How committed are you to living and loving your life exactly as it is? Most of us do not even notice how shut down and repressed we are in our emotional lives. We might not even notice how we are barely breathing, or that we are tensing and armoring our muscles in a way that can keep so much creative information out of our awareness.
Your availability, presence and full engagement with life and with those you love can be measured by how open your heart is, how much you feel love, and how grateful and at peace you feel in your life. Consider that the degree of emotional repression that you feel lowers the involvement and engagement that you are able to bring to your life.
We are meant to feel, accept and love all of our feelings unconditionally, but most of us reflexively avoid this process. It often hurts to feel, and we can spend our energy trying to control and orchestrate our life to avoid what feels difficult and unmanageable inside.
Many of us go through our days feeling a nameless anger, sadness, or anxiety and fear. Much of our emotional life is non-verbal, and if we were to be really honest with ourselves, we often cannot put a finger onto why we feel upset.
This is because as children our emotional patterning was laid down before we had words - from birth to age seven. We find the stories and words for our inner discomfort later when we develop our mental capacities from age seven onwards. Healing through imagery, visual self-expression, and being present for feelings without words is often so profoundly helpful for clearing feelings that cannot be named.
It helps to have a daily creative practice to help us move through our conditioned repression. Creative play helps to express the suppressed feelings and beliefs that we repressed into our psyche and emotional bodies in childhood and adolesence, in our attempt to navigate the adult world. Imagery, symbol, color and pattern are often richer than words and can express and acknowledge feelings in a larger, more all encompassing way. Rather than always trying to verbalize a reason as to why we feel as we do, we can employ the immediacy of present moment attention through the process of visual self-expression.
If we do not have some kind of wordless creative practice, our level of emotional repression can become our defended "comfort zone", where we make every effort to suppress any hint of discomfort from coming into our awareness. This comfort zone of our accustomed repression is the enclosed area that keeps our connection to other people out of our care and awareness. Our comfort zone protects where we hurt inside. This repression takes a considerable amount of life energy that could be freed up for creative and engaged living. Committing to an emotionally healthy life means committing to feeling uncomfortable and allowing ourselves to have compassion for our inner hurt.
Suffering with awareness, by witnessing the hurt from a larger, more loving part of ourselves is what true commitment to life is. True creativity involves engaging with your life just as it is arising right now, with unconditional love and present attention, no matter what uncomfortable feelings you feel on the inside, or what challenges are happening on the outside.
True creativity is a profound engagement with life as it is. It is a commitment to the truth that everything that happens to you, and that is arising within you is healing you, and sculpting you into who you are meant to be. Making the uncomfortable - comfortable - is the process of bringing unconscious material to light. My experience is that unconscious emotional material comes up in stages or layers to be accepted, loved, and integrated.
So for a time when a layer of my subconscious/unconscious, unintegrated psychology comes up, I will much feel worse. My heart will ache or feel bitter or sad, or intense anger will come up to be seen in the light of my awareness. I try to stay intensely present when a difficult layer of repressed material comes up. Repressed feelings and all of the behaviors that constellate around those difficult feelings are like a blind spot where we keep life out. In my experience, after integrating a difficult feeling, a bright feeling of wholeness, vibrant energy and well-being arises. And soon after, I am able to engage with life at a deeper level.
I often track these non-verbal movements of my subconscious into my conscious awareness through spontaneous art making. Because I like to commit to deepening into creative practices, I have explored many expressive art modalites, such as collage journaling, doodling, stream of consciousness drawing, and poetry writing. I usually commit to one modality for a period of a year to see how deeply I can go into the process. I am always profoundly deepened at the end of the year and I have many journals that affirm the truth that we are designed to heal and become conscious.
At present I am drawing a mandala a day and am smilingly calling it my "Carl Jung Challenge." Psychologist Carl Jung drew mandalas everyday for a year. Recently I went to a Mari mandala workshop and the mandalas I drew pulled something deeper out of my subconscious mind. I was inspired to begin a daily practice.
Because I work with the people at the end of life, I often feel extra compelled to wake up in my own life and to do my emotional presence work. I do make it a dedicated practice to unconditionally love, or at make every effort to least accept what feels uncomfortable within me. Because I work with people who are often overtly expressive about their emotional and physical discomfort, this practice has deepened my compassion for other people who are in pain.
In my experience, when dementia sets in, and the mental capacities wane, creativity and the emotional life can awaken again. This is increased self-expression is something that few people realize about dementia. People with dementia can be astoundingly creative.
There is a window, I have seen, in the mind, as it diminshes in it's reasoning faculties where a new creative freedom can come back into play. Perhaps this diminishing of mental control is the spiritual reason, and the deeper emotional balancing behind the condition of dementia. Because we all know when our mental capacities are in place, we can employ great intensity of will and control to deny what hurts inside.
I have seen first hand that as a human family, we are often healing and integrating our uncomfortable emotional patterning right up to the end of life. I have often sat with a person with dementia and watched them instinctively instigate their own emotional healing process through sometimes profound, and sometimes unusual forms of prayer, ritual, poetry, art, song, voice and movement patterns.
Validation Therapist Naomi Feil explains that the elderly, in the final stages of life are trying to resolve unfinished emotional issues so that they can die in peace. Unconditionally accepting the feelings that they express, as a present and loving witness, can help the elderly from descending into further withdrawal and disorientation. My experience is that dementia provides a window for the elderly to express and integrate old, repressed emotional material that they made the choice to suppress when they were more in control of their mental faculties.
The Creative Mirror of Life
The further I go into the depth of my own life, the further I deepen into my life as a creation - a creation that brings me insight into what I am thinking about. We all are given little signs and symbols within each day that can help us to unfold, heal and evolve from unconscious to conscious human beings. We can learn how to invite these daily symbols and be open to their messages. This creative syncronicity is the co-creation of our human life with the Divine.
The day I was contemplating my full engagement with my own life, I intuitively opened one of my favorite books, "The Untethered Soul" by Michael A. Singer and read this:
"It is your attempt to get special experiences from life that makes you miss the actual experience of life. Life is not something you get, it's something you experience. Life exists with or without you. It has been going on for billions of years. You simply get the honor of experiencing a tiny slice of it.
If you're busy trying to get something, you will miss the slice you are actually experiencing. Every one of life's experiences is different, and every experience is worth having. Life is not something to waste. It's truly precious. That's why death is a great teacher. It is death that makes life precious. Look how precious life becomes when you imagine you only have one week to live."
I have been contemplating the hurt areas that I still repress inside of myself. In my mandalas I have been seeing the areas where I enclose myself, and where I turn away from aspects of my life. So often as I sense into the deeper meaning of my inner life, my outer life rises up to create and communicate with me. Recently I went for a walk in a beautiful neighborhood near where I work to try to sort out my inner conflicts and I was gifted with a most amazing sighting.
I was feeling a deep contraction in my being that day. I was struggling with an overwhelming fear and doubt about some growth steps that I have been taking in my life. I was moving out of my comfort zone into a deeper relationship and engagement with my life. And I realized how easy it is to embrace life when we feel good, but when we are in a fearful contraction it feels nearly impossible to love and appreciate life as it unfolds. We can be quick to label what is wrong with our life, and what needs to change on the outside, instead of simply being present for the uneasiness on the inside.
When we open into more love and connection, usually the defense system of fear kicks in and some old hurt needs to be felt and let go of, before we can love more. As I felt my fear, I kept looking out at the beautiful neighborhood I was walking through, the heritage homes, the exquisite gardens, the birds, and the sounds of life arising.
Fear often arises whenever we cannot accept something inside of ourselves. When we are in emotional pain, our awareness often feels very close to our body. This contraction of life energy most often indicates an inner no, an inner rejection to some aspect of what we are experiencing inside. This is usually an old hurt that has not been healed. This hurt place is where we withdraw our full engagement with life. This inner rejection is an indication that something needs to be felt, accepted and integrated into our experience.
We feel contracted, dense and nearly completely self-involved when we are in emotional pain. At these moments we can choose to open up and integrate something that is denied within. It is hard to notice what is going on outside of our tight and personally embroiled awareness when we are upset. The purpose of such times is clear. Something hidden needs to grow into the light of awareness so that we can unconditionally be present for it, integrate it with love, and move forward towards a deeper engagement with life.
As I contemplated my body tightness and resistance during my lunch time walk, I felt utterly fed up and frustrated with my fear and my contraction away from life. My heart felt tight and closed. I began to contemplate, "What if this was my last day on earth? What if I missed this beauty that is so abundantly sprawling itself out in front of me." I began to play with my awareness like an accordion, opening and closing my heart. And when I turned the corner, I saw a most profound sight.
I saw a black crow twitching, which had just been killed by a car, in the middle of the road. Above me, fifty or more crows circled and sat on wires cawing loudly, upset by the sudden turn of events. I stopped awestruck and I stood and watched the crow funeral. I was struck by how quickly my inner life decision to open to life, as if it was my last day on earth, was so instantly affirmed. I reflected on how easy it is to stay in our defended comfort zone until it is too late. Life is short. There is no better time to fully engage with life and love than right now.
I felt filled with an intensification of presence and gratitude for the creativity of life. When we integrate the inner pain that we have repressed, we build the energy and capacity to engage with people more fully. Many years ago when my daughter was two, I lost many people in my close family. With all of the death and crisis in my life, I stepped up to a creative engagment with life that I had not touched into before. I was in a visionary creative state that lasted about three months. My experience of the "crow funeral" reminded me to engage at this intense level of presence, commitment and availability more as a way of life instead of temporary state.
"You should be experiencing the life that's happening to you, not the one you wish was happening. Don't waste a moment of life trying to make other things happen; appreciate the moments you are given. Don't you understand that every minute you are closer to death? This is how to live your life. You live as though you are on the verge of death because you are." - Michael A. Singer