physically distracted world this is true accomplishment that relatively few achieve.
Empowerment and Reconnection Through Art Therapy
Because the experiences of trauma include disempowerment and disconnection from others, the aim of healing must include reconnecting to lost aspects of yourself through loving empathy. Following is a way to heal through art therapy and the body is inspired by Focusing-oriented art therapist Laury Rappaport. See her book for more information on Focusing-oriented art therapy.
I simplify her process for therapists below and share how to apply it to personal processing.
Three Stages of Healing
According to Judith Herman, author of Trauma and Recovery, the three stages of healing are: establishing safety, remembrance and mourning, and reconnection with ordinary life.
Stage I: Creating Safety - Because post-traumatic stress is held unconsciously in the body in the form of fear, it is important to learn how to safely connect to your body, for progressively longer periods of time without becoming overwhelmed with fear. See Exposure Journaling Therapy to Reduce Fear and Anxiety.
You can practice feeling safety in your body by relaxing tension, and consciously deep breathing. Relaxing your habitual hyper-vigilance allows repressed emotions to come up for love and witnessing at your own pace.
You are always in charge of your healing process. You can use your closing mechanisms to stop your emotional processing at any time. You can decide when if and when it safe to look within, and for how long.
Stage 2: Remembrance and Mourning (Working through the Trauma) - Once you feel safe enough to connect with your body, and to notice and stay open to the nuances of what you are feelings, you may be be ready to begin working through an emotional layer of your traumatic experience.
This phase involves loving and accepting remembrance and the mourning of your traumatic experience(s), as well as verbal or non-verbal expressions about the experience. It also includes an honest assessment of the effects your trauma has on your current level of daily functioning in the world. See Unburdening the Past with Expressive Art Therapy
Stage 3: Reconnection with Ordinary Life - This stage of healing is characterized by venturing out and doing the things that you have been avoiding in life because you have been spending so much of your life energy avoiding emotions.
When you lovingly heal emotional pain you can begin creating the life that you truly want. This stage involves focusing on the forward movement of your life. It is characterized by asking for and receiving intuitive guidance about how to move forard.
Art Therapy Process
Create an Imaginal Place of Safety
Imagine a place of safety. Your safe place might be one that you already know or you may need to create one in your imagination. It may be a spiritual place where you are helped with loving energy, caring ancestors, or your Higher Power. As you describe the images, the colors, the sounds and silences of your safe place, take that whole feeling of safety into your body.
See if there is an image or a word that describes this safe place. Using art materials such as pencil crayons, colored makers, magazine pictures ect. create an image of this safe place. A key word might accompany this image. Know that with your imagery or key word, you can return to this place of emotional safety whenever you need to.
Stage 1: Safe Space/Creating Distance from Emotional Issues: Next, imagine taking your emotional problems outside of your body. Visually place your emotional pain outside of your body at a distance that promotes a feeling of well-being so you can look at it and decide what you want to work with today.
Possibilities for a visual representation include drawing symbols of each issue, or writing your emotional issues on construction paper; tearing or cutting out the words that represent each struggle. You might draw a representation of your body free of issues and intuitively glue your symbols and words at an appropriate distance.
Alternately, another art therapy tool to help facilitate safety for survivors of abuse, is to invite the image or presence of a protector, based on a real person or an imagined or spiritual protector. Describe the image of your protector. What is the 'whole feel of this protector? See if there is an image that matches the feeling of your protector, and perhaps draw or collage it.
Stage 2: Remembrance and Mourning (Working Through the Trauma)
Looking at the list of your emotional issues, check inside and choose the arising feeling that you want to emotionally process today. Focus on whatever emotion is most prominent, and sense the whole feeling of it in your body. See if there is an image that matches or describes this inner felt sense.
Using markers, paint, or other art materials, create the image of your felt sense. While creating your art, check in to see if your image resonates and feels like the right fit. Notice as you symbolize and externalize your inner feeling there may be "click" of rightness, as if just by seeing it, the emotion shifts, perhaps grateful that you have noticed it. See Body Focusing Journal for Processing Difficult Feelings.
STAGE 3: Reconnection With Ordinary Life
Imagine the emotional issue (or the thing being worked on) is all healed. What would that look and feel like? Sense that healed state in your body. See if there is an image that matches the felt sense of your healed state. Using markers, paint, collage or other art materials, create the image your healed state.
Ask this feeling and corresponding image. .. "So what's in the way of this being all healed?" Allow time for the felt sense to answer. Now ask, "So now what is needed to bring about this healing?" Allow time for the felt sense to answer. Now ask, "And what's a good step in the right direction towards this healing?" Again, allow time for the felt sense to answer and recored all the answers in your journal.
Asking your felt sense questions, about how you can better cope with your daily life, may be done with or without art-making.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity #68 - Restoring Passion Through Gestalt and Expressive Movement
- Loose, comfortable clothes
- A quiet, private room to self-express
We do not need to go into memory to heal the past. Any part of our mind or emotional body that is still hurting and stuck in the past will always be available to express itself in the present moment. In Gestalt therapy our "unfinished business" from the past can be discovered in the here-and-now, and expressively worked through with body movement and emotional and vocal expression.
The more we connect to ourselves, through honest self-expression, the more passion we will feel. In Gestalt therapy, our disturbing experiences , needs, blocks, fixations, emotional blind spots and unconscious split-off aspects of our personality can be dialogued with a therapist, a trusted other, or with our own higher witnessing consciousness.
Exploring Passion and Withdrawal
Our withdrawal keeps us stuck in our problems. In any moment, we are either connecting to or withdrawing away from other people and the environment. Most of us give up extending our authentic truth early in life. Yet we can only understand who we really are by how we extend love.
The aim of life is to learn how to extend more of our unique truth into life. Passion is the charismatic giving forth of our truthful expression. To restore passion, we can learn what causes us to withdraw, and what inspires us to extend our energy.
We get caught in our patterns of withdrawal from childhood and our muscle of extending love can become atrophied. As adults, our habitual contractions seem to be who we are. As adults we can re-develop the capacity to extend love and passion from the places where we hurt inside.
Constellations therapist Bert Helliger explains how our reaching out movements become trapped in our body postures: "When the reaching out movement is interrupted (we recoil and separate) the body pulls back and the head goes up. The opposite movement would be bending the head forward and down, and stretching the hands out front."
See how you feel in both postures of extending and withdrawing. When you explore withdrawal vs. the extension of love, you can "sculpt" your body into the shape of withdrawal so that you can creatively and gesturally feel how you withdraw. In contrast, extend your body forward in the way that you uniquely love. Feel the difference in your heart as you give outwardly and then alternately contract back in.
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 talking about them. Through expressive Gestalt movement, you can try on new possible selves, explore an opposite of forbidden quality, express strong emotions, and play with the multidimensionality of your existence.
Exploring the opposite polarities in our character offers the possibility of change. Once we understand how we close, we can practice the opposite gesture of openness. If, for example, your movements of hurt and withdrawal have you closing your arms over your chest and pulling back your energy, the opposite movement might be opening up the arms and moving forward with your energy. These "opening up" body gestures, repeated over time, will help you to open up and change your biology. As you practice the new neural pathways of openness and passion in your brain - you begin to sculpt a new you.
Experiments in Expressive Movement and Vocal Expression
Following are some of the ways that use expressive movement and vocal expression to restore passion - inspired by Gestalt therapy. This series of exercises can be worked through privately or with a trusted, witnessing other.
1. Present Moment Spontaneous Expression - Wherever we were unsuccessful at expressing our needs, feelings, and upsets in the past, we can express right now gesturally, vocally, and emotionally in the present moment. Standing alone in a room, or with a trusted other, spontaneously speak and move your body. Listen inside and without thought, allow your body to move you. Feel free to be dramatic. Exaggerate and amplify your verbal and body expression to feel the opposite dimension of your outward passionate expression.
2. Eternalizing Internal Dialogue - This exercise is excellent for when you are struggling with two parts of self that cannot come to an agreement. You can use empty chairs to represent the various inner parts that are fighting to get their needs known. Set out two or more chairs, and as each part of self, sit in each designated chair, and externalize your inner conversation. Continue to talk out loud with your various parts until your conflict is resolved.
3. Expressing to an External Person - in this expressive experiment you can set out two chairs and begin a dialogue with another person who you could not normally talk to in your everyday life. This might be a person who is closed to your point of view, or someone who has hurt or rejected you. Practice clearly expressing yourself out loud. Be as angry and as expressive as you like. If you stutter or stumble with your change in communication style, say each sentence with more force - over and over again - until it comes out clear and strong.
You may also want to practice expressing yourself to a person that you have passionate feelings for, that for some reason might be inappropriate for you to express in real life. Allow yourself to say anything you need to say to this person out loud. Emote and stand up. Move your body as you express yourself if you feel inspired. Exaggerate your expression more than you would in daily life. Practice your self-expression when you are alone in your house or car, or out in nature, so that you can feel more fluid and comfortable being yourself in your daily, practical life.
4. Trying Out Opposite Behaviors - Working privately, or with a trusted, accepting other, can allow you to try out opposite aspects of your character that you do not normally express in your everyday life. Playing with opposites can be great fun. You can over-exaggerate unfamiliar behaviors to explore contrast and differences in your voice, movement and character.
If, for example, you are reserved and hesitant to approach people, you can practice in the safety of your own private space, going up to imaginary people and saying hello and telling them about yourself. Feel free to amplify your expression and say something outrageously different that what you would normally say. Revel in the freedom from your habitual carefulness. Pay special attention to your body postures and how they change your inner emotional states when you practice opposite behaviours.
5. Rehearing - Rehearsing, to reduce anxiety or fear about a needed step that needs to happen in your practical life can help make the unfamiliar more comfortable. Practicing a new way of being, over and over, helps the body to find its natural place of expression within new behaviors. This exercise can be done in the mirror to prepare for expressing yourself in front of a group or an audience.
6. Exaggerating and Repeating - The repression of feelings keeps us at a low level of energy where it becomes difficult to shift emotionally. When you intensify your feelings by exaggerating them through your voice and the intensity of your gestures, they will often "pop" into a higher and better feeling state.
If, for example, you never allowed yourself to express anger, simply repeat, over and over, "I am angry!" Allow your facial expressions to intensify and exaggerate in a way that you normally would not in your everyday life. As you intensify your voice and your movements, you can claim aspects of self that you have previously denied, with the love and acceptance of your higher witnessing self.
7. Staying with Feelings - An important part of Gestalt therapy is to keep your energy focused on your difficult feeling states until they shift. When we move toward and into what we normally wish to avoid, we create a forward movement. It is possible to stay with a difficult feeling until it is gone, and only a positive state remains.
Layers of feelings can be felt and released with an intensity of presence and focus, but usually one layer is enough for a movement session. Each layer that is released will bring a feeling of relief and respite, until the next layer comes up. Feeling emotional pain takes courage but we are always rewarded with increased strength and self-confidence when we are able to stay with difficult feelings until they change into more positive states.
8. Indebtedness - Often when we express the stronger emotions of anger, sadness, and grief, we can stay stuck in them and feel defeated by the circumstances in our life that seemed to have hurt us irreparably. Yet, those who have hurt us the most can invoke our greatest strengths.
Indebtedness is a powerful way to heal. A powerful exercise inspired by psychologist Chuck Spezzano called "Indebtedness to Those Who Seemed to Harm You" - adapted to voice and movement - invites you to focus on someone who has hurt you deeply. Imagine them before you and feel the hurt that they caused you, that you cannot seem to heal.
Say to the person who has hurt you, out loud, "Name....you have helped me to become..." Declare what strengths you have gained. Say, " I am grateful to you because..."
You might then choose to put on a soothing piece of music and dance your "thank-you." Thank the person who has harmed you for the particular strengths you have had to develop in your interactions with them. Repeat "thank-you" over and over as you move, and reverantly dance the particularity of the strength that you have had to build in relationship with a difficult other.
9. Acceptance - From the witnessing part of yourself which resides in the location of your heart, you can embrace yourself, be good to yourself, and love yourself. Whatever you fight inside of yourself will cause emotional pain. Whatever you accept about yourself you can feel fully, experience richly, and learn from.
Put on a piece of music that inspires self-love, confidence, or new strength. As you sing and dance, know that any part of yourself that you continue to resist will continue to hurt you. You might speak out loud to yourself as you dance, words of affirmation, and encouragement towards your hurting parts of self. You might enjoy holding your heart as you dance, spreading the warmth of your unconditional heart throughout your body.
10. Expressing True Passion - Untrue passion arises from urgency and need. It is a form of desperation which tries to take from others to heal the emptiness inside. You might explore untrue passion gesturally. Untrue passion on a body level usually seeks to suck what is outside - into itself - to fill an empty or hurting emotional hole. Being aware of this gesture can help you to interrupt your untrue passion, and express what is heartbroken through the exercises above.
The aim of all psychological and emotional processing is to come out of our habitual withdrawal and feel a full engagement with life again. We feel true passion when we fully express, heal and grow the our strength of presence in the midst of what previously would have brought us to our knees with emotional pain.
When we heal our hurt, by wholeheartedly accepting ourselves, and even being indebted to those who have hurt or repressed us for the strengths we have gained, we become willing to extend to life again. True passion is a total giving and extending what we have most needed emotionally in our past - forward from our whole heart, to help others. When we give to life this fully we become larger and stronger than our emotional pain.
"When we embrace life so fully, we feel swept away by it. We give ourselves to people so thoroughly that we are continuously falling in love with them. We do the same with our work or whatever we are doing, and enjoy it completely. We give ourselves so totally that we know and appreciate fully who or whatever we are in relationship with. When we taste a peach and the juices run down our face, everyone licks their lips."
- Chuck Spezzano
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 67 - Healing Trauma - Art Journaling for Therapy
When we experience trauma we feel unprotected and alone. Psychotherapist Belleruth writes, "Without belief in a fair and moral universe, a sense of control of one's fate, a coherent sense of self, and a continuous personal narrative, life makes no sense.
Living becomes a pointless exercise of getting through the day. People reeling from trauma are thrown into a crisis of meaning that goes far beyond disillusionment; they are plunged into and abyss of despair."
Creating a Caring World - One Page at a Time
The aim of a creating a self-caring art journal is to re-condition a safe, and caring world within. To create a caring world for ourselves, we can process and unravel disturbing thoughts and emotions gently as they naturally arise.
Digging for memories is not required. 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 a traumatic emotions over and over again, but to recognize where we have stopped moving forward. When we discover what pieces are missing, we can begin the process of re-conditioning 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 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.
Keeping an art journal allows what is hidden within to come forward in the form of words and imagery to visually see the needed change that is pressing for completion. Art journaling can allow memories that are intruding into the present moment to be seen, understood and cared for.
Memory can perpetuate 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 static quality of memories.
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. If you are new to art journaling you can explore How to Create an Experimental Art Journal.
1. Resetting your Nervous System - Cori writes: "The one fact of trauma cannot be emphasized enough: trauma changes your nervous system; therefore, a full recovery from trauma requires resetting the nervous system." This means managing anxiety, fear and arousal and finding ways to self-soothe. See Create a Calming Collage for more ideas on how to calm yourself through art journaling.
2. Freeing Your Body from Holding Patterns - Our bodies hold memories of trauma in the tissues. The defensive contractions and the aches and pains that result from withholding energy away from fully engaged living will stay in place if you do not work on 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. You can also process memories in an embodied way through Healing Traumatic Memories with Embodied Writing.
3. Expanding Your Capacity to Stay Present - The intensity of traumatic memories freezes past pain in place. Cori offers the following five directives for developing presence to interrupt the magnetic pull of trauma patterning:
Practice Grounding - The past is not here now. Connect to the details of your current life. Find your feet on the ground. Breathe. Look around you and journal with gratitude about the concrete details of the good that surround you in this moment.
Defuse Triggers and Self-Regulate - Keep a detailed account of the places, people, words, smells, and associations that trigger your fears. Learn to calm yourself when you are triggered and have tools to remind you how to stay open when you would normally close.
Remind yourself that the past is not here in the present. Write in your journal about how your present life is different from the past. Remind yourself of the strengths you have gathered over your life that you did not have when you were younger.
Learn to Recognize Dissociation - When you "leave" your body and your mind during periods of overwhelm, practice bringing yourself back to your current reality by identifying what is happening in the present moment by Journaling Through Emotional Overwhelm.
Develop a Sense of Safety - As 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 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 Intuitive Zendoodling in your art journal.
4. Mastering Your Trauma Symptoms - You can defuse your trauma symptoms by Unburdening the Past
5. Feel Your Emotions without being Controlled by Them - With traumatic patterning you can explore the negative belief system that cements your emotional pain in place through Healing Negative Core Beliefs.
6. Managing Memories and Finding Peace with What Happened - We experience traumatic memories through the eyes of younger parts of self. To defuse the past explore Age-Regression - An Integrative Journaling Exercise.
7. Coming to Terms with What Happened - Learning and eventually seeing how your trauma has made you into a stronger person involves grieving what you never had, and moving forward into life with the gifts and strengths that you developed through your hardships. Journal through Grief and Loss as well as Healing Grief Through Art Journaling Therapy so that you can move on. Explore Creating Intentions in your art journal to clarify how you will move forward with your life.
8. Making up for What You Missed - As you reclaim aspects of yourself that were frozen in the past, you can move forward into a fresh, more vibrant life. This involves making up for developmental needs that were not met in the past, and entails exploring possibilities that you might not have considered before now. Explore Portals into Possibilities with Collage in your art journal.
9. Integrating - Finding wholeness begins now. As you reclaim and integrate all the pieces of yourself that have been "missing" from the past you form the new identity of who you were always meant to be in your essence. To recover your wholeness explore Creating a Mandala for Healing.
10. Giving Back - 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 # 66 - How to Create an Experimental Art Journal
- 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
Regular art journaling can be a process of developing unconditional inner empathy for your own spontaneous feeling process. Most of us perpetuate the same emotional reactions and mental patterns repeatedly until they are interrupted with new information and fresh understandings.
Art journaling invites 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 infuses old repeating patterns with fresh possibilities.
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-layerd 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 explore a line of thinking that is running through your head. Sometimes a spontaneous journal spread will inspire fresh thoughts. Alternatively, you can go into an old magazine and tear or cut out words to create spontaneous poetry,
Words chosen spontaneously feel mysterious at first. Some days, you may feel called to add a long written entry onto your journal page. You can letter with colored gel pens on top of your painted background, or write on a separate peice of paper, and collage onto your journal page.
Cultivating Creative Freedom:
Performance Artist Nina Wise, author of "A Big, New, Free, Happy, Unusual Life" offers guidelines on how to loosen up which I paraphrase here and apply to the art jounaling process:
1. Begin each art journal page from stillness. Take a moment to empty your mind of thought and then see what comes. Instead of planning what you will write, paint and draw, go for it without knowing what you are doing. If you decide what to do before you begin creating, you limit the possibility of what can arise in the freshness of the moment.
2. Be true to whatever you are feeling physically. If you are tired, paint and draw in a tired way. Experiment with minimal movement, Draw in small gestures. Deliver the truth in your art journal. Trying to be energetic when you are exhausted is a lie. Authentic creative self-expression is about delivering the truth.
3. Respond to emotional impulses honestly as they arise from moment to moment. If you are feeling irritated or resistant draw in a way that expresses irritation and resistance. If you feel frightened, express fear. Be aware that there are cliche ways to demonstrate feelings rather than genuinely express the nuance of feelings. As you paint or describe your emotions allow yourself to express in unknown ways.
4. Include everything. We can create anywhere, anytime. If you make a "mistake" on your journal page include it. Everything you are feeling, thinking, seeing, or hearing can be included on your page. Condition yourself to use the reality of your life to create.
5. Surrender. Let go of believing that you are in charge of the way your creativity goes. Give up, yield, and lose control. There is a deeper creative impulse that is better at art making than your conscious mind.
6. Surprise yourself. Go towards what you do not know, and what you've never done before. When you access the off balance, the quirky, odd, awkward parts that you do not normally access you are flowing with your subconscious mind. Move towards what feels uncomfortable and unfamiliar. Move into new territory.
7. Take risks. Move beyond what is known into the unknown. Risk adds excitement and interest to your journal pages. Move to the edge of your capacity, expand your ability, and then continue to move to the next growth edge. Challenge yourself to write, draw and paint beyond your emotional comfort level.
8. Make mistakes. Allow yourself to be awkward and ridiculous. Write the worst poetry imaginable. Paint or draw a horrible picture. Embarrass yourself. Within mistakes is the wisdom of stupidity, the grace in awkwardness, the truth in the ridiculous. When you fail in your efforts, congratulate yourself for your courage and vitality.
9. Commit to what you are doing. Commitment plus energy equals enjoyment. Don't hold back. Pour energy into your art journal pages. Even as you censoring mind wants to withdraw in inertia by saying, "This is boring. This is dumb. This is a waste of time" don't pay attention. Even if on some days you do not believe in what you are creating in your art journal, simply do it anyway.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 65 - Processing Difficult Feelings
- Journal and a pen
Daily Journaling from the Body for 5 Minutes a Day
Body listening involves sitting with your journal, getting still, closing your eyes, and listening within your body for messages. Feelings begin with an inkling or a 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.
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 steep yourself 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 the process everyday for a month, starting with 5 minutes a day, to see what you can discover about yourself.
5. Over a period of daily journaling from the body, 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."
Your Body Knows Everything
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 - for when you have more time - to really deeply feel into your body. Do not rush through the steps. Allow yourself to not rationally know. Let your answers arise slowly from your body, instead of your mind, from a place of depth and embodied knowing.
This is an exercise of listening to the edge of what you do not know about yourself. Be prepared to sense into the unknown that is beyond your daily, practical self. Do not try to understand what comes up from your subconscious mind with your rational mind. Allow what your body says to not make sense. Rest in the mystery of this new body-feeling-language. Really wait and wonder, as previously hidden information comes up from your depths.
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.
Start your session by saying, “I am sensing into my body.” Sit quietly and start to notice where you feel strong or intriguing sensations. It might be something like “flutteriness”, tightness, joy, or pain. Make up your own words and phrases for the different parts of your body that want your attention, and write them all down. At this point you do not have to be discriminating – just notice all of the varied parts of self that are asking for your attention right now, and record them in your journal.
Ask “What most wants my awareness now?” Place your awareness where the feeling is the strongest and rest there. Write down what bodily feeling wants your awareness the most. What does it feel like? Is it afraid, tight, joyful, warm, tingly, ect?”
Say, “I am saying hello to what’s there.” When you say hello to the main thing that is arising to meet your attention - welcome it. See how it responds to your welcoming greeting. It might ease or relax a bit, or it might become clearer or stronger by your attention. Take your time, and if any other body sensations arise and want to be seen, say hello to them too.
“I’m finding the best way to describe it.” After you say hello to the strongest sensation of ‘something” in your body, find a word, phrase or image to describe how your body feels. As you describe the feeling, it might sound like, “I feel a heavy feeling in my belly, it feels like lead. I see a figure crunched up with her head on her knees….” Allow yourself to be creative and spontaneous with your descriptions.
Reach for what that you do not know about yourself. Allow your inner imagery and words to arise spontaneously from your body-knowing. If the description is not quite right, keep defining it further, until it "clicks" with rightness and feels true in your body. If you cannot find a description, just sit for a while, and love the body sensation that is arising, even if it is painful.
“I am checking back with my body.” For every descriptive image, word or phrase, check back with that part of your body, and let it tell you if it feels right and true. It might be wholly true, partially true, or not true. What is your body communicating to you about your accuracy?
2.) Deepening Into Your Body
“Is it Ok to just be with this right now?” You have just said hello, and come to know the name/description of this part of yourself. Now it is time to gently spend time with it. The part of you that is arising, perhaps shyly wanting to communicate with you, may have been ignored for a long time. It may be withdrawn, angry or evasive. Let it know you are just going to be with it, with love, and with interested curiosity. Describe in your journal what it feels like to just be with this part of yourself.
“I’m sensing how it feels from its point of view.” You have just seen how the something inside of you feels from your witnessing point of view. Now it is time to treat it as though it is a separate function of your consciousness, and find out what it has to say. It might seem odd to do, but this is a profound way to hear your body’s messages and tap into its wisdom.
When you "look" at this feeling as if it were a separate being from you, with its own goals for happiness, do you see an image, or have a memory, or feel a sensation, or see a color? You might visualize a body posture of this "feeling being", such as one of hiding, or being ready to fight. Speak this "part" in your body, respecting that it has its own point of view, that is separate or different than your everyday consciousness.
“I’m Asking…” Asking your inner "part" questions helps you to direct and structure your awareness in the direction that you need to know. When you treat a feeling as a separate being you can ask it questions from your rational mind.
“I’m asking if it has an emotional quality.” If, for example you feel a bodily feeling of tightness, you can ask your body feeling if it has an emotional quality. “What is the emotional quality of this tightness?” The tightness might feel scared, angry, or excited. Write your sense of the emotional quality in your journal.
“I’m asking what gets it so….” You might investigate the tightness in your body by asking, “What gets you so tight?” Make sure that you lean towards what you do not already know about yourself. Ignore your first, automatic thoughts, and listen for messages that ring true, and that you may not have considered before.
“I’m asking it for what it needs.” You can ask the feeling in your body if it needs something from you or the world. You could ask it what kind of presence it needs. Does it need peace and quiet, or love, or encouragement? Asking what this part of you needs is a profound way to find inner healing. For example, if you are experiencing an emotional block, your body may share specifically what you can do to unblock it.
3. Ending Your Session
“I’m checking if it is ok to stop soon.” You will often not solve your entire emotional problem, body block or mental dilemma in one session. You might get a sense that you can only take in a certain amount of information, and will get a sense that it is ok or is the right time to stop your session. Welcome the little changes and shifts that happen during each body focusing session. End each session gently.
“I’m saying, “I’ll be back.” Tell your body that you will be back later and that you will continue listening to what it has to tell you. Write down what feelings and knowings you have gained in this session so that you can embark from this exact point when you next resume your body journaling process next time.
Understand that the little piece that you received today will be part of your larger creative life process. Take time to rest, integrate, and journal what you have learned about yourself during this session. It is helpful to journal the understandings that you reached during this session so that you can return to them later. There might be a word, a phrase, or a particular image that reflects or encapsulated the "piece" of knowing that you have reached today.
“I’m thanking my body and the parts that have been with me.” As you complete this process thank the parts of your body that spoke to you today. Even if you were only able to notice and stay with a difficult feeling for 5 or 10 minutes, and no new information came, congratulate yourself for spending time with your feeling state. Celebrate the body focusing process, and the difficult feelings that you have attended to with love and attention.
Expressive Art Therapy Exercise # 64 - Self-Soothing for Emotional Overwhelm
- 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
During therapy, or if you are processing heavy emotions on your own, it is often helpful to have self-soothing tools to calm, regulate and slow down the overwhelm of painful emotions. Some trauma therapists believe that if you are feeling overwhelmed, you are going too fast with emotional processing.. By pacing your own healing you can teach yourself to remain open and able to function in the world, by calming your fear.
Why Process Emotional Pain?
Spiritual teacher Richard Moss writes, "We are rightfully afraid of pain, but when pain - especially emotional pain - is what is, then to continue to rely on a self-avoidance survival structure created in childhood is to remain barren of potential."
When we turn towards our emotional pain, we paradoxically become more alive. By facing what we habitually avoid, we open up our authentic potential.
We can develop a conscious relationship to our own suffering by compassionately respecting our internal timing and pace, and by taking breaks when the emotional pain and intensity feels overwhelming.
Following are some calming, grounding, slowing, and self-soothing tools inspired and informed by trauma counsellor Jasmin Lee Cori, author of "Healing from Trauma." You can use these directives - adapted to expressive art therapy, whenever your intense emotions 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 emotionally as a calming resource that helps you to self-regulate.
Change Channels: There are several different channels for our life experience. Thoughts are one channel, emotions another, and body sensations a third. If one channel is overwhelming you, switch to another channel.
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.
Give Yourself Breaks: Purposely divert your attention to manage the pacing of your healing process. Interrupt the patterns of your thinking or emotional states to gain distance and perspective. Take a break when you are feeling dysregulated. Don't deny your feelings, but oscillate your attention between processing your fear, anger, grief or upset for a time, and then do something fun or relaxing.
1. Have healthy activities set up as diversions from the intensities of emotional processing.
2. Have your art table stocked with supplies to play with. Create art.
3. Light a candle. Take a bath. Make yourself a pot of soup. Put on some quiet music. Watch a movie.
Grounding - Grounding is about remaining in your body, with your feet solidly on the ground, in the here and now. If you have experienced trauma in the past it might be difficult to ground into your body, in which case you can focus on the calming energy of the ground itself.
Grounding (called earthing) is rooted in scientific studies that measure how touching the gound with your bare feet and body immediately equalizes your body to the same solid, calming energy as the earth.
1. Sitting in the sand, or on the ground with your bare feet on the grass is calming and regulating to the nervous system.
2. Spend 10-20 minutes in silence with your bare feet on the ground to soothe your emotional discomfort.
Find Your Regulating Resource - When we have regular caring attunement with another living being we can oscillate between clearing the intensity of the past with our loving connection to our "regulating resource". If you lacked parental regulation and soothing when you were young, it is not too late to recondition your nervous system towards love now.
We cannot heal alone. Intimate companionship reminds us we are not alone in our life. Our regulating resource is whatever living being represents love or inspiration. We can connect to love with our spouse, partner, or lover, a pet, a good friend, our therapist, or a parent. We can ask to be held, encouraged, touched, and loved.
1. Who in your life has the capacity to help you out of overwhelm and into a feeling of love?
2. Take time to touch, hold and be with the ones you love when you feel dysregulated in your emotions. Ask for a hug.
Self-Soothing - When you are activated emotionally, stop what you are doing. You likely cannot concentrate on anything anyway. Stop fighting your emotionality and accept that you need to do something different in this moment. Create a safe comforting environment for yourself where you can calm down your nervous system, until you feel strong enough to process your feelings again.
1. We each have unique ways of feeling calm and whole. Your calming collage will indicate a unique calming environment, colors, and activities that can help to relax and to gather up your scattered pieces back into your center again.
2. Based on what your intuitive collage tells you that you need, you might - as illustrated in the collage above - make yourself a cup of tea, put on soothing music, cover yourself with a warm blanket and close your eyes. You also might enjoy meditating on nurturing mothering messages here.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 63 - Exploring Age Regression
- Art journal
- Pens, pencils, markers, pencil crayons, old magazines, glue stick and scissors
Resisting Past Emotions
We all age regress, especially when our emotional, financial or physical survival feels threatened. We are more likely to age regress when we are tired, hungry, stressed about work or fretting about money worries.
Worrying about how we will survive takes us back to childhood when we were dependent on other to meet our needs.
Whenever we are not fully experiencing the present moment, we are most often caught in the past in some form of age regression. When we live wholly in the present moment, we are living in our spontaneous and authentic self.
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 process, understand, and release untrue 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 some art therapy exercises adapted and inspired by psychologist Stephen Wolinsky from his book, "The Trances People Live."
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 your body tension or constricting symptoms such as acute body pain, a blurring of vision, particular ways of thinking, younger voice inflections, and more irrational 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 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 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.
5. What do you do, think, believe and feel when you are in this regressed state in your current life?
Alter Your Associations: Because age regression is unconsciously "automatic", anything that you do to create new associations in the present moment will interrupt the patterns of emotions, belief, behaviors and body contraction.
As you catch yourself regressing into old emotional patterns, explore the opposite gesture of thought, emotion, or belief. Contruct a different reality in present time to create new habits of responding to life.
In your journal:
1. Beside the "recipe" of your contraction or frozen state, write an opposite or alternative thought, emotion, belief, or body posture beside it.
2. Reflect on the possibility of becoming opposite from who you have been. Invent ways to open up where you normally close.
Retrieving Resources from the Past: Any resisted experience from the past hides unclaimed mental strengths and emotional resources that you can benefit from right now. Whenever you age regress, you can go back to a time where you left inner resources behind, and discover and reclaim them.
As you alter your conditioned responses, long suppressed developmental strengths and resources that were available in the past will "float" to the surface of your awareness to use in your life right now.
Some of the resources that can easily get tamped down in childhood are the qualities of openness, vulnerability, the free expression of emotions, and playfulness. If trauma occurred during your teen years, you might discover that you have shut down your uniqueness, sexual identity, or inspirational leadership qualities.
In your journal:
1. Write a list in your journal of the resources, strengths and gifts that you shut down during challenging times in the past.
2. Look for what you complain about or see is missing in life or in other people. What we do not see in or receive from others points the ways we are meant to give to life.
3. Choose imagery from a magazine that reflects the gifts and resources that you left behind. If you left behind strength, for example, find an image that evokes the feeling of strength to contemplate daily.
Everything is a Resource: We hide emotional hurt within rigid roles and behavior patterns. If, for example, we developed the compensatory coping behavior of cheerfulness to cope with the stress in our original family, exploring the opposite "resource" of anger, depression, or "blah-ness might feel extremely liberating.
Each "negative" feeling holds gifts. For example anger holds the gift of passion, directness, and healthy boundaries. See if you can find the gifts within the emotions that you were not allowed to feel as a child.
In your journal:
1. Reflect on who you do not allow yourself to be.
2. Explore this opposite self through imagery and writing by choosing a picture of a person in a magazine who appears to be the exact opposite of what you think you think you should be.
3. Write down your reactions to the image you have chosen and explore how their qualities could enhance your life.
Feel the Emotional Pain Under Your Resistance: Whenever we let down our defensive walls, we will experience the emotional pain that has been frozen at the age where we stopped growing. As we dismantle our defense system, we will go through a period of "unfreezing" the stored emotions, and will need to feel the original pain until it is gone.
In your journal:
1. Process difficult feelings and memories through Embodied Writing.
Help Your Regressed Child Self from Your Witness - It is possible to experience emotions and witness them at the same time. Practice seeing your mental, emotional and physical contractions as you are having them.
Integration Process - Be aware that you can be in two states at once - both the witness, and an age regressed child. From an inner parental, witnessing place, talk to your regressed child as if it were a living child, telling it what it needs to hear to grow, to feel safe, and to flourish.
In your journal:
1. From your witness, ask your child part, "What are you believing about life?
2. Write your inner child belief down in your journal. Specifically detail the negative contractions in your body, that correlate with your negative belief.
3. From a higher, spiritual level any belief that causes emotional pain is not true. Find the higher truth and write it down as a new statement that you can regularly meditate on.
4. Practice your new feeling of openness in your body by reflecting on your new truth.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 62 - Healing Extended Grief with Expressive Drawing
- Art journal, sketchbook
- Black marker, ballpoint pen, felt pens, pencil crayons, patels
Finding New Life in Loss
Expressing emotion through expressive drawing can help to cathart the feelings of loss and grief, but it does it not always heal the beliefs that feed into extended grief. Life affirming decisions about how to grow, learn and understand, like any other time in life, need to be made amidst feelings of grief. When we experience loss, some new life direction must eventually take the place of the feelings of loss and devastation.
Too often in expressive art therapy we can express or "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 facilitator Barbara Ganim in her book "Drawing from the Heart".
I simplify the process on how to deal with feelings of loss into an abbreviated three week process. I recommend the book "Drawing from the Heart" for a more comprehensive seven week process on how to heal grief and loss with expressive drawing.
Grieving loss in a weekly directed way provides enough time to 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 into a new positive way to respond to the belief that is 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. In my experience of having moved through much loss in my own life, I have needed to make pointed positive changes to love and learn in new ways in the midst of grief.
This expressive art drawing process will help you to identify and understand how you feel about your loss and grief. These drawing processes alternate between:
1. What your mind understands about your grief - about how your negative thoughts cycle into your upset emotions - and continue to 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 the deeper purposes of what our grief is meant to teach us.
Week 1: Deciding What You Need to Heal
1. Setting a healing intention - We cannot tackle grief in its immensity all at once. We have to unpack the intensity of grief one layer at a time. If you pay attention to the nuances of grief, each layer will arise for healing in a timely and manageable way - when you are ready to stay present for it.
Trust whatever issue is currently presenting itself to you for healing even if it is seemingly unrelated to what you think you are grieving about. What is coming up may seem to have little to do with your major loss, but it may the first layer in the process of healing grief. So, even if you cognitively know what you want to heal, listen to your heart for what is bothering you.
1. Writing an intention from your mind - Before you start drawing, close your eyes and contemplatively ask yourself what you think you need to heal right now. When you get an answer write it down on the top of your journal page.
2. Drawing an image from your heart - How does your heart feel about the pain that you wish to heal? Underneath your healing intention draw an image from your heart. Close your eyes and wait for an image to come up from your heart into your mind's eye. When you finish your drawing, ask yourself the following processing questions:
Processing questions to discern the differences between your mind and heart:
- What does your healing intention tell you about your mind's interpretation about what needs to be healed?
- How did it feel to do the drawing of how your heart responds to your pain?
- Do you see any conflict between what your thinking words tell you vs. what your feeling imagery tells you?
- What do your colors reveal about what your heart feels?
- Are any details, lines or squiggles in your drawing trying to tell you something?
- If your drawing could speak what would it say about how your heart reacts to your pain?
- What have you learned from your drawing about the pain you wish to heal?
Week 2: Accessing, Releasing, and Transforming What is Causing Your Pain
1. Accessing your most painful emotion with your mind - When we heal a layer of grief, there is always an acutely painful emotion that prominently wants to heal right now. Once you know what it is, write down that feeling word at the top of your journal. "I intend to heal this feeling of..."
2. Drawing and releasing your painful emotion from your body - Quiet your thoughts by focusing on your breathing and bring all of your awareness into your body. Focus your attention on your painful emotion. Notice where in your body you feel the sensation of this emotion. Imagine what this feeling would look like if it was an image, a scribble, a series of lines, a mass of color, or a shape. If an image does not come to your mind, open your eyes and draw spontaneously.
Processing questions to discern the difference between thoughts and feelings:
- Is there a difference between what your thoughts told you about your painful emotion and what your body tells you?
- What did it feel like to do this drawing?
- How does your body feel now?
- What do the colors tell you about your pain?
- Are any details in your drawing trying to tell you something?
- If this drawing could speak, what would it say to you?
- Would you like to change the way you react to this painful emotion? If so, why?
3. Transforming your reaction to your painful emotion - We have choice on how we respond to any emotion. Just because we release an emotion through expressively drawing it, does not mean the we have resolved the emotion. While there is no way to resolve the loss of a loved one, we can heal a large portion of the pain by changing the way we react to it.
Changing your Image association - The image that you have drawn to express your emotional pain can trigger a repeating stress response that can keep you feeling the same grief. To deactivate your habitual stress response it is helpful to change your imagery.
Drawing from your heart - Close your eyes and move into your heart center. Ask your heart for a symbol that represents a more constructive way to respond to your painful emotion. When you see a symbol in your minds eye, draw it. Alternatively, simply intuitively choose your art materials to spontaneously draw from your heart center. To access you heart, it helps to place your hand over heart with your other hand while you draw.
- How does it feel to look at this heart-centered drawing?
- How did it feel to do this heart-centered drawing?
- How is this transformation symbol different than the drawing of your emotional pain?
- What is this symbol trying to tell you about how to transform the way you respond to your painful emotion?
- If this symbol could speak what would it say to you about the way you respond to your painful emotion?
- What do the colors in your drawing symbolize?
- Do any of the details convey a special message about how to respond to your painful emotion in a healing way?
- How might this new way of responding change your reactions or behaviors?
4. Learning from your pain - Messages from the Heart - Emotions are messengers that have something to teach us. Connect with your body and focus on the painful emotion that you have been working with. Then shift your awareness to your heart center. Ask your heart to present you with a symbol of what your painful emotion has to teach you. When you know what this symbol is, draw it, or simply choose a few colors and spontaneously draw squiggle, lines, shapes and colors from your heart center.
- How does is feel to look at the drawing of your heart symbol?
- What does this symbol tell you about the lesson of your painful emotion?
- How do the colors in your symbol relate to this lesson?
- Do any of the details in your drawing suggest something important about this lesson?
- How can you apply this lesson in your life right now?
Week 3 - Acknowledging and Transforming Loss
Every life change, even positive changes, produce loss as we leave people and old ways of living behind. Tangible losses, such as the loss of a loved one, a job, or of belonging to a community are easy to recognize and acknowledge. Ganim writes, "Intangible losses include the loss of faith in God, loss of trust in ourselves or others, loss of hope, courage, ambition, creativity, spirit, independence, and security, to name just a few. When such losses occur they can eat away at our soul."
1. Identifying and acknowledging losses - With your eyes closed, think about the painful situation you have chosen to work with and write this sentence at the top of your journal:
"When I think about my situation, it hurts to know I have lost..." Write down any loss that comes to mind, even if it feels insignificant or unrelated. Write down an entire list of your losses - include whatever you think about without editing or judging.
2. Draw an image of how your loss feels when you think about it - Close your eyes, and focus on the most significant feeling of loss that you wrote down in the previous exercise. As you think about your loss notice where in your body your feelings are coming from. Concentrate on this feeling sensation, then imagine what this feeling would look like as an image and draw it.
- Where in your body did you feel your loss?
- How does your body feel now that you did this drawing?
- What does this drawing tell you about how your body reacts to the thoughts about your loss?
- What do the colors tell you about your reaction to your loss?
- Are any details in your drawing trying to tell you about your reaction to your loss?
-If this drawing could speak, what would it say about the way you experience your loss?
3. Transformation: Drawing loss from your heart's perspective - Close your eyes and connect with your body and shift your awareness into your heart center. Ask your heart to present you with an image of how it perceives your loss. When you sense an image, begin to draw. When you finish your drawing compare it to the drawing you did in the previous exercise and answer the questions below.
- How does the drawing make you feel as you look at it?
- What is the difference between the drawing from your mind's perspective, and the drawing you did of your feeling of loss?
- If this drawing could speak, what would it tell you about your heart's view of your loss?
- What do the colors tell you about how your heart responds to your loss?
- Are there any details that might tell you something more in your drawing about your heart's response?
- What did you learn from this drawing?
4, What is your loss meant to teach you? - Connect with your body, and focus on your feeling of loss. Put all of your awareness into your heart, and ask your heart to present you with a symbol of what you loss is trying to teach you, and then spontaneously draw it.
- How does this drawing of your heart's symbol make you feel?
- What do you feel this symbol tells you about the life lesson of your loss?
- How do the colors relate to your life lesson?
- Are their any details in this drawing that are trying to tell you something?
- How can you apply the lesson of your loss to you current life?
Focusing on the Gain, Not the Loss - There is a gift in every experience. Even regret about not loving as deeply as we could while we had the chance can intensify the intention to love more deeply from this point forward. Every loss invites a new strength that might not have come to the fore in easier times.
Staying focused on the gain, the lesson, the blessing, or the discovery that comes out of each loss deepens the meaning of our life. Every loss can keep us moving forward with an intensity of devotion that is inspired by the brevity of life.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 61 - The Art of Setting Boundaries
- 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 ourselves clearly. As we separate from our feminine societal conditioning, 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 - where we giving to relationships that drain our will for our 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 emotional and psychological learning and growth. Giving in ways that support ego stagnancy - in ourselves and others is destructive, Often we love and support other people, by saying "no" to their unhealthy ego patterns, and through the example of setting authentic boundaries.
As we go through the necessary period of sorting ourselves out, to understand where we specifically we are meant to give 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. And, often when we stop giving in unauthentic ways an emotional backlash in the form of outer or inner resistance occurs.
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 preventing the people we are care-taking from growing and finding their own strength. Giving in unnecessary or unhealthy ways creates dependency, and a feeling of deadness for both people. Giving in ways that are needed always furthers both people on their growth path.
We can sort out our "yes's and no's" by feeling the tone and quality of our energy in each situation that we are giving to. When we give to someone who is not reciprocating, there will be a sense of emotional heaviness that comes from an imposed mental "should". 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 - the people around us will have 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. 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 growth. 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
The following art therapy exercises are inspired by psychologist Sidra Stone that will help you to discern between true and false giving:
When we know ourselves profoundly, we become capable of giving far more than we ever could from our fractured ego/guilt states. When we give from our intuition, we can intuit exactly where and
when to give, as well as where our giving will not be fully received.
Getting to know what our own unique energy field feels like is immensely helpful in the process of setting boundaries. When we are learning to stop giving in unnecessary and/or unhealthy ways it is helpful to learn how to unblend from other people's energy fields and expectations.
Following are some creative suggestions to explore your energy field when you are giving in unnecessary ways. It is also essential to explore and understand how it feels when you feel centered, intuitive, and sure of what you are meant to give:
1. How do you divide your energies? - It is useful to explore what your energy feels like when you are doubtful and unsure about yourself - so you can come to recognize yourself when you are bending to the emotional needs of other people over your own. With watercolor paint in your journal intuitively sketch out how you feel when you energetically divide and confuse your energies.
In any given day, you might typically feel different internal and external conflicting energies pulling at you in the course of your daily life. Illustrate and perhaps even label the various ways that you currently spread out your energy. You might even want to draw a diagram of your body - allotting percentages that indicate where you life energy is currently going.
2. Meditating on distinct, healthy boundaries - Now center all of your energy into the core of your body, and breathe deeply. You might imagine that you have a shining core running down the center of your spine. As you extend your energies outward from your center, imagine yourself gently and lovingly surrounded by your own coherent energy field.
Feel the outer edge of your energy and notice how it still allows you to be with people without blending with them. As Sidra Stone suggests, "Think of yourself and the other person like colors in a painting. These colors do not run together, but there is no harsh black outline that separates them. The two colors have been painted side by side, and each one remains distinct.
Paint a symbolic representation of yourself in your journal with watercolor, with soft, yet distinct boundaries that allow love in and out. Meditate on moving through life in this soft, centered, contained way.
Creating an Energy Sheild
Sometimes if we are emerging from extreme forms of unhealthy giving, or from draining ourselves with unhealthy beliefs, guilt, self-attack, and criticism, we need to become much stronger energetically. At such times it is possible to practice intensifying our core, authentic energy against the feelings of invasion and attack from personal, family, societal, and conditioned forces.
If we have engaged in long periods of unhealthy giving, a strong "no" to unhealthy energies will be necessary. This can be done energetically by making our personal energy as strong, thick, and as impenetrable as we wish. We can create an energy shield to old unhelpful, conditioned ego energies, or to other people or societal energies that trigger old unhealthy ways of behaving and coping.
Often, just before we are ready to grow into a new level of confidence, purpose and authentic forward movement, destructive inner or outer energies will rise up to build the needed strength to clear out the old, and bring in the new. At such times, it is helpful to draw, paint, sculpt or build a symbolic energy shield - which when imagined - creates an actual energetic protection that can be viscerally sensed by other people.
It is possible to energetically create a protective shield that surrounds you completely. Imagine an egg shaped shield that you can move around it and that completely protects and nourishes your solid inner authentic core being.
Sense into where you are feeling attacked or invaded, either by past remembered energies, or from a current person who is attacking you. If you wish to create extra protection in other areas, such as in your sexual/pelvic area, or over your heart, do so.
Sidra Stone suggests creating your energy shield in your everyday life so that you can experience the visceral effects of how people kinesthetically feel when you are protecting yourself. Try extending your energy shield in line at the grocery store, for example, and watch how people move away from your energy.
Healing the Root of Needing Boundaries - Releasing Self-Attack
The more we understand who we are, the less we need to protect ourselves. When we know who we are, we can intuit when and where to give - and when not to give. The following is an exercise to work through the pain of self-attack which is the fundamental root of needing boundaries to other people in the first place. We feel safe when we know who we really are.
The particular way that we criticize and attack ourselves creates the unconscious energetic openness to outer invasion and attack.
We unknowingly allow other people to keep us small in the exact places that we unconsciously agree with their attack. It is important to understand that whenever we feel emotional pain, we will also be attacking ourselves. When we feel emotional pain, we can follow the pain to the root, and see where we have agreed with and invited destructive outer forces to thwart us from moving forward.
If you are wondering how you attack yourself, you need only to reflect on how your outer world, in the form other people are currently attacking and criticizing you. Our outer attack will always match our inner criticisms. Healing inner self-attack will clear the outer attack in our life. We can easily say "no" to abuse when we do no longer believe in it, inside or ourselves.
The following is an excellent exercise by transpersonal therapist Chuck Spezzano on how to find the root of self-attack:
1. If I where to know the root of this self-attack began it was probably at the age of....
2. Back then, the positive lessons that I was trying to learn to get beyond the pain were...
3. If I were to know the positive gift I had within, at a soul level, that would have been the antidote to the situation back then, and helpful now, it would be.....
4. Who, besides myself was I attacking to have that experience occur was....The excuse I was using that situation for was....
5. The self-image that I built as a result of that was....
6. The purpose of that self-image was....
7. Imagine yourself back to the situation where you got hurt and instead of using someone or something to hold yourself back as your excuse, apologize to them and yourself, and give them your love.
As we give up our own attack thoughts - the criticisms, judgements and negativity that hide attacking thoughts melt into peace, safety, and reconciliation. Our need for outer boundaries decrease immeasurably when we understand who we really are. When we know who we genuinely are, the "yes's and no's" arise effortlessly and intuitively, and without guilt.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 60 - Processing Trauma Through Altered Book-Making
- An old book to alter
- Paints, collage items, old magazines, markers, pastels, pencil crayons
- Acrylic medium, diluted white glue, or Mod Podge
See Altered Book Making Directions HERE
For this expressive art activity I reference the excellent book, "Healing from Trauma" by Jasmin Lee Cori. I abbreviate her ten points about trauma as follows:
1. Our bodies don't lie. Trauma leaves "footprints" on the body as well as in every other part of our lives.
2. A high level of trauma leaves people feeling overly sensitive to just about everything. We will be particularly sensitive to anything that reminds us of the trauma.
3. When things are too much for us to stay present, we find a way to leave, even if only psychologically. Dissociation is a pattern of splitting off some part of yourself when you are uncomfortable.
4. Another defense is simply to numb yourself so that you don't feel.
5. Often there are cognitive losses that accompany trauma, and you may wonder what is wrong with your brain.
6. Memories of traumatic events are often like shards that have shattered everywhere. Our memories come in bits and pieces and are often far too intense.
7. Very rarely could we have done something to prevent our trauma. Yet the helplessness of the situation is hard to bear, and we often blame ourselves and feel guilt rather than feel at the mercy of forces we can't control.
8. We contract in trauma to become a smaller target, and tragically, we often stay contracted, in very small lives, in an unconscious attempt to feel safe.
9. Often we feel vulnerable and unprotected because our energetic boundaries are in some way still broken.
10. Trauma rocks your world. It can be hard to imagine how others go along so blithely, creating their futures, as if one could control that. Those who have experienced a lot of trauma don't have this basic confidence in things working out.
Creating an Altered Point of View
Our subconscious beliefs about ourselves keep traumatic holding patterns in place. Jasmin Lee Cori writes, "With trauma, parts of us are blocked, and parts of us are flooded. Our life energy is disturbed, and we do not have the supports to thrive and be healthy. When we are blocked in this way, our energy gets congested and our consciousness becomes muddied. It we can clear the obstacles and let our life force flow more freely again, we can recover our aliveness. This recovery of aliveness and free flow is what resilience is all about."
When we are emotionally flooded or emotionally blocked, we hold our body trauma patterns in place by subconscious beliefs. Our body, emotions and beliefs form an interlocking "trauma pattern" that unconsciously repeats through our life, unless it can be consciously interrupted and recreated into more life-affiming patterns of living.
Cori explains, "Trauma shows up as chronically constricted tissue, a shrinking and bracing of the overall structure, a tight diaphragm and shallow breathing, cold hands and feet (because energy is withdrawn from extremities) and a strong tension at the base of the skull and the bottom of the spine. In essence the body feels like a too tight package. It is tight because it is caught in a pattern of alarm and self-protection. These characteristics lead to postural problems, unhealthy, achy tissues, headaches and backaches, and circulatory and mobility problems."
The aim of all therapies is essentially to interrupt unhealthy patterns that have been operating on automatic for years and often decades. To heal trauma we need to work on many levels of body, psyche and soul. Bodywork is essential to help interrupt the body holding patterns of trauma, but if the same belief patterns continue to feed into creating the same distressing emotions, the body will constrict back into its contracted emergency state once again.
Interrupting Belief In an Altered Book
We can begin to play creatively with belief by alternating page spreads in an altered book. As we illustrate what holds trauma in place, we can play with opposite beliefs on opposite pages to tangibly see and feel how the mechanics of belief can open up our body to more pleasurable feelings. Following is an altered book exercise that I have developed to discover, loosen, and interrupt traumatic patterning within an altered book format, adapted from the innovative work of psychologist Stephen Wolinsky from his book "Trances People Live":
1. Observe How your Trauma Pattern Operates - Focus on an area of life that is troubling you. Observe how you put yourself into a particular "trauma trance". Study yourself. What does your body do? How does your body constrict? In what particular places hurt in your body?
2. Notice Your Troubling Thoughts - If you cannot access your troubling thoughts, try vocalizing or writing an opposite positive belief. Often this invites your subconscious negative belief to pop up in argument. Working with positive affirmations to bring up strong contrary beliefs might look something like this: "I love myself - I hate myself. I love sex - Sex is bad. I am amazing - I am worthless. People like me - People hurt me. I am a strong person - I am helpless. I love my life - Nothing works out. I have courage - I am terrified. I am successful - I am a loser. I am good person - I am guilty. I am safe - Don't trust people."
3. Identify and Illustrate Your Negative Belief - Once you have discovered your subconscious debilitating belief, write it down, and illustrate it pictorially and symbolically in your altered book page spread. Notice how your feelings and body constrict into particular patterns around this belief as you work in your book.
4. Notice How You Identify with Your Trauma State - When you finish your page spread, meditate on your page, and notice how you typically are completely identified with the particular belief that feeds your traumatic state whether it be, "I hate myself" or "I am terrified" or "I am guilty". When we are identified, we stand in the middle of the belief state believing it is the total picture of reality. When we place our belief out of our body/mind/emotional state onto the page - as we become witness to the state that we normally live in - we expand.
5. Understand the Mechanics of Your Traumatic Belief System. Instead of becoming your habitual belief system, observe your relationship to your traumatic state. The perceiver is not the perceived. If you can perceive your traumatic states, then obviously you are not that state, Your reality extends beyond it.
Observe how you are creating your contracted state and how your belief cements your body contraction and emotional upset in place. If you can see how you create your constricted states, you can begin to uncreate them.
6. Disidentify with Your Belief and Creatively Work with It - Once you have disidentified with your trauma belief, you can begin to creatively work with it in your altered book. Wolinsky's approach to disassembling trance states is not to work with the storyline of the past as the causal agent of change. His aim in healing "hypnotic" trauma states is to see how we recreate past trauma by actively creating and sustaining old patterns of coping in the present moment.
7. Creating Resources - In this technique take your negative belief from your previous page spread, say it is, "DON'T TRUST PEOPLE" and create a new page spread with the opposite belief which would simply be, "TRUST PEOPLE". It is also very effective to illustrate the contrasting beliefs on the two side-by side book pages facing you.
As you work on your "resource page" notice all the subtle changes that happen in your body. Allow yourself to focus on the pleasure of long-buried resources in your physical body. Practice creating this opposite resource whenever you feel calm so that you can draw upon its strength and momentum when trauma patterning threatens to overwhelm your consciousness.
8. Doubting and Questioning - Take the list of suggestions and beliefs that you say to yourself when you are in your trauma patterning, write them, or print them out and collage them in your altered book with a question mark behind each one. "I hate myself? I am guilty? I am worthless? I do not want to live?" You might want to repetitively print out one suggestion over and over with a question, intensifying your doubt each time. Embellish and meditate on this page while you deepen your doubt of your regular patterning. This kind of doubting allows new resources to enter.
9. Creating Multiple Meanings - Take your trigger words such as hate, don't trust, don't touch that are at the core of your trauma trance states and create multiple meanings and entirely new associations. For example with the trigger phrase "I hate myself" - reassociate it with different meanings such as, "I rate myself. I date myself. I fate myself. I create myself. I recreate myself."
With each new suggestion, allow yourself to drift into a sleepy state where healing resources and symbols begin to emerge. Find, draw, or paint imagery that reflects these changed associations. This is a creative exercise in confusing the one-pointed belief systems that we have lived our life acting out in our emotional and bodily strictures. Confusing our static mental processes allows the unconscious mind to flow - where long tamped down resources, can begin to emerge spontaneously.
10. Find Healing Resources in Your Book - Inherent in the synchronistic healing process will be the passages and pages that stand out in the book that you are altering. Feel free to block out passages of the book that you do not like, and choose to highlight, underline and otherwise emphasize the passages and words that feel healing and helpful to you. See Intuitive Found Poetry. When our intention to heal old traumatic patterning is strong, everything that is needed for healing pops in front of our consciousness to help us.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 59 - How to Create an Altered Book
- A suitable book to alter
- White glue
- Matte acrylic medium
- Acrylic or latex paints
- Pencil crayons, pastels, markers, and pens to doodle with
- Collage materials, glue stick, scissors, pictures from used books and magazines.
An altered book is an artist-made book recycled and changed into something new in appearance, and meaning. An altered book, used in an art therapy context offers a long-term art-making process for healing. Altered books can be used to work through long standing emotional issues, to change unhelpful psychological patterns of belief, to find and cultivate a new strengths, or to process and accurately remember the past. Altered books can be joyfully made to help climb out of depressive cycles and to cultivate inspiration.
Literally and metaphorically, altered books can be closed when emotions or memories feel too intense, and opened and worked upon at a later time when the timing is right for healing. When working through long standing psychological patterns, altered books can sometimes be shelved and restarted weeks, months, and even years later. Altered books can express the "book of our life" illustrating the many facets of self, and integrating the fragments of mind and body back into the soul, one page at a time.
1. Choose a strong and durable book to alter. Hardcover books work the best, especially those with pages sewn rather than glued. If you are using an old book check the pages to see that they are strong enough to withstand layers of paint and glue. If the pages are thin, yellow and brittle they likely will not hold up under layers of paint and drawing. Children's board books can work well for altered books, but they take a good bit of preparation to lay the ground for your page spreads. Because the pages are glossy, they need to sanded and gessoed first.
Choose a book that inspires you, especially if you are planning to leave words peeking through your backgrounds and want to spontaneously underline passages. If you are planning to cover all of the pages up with paint it will not matter what kind of book you choose - as long as it is sturdy.
2. Cut out and remove some of the pages out of the book with an exacto knife, so that when your pages swell with paint and collage the book will fit into its cover without bulging. You can cut out pages later but it is better to intermittently cut out the pages before the painting and embellishing begins. Save some of your pages to collage back into your altered book later.
3. Glue pages together with white glues to form a stronger page base for your artwork. Depending on the thickness of your pages, you might glue together anywhere from 2-10 pages. Use a sponge brush to evenly coat your pages and seal them inside with white glue. Glue the front and back of your thicker page as well to "waterproof" and seal it for further painting and collaging later.
Altered books can also have pockets and niches to hold three dimensional objects of meaning. To create niches in your altered book - glue many pages together to create a thicker page and cut your niches with an exacto knife. Niches can be made into shrines for healing with sacred objects, stones, and items from nature to meditate on.
4. Prepare the background of your pages for further painting and altering. As you put wet mediums on your pages, they may wrinkle at first. Most wrinkles will flatten as your pages dry.
Some possibilities for preparing your pages:
- Clear Coat - your entire page with acrylic matte medium, white glue, or acrylic varnish and let dry. This allows the page to be partially covered with paint, or simply left unpainted and drawn on. With the words showing clearly - you can be guided by the words in your spread by underlining them, blocking some out, working around them ect.
- Glaze - mix acrylic paint with matte acrylic medium to create a colored, transparent background for your page.
- Metallic Paint - works well as a background, especially gold and copper.
- Gesso - black or white gesso can be used to coat the entire page, or partial pages. Alternately black, white, or colored acrylic paint can be an undercoat. Gel medium can be used for a textural background.
- Collage - you can prepare your background with collaged patterned paper, and then slightly obscure your collage items with paint.
5, Create Your Page Spread - Using both the right and left side of your page create one unified page "spread" and then begin spontaneously adding foreground elements to your background.
Some Possibilities for Creating Your Page Spread:
- Doodling - Start with a line drawing on top of the words on your page - allow your unconscious mind to influence your drawing.
- Underlining and Circling Words - Using different colored markers, pencil crayons and pens highlight, emphasize words and phrases that strike you as emotionally powerful.
- Add Magazine Collage - Intuitively choose magazine imagery to add to your page spread. Collage items can be glued on the front and back with white glue to make it waterproof so that you can alter - paint and draw over parts of your collage when the glue is dry.
- Black and White Photocopies - Patterns, vintage stock illustrations, music sheets, and nature and botanical woodcuts provide contrast, symbolism, and strength to your page
- Tissue Paper - Tissue Paper adds transparency, veiling, and obscuring certain elements of your page spread.
- Stenciling and Stamping - Ink stamping and acrylic paint pounced through stencils add dimension and texture.
6. Make Your Altered Book Cover - Altered book covers can be painted, collaged, covered in fabric. Old hardcover books often have carved covers that can be painted and further textured for patina. Book covers can be 3-D and embellished with beads, ribbons, buttons, old keys, lace, small toys, dried leaves and flowers, feathers, carved and painted air dried clay - the possibilities are endless.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 58 - Create an Intention Journal
- A dedicated intention journal
- Pen and assorted art supplies
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step," says a well known Chinese proverb. Nowhere is that statement more pertinent than in our urge to transform our consciousness. Despite grand schemes and noble ideas, transformation boils down to how we use the sixty-five thousand seconds that make up the average working day.
We know how difficult it is to break a habit that commits us to a negative pattern of behavior once it is acquired. What may not be so obvious is the ease with which how good habits also gain momentum and perpetuate themselves. The same habit forming consciousness that commits us to destructive behavior routines also allows us to cultivate constructive behaviors."
-F. Aster Barnwell
Setting Firm and Constant Intentions
The word intention in Latin means "to stretch towards". Forming intentions is a spiritual practice that helps us to clarify what higher qualities of being we are stretching towards, yearning for, and longing to grow into. We each have great freedom to use the power of our mind to choose our own thoughts, feelings, and growth directions. But most often we live in the ways we always have - even if they are not life-affirming because they seem to feel "natural, familiar, and safe."
We would permanently live in a higher, happier state if all parts of ourselves where aligned towards the same 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 goal.
The Overcoming the Doubt of "How?"
Deliberately moving ourselves forward into more inspiring ways of being to create something wholly new and fresh, and different from the past can bring up great doubt about whether our greatest aspirations can come true.
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 our current circumstances. 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 our intention setting is a passionate declaration of what we want. 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 is the key to effective intention setting.
Intending something new until it becomes a full embodied reality takes time. For example, when we are finally willing to change a core life struggle into something new, it could take a year - or much longer of daily repetition - in order to richly embody the needed difference in our life.
Repeating a new intention over and over eventually overcomes any old and entrenched 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 emotionally and mentally large enough to "hold" and embody our needed change.
Even though thoughts seem to come automatically each thought represents a choice. Carrying a small intention journal throughout the day, as well as reflecting on it morning and evening when your mind is the most receptive can help you remember, reflect upon, and "sculpt" the truer self that you are becoming. Most often desired change requires a passionate declaration and great effort towards a new way of being that builds and intensifies over time instead of dissipates.
It seems to be the human path of least resistance to forget our higher intentions because the more fearful, hurting, and embedded aspects of our personality structure fight back and insist on continuing with old ways of doing things whenever we effort to make a positive change. As a result our higher intentions seem to wane, become weaker over time, and often are forgotten completely.
Intensifying intentions involves forgetting, falling down, and determinedly getting back up, until our new patterns of thought, action, and feeling become an effortless and permanent part of our being. It is helpful to start a daily intention journal that can be illustrated with encouraging imagery, visual cues, and verbal reminders to visually intensify the direction that you want and need to grow into.
Growing Forward Involves Loss
"What must I give more death to today, in order to generate more life? What do I know should die, but am hesitant to allow to do so? What must die in me in order for me to love? What
should die today? What should live? What life am I afraid to give birth to? If not now, when?" - Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes
As we move into new aspects of our being, we will experience a loss as we let go of old parts of self that no longer contribute to our well-being. Without knowing it, we most often maintain the state of being that won us love, attention and belonging in the past.
As fear and loss bubbles up when we effort grow into a new intentions, there might be a message we can hear underneath our resistance. If we were to be deeply honest, we might hear a fearful "younger" voice that says something like, "If I am strong, I will not be loved. If I am well, I might not get the attention I need. If I am successful, I might not be supported emotionally. If I express my uniqueness, I might not fit in."
The Disparity Between Beliefs and Intentions
When we attempt to up-level our life into a new life affirming way of being and thinking, fear inevitably arises. It feels 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 become embodied in real life. For example, we can translate intentions into aligning our posture, gestures, and our speaking voice to further embody what we are stretching towards.
The power of our imagination helps us to envision ourselves in higher and freer states, so that we can emotionally align with them as we go through our practical life. To climb the ladder of affirming thought and feeling, we can practice becoming what we intend to be each day, no matter what our 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 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 basis. What we create in our mind always waits for us for our devoted emotional alignment with it. This is why we do not always manifest what we think about right away.
Sometimes alignment with our higher visions can arrive in an instant if we are sustaining the emotional note it requires to manifest in our life. And sometimes it takes years for our emotional energy to wholeheartedly align with what we have been thinking about.
Making Space for Intentions to Manifest
If we have habitual mental and emotional patterns that take up a great deal of "room" in our being, we can intend for things to change, while at the same time make no room for that change to occur. As we progress, old ways of looking at life need to be examined and let go of. As we let go of old beliefs and unhelpful emotional habits, we create a space for new things to enter.
Sometimes this means doing the opposite of what we have always done, or thinking the opposite of what we have always thought so that we can - over time - create 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 emotional intentions in your journal, the aim is keep your attention on it until it is fully achieved, embodied, and integrated into your body, mind and spirit. This involves remembering to choose your forward intention in every moment. If you are forgetting your intention, then pay full attention to everything that blocks you, with the aim to move heal and move through.
Goals and intentions for positive change give us energy and hope for a new way of living. Living into higher intentions to connect, to grow, to love, and to feel good helps us feel alive and excited about life.
How to Keep an Intention Journal
1. Set a new intention for the coming year. Usually you will know what growth step you have been habitually avoiding, and will likely feel some resistance to your higher intention at first.
2. Growth always implies effort that can feel uncomfortable and unfamiliar but growth always feels more pleasurable as you gather speed and motivation. Write down your intention to grow in a particular way in your journal in the morning, and spend some time envisioning how your day will unfold as you live into your intention.
3. Keep your attention on your intention as much as you possibly can throughout the day. Remember to choose your higher intention in as many moments as you possibly can.
4. As often as possible, envision your intention as already accomplished in your life, Walk, talk and feel your intention as completed as you move through your day.
5. If you feel a strong emotional block to embodying your intention, focus on understanding and healing the block first instead of trying to "wallpaper" over top of the blockage with positive intentions.
6. At the end of your day reflect on how much you focused on, and took action on your intention. Appreciating where you have succeeded in emotionally and mentally embodying your intention increases and adds to its power. Emotionally re-commit to your intention before you fall asleep and carry it into your dream state.
As we deepen into our higher intentions to love more, feel better, and grow in life-affirming ways, our intentions eventually stop feeling like effort and work, and they grow into a deepened consecration for living. The key is to not getting caught in wondering "how" our intentions will manifest. Just concentrating on each intuitive step forward, and focusing on what we want to feel when our intention is completed, is how new forms come into life.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 57 - Create a Mandala for Healing
- White and colored pencils
- Oil pastels
When we are imbalanced emotionally, mentally, or physically, we are operating from more hidden, life negating emotional and mental patterns from the past.
Because it takes great effort to change from habitual, more constricted states of mind, body and feeling, it is helpful to set a firm intention to heal. Intending to heal draws forth the insights and resources needed to heal. Drawing patterns of light emerging from black paper in a mandala format offers a process of discovering the inherent patterns of light and wholeness that are trying to come through into your conscious awareness right now.
Drawing the healing light in whatever symbolic form it wants to take, as it emerges from the darkness of the unconscious mind, is as one way to discover how to heal emotional, mental, or physical imbalances.
Creating Newer, Healthier Patterns
We can approach the mandala making process as a way to activate the latent healing powers of our mind to generate symbols for healing. As we allow our inner symbols of healing to emerge from our unconscious mind into tangible form we strengthen our will to heal.
Through our personal symbols we will see that something good and true wants to unfold from within us. The inner symbol that we can see and create on the outside becomes more real to our conscious mind when we draw it in visual form. This outer vision of our inner vision helps to amplify our focus and intention in a healing direction.
Mandalas have long been a method of facilitating the healing of psychological fragmentation. Drawing in a sacred circle format helps to make the invisible world of intuition visible, and can help us express larger patterns of reality that we might not be able to see in any other way.
Drawing a mandala with a healing intention helps to reveal the unity between our human selves and the cosmos. It helps us to understand how our life is connected to the whole. Mandalas for healing can give form to intuitive insight and spiritual truths that we could not be able to see otherwise.
Blessing the Materials
In the tradition of creating healing art as inspired Mandala teacher Judith Cornell writes about in her book "Mandala - Luminous Symbols for Healing" all materials are blessed before beginning the drawing:
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.
Accessing Your Healing Symbols
Judith Cornell developed the mandala method of drawing "light" onto black paper and I share how I work with her methods here:
1. Create a safe, sacred workspace surrounded and protected by divine light.
2. Ask with clear intention to receive the perfect healing symbol. Write your intention on a piece of paper.
3. Bless the materials.
4. Meditate on filling your body with divine light.
5. Keep your attention focused on your third eye while meditating
6. Refrain from a constructing a symbol intellectually - relax and allow it to arise spontaneously in meditation.
7. Humbly accept the symbol that is revealed.
8. Bring the symbol into your heart and infuse it with unconditional love and brilliant light.
9. Trace a circle on black paper with a white pencil crayon.
10. Bring your white pencil crayon to the paper and without thinking, allow your heart to flow through your hands and begin to spontaneously draw. Allow your symbol to change if it needs to as you draw. You might have an inkling of a visualization of your healing symbols before you start, but as you draw more will be revealed.
11. Color can be added onto the white designs of your symbology. Oil and watercolor pastels (added dry) can imbue vibrant color onto your healing symbol.
Meditating on Your Healing Symbol
When we are not feeling well, we will have negative thought and emotional patterns creating our health. It is difficult at first to change emotional and mental set-points that has been conditioned into our psychology for most of our life.
Because our mind is often not strong, or even willing enough to change the course of emotional imbalance or dis-ease quickly, it is helpful to meditate on a personal healing symbol many times a day. It is also helpful during such times of learning to intuit into well-being to also seek conventional treatments, especially in the case of illness.
A truth to remember as you are striving to feel better emotionally, physically or mentally is that the better you are feeling, the more you are connected to Source energy. The worse you feel, the less you are allowing your connection to Source. Meditating on a healing mandala can help increase your connection to the Source of well-being that is larger than your personal capacity to heal.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 56 - An Emotional Approach to Healing Illness - A Painting and Journaling Meditation
- Journal page
- Paint and brushes
An Emotional Approach to Illness
The emotional struggles that we cannot work out consciously, will often try to work their way through the body in the form of illness. This emotional component of illness can be explored symbolically through spontaneous painting, by sensing into the body, and by meditating on direct questions in a journal writing process.
The purpose of this journaling prompt is to explore the spiritual idea that when we feel healed we become one with other people and with the wholeness of life. Transpersonally speaking, the separate self uses illness to express problems, and to identify itself as a separate self that suffers from emotional wounds that have not healed yet.
This is not to say that as we grow older we do not suffer physically. Indeed, many of us have an "illness journey" as part of our life path, but what has astounded me most profoundly about working 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 hurt and suffer.
Over the past 7 years of working intimately with hundreds of older adults in their eighties and nineties, I have witnessed that emotional and spiritual healing happens at any stage of life. I have seen physical, cognitive, and emotional "healings" with my own eyes several times.
I have observed elderly people fall into deep depressions, have long bed-ridden illnesses and hospitalization, with the end of life seeming near. Then on several marked occasions , I have been surprised to see those same people back in the art studio again, ready to create another period of their life.
I have been gifted to witness a few elderly people come back from the edge of frailty and death - sometimes several times with one person. I have witnessed elderly people in a long death direction, reverse it quite spontaneously and become robust, cheerful, and full of life again.
When they come back to life, my direct sense is that they feel emotionally lighter. I see them laugh and smile more. They start to paint and weave again. They connect, join, and love more. They exclaim joy. And I always intuitively feel that something emotionally heavy inside has cleared away to make room for a fresh experience of life.
A Journal Meditation on Illness
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 intentionally expresses a part of you that you regularly ignore. Perhaps it has a direct message. It might be saying something like, "Pay attention to me, I need love, I am angry, stop hurting me, or stop ignoring me."
5. Perhaps each of the colors or the symbols in your painting have words or questions. You can consciously dialogue with your symbology by asking it questions. You could write in your journal a series of questions that might look something like this: "Red: I feel anger streaking through my body and I do not know why. Circle: I want to open up to a higher way of thinking about my life. Why can't I find a way though this anger pattern? No Mouth: What are you trying to say?"
A Healing Story - A Meditation on Ego and Spirit
When I was meditating upon this prompt, I was struck with a spiritual story of spiritually healing the ego mind that medical doctor David Hawkins recounted in his book Power vs. Force which I will share with you here:
"One day a mute catatonic was brought into the hospital with a straight jacket. She had a severe neurological disorder and was unable to stand - she squirmed on the floor in spasms, and her eyes were rolling in the back of her head. Her hair was matted and she's torn all her clothes and could only utter guttural sounds. Her family was fairly wealthy; therefore, she'd been seen by innumerable physicians over the years, including famous specialists from all over the world. Every treatment has been tried on her and the medical profession had finally given up, calling her situation "hopeless."
I looked at her and asked nonverbally, "What do you want me to do with her, God?" I then realized that I was just to love her; that was all. Her inner self shone through her eyes, and I connected with that loving essence. In that second she was healed by her own recognition of who she really was; what happened to her mind or body did not matter to her any longer.
This, in essence, happened with countless patients. Some recovered in the eyes of the world and some did not, but whether or not a clinical recovery had occurred no longer mattered to the patients. Their inner agony was over; as they felt loved and at peace within, their pain stopped. The phenomenon can only be explained by saying that the compassion of the Presence recontextualized each patient's reality so that he or she experienced healing on a level that transcended the world of appearances. The inner peace in which I existed encompassed us both, beyond time and identity.
I saw that all pain and suffering arises solely from the ego, and not from God. This was a truth that I silently communicated to all of my patients. When I intuited this mental block in another mute catatonic who had not spoken in many years, I said to him, "You're blaming God for what your ego has done to you." He then jumped to his feet and began to talk, much to the shock of the nurse who witnessed the incident."
Meditating on Your Ego
Healing illness involves coming out of isolation in some way and moving towards joining with and loving other people, or joining with what you experience as your Higher Power. As we heal our illness we heal our mind that is separated away from love in some way.
This healing of mind and emotional struggle does not mean that we will not inevitably have to deal with the physical fallout of illness, old age, or disability. But it is possible feel deeply connected to love, whatever our health situation. Even in the midst of body pain we can find great presence, peace, love and appreciation of what is.
This expressive art prompt focuses on the power of the whole, healed mind and spirit, even as our body seems to betray us with emotionally embedded expressions of our human life story.
Some Questions for the Ego
And as you rest and gaze upon your painting notice what wants your recognition right now. Let your thoughts inform you of why you feel separate from life. Ask yourself the following questions from your Higher Self to your defended and separate ego, and answer them honestly in your journal:
- Am I afraid of life in some way? What am I afraid of?
- Who in my life do I dislike or feel separate from?
- Is there something that I feel that I need to complete, do, or become that my illness is keeping me from doing?
- Is my illness helping me in some way? Why?
- Is there something that I am avoiding, or some higher quality of being that I am afraid of growing into by being ill?
- Is there something I need to be responsible for or someone I need to accountable to in order to heal?
- Is there anyone or anything that I am trying to control through my illness?
- What "good things" do I "get" from my illness? What are the reasons that I do not want to heal?
- Who would I be if I was healed and whole?
You may not yet know or deeply understand the buried aspect of your mind that expresses itself by being sick, but send the "vagueness" love, ask for its messages, and rest in the sense of wholeness and healing that arrives from listening to yourself on a deeper level. Rest in your meditation before you close your journal, and write down anything that floats into your mind. Allow yourself to rest on the edge of what you do not know instead of what you think you know about your illness. Allow new information to come in.
Asking for a Healing Idea
As you rest in stillness, just before closing your jounaling session, allow healing thoughts to float up from your unconscious mind for a time, and ask your higher mind, "What is the next step of my healing?" The answer might feel obvious or surprising. It might be a simple word, like "rest, stop, love, or relax". Healing steps arrive into our conscious awareness one at a time. Healing is most often a slow and gentle intuitive process.
Once a healing idea comes into your mind, you may try sending that same healing idea out to everyone to amplify your experience of it. You can send your healing idea out into the world with a general inner gesture of "may you all be well". Or you may pick a particular person to send it to. "May you be well." This magnanimous gesture opens up the frame of compassion for yourself and other people. You may even sense that certain individuals are being placed in your mind to send healing to, perhaps even total strangers who suffer in similar ways to you.
As you do your step-by-step healing work you might want to focus in a healing idea from A Course in Miracles: "When I am healed I am not healed alone. And I bless everyone, I am healed with them, as they are healed with me."
Meditating on Your Healed Self
As an additional entry in your journal, you can take time to sense into who you really are, beneath all of your defenses, your fears, and your buried hurt and anger. Create a collage that touches into the feeling tone of who you are as your most healed and whole self. Create a collage that is comprised of words and imagery that feels representative of your Essence Self - your larger True Self behind the smaller, more withdrawn and ill self that you present to the world.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 55- Understanding Physical Illness
- Felt pens in various colors
Most people believe that disease is due to outer factors, but when our mind and emotions remain agitated, upset and irritated, often over years of time, we are more likely to get physically ill. When our emotional and mental energy is processed and integrated, good health builds and self-understanding increases.
Often 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 inward. Get in touch with a body part that is painful or diseased. It is helpful to move into your heart-filled compassion with your dominant hand as you ask - 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, or the disease. If you do not know how to realistically draw your discomfort, use your intuition or make something up spontaneously with your imagination.
3. Color your painful or diseased part. If your pain has a burning feeling, for example, use a hot color like red or orange to express it. If there is a lump or a distortion in your body, include that in your drawing.
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:
a. Who are you? / What are you?
b. How do you feel?
c. What caused you to feel this way?
d. How can I help you? What do you want me to do for you?
Paying Attention to "Younger" Emotional Needs
Illness can be seen as a call for help and understanding from a younger part of ourself towards our adult, witnessing consciousness. The compassionate witness, in this exercise, is expressed by our dominant hand. An, our non-dominant hand will need to ask for help in some way that was likely was not allowed as a child.
Younger parts of self remain emotionally arrested and upset if we do not pay attention to their messages. As we mature through life they embed can express themselves in our body through illness, pain, and discomfort. Our younger thought and emotional systems will often express through body discomfort.
Healing Rebel Parts of Self
Some parts of our younger self may be in so much emotional pain that they, without our realizing it, unconsciously have us pointed in an extreme physical withdrawal pattern or a death direction, to help us ultimately "get rid" of the feelings that we fear being present for.
Parts of self that do not want to move into the light of a conscious and integrated life direction hold tremendous amounts of emotional pain that our illness is likely expressing somatically and metaphorically in the body in exact location, scope, and intensity.
However we felt unloved, unseen, or unheard in the past may continue to express itself through illness, until we learn how to specifically give ourselves the love, understanding, and attention that was missing in childhood.
It can feel uncomfortable to admit that some, more fearful and vulnerable parts of ourselves want to be ill. Parts that hurt in ways that we do not want to attend to can rebelliously and angrily turn away from integration and love.
Even as we consciously want to move towards, light, meaning, and purpose, some parts of self may stubbornly resist the change that is required for healing. Younger parts of self can fear the mature requirements of emotional growth will keep us ill, withdrawn.
Our body is a profound messaging system, that when dialogued with, tells us everything we need to know to heal, It is possible to understand what ails us on a body, metaphorical, and emotional level so that all of our life energy can consolidate in one healing direction.
For a further exploration of your body's messages of illness, you might also like to try starting a Body Focusing journal.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 54 - A Journal Process for Healing Negative Core Beliefs
- Journal and pen
Psychologist Stephen Wolinsky describes how we arrive into adulthood carrying varying amounts of post-hypnotic baggage that determines the negative core beliefs that form our life experiences.
"A developing child is deluged with hundreds of post-hypnotic suggestions that form the filters that we see the world though, delivered by well-meaning, as well as abusive parents. Not all of these are internalized."
In many ways we arrive into adulthood mystified and hypnotized by what we chose to believe about what our parents taught us when we were little.
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 the false 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 external world, our thoughts, our emotions, and our biology.
Wolinsky offers the factors that determine our negative conditioned core beliefs which I have interpreted as follows. Note that is can be just as difficult to be overpraised, as being negatively reflected. In both situations we can remain hypnotized within an outer-imposed habitual emotional and mental structure that can be difficult to let go of.
1. A negative experience once resisted, persists until we are willing to "experience" the experience.
In essence, all of the negative voices that plague us are underpinned by resisted past emotional experiences. Negative core beliefs gain their foothold through our resistance of them. When we internalize negative suggestions or interpret events negatively as children, we spend 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 a reaction. When negative beliefs begin to feel neutral - as the run on automatic at the beginning of the healing process - 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 are and what we want.
We can spend our life energy, for example, trying to be good, beautiful, or helpful in order to gain the approval we crave. It is healing, if you feel dependent on outer praise and validation to write out what you need to be praised for, over and over again, until the emotional charge of 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 well into old age.
Our self-perpetuated patterns do not run themselves. In resistance to our emotional pain, we subconsciously collude with our past experiences, and recreate them in our body and mind, over and over again. We in truth, are not a victim of our past circumstances at all. We are the "re-creators" of them!
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.
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 core, negative belief.
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.
1.) What am I doing to recreate the original negative emotional experiences in my childhood/teen years - now my adult life? It is helpful to know your emotional, mental, and physical patterning so intimately that you can actually see yourself doing it in your minds eye. As you describe it in your journal start to see yourself creating your conditioned state. Write about how you create it - play by play. Write the recipe.
2.) What am I consistently believing about myself to lock this pattern in place? As you write our your core negative beliefs in your journal. Say them out loud and watch what they do inside of your body. Experiment with saying out loud, the opposite of your conditioned beliefs. For example, change the belief of, "I am not a good person" into "I am deeply good" and see how each belief feels in your body.
3.) How do I recreate this negative emotional pattern in my body? Do I cringe, tighten my muscles, distract my thinking ect.? As you record the specifics about how you habitually close yourself down through your belief, practice exaggerating your particular closing gesture. If you were to sculpt your belief system, how would you shape your body? Practice contrasting your closed conditioned state, with the opposite gesture of opening up your body physically. See how it feels to play with, and control your energy in this way.
4.) What is the hypnotic suggestion inherent in my self-negating behaviors? It is helpful to pick a problem area of your life, and write out how you put yourself into a trance of low self-esteem, or fear and anxiety, or any negative feeling that is plaguing you. What do your tell yourself over and over again - many times a day? Start to doubt what you say to yourself. Watch how your body changes its posture when you are in your negative belief system. Ask yourself, "Is this true?" Begin writing out how exactly, you put yourself into the "trance" that repeats what you negatively learned and believed about yourself when you were young.
5.) If you were overpraised ask yourself, "What are the "have to's" and "shoulds" in my life that I put pressure on myself to live up to?" Write out what you "have to do" to be loved. It is helpful to create a collage of how you were "praised into" being someone that you are not. Collage a picture of who you were expected to be. Write out your lists of "shoulds" and catch yourself as you act them out in your daily life. Feel the pressure and the forcing in your body. Experiment with relaxing your efforts to impress others and see how that feels.
6.) What is the root of the original emotional pain that I am avoiding through my negative core belief? Finally, in our journal, we can sink deep within our body, and seek to know what emotional loss of love we are avoiding feeling. Some emotionally devastating disappointment or loss from the past must be felt and come to terms with so that we can stop creating our negative beliefs.
Wherever we did not get our emotional needs met as a child must be grieved, and its stored energy pattern in our body must be released and completed. This stored and undigested loss, is in essence, what we structure our entire defended psychology around trying not to feel. Once the root loss is grieved, we are freer to be true selves and not perpetuate our negative core beliefs.
Intervening on Conditioned Patterns
Most of us unwittingly live from our core negative beliefs most of the time, and only experience small windows of peace and completeness into our authentic Self. This "daily practice" makes our limiting negative beliefs stronger, and more rooted in our everyday reality.
But as soon as we start to perceive how we habitually close down around our core negative beliefs, we will come to understand that we are larger than our patterns. As soon as we stand back and disidentify with the beliefs that keeps us small and limited, we can begin to live a more unlimited, connected life.
Whatever has been created "on top" of our essence self can be taken off again. As we learn more about what beliefs close our emotional mental and bodily structure down, and stop unconsciously reinforcing them, we will authentically grieve through all of the layers of emotional pain and loss that have been stored up from the pass.
We can grieve where we were not nurtured, loved, honored, or respected in the past. Each layer of emotional pain felt and released - without our negative belief systems continually feeding into them - releases some of the stored energy of grief that we have been avoiding all of our life. When we grieve the old losses from the past, and accept what love and nurturing was missing from our life, a piece of our heart opens up again. After we grieve, we can find a way give ourselves what we have been needing from others, so that we can remember who we really are.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 53 - Exploring Mixed Feelings and Inner Conflict
- Journal and a pen
"Ambiguity has a destabilizing effect.
Very few have the courage or the strength to hold the tension between opposites until a completely new standpoint emerges.
This is because in acknowledging contradictory truths, one has to create an inner equilibrium to keep from being torn in two."
- Aldo Corotenuto
Because our psyche functions in pairs of opposites, it is no surprise that we tend to get caught in inner conflict and polarization much of the time. Mixed feelings can be exhausting. When we are struggling with an inner conflict, we cannot move forward because both sides can have strong viewpoints that do not want to waver.
The purpose of not picking sides during an inner conflict is to see what new creative solutions arise by sitting in the middle and listening to both sides equally. This writing/speaking/storytelling exercise offers a way to hold opposing parts of your consciousness in your awareness at the same time, to see what new options arise.
In Focusing psychotherapy, teachers Ann Weiser Cornell and Barbara McGavin, authors of the excellent book "The Radical Acceptance of Everything" call staying in the middle of opposite feelings, "Standing In". I have applied their methods of standing in the middle of opposing parts - to a speaking and writing exercise - to help you see what emerges. I detail the teachings as I apply them to expressive art therapy here:
Finding the Different Stories in our Body
"Whenever you mentally oppose what is, you’re going to experience sadness and apparent separation." - Byron Katie
It is self-honoring to witness all of the personal stories that we store within our body/mind. Each story has a particular place that it lives inside of our body, and when it is active we can feel it - usually through discomfort, pain, or illness. When we find where the opposing parts of ourselves exist in our body, we can begin the process of sitting in the middle of inner conflict, listening to both sides, and writing or speaking the opposing stories out loud.
Usually we choose sides between feelings like fear and excitement, and become identified with only one side of the story. When we are only aware of fear, for example, our whole self feels afraid. Fear is everywhere in our body. In Focusing Psychotherapy terms, we no longer keep the opposite feeling of excitement "company" with our awareness. We have disowned excitement and have fallen into fear. We are all fear
When we are all fear, we do not keep our fear company either. Cornell and McGavin write, "There is no inner "I" who can say hello to the fear and ask it to tell more about itself. The universe of me is fear."
Waiting in the Middle for Inspiration
When we feel overtaken by one side of an inner conflict we can admit instead, "A big part of me is afraid!" At this point we can exaggerate the fear through bodily movement, gesture and spoken words so that we can witness it. As soon as we admit that we are in a part of self, this allows room for the opposite part to be expressed. We can gesturally exaggerate our excitement at this point to become more aware of it. We can say as our witness self, "I am going to let the fear and the excitement both be here."
We hold the two opposing feelings in our body - staying present with both parts at the same time. In a sense when we are in the middle, there is no problem or conflict. Something new and creative waits in potential to be born within the center point.
When we "stand" in the middle of inner conflict, we stay still, right in the center of opposing feelings to see if something new will be revealed. Only after we spend time being present for our ambiguity do we open up to a "third" possibility that we likely have not considered before.
If, for example we have a part of self that is excited about moving forward, and a part of self that is afraid to move ahead, we can give inner breathing room to both parts, allowing each to share their own point of view. Expressively, we can touch each part of our body where each particular story lives - even giving it a characteristic body gesture, such as cringing, moving forward, passivity or exuberance.
As we embody and experiment with each opposite gesture of our inner conflict, we can be gently touching each body part separately with our hands as well as with our awareness. Once we feel gesturally clear, we can then move our attention and our hands to the mid-point on our body, to see what emerges.
Standing In the Middle
In Focusing psychotherapy the "Inner Relationship" has three modes that explain inner conflict:
1.) Identification - expressed as, "I am..."
2.) Dissociation - expressed as, "I am not..."
3.) Disidentification and Association - expressed neither as, "I am afraid" or "I am not afraid". Instead we would say, "Part of me is afraid," or "Something in me is excited."
Usually we have no awareness about why we are stuck. When we want to understand why we are stuck we can follow the four moves of "standing" in the midst of inner conflict.
The Four Moves of Standing in the Middle:
1.) Becoming Aware that Two Parts Need Company - The identified-disassociated place is our "normal". If we are stuck, there is always a part of ourselves that is disassociated, and another part that we feel is "all" of who we are. Fear is powerful and often over-rides subtler, higher feelings. The part that fears moving forward often feels like it is all of who we are. Touching each part of our body where our conflict resides deepens the process of honoring the two parts.
2.) Saying Hello to Both Parts - "There is a part of me that is excited about moving forward, and a part of me that is afraid. Both are here with me. I'm saying hello to each one." As we say hello, we can recognize and touch each corresponding part of our body in a nurturing way.
3.) Allow Both Parts Without Pushing for Resolution - We can patiently wait for fresh inspiration. We usually want our inner struggle to be over, rather than to sit in the inner fire of waiting for a possible inner transformation. In the middle of a long-standing inner conflict, we can trust that with enough presence we can find the creative center point - the point where neither side is wholly "right".
When we are silently immersed in the creativity and discomfort of "not knowing", we can touch the "middle point" on our body that is physically between the two parts of our inner conflict. As we hold this physical midpoint on our body we may receive deeper insights and impressions.
When we recognize our two conflicting parts we can sit in presence without pushing for a premature resolution. We can remain undecided. In this spontaneous place we can allow whatever poetry or story of the moment to be spoken or written. We can explore the opposite body location and the gestures that emanate from each story that need to be expressed. We can alternate between the two sides - allowing each one to form a kind of dance of polarities.
4.) Sensing Into Each Part With Compassion and Empathy - Finally after "sitting in the fire" of the middle without resolution we can sense into each part of our conflict, and let it reveal more of its point of view - without taking sides and without arguing or agreeing. Argument and agreement indicate identification. As we journal or speak each point of view, we allow each side to enrich and inform the "whole problem".
When we listen to all of what is there - within an inner conflict, a way that will be revealed that does not come from our logical mind. When we carry forward from sitting in the middle of opposites, neither side needs to be compromised. There can be an inner consensus that feels absolutely right to all parts of the self. As we come to a new way, we can speak our new resolution out loud, perhaps many times during the day, to solidify the way forward.
"Standing It brings with it a special kind of grace,as we feel the gratitude of all the parts being heard without being pushed, and we allow for a larger place that honors and includes all parts without denying any."
- Ann Wieser Cornell and Barbara McGavin
Expressive Art Therapy Activity #52 - Journaling Through Emotional Overwhelm
- Journal and a pen
- A timer or a clock
This journal method offers a way to unify energy instead of dissipate life force during 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 a personal crisis or emotional pain we tend to close into a state of extreme self-focus. Our world becomes very small. In emotional overwhelm we cannot vision our possibilities very far beyond the perimeter of our own body.
When we struggle emotionally we become dominated by the lower energies of consciousness such as fear, anger, hopelessness, and despair. 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 thought and emotion cycles between the negative thoughts that generate negative emotions - and the negative emotions that generate negative thoughts.
The Practice of Opening up the Emotional Field
When we practice stream of consciousness writing, our present moment awareness can expand our contracted emotional field. We can gather the strength that is only available through present moment attention to bodily sensation. 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.
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
1. Set your writing time for 30 minutes. If you are going through an intensely difficult time, you can repeat the cycle of this exercise morning and evening. It takes about an hour and a half. To process intensely challenging emotions this exercise involves a 30 minute writing session, a 15 minute walk, another 30 minute writing session, and another 15 minute walk.
2. Begin by meditatively noting and writing simple descriptions of anything you are sensing within and without in this moment. Sensing means detailing what you sense in your body as it arises, and noticing what is happening around you, such as what you are seeing, hearing, smelling, and tasting. Write what you notice, as it happens - without stopping - in your journal for 30 minutes.
3. It is important to not censor what you write. Whatever sensation comes up in your awareness, write it down. You do not have to be tedious about it. You can abbreviate. Move randomly from one sensation to another. Richard Moss offers this example, "Fingers curled, wind, shadow moving, weight on buttocks, shoulder tight, jaw clenched, eyes softening, itchy nose, warmth in belly, mouth dry, dog barking, hesitation..."
4. Do not analyze. The aim is to notice the flow of awareness but not interfere with it. It is essential to keep writing down your felt sensation, and to not interpret or explain with your mind.
5. When you are finished your 30 minutes, note how you are feeling. Is there a change in your quality of awareness? There may be be a deeper connection to your body. When we break the link-up between the "belly-mind" cycle we most often feel freer.
6. After you sit quietly and reflect for several moments, get up and go for a walk. Walk briskly for about 15 minutes and then return to your journal. Set the timer and begin the stream of consciousness writing again for 30 minutes. When the thirty minutes are up, for another 15 minute walk. Alternately, you can meditate on music for 15 minutes between writing sessions.
"We are reminded that our strongest condition is one of unity within. To find unity we must enter dimension that transcends thought and emotion. This dimension is one of energy or presence that is available to all of us when we are centered in ourselves and fully present. Now." - Richard Moss
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 51 - Journal Process for Healing "Inner Demons"
- A dedicated shadow journal
- 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?
Many of us do not want to admit that we struggle silently with our inner demons. Our demons are any negative, thought, belief system, or emotion that we fear looking at. When we give our denied aspects of self what we need, they change into allies, gifts, and strengths.
Whatever is most unwelcome in our consciousness - whether it be shame, anger, prejudice, hidden urges or instincts can be accessed in a friendly, creative way through the Buddhist practice of "Feeding your Demons" as detailed in the excellent book of the same name by Tsultrim Allione.
We can learn to be a nurturer to our shadow parts of self. Our inner demons are any part of our psyche that hinders the realization of our essence Self. When we personify and give our inner demons form, we give voice to the parts of ourselves that attack and persecute us, and 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 most discomforting feelings, we can explore a relationship with them. Below is a close approximation to the Buddhist practice by Tsultrim Allione, as I have understood it, and have used in my own journal 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.
Dedicate your nurturing process for the benefit of yourself and all people.
Step 1: Find the Demon in Your Body
Each aspect of our shadow resides in a particular place of tension in our body. Each "inner demon" becomes more twisted away from life and love - the longer it is supressed. Become aware of the specific sensory qualities of the tension in your body and journal your questions and answers:
Description of Body Tension:
- What color is it?
- What shape does it have?
- Does it have a texture?
- What is its temperature?
- If it emitted a sound what would it be?
- If it had a smell what would it be?
Step 2: Personify the Demon and Ask it What it Needs
In this step we invite our inner demon to take form into a living entity that is sitting right in front of us. Because our shadow parts of self are so hidden, they are often difficult to identify and talk to. Encourage your body sensations to appear before you, personified in some way.
Do not try to control how your inner aspect appears. Let your unconscious mind produce the image and work with whatever comes up without censoring. It is helpful if your inner demon has a face, eyes and appendages so that you can communicate with it expressively. You can ask, "How would you look if you were an animate being?"
You can record the following details intuitively in your journal. To solidfy your impression of your demon, you can also make a drawing of it:
- What size is it?
- Does it have arms and legs. If so what are they like?
- What color is it?
- What is the surface of its body like?
- Does the demon have an age?
- Does it have a gender?
- What is its emotional state?
- How do I feel looking at it?
Make eye contact and notice the expression in its eyes. Feel the nature of your connection. If your mind interrupts your felt connection, your demon might change with your thinking. Stick with your original spontaneous image.
Asking Your Demon What it Needs
The second part of this step involves asking your inner demon a set of three questions that will help you understand what it emotionally needs. As soon as you ask the questions, change places with the demon and answer the questions in "first person" as the embodiment of your demon.
Write in Your Journal:
- What do you want from me?
- What do you need from me?
- How will you feel if you get what you need?
Step 3: Become your Inner Demon
With your eyes closed step inside of your demon's body and take a deep breath. Imagine yourself walking in your demon's shoes. Often we think we might know what our demon is feeling but when we embody it, it feels distinctly different. We will likely be surprised at the level of empathy we feel when we step inside the thinking and feeling process of what has been hidden and denied within.
Answer in Your Journal
- What I want from you is...
- What I need from you is...
- When this need is met, I will feel...
It is important to note that what your inner demon wants - for example: to suck up your energy, to control you, to make you pursue your addictions - will be vastly different from what is needs. The emotional need is hidden below the wants and desires. If your demon wants alcohol for instance, the need underneath the addiction might be for relaxation. The core feeling that the inner demon will feel after its need is met, is what you will feed and nourish it. This will heal the root cause of your emotional distress.
Step 4: Nourish the Demon and Meet Your Ally
Feeding Your Demon
Settle into your own body again. Close your eyes and see your demon in front of you. In the Buddhist tradition, the directions are to remove your awareness from your body so as to transform your body in a nectar that will nourish your shadow part of self. In the traditional meditation you can turn your whole body into liquid, gas, nectar, steam or smoke. The demon can drink, bathe in, or inhale the nurturing substance. This nectar is the emotional essence of what the demon has expressed it will feel when it gets what it needs. If your demon has expressed it will feel powerful, loved, or accepted when it gets what it needs, feed it the creative essence of power, love or acceptance.
In my experience of the process, I alternatively send the needed emotional nourishment directly to the particular place of tension in my body. I let the tension in my body drink in the nourishment it needs for as a long as it wants it. If it is a long denied aspect of self, it may need longer or more frequent periods of nourishment until it calms down enough to integrate into our conscious psychology.
Meeting Your Ally
After you feed and nourish your disowned inner demon and give it the emotional need that it craves, it tends to lose its scary, twisted, gargoyle qualities. When anything in our consciousness feels loved, accepted, and nourished, it changes, and its negative destructive energies become a positive, needed, constructive force in our life.
A satisfied inner demon may turn into a benevolent figure, and animal, a bird, a god or goddess, a child or a familiar person. If you feel inspired, draw your ally alongside your questions and answers in your journal. If your inner demon softens and morphs into something different after you nourish it with the love it needs, ask it the following questions in your journal:
- How will you help me?
- How will you protect me?
- What pledge or commitment do you make to me?
- How can I gain access to you?
Then change places to embody your ally fully and then answer the questions as specifically as possible:
- I will help you by...
- I will protect you by...
- I pledge I will...
- You can access to me by...
Once your ally has articulated how it will serve and protect you, and how you can summon it, return back to your own body. Imagine you are receiving the help and commitment that your ally has promised. Take in this supportive energy deeply and allow yourself to bask in the warmth of feeling taken care of. And finally imagine your ally becoming a part of you - integrating with you. The more intense and difficult your inner demon is, the more powerfully supportive your ally will be.
Step 5: Rest in Awareness
After you do your inner work, notice the profoundly relaxed feeling that arises when you are no longer struggling with inner conflict. After an inner disowned aspect of your shadow has been nourished and fed it will no longer clamour for your attention. Relax and rest in stillness and presence that you have created through your inner work. Enjoy the freedom state and natural well-being that is your essence Self.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 50 - Unburdening the Past
- Old magazines, scissors, glue stick
- Pen and Journal
Clearing Emotional Burdens to Make Way for a New Life
"We are not unified. We often feel that we are, because we do not have many bodies and many limbs, and because one hand does not fight with the other. But, metaphorically that is exactly what does happen within us. Several sub-personalities are continually scuffing with each other; impulses, desires, principles, aspirations are engaged in an unceasing struggle."
- Susan Bello
We all have fears about moving out of our "safety" zone and into new growth. Our entire psychology is built on defending away from emotional pain. We each have some parts of our psyche that hold
onto the emotional hurt of the past.
Our core conflict in life is whether we will stay in the emotional conditioning of our past, or move forward into who we are meant to become. Growth always means a facing a loss and starting again.
The Pull Between Holding Back and Moving Forward
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 rejection similar to the past. Our hurting parts of self have an intense need to belong, and to feel love and safety. Often we will not grow forward for years, if we perceive we will not be loved in our authentic truth.
Every place where we do not move forward into our truth creates a place of binding in our body that diminishes our ability to breathe, move, and express freely. Because we must move forward as a whole, we can choose to spend time learning about what parts of ourselves want to stay the same, and why they are hurting.
Unburdening the Past
We have parts of self that armor us against the possibility of being hurt in similar ways to the past. Unfortunately, these closed off and protected areas numb us, keep us isolated, and affect our relationships and creativity. The need for change brings up the core conflict between our conditioned psyche and our spontaneous soul.
Richard Schwartz, creator of Inner Family Systems Therapy writes, "Child-like parts of self are often stuck when the person was scared, rejected, humiliated, abandoned, or traumatized, or experienced a loss.
That part feels as if it lives in that time period, which accounts for the fact that no matter how much attention it receives from the Self or from external people, it remains extreme. Only after such a part can be retrieved from the past and can be nurtured in the present, can it let go of its extreme feelings or beliefs."
Releasing Burdens from the Body Expressively
The easiest and fastest way to discover and release the burdens we carry 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, and therefore can be released.
We can unburden ourselves expressively, visually, kinesthetically or symbolically:
Drawing or Painting - If we feel like we are carrying a burden over our heart for example, we can draw or paint a "before-unburdening-portrait" of our heart, and an "after-unburdening portrait" and meditate on it daily.
Creative Movement - We can release our pain through creative movement. For example, we can viscerally pull the energy out of our heart with our hands in the form of a dance.
Symbolic Mind - The higher mind responds to pictures. We can also work with a burden symbolically in our mind. Every time we contract into old beliefs, we can summon a visual image of symbolically removing a burden out of our mind and heart, and replacing it with a truer and more life-affirming image.
Kinesthetic Imagination - We can release old burdens emotionally. We can imagine the emotional freedom we felt before we took on our emotional burden, and go back to viscerally imagine that time of freedom in our body and mind.
Vigorous Exercise - Exercise of any sort, emotionally, and physically moves us forward. Because old beliefs embed themselves into our body musculature over time, vigorous exercise can help the stagnant body open up to life affirming, forward moving beliefs.
Caring and Commitment - After we remove the emotional burdens out of our body, it is important to pour love and care into what was once hurt and abandoned - on a consistent basis - until it become habitual. We can envision a loving light going into the places in our body where we have held emotional burdens.
Because our bodies have been conditioned for years into contracting around the fear of rejection, pain, hurt and fear, there may be a period of intensive caring, stretching, and a commitment to compassionate touch that will be needed, to help the body remain open.
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."
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 49 - Meditate on an Intuitive Zendoodle
- Black permanent markers - various sizes
- Journal page, or smooth hard pressed paper
Single Focus Visual Meditation
Most of us multitask and dissipate our energies. Focusing intently on small, repetitive creative tasks integrates the mind and gathers energy. Singularly attending to a deliberate, detailed visual task can be astoundingly centering.
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 expressive art activity, I offer an example of using an intuitive drawing that is intrinsically meaningful to you instead of a preset pattern as in the patented method of Zentangling.
Patterning a spontaneous drawing gives pause to contemplate our intuitive drawing for a long time, as we meditatively draw small patterns.
Spending time meditating on a drawing that arises from your intuition allows you to contemplate the more hidden parts of your mind while you doodle.
1. Start with a spontaneous drawing.
2. After you finish an intuitive structure or drawing - section off areas for patterning.
3. Organically create your own spontaneous patterns in the spirit of silent meditation and deep concentration.
Traditional Buddhist Concentration Meditation
If you want to approach 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.
Typically when we sit in formal meditation, we choose an object of meditation such as a picture of a deity, a blank wall as in zen meditation, a candle, clouds, or a flower. Because these objects of focus are relatively unchanging, meditating in this way can be arduous.
For most creative types, it is helpful to have an active form of visual focus - one that is inspired from deep within - that changes according to intuitive directives. When we doodle in a deliberate, "zen" way we can deepen our one-pointed focus. Because doodling is active, it is less likely that we will become bored and forget to focus on our drawing. Most often, through detailed drawing, we can stay fascinated and at peace for extended periods of time.
Wandering and Depression
Sleepiness is a form of depression. Sometimes when we try to concentrate, we can be resistant to the process and we will feel sleepy. Because concentration meditation is aimed at promoting clarity, we will lack meditative strength when we lose focus.
Sometimes when we concentrate too intensely, we might feel agitated or distracted. This may mean emotions are arising that are not in alignment with an integrated state of mind state. Identifying and accepting feelings that are arising, allows them become integrated into oneness.
A wandering mind is not as common in intuitive Zendoodling unless we are resisting feeling that are coming up. Often "wandering" consists of flashes of inspiration because the mind is open and still. Insightful thoughts and ideas come into our awareness when we are in a state of deep, non-thinking awareness. Memories, forgotten dreams, and other important thoughts may pop in, that are normally covered up with habitual thinking patterns. We can keep a notepad nearby to record insights, and then return to meditatively drawing.
Failure to Correct Problems
Each problem that we have with concentrating and quieting our mind has an antidote. When our interest is "depressed" we can tighten our concentration, for example. When we are wandering away from our focus, we are trying to hard, and we can loosen our efforts a little bit.
Concentration is an eloquent dance between relaxing and tightening up our focus as needed. Developing a balanced, bright, focused composure is the aim. In this concentrated way we can practice moving through our day in a state of exquisite, meditative joy that takes in each moment with calm equanimity.
Correcting Non-Existent Problems
The fifth obstacle is overly watching for problems. It is best to flow intuitively with the process.
A Visual Meditation Session
Start your meditation session with the intention to focus on your drawing/doodling session. As you settle into your drawing session, aim to cultivate clarity and quietude. Be aware that when concentration is too intense there will be a need to wander mentally to break the intensity. When concentration is too loose you will feel sleepy or bored.
The purpose of visual meditation is to learn how to concentrate and stop thought for progressively longer periods of time. This the practice of gathering more and more moments of complete presence invites emotional healing and integration. As we become more present, the inner harmony of body and mind becomes increasingly strong. As concentration grows it is possible to experience great pleasure - even ecstasy - during the meditation process.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 48 - Free Association Pastel Drawings
- Oil Pastels
- White or Colored Pastel Paper
Leaping Beyond Reason
Free association was used by Sigmund Freud to access subconscious and unconscious levels of the mind. Emptying the mind of its conscious agenda invites the subconscious to take intuitive leaps to new levels of personal meaning.
Free association helps to surprise us out of our familiar preference for maintaining the status quo. Freud wrote, "Where there is a creative mind - reason - so it seems to me - relaxes its watch upon the gates, and the ideas rush in pell-mell."
Since our reasoning, judging mind guards against deeper self-knowledge, free association can be used to access our more hidden parts of self in the spirit of self-acceptance, play, and the willingness to grow into new self-knowledge.
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.
1. Take some time before you begin, to center into your body.
2. Intuitively choose a color that represents the body felt-sense that you are currently experiencing.
3. Sense where the strongest body energy resides. Allow your emotional energy to move through your body, into your arm, and onto the paper.
4. When you are finished, hold each drawing in your hand, and rotate it until a response is triggered in you.
5. The response to your drawing might come as a word, a feeling in a particular part of your body, a memory, or a recollection of a moment in your day. Record your responses in a few words on the back of your drawing, or in your journal.
Take some time to rationally reflect and journal about your free associations:
- Are the energy patterns that you have drawn with pastels reflect the current feeling state of your life right now? How?
- Do your drawings and responses conflict with how you are consciously experiencing your life today? How?
- What motivates or excites you today?
- What troubles you today?
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 47 - Transforming Your Inner Brat
- Crayons or pastels
- Paper or journal page
Creating Separately from Others
When we are non-integrated within, we operate from different part of our psyche, depending on our current emotional state. Our "inner brat" is a part of our mind that compensates for unmet emotional needs. From our "inner brat" we consume life and seek to "try to feel good" in ways that do not contribute to the whole.
Our inner brat creates separately from the whole - to the point of extreme selfishness. It seeks to feel good about itself, and further itself without equal regard to the other people in our lives. Taken too far, the inner brat can turn to an extreme self-focus on personal happiness to the detriment of other people.
Our inner brat can even be exceedingly creative but in a narcissistic way - to the point of creating beyond what is needed or necessary. As we create a life that suits us alone, to the detriment of those we love, care for, and work with, we create dissonance in relationship to the larger creativity that wants to 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 Rebel
1. Because our inner rebel stems 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 the present in a way that is considerate of the other people in your life?
The Creative Gifts in the Inner Brat
Every separate and split-off part of our mind has creative gifts that can be tempered and included in relationship with others. Our inner rebel for example, knows what we want, and finds the drive to go and get it. Being defiant, it is often willing to deviate from the norm. It is creative, and even innovative about getting its needs met. The inner brat is young in spirit, sassy, and willing to say what it wants with great irreverence.
Creating Within the Whole
In order to be healthy we need to be whole, integrated, and emotionally "at one" on the inside. Once we feel integrated emotionally on the inside, we can intuitively contribute to the wholeness that is needing to unfold in our outer life.
When we heal ourselves on the inside, we come to understand how to create within the context of our current relationships instead of creating separately from them.
Emotional neediness attempts to heal past hurt in the present, and is often in dissonance with reality that is unfolding. Understanding what we emotionally need right now, forgiving the past, and giving what we most need to ourselves and others is the antidote to self-serving defiance.
When we connect, and give what we most need to others, past losses begin to heal. As we heal old losses, by offering love to our current relationships, our inner brat can relax. When our entitlement softens into inclusion, our need to take from life dissipates, and it becomes much easier to consider the whole.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity #46 - Portal into Possibility with Collage
- 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 clear the way to connect to the realm of larger possibilities. These potentialities are actually around us all of the time, but we can easily disassociate from seeing them clearly, especially if we are struggling with emotional flooding, and the jumbled up thinking that results from inner psychological conflict.
Inherent in our traumas, heartbreaks, and challenging life circumstances, are the strengths that we need to develop - to bring our specific gifts to the world around us. As old traumas are felt, and our life lessons are learned, we begin to see into the possibility of bringing our unique spiritual and creative gifts to life.
Creating a Portal
Creating a collage of possibilities is helpful and 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 daily emotional and psychological material that we struggle with.
1. Begin by drawing or painting a portal in any way you feel called to.
2. After your portal is created, quiet your mind and emotions, and meditate into what higher possibility exists beyond your personal problems.
3. As you take time to do your collage, set aside all of the emotional drama that is in your life right now, and allow yourself to be receptive to new ideas that you might not normally consider.
4. Contemplate your collage materials, and be willing to be flexible and surprised about what you choose.
5. Never worry if your imagery does not make immediate sense. As long as you are meditating on possibility, the imagery that wants to speak to you will feel emotionally strong.
6. Assemble your collage inside of your painted portal. Allow your imagery, ideas, thoughts, and inklings to surprise you. You might feel excited, apprehensive, confused, or even disappointed. It is possible to even feel frightened about what you are here to give.
7. What comes to you when you are receptive to possibilities might seem out of your realm, or feel like far more than you can handle. The feelings evoked in your collage might feel well beyond your regular thoughts about your life.
Asking the Big Questions
Most of us spend a good part of our lives avoiding emotional pain, trying to fit into society, and trying to be more successful. Asking the big questions opens up the window of possibility, which is especially needed when we are struggling with emotional heaviness.
You might ask for higher hints that exist outside of your emotional heaviness. In your journal you could ask, "How do I become more authentic in my life? What am I meant to share with the world? How can I share my gifts with other people? What small steps can I take today to live into my potential? Who am I afraid to be? Who am I in my greatness?" As you meditate on these big questions more often, the answers will come through various means.
We will feel often lost if we look out into the world to tell us who we are. Our heart's path always waits to be heard behind the outer static and our inner limitations. Possibilities are always revealed when we ask the bigger questions and are open to receive the answer. For our essence to come forward into this world, we need to ask the larger questions, and be willing to go where our heart leads.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 45 - Healing Traumatic Memories with Embodied Writing
- Journal and a pen
The Guardian of Difficult Memories
We all have one or more "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. 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.
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 way, that can trick us into thinking we fully understand what happened past, and should move on.
As we mature emotionally into our capacity to be more strongly present and unconditionally self-loving, we can tenderly ask the inner guardians of our past memories to allow our body recollections to arise. Emotions that we were too fragile to process in the past, can be met with an increasing strength of presence when the timing is right, and when we have a safe space to do so.
We can record our embodied memories in a journal with the intention of connecting our body stories from the past. Each past 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 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 as child and teen.
After the emotional connection to the past is sustained 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 the previously numbed resources inherent within extreme circumstances.
The key to emotional healing is to avoid becoming cognitively trapped in our past negative stories as if they are the entire truth. . 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 with other people can be used to try to fulfill an intimate connection that is missing inside of the self.
Illusions: Making up fantasies about a better life in the future is a survival aid when there is a lack of 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.
Feeling Through Embodied Writing
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.
Progressively follow the thread of each sensation as a form of slow, quiet writing meditation. Practice building the strength and subtlety of your awareness. See if you can start with five minutes of deep, attuned awareness to your body without shutting down.
Practice withstanding the strength and eloquence of your writing presence for ten minutes, twenty minutes, and then for half an hour as you build the strength of your awareness each day. After your writing session give yourself a break and do something else, or take a nap. Sustaining presence is exhausting at first but it returns as increased strength, confidence and energy over time.
Body Poetry - Record each memory sensation as it arises in your body's language. Your body's voice will sound different from your cognitive voice - like poetry. Write from inside of your body sensations using metaphor, color, shape, texture, sound, and any intuitive descriptions that spontaneously arise. Allow your body to find, feel, and express it own unique language from the inside out.
Emotional memory often arise as visual imagery that takes leaps in sentence structure to best describe what cannot be described logically. Do not worry if your poetry seems accurate or realistic according to what you mentally remember. Allow any imagery that comes to your mind to be a welcome metaphor to describe your feeling world.
The Story of Sensations - Write vivid, accurate descriptions of memories, remembering the sounds, smells, sights, and feelings that surround your difficult life events in the form of a story. The story can have fictional elements where your memory lapses. Allow your imagination to reflect the emotional tone of the period you are describing.
Writing each perception as it arises - viscerally describing sensate memory and imaginative memory without worrying about accuracy or grammar - provides an organic storyboard how younger selves experienced pain in past.
Intuitive Inquiry - We can explore our curiosity with questions that arise intuitively. The witnessing Self can ask the traumatized self questions with gentleness and care, Noticing the guarding inside of your body structure around difficult memories. You can ask the tight parts of your body, "What memories are you protecting right now?"
Mindful Nuance - Our traumas form a specific map of pain in our body that once noticed with care, can move, shift, and release. Every detail matters, and even the most difficult body sensations can be recorded with tender, mindful, loving attention, with the aim of untangling stored emotions layer by layer. Record the particularities of the pain within your heart, for example, noticing every twinge, tweak, flutter and stab. Your body nuances will share the truth of what your mind denies.
Authentic Voice - When we write from the body - we ineffably express our unique and authentic self. Sometimes our authentic voice is hesitant and slow at first. If your writing feels false, hone it and change it until it rings completely true. Learn to note the difference between your dissociated thinking mind and your fully feeling embodied mind. Revise your writing until it feels completely authentic, and you feel a "click" of rightness in your body.
Writing Through Fear - Courage is required in embodied writing. Intense fear arises first in the healing process. Fear is the gate in front of difficult emotions. Most people simply turn away from the gate of fear and never go further.
Fear will have a voice that may need to be listened to first so that it will open the gate to further layers of emotion. It is fruitful to deeply explore fear and sometimes spend an entire writing session describing the nuances, color, and tone of how fear travels through your body.
Reviewing 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 realistically transforming past perceptions into current realities and truths that enrich and help solve the challenges that we face in our present life.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 44 - Map of Consciousness Collage - Inner Conflict Resolution
- Collage papers, old magazines
- Pastels, markers
- Journal page or card stock
Symbolizing Your Current State of Mind
More often than not, in a single day, we can feel conflicted in our consciousness in several different ways, and not even realize it. So, it is helpful to explore our sub-personality dynamics and conflicts by mapping them out visually with spontaneous collage and drawing.
Sorting ourselves out on the inside can be a confusing task at first. Inner conflict arises initially as anxiety and often, without the aid of visual imagery, it can be difficult to identify what our inner struggles are about.
Most of us live our life in layers:
The Social Mask: Our primary personality/survival self sits out front of our consciousness. Our compensating mask hides all that is repressed and disowned in our psyche. Our survival self presents the kind of picture that we believe we must present to world to be safe, loved and accepted. Our outer referenced survival mask is often the 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 unfelt from our past. Our protector can often be harsh and critical or angry, and will often caution us away from any area of life where we could fail, be embarrassed, or be hurt as we were in the past. The protector suppresses our hurt and traumatized selves.
Hurt and Traumatized Selves: Most of us have many traumatized or hurt parts of self that have remained suppressed, exiled away, and remained stuck at certain ages, where we lost our sense of love and belonging. Our "younger" selves each have different belief systems that are stuck in the past and are "split off" from, or denied by our everyday awareness.
These 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 mean a great deal to the younger and more sensitive parts of ourselves. For example, simply being ignored or unseen feels traumatic to a young child.
Authentic Healthy Self: Underneath all of the layers of our psyche is our vital True Self. When we integrate, heal, and help 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.
Reconciling Inner Conflicts
For this exercise, choose your imagery without conscious intent, trusting that usually there are usually two or more personality parts active in your consciousness at any given time. Choose two to four images that feel intuitively right, and without much thought, arrange them on your paper.
Once you have placed and glued down your images, intuitively draw "energy lines" to indicate how the various elements of your map of consciousness "relate" to one another.
1. When you are finished your map of consciousness sense into what parts are active in your psyche right now.
2. Consider that your social and guarded selves will often clash with exiled authentic emotions that want to be reclaimed and healed.
3. The visual symbols that you chose may indicate different ages and different potentials inherent in your consciousness. Consider how the various conflicting parts of yourself could work together in a more harmonious whole.
4. You might want to name each visual symbol in your journal and ask it to speak in first person, "I am the one who...."
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 43 - Healing Grief Through Art and Journaling
- 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. Often grief holds broken dreams of what we wished our childhood 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 feel this "hole"of loss in the inherent wholeness of our psyche, we solidify the original places of loss where we believe that we could not be loved.
Stored Grief Runs Our Life
Consider your grief from this perspective by Michael Singer:
"What happens to that experience that didn't make it through? What you don't realize is that that your entire experience of life is about to change because of what didn't make it through you. Life must now compete with this blocked event for your attention, and the impression does not just sit there quietly. You will see that your tendency is to think about it constantly.
"This is all an attempt to process it through your mind. All of that inner noise is an attempt to process the blocked energy and get it out of the way. Long term, the energy patterns that cannot make it through you are pushed out to the forefront of the mind and held until you are prepared to release them.
These energy patterns hold a tremendous detail about the events associated with them. As you willfully struggle to keep these events from passing through your consciousness, the energy first tries to release by manifesting through the mind. This is why the mind becomes so active."
When the energy cannot make it through the mind because of conficts with other thoughts and mental concepts, it then tries to release through the heart. When you resist even that release, the energy gets packed up and forced into deep storage within the heart. In the yogic tradition, that unfinished energy pattern is called a Samskara. It's an unfinished energy pattern that ends up running your life."
Clearing Unfinished Grief
We can develop elaborate compensatory behavior patterns to avoid feeling our raw, deep-seated grief. When we have unfinished grief taking up the seat of our consciousness it can run our entire life. Psychologist Jay Early describes it 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. We cannot heal grief when we are inside of the defensive armor patterning of the child, teen, or young adult, and because we are so defended our grief will continue to feel unconsolable.
Witnessing Old Grief
Underneath old unprocessed grief is a sense of hopelessness that will not 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 think that is who we are. Most of us see ourselves as one united personality, but in truth we are often blended with "energy patterns" that create separate "personality parts" that each have their own feelings, beliefs, plans and goals.
Usually, we wholly become and think we are our grief. Grief has a way of entirely occupying the seat of our consciousness. However, it is possible to "unblend" with the parts of ourselves that grieve and allow the energy patterns of our grief move all the way though us and finish for good. It is possible to both feel the raw aching of loss, and witness our younger grieving parts with the compassion and wisdom of our True Self - at the same time.
Blending and Seeing Through the Eyes of Grief
Because grief is so all encompassing we tend to immerse our entire being inside of it. According to Jay Earley, author of "Self Therapy", we can know when we are blended with a personality part that - in this case - is grieving:
1.) We are flooded with the part's emotions to such a degree that we are not grounded. We become lost in our feelings of grief.
2.) We get 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, 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 understood, so 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 guilt in a myriad of negative and postive ways.
We can ask the part of ourselves that is protecting us from feeling our grief to separate - perhap 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 griving 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 and it 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. Sometimes, emotional flooding is the only way for a hurting part of self to be known.
Asking Your Parts to Express
There are few ways to creatively express your disowned part of self so that you can integrate your unfinished grief. I have been inspired by the work of psychologist Jay Earley and I have added expressive art directives to his methods below:
1.) Moving into the True Self - Most often our parts energetically reside "out front" of our consciousness, and we see life through their eyes. Shifting back into our seat of consciousness is a way to center and ground our energy. We can energetically step back from a grieving part, and practice centering into our Core Self so as to take up the witnessing seat of consciousness.
Discerning what the True Self feels like, as opposed to what each personality part feels like can be journaled about in detail. The authentic Self and the target personality part will feel distinctly different. As you continue to acknowledge the difference, you will come to know what part of self is occupying your seat of consciousness at any given time, in the course of your daily life. Vividly journal the characteristics of your target personality part, and if you feel inspired, give it a name - or better yet, let it tell you its name.
2.) Visualizing the Part as Separate - Allow a visual image of the self-protective or grieving part to arise. Your protector and your raw grief will have an inner conflict, or an inner relationship which can also be explored.
Draw or paint your image either as a symbol, as an energy, or as an actual person. You can also choose an image spontaneously that represents each part from a book or a magazine. Having a concrete symbol, image, or object helps create separation from the unseen parts of self that can run your life.
3.) Finding an Opposed Part - Doing parts work can be confusing, in that each difficult part in our psyche has an opposing and compensating part. If we have a grieving part, for example, we will likely have a part that overly strives to be overly hopeful or cheerful.
Neither part is the True Self. It is possible to map out our psyche as pairs of opposites in our journal. Draw, paint or write about your inner conflicts in your journal. Give each opposing part a descriptive name. Start to watch when conflicts become activated in your consciousness on a daily basis.
4.) Self-Meditation to Unblend - To develop enough "critical mass" of your True Self to heal, let go of your focus on your target part for a while. Take the time to become present inside of your body to focus on the feeling tone of your True Self - so that you can become more present and able to witness the activated parts of your psyche.
Close your eyes and notice the sensations in your body, and try to find the centered feeling of your authenticity. You might notice your sensations change from moment to moment from your center, and then out into a personality part. Follow each ocillation without judgment. Each time your mind wanders into a personality part's beliefs and feelings, bring your attention back to your center core of your body. Practice staying in your center core for longer periods of time to stenghten the witnessing capacities of you Authentic Self
5.) Heart Meditation: Move your attention into your belly, breathe deeply, and allow your breath to calm and deepen you. As time passes, move your awareness to your heart. Your heart is the home of your True Self. Let your heart soften.
Allow your tender heart to be open to all of your unintegrated personality parts. Your heart is where you will eventually reconcile all of your inner conflicts and emotional disparities into full mature unification of your psyche and soul. When you are centered enough in the abiding heart presence of your True Self, extend tender lines of connection from your heart to your target part.
6.) Journaling About Your Personality Parts - Some parts literally run our life, and they can occupy our seat of consciousness much more than our True Self - often for decades of of our life. When you start your journaling session, see if there is a part blended with you so much that you think it is all of you.
Choose that primary part as your target part to work with. Whenever there is a part that is running your life, sit down to a journaling session with the part especially when it is activated - so you can know it better, On the spur of the moment, practice unblending and differentiating away from the part, as per the methods above.
7.) Dialoguing - Get to know your target part through your journaling process. Create a written dialogue between your target part and your True Self. Ask your personality part how it is feeling and what it is concerned about, as though it was a separate person. Ask it why it is activating inside of you right now? What is emotionally triggering it? What is it thinking? What is it afraid of? As you ask questions of your target part, and listen to its answers, you will start to understand its belief system and it defense structures.
8.) Discerning Unmet Needs: Ask your personality part any question that comes spontaneously to mind about what it want and needs. You might asking it what its emotional and physical needs are, and how you could meet them. You might want to try writing your questions in your dominant hand, and answering with your non-dominant hand.
Often our disowned parts of self will have belief systems suitable to a child or a teen, that no longer apply to our mature adult life. As you identify your active personality parts, name them, draw them, and dialogue with them. Discern their unmet needs Start to map out their need systems, so that you can better identify when you are needing your own nurture.
Feeling Pure Raw Grief
Most of us are afraid to feel pure raw grief and sadness. Most of us have experienced profound loss of love, care, attention, connection, acceptance, dignity, and belonging in our past at some point, and processing those losses can feel like too much to bear. Most of our avoidance behaviors stem from avoiding all of the accumulated grief, loss and shattered dreams of the past.
Grief is at the "bottom" of all of our difficult feelings, and avoiding grief keeps us stuck in the past, unable to mature into full adult functioning. Feeling pure grief, and setting aside time to cry, to feel, and to cleanse the losses of the past, is always the best medicine for healing and moving forward.
When we come to understand how all of our defense systems mitigate, compensate away from, and change the truth of the grief we feel, we can begin disassembling massive defensive structures in our psyche - to make room for wisdom, creativity, and freedom hiding in the losses of the past.
When we emotionally release our grief, we will discover that there is always something gained in the midst of loss, such as strength, new resources, or support that we did now know we had. Focusing on what strengths and gifts we have gained through our losses helps heal old grief.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity #42 - Scribble Drawing
- Black or multicolored markers
- Watercolor paint
- Journal page
Spontaneous Art as a Route to the Unconscious
Scribble drawing is a tried and true art therapy exercise that works well as a visual starter or warm up for spontaneous drawing. Scribble drawing was developed by art educator Florence Cane. Her sister, art therapist Margaret Naumburg started a progressive school for children in 1914 that encouraged spontaneous creative expression and self-motivated learning. Naumburg was a visionary in children's education in her time. 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 feelings. Her approach was to intuitively search for ways to stimulate the creative process. One creative method she developed was the scribble drawing.
I will share the way that I use it here for you here:
Playing with Line
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.
2. Scribble until it intuitively feels done, but avoid making your scribble too dense.
3. After you have finished your scribble, take the time to relax your mind, and then turn your drawing around to contemplate it from all angles.
4. Similar to seeing shapes in clouds and in ink blots, allow your unconscious mind to pick an image out of the scribble. You may see several images.
5. Develop your found imagery with heavier lines. Embellish your imagery with details and color.
6. After you are finished, intuitively name your drawing, or write a few free-form spontaneous sentences about it.
7. Allowing yourself to verbally write down a few insights about your drawing helps to anchor your non-verbal expression.
8. Take a few moments to meditate on how your drawing expresses your deeper feelings. You may even want to write a free-form story about your drawing if you have the urge.
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.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 41 - Meditative Writing for Self-Reflection
- Pen and journal
- Meditative music
Expressing vs. Understanding
When we self-express without deeper reflection, we release our emotional accumulations without understanding them. Methods such as free-form automatic writing and Artist's Way morning pages support an emotional release or a "brain drain" but unless we examine the deeper meaning of our thoughts and feelings, we will continue to repeat the same patterns of self-expression without knowing why.
If we really listened to what we think about in a day, a month, a year, we would discover that our seemingly random thoughts communicate our inspiring and challenging life themes. Our thoughts reflect the emotional patterns and struggles of our life perfectly.
To understand the way our mind works more profoundly, we can set aside time each day to quietly and curiously listen to our mind unfold. To do this requires a set amount of time, a private place, and some simple quieting rituals that will provide an inviting space to listen to, write down, and reflect on our thinking process.
If you have ever had the experience of becoming emotionally flooded out of seeming nowhere, it is helpful to remember what you where thinking about before you became overwhelmed. Meditatively writing and reflecting on your thinking process helps to catch the "roots" of your belief systems before they turn into full-fledged emotional reactions. Our unaware thinking triggers our emotional reactions.
We often miss understanding our life as it is being revealed to us. We usually do not listen very deeply to how we think. The aim of meditative writing is to hold your thoughts still long enough to reflect on them as you write them down.
An insightful book on meditative writing called "Writing the Mind Alive" by Linda Trichter Metcalf and Tobin Simon offers up a detailed structure for a meditative writing practice. I will simplify and share how I have practiced it 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 reflective writing. Light the candle before you start, and blow it out after your finish. Write on unlined paper in case your words want to change size. Do not write beyond the 25 minutes, as inner focus is strongest during this time frame.
The Three Rules of Reflective Writing
1. Write What You Hear
Usually we tune out our thoughts and ignore the deeper messages that they are always revealing. Slow down, turn up your hearing and imagine your thoughts as spoken words. Write them down exactly as you hear them - word for word. Do not try to change your thoughts, push them around, or try to get rid of them. Receive and honor all of your thoughts from the lowly to the most high, without censorship. Receive and write. Do not be concerned with grammar, punctuation, or the fear that anyone else will read or judge your thoughts.
2. Listen to What You Write
Being deeply present to our thinking process is something we rarely do. Take the time to listen to yourself think with intensely focused and alert attention. Listen from your higher witnessing part of self to everything that rolls out of your mind with curious patient attention. This acute listening is a devoted meditation, and a heartfelt, auditory honoring of each verbal thought that arises into your witnessing consciousness.
3. Ask for Meaning
Words have power. For each phrase or word that feels emotionally charged, or mysteriously catches your attention ask, "What do I mean by....?" This simple questions amplifies your thought and "draws out the concrete details that are buried within the thought." Certain words hold memories, feelings, and attitudes that have been "charged" by your life experiences. They hold stories that will heal and enlighten you. Each time your attention is aroused, ask "What do I mean by....?" Unpack the memories and stories behind your charged thoughts. At the end of 25 minutes write down your last thought. You can "unpack" the rest tomorrow.
Four Final Questions
Before blowing out your candle write down and answer the following final questions:
1. What thoughts were heard but not written? Look back over the last twenty five minutes to see if there were any "flashes" of thought that you quickly repressed again. Record in a few words what you missed writing down during your session.
2. How or what do I feel now? Find a word or a phrase that comes the closest to your emotional state at this moment and write it down.
3. What larger story is my writing session a part of? Every story that you write about during your session will touch upon your major life themes. As you write each day you can reflect on and deepen into understanding the larger life stories that well up through your thoughts.
4. What ideas come up for future writing sessions? Write down ideas that call for further exploration in future writing sessions. These seed ideas help form a steady writing practice that deepens and widens your understanding of the themes that you have come to heal in your life.
Once you finish your four final questions, blow your candle out. If you have the time, before you close your journal, it is helpful to read your writing out loud to yourself. This helps you to touch upon the deeper feelings that you may not have felt in your silence. As you hear your thoughts out loud through your own voice, you amplify your own reflection of yourself - in all the voices and parts that you have silently listened to. Allow yourself to tenderly feel each aspect of your thinking process, and every attendant emotion fully as you speak, and then quietly put your journal away until tomorrow.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 40 - Painting with Music
- 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. 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 the mundane states of consciousness of dissipation, boredom and negativity into inspiration and creative expansion sometimes requires music. One way to intensify focus and shift surface attention into a more expanded state is to paint spontaneously to music.
Seeing Music as Color
The link between visual and musical expression was explored in depth by abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky who spiritually connected musical notes with specific colors. Kandinsky was a synaesthete. He could actually spiritually see sounds as colors. Kandinsky loved classical music. He would play music and paint how it made him feel. He painted what the notes looked like in colors, and how musical compositions in appeared visually in lines and shapes.
This exercise is as simple as it is profound. While you may not be able to actually see notes as colors - you can stretch towards intuiting how music feels in color. Choose a piece of music and close your eyes.
You may even want to move and dance to the music for a while, and then allow the music to move you to paint. Paint rhythmically and freely to the notes as if they are colors that you can see. Allow the senses of your hearing and your sight to blend together into one symbiotic felt-sense. Experiment with your expanded hearing, and allow it to lean towards creative and spiritual sight.
On music Kandinsky wrote, "Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies. The soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key then another to cause vibration in the soul."
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 39 - Body Stories with Collage
- Watercolor or acrylic paint
- Colored markers
- Magazines and books
- Scissors and glue stick
- Watercolor paper or journal page
Our bodies hold many stories, dreams, memories and purposes. Using collage to tell the story of our body, either in part or in whole, reveals what is hidden from our everyday thinking.
Our bodies are a living metaphor of what we feel and think on subconscious and unconscious levels. Whatever we are unwilling to feel or acknowledge will be held in the "story" of our body.
Our body is our most reliable and truthful source of information. We can choose to see our body stories by focusing on the individual parts that need attention. Alternatively we can do a collage "body scan" of our entire body to see what areas of our body want to speak first.
We all have parts of our body that we love, and parts of our body that we dislike, ignore, and even hate. A simple way to look at what you celebrate and what you denigrate about your body can be contemplated in two collages. We can enter each collage through the breath. The breath faithfully connects us to our body sensations and allows us to choose accurate imagery to reflect what our body is holding.
What Do You Love About Your Body?
Wherever we feel loose, free, accomplished and alive is where we celebrate and allow the life force to live through our body. It is encouraging to do a "body love" collage first to celebrate that there is hope for total self-love and aliveness. Most of us have some part of our body that we nurture and use well on a regular basis.
You may not cognitively know what part of your body that you love the most. Perhaps it works so well, you do not even notice it. Allow yourself to rest in your breathing and listen to your sensations. What body part would like to speak to you, and thank-you for something that you do?
Trace or draw the part of your body that you love, and choose one or more images that resonate with this part of yourself. When you are finished with your collage, slowly sit back and contemplate what inspires you about it. Breathe into your self-love and feel how you would like to celebrate this part of your body that works so well for you.
Journal with your feelings of well being:
What are you saying to me?
What memories do you hold?
What are you expressing about me?
What I am doing well for you?
How can I continue to give to and nurture you?
What Do You Dislike About Your Body?
Each part of our body has its own unique story that expresses all that we think and feel. Art therapist Lucia Capacchione calls our body - our emotional "storage locker". Each body part could be seen as holding a personality that has its own strengths and weaknesses.
Often we overemphasize the parts of our body that are "working" and ignore the parts that are suffering because they feel too painful, shameful, or weak. Our disowned body parts hold memories that we may have forgotten, and they may need our loving attention to come alive again.
Focus on your breathing and choose a part of your body that feels numb, sore, stiff, or disowned. What part of yourself do you prefer not to think about? Draw an outline of this part of your body and intuitively choose one of more images that represent how you feel in this area and glue them onto your collage.
We all would like to feel good on a regular basis, and when we don't, we can feel frustrated and discouraged about life. Sit back and breathe into where you feel that your body is betraying you with physical discomfort or pain. We heal and transform our pain by changing how we react to it. When we close down around our hurt, we keep it locked in our body, and over time this can turn into chronic pain, body stiffness and soreness, illness and disease.
Consider that each part of our body and mind would prefer to be used for joy instead of pain. We can be sure if we are harboring a negative emotional charge in our body, we are missing the lesson and strength that was missed - that could have been lived into in the past - when we experienced the original hurt and emotional hardship. We can contemplate how we can reframe our original hurt and pain into a new strength and a potential for joy.
Journal with your painful body symptoms:
When did you begin? When did I close you down?
What am I continuing to believe about myself that makes you feel worse?
How could I react to you right now in a way that would help you feel better?
What do I need to do to help you heal now? What do I need to heal from the past?
What are you teaching me?
What would you like me to commit to everyday to help you get well?
What positive quality in myself am I avoiding by holding onto you?
What new strength would you like me to live into?
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 38 - Color Body Mapping
- 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's feelings 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 store away and ignore all that is uncomfortable deep down inside, our body will faithfully and accurately record and express all of our thoughts and emotions somatically.
Our bodies begin to hurt when we make the "outside" more important than our "inside". 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?
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 lose touch with the breath, and the authentic present moment feelings that exist within our body.
Our body does not lie. It is incapable of being inauthentic. When we think one thing, and feel another, the body will communicate somatically through uncomfortable symptoms.
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 bodily truth, creates pain, soreness, extra weight, and illness in our body.
Color Mapping Your Body
Because we spend most of our life experience out of our body and inside of our heads, it is helpful to explore color body mapping in order to visually see where we are ignoring ourselves. Body mapping involves drawing different body parts, and meditatively painting the "feeling color tones" of each part.
It is important to color map your body where you hurt the most first - as that is always the part that is speaking the loudest. Alternatively, or in addition to, you can color map your entire body all at once by either having someone trace you on a large sheet of paper, or by drawing an outline of your body to a smaller scale in your journal, to help you decide what body part needs your kindest attention.
Body Meditation of Acceptance
When you welcome your emotions as teachers, every emotion brings good news, even the ones that are painful.
- Gary Zukav
When we drop our awareness from our thinking mind into our bodily feelings we will likely notice where we feel uncomfortable, uneasy, anxious, tight and sore first. Spending time with our aches and discomforts is a meditation of kind attention.
When we focus on what hurts, it will either intensify, or will relax gratefully from our loving attention. Our aim can be to stay with our discomfort, send it love, and simply accept that it has been waiting for our attention.
Simply accepting where we hurt without trying to control it, change it, or distract away from it is the first step towards healing the incongruity between our thinking and feeling. We heal suffering, not by denying it but by accepting it first.
Eckhart Tolle writes about suffering, "The ego says, "I shouldn't have to suffer", and that thought makes you suffer so much more. It is a distortion of the truth, which is always paradoxical. The truth is you need to say yes to suffering before you can transcend it."
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 37 - Draw and Journal Your Anger
- 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 our emotionally suppressed and stagnant energy moving again in order to see what we are not clearly seeing within ourselves. Anger always covers up other feelings of hurt and emotional pain.
When we begin to 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 us, we can express our anger by vigorously scribbling and swearing in our journal or by drawing a portrait of our anger. If you are going through a challenging time or have a great deal of anger to process, it is helpful to start a dedicated anger journal. Our anger is not all of who we are, but we can practice allowing our anger to move 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 journal write out your "anger story". Without censure, write about how you have been wronged in vivid and furious detail. At this stage it is important to let out on the paper how you feel victimized. Feel free to write about how you despise certain parts of your life, who irritates and angers you and why, as well as who you feel has hurt you terribly. You also may be angry at yourself and will need to fully express your upset at yourself.
Note that it is important not to get stuck in resentment, but to get your anger story out of your body, and onto your journal page so that you can begin to witness your thinking process. You should feel released when you tell yourself your anger story for the first few times. If your story starts to repeat itself inordinately, you may be stuck at the level of resentment because you are afraid to feel your deeper feelings of grief, loss, and the heartbreak of self-betrayal.
Feeling Anger Fully Through Your Body
Processing your anger through your body is essential for shifting out of victim mentality. Our victim stories keep us emotionally and physically weak and unable to find the drive to move forward in our life. Mobilizing energy with power through body movement and vocalization helps transform the repressed anger of victimization into empowerment for change. In order to move past resentment it is essential to deeply feel and explore the feelings that hide beneath your anger in your body.
At this stage, vigorous vocal and physical activity can help you "drop" below your anger to the grief and hurt that you are afraid to feel. Pounding or yelling into a pillow, engaging in vigorous physical activity, or even cleaning your house while angry can move thoughts of anger and resentment through your body into feeling the sadness of betrayal and self-betrayal that underlies anger.
As you drop into your tears - your grief, loss and sadness - know that as you feel and release your heartache, you will recover your joy, strength, and heart again. Anger can be moved through into self-empowement. Suppressed anger starts as fear and anxiety and the reluctance to feel upset. Fear moves into irritation, frustration and then anger, and perhaps even rage. Once anger is fully mobilized in a safe way it drops into grief and usually tears. And in the end, if you do not get stuck in rage, victimization and resentment you will likely notice that your heart has softened. Now you are ready to look at your anger story in a new way.
Disassembling Your Anger Story
Our anger stories hold our emotional pain but are they wholly true? Rationally separating your beliefs from the truth will help heal your victim story. We can start to look carefully at our victim stories only after we have released the bodily charge of our anger. As we neutrally witness our victim stories we will start to uncover the core negative beliefs that we formed about ourselves as children, teens and young adults. As we discover our negative core beliefs, we will wake up to how we see our entire life through the lens of what we believe is wrong with us, and where we think the world cannot love and support us.
Most of our anger stories, as Radical Forgiveness author Colin Tipping writes, are mostly "B.S." They mostly contain belief systems that are toxic and that continue to affect and create our life in negative ways. Rationally separating the facts of what happened and what our interpretations of what happened is essential so that we can heal our victim stories. We can create our entire lives around a system of untrue beliefs about ourselves. Our anger points the way to where we can become accountable for everything that has "happened" to us.
When we start to look at what we really believe about ourselves, intense resistance and sometimes even nausea can arise. To disassemble your anger story you can turn to a fresh page in your journal and divide it into two columns. Looking at your victim story - in one column write out all of the facts about your story. In the other column write out your beliefs about yourself in the middle of your story. Meditate on what you believe about yourself, and really pay attention to where in your body you carry your negative beliefs. Send your emotionally needy, younger inner places love and encouragement.
Reframing Your Anger Story into a Gift
You can never spiritually or cognitively understand your anger story if you have not fully felt all of your feelings around it. Trying to cognitively reframe your way out of your anger without embodying it only represses it more. Your anger wants or needs something, and understanding what that is will help you to integrate it into your embodied wholeness. Deeper understanding always comes through feeling not thinking.
Even though our life seemingly happens on its own - on a very deep level we play a part in everything that happens to us. Reframing your anger story involves becoming as deeply accountable as you possibly can about how you played your part in the drama of your life story through the lens of your negative core beliefs about yourself.
Accountability asks us to look at the deepest and seemingly shameful patterns of emotional needs that we were trying to get met at times of victimization. Although it seems incomprehensible to our normal mind, trauma draws up our deepest strengths that simply would not develop if is had not happened. On a soul level, it could be said, when healed, trauma brings our most profound gifts forward into life.
We all have intuitions and inklings when something feels wrong. So if we have been victimized we must ask, "What was I believing about myself to have allowed this to happen? What emotional need was I trying to get by having this happen in my life? What purpose was I trying to fulfill to have this happen? What purpose or gift was I avoiding by having this happen in my life?" If you were too young to remember, you might ask, "What soul gift did I bring that this trauma blocked in my life?"
The best way to become accountable is to pretend that you wanted the pain that you have experienced and ask yourself "How come?" There are many reasons why we want bad things to happen. On a soul level we are often trying to heal deep longstanding emotional patterns. Our greatest challenges bring great spiritual strengths into this world. On an ego level however, we use our traumas, and problems to delay our unfoldment into the strengths that we are meant to be living into.
Another accountability exercise is to integrate all that we hate about other people inside of ourselves. If we simply cannot get off of the idea that the other person is "wrong" for hurting us, we can make a list of all of the qualities that we hate about them. Often we compensate for the very qualities that we hate about other people by working very hard to act completely the opposite way. But because we all have acted out of our integrity at some point in our lives, we hate people for who we used to be. If we accept other people's behaviour as our own - or as our own from the past, we can integrate, forgive and stop inner judgment and anger within.
Being accountable for everything that has happened to us refines our highest integrity and helps us clean up our side of the story completely. If we cannot incite change in an unhealthy situation or another person, we can choose to develop our own self in the middle of hardship and difficulty. In the end, we need to work with the serenity prayer in the midst of our anger, "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference."
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 36 - Active Imagination Journaling
- Journal page and pen
Active Imagination is a Jungian method, as psychologist Robert Johnson in his book Inner Work says "to invite the creatures of the unconscious to come up to the surface and make contact with us." As we make contact with the characters in our unconscious mind through our imagination, we can journal and dialogue with what wants to make itself known to our conscious awareness. I simplify, and elucidate how I apply Robert Johnson's teachings to expressive journaling process:
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/everyday ego mind, and our more submerged and rejected subconscious and unconscious aspects of self. This symbolic arising of imagery in our imagination can be considered 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 to Active Imagination
1. Inviting our unconscious mind to speak.
2. Dialoguing with our unconscious mind.
3. Expressing higher values to resolve conflict.
4. Making our reconcilatory insights concrete and active in everyday life.
Inviting Our Unconscious Mind to Speak
1. To go into your imagination, quiet and withdraw your mind away from the external, and go within. Turn to your inner world inside and simply expectantly wait with 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. Be prepared to listen to your inner characters with a sense of wonder and curiosity.
2. If you are drawing a blank and no inner imagery is arising, you can choose a current fantasy that has been running through your mind and speak to the characters within it. When we do not give enough time to our unconscious workings, we can become flooded with fantasies during our daily life.
The need for fantasy usually indicates that there is an inner conflict between our conscious and unconscious mind to be worked through 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. It is possible to remember our dream figures, and invite them to extend into your waking life to speak to you further.
Dialoguing With Our Unconscious Mind
1. Once an unconscious image has risen up, you can begin your spontaneous conversation by asking questions. The simplest invitation would be to kindly ask, "Who are you? What do you want? What do you have to say?" Your approach towards your imaginal figures would be one of respect and the willingness to listen. Note the details that you see about how your figure appears and feels to you.
2. Each inner figure has a life of its own. Notice the nuances. When your inner figure does or says anything, write it down in your journal. Everything that you imagine is symbolic of your inner life.
3. Remember that the intention of Active Imagination is to have a deeply honest and authentic conversation. You can let your inner figure know how you honesty feel about it when it approaches you.
Expressing deep feelings about how your inner figure affects you is the best way to start an authentic conversation. You might even have a conflict with, or feel a strong aversion to your inner figure. You can let your inner figure know how you feel in completely honest language.
4. Let your honest conversation have a beginning, a middle and an end. Fully participate until the conversation comes to a resolution. Journal your part in the conversation, as well as the imaginal figure's voice, including all of the details of emotion that arise within you as you communicate.
5. Allow your exchange to feel fully authentic. Amplify your intensity to know you inner figure. Ask, "Who are you? What do you have to say? I will listen to you. Say anything you want!"
Even if your arising character is loathsome, inferior, or frightening to you, give it your full attention. Listen to it carefully and record all of the details. Later, you may want to search for its wisdom, and the deeper messages underneath its presentation, especially if what it says bothers you.
6. Be on watch for how your conscious mind might try to skew the conversation to its own ends. Tell your normally controlling ego mind to quiet down during this journalling process. This form of journaling is not a programming of your unconscious by trying to change it to become more positive, but rather a deep inner listening to what hidden aspects in your psyche have to say about you.
7. Write everything that you exchange with your inner figure down in your journal. . When you reply to your inner figure, share your opinions, feelings and values from your primary personality.
Expressing Higher Values to Resolve Conflict
1. As the conversation comes to a close, we can start to make decisions about how it will be resolved. When any two individuals come together for a conversation on an outer level there will be conflicting values, if the conversation is honest enough.
2. How we resolve any conflict - whether inner or outer - is to decide which side is expressing the highest, most ethical and truthful values. So when we have two inner parts arguing, a decision must be made between the two that reflects the highest good for growth and emotional health. Choosing the highest good is how we resolve all inner conflict.
3. We become whole by being ethical and truthful. In one sense the "most high" and the most authentic, life affirming must always go forward in any conflict, but not without including the emotional needs that underpin the negative impulse of the shadow figure.
4. Some parts of our unconscious mind are hurting, needy, angry, destructive, rebellious, weak, afraid, and not willing to make an effort for the good. They have been hurt and may be choosing negative behaviors and intentions to try to feel safe, or to compensate for repressed emotional pain, that are not necessarily the most authentic or helpful to our current life.
5. We always need to consider our functional humanness when we listen to our inner parts of self. If a figure arises wanting something that would take us away from the healthy, mature human functioning that we need in our life right now, we need to come to an ethical and moral resolution - while still honoring what the each side is really emotionally needing.
6. Perhaps our inner figure - feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, asks us to to quit our job, for example. In the integration process we include our unconscious voice by creating more time to relax, while choosing the high road of keeping our job.
Making Our Intuitive Insights Concrete in Everyday Life
1. Whenever we gain insights about how to our resolve inner conflict and move forward, we need to bring them into action in our practical everyday life in order to complete the process.
2. Otherwise our journaling process is simply an ungrounded imaginary exercise. However we decide to integrate our conscious mind with our unconscious imagery, it must be grounded in everyday human life in some form of practical gesture, a simple ritual, or a daily practice.
3. This means that if we are having an contentious inner dialogue with an inner figure in our psyche that is appearing as our mother for example, we do not call our real mother up on the phone and yell at her!
Perhaps instead we can take time each day with our own negatively introjected "inner mother" and work with our own self-criticism in some concrete, positive, practical daily way.
3. It bears emphasizing that often people who currently exist in our life will play out dialogues within our psyche that seem real, but are in fact an inner representation of a conflict that is going on within.
4. If this is the case, it is wise to "non-particularize" our inner characters and make them more archetypal instead. We can make the faces more generic, for example, to make our inner figures less exactly reflective of our outer real-life figures.
5. It imperative, as we do our inner work, not to make outer people in our lives wrong or bad because we have not resolved and owned our inner conflicts. To recognize inner dialogues as subjective to our own psyche's inner conflicts and struggles helps to differentiate real life from fantasy. Subjective fantasies about real people, furthermore, affect their unconscious mind, because on a deeper level we are all connected.
6. The aim in all inner work is to resolve inner conflicts between the various parts of our conscious and unconscious mind. The different parts of ourselves do not see things alike, and so we must begin "inner negotiations" in order to feel integrated and at peace.
Our inner parts of self need to work out some kind of a healthy resolution to function at optimum levels. Communication between our various parts that have not been speaking to one another - sometimes of decades - eventually leads to great inner synthesis and wholeness.
7. This inner work of allowing both sides of the inner conflict to have their equal say invites integration and inner peace. Resolving our inner conflicts translates to a marked decrease ofouter conflict in our lives as well.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 35 - Visual Journaling
- Assorted colored markers, oil and/or chalk pastels.
- Journal Page
Each one of us has a unique visual language that will easily and effortlessly express our inner life in a way that requires no artistic talent.
We can all make signs, symbols, and marks on paper that express our inner feeling states.
The simplest of imagery can express the workings of the psyche and soul most profoundly and eloquently. In fact with visual journaling - the simpler the better.
Pioneered by Barbara Ganim and Susan Fox, visual journaling process is a simple form of self-expression for people who do not feel like they can draw. In fact in visual journaling workshops, skilled artists are asked to draw with their non-dominant hand so that they do not get caught up in the look of the imagery.
The Conflict Between Thinking and Feeling
The fundamental cause of all stress is the conflict between thinking and feeling. Whenever we feel anxiety or stress, we can be sure that we are thinking one thing and feeling something else.
Our thinking mind is more concerned about who we "should" be - based on our early family training and cultural conditioning. Our feelings are always trying to communicate the intuitive messages that are trying to express who we really are. This conflict between thoughts and feelings arise as a feeling of anxiety, resistance to life, muscular contractions in the body, and shallow or constricted breathing.
Most of us reflexively and habitually shut down what arises in our emotional body - especially if what we feel is not acceptable to ourselves, or other people in some way. Most of us - in our habituated thinking selves - prefer the comforting familiarity of patterned way of thinking, even if it is not true or constructive.
The soul's native language is imagery. When we create simple, spontaneous drawings, our soul will offer us wisdom about the steps we need to take in our life right now to be healthy and whole. When our mind has other plans and goals that are not in alignment with our feeling/intuitive nature, we can feel anxious, irritated, conflicted, and tired.
Intuition is Most Often Visual and Symbolic
Most of us cannot properly describe our inner feeling states with words. What we think we feel is not always what we really feel. Our words interpret our feelings - they rarely fully express them. Our mind wants to hold on tight to the familiar belief systems and to the judgements that we acquired in childhood. We commonly try to fit every feeling into our thinking belief system.
Imagery can hold much more information than words. Imagery expresses the intuitive, feeling, right side of our brain. If we feel an emotion, and put it straight into spontaneous imagery, we can express it before the mind identifies it, labels it, and judges it, and represses it. If we let ourselves express imagery first, we will be able find much more insightful words for how we feel afterwards.
By drawing our feelings first, and verbalizing them second, we can access our intuitive feelings more easily. When we express our feelings in simple gestures, colors, lines and symbols, we can release them out of our body, and onto the page to be seen and understood from a much deeper place than if we try to describe them verbally.
Expressing Feelings Provides Relief
Simply and truthfully, drawing and recognizing a feeling is all that is required to feel relief from anxiety. Feelings do not even have to be changed or resolved. They just need to be seen and acknowledged for what they truthfully are.
State Your Intention: When you sit down to visual journal, set an intention to understand whatever known or unknown emotion is arising in your body right now. You might say, "I want to connect with the uneasiness in my heart." Write your intention at the top of your journal page.
Tune Into Your Body: Quiet your mind and breathe deeply into your body. Once you feel connected to your body, go to the area of your body where you are uneasy, hurting, or uncomfortable. Close your eyes and sense into your inner imagery in that particular place. You might see a color, an image, or you might have a spontaneous feeling or felt energy come to mind.
Draw Simply: You might hear a spontaneous word. For instance you might randomly hear the word, "hot". When you open your eyes, pick up your art materials and translate your inner image onto the paper simply and quickly. It might be in the form of scribbles, lines, dots, a stick figure, ect.
Visual and Written Daily Check-In
This quick inner imaging and drawing exercise can be a way of visually checking in with yourself in your journal every day. After you check in visually, you can ask yourself the following questions - encapsulated from the book Visual Journaling by Barbara Ganim and Susan Fox:
1. As you look at your check-in drawing, how does it make you feel?
2. How do the colors make you feel?
3. Is there anything in the drawing that disturbs you? How or why does this part of the drawing disturb you?
4. What do you like best about your drawing? How does this part of the drawing make you feel?
6. Are the emotions in this drawing related to a current issue or concern in your life?
7. Does this drawing help you understand how to deal with your current issue or concern? Do you have any insights as to a step you could take to deal with your current problem?
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 34 - Exploring Feelings Through Intuitive Painting
- Acrylic paint on canvas, or tempura paint on paper, or watercolor on a journal page
- Brushes, water
Exploring Unknown Feelings
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 wear our repressed emotions in our body. Wherever we feel tight, sore, or cannot take a deep breath into any part of our body, we will always find something that is longing to be expressed.
Our emotional discomforts drive our behaviors. It is as at such times of intense emotional discomfort that we turn to our favorite ways of numbing or sedating our emotional pain, whether it be through overeating, grabbing a glass of wine, spending money, or any other of our favorite distracting or destructive behaviors.
The Energy of Feelings
Many intense feelings cannot be put into words, yet painting into the unknown intensity inside of ourselves opens up new possibilities of understanding what drives us to think and act the way we do.
As we "live into" and express each unknown feeling, a new feeling of self-aceptance will arise in our awareness. As we paint and accept more of ourselves, we will feel different and more real. We will remember and recover who we were before we became emotionally stuck.
The amount of energy that we use up to stuff down our uncomfortable feelings can take up an enormous amount of our life force vitality. So when we make the opposite gesture of moving right into the "eye of the storm" of grief, hurt, anger, shame or fear we can access tremendous energy, joy and passion on the other side.
When we listen to each feeling that burns, hurts, disturbs, shames, unsettles or torments us through intuitively painting - one symbol and one color at a time - we find peace in ways that we cannot anticipate.
We can learn to love our uncomfortable feelings because on the other side of them they bring wisdom and peace of integration into our body state. We can say to our feelings, "Bring it on! I want to know you!" We can turn towards whatever we are afraid of feeling - one brushstroke at a time.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 33 - Mandala Coloring Therapy
- Pencil Crayons
- Mandala Coloring Book
Calming Emotional Distress
Coloring pre-drawn mandala patterns can be surprisingly soothing especially during times of emotional distress. Psychotherapist Rudiger Dahlke - the "father" of the the mandala coloring epidemic - found that working within a predetermined framework promoted a sense of peace and inner order. The aim in working within a pre-drawn structure is to feel and intuitively color as a form of ritual or prayer.
Coloring is for everyone. As children we color before we begin to draw. Many artists and art therapists are against coloring and prefer pure, spontaneous creation instead. However coloring within a "perfect, rotating geometric figure" is a way to study and integrate a high level of emotional and mental harmony. If we can quiet our intellect when we spontaneously color, our emotional focus can come to a state of peaceful rest.
Mandalas as a Pattern of Creation
Intuitively coloring within established structures reflects being creative within the limits and structures of everyday human life. Dahlke says, "Working with coloring books is equally as important for children and for adults. When small and big children practice adhering to to predetermined structures, they symbolically learn to show humility towards creation. We can easily see that people who show humility towards creation accept the greater framework of their lives."
Human life is a balance of living creatively within rules. Being creative and spontaneous within the regular structures of our lives is to live artfully and ingeniously. We all work and live within the sometimes confining structures of work, family, and practical responsibilities. Coloring within a "preordained" mandala can symbolize respecting and creatively working within the larger structures that necessarily form our lives.
Practicing creativity within rules and structures is way to relax into the larger order of things and to let go of some of the overwhelm of our busy lives. We can relax about having to create and do it all. We can focus on the simple focused task of intuitively choosing colors and relaxing our mind, body and emotions. We can color our mandalas in the direction that we need to move in our lives.
If you need to consolidate and center your emotions, you can color your mandala from the outside in. If you need to expand your horizons and reach out to life and other people more, you can color from the center of the mandala outwards. Pattern, order, and focus during the mandala coloring process can bring a sense of safely within the larger framework that we create and live within.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 32 - Wet on Wet Freeform Watercolor
Watercolor paper soaked for 5 minutes in a tray of water
The Wordless Feeling of Color
Our minds cannot really think about color. We can only feel color. Color is prior to the birth of imagery. In color we can steep in the mystery of our feelings. And in spontaneous creativity, as in feeling, we must learn to surrender control.
Each painting, each feeling has a life of its own. Painting wet on wet gives birth to the spontaneous flow of color, and to our inner and outer emotional movements. To reflect your inner movements of feeling, wet your watercolor paper, and let your paint diffuse and move in the way it wants to.
Feeling and Painting
Often we try too hard in our life. So, to "not try" invites fresh possibilities and new movements within our being. Practicing surrender in one or more freeform watercolor paintings is a good way to process unknown feelings. When we become present to what we are feeling, we can begin moving in color. We can allow each successive painting to move as it needs to move until we feel finished and complete.
Painting the Beginning, Middle and End
You may want to do several wet on wet paintings in a row to reflect how your feelings move and change. You cannot meddle too much with wet-on-wet watercolor. You can approach your wet-on wet-paintings like music. They begin. They have several movements. And then finally, they complete themselves.
The Outer Movement of Color
When we flow with the ease of this freeform watercolor process, uncomfortable feelings can untangle within. The aim of the surrender to the feelings that want to flow - is to be effortless. We do not need a reason to paint spontaneously.
We need only to have an inner emotional movement that wants to be discovered through an outer movement of color. There is no resistance with watercolor. It flows like our feelings. Allow your wet-on-wet paintings sessions to be soft, free, and self-nurturing.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity #31 - Spontaneous Watercolor Drops
Watercolor paper, or art journal page
Watercolor paint and brushes
Water spray bottle or an eye dropper
Watercolor is a free flowing medium that is fun to splash around in. Painting watercolor drops is a practice of not forcing anything to happen with your creativity.
For the spontaneous painting process, the watercolor medium does all of the work. This painting warm-up exercise is a good way invite a feeling of flow to open up creative blocks.
Simply take a large clean watercolor brush, a spray bottle, or an eye dropper, and drop spots of water on your dry watercolor paper or journal page.
Then fill each "pool" of water with watercolor. Let each drop of water hold the paint and watch what happens on your paper.
Let your intuition choose the colors. This is an excellent activity for opening up your creative flow. Let the benevolent energy of color relax you. Play. Don't worry.
This is an excellent art therapy activity to try when you cannot "think" of what you want to create next. Just sit back and meditate on your colors as they flow.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 30 - Collage Cards for Self-Discovery
- Old magazines and books
- Scissors and glue stick
- Matte board/cardboard cut to size for your cards such as 5x7 inches or 6x6 inches if you prefer working in a square format
Mapping Out Our Inner Worlds
We each have a treasure trove of sub-personalities that live below our conscious awareness. Each personality part has its own goals and dreams for our happiness. This often sets up inner conflicts within and we can preoccupy our time with inner struggle between opposing parts of self.
To sort our our inner conflicts is helpful to map out our inner world, so that we can start to recognize what aspects of our psyche are dominating our awareness at any given moment.
Our various parts of self can drive us crazy in their disparity and incongruity. As we collage all of various parts of self, we will likely find many polarities in our thought and feeling states that need to be sorted out and reconciled.
It is important to understand that even our "negative" parts of self are trying to get us to happiness, even if their methods are misaligned. Often our negative parts of self aim to protect us from difficult feelings. Seeing our inner conflicts in visual form can be an enlightening way to reconcile, direct, and integrate our different drives, fears, needs, and desires.
The Ease of Spontaneous Collage
Making spontaneous collage cards can help you to map out your distinctly operating habitual and subconscious belief patterns so that you can become conscious of them and work with them in a constructive way. Seena B. Frost who is the originator of the method called "Soul Collage" has written two informative books on the process on the process of intuitive collage that divides the cards into structured suits if your prefer specific instructions.
For myself, I found that it did not feel right to me to organize my psyche into "suits" but instead to sit down when I noticed an emotional pattern was dominating my psychology and make a spontaneous collage card with imagery that felt strong in the moment.
Mind Mapping with Collage
I went through a period of two years where I intensively "mapped" out my psyche through the collage cards. Since then I have added a few new cards a year, and taken out a few cards that no longer feel "emotionally charged" from my deck.
Every time I felt an emotion that felt inchoate and unknown to me, I would pull imagery from magazines that resonated with the feelings in my body. If you feel drawn to try this method, I encourage you to have a collage table ready with all of your materials so that you can sit down and collage from the immediacy of your body mind/states.
Reflecting on your newly created card for a day or a week will usually reveal the emotional needs that your sub-personality is longing to have fulfilled.
Naming and Journaling About Your Cards
It is helpful to name your various aspects of yourself on the back of each card. Each part of our conditioned thought and feeling constellations has a life of its own with certain needs, goals, likes and dislikes. Naming these parts helps you step outside of them to witness them with curious interest.
As you come to identify the patterns of your psyche, you can keep an ongoing journal of your cards to record your insights. I found it fascinating to color photocopy my collage cards and record what emotional needs each card was expressing in my journal.
As each emotional need is addressed and integrated into conscious awareness, some cards may no longer be "active" and new layers of emotional need will arise and form into new cards. When you consciously become aware of and meet your emotional needs, you will feel less conflicted and accumulated with emotional overwhelm, and your collection of emotionally "active" cards may simplify.
Using Your Collage Cards as an Awareness Tool
As you become more conscious of your mental and emotional patterns, you gradually will become larger and more conscious than than your emotional states and longings, and they will not overwhelm your life so much.
Often when I am in a conditioned feeling/thought pattern for example, the visual image of my collage card will immediately come to mind as visual resonance to my emotional state. As a growth tool, collage cards can help us to find an answers and antidotes to unfulfilled emotional needs. For every difficult emotional pattern that we have, there is an opposite, life affirming pattern that we can newly condition into our consciousness.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 29 - Meditate on Color
- Watercolor paint
- Watercolor paper or journal page
Exploring Spontaneous Color Choices
Intuitively feeling what colors you are drawn to is the first step towards creating a spontaneous painting. Sometimes, simply and intuitively choosing colors is a relaxing and emotional releasing exercise in itself. I offer this structured exercise as method to explore what colors emotionally call to you, and to encourage you to practice the process of intuitive choice-making.
Draw a simple line grid with pencil on your watercolor paper or journal page and prepare to take the time to meditate on each color choice. You might want to go so far as to put on soft music and to light a candle as you paint. This meditation is simply the practice of sensing into what color you want to use next, and where you will place it on the grid.
Developing a Personal Relationship with Color
1. While there are many guides to color meanings and to the practices of color and chroma therapy, but I invite you to use this time to explore what color personally feels like for you.
2.. Within the grid structure, relax between each color and placement choice, Get used to centering within and following one impulse after another.
3. Pause between each square that you choose to paint in, take a few deep breaths, and look at your color palette with soft eyes.
4. Choose one color at a time and slowly paint your color onto your chosen square on the grid.
5. You might notice a feeling or a place in your body when you look at each color. For each time of choosing, trust that only one color will strongly stand out.
6. You need only pay attention to each moment-by-moment feeling in your body. You will get a strong sense of "this is the one".
7. Continue to follow each impulse - one at a time - paying attention to the one color that stands out the most strongly in the moment.
8. In this exercise I encourage you to go beyond intellectual choice-making about what colors should go together, and instead focus on emotional choice-making.
9. Center your awareness on your heart and choose from your excitement, warmth, inkling, or your emotionality.
10. Allow your choices to be irrational. Your painting does not have to look a certain way. If your entire grid wants to be yellow green and brown follow your inner urges.
11. Know that what you instinctively choose will express the part of you that wants to speak in color right now.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 28 - Draw Your Spiritual Essence
- Ballpoint pen our waterproof fine marker
- Watercolor paint
- Watercolor paper or journal page
What Does your Unique Spiritual Strength Feel Like?
To focus in on what our unique spiritual strengths are can be something that we habitually and reflexively avoid. Most of us have forgotten who we really are in our spiritual essence. We are born into a world where people live primarily from their egos. We shut down our spiritual essence early to fit into our family of origin and the society that we live in.
When we cut of from our spiritual essence, our emotional and psychological problems seem to loom large. All to often we can drown in old conditioned feelings of limitation, lack, emotional need and loneliness when we are cut off from our innate spiritual essence.
When we meditate on what our spiritual strength feels like, we can practice making our soul strength larger than our problems. This exercise involves doing a short meditation and then a free-form intuitive drawing to express the essence of what your soul feels like in color, shape or form.
Meditation = Giving to Discover Essence
In our quiet time we can ask how we can best use our gifts to contribute to our life situation at this time. We can start to see ourselves as love and spiritual strength flowing outwards. We can begin to intuit where to direct our love in the course of our day.
Often the urges we have to help will feel small and seemingly inconsequential, but if we follow them, we find we will feel happier and stronger. If we really listen, we will always have an inkling about how to uplift the fabric of our daily, practical lives.
When we give to life in an intuitive, heart-felt way we understand our life as having a precious period of giving influence that has a beginning and an end. We each have a finite time in this human form that we now exist in.
We can choose to either give to life, or demand that life give to us and take care of our emotional pain. Knowing that our life span is a period of influence that will never exist in the same way ever again, we can find the motivation to live our best life. We can choose to use our aliveness and our gifts to give our spiritual essence to life.
Today, as we draw from within, we can experiment with feeling every moment as precious. As we draw, we can practice what it would feel like to allow our soul essence to become more strongly present than our conflicted psychology.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 27 - Fine Art Collage
- Fine art magazines
- Card stock or journal page
When you want to make a more surrealistic collage, fine art magazines provide an excellent opportunity to find provocative and visually stimulating imagery.
Art magazines offer a rich resource of soulful and surprising subject matter for collage. Fine art imagery inherently invites us to stretch the limits of our imagination.
Fine Art Reassemblage
Consider choosing a large art image as a background for your collage and assemble your smaller collage pieces on top. Experiment with placing imagery in ways that do not rationally belong together.
Take the time to move your collage pieces around and intuit where they need to go. Allow your collage to be curious, strange, absurd, colorful, dark, or light.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 26 - Collage Together Past Paintings and Drawings
- Several old paintings and drawings that you are not quite happy with.
- Glue Stick
Focusing on What Feels Meaningful
Usually when we express an inner truth through art-making we get a sense of rightness that we have expressed what we needed to express. When a painting or drawing feels right, there is a feeling of completeness, as if something has become clean and honest inside.
But not every painting feels right. One way to "re-express" yourself is to cut up old paintings and drawings that did not quite "hit the mark" and to collage them into a more powerful, coherent, meaningful expression of yourself.
Gathering the Truthful Elements
You can start to collect a stack of drawings and paintings that have not quite hit the truth of you. If there is even one element in your work that feels strong, save your paintings and drawings and cut out what feels intuitively eloquent of what you need to express.
Consider using one of your paintings as a background for your newly assembled collage. Feel free to combine all mediums, such as pastel drawings and watercolor paintings, both figurative and abstract, into a newly expressed truthful, visual representation of how you feel right now.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 25 - Explore Painting Simple Abstract Shapes
- Watercolor or acrylic paint
- Watercolor paper or journal page
Ten Quick Abstract Paintings
Sometimes less is more, and simple abstract shapes can express the purity of a singular feeling that can get confused in a more detailed painting. If you are used to adding a great deal of intensity and detail in your paintings you might like to try painting ten fast, simple abstract paintings instead. Place your finished abstract paintings down on the floor side-by-side to contemplate your progression of feeling.
Looking Without Thinking
Artist Ellsworth Kelly, age 79 has devoted his entire life to painting and exploring the simple relationship between abstract shapes. As a painter, he looks at his external world without thought and conception. As Kelly says, "If you can turn off the mind and look at things with only your eyes, ultimately everything becomes abstract." Consider looking at the world without thought, and simply gazing upon plants, buildings, shadows and reflections on the water without labelling and categorizing.
Practicing Open Vision
Once our world is taken in with this kind of open vision we can open our minds to new possibilities. Painting without thinking, laying down simple shapes and colors can express the most eloquent of inner states. Consider too, the relationships between your painted forms and colors.
You might want to write a simple, spontaneous word at the bottom of each painting that feels evocative of each painting. Consider looking at your external and internal world in fresh and surprising ways. The next time you go for a walk, experiment with softening your eyes and turning your thought volume down for a time. Enjoy taking the world in freshly without preconceptions.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 24 - Spontaneous Painting
- 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.
Every human being has the deep urge to express themselves honestly but we are not often encouraged to be our most unique selves in our traditional school systems. Spontaneity does not make for an obedient classroom!
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 feeling everything and allowing everything to emerge from under the brush. A willingness to be completely honest enough to even create an "ugly" painting nurtures spontaneity. In my opinion "good" art is authentic art, no matter what it looks like.
As soon as we try to create something "good" we can easily become tense and self-critical. 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. We learn to embrace whatever is expressed in the moment without judgement. Creativity is about loving yourself just as you are, and allowing yourself to express yourself as you need to in each moment - without shame or judgement.
There are Two Ways To Create
As a former gallery artist I have both a "cultivated style" and a "natural intuititive style" of creating. I once visited an artist's studio and she also had two distinct styles of 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 involves copying other artists and methods. She painted this body of work for the results or end-product that they produced.
When I pointed out several of her almost primitive, tribal paintings on the wall, she laughed, "Oh those are easy!" She exclaimed, "I do those just for myself - for relaxation." I have been drawing like that since I was a child."
She told me that her intuitive paintings just poured out of her effortlessly but that she thought they were strange and not very marketable. To me they were beautiful in their rawness and aliveness, full of risk and adventure. These paintings were the outpouring of her natural, intuitive style. She painted her intuitive body of work for the ease and native passion of her unique creative process.
How to Paint Intuitively
My inspiration to 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. And, when I found the newly released book Life Paint and Passion by Michele Cassou and Stewart Cubley it felt like a gift from the gods!
I offer some of what has inspired me in the book for you here:
- The aim of spontaneous painting is to express in an undefended way. Follow a sense of what is truthful in your body. If you feel defended, or you have the urge to not paint something, or to cover something up, question yourself.
- Feel free to play. Do not care about the results.
- Have respect for what looks like nothing or that is beyond your cognitive understanding. Colored areas, slashes and lines allow certain feelings to be expressed non-verbally.
- If a recognizable image wants to enter the painting, take that risk.
- Know that judgement of your painting comes from a threatened self-image.
- Know when you are immersed in the spontaneous painting process with you will feel an aliveness, and a deepening of feeling. You will feel a heightened awareness of the moment.
- What are you most afraid of as you face the paper? Try to paint what you most fear and allow all of the things inside of you have their time in your loving awareness.
- Rest in the unknown. Something wants to be born on the paper. Treat it with respect. Enter your painting slowly and carefully. Be sensitive to the brush as an extension of your hand. Something in your body wants to move through you. Meditating on uncertainty opens up your intuition.
- There is a deeper intelligence behind the seeming random suggestions our intuition gives us. Intuition is not mental decision making. When intuition passes through you - in each moment -there is only one possibility.
- There is only one right thing to do in each moment. Follow each urge as it arises. Watch your painting unfold as you would watch a garden bloom. You are the perfection of nature. All colors and forms have just one way to be painted in each moment.
- You have the right to paint what you want. Nothing is forbidden.
- Boredom in the spontaneous painting process is avoidance and a fear of feeling.
- Paint each simple thing with integrity.
- Instead of waiting for something special to happen, just paint.
- Meet yourself through your spontaneous painting process. Know and accept yourself as you are.
- Nothing is a mistake.
- Be as honest as possible.
- Intuition is impersonal insight.
- What you want to paint is irrelevant. What you need to paint is pushing inside to be born. To create is to be alive, all that you think may be too strong, too childish, to different is to be welcomed.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 23 - Resolving Fear Through Collage
- Old magazines and picture books
- Glue stick and scissors
- Card stock or journal page
Fear freezes our emotions and embeds itself into our body musculature. We will find fear in our body, wherever we are stiff and sore. Wherever there is a body blockage - there is stored fear and a defensive strategy against love, growth and new information.
For increased self-awareness of fear, you can meditate into the tight and constricted parts of your body with expressive collage. You can choose images that reflect your fearful places.
The next time you feel overwhelmed with fear, take a few minutes to spontaneously choose some images that reflect your feelings. As you choose your imagery, center your awareness on where you feel a constriction in your body.
1. When you feel a strong emotion such as fear you will project onto the images that resonate strongly for you. Trust that the imagery you choose reflects your fear. Once you have chosen a few images, spontaneously put them together in quick collage.
2. Do not over-think your collage. Allow your collage to form itself around your feelings of fear. Move your fear from inside of your body to the outside of your body in the form of a collage, and study it in visual form.
The Gift of Fear
Spontaneous collage is an intuitive way to dream while you are awake. Collage brings what feels unbalanced or distorted inside into focus in a visual way. When we resonate with imagery it can tell us things that we would not otherwise recognize. When we align with and honor what we have collaged we discover that all of our feelings hold gifts.
Psychologist Chuck Spezzano says, "Fear comes about from resisting our own energy. It is an attempt to block the energy that wants to fountain up inside of us and make life thrilling."
Fear also reflects a fear of the future based on what you have not grieved and learned from in the past. When you feel fear you may be scared of a risk that you need to take in your life to transcend old limited conditioning.
You may want to journal alongside of your collage about what where you feel scared. Focus on where you are holding back your energy from fully expressing itself in the way it needs to in your life right now. Wherever we have an unprocessed hurt or lack in the past, our emotional blockage will create a fear about the future.
Feeling Original Fear
We become arrested in our fear wherever we stopped growing at various points in our lives. Our ego mind is underpinned with fear of emotional pain. Our hurting inner child parts of self will always hang onto fear to keep us small and separated from love and growth in order to stay safe and "loved".
When we feel emotionally, physically, creatively or financially blocked we are most often courting an old fear that can be moved through with a new strength that we were unable to muster when we were younger. It is possible to "lean into" fear as it escalates - until it dissipates.
In order to grow we often must face the fears of our possibilities and gifts that we have been avoiding for years. It is possible to face and "burn through" fear with presence, maturity and courage to find the strengths and purposes that we left behind in the past.
Fears can be felt fully until they are gone and only good feelings remain. Once we can face and feel our fear all the way, we are no longer emotionally arrested in the past. Love and inspired action take the place of fear.
Fear is incredibly powerful but when we face and overcome fear we can reclaim all of the power that our fear has been hiding. We can reduce fear by turning towards it with love and friendliness. Fears often indicates old emotions that need to come up for healing so that we can move on with our lives. When we become friends with fear, we can approach it with love and open it up to what it is communicating.
When we befriend our fear and stay present instead of turning away from it, we can learn to see fear as a sign of a limiting thought or emotion arising to be faced and moved through. We can increase our tolerance for feeling fear with practice, and grow to love its powerful energy as and indication of a needed change.
Fear can be leaned into and intensified until it pops into more positive feelings such as excitement and positive anticipation. When we see our fear as excitement, we can harness its power for positive, forward-moving change.
Challenging Fearful Thoughts
We can challenge our fearful beliefs by trying out new behaviors in our present life. Because life repeatedly offers opportunities to transcend past fears, we can use our present life to overcome limitations that we were afraid to move through in the past.
Most of our fears and limitations were conditioned in childhood. Because fear is habitual and runs automatically, we can consciously choose to interrupt fear by creating new memories and experiences in the present moment.
If we fearfully reinforce that we cannot handle life in the same way as when we were young, we never give ourselves the chance grow up. When we let our fears rule us, we remain as children inside - hoping that life and other people will take care of us so that we do not have to change and grow.
When we break the link to childhood fear by doing something different, we grow to be able to handle life in a mature ways. It is possible to creatively speak to ourselves in powerful, bold and encouraging ways to counteract old childhood tendencies to shrink, withdraw and avoid life. In the face of fear we can say to ourselves "I can do this." "I am strong." "I can handle this."
Because fear is primal and physiological it is important to have coping tools available. When fear overtakes our psychology to the point that it is challenging to function in practical life, practicing new thoughts, bold behaviors, and confidence building affirmations helps. Strength building can intensify when life is going well to help embed new neural pathways of strength, maturity and confidence in our bioloby that transcends the limitations of the past.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity #22 - Warm Up: Paint Spontaneous Circles
- Watercolor paint, brushes
- Watercolor paper, or journal page
Creativity Overrides Conformity
It is not hard to paint spontaneously but most of us are conditioned out of our creativity early when we we are taught that if we could not make "good art" as children we should not bother at all. Expressive Art therapist Natalie Rogers 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
If you have forgotten how to paint spontaneously, start with simple shapes, such as circles or squares. Concentrate on color, gesture and line. Allow yourself to practice painting in a loose, free way. Expressive art is an exercise in learning how to become fully ourselves. Even a simple painting can express an individuality of feeling, and expressive self-empowerment.
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.
Painting gestural circles with juicy watercolor paint is an easy way to warm up and begin tasting the freedom of creative self-expression again. Expressing yourself, even through simple shapes and gestures can start stagnant creativity flowing. Creativity is our innate life force energy. As creativity flows, we awaken from the illusion of conformity and become ourselves.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 21 - Paint a Tree Spontaneously
- Watercolor paper or journal page
- Watercolor, acrylic or tempura paint
- Brushes, water
A Starting Point
Painting spontaneously without external references or preconceived notions about how your painting will turn out can be a challenge at first. When I first started facililitating spontaneous painting classes, I was surprised to find that most people found it difficult to access their intuitive imagery.
A blank page can be daunting for most people. Often at the beginning of a class, I will offer a starting point. You could start with a simple shape such as circle, or sense within for a figurative image that wants to be painted. If nothing arises from your imagination, intuitively painting a tree can be a good place to begin
Intuitively Choosing Colors and Shapes
When you paint your tree, allow its shape and color to unfold under your brush spontaneously instead of relying on memory or habit. Allow the shape, color and tone of your feelings to travel through your hand and onto the paper.
Be prepared to allow your tree to morph into something completely different than a tree - if it wants to. The focus in spontaneous painting is be tenderly and exquisitely present with each movement and gesture of your brush as it reflects and extends the nuances of your feelings.
The process of spontaneous painting is more important than the end-product. The entire purpose is to enjoy the flow of feelings as you paint. As your feelings move and become unstuck through the painting process, you may feel yourself feeling less emotionally accumulated.
See if you can practice choosing your colors from an intuitive place. It is often helpful to stop between colors and give yourself time to check within to feel what color you are drawn to. Only one color at at time will stand out. Follow each strong urge. Allow yourself to be surprised as your intuitive felt-sense may be attracted to colors that your regular thinking mind would not normally choose.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity #20 - Fabric Assemblage
- Fabric scraps
- Ribbon, cord, wire and string
- Small ephemera such as feathers, buttons, beads and small objects
- Pinking shears, scissors
- White glue
- Needle and thread
Creating Assemblage for Relaxation
In our frenzied modern life, it is rare that we take the time to spend a few quiet hours to simply play with color, pattern and texture with no pre-designed end product in mind. Focusing on a simple spontaneous assemblage can invite a relaxed awareness on the simple tasks of arranging intuitive compostions, working with color, juxtaposing textures, playing with interesting objects, and sewing with a needle and thread.
This art activity can be approached as creative meditation to quiet your mind. Whenever we intensely concentrate on a small task - such as sewing or beading - our attention amplifies.
1. Casually arrange fabric pieces and small items on your fabric background.
2. Try dropping string, cord, beads, and fabric pieces onto your assemblage and see if you like where they land.
3. Glue and sew your ephemera to your fabric background.
Allow yourself to to work slowly, intuitively and with no end aim. Simply build upon on each next step, intuitively layer your items, and allow yourself to be surprised about what emerges.
With such relaxed concentration allow yourself to move into peaceful mind states where all other thoughts disappear. Allow your thoughts to come to a rest and focus on the task at hand.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 19 - Collage Your Stillness
- Old Magazines
- Scissors and glue stick
- Journal Page
What Emotional Needs Arise in Your Silence?
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 18 - Intuitive Watercolor Painting
- Watercolor paints, brushes
- Watercolour paper or journal page
The medium of watercolor is spontaneous by nature, and is well suited for intuitive painting. Watercolour behaves in an fresh and translucent way that is different than other paint mediums that can be changed or painted over. Watercolor - by the nature of the medium is a practice in allowing what needs to happen - happen the first time around.
Self-Image vs. Intuition
Before you begin to paint, it is helpful to quiet your mind and relax your body. To paint intuitively, try painting without pre-sketching and allow yourself to paint what comes spontaneously.
Allow your painting to become what it needs to be - whether it is beautiful or ugly.
Intuitive paintings requires total self-acceptance. Any judgment that you feel while painting will indicate a conflict between a part of your psyche that needs to express itself and your preferred self-image.
When painting intuitively, in each moment, only one true possibility will present itself to you. Follow each deeper inclination and only paint what you emotionally need to paint.
When we paint what we want to paint, we are often trying to "appear" a certain way though our paintings. Very often, intuitive paintings will not turn out the way we wish they would.
In order to cultivate self-acceptance it is helpful to set our preferred self-image aside and watch ourselves paint with curiousity. Practice allowing and honouring whatever happens under your brush.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 17 - Expressive Self-Portrait
- Acrylic paint
- Collage papers and magazine clippings
- White glue and sponge brush
- Heavy paper or journal page
It is intriguing to create an expressive self-portrait that focuses more on your inner state than your outer appearance. This expressive art therapy exercise is good 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?"
1. Paint a Face - Paint a loose representation of a face in acrylic paint.
2. Gather Collage Imagery - As you let your paint dry, gather and cut out your collage items.
3. Collage Imagery - When your underpainting is dry - quickly and spontaneously glue on your imagery by painting both sides of the image liberally with white glue. The white glue on top of the image will waterproof it so that you can paint, draw, or glaze over top of it.
4. Glaze and Paint - When your collage items have dried you can "bury" some of your imagery into your self-portrait with more acrylic paint to veil some collage areas and highlight others.
5. Draw - Draw or doodle or embellish on top of your layered self-portrait.
Allowing What Is
Allow your expressive self-portrait to be "negative" or "ugly" if it needs to be. We often express what we have hidden or rejected about ourselves before we can truly celebrate and own our beautiful qualities.
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."
Expressive Art Therapy Activity #16 - Intuitive Doodling
- Ballpoint pen
- Felt Pens
- Journal Page
Doodling can be taken to an eloquent level of personal expression and is a good activity to practice when you feel emotions that you cannot put words to. Often drawn symbols can express and encompass a feeling more completely than thoughts.
Doodle when you want to strengthen you intuitive connection to yourself. Intuitive doodling asks only for a simple ballpoint pen and some colored markers. Intuitive drawing can be a way to make the unconscious - conscious.
Put your pen to paper and start making marks and shapes automatically and quickly and without thought. Keep your lines loose and uncensored. Allow yourself to scribble and doodle without thinking. Watch your pen move of its own volition. Move all of your thoughts into your heart. Let your intuition draw for you.
See if your doodles shapes want to become a face, a body, an animal, or a bird. Allow a spontaneous image to take shape. Your doodle may be abstract or representational. You may want to emphasize certain areas with heavy lines or crosshatching. Do not be deliberate with your pen. Allow a loose freedom with your lines.
Doodling is a wordless activity that is more felt than understood. Allow any feelings you may have to move into your hand and through your pen. Your drawing can be simple or elaborate. You can spend up to 30 minutes on a doodle or just a few minutes. It is helpful to doodle until you feel complete emotionally. With practiced sensitivity, you will just "know" when you are finished.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 15 - Collage a Mandala
- Card stock or heavy paper
- Circle template
- Old magazines and books
- Art Journal
It is intriguingly contemplative to make a collage in a circular format. Use a circular object to trace a circle onto your card stock and cut out your circle.
Ask yourself a Question:
Because mandalas are a contemplative form of making art you can ask yourself a question about something that you want to know about your life, before you make your mandala collage. A good question to ask before beginning is, "What do I most need in my life right now?"
As you center into your question, spontaneously choose imagery that feels emotionally charged and alive for you. Try not to think. Choose your images without knowing why you are choosing them. Allow your images to overlap over the edge of your cut-out circle. When your collage feels finished turn your circle over and cut around the edge of the circle. Glue the image into your art journal.
You may want to contemplate your mandala and journal the answer to your question after you finish. What does your collage mandala reveal? Visual imagery can help you to see ways of growing that you may not have considered before. In my collage above, I could see I was longing for more depth. I was too busy at the time and was skating along the surface of life. I enjoyed cutting out images of Jacques Cousteau that visually illustrated my desire to "dive deeper".
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 14 - Expressive Still-Life Pastel Drawing
- Still life - your choice of fruit, vegetables and/or flowers
- Oil pastels
- Paper/art journal page
When I was a gallery artist in my twenties it took me a month to complete each painting. Each piece was rationally thought out, patiently designed, and painstakingly composed.
When I was in my thirties, I started teaching expressive art groups to seniors. I was gifted with a true artist in my class. She was in her early 90's and her name was Tru. She had dementia and she had long forgotten that she was an accomplished artist. Yet when I gave her a box of fresh pastels and an inspiring still life to look at she would begin to draw furiously and passionately, and eloquently present in the moment.
I worked both in group settings and one-to-one with Tru. I did the above drawing alongside her in one of our private art sessions. When I look at it today, I still feel the energy and expression that Tru inspired in me.
I invite you to set a timer for ten minutes for this exercise. Before you begin drawing take five minutes to soften your eyes and see the "whole picture" of your still-life. Try to read all of the different elements as one whole piece.
Progressively, practice the art of loosening up! The aim is to create your pastel drawing quickly and without much thought. Ignore the individual details and "see" and draw with your heart. See if you can capture the "soul essence" of your still-life with short quick strokes of pastel. Allow yourself to work fast and furiously. If you really want to loosen up, try five - ten minute expressive pastel drawings in a row.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 13 - Word Collage
- Pastels or watercolor paint
- Scissors and glue stick
- Old magazines and books
- Art Journal
It is often quite revealing to randomly choose words and phrases to assemble in 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 soft eyes. When you soften your focus and breathe deeply certain words will stand out for you on the page. Without questioning, cut your words out and glue them onto your background.
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. Often when you feel positive, a more negative message will come up that will indicate the next layer of your psyche that is coming up for healing.
Not Knowing Why
When you choose positive words, you may be struggling emotionally under the surface. Often word collages will encourage us when we feel down. Our minds will always reveal the next layer of our unconscious mind that is waiting to come up to be seen, acknowledged, accepted and healed.
This collage method is helpful if you have a niggling feeling that you do not understand, and you want to find clues to visually and consciously see what you are feeling. Creating a word collage will help you bring up thoughts, beliefs and feelings that are submerged into your conscious awareness to be understood.
This form of spontaneous collage is different from an intentional collage where you choose words that point towards what you want to feel. The aim of a spontaneous word collage is to not know why you are choosing your words. You can also choose to meditate on your word collage for a day or more and journal more deeply about what it is telling you.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 12 - Collage Who You Admire
Often we have positive qualities hidden within that are longing to emerge into our life. When we disown our heightened possibilities we most often find them hidden within our intense admiration of other people. It is interesting to find an image of someone you admire and contemplate why.
This collage exercise is an exploration of positive projection. You may have someone that you admire already in mind. You can search for and print an image off of the internet. Alternately you can allow yourself to "positively project" onto an image in a magazine. The person that you choose does not need to be recognizable, familiar or famous. Simply choose someone that you can "read" positive qualities into.
Simply find an image of a person that brings up feelings of admiration, or a positive longing for you. As you look at your chosen image, allow spontaneous words to arise. You may want to write these words on your collage and journal about the higher qualities that you sense you need to live into or bring forward at this time in your life.
If you could name one higher quality that you sense you need to live into, what would it be?
Expressive Art Therapy Activity #11 - Found Poetry Collage
- Vintage thrift store books and discarded library books
- Paper/journal page
- Glue Sticks
It is intriguing to use old books for collage. I often buy old art and nature books and old novels in libraries and thrift shops. I even search new books stores for bargain picture books to cut up.
Often the images are so much richer than what I can find in magazines. It is worth the small investment. Unusual imagery sparks poetic collages.
Choosing Your Imagery
Put together a quick spontaneous collage using imagery that intrigues and mystifies you. Allow yourself to put together a collage that makes no logical sense.
Choosing Your Poetry
Scan your books for words or phrases that intrigue you. Or, you can randomly open a page in a book and pick words that strikes you on am emotional level.
Allow your collage and words to take poetic leaps that do not make immediate sense to your everyday mind. Take a few minutes to reflect on the wordless feelings that your poetic collage invokes.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 10 - Gestural Pastel
- Paper or journal page
- Oil pastels
Take five minutes to quiet your mind. Settle into a wordless place inside.
Pick up a pastel and make loose marks on your page.
Intuitively, pick up each color that attracts your attention and continue to make gestural marks.
When you are finished your gestural pastel drawing, meditate on it for five minutes. Allow yourself to free associate and allow subconscious feelings and memories to arise as you gaze at your drawing with soft eyes.
Allow a spontaneous phrase or mind come into your mind. Do not worry if it does not make sense. Your drawing might offer you a piece of spontaneous wisdom or a mysterious message. Title your drawing with your spontaneous word or phrase.
For example for this gestural pastel I wrote:
"Out of the Box - You are larger than you consciously are willing to admit...open up your energies to embrace and receive more of life."
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 9 - Journal Your Blocks to Success
Paper or Journal
It possible to try really hard to move forward in our life, and yet not be successful with our efforts.
We can often feel like we are on a treadmill that is getting no results. When we do not feel like we are growing, we are unconsciously conflicted about getting what we consciously think we want.
To be successful we need to want our goal with all of our heart - free of inner conflict. If you are not successful in some area of your life be it in your love relationships, your creativity, your career, or your family relationships - you simply do not want success in that area with all of your heart.
I offer you this journal writing exercise inspired by transpersonal therapist Chuck Spezzano. It involves simply and honestly asking yourself the same question over and over again, to discover the hidden parts of your mind that do not want success.
First, ask yourself the question at least 10 times - give as many answers that you can - progressively going more deeply into your subconscious and unconscious parts of your mind until you realize what is holding you back.
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 ego mind that want to hold us back form love, success and happiness. When we come clean about the parts of ourselves that are feeling sick, afraid or victimized by life we can integrate them with love and move ahead in our life.
In the second part of the exercise, enjoy writing out your authentic, positive motivations for success and celebrate your intentions to move forward. This journal exercise is designed to give all parts of your psyche and soul a voice.
Ask and answer this question at least 10 times each for your positive and negative motivations:
In my situation regarding my success what I really want is.....
The Negative Motivations:
In my situation regarding my success what I really want is.....
Write ten or more negative motivations that you can think of that describe why you resist doing well.
For example : "What I really want is to hide away from the world for fear of criticism."
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 and travel more."
"Our lives show the accumulation of all of our varied wishes. Wanting something with all your heart will begin to slough away all of your untrue and idle wishes. Success comes from an undivided heart."
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 8 - Dialogue Balloon Collage
- Pictures of people from magazines
- Glue stick and scissors
Choose 4-6 images of people that draw your emotional intention, and glue pictures to the paper. Make sure that you leave room for comic strip "dialogue baloons." Ask yourself, "Are they family members? Strangers? Friends? Do they represent your inner children?
We intuitively choose characters that represent different parts of our psyche. We each have many inner children, teen, and adult parts of our psyche that represent where we have our arrested our emotions and stored our non-integrated life experiences.
This collage offers an opportunity to represent the inner parts of yourself conversing and coming to a new understandings, healing and reconciliation.
Create an improvisation in your mind. What would your characters be saying to each other? Contemplate each person in your collage and intuit what each person is thinking or saying, almost as you would watch characters interacting in a dream. Let the dialogue come to your spontaneously. Use markers to record each person's words.
This exercise is a visual psycho-drama. The interactions and words depicted may be harsh, scary, comforting, loving or encouraging.
This can be done as an individual art journal exercise. This is an excellent exercise to do with children. I also do this as a conversational group exercise with my art group for older adults with dementia.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity #7 - Collage Your Emotional Set-Point
- Colored Papers
- Magazine clippings
- Glue Stick
Our emotional setpoint is the habitual background feeling that we carry all through our lives, without really knowing that it is there. It is challenging yet possible to change our emotional set point. We all have varying degrees of happiness, self-love and self-regard that our "normal". Our "normal" is usually similar to the emotional climate that we grew up in.
Take five minutes to close your eyes and go within. Feel into the emotional state that is your normal. A hint: Often our normal is a low hum of anxiety, or an ever-present worry, or a state of withdrawal. What is the everpresent emotional hum that runs under your days?
What colors and images would represent your "normal"? Many years ago, 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 feeling of being withdrawn from life.
1. Tune into the background hum of you emotional life. What does it feel like experientially? Put together images and colors that represents the texures and colors of your "normal" emotional set-point.
2. Do not think too much about what you are putting together. Allow yourself to not know as you choose your imagery. Just 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 everpresent "normal" to yourself.
Changing Your Emotional Set-Point:
A good way to meditate into your emotional set-point is to sense into how much love you let in on a daily basis. Is love peeking out into your life, or is it living through you at full throttle?
We all have areas where we reject ourselves and look for love on the outside. Our emotional set point is open or closed to the degree that we feel love and nourishment from the inside.
Love is always available but we have to open up to receive it with awareness and determination. We will not invite love into our life unless we both ask for it, and intensify our efforts to move beyond our regular ways of thinking and defending.
Meditating on the truth of love brings love closer to you. It is especially helpful if you repeat Good Mother phrases (see Expressive Art Activity # 6) with your whole heart until they become alive within you. If the phrases do not resonate with you, express them in a way that is meaningful to you - perhaps creating an journal page for each message.
Our emotional setpoint responds to what we contemplate. As we move through the wall of your esistance to love and let a higher ideas and nourishment root into your body chemistry you will start to see the evidence that the love you seek is comensurate to the openness of your emotional setpoint.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity #6 - Journal Meditation for Increasing Self-Love
- Small Journal
- Ballpoint Pen
When we do not have the feeling tone of self-love within, we are forever looking on the outside of ourselves for love. If we have not known what good mothering energy feels like, we have to find ways to embed the feelings of warmth, nurture, safety and love into our body on a regular basis in order to heal from past fears and traumas.
Jack Lee Rosenberg, psychologist and author of Body, Self and Soul delineates of all the inner feeling tones that we need to feel complete self-love through a series of messages that we would have received from a mother who was able to be unconditionally loving. He calls them "Good Mother Messages". Read them over and see which ones you feel complete with, and which messages you feel you are missing in your mind and body.
As you meditate daily on the unique feeling tone of each Good Mother Message you will likely notice a considerable decline in the often hidden but desperate need for outside love and approval. Practiced on a daily dedicated basis, this meditation has the potential to soothe the various hurt and split-off inner child parts of self, inviting them back into a feeling of safety, wholeness and unconditional love.
Slowly write out the list below with deeply meditative mind in a small, dedicated journal every morning or every night before going to sleep. Imagine a yourself as a mother unconditionally loving her child - and practice soothing yourself as you do this daily healing meditation for yourself.
Try to set a goal of speaking or writing this list everyday for three months so that these messages of unconditional love can become more deeply embedded in your body and mind. If you feel inspired by imagery, collect draw images that amplify your feelings of self-love, care and nurture. Include them in your daily self-love meditation journal.
As you say or write these good mother messages it is often helpful to touch your body in some nurturing way, so that when difficult feelings do come up, you can anchor into your own internal "good mother." You might try holding your heart while you meditate on each phrase, or you might stroke your other hand or arm, or touch your face or hair much in the way a good mother would love her own child.
Good Mother Messages
1.) I want you.
2.) I love you.
3.) I’ll take care of you.
4.) You can trust me.
5.) I’ll be there for you: I’ll be there for you even when you die.
6.) It’s not what you do but who you are that I love.
7.) You are special to me.
8.) I love you and I give you permission to be different from me.
9.) Sometimes I will tell you “no” and that is because I love you.
10.) My love will make you well.
11.) I see you and I hear you.
12.) You can trust your inner voice.
13.) You don’t have to be afraid anymore.
Some of us may have received some of these healing messages from our real mother, and not others. Some of us may not have received any good mother messages growing up. It is helpful to practice these internal messages, especially for those of us who have experienced trauma as a strengthening process before serious inner work around trauma begins.
As traumatic memories arise or emotional pain emerges in our life to be healed and integrated, we need to have a firmly developed "inner good mother" that we can trust, so that younger more arrested parts of self feel safe enough to express, feel, and heal.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 5 - Start a Focusing Journal to Move Through Blocked Feelings
- A small journal
- A ballpoint pen
"Most traditional methods of working on oneself are mostly pain centered. People get to repeat over and over their painful emotions without knowing how to use the body's own inherently positive direction and force."
Understanding Your Problems in Your Journal
If you have trouble identifying the more subtle cues and signs of your inner feeling states this focusing journaling method will help you to touch into your inner body "felt-sense". I share psychologist Eugene Gendlin's focusing process below to help you to help you address the "stuck feelings" in your body and unidentifiable problems that niggle at you each day.
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 all likely to have half a dozen problems that keep us stuck inside. Ask yourself. "What is bugging me? Why don't I feel wonderful right now? How is my life going? What is the main thing for me right now?"
Problems: Stay quiet and let what comes come. Do not try to list every problem you can think of but only what has you tense right now. Let all these problems come up and out. List them, stack them in front of you and survey them from a distance.
Background Feeling: Sometimes there is also an ever present background feeling that always you carry in your body. Describe the ongoing background feeling in your body and put that on you stack of feelings in front of you.
Stay cheerfully detached from them as much as you can. "Well, except for all of these, I am fine."
All Fine: We all have a deep sense of well-being running at all times, but most often it covered with the static of problems and anxieties. Sense into how you feel when everything is all fine. Invite a word or phrase or image to come forward to describe it.
2.) Choosing a Problem to Work Through:
Ask which problem feels the worst right now. Ask which one hurts the most and feels the heaviest, the biggest, the sharpest, the most prickly or clammy or sticky. Choose one problem.
Don't go inside the problem as you usually would. Stand back from it. Ask, "What does this whole problem feel like?" But don't answer in words. Feel the problem whole, the sense of all that.
Ask yourself to be quiet, listen and feel. Try to feel the whole inner aura of the problem. Try to get down to the single feeling of "all that" about the problem. The feel of the problem comes to you whole without details, like listening to a piece music made up of many notes and having one whole sense of it. You may find the problem is located in a very specific part of your body.
This felt sense is the holistic, unclear sense of the whole thing. This is something most people would pass by because it is murky, fuzzy and vague. You might think, "Oh that! But that is just an uncomfortable nothing!" This is how your body senses a problem, it is at first quite fuzzy.
3.) Finding a Symbol for the Problem
Find a quality word, phrase, or image for the felt sense. Find a quality like sticky, heavy, jumpy, helpless, tight, burdened" ect. Or find a short phrase such as, "like in a box, have to perform". A combination of words might work best like "scared tight or jumpy restless. Or the description of an image might work better.
Try out different qualities until you feel a bodily shift and then discard everything else. You will know which one is right.
4.) Resonating and Checking the Symbol
This is a double checking of the word and the felt sense to see if they resonate. Make sure the word is just right with the feeling. Once you get the sense of rightness, your body will shift again.
Listen to the word you have decided is right and tune into the unclear felt sense for one minute. Using your word if it is say "jumpy", ask "What is it about this whole problem that makes me so jumpy?"
If you hear a lot of fast answers from your head, just let them go. What comes swiftly is old information from your mind. The mind rushes in and gives you no time to contact the felt sense directly. Ask yourself the question and wait.
Words and images will flow out of the feeling and offer a freshly felt difference. Just repeat your open-ended questions until the felt sense stirs. Ask, "What is the worst of this?" What would it take for this to feel okay? What does this felt sense need?"
This is not meant to be work but it is a friendly time within your body, inquiring.
Whatever comes in focusing, welcome it. Take the attitude that you are glad your body spoke to you, whatever it said. This is only one bodily shift and is not the last word. You do not need to believe, agree with, or do what the felt sense says. You just need to receive it. With each shift, your body changes and your life direction will appear step by step. Be willing to receive just one step. Once you locate this one shift it is very much like a place, a spot in your inner landscape. Once you know where it is and how to find it, you can leave it and return to it later.
"A felt sense is a bodily awareness of a situation or person or event...an internal aura that encompasses everything you feel and know about a given subject at a given time. It encompasses it and communicates it to you all at once. Think of it as a taste, or a great musical chord that make you feel a powerful impact, a big, round, unclear feeling."
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 4 - Draw and Collage Your Inner Critic
- Felt markers and pencil crayons
- Paper or an art journal
- Old magazines, glue sticks, scissors
Try not to censor or think it out too much before you start. As you create your picture - invite the critical part of yourself to come forward and tell how it thinks you are not good enough. Collage or draw what your inner critic says to you in a quick and spontaneous way.
- Be prepare for your inner critical voice to be quite mean as you bring what is inside - outside to be seen. Write these critical statements down on the opposite page of your art journal to visually see the critical voice that runs under your life.
- Sit for five minutes and meditate on your drawing, collage and writing. Consider what your inner critic has just told you.
Separating From the Critic's Voice
Psychologists Hal and Sidra Stone say that the inner critic makes absolute pronouncements as though it has the truth of heaven behind it. It is for this reason that it is initially difficult to separate from the critic's voice. We think our inner critic is all encompassing. We think our inner critic's voice is all of us. Our inner critic feels like God or our parents condemning us.
Our entire society is based on perfectionism, on having the right things, 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 helps our inner critic to relax.
Starting an Inner Critic Journal
It is extremely helpful to keep a dedicated journal to record your inner critic's voices and fears. As you become more conscious of your inner critic - you can start to listen to what it is saying with a more balanced ear. Our inner critic is not all bad. It is trying to protect us from the shame and embarrassment that we could not tolerate in the past.
The negative side of our inner critic is that can become an inner tyrant that keeps our idealized, perfectionistic personality firmly in place. The positive side of the critic is that it is extremely discerning and able to analyze everything. We can reassign our inner critic to become a firm but benevolent inner coach urging us forward. Our inner critic can become a coach that keeps us on track and does not let us get off with the job half done.
Our inner critic has focus and discipline. Through our inner critic we can see clearly where we need to grow. With the inner critic applied in balance we can pull up our socks and move forward in a focused way.
The Inner Critic as Inner Tyrant
When our inner critic runs the show it can create standards of perfection that mercilessly aims to keep our idealized self firmly in place. Our distorted inner critic foms in childhood, regardless of our particular circumstances. To be "perfect" or "good" is an absolute must as a child. To be anything less gives the child the impression that they are no longer loved.
We create a false self, high standards and often, a merciless inner tyrant/critic that aims for happiness, security, and self-confidence by trying to be perfect. Part of dismantling our false front involves letting go of the strain of maintaining our standards of perfection. Our inner critic tells us on an unconscious level, "If you strain hard enough to be perfect, you will be loved. You will be confident."
Ask yourself these questions in your journal:
What is your inner critic afraid of - for you?
What are you current standards of perfection?
Is your inner criticism valid or is it just plain cruel?
Where did your inner criticism originate from? Your parents? Society? Religion?
Is your inner critic an inner tyrant? What does it say to you to push you to maintain its standards of perfection?
Is there any area of your life that you allowing yourself to be human and make mistakes?
Do you accept yourself as you are now? Or do you exist in a state of pretense, shame, fear of exposure, tension, strain, secretiveness, guilt and anxiety?
Is there a shred of truth to your inner criticism? How could you use all of your inner criticism to live at a higher level of integrity?
How could you use your inner critic's fears to step forward with care and discernment?
What part of your inner critic's criticism is true? How can you take a gentle step forward?
Can you tell the difference between a genuine desire to work towards growth and the ungenuine pretenses and impositions of your perfectionsistic, idealized self?
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 3 - Collaging Your Appreciation
- 1 magazine - and only one - chosen randomly from a pile
- Paper, cardboard, or an art journal
- Glue Stick
Seeing Our Demands on Life
Our everyday mind constantly demands that life make us happy in this way and that. This dissatisfaction is the place from where all of our unecessary doing comes from. From this place of demands we create false ideals about what would make us happy - and all the seemingly necessary tasks to go along with our false, idealistic needs.
To see through "higher eyes" takes persistence and great dedication. When we see through our higher eyes we realize that there is not that much we have to do. We do not even have to have elaborate goals or dreams.
When we simply live in the moment, life lays itself out at our feet, waiting to be noticed and appreciated. "What is my life revealing to me that I can appreciate right now?" is often the only necessary question.
Working With What You Have
1.) "Just the way you look at it...change the world." Choose only one magazine and begin the practice of looking for things that you appreciate. Even if you do not like the magazine that you have chosen, really dig in and make every effort to find things that you like. Cut out the imagery and words that you appreciate and glue them down in your art journal.
2.) Spend five minute beholding your collage with appreciation and gratitude for your willingness to work with what you have. Allow the feelinkg of appreciation to build in your body and sense into how you can practice and increase this feeling in your daily life. Use this simple exercise as a practice for building the "muscle" of your appreciation for your daily practical circumstances.
3.) As you practice seeing what you love in your collage - you might start to see beauty in your life where there seemed to be none before. We can never think or dream ourselves into happiness - we can only be present for the life that we have right now and bring appreciation to each unfolding moment.
Some good questions to ask yourself in your art journal:
1.) How much do you complain in a day? Can you see that your complaints are unreasonable demands that life should conform to your personal wishes?
2.) Step back from your own thoughts and watch your complaints with curiousity. What are you disgruntled about? What do you need? Can you give more to the areas of life that bother you? What if you could appreciat that all of life is helping you to grow into your best self? How would this help you to give more towards your difficult circumstances?
For insight on how to appreciate difficult circumstances, see Practicing Forgiveness
Expressive Art Therapy Activity #2 - Collaging Your Values
- Paper, cardboard or art journal
- Glue stick
Defining our values helps us make conscious choices and determines the intensity and flow of our psychological energies. If we do not define our highest values we will be caught living from our habitual conditioned thinking and emotional patterns.
Once you find your primary values, you can begin to make all of your life decisions in alignment with your values, and you will know what you stand for in every situation.
- To discover the values that you feel connected to on an subconscious level, randomly clip out images and words that inspire you. Put your collage together quickly and without much thought. Do not worry if your collage does not make immediate sense.
- After you finish your spontaneous collage contemplate it for five minutes and write down the feelings that come up when you look at it. What surprises you when you look at your collage? Is there anything that you did not expect?
- Now consider the life values listed below. See if you can consciously choose the three top values that you want to live your life by. Do they relate to your spontaneous collage or are they different?
Calm, quietude Peace
Inner peace Quietude
Expressive Art Activity #1 - Writing Your Pain a Letter
- Ballpoint Pen
In your art journal invite your "pain" to write you a letter. If you are having trouble finding a voice for your pain you might first want to personify it with an image or a collage. Take some time to center into your pain and ask it to help you choose your images.
Go to the part of your body that feels tight, contracted and sore. Ask you pain to speak to you and explain to you why it is there. Begin writing your letter. "Dear....I am here to..." Ask your pain what it needs. Ask it to tell you what you need to do to help release or relieve the the pain. After you finish the letter, stop and breath deeply for a few moments
Read the letter aloud to yourself and then write a response to your emotional or physical pain from your conscious mind. You might want to write how you will honor your pain's expression.