Who We Think We Are
Accessing the unconscious mind is an area of deep fascination for me. It is often challenging to access our deeper sense of self. Most of us think we are the primary personality that we present to the world.
We tend to think the same thoughts over and over again. When fresh spontaneous thoughts come, we can know we are listening to the deeper aspects of our being.
Below I share how to take the journey to the edge of the unknown parts of your body-mind, informed and inspired by the book Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy by Eugene Gendlin.
Sensing Into What You Do Not Yet Know
Step 1: The Directly Sensed "Source"
When something emerges from our unconscious, we may not be able to immediately sense its source. We all experience qualities of things that cannot be immediately spoken or conceptualized.
We might have a poignant dream or a surprising image might pop into our mind. We might have strong emotions well up, and not know where they are coming from.
With practice, we can learn how to sense into the "border zone" between the conscious and the unconscious. If we cry unexpectedly, for example, we can sense into the body for the "crying place" and pay attention to that place for a period of time - inviting it to share more of itself.
Emotional healing requires a deep level of attention to what we do not yet know about ourselves. This inner body sense is so much richer than words, and we can learn how to regularly sense into it.
Step 2: The Initial Lack of Clarity
Our emerging growth direction is always unclear at first. This sensing into what is unclear differs from experiencing a known emotion. We know what it feels like to feel angry, sad or joyful. These familiar emotions are easily explainable.
When we feel vague discomfort, we likely cannot immediately name this quality within. The edge of this discomfort is felt but unclear. This discomfort is the edge between the known and the unknown.
Silence is often required at this stage. We often try to explain our discomfort. Yet, when we talk too soon, the subtle bodily edge of the unconscious can be lost.
Our personality structure resists what feels unknown, spontaneous and unstructured. Our ego structure tries to keep us controlled and safe. However, we can get comfortable with "living on the edge" of what we do not yet know.
Step 3: It Occurs in a Bodily Way
Most of us cannot sense our bodies from the inside without practice. A direct sense of the border zone between the conscious and unconscious occurs as a physical, somatic sensation. It is usually sensed somewhere in the middle of the body.
Our unconscious first forms a unique bodily sense, and this sense is unclear at first. Many people sense intense emotions as "all around" or in the head. Most of us try to figure out everything logically.
Turning away from familiar thoughts and attending to the body in a deeply meditative way attends to the new layer of the unconscious that is coming up for integration. When we do not pay attention to this emerging layer, we can become emotionally overwhelmed.
An unclear body sense at the border zone of the unconscious is not quite yet a usual bodily sensation. It is not quite yet an emotion. It is is not quite yet a thought. It does not quite yet have definable content. We can have a very distinct feeling that has not yet opened to reveal what it contains. This is called a bodily felt sense.
Step 4: The Felt Sense is a Whole
A felt sense is experienced as part of an intricate whole. One can sense that a felt sense includes many intricacies and strands of information. It is a whole complexity, a multiplicity contained within a rich single sense.
With the emergence of a single bodily sense, a sense of relief comes, as if the body is grateful to express its way of being whole. This subtle emerging felt sense becomes the object of attention to which you can attend.
Step 5: Change Steps Arise From the Felt Sense
When we attend to a body felt sense for a period of time, it reveals information in the form of inner pictures, words, phrases and colors.
After a period of inner body focusing on the edge of the unconscious, a growth step is revealed. When a step comes from a felt sense, it transforms the whole constellation of our inner being.
A felt sense might offer a big dramatic step or a very small one, but it always asks for a change that will create more wholeness.
Step 6: A Step Will Bring One Closer to Being Oneself
Each felt sense indicates a way to become more intimate with ourselves and reveals a way to move forward. When we sense the forward step we need to make, we feel more whole. When we tune into our felt sense each day, we become more deeply ourselves.
Step 7: Steps are in the Direction of Growth
A step that emerges from our unconscious edge has its own surprising growth direction that we cannot control through planning or goal setting. This developmental growth step becomes clearer when we offer deep attention and open up to what wants to emerge.
Most of us have many parts inside that have remained silent and inert for many years. With deep attention, something stirs inside that has long been immobilized. When we pay deep attention to what is emerging from our growth edge, our life energy can flow in a fresh new way.
Step 8: Steps Can Be Explained Only Retroactively
Even the best-laid plans for our life can turn on a dime when we sense into our emerging growth edge. We can wait for each growth step to become concrete through the process of deep, daily inner attention.
When we choose to sense into our growth edge every day, we will unfold into greater wholeness, healing, and harmony in ways we could have never planned.
Sensing into the Unconscious - A Summary
Sensing Within - A Daily Process
Focusing is a path of self-inquiry that welcomes nuanced experiences that we often overlook. We gently bring awareness into our bodies, which is where feelings and sensations reside. We allow and befriend whatever we are experiencing in a way that permits the stuck places to loosen …moving us toward greater peace, freedom, and wisdom.
~ John Amodeo, PhD
Making the Implicit Explicit
For many years I have kept a daily "focusing journal." Focusing within my body has profoundly deepened my intuition. Focusing is also how I stay "emotionally fit" as a therapist. Focusing is a body-based inner listening technique that helps to confirm inner knowing.
Focusing psychotherapy, discovered by Eugene Gendlin, and further defined by Ann Weiser Cornell, helps to bring fuzzy, preverbal knowledge into conscious awareness. Focusing within the body invites what is unconscious to come forward into our awareness.
This way of journaling does not involve much writing. It mostly involves sitting patiently at the "growth edge". This form of inner body listening requires sitting quietly while tending to vague physical impressions until they become defined and meaningful in the form of images, words, phrases, and felt-senses - and then writing them down.
While many psychological techniques involve releasing inhibiting habits and old beliefs, this body focusing technique is a way to attend to what wants to emerge for emotional healing. Everything we need to emotionally heal will arise in the present moment - in its own right timing - without fail - if we listen deeply within.
An Inner Body Journal Process
Below, I share my method of inner body meditation (based on Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy) to support you to process your difficult emotions. Typically, I sit for 15-30 minutes and jot down the impressions that arise from the edge of my awareness as a way to deepen my intuition. This is also a wonderful way to lighten emotional pain in a gradual way.
Listening to your body for just 15 minutes a day can help you to gradually process emotional pain and access deeper intuitive knowing. Start by sitting quietly with your journal on your lap. Close your eyes. When images, words and body senses arise, jot them in your journal.
1. Clearing a Space
Take a moment just to relax. Pay attention to your body. See what comes there when you ask, "How is my life going? What is the main thing for me right now?" Sense within your body. Let the answers come slowly. When some concern comes, do not go right inside of it.
Stand back from your problem, say "Yes, that’s there. I can feel that, there." Let there be a little space between you and what is troubling you. Say, "There is something in me that...." Then ask what else you feel. Wait again, and sense. Usually there are several things happening in our emotional world at one time.
2. Felt Sense
Select one personal problem to focus on from what came. Do not go inside of your problem. Stand back from the discomfort of it and witness it in a friendly way. There are many parts to that one thing you are thinking about – too many to sort out cognitively. But you can feel all of these things together on a "felt-sense" level. Pay attention to where you feel this concern in your body, and sense how the entire problem feels. Let yourself feel the unclear sense of all of that.
What is the quality of this unclear felt sense? Let a word, a phrase, a gesture, or an image come up from the felt sense itself. It might be a descriptive word like tight, sticky, scary, stuck, heavy, jumpy or it might be a phrase. An image or a memory might come to mind instead. Stay with the quality of the felt sense till something fits it just right. Write this description of your felt sense in your journal.
Go back and forth between the felt sense and the descriptive word (phrase or image) to see if it feels exactly right. Check how they resonate with each other. See if there is a little body signal that lets you know there is a fit - that you have just recognized and described it perfectly.
Hold the felt sense in your body and the word/phrase/image in your mind at the same time to see if they match. Let the felt sense change if it wants to. Also, play with the descriptive word or picture to see if it wants to change. Allow your emotions and the "handle" to change until they capture the quality of the felt sense just right.
Now ask: what is it, about this whole problem, that makes this quality that which you have just named or pictured? Make sure the quality is sensed again, freshly, vividly (not just remembered from before). At this stage you are asking the felt sense to define itself more - to speak more deeply to the root of the discomfort, dis-ease or "wrongness".
Feel into your body and ask,"What makes the whole problem so ______?"If you get a quick answer without an inner body shift, just let that kind of answer go by. Return your attention to your body and freshly find the felt sense again. Then ask it again. Be with the felt sense until you feel a slight "give" or release in your body.
Receive whatever comes in a friendly way. It does not need to make logical sense. Intuition often speaks in pictures and metaphors that feel just right when you identify them. Stay with the sense of inner relief or recognition for a while, even if it is only a slight bit of new information. Whatever comes, this is only one shift; there will be many others. Linger for a few moments in this body-shift that has come from offering deep attention to your growth edge.
Ann Weiser Cornell shares:
"The knowing that comes through Focusing is often surprising, and operates from its own logic rather than following in a linear fashion from something previously known. Its signal can be an intensification or a releasing. It can also be a sense of flow, fresh air, opening, expansion, or the like.
Tears are a strong confirmation: tears that have nothing to do with sadness, but rather with the rightness of the knowing--"truth tears." In contrast, the body's way of saying "No" is a feeling of something being "off," an uneasiness, a wrongness, limitation, or contraction, or backing away."
You may not always feel a body-shift. With focusing, the main aim is to spend time sensing into an unclear holistic body sense for a dedicated period of time. Emotional shifts come spontaneously when the time is right.
The Wisdom of the Body
Our bodies are wise. Our bodies perfectly reflect how we have lived our lives. Our bodies hold insights about what we need to be more fully ourselves. Our bodies also tell us about what has hurt us emotionally and how to heal it. Our bodies know which people around us bring out the best in us, and which do not. Our bodies know the right next step to take for our growth.
Focusing returns us to non-analytic knowing that connects us to our intuition. When we build a better relationship with our body we can heal a troubled emotional life. Focusing becomes an inner "compass" that points the way to the unique "medicine" we each need in order to emotionally heal.
For more information on Focusing Psychotherapy see www.focusing.org
"Write hard and clear about what hurts."
- Earnest Hemmingway
A good way to explore emotional healing is to practice daily journal writing for 15 minutes or more each day. Regular writing practice is a form of self-therapy to explore your thoughts and feelings through words.
Expressive journal writing can elucidate problematic thinking patterns and illuminate the deeper beliefs that are not serving you.
To begin, relax your body and close your eyes. Empty your mind and place your attention within. Simply wait. As your thoughts come into your head, write them down without worrying about whether they make sense.
Do not censor. No thought is irrelevant. You can choose to write fast, to avoid overthinking and filtering your writing, or write very slowly, allowing each thought to arrive from your depths.
Benefits of Expressive Journal Writing:
1. Having a safe place (your private journal) to express your authentic voice allows you to practice honest self-expression.
2. Clarifying thoughts and feelings deepen your connection to your deeper preferences, dreams and goals.
3. Knowing yourself better through daily writing will help you to better discern what situations and people feel toxic to you.
4. Writing about intensely charged thoughts helps to release stress, and release painful emotions.
Expressive Journaling Tips:
Buddhist and writer Natalie Goldberg shares how a daily intuitive writing practice can inspire the growth of your authentic voice:
1.) Lose Control. Say what you want to say. Do not worry if it is polite, correct, or appropriate. Just let it rip.
2.) Be specific. Don't muddy your language with generalities.
3.) Don't think. Write down your first thoughts. Go with what first flashes into your mind.
4.) Don't worry about punctuation, spelling and grammar.
6. Be free to write the worst junk.
7.) Go for the jugular. Write about what is scary. That is where the energy is. Otherwise you spend all of your time writing around what makes you nervous.
Processing Your Writing Sessions
Here are two good ways to more deeply process your stream of consciousness writing sessions:
Inspiration to Keep You Writing
"In order to retrieve your creativity, you need to find it." ~ Julia Cameron
As part of my emotional healing process I wrote 3 pages longhand in my journal every morning for many years. I later began to explore other morning creative practices such as morning collages, morning mandalas, morning intuitive drawings, and morning art journaling.
Yet, it was the written journaling that helped me cognitively sort and understand the various voices inside my head. By sorting out all of the different sides of myself that were conflicted, I was able to calm myself, unravel my emotional pain, and become more clearly inspired in my thinking.
What are Morning Pages?
In the words of Julia Cameron:
"Put simply, the morning pages are three pages of longhand writing; strictly stream of consciousness. Pages are meant to be the act of moving the hand across the page, and writing down whatever comes to mind - the stuff that eddies through our subconscious and muddies our days. Get it on the page."
Writer's Block and Emotional Overwhelm
When I first started writing morning pages there were long periods of time where I could not write. When I was emotionally blocked, I would evade my writing for days, weeks, and even months. When I started to get into the deep stuff, the hard parts, the places inside that I did not want to admit to - I stopped writing.
I designed a 3 part journal course (start the first 30 days for free HERE) as a guided morning pages journey - 90 days in total - to support you through the initial, intermediate, and advanced stages of writing through the "hard stuff."
As Julia Cameron shares:
" When people ask, "Why do we write morning pages?" I joke, "To get to the other side." Morning pages get us to the other side: the other side of our fear, or our negativity, of our moods." Above all, they get us beyond our Censor. Beyond the reach of the Creator's babble we find our own quiet center, the place where we hear the still, small voice that is at once our Creator's and our own."
My journey into facilitating the expressive arts has been mostly experiential. I was lucky to be able to learn on the job.
Ten years ago, I had a vision of pushing an “art cart” in a hospital. After a year of running my own community art studio for adults with acquired brain injuries, I had the rare opportunity to work in a well-funded art studio program for Canadian veterans. So indeed, my art cart did materialize! And, my art cart became my beloved traveling companion for nine years!
On a personal level, I also spend time experientially immersed in expressive dancing, drawing, collaging, writing and painting. I love the healing power of the creative process, and I am devoted to creating something new every day.
I created my online business, Expressive Art Workshops on evenings and weekends while working full-time as an arts facilitator in healthcare.
Support for Expressive Arts Facilitators
I left my government-funded art studio work in 2015 to build my online teaching practice. Just recently, upon earning my designation as a REACE, I felt inspired to create a larger community of support for expressive arts facilitators than I can provide. I get many questions from people asking me how to facilitate the expressive arts, what kind of education is required, how to work with different populations, etc.
In order to provide diverse answers outside of my own experience, I started a Facebook group called, “Expressive Arts Facilitation.” The sharing of resources on the group is generous and inspiring. I love witnessing facilitators, artists and therapists of all cultures and educational backgrounds respectfully connecting online, sharing ideas non-hierarchically, and encouraging each other in their facilitation practices.
An expressive arts facilitator designs and initiates spontaneous, expressive, creative processes for people and may or may not be trained as a therapist. Expressive Arts Facilitators might be intuitive/expressive artists, counsellors, academics, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and other helping professionals, such as non-profit workers and volunteers.
The Art is the Therapy
Creating spontaneously encourages honest self-expression that might have been restricted by social judgments in the past. The expressive arts also facilitate a natural emotional release and interrupts stuck patterns of thought by introducing new possibilities.
Expressive Arts Facilitators, however, do not offer therapy. Therapy involves working with a therapy professional to resolve problematic behaviors, beliefs, feelings, relationship issues, and/or somatic responses.
The aim of the expressive arts facilitation is to provide a space for people to experiment with spontaneous art, poetry, dance, sculpture, music and more. Critiques are never made about the aesthetics of the art. Participants are invited to express their honest thoughts and emotions as they relate to their creative self-expression in an atmosphere of unconditional acceptance. The facilitator witnesses and encourages the participants in their creative process.
What is an Art Therapist?
Art therapists are professionals trained in both art and therapy. They are knowledgeable about human development, psychological theories, clinical practice, spiritual, multicultural and artistic traditions, and the healing potential of art. They use art in treatment, assessment, and research, and provide consultations to allied professionals.
Art therapists work with people of all ages: individuals, couples, families, groups, and communities. They provide services, individually and as part of clinical teams, in settings that include mental health, rehabilitation, medical and forensic institutions; community outreach programs; wellness centers; schools; nursing homes; corporate structures; open studios and independent practices. Cited from the Art Therapy Blog.
What is an Expressive Arts Therapist?
An Expressive Arts Therapist has similar academic training as an Art Therapist, but they offer a multi-modal approach - often including music, drama and dance, as well as art and writing within a therapy session.
What Should I Call Myself?
I call myself an "expressive art facilitator."
Do not call yourself an art therapist or an expressive art therapist if you have not completed a recognized training program in your country. If you live in the USA - the American Art Therapy Association offers some good guidelines HERE.
Where Can I Ask Questions about Therapy Schools?
If you would like to ask questions about art therapy education, this is a good Facebook group to join: Art Therapy Network for Continuing Education.
If you would like to ask questions about Expressive Arts Therapy Education, this is a good Facebook group to join: Expressive Arts Therapy.
No, you do not need a designation to facilitate expressive/intuitive/spontaneous creative processes for people.
However, you can choose to partake in Expressive Arts Facilitation training, and there are many certificate programs available. And, you can document your unique combination of experience and education, and apply to become a Registered Expressive Arts Consultant and Educator through the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association. The guidelines for becoming designated as a REACE are HERE.
Is it Safe to Facilitate the Expressive Arts Without Therapy Training?
We are all welcome to facilitate spontaneous art processes that invite authentic self-expression. Emotional expression through authentic art-making is a normal human process.
Spontaneous art making inherently releases emotions. Most people are resilient and can handle their own emotional responses to a spontaneous art-making process. When unhealed trauma arises (which is sometimes a fear) within a creative expression group, a participant can be referred on to a therapist who has more tools and training to support them.
Yet, often when subconscious thoughts and emotions come up for a natural release through spontaneous creative expression, no risk management, diagnosis or referral is needed. The expressive art-making process itself does the healing work.
What Kinds of Academic Training Should I Pursue to Facilitate the Expressive Arts?
Many people ask me about the types of formal education they should pursue in order to be "allowed" to facilitate art for other people. We are all welcome to express and facilitate spontaneous creative processes for others. Art is a universal way to express our unique personhood. Creativity is our birthright.
Some expressive arts facilitators are artists who have an innate and experienced sense of how to support people to self-express creatively. Some come to this work as intuitive healers and wise souls. Based on my own experiences of finding my way intuitively, I always say to people who want to give to others through their creative nature, "Your originality will lead you to the right books, training, and experiences that you need in order to express your gifts fully."
Boundaries, Ethics, and Safety
If you are unsure about the safety, boundaries, and ethics of running a facilitation group it is best to seek professional training. I feel great respect for the therapeutic standards of care elucidated in formal academic education, and I also see that what we love is our particular and personal form of genius. Structured education can only contribute to our genius when it supports us to express our uniqueness, and originate our own path.
How Did You Become an Expressive Arts Facilitator?
I started out as an expressive arts facilitator - ten years ago - by creating an expressive art studio program for adults with acquired brain injuries. After that, I worked in Canada's largest therapeutic art studio for adults at the end of life with dementia and/or physical and cognitive challenges for 9 years. I am a counsellor, and I have logged over 11,000 direct client art facilitation hours in the studio. I feel blessed to have worked with hundreds of clients over the years from all walks of life in this creative capacity.
I presently live and work full-time as a counsellor in Nelson, British Columbia. I facilitate a wide variety of expressive/spontaneous arts courses online via my website Expressive Art Workshops. I offer lots of free resources for arts facilitators. I also welcome you to visit my expressive arts educational platform HERE to try a free course that shows you how expressive journaling can look.
In 2014, I was part of a collective of arts facilitators and art therapists that hosted monthly "pop-up" spontaneous creativity workshops in Vancouver, Canada.
We provided spontaneous art making opportunities for all ages in various community settings. We supplied a wide range of creative materials such as textiles, collage papers, paint, recycled items, and objects from nature to encourage freedom of self-expression.
We encouraged self-expression without the requirement of a specific end product. Loose guidelines were provided and spontaneous experimentation was encouraged.
Creating together on individual and collective art projects offered a warm and inviting atmosphere to self-express amongst community and individually. In contrast to the perception of art as elite and expensive, we offered art opportunities as a natural expressive outlet for all.
Click HERE for many more photographs of these community workshops!
What is the Purpose of Your Expressive Arts Facilitation Group on Facebook?
Daily, I receive email queries about how to facilitate the expressive arts. My aim in creating and moderating this support group for Expressive Arts Facilitators is to provide many more answers to facilitation questions than I have the time or the knowledge to provide. I invite all facilitators and therapists who want to respectfully "cross-pollinate" and gather many more ideas than we possibly could think of when working alone.
How Can I Join?
Bodywork for Releasing Trapped Emotions
For the past two years I have been doing regular bodywork in the from of authentic movement, expressive dance, massage and chiropractic. Recently, my chiropractor introduced me to a wonderful book called, "The 12 Stages of Healing" by Daniel M. Epstein. I read the entire book in one day, as I found it so accurately mirrored my personal experience of the emotional healing process.
I share a short encapsulation of the 12 stages. Be sure to buy the book for fuller descriptions of the healing stages. And, pay attention to the stage of emotional healing that you are actually in as it is important to surrender to the stage of emotional healing you are in as opposed to striving to reach a higher stage.
I am helpless and overwhelmed in my emotional pain.
Emotional suffering comes from the dishonouring, denying, or alienating of our authentic self. Emotional pain is part of our human condition and it feels like, "Something is really wrong. I feel like I am going to die with pain. There is no way out. Nothing works." We are trained early to avoid emotional suffering.
Stage 1 involves surrendering to the suffering we feel without trying to escape from it. If we try to avoid suffering it becomes even more intense, often showing up uninvited, at inopportune times. When you stop fighting and surrender to your emotional suffering, it will envelop you. You might feel encased in despair.
When we are suffering it is best to just be present, without trying to think about its causes. By merging with the essence of suffering - the rhythm, the vibration, the essence of it, we give ourselves over to it. We know there is no rational way to understand it. We just have to feel it in order to heal it.
Breathe deeply and declare:
"Right now I am helpless."
"Nothing works at this time."
There is a rhythm within me, and I am within this rhythm.
In stage one our suffering comes from having isolated certain aspects of ourselves, such as personality traits, diseased parts, painful memories, or unresolved childhood issues away from the rest of our bodymind.
We may feel shame about our childhood sexual feelings, for example, or we may have repressed the pain or guilt of a loved one's death. Suffering arises as a result of the aspects of ourselves that we ignore or deny.
In stage two we recognize that we have repressed aspects of ourselves that have a life of their own. They are frozen in time, and are out of touch with our current reality. These individual parts have separated away from the whole of who we are.
In stage two, we have not yet claimed our inner power and we look to outside authority figures to support our healing. Therapeutic intervention is often needed in stage two. Traditional counselling and medical treatment is helpful at this stage as we seek to gather inspiration and empowerment from outside of ourselves.
As we progress through stage two we notice there is a rhythm and pattern to our suffering, and we see that we participate in it. We start to notice, "I have gone through this before. This is a pattern."
Breathe deeply and declare:
"I have polarities, rhythms and differences within me."
"I have parts within that have not talked to each other in a long time."
I want to move ahead but I can't.
Much of our "stuckness" is automatic. Our nervous system gets locked into old defense patterns, and this locks us into a fixed perspective about life. In stage three, we recognize that old hurt or trauma is still the cause of our problems today. We feel, "I want to move ahead but I can't." We gather a sense of awareness that we are creating our troubles by staying stuck in an old perspective.
In stage three we realize we are stuck in a perspective, although we may not yet know what that perspective is. Bodywork to remove nerve interferences, and frozen nerve patterns such as massage, craniosacral and chiropractic therapy is helpful to move blocked energy in the body.
Good questions to ask at this stage are:
"Have I seen this pattern before?"
"Do I feel my body is locked in certain places?"
"Where do I tighten my body when this pattern is active?"
"When does my breathing become shallower?"
Breathe deeply and touch the stuck places in your body and declare:
"I am stuck right here."
"I acknowledge this region of my body."
"I am sorry I haven't noticed you before in a more loving way."
I take my power back.
In Stage 4 we proclaim, "I am not going to take this anymore!" We have been disconnected from our inner essence, and we no longer wish to remain this way.
Key phrases in Stage 4 are:
"I want my power back."
"I deserve more than this."
"I must honour who I really am."
The Bifurcation Point
At this stage of our emotional healing, we can choose one of two paths:
At the beginning of Stage 4 we feel anxious, irritable, or angry without knowing why. We are aware that we are stuck in a perspective, but we have not removed enough interference in our body and nervous system patterns to reclaim our power. We are still feeling too powerless to reclaim our true identity and selfhood, because our system has not made the full commitment to, "I won't take this anymore. I deserve more than this."
We realize that we have dishonoured our authentic self/inner essence in some way. We might say, "I have to change emotionally, but I don't know what to do." At this stage we can trust that change will arrive when our bodymind can heal enough to accommodate that change.
As we progress through Stage 4, deep self-respect emerges. The statement,"I just have to do this now" is expressed without the angry charge we experienced in earlier stages.
Breathe deeply and declare:
"I take my power back."
"I honour my total being."
"I reclaim my wholeness."
I welcome all my parts and experiences.
The fifth stage of healing involves merging with the fears, pains, illusions and concerns behind our suffering. At this stage we are called to confront every aspect within from a place of strength, and a sincere desire for wholeness.
Separation from your light or your dark will produce suffering. With merging, the parts of our nature that are the most alienated, disliked, or ignored are integrated into the rest of our being.
Merging, and becoming intimate with our shadow self is generally not supported or practiced in our Western culture. Stage 5 involves revisiting the places where our suffering began, and experiencing the merging process with a stronger sense of loving presence than we had in the past.
Merging with our suffering is not encouraged by symptom-oriented doctors, psychologists, and traditional practitioners, who advocate moving away from the chaos of suffering and toward restoring "order" through drugs, surgery, behaviour modification, body manipulation and psychoanalysis.
To heal emotionally, we must look at what is behind our emotional chaos and invest our energy in getting to know it better. In stage five, we join with our discomfort and discover what it has to teach us.
Breathe deeply and declare:
"I welcome all of my parts and experiences."
"I join with my inner family."
"I merge with my shadow self."
"I merge with my goodness and light."
"I embrace every aspect of my being."
I am ready. It is OK to let go.
Stage 6 is both an action and a transitional stage. At this stage our bodymind must become more flexible so we can discharge trapped perspectives, memories, old information, energies and patterns. The aspects of our being that are no longer able to adapt to our new sense of self must be released.
The emotional release will occur in its own right timing, at the discretion of our innate wisdom, and when our nervous system becomes more free of interference, and our bodymind becomes flexible enough to accommodate a major change. At this stage we have become stronger in our ability to be present to our emotional pain.
Now is the time to prepare for a major emotional discharge. Understanding that there is a buildup of tension that must be released - and that the dissonant or alienated body rhythm must resolve itself, we need to make lifestyle modifications to health, good eating, exercise and bodywork.
Breathe deeply and declare:
"I am flexible."
"I am building momentum."
"I am ready."
"It's OK to let go!"
I release that which no longer serves me.
The increased buildup of long-held emotional tension results eventually in an involuntary discharge. We might cry, throw up, sneeze, laugh uncontrollably, or get sick with a fever during the emotional discharging phase of healing.
The goal of modern medicine is to control or eliminate all discharge so as to get back to "normal." When we medicate to avoid discharge, emotional resolution cannot fully occur.
When we are out of control, we are usually considered sick. Donald M. Epstein shares, " I have found that healing involves a resolution of dissonant rhythms and the release of trapped energy. Resolution occurs though discharge.
Discharge refers to the release of energy or tension. Discharge may involve the release of trapped energy, repressed or ignored information, or toxins on physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual levels. Releasing often includes a temporary loss of control.
Any aspect of our "self" that no longer works for our highest good will be discharged by our innate intelligence. The bodymind may want to eliminate anything (food, lifestyle, habit) that no longer serves its higher good. Some relinquishments may seem involuntary such as the loss of money, relationships or material possessions.
Breathe deeply and declare:
"I release that which no longer serves me."
"I come to resolution."
"Oooh, ahhh, whoosh!" Instinctive, sound expressions of release that push energy out are appropriate.
I experience the fullness of my emptiness.
Stage 8 is a stage of emptiness, vulnerability, and new possibilities. Emptiness is the portal that leads to higher states of awareness. After the discharge of stage 7 there is calm and lightness. The feelings of emptiness and aloneness can feel strange and uncomfortable, but it sets the stage for deeper spiritual exploration.
In stage Seven, we have released much of the armour and distractions from our natural wholeness. Now we emerge feeling raw, and vulnerable, without usual reference points. We may feel lonely, but our emptiness leaves room for new possibilities and connections.
In Stage 8 our perspective expands. Praying, toning, yoga, self-nurturing and intimate contact helps us deepen into our internal rhythms, and a sense of integrated newness.
Breathe deeply and declare:
"I wake up to rhythms of wholeness."
"I take counsel within myself."
"I experience the fullness of my emptiness."
"I reunite with my whole self."
"I trust my rhythms."
"I experience my energetic connection with the world."
Stage 9 begins the transcendent stages of the emotional healing process. We begin to perceive spiritual light behind all physical forms. Gratitude and awe accompany this stage and old buried trauma will continue to clear in this spiritual light.
We discover that we are more than just our physical sensations. We know there is a force or an intelligence that flows through us that can potentially change our life forever. We sense that we are part of a larger energetic reality, as compared to merely a physical reality.
In Stage 9 we feel warmth, light and vitality. This tingling of spiritual energy often accompanies the transition to a new reality. For some, the experience of this spiritual energy or vital force feels like a wave or pulsation moving through the body. These wave-like pulsations in parts of the body, or in the entire body, can follow the emptiness after an emotional release.
Breathe deeply and declare:
"I experience my vital spiritual force."
"I experience my inborn intelligence."
"I experience my energetic connection with the world."
"I am grateful."
I am One.
In Stage 9 we experienced being filled with energy. In stage ten, rather than the universal intelligence expressing itself through us, we become one with this intelligence.
Because we have spent most of our life being trapped in patterns of "alienated wholeness" or "non-accessible wholeness" we finally meet the unrecognized wholeness of our being.
In Stage 10 we become connected to the field of Universal Consciousness, and we are open to the knowledge, wisdom and inspiration this field contains, which may be artistic, scientific, religious, or philosophical.
Sometimes this process is considered channelling, as we are no longer isolated to our normal thinking self. Our "self" now includes other realms of possibility.
Breathe deeply and declare:
"I am One."
I illuminate all my experiences.
In Stage 10 we understand that our lives are no longer what they used to be. In Stage 11 we descend back into our human lives with new spiritual perspectives, more energy, and greater understanding. We engage in our human relationships, earn a living, cook meals and take out the garbage while staying connected to Source.
The basic lesson of this stage is to sustain gratitude and remain in awe of the miracle of life while we perform our daily activities. To the degree that we are able to function from our true self and to our natural internal rhythms (as opposed to reacting to the alienated, dissonant aspects of our nature, as in the earlier healing stages), we can serve as powerful agents for healing and service in the world.
Breathe deeply and declare:
"I express my divine gifts."
"I illuminate all my circumstances."
"May it be on Earth as it is in Heaven."
I give my gifts and receive the gifts of others.
In Stage 11, our "I am" consciousness is reestablished as a new and expanded sense of self, and we move into our relationships with others no longer tainted by, or attached to our emotional past.
We are filled with love, light, intelligence and goodness. In Stage 12 we find that our ultimate healing is associated with our active participation in human life. We maintain ongoing loving communion with our wounds, joys and sorrows .We also fulfill our outer tasks in life with joy.
In Stage 12, we come to true community when we have emotionally healed enough to share our gifts and all the wisdom we have gained in our own emotional healing journey.
Breathe deeply and declare:
"I give my gifts and I receive the gifts of others."
"I find the gifts I have denied myself and I give my gifts to others."
"I am one with the web of life."
"My circle of love and learning expands just perfectly."
Explore Emotional Healing through Art and Writing
Welcome to fee-based access to my therapy worksheets. Enjoy 30 art and writing worksheets that I use in my private practice to support you to slowly release your emotional pain in safe, powerful and wisely structured ways.
What a fun conversation I had about all things art with Addie Hirschten - artist and podcaster extraordinaire. We talked about my evolution from being a gallery artist, into becoming an intuitive/expressive artist.
As an expressive arts facilitator over the past ten years, I have worked with artists from the ages of 2-106. I share some of my discoveries with Addie about how, as artists, we can find and develop our unique intuitive artistic "style."
Join us in this creative conversation HERE!
~ Marianne Williamson
Running too Fast
I remember when my partner and I were both taking our counselling education on nights and weekends. Our schooling overlapped during one year. Both of us were also working full-time, but were determined to move into a new career direction that was more meaningful, and gentler on our bodies.
With both of us in school and working full-time, we juggled our 11-year old daughter, Hadley, back and forth, taking turns travelling to classes, lectures, support groups and weekend workshops. One early Saturday morning I had to take Hadley to a friend's house for the weekend so that I could attend a counselling retreat. I had to drive an hour in the opposite direction of my weekend workshop, and then, turbo charge back to the retreat center for an early start.
During that hectic period of my life, I was sleeping in my car during Hadley's ballet practices, napping during my work lunch hours, and trying to restore my agitated nervous system before my night classes. That early Saturday morning, my wake-up call to slow down came in the form of an expensive speeding ticket. Exhausted, coffee in hand, I sped along the highway, laughing and chatting with my daughter, until the siren arrested me from my exhausted haze of activity. I was so tired, I was becoming unaware of practical details. Every minute was so tightly scheduled, I felt like I was in jail.
When my second year of counselling education was about to begin, I decided I needed to take a year off. After I made my decision, I felt myself letting go of my unconscious dedication to speed through life in order to "get ahead". I was willing to trust that life would unfold as it should if I made time for love and creativity. I knew that I would finish my education - slowly. I could choose take breaks. I could choose to relax. I could choose to belong to the flow of my own life.
Experiencing Life Fully
A few days after my decision to take some time off from school, I went for a long walk with my daughter in the rain. We meandered together companionably and happily, without the usual deadlines and schedules. Suddenly, she opened up to me in a way that she was unable to when I was so busy. We both had a good cry over how much we had been missing each other. I realized how much I loved free unstructured time to listen to everyone and everything in my life more deeply.
After I decided to lighten my schedule, I was surprised to notice a feeling of abundance burgeoning in my chest. My decision to take a year off of school created a new abundance of time. Underneath my fears for my financial future, I suddenly felt rich with the time to love and create in new ways. Letting go of my self-imposed pressure to succeed, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the beautiful ordinariness of my life. Slowing down, I realized that I was enough.
In my drive to "make it" as a woman in the world after my divorce, I forgot my feminine strengths for loving, and for family nourishment. I realized that I was not alone in this quest to "make it." I met women like me everywhere - all struggling to "get ahead," and pushing to be "Super Women."
When we stop racing to "get ahead" our hearts open up. So many of us are finding ways to reclaim our feminine creativity and self-value by spending more time at home. There is such beauty in enjoying the simple beauties of daily life when we creatively and joyfully spend time with the people, creatures and home comforts we love.
Understanding Our Truth
During my hiatus from night school, I stopped watching television. Like most of us, I was raised on television. Burned out from my year of "trying to get ahead," I decided rather drastically that television was un-creative. I felt like I was filling my head with other people's ideas and not making space for my own intuitive creativity.
I wanted to discover who I was outside of the cultural paradigms of what a woman and her family "should" be. Determined to find my own authentic voice, I declared to my family that television was fearful and manipulative. Much to her dismay, I told my daughter that television was not an option for the next year. We needed to find the time to create our own unique lives from the inside, instead of being so influenced by the outside.
Unsympathetic to my daughter's argument that I was cutting her off from popular culture, I decided to get creative. Our rambling home was already a creative mecca. I decided to hold creativity "classes" for my daughter in my studio. I prepared creative assignments and devised writing prompts for her everyday after school. We also shared a mom-daughter art journal. We did drawings and paintings in our book together, each taking turns having a visual conversation.
To further distract Hadley away from television, I decided to enroll her in a poetry course. To encourage her poetic inspiration, we went to cafes to write poetry together each week over hot chocolates and lattes. After a year of daily poetry practice, she became the youngest winner in a big poetry contest in our city. After writing a luscious-sensuous-beyond-her-14-years poem about chocolate, Hadley won us free tickets to a lavish chocolate tasting festival. Now in her twenties, she is still an avid poet.
A Creative Adventure
Becoming alert to our family's creative life unfolding was a wonderful adventure for me. Since our rental house was slated to be torn down in a few years, we had creative license to paint on the the walls, and set it up in any way we liked. The house was huge. We had a library, a yoga room, an art studio, a music studio, and a writing room. We had plenty of space to dance, and an outdoor pool to swim in.
That year, our parties and holidays centered around collage, writing, singing and dancing. We made books of our dreams together around our dining room table. We wrote and collaged our goals into envelopes, and sealed them away until the following year. As we tuned into our uniqueness, new energies, feelings, and spiritual openings danced through our house. We connected with our love for each other, and we created wildly.
Our life that year was a creative experiment and an intuition workshop. It was during that creative time that I understood that chronic psychological and emotional pain is no one's true nature. A healing life is a joyful, creative life, constructed from the inside-out. It is not always easy to tune into the inside of ourselves. Life is filled with voluntary and imposed distractions. The race to "get ahead" in order to "secure" our future can lead us away from the wisdom of each creative now-moment.
Why postpone getting to know our inner life until we get ill, depressed, exhausted, or burned out? When we turn our attention to what is burbling up inside, emotions that long to be healed arise gratefully to clear. This makes room for a new, joyful creative life. As we let go of our psychological frustration with "getting ahead," our experience of life grows creatively vivid. Aliveness returns to our experience of living - much brighter and more entertaining than any TV show.
In my work as a therapist, I often see different personality aspects of self showing up in people's artwork. I have seen this same phenomenon in my own expressive art - especially my collage work. We all have aspects of ourselves that long to grow forward, while other aspects (still hurting) want to hold back.
The most important thing to understand when we consider doing "parts work" is that every part of ourselves is trying to help us in some way - even if it is to simply help us avoid pain by withdrawing from life.
I am collecting secondhand books on emotional healing to share and lend in my local therapy space. I love to buy old books, and once in a while I come across some real gems. Recently, I have been struggling with an intense conflict between two opposing parts of self as I move into a deeper state of personal power in my life and my career, and I came across a very pertinent book written 20 years ago written by Verlaine Crawford called "Ending the Battle Within."
She has a great integration exercise called "The Infusion Process" which I have translated into a written journal exercise for you here:
The Infusion Integration Process
Letting Go of Childhood Beliefs
Our limited childhood beliefs hold us back from growing forward. We all had good reason to shut down our light and power when we were young. When we are young we had to navigate how to best fit into our social structures.
In the above journal process, you will discover that your "protector" is holding onto very specific childhood beliefs that, at one time, seemed to secure outer safety, acceptance and survival.
As part of my inner integration, I often try to create a new "win-win" belief to live into, to dance into, to sing about, and to create expressive or affirmative art to meditate upon.
Below, I offer personal examples to demonstrate how I have integrated my positive belief work with the expressive arts.
Integration Using the Expressive Arts
In my childhood I decided that it was only comfortable for me to express my authentic self when I was alone. This had me creating a hugely imaginative inner life - but only when I was by myself. Until I was 40, this led me into a deeply-lived experience of the expressive arts - alone - in my journals. It did not, however, foster me enjoying my relationships with other people very much.
The Limited Childhood Belief: "I can only express my authentic self when I am alone" led to loneliness, social frivolity and a feeling of emptiness when I was with others.
The Win-Win Belief: "It is safe to express my authentic self in my relationship with others" is the integrative affirmation that has led me to share my creativity locally and internationally. Based on the healing of this childhood belief, I have since created many expressive arts and social groups where authentic expression is welcomed.
Dancing New Beliefs: The body, brain and nervous system needs to be rewired as limiting beliefs create tight constrictions in the body. Combining authentic movement with affirming new expansive beliefs helps the body to break apart stuck patterns. Try dancing to the inner words, "I belong. My authentic expression is welcome. I am free to be me."
Singing New Beliefs: Repeating new beliefs through an originally repetitive sing-song tune helps bring the new "win-win" beliefs into sharp focus. We have all experienced having a song "stuck" in our head. This process serves the purpose of inviting the new "win-win" belief to more firmly embed itself into our mind. Try loudly singing your new, empowered beliefs. Sing, "I love who I am! I love myself unconditionally."
Art Jounaling New Beliefs: "Affirmative Art Journaling" is very popular today. It involves writing all your negative beliefs on your journal page to release them out of your body. Next, the task is to paint, collage and write new positive affirmations on top of the negative beliefs. This process serves to help you see your negative beliefs in visual form, and then to create an antidote.
Before you cover up your negative beliefs in your art journal be sure to accept what you have written, and better yet, keep a record of your negative voices. Take a photo of your negative words so that you can deeply sense into the emotional needs that created these negative voices.
Covering up negative voices can be experienced as self-rejection by the body. For this reason, I often like to create a journal spread with the negative voices on the left and the positive voices on the right. I like to see and embrace all parts of myself!