I recently sent this lesson from my e-course 100 Days of Art Journal Therapy to someone I care about, and I thought this lesson should be more widely shared.
An Emotional Approach to Healing Illness
The emotional struggles that you cannot work out consciously will often work their way through your body in the form of an illness. The emotional component of an illness can be explored symbolically through spontaneous painting, followed by sensing into your body and meditating on direct questions in a journal writing process.
The body uses illness to express emotional wounds that have not healed yet. Many of us have an "illness journey" as part of our life path, but in my experience, working with people at the end of life, illness and decline are not always as predictable as I once thought.
Aging and illness do 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. You are not just your body that sometimes hurts and suffers.
Over a period of nine years, working in a therapeutic art studio with hundreds of older adults in their eighties and nineties, I witnessed several emotional and physical "healings" with my own eyes. I observed older adults fall into a deep depression, have long bedridden illnesses and hospitalizations, with the end of life seeming very near.
Then, on several occasions, I was surprised to see those same people back in the art studio again, ready to create for another period of their lives. It amazed me to observe frail elderly people heading in a death direction reverse quite spontaneously and become robust, cheerful, and full of life again.
When these frail elders came back to life, my direct sense was that they felt emotionally lighter. I saw them laugh and smile more. They started to paint, sculpt and weave again. They connected with others and expressed more love. They often exclaimed gratitude and joy. And, I always intuitively felt that something emotionally heavy had cleared away to make room for a fresh experience of life.
A Journal Meditation on Illness
1. Begin your meditation by resting in stillness and listening within to the place where your physical pain resides. And, deeper than any physical pain that you are feeling, see if you can find a place in your body that holds an acute feeling of emotional pain.
2. As you rest in the particularity of the emotional pain in your body, it might have a story to tell you about how it feels apart from your love in some way. It might, for example, feel bitter, lonely, mistrustful, or angry.
3. When you have a feeling-sense of a part of you feels separated away from love, 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, colours or shapes that do not make rational sense at first.
5. When you are finished with your painting, say "hello" to it, and sit with it for a while. Keep it company. Realize that this painting might express a part of you that you regularly ignore. Perhaps your painting has a direct message for you. It might be saying something like, "Pay attention to me. I need love. I am angry. Stop hurting me. Stop ignoring me."
6. Perhaps the symbols in your painting have words. You can consciously dialogue with your symbology through free-writing. You can write about the symbols in your painting, in a free-associative way, like this: "Red: I feel anger streaking through my body. Circle: I want to open up to a higher way of thinking about my life. No mouth: What are you trying to say?"
Love and Pain
In the illness healing process, the aim is to heal the aspects of your mind that are separated away from love. Healing the roots of illness involves coming out of isolation and joining with other people, as well as rebonding to your younger hurting selves. Healing illness also involves connecting to the spiritual love you experience as your Higher Power for extra support.
You might have to deal with the physical fallout of illness, old age, or disability, but it is also possible to feel deeply connected to love, whatever your health situation. Even in the midst of body pain, you can find great presence, peace, and appreciation for what is.
As you gaze upon your painting notice what wants your recognition right now. Let your thoughts inform you of what parts of you feel separate from love. Ask yourself the following questions in your journal.
- What am I afraid of?
- Who in my life do I dislike or feel separate from?
- Is there an inner aspect of myself that I dislike or feel separate from?
- Is there someone I need to accept or forgive?
- Is there an inner aspect of myself that I need to accept or forgive?
- Is my illness helping me to avoid something? What would that be?
- Is there something that I feel that I need to complete, do, or become that my illness is keeping me from doing?
- Is there 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 be 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 might not want to heal?
- Is there an inner or outer problem that I do not know how to solve that is being expressed through this illness?
- Who would I be if I were healed and whole?
You may not yet deeply understand the buried aspect of your mind that expresses its alienation by being sick, but you can send this particular "vagueness" love, ask for its messages, and rest in the warm "healing-tone" that arises from listening to yourself on a deeper level.
Rest in unknowing 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 healing information to come in.
Ask for a Healing Idea
Healing is a gentle, intuitive process. Healing ideas will arrive into your conscious awareness one step at a time. Just before closing your art journaling session, ask your higher mind, "What is the next step for my healing?" The answer might feel obvious or surprising. It might be a simple word, like "rest, stop, love, or relax."
Once a healing idea comes into your mind, you may enjoy sending the same healing idea out to everyone in the world to amplify your experience of it. You can send your healing idea out into the world with words such as, "may all be well," or "may all be loved."
Or, you might pick a particular person to send healing energy to. "(Name)....may you be well." Magnanimous blessings open up a larger frame of compassion for yourself. 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 intuitive step-by-step healing work you might want to focus on this healing idea from A Course in Miracles: "When I am healed I am not healed alone. As I bless everyone, I am healed with them, as they are healed with me."
An In-Depth Art Journaling Course
The above lesson is an excerpt from my 100 Days of Art Journal Therapy e-course. I think that this is one of my deepest courses to date. I spent many years grappling with my deepest questions about severe anxiety, depression, core wounds, trauma, illness and more. This expressive art and writing course is the result of my deep questioning.